It seems that written erotica tends to divide people into three camps: those that approve of it, those that disapprove of it, and those that have no opinion either way. I would suggest that the last group is the largest, the disapproving group the noisiest and the approving group the most important.
The Nashville Public Library approves. The Nashville city councillors do not. That’s why they both came to my attention today – the story I’m about to relate is a fascinating microcosm of contemporary attitudes to erotic literature and as such is probably significantly more important than it seems at first.
Nashville Public Library is currently displaying a series of erotic books under the title “Street Erotica”, featuring a genre of erotica that I frankly had no idea was so popular until I was shown this news story. Street Erotica is urban, predominantly African-American literature, largely examining hip-hop culture. This is the offending display, courtesy of NewsChannel5.com:
With titles such as “Girls From Da Hood”, “A Gangster’s Girl” and “Still Dirty”, it’s probably safe to assume that I would find it hard to relate to their content, and therefore I won’t be seeking these titles out myself. It might even be safe to assume I’m not the target audience for this kind of material, as a white, middle-class Englishman. But as a producer and supporter of erotica, these books are now very relevant to me, to Afterglow, and very possibly to you too. And that’s why Larry Price, the library’s administrator, has our full support.
A local news agency reported that patrons of the library were “surprised the library would put up a display in the center of the library promoting books that depict illegal behavior with sexually suggestive cover photos.” Really? Depictions of criminal behaviour should not be displayed in public libraries? Well we better just pull out Patricia Cornwell’s novels then, and in fact the entire crime writing genre. And look below – do you think the book covers are THAT provocative? I don’t.
But that’s all beside the point. The real meat on the bones of this story is in the conflict between the library and a particular local councillor, one Jacobia Dowell.
“That’s horrible,” said Dowell. “I mean, I believe in free speech, but I just think we could highlight something else.”
In her defence, she did say that she wasn’t against the library holding the books, but that they shouldn’t be displayed, going on to describe the display as “offensive and unacceptable”. I can’t help noticing that old implication: that erotic writing somehow was less artistic merit than any other type of fiction. It’s this attitude that needs to be addressed, and the only way to do it is to do exactly what Larry Price, the library administrator, has done: DISPLAY THEM. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think he’s taking a stand for erotica, or that this issue is even particularly close to his heart (though it may well be). No, he’s taking a stand for common sense.
Oh, and it’s worth noting that the books in the Street Erotic display are checked out four times more frequently than most other books at the library.