1st Edition (2013)
Touchstone (Simon & Schuster) | ISBN 978-1-4767-3245-1
About The Book
The New York Post calls this book “equal parts memoir and guide book,” and that seems to be exactly what Stern had in mind when devising its organization.
The contents are divided into five sections the author correlates to the stages of courtship: Flirting, Foreplay, Intercourse, Orgasm, and The Morning After. Four of those sections are comprised of three chapters of personal experience story and three “lessons” about the swinger lifestyle. The last section offers three author experience stories, but only one lesson — for a total of 15 experience stories and 13 lessons in the body of the book.
There is, in addition, a brief introductory story and author’s “disclaimer” as front material, and an afterward of sorts (called Little Black Book) with a “bonus lesson” about hosting a lifestyle gathering, acknowledgements, and a glossary of terms.
In the introductory Author Disclaimer, Stern states, “I’ve written for those who want to learn, truly learn, about a community with which they aren’t familiar.” He’s made it clear that the intended audience for this book are those curious about the Lifestyle — the uninitiated or nearly uninitiated.
What We Thought
Though Stern emphasizes that he’s writing as one of the much-maligned “single guys” in the Lifestyle, the book’s title, tagline, online description, and the “advance praise” quotes on the back cover do not adequately emphasize that the real intended audience for this book seems to be other single guys desiring to enter the lifestyle.
It reads more as a how-to for single men looking for tips to infiltrate than a lifestyle guide for the masses.
Yes, we think that intrigued couples or single females could learn a thing or two by reading this book — but it reads more as a how-to for single men looking for tips to infiltrate than a lifestyle guide for the masses. There is no doubt that this is written from the viewpoint of — and mostly for the stereotypical interests of — a horny single straight male.
Above | That is the cover art produced by the book’s Australian publisher (Nero). We think it emphasizes the single-guy bent of the book a lot more than Touchstone’s gummy bear orgy version of the cover does. Both versions came out in fall of 2013.
We suppose we wouldn’t mind wannabe LS single guys reading this book. The author does emphasize respect, consent, patience, and consideration. Our issue with it is that he frames these important aspects of the Lifestyle more as ways to avail oneself of pussy and less as fundamentally good human traits. It reads more along the lines of, “if you treat them nice, they’ll let you fuck them” than “treat people well because that’s just what decent people do.”
Don’t get us wrong. He’s says some of the right things. For instance:
“Swingers seek fun, compatible people with whom they can enjoy good, adult times….Rude, pushy, insensitive single males remember the ‘good, adult fun’ part but forget the ‘people’ part. If the rude, pushy, insensitive male thought before he acted, he wouldn’t be destined for failure. If he viewed the Lifestyle in terms of sexual matchmaking rather than as an orgiastic smorgasbord he would not only achieve greater success but also better the odds for his comrades.”
This sounded so promising to read at the start of the book! But look closer. The phrases “destined for failure” and “achieve greater success” and “better the odds” hint at what the majority of the rest of the book seems to center on. He talks a good deal about his “quest” and his “hunt,” which may be honest, but it turned us off. We don’t want to be anyone’s prey.
We don’t want to be anyone’s prey.
The other turn-off was writing style. You won’t be shocked to hear this, if you’ve read our other reviews. Writing style is a big deal to us. Stern attempts to be witty and jaunty, but we barely made it through the first few chapters of his ham-fisted prose. An example:
“The doting crush parted and released Bob’s wife. Gift-wrapped in black silk, with tresses of auburn hair that exist only in shampoo commercials, she drifted toward us and docked at Bob’s side. Onto his cliff of a shoulder she slid a hand — a hand sporting a ring with a rock big enough to skip across a lake. Given the exhaustive vetting to which Bob had subjected me, I couldn’t help but see the diamond as emblematic of the size and depth of their love….”
Gag. Trust us when we tell you that his description of Bob eating is even worse.
The dialogue is particularly grating. People in this book rarely just speak — the dialogue attribution tags are more along the lines of “she chirped,” or “she cooed,” or “he barked,” “he chimed in,” “she boasted,” and “I corrected.” It’s an annoying case of ‘said’-avoidance.
There were three other strikes against this book that lead us to our recommendation to skip reading it:
One | The memoir-esque chapters may provide readers who crave a peek into the lifestyle with some sexy titillation; however, they read to us as humble-brag segments. Though Stern points out some foibles and is careful to include some self-deprecating anecdotes, overall he makes certain to frequently paint himself as uncommonly skilled (“Poker Night” describes not only his vastly superior prowess at poker but also at poke her). We get it, dude, you’re a very special and very very worthy single guy. Good for you!
An example: The book features a chapter titled “Same Book, Dusty Cover” (insert eye roll here), in which Stern describes a house party where he “hadn’t expected to be the youngest by three-plus decades.” He goes to great lengths to describe the party goers as liver-spotted, “elderly women with percolating libidos,” including Jackie — his hostess. “Jackie physically dragged me (emotionally kicking and screaming) into the living room and began ripping at my clothes,” he relates. He then tells what he clearly thinks is the hilarious tale of Jackie’s overzealous fucking and his helpless newbie predicament, ending in the obligatory “did I kill her?” moment from which she emerged, requesting a break from the action. He then makes sure we hear one of Jackie’s friends say, “In the twenty-seven years I’ve known her, not once has Jackie needed a break.” The gist of the chapter seems to be that he eventually played with all the old ladies, despite his initial revulsion — which he elaborates in detail — and is glad to have done so. But the subtext is clearly about his sexual prowess. Go Dan.
Two | There is a certain peremptory, supercilious tone to the tips embedded in his stories, the lesson chapters, and — worst of all — the explanatory footnotes (which he relies upon far too often throughout the book). He often talks in absolutes and treats his reader as imbecilic. An example is the footnote definition he offers for the word buffet — “a meal consisting of several dishes from which guests serve themselves.” He goes on in the footnote to explain that buffets are common at Lifestyle parties and why, but — good lord — why insult your reader by defining “buffet”?
His footnote on STI’s:
“If you don’t know this one, then you’re part of the problem and I, as well as the community as a whole, would greatly appreciate that you study up on STIs before venturing into our world.”
Condescending. Know-it-all. Derisive. In a word, unappealing. It’s not that he’s wrong. It’s his tone that is off-putting. (And this complaint is coming from someone born and raised on a steady diet of sarcasm).
Three | The way he talks about women is a huge turn off in several places. His stories frequently focus on women as possessions of their male benefactors, as if they exist solely to be enjoyed and used — even when it’s not a specified dom/sub scene. Beyond that, his appraisals of women’s bodies often come across as crass.
“Danielle bore certain physical traits not accurately depicted in her profile. Namely, sagging jowls and a gravity-affected gut that draped over the front and sides of her jeans….” This, in a story about a women he met who was not as expected, including footwear that did not meet his approval, offensive body odor, and a series of past DUI arrests. He claims that when he made the date he “suggested a meet ‘n’ greet…and if everything clicked, we’d head out for a night of fun.” Despite nothing whatsoever clicking — all initial impressions being a turn-off — rather than end the date, the author recounts loading her up with booze. “I plied Danielle with a fourth, fifth, and sixth cocktail with the dying hope that I would unearth some gem of a personality.” He then suggested they proceed to a LS party, where he ignored her entirely until he couldn’t — and then dumped her off at the bar where they’d met. “I didn’t even wait for the passenger door to close before I peeled off.” The story does not end with him reflecting on his own decisions or behavior. It seems to be included in the book solely to recount how unappealing Danielle had been.
The gross-est moment comes earlier in the book when he describes a woman with breasts that reminded him of Soleil Moon Frye, pre-breast reduction. He offers the following footnote at that point in his text:
“For those unfamiliar with Soleil, shame on you! She was the title character from TV’s Punky Brewster. Still don’t know? Google her. I recommend season four, when she’s at her most ‘breastfully’ developed.”
For chrissake, Stern. No. Just…no.
The author of this book wants to come across as helpful, knowledgeable, self-aware, experienced, witty, wise, and worldly. He ends up coming across as condescending, presumptuous, at least peripherally misogynistic, and downright creepy in places.
Look. There are things to be learned about the LS from this book. But we think any newbie to the Lifestyle would be better off reading the blogs and listening to the podcasts we’ve listed in the RESOURCES section.
Be sure to check out the ABOUT page to learn more about us and this blog.
featured photo | Nicoleta Ionescu