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Dirty Words

Oprah's Book Club
chooses Dirty Words as one of the top ten books about sex!

Antonya Nelson pays lip service to the blow job. Phillip Lopate ruminates on duration. Martha McPhee waxes poetic about hermaphrodites. From sexual relationships to sexual positions, from the classics to contemporary twists, Dirty Words collects the most titillating and provocative definitions of the most outlandish and often unspeakable sexual terms, as defined and explained by some of today's most exciting writers. With additional contributions from Jonathan Ames, Thomas Beller, Maud and Nell Casey, Pagan Kennedy, Stephen McCauley, Elissa Schappel, Katharine Weber, and many others, Dirty Words steps in where time-honored discussions of the birds and the bees fall short.

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What's genius about this book, edited by Ellen Sussman, is that it features some 100 writers (including Jonathan Ames, Phillip Lopate and Patricia Marx), so the definitions (from cyber sex to... way, way beyond) are often deeply, charmingly (and sometimes bizarrely) idiosyncratic and personal. AdAge

Subtle smut for smart people, it (Dirty Words) perhaps exists to be placed on a table to spark conversation between consenting adults, should that be the type of party or date one wishes to have. It is titillating. San Francisco Chronicle

When was the last time you had a really hot, juicy conversation about sex that was both honest and playful, imaginative and whimsical, but most importantly, wide-ranging in the variety of the topics you discussed? For those of you who enjoy expanding and even sharing your fascination with human behavior as well as the variegated topography of your own erotic landscapes, you just got lucky.
Santa Cruz Metro

Reading Dirty Words cover to cover isn't so much an exploration of sexual tastes and boundaries as it is a celebration of our splendid imagination and capacity for tolerance. NPR

Author Sussman compiled this quasi-reference book as a corrective for not getting the "facts of life" talk that her brother received. The result is an often riveting, and occasionally shocking, essay collection that does much more than define 94 sex-related terms. With close to 100 writers (including Thomas Beller, Antonya Nelson, Pagan Kennedy, Jonathan Ames and poet Stephen Dunn), there's a huge range of styles and sensibilities. The pseudonymous writer tackling "adultery" admits to cheating on his girlfriend with his wife: "six months in and who's to tell whom you're horny for anymore?" Meredith Maran's essay on "bisexuality" has a surprise ending for all involved: Maran reveals her bisexuality to her husband at the very moment she first recognizes it herself. Some essays are romantic; Victoria Redel's impressionistic entry for kissing begins with the delicious line, "The first surprise of your mouth and mine." Some are goofy—Bret Anthony Johnston revives the old what's-your-porn-star-name parlor game—and some are actually fiction—like Lucy Ferriss's brief one-act play script, "Mile High Club"—but most are surprisingly straightforward and entirely unconcerned with shock value, even regarding the terms too dirty to print here.
Publisher's Weekly

A congress of writers, including Philip Lopate and Toni Bentley, redefines the language of love and lust, tackling terms from adultery to virginity and reminding us that naughty can be nice. Playboy

Lexicon of Libido
From Lucky Pierre to Dirty Sanchez, here's a reference work that might just still manage to get itself banned in Boston. Much kinky knowledge is to be garnered from the lewd and learned Dirty Words: A Literary Encyclopedia of Sex (Bloomsbury), edited by Ellen Sussman. Following her quick and dirty--actually, sweet and funny--introduction, this randy guide offers entries by a hip roster of some 100 writers, whose contributions are as multifarious as the universes of love, sex, and language themselves. Donovan Bright's casually forceful take on adultery posits that it "isn't about the sex at all" but rather about being "the boss of all bosses." Antonya Nelson takes a page from her student years, when she was smitten with an older professor, to revisit an unexpected act of fellatio. Victoria Redel tells us in her gorgeous tone poem about kissing that it's "like there is another room inside and then there is another room inside." Sarah Bird's take on obsession as "love at first sight" is so obvious yet well executed that it catches us up in its smarty-pants logic. As for pornography, historian Tita Chico reminds us that it has "been around longer than the word; it was just called other things." Among its more recent appellations is the vernacular "Tijuana Bible." Who knew? Which is just one reason why this catalog of the carnal is such wicked fun to read: Like its subject material, it's sexy, silly, and full of savory surprises. Elle

So if someone requests a 'hum job,' calls you a 'lug,' asks you to touch their 'taint,' or admits that they're a chronic 'fobber,' you will know what they're talking about. (read more) — Nylon

Sensual yet sophisticated...Provocative definitions and stories from noted writerscan inform and inspire you. Self

School's out, but you can still expand your mind and possibly your repertoire by picking up Ellen Sussman's DIRTY WORDS: A Literary Encyclopedia of Sex (Bloomsbury), offering essays, stories, and definitions on all things erotic.

A Handful of Lust
ORGY IS A WORD that fills your mouth like a wild oyster that's just a little too big to (comfortably) swallow." That's one of many juicy-or unpalatable, depending on your point of view-revelations in Dirty Words: A Literary Encyclopedia of Sex, edited by Ellen Sussman (Bloomsbury). This compendium of highly personal definitions runs the gamut from A, Adultery to W, Wet Dreams, and includes stories and essays by the likes of Joshua Furst (Cybersex), Patricia Marx (Vibrator), and Elissa Schappell (Exhibitionist). Among the stellar celibates listed under C, Celibacy: Isaac Newton, Carol Channing, Antoni Gaudí, and Sigmund Freud, who swore off sex from about the age of 41. This little book of predilections would have knocked him off his couch.
O magazine

Ellen Sussman has compiled the outrageous book we all wish we could've snuck into our school bookbags. — Penthouse

I was immediately touched (not that kind of touched; please, get your mind out of the gutter) by Ms. Sussman's dedication, "To Neal, with love, the word I've saved for you." Awwww. Now that's sweet. The Columbus Dispatch Book Blog

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Excerpt from Ellen's Introduction

When my brother was eleven years old, my father invited him for a car ride.

"Where are we going?" my brother asked.

"Nowhere," my father said. "We're just going to drive around."

"I wanna go!" I wailed, ten years old and desperate for my father's attention.

"Boys only," my father said.

My brother flashed me a triumphant grin and the two of them marched out of the house and into my Dad's Rambler Station Wagon.

About an hour later, they returned. I was waiting on the front steps, imagining what wonderful adventures they were having without me.

They got out of the car and walked up the path. My brother avoided me. He had a smug, secretive look on his face and I was ready to kill him for it. They strode right past me and into the house.

I might have used torture; it wasn't beneath me. Somehow in the next few days I twisted an arm and extracted this information: they really did just drive around. But during that time, my father told my brother that he was going to tell him The Facts of Life.

"What's that?" I asked.

"I don't know," my brother said. "Dad told me I could tell him all the dirty words I knew and he would tell me what they meant."

"Did you?" I asked.


"And he told you?" I asked.

"Yep," he said. And he sauntered away.

This is my revenge. Instead of a car ride with Dad, swapping curse words for stories, I got a lousy pamphlet: Your Changing Body. No spicy language there – no fuck, no blow job, no slut. Who cares about fallopian tubes? Give me an orgy of dirty words.

This is my orgy of dirty words. You might learn the Facts of Life in these pages; you might learn the Mysteries of Life. I gave my contributors this assignment: pick a sexual word or term. Let it be your madeleine – let it summon up memory. Or take that word and toss it around, juggle it, work it through your teeth. I invited these remarkable writers to create stories or essays, rants or riffs, poems or persuasions. And they delivered the goods: a sexual literary feast.

This book is not porn or erotica, but tucked between these covers is some of the most erotic writing I have ever read. This book is not a social science textbook, but on these pages the sexual temperature of our culture is recorded – feel its heat. This book is not a dictionary, but in these essays and stories and poems, sexual terminology gets defined through bedtime romps, through word play and etymology and historical reference, through whimsy and happenstance.

I asked my contributors to offer up their musings in short pieces that would range from 250 to 1,000 words. I wanted them to boil down their material until they could offer us the essence of experience or thought. I wanted the heady rush of so much flavor – a taste that explodes in your mouth. I want the impact of that literary experience to linger, so that long after the book has been placed back on the shelf, the reader might still savor that rich concoction.

I gave my contributors the freedom to pursue their definitions in the format of their choice: fiction or non-fiction, poetry or play. This stylistic range seems fitting for the wildly different ways in which sex moves us, affects us, shakes us up, feeds us.

My contributors range in age: they're 24 years old and they're elder statesmen. I've learned that dirty words change with each generation. A year from now there will be new words and sexual curiosities to explore. If I've missed some words, let me know. I'll collect new words and missing words on my website: This isn't a complete list – it's an offering, a smorgasbord. And I've chosen to include words that aren't dirty at all: kissing, monogamy, virginity, for example. In fact, in my mind, no words are dirty: that's part of my intention here. Let's put it all on the table and talk about it. Something surprising happens: the words are mere words. It's what they represent that so intrigues us.

Why did I choose to gather literary essays about sex? I think that in writing about sex, writers get a chance to tap into unexplored territory. They push below the surface of relationships, of passion, of our urges and needs and dreams. They reveal truth about human behavior and about our society. Sometimes they even get closer to that illusive concept: love.

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