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Smut For Smarty-pants

Enough with the books, get to the dirt.

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The Naughty Bits:

The Steamiest and Most Scandalous Sex Scenes From the World's Greatest Books

By Jack Murnighan

Three Rivers Press, 231 pp.,

$14 (paper)

PHOTO BY PHILLIP PARKER
Jack Murnighan, the man behind Nerve.com's and Nerve magazine's "Jack's Naughty Bits," has a new book out and guess what. It's called The Naughty Bits ! And to start off we'll head straight down, to the bottom, to the Old Testament, because in Murnighan's closing pages and "for sheer quantity of nudge nudge," the Bible, he declares, is "up there." Getting "there," though, is not half the fun. In fact, it's more "like trying to distinguish body parts in scrambled adult channels on TV. If your attention wavers for even an instant, you risk missing the enchilada."

What he means is you risk missing out not on Abraham and Sarah (too complicated), not on Sodom and Gomorrah (too obvious), not on the Song of Solomon (too poetic, yet its beautiful verses Murnighan recognizes) but on Deuteronomy 23:1, in which it is written: "He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord." Why the testicularly challenged and unaccountably memberless should be denied Paradise Murninghan, who is not a theologian but the next best thing (a Ph.D. in medieval literature from Duke), chooses not to explain but merely to bring to your sweaty little hands and undivided attention. But if it's the enchilada you want, that's what he's here to serve.

Take it or leave it that he happens also to be conducting you on a crash course in world literature. You know, the books you either once had half a mind to get to or, full-minded, dreaded ever seeing the sight of. But rest assured. Of Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene, even Dr. Jack, he of the "bourbon-addled memory," admits that it's read "in its entirety only by the real triathletes of literary studies." What we get of Spenser is a scant 40 lines out of his unread thousands. The good Elizabethan topic? The fine art of flirting. This, though, is nothing.

The topic when it comes to the usual suspect, the man behind Ulysses: the fine art of rimming. But with this critical aside from the enlightening Murnighan, who, in his prefaces to these selections, is always and everywhere eye- if not mind-expanding: "Joyce opts for cadence and mellifluence instead of hard adjectives ... and it's a shame, for nothing would have given me more pleasure than to see the consummate wordsmith butt up against the aggressively corporeal -- in all its ineffability."

Praise be then, and more pleasure in the eyes of Murnighan, for his exciting excerpt from Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow -- a scene of bowel-emptying love-making that could easily empty your stomach and send you, if not to the closest sink, to the closest dictionary to double-check your understanding of the word "ineffable." (The "butt up" part we get but not nearly often enough.)

No dictionary required and no instance among "the world's greatest books" in the case of Larry Flynt, who, as an "Unseemly Man," had his way with, then wrung the neck of his beloved, a chicken. Poor chicken. Have you gotten a good look at the face on Larry Flynt? Or, for that matter, Jean Genet? Even so, Genet gets his too -- no chicken, just a guy -- and this unaccustomed bit of armchair psychoanalyzing from Murnighan so out "there" it may be true (but what of it?): "Genet seeks out these 'queers who hate themselves,' finding, perhaps, in their pained concessions to desire a Dantesque punishment for his own inescapable self-hatred."

Well, at least Genet, damnation, was in good company. Dante's story of Paolo and Francesca in the Inferno, in what Murnighan calls "the most archetypal of all naughty bits in the history of literature," gets pride of place, before and above the low-down we get from Lawrence, Roth, Goethe, Toni Morrison, Shakespeare, Donne, Hemingway, M.F.K. Fisher (!), Hesiod, Boccaccio, Erica Jong, Plato, Rabelais, George Eliot (!!), Chaucer, Sir Philip Sidney, Sappho, Petronius, Ovid, Anonymous (?), Sade, Ariosto, Garcia Marquez, Cormac McCarthy, and for those who really know their international best-sellers, Thibaut de Champagne, John Wilmot (Earl of Rochester), the Pearl Poet, Johannes Secundus, Jean de Meun, and Guillaume IX. Plus, and get this, of all nonentities, Kenneth Starr, whose report, we're informed, "was written as, and is certainly meant to be read as, a love story." And I thought it was meant to be read as an attempted coup d'état.

But I, a sucker for the truth be told, even be it in a dead language, am sticking with the 2,000-year-old poems in Latin of Catullus, whose "bawdy and satiric lyrics," Murnighan argues, "are some of history's wittiest barbs." He's right. In poem LXIX, a certain Rufus is made not to wonder why "no woman/Wants to place her soft thigh under you ..." The problem? This Rufus has got a "a mean goat in the armpit's valley." But that doesn't compare to the double-trouble of a playboy named Amelius in XCVII. Jack Murnighan has done the work digging up this guy's dirt. Your job's to get wind of it.

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