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Book Report: Genre readers are going for smut

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Extra! Extra! Late breaking news from the publishing industry.

And it's not good news.

In a recent issue of New York magazine reporter Jessica Grose tells the story of the growth of a subgenre of fiction that's beating out all other contenders in the race to sell books.

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Grose calls the subgenre "smutty books."

When it comes to sales, smutty books lead the pack with annual sales of $1.358 billion. Christian and inspirational books, comes in a weak second at $759 million.

Lots of people buy mysteries, but its publishers report $682 million, followed by Science Fiction at $559 million. Classic literary fiction limps in last with sales of $455 million.

Just what makes a book smutty?

We used to call them "bodice rippers," and covers usually depicted a bodice being ripped by a swashbuckler with a pencil-thin mustache. Most old-time bodice rippers promised more sex than they delivered, but with a few exceptions that's all changing.

A smutty book addict describes the current fashion as having "A hero who's neither twisted and sadistic nor overly perfect.

No smuggling or kidnapping subplots.

No gratuitous Sadomasochism.

And no anachronistic names -- women were not named Brittany in Regency London."

And of course there's sex.

Some publishers specialize in itsy bitsy sex (like a peck on the cheek) and others go full bore.

"Love Amid the Ashes," described as a "Christian Romance," features only seven kisses, while this year's best seller, "Fifty Shades of Grey," by E.L. James describes 24 acts of sexual intercourse.

Who reads this crap?

Women make up 91% of the readership; men come in at 9 percent. Seventeen percent come from the northeast, 19% from the west, 26% from the Midwest and 38% from the south.

We visited relatives a few weeks ago and a cousin's wife, a septuagenarian grade-school teacher, was reading an "Amish Romance."

That's right, even the Amish are getting into the act.

In fact I reviewed such a book a few weeks ago. I must admit it was pretty tame.

Other outings are not so tame as our appetite for such stuff grows exponentially.

We have African-American Romance, Gay Romance, Vampire Romance, Werewolf Romance, Alien Romance, and Angel Romance.

One theologically inclined smut addict reviewed a book called "Heavenly" for Amazon and was disgusted: "I believe in angels , and I think it's wrong to write a book about one falling in love with a human."

She'll probably not read any of the new varieties, like Christian Romance, Mormon Romance, or Amish Romance, preferring more historically based novels, like Medieval Romance, Regency Romance, Highland Romance, Civil War Romance, Pirate Romance (a throwback with the pirate sporting a pencil-thin mustache.

Readers interested in learning about occupations along with sex, they might head for the shelves stocking Banker Romance, Doctor Romance, Fireman Romance, Cop Romanced, or even Navy Seal Romance or that literary masterpiece, "Crossing the Line," categorized as NASCAR romance or Navy.

Readers of a fairly kinky persuasion might head for "Two Cowboys," by Luxie Ryder, categorized as Cowboy Ménage Romance.

It's all very depressing and try as I might, it's difficult to see the bright side. But in the words of Voltaire's Pangloss, I guess it's still possible.

I'm already feeling better.

When I was in confirmation class, my friend and I hitchhiked to Winona, Minn., went to a used bookstore on Second Street and bought a copy of "God's Little Acre," by Erskine Caldwell.

We hurried home to read about Darling Jill and Pluto Swint and their sexual escapades. We felt very guilty about dipping into this forbidden pleasure.

Later, in college, I heard that Erskine Caldwell was a great southern novelist, so we really hadn't wasted our time the way folks do these days reading Maya Banks' Highland Romance "In Bed with a Highlander."

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