February 07, 2008


Sexy in 6: Sculpt Your Body with the 6 Minute Quick-Blast Workout. By Tracey Mallett. Da Capo. $26.

Good Sex Illustrated. By Tony Duvert. Translated by Bruce Benderson. Semiotext(e). $14.95.

      Now here’s a shocker of a revelation: sex still sells! And apparently it sells whether you’re enthusiastically endorsing it (Tracey Mallett) or equally enthusiastically condemning it (Tony Duvert).

      Actually, the biggest problem with Mallett’s book – the latest of innumerable exercise-and-diet tomes by people who look far, far better than their readers ever will, largely because it is their full-time job to exercise and look great – is that there is not enough sex in it. Mallett, a Pilates instructor, sports nutritionist, personal trainer, fitness instructor, TV fitness guru and featured fitness expert in many magazines and on the Web, looks absolutely fantastic in a clean-cut, wholesome way; the fact that her entire career is built on looking the way she does helps explain how she has time to develop the appearance that she shows off on the book’s cover and within its pages. But the “sexy” part of the book doesn’t show up until Chapter 9, which is nearly 200 pages in, and lasts only a few pages (a truly sex-focused exercise book, if done with the same winsome charm and slight hint of naughtiness that Mallett offers, really would be something different in this overcrowded field). So yes, there are illustrated “Solo Sexercises” here, plus unillustrated “Partner Sexercises” (“my husband’s a little camera shy, and in this case, so am I”). And Mallett includes some research on the health benefits of sex, plus a testimonial from a member of “Team Mallett” (ordinary people who follow the author’s approach) that leads Mallett herself to write, in the breathless style she employs throughout the book, “Robin is hot, hot, hot! When I saw her final picture I nearly fell off my chair – I was so amazed at how fabulous she looked.” But when you get right down to it – and “it” is exercise, not sex – Mallett’s exercise recommendations are nothing special. The best things about her book are, first, those testimonials from real-world people to whose bodies readers may actually be able to relate (as they cannot possibly relate to Mallett’s); and, second, the copious illustrations throughout the book showing exactly what the various exercises look like and just how, in simple terms, to do them. Mallett’s focus is the word “quick,” as in “Quick Upper-Body Blast” and “Quick Abs Blast,” which means she deemphasizes the fact that an individual set of exercises may be fast, but weight loss and body toning require doing a large number of routines over a long period of time. There is nothing wrong with any of this – anything that gets people motivated to move and work out is a good thing, and this book’s willingness to show photos (although not exercise photos) of women with less-than-perfect bodies is a point in its favor. If the bonus DVD, recipes, motivation journal and even the too-cute title encourage more people to get moving, then brava to Mallett. But readers should not expect to end up looking like her – not in six minutes, not in six years, and in most cases, not ever.

      Sex is not celebrated but bemoaned in the strange, even peculiar Good Sex Illustrated, a new edition of a 1973 rant against bourgeois sex education. The book, in approach and in its very existence, is quintessentially French, written by a gay Frenchman who strongly advocates the unpoliced and uninhibited exploration of sexuality by children. Duvert spends more than 200 pages attacking a now-30+-year-old family-oriented sex-education manual for daring to promote sex in the context of male-female relationships and the breeding of children. Talking of “the profound cruelty of medical reasoning” and denigrating orgasm as the tool of a “voracious profit machine,” Duvert – as translated by Bruce Benderson – finds nothing to admire in sex education that occurs in a heterosexual context and promotes what Americans would call “family values.” Indeed, one of the very few things Duvert does consider praiseworthy is the recent Danish decision (recent when the book was written) to lower the age of consent to 14 – something that the author hoped would be the harbinger of a sexually liberating trend (it wasn’t). The prose here is almost laughably overheated, even in translation, as when Duvert attacks a photo of an older man and young boy “because it personifies Evil, Sex and the Other. I’d believed that this trinity of a god-demon was dead – but yet again, what the priests have abandoned, medicine hangs on to.” This book gets no more than a (++) rating, and gets even that only because it is such a curiosity that it is worthwhile to study by those seeking to understand the gulf that exists between some elements of French society and some of American; between some elements of gay society and some of heterosexual life; and between some writers who are determined to proclaim themselves avant-garde with “look at me!” fervor – and those who prefer to be rational.

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