Sex Counsel and How To Be A Woman
Quite why I included two books about sexual problems or sexual politics in my summer break reading list, I’m not sure. I mean, talk about a busman’s holiday. But it’s been a joy, because both of them are favourite columnists whose work I admire. In fact the only reason I ever used to buy the Saturday Times was because I got both Suzi Godson’s Body & Soulagony aunt sex column and Caitlin Moran’s writing in the Magazine section.
Godson’s bit in Body & Soul was written with style, wit, verve and, when it seemed appropriate, a blissful disregard for tactful treatment of the adviceseeker. In a new anthology compiled from those questions and replies, Sex Counsel, this is how she answers a man keen to embrace the joys of wife swapping: ‘Personally, I’d rather gnaw my own kidney out than go anywhere near communal coupling’. Or a woman who’s tempted to share her lesbian fantasies with her husband: ‘No, no, no. What is it with this obsessive need to share?’ Hers is a very special approach to agony-auntdom that involves a judicious measure of no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners directness. I can see how this might have got up the noses of some of her ‘customers’, but then anyone who writes for advice in the full knowledge that their problem will be potential entertainment for around two million readers might just be considered fair game.
Because of its fragmented, Q&A nature, Sex Counsel (this ‘window into the human condition’ as Godson puts it) is not a book to be read at one sitting. It’s more a book for the smallest room in the house where guests can dip into it and seek solace by encountering some appalling sexual situation parallel to their own – or the bedroom’s ensuite to relieve moments of quiet conjugal desperation. But why on earth do The Times/Cassell feel constrained to apostrophise the word ‘fuck’ (for coition) when the editor cheerfully allows the word ‘pee’ (for urination) in a book that’s broadly concerned with fucking? What does that tell us about the apostrophiser? Cassell’s press release breathlessly reiterates the claim that ‘Suzi has been credited with being able to do for the bedroom what Jamie and Nigella have done in the kitchen’; hmmm, maybe, but then it hasn’t done much for those editors in terms of sexual honesty, has it?
Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman is more of a cover-to-cover read: possibly not much cop for aspiring cross dressers but for the rest of the population, pure joy – wonderfully pragmatic and laugh-out-loud funny. Her extended similes and metaphors are brilliant and the short, pithy ones aren’t bad either: here’s one on ‘investment’ handbags:
‘I tried to find one I liked. I really did. Tanned, tasselled and oddly shapeless, many resembled Tom Jones’s knackers, with handles.’
There are hilarious, gloriously unselfconscious stories about how to endure adolescence and your early twenties, marriage and childbirth with a running commentary of aperçus and wry observations that form a sort of feminism-without-tears for women and men: Moran succeeds in being determinedly feminist yet fair and even very sympathetic towards chaps – an unusual achievement.
Moreover, it’s so well written and makes me laugh so much that the serious issues, instead of making my Neanderthal brain hurt, are absorbed like an icecold beer in the 38°C heat I’m currently enduring. I think my understanding of the opposite sex may have quadrupled overnight. Or maybe that’s the beer.
How To Be A Woman isn’t just a manual for angsty teenagers. It’s a woman’s misogyny survival guide: how to get through life and enjoy it despite all the crap men have thrown at them over the last few millennia (and, unfortunately, continue to throw). It’s a wake up call for the male sex and it should be compulsory reading for even the most laddish of lads and blokish of blokes.
Sex Counsel, by Suzi Godson; Cassell Illustrated; ISBN: 978-1-84403-695-0; £7.99
How To Be A Woman, by Caitlin Moran; Ebury Press; ISBN: 978-0091940737; £11.99