Thursday, September 18, 2008

Books: How To Make Love Like a Porn Star, by Jenna Jameson

Before I attempt to critically address a book that might not warrant critical reading, I insist on disclosing my motive in reading it: my book club, which meets once a month and has previously foisted upon me such literary atrocities as Atonement, decided that, after reading such tearjerkers as Atonement and What Is the What, we needed a break, something light. I suggested The Big Sleep (which, to be fair, we will be reading next), but no, they wanted something even lighter. They wanted something sexy. They wanted to read How To Make Love Like a Porn Star, wherein "author" Jenna Jameson offers her top ten tips on how to give a great blow job. The great tragedy for men in the greater New York area is that no amount of porn star-penned tips is going to turn these girls into cock-ravishers; their sexual maturity level can be summarized by their consensus on head-giving: "no one likes it; it smells like penis!" I will also add that a number of these girls supported Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primary election and, once she lost to superior candidate Barack Obama, vowed to vote McCain to punish the "thief." I cannot wait for our group discussion of Miss Jameson's book, when I can remind them that McCain's female running mate is a banner of books who would not approve of Jameson's "Cautionary Tale" being available at the public library (from which I checked out my copy, which had suffered at the hands of a brute who tore out the glossy centerfolds for him or herself).

But this is intended as a critical discussion of the book, not the book club. The genre is standard star fare: autobiographical memoir tell-all, but the creators (I can't say Jameson, because it's hard to parse out what portion of the book she actually wrote or even devised) mix it up a bit, including graphic novel pages, diary entries, interview "transcripts," snippets of screenplays, and tons of photos—black and white and full-color glossies—to break up the straight narration. This, plus all the smut (and I use that word with tenderness), makes for a quick read: I plowed through the nearly 600 pages over two evenings.

The joke on my book club is that Jameson's story isn't any more cheerful than Achak Deng's (from What Is the What). Of course, she has less philosophical depth than Deng, and her ghostwriter (Neil Strauss of The Game, also ghostwriter to pickup artist Mystery) has aspirations far less literary than Dave Eggers (Deng's "ghost"writer), and so we feel less like crying when we read about teenaged Jenna being gang raped on the side of the road in a country town where she's a stranger, about teenaged Jenna being raped again, this time by a no-good boyfriend's surrogate father, a biker caricature of evil for whom Jenna is one in a long string of victims (including his own daughter, we later find out), about college-aged Jenna (who dropped out of high school so certainly isn't going to college) addicted to smoking meth (thanks again to that no-good boyfriend), weighing 80 lbs, unable to work or even walk, left for dead in an empty apartment with no friends to wonder or worry about her. To be perfectly plain, she comes from a broken white-trash home (her mother a Vegas showgirl dead from cancer when Jenna was just a toddler, her father a veteran who went into law enforcement but never controlled his own two kids, who ran around the neighborhood setting fires and otherwise disturbing the peace, a brother who was a drug addict, and a grandmother—would you believe this?—a grandmother who stole drugs from her own grandson (Jenna's brother)).

If this is a cautionary tale, it's one for parents, not children. And so while, in a way, Jameson's story is an inspiring tale of survival against all odds, it's incredibly depressing if one steps back to see the forest. What Is the What shook me because I couldn't believe we let that happen (ten year old children making death marches across Sudanese desert, starving so that when they happened upon a bird, they ate it raw, beak to claw, feathers included), but that, at least, happened far away, for political reasons: complex arguments between allied groups and nations over resources and power. This happened, happens still I'm sure, right here, under our noses, for small reasons, individual desires, frustrations, moments of violence, lack of control. It's far less forgivable.

Now where's my grain of salt? How seriously do we want to take Jameson? If the purpose of the book is to make money (I think that, without even reading it, you will agree that the purpose of such a book is not to tell a story, but only to make money), the inclusion of just the right amount of tragedy validates the extreme amount of debauchery (the lesbian lovemaking off the set, the constant full-body pleasure in her work (she her onscreen orgasms are actual), and the enormity of every cock she's ever touched (her narration constantly includes asides describing her trepidation at each of her partner's sizes; not once does she describe a man as anything less than brobdignanian—non porn-stars included)). Clearly, she is pandering, but to point that out only reiterates the absurdity of my attempt to consider this book critically. I ought, like the rest of my book club, say "bring on the blow job tips." Unfortunately, there isn't anything new or useful there either. Except, maybe, for girls who are afraid of the smell of penis.