Category Archives: Things literary

Chaste or chased?

With the hardback edition of the book newly released (you should find it in the self-help section of your local book shop, unless I’ve paid a prior call and cheekily repositioned it more prominently), plans are afoot to test some of the lessons I’ve learnt.

The sieve relates to the story of Tuccia, a Vestal Virgin who proved her chastity by carrying water in a sieve. Note also that long line of men.

The sieve relates to the story of Tuccia, a Vestal Virgin who proved her chastity by carrying water in a sieve. Note also that long line of men over Elizabeth I's padded shoulder.

We’re calling it the ‘Chaste Challenge’, and later on in the year I’ll be asking for volunteers to swear off sex. Not for a full 12 months like I did, but for three, maybe four – no more than six.

Though the details are still being fine-tuned, I thought I’d float the idea with a scientist friend over the weekend.

I’d barely finished explaining when Heather, let’s call her, had a question to ask.

Could a person volunteer if they had nothing to give up? In other words, could they join the ‘Chaste Challenge’ midway through an involuntary dry spell?

My answer is yes, because it’s making the decision that counts. However long you’ve gone, by taking charge and making that dry spell your own, you fundamentally alter its dynamic. Everything becomes different.

What’s more, as Heather the scientist suggested, as soon as you rule sex out, mischievous cupid will no doubt dispatch a fairy tale’s worth of suitors. That’s certainly how it felt to me.

This seems the perfect moment to share a hilarious and sweet story told to me recently by the excellent critic HB.

Years ago, sat in an A’level history revision class, she happened to glance at what the boy beside her had written in response to a question about why Elizabeth I had never married.

It was, he declared, because ‘she wanted to preserve a chased image.’ He’d misunderstood the term ‘chaste’ for two whole years. Or perhaps he hadn’t. Perhaps he knew exactly what the delicious but inconvenient perk of a chaste image could be.

What is it they say? Men love a challenge. Those 16th-century princes and dukes were presumably no different beneath their tights and codpieces.

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‘We rode the N train together’

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After a week spent writing and talking, the weekend was all about reading.

Book-wise, I’m enjoying Jules Asner’s debut novel,Whacked, a dark tale of romantic obsession disguised as chick lit. You can’t help feeling a smidgen of sympathy for its heroine, Dani, whose crackpot antics dramatise the extremes of what the L.A. dating scene can do to a person.

In the newspapers, I loved this little article from Friday’s New York Times. Reporter Alan Feuer trawled the ‘Missed Connections’ section of newyork.craigslist.org, adding line and stanza breaks to his favourite pleas from subway riders, smitten by their fellow passengers. The results are touchingly poetic and deeply romantic.

I bought the book / but I never got your name…’ rues one love-struck commuter, who talked Carlos Ruiz Zafon with a blonde beauty on the N train at 5:15.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder – and romance loves a challenge. In an age of instant ‘connections,’ be it texts or Skype chat or campus hook-ups, we forget that real connections can deepen when given space and time. If you’re still thinking about someone hours, days, weeks after your eyes met as the train doors closed, you’re perhaps on to something.

My own ‘Missed Connection’ involves not a subway train but a rain-slicked street. New York City’s East Houston, to be precise. As I hopped over a puddle, a handsome stranger asked me how the knishes were today. That isn’t kinky code (well, not that I know of) – I happened to have just stepped out of the magnificent Yonah Schimmel’s. I smiled from beneath my brolly and strode on, English-ly.

Where are you, dishy knish aficionado? If only I’d stopped to chat! But it’s undoubtedly the fact that I didn’t that makes it so romantic.

Would love to read your tales of ‘Missed Connections’…

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P.S. Latest coverage…

Hot off the press, this just in from this morning’s Daily Mail

Great to see that they’ve picked up on all the positive aspects.

photographer: Paul WebbFavourite comment so far from the message boards, a woman named Kathy who quotes advice doled out by her granny in 1971: ‘Be the one they practise FOR, not the one they practise ON.’

Also, respect to the reader calling herself ‘Marie Claire’ from Brussels, who’s been chaste for eight years and counting. Or rather, not counting, since she sounds far too busy and contented.

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Chastened’s newsstand debut

A big thank you to The Guardian, who kicked off coverage of the book on Saturday with an edited extract in Weekend magazine.

The Guardian, June 20thProving my point that even while appearing nonchalant about high street lap-dancing clubs and call-girl confessionals, people continue to take anything sex-related very, very personally, the message board was deluged with comments.

Almost 300 in all, most were pretty exercised (so much pent-up frustration – you have to wonder…), but some raised interesting points. How ought chastity be defined? At what point in a relationship should you sleep with somone? A British guy in New York fessed up to being about a year into his own ‘chaste’ quest for a meaningful relationship, having realised what a turn-off constant availability was.

Hephzibah-Anderson-001In the blogosphere, mentions popped up on ErosStruck and Mental Imaging, and NBC Chicago flagged another woman’s six-month ‘sex sabbatical.’

A special mention goes out to the intrepid reporters over at MyVeryWorstDate.com. They blogged The Guardian‘s extract with a pithy preface that introduces the concept of ‘running the bases backwards.’ Check it out here.

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She’s old-fashioned

Topping my tower of must-reads just now is Sarah Dunn’s endearing new novel, Secrets to Happiness (Little, Brown, $23.99).

The story of a thirtyish screenwriter and novelist named Holly Frick, it flits around Manhattan, charting her somewhat disjointed romantic and artistic (mis)adventures. Secrets

Before you get the wrong idea, know that Holly abhors the term ‘chick lit.’

There is unexpected depth to the book’s comic appeal. As Jincy Willett pointed out in her New York Times review, ‘In a world — fictional and non- — where doing a good thing gets you accused of having a messiah complex, and doing whatever you want is justified as following your path, Holly never stops trying to figure out where her duty lies.

‘Underneath it all — the sex, the shopping, the city — she’s an old-fashioned heroine.’

Let’s hear it for Holly and her old-fashioned sisters!

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‘Awkward, kinky, funny, tender and messy’

Author Maeve Haran has set herself a challenge and a half. Not only does her latest novel, The Lady and the Poet (Pan), centre on the kind of high-stakes passion that courts ignominy and ostracism, but its principal player is none other than John Donne, one of the most erotically charged love poets to have tussled with the English language.

Haran, no stranger to steamy on-the-page clinches, entertainingly describes the challenges of bedding Donne in an article in this morning’s Telegraph. Awed by the task, she leafed back through legendary literary sex scenes – Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Fanny Hill, even Birdsong – in search of inspiration. She remained unmoved. ‘The awkward truth is that real sex is often anything but erotic,’ she concludes. ‘It is awkward, kinky, funny, tender and messy.’

Well, sure, but must its funny-tender-messy truth preclude eroticism? It would have been news to Donne. Then again, for him, really good sex wasn’t defined by a lover’s gymnastic prowess; it had to do with the act’s spiritual, transcendental content. Today, many of the words and images that he used to describe it are more commonly associated with the abstinence movement – with not having sex.

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