As a kid my only precocity was in reading at an early age; I read books well beyond my level (and possibly inappropriate) for my tender years. Thus asking my mother (when I was 6 or 7) why all the characters in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret were so preoccupied with punctuation—wasn’t a period just something to show that a sentence was ending? I don’t know how old I was when I secretly slid Fear of Flying out of the bookcase, but I was utterly confused by Isadora Wing and the zipless fuck. The first sex scene I stumbled upon while reading that sort of made sense to me was between Kitty and Ari in Exodus. I recall it was fairly tame but I’m sure I reread it a couple of times.
The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi has a lot of sex in it. Kureishi’s novel is set in the late 60’s and early 70’s of suburban London, where seventeen-year-old Karim is growing up with his English mother, Indian father, and younger brother. Karim’s world, peopled by working class immigrants, artists, revolutionaries, misfits, and rock stars has a freewheeling loose energy. Drugs, sex, social protest, and having good times comprise the landscape. Karim dallies with men and women in a number of graphic sex scenes. Somehow there isn’t anything prurient in Kureishi’s descriptions, as explicit as they are—indeed, they feel good-natured, laid-back and in the spirit of the time. I’m curious to see how these scenes fare in the 1993 television miniseries. I assume they are PG-rated and perhaps, the director is able to inject some of the humor and warmth that is present in the scenes in the book, without any graphic visuals. But sex on film, television, or stage doesn’t seem to have the same breadth of emotional possibility for someone watching as someone reading does. A good writer can instill graphic, even disgusting sex scenes with all sorts of qualities. Maybe it’s because words inform and color—mood can be altered regardless of the goings-on. Or perhaps we allow ourselves greater liberty not to judge or take too seriously sex/love scenes since reading is a deliciously private activity.