“If you like Jackie Collins, you should totally read the Sleeping Beauty series.”
I was slick with sweat in the steam room at King Spa when the woman sat down beside me. I was reading a paperback called “Rock Star,” written by romance queen Collins in the 1980s. I was trying to be Very Casual about my nakedness, and my reading of a tawdry 80s romance novel, which I had ordered from Amazon after seeing it on one of David Foster Wallace’s college syllabus for a class of mass-market fiction.
“I’ve never read her before,” I said. “This is an old book, I think.”
“I know, I read it when I was 18!” She laughed. Do I need to mention she was totally naked? It’s a funny thing to have a conversation while nude, because even if you are Very Casual, you can’t help but zero in on the soft mound of the breast, the pale white skin on the belly that never sees the sun. Women’s bodies are fascinating.
“Have you read ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’?” I asked her, because – I mean, why not?
“I’ve heard it’s amazing,” she said.
I’ve heard it’s terrible, but also kind of amazing.
I returned to the book I was reading, whose pages had become crinkly with steam and sweat, and which contained this line: Her breasts strained to escape the confines of her bra. But he teased some more, playing with her swollen nipples through the material, tracing intricate patterns of intent.
I had come out to King Spa to stop thinking for a while, to tune down the anxious noisemaker in my brain. So far, this book was just the trick.
“Have you read ‘Story of O”?” she asked me.
I had not.
Her eyes grew wide. “A classic. You have to read that.”
“I totally will.”
I spent a lot of my 37 years avoiding romance novels and avoiding situations that required me to be Very Casual about nakedness with another human being, and I understand completely why I did that.
But I’m glad that era is over now.