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Dirty books

Erotic fiction and the avant-garde in mid-century Paris and New York

By Barry Reay and Nina Attwood

Dirty books
Hardcover +
  • Price: £12.99
  • ISBN: 9781526159243
  • Publish Date: Jun 2023
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
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    Paperback -
  • Price: £12.99
  • ISBN: 9781526181466
  • Publish Date: Jan 2025
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
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    eBook +
  • Price: £12.99
  • ISBN: 9781526159236
  • Publish Date: Jun 2023
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Pre-Order £12.99

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    Book Information

    • Format: Paperback
    • ISBN: 978-1-5261-8146-6
    • Pages: 312
    • Price: £12.99
    • Published Date: January 2025

    Description

    An intimate history of the pornographic publisher behind some of the greatest works of the twentieth-century avant-garde.

    From the 1930s to the 1970s, in New York and in Paris, daring publishers and writers were producing banned pornographic literature.

    The authors of the books were young, impecunious writers, poets and artists. Most of them wrote to survive, but some relished the freedom to experiment that anonymity provided - men writing as women, women writing as men - and some, such as Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller, went on to become influential figures in modernist literature.

    Dirty books tells the stories of these writers and their remarkable publishers: Jack Kahane of Obelisk Press and his son Maurice Girodias of Olympia Press, whose catalogue and repertoire anticipated that of the more famous US publisher Grove Press.

    Reviews

    'Reay and Attwood tell the story of Obelisk and Olympia with admirable scholarly precision.'
    Andrew Hussey, The Literary Review

    'Reay and Attwood's chapter on Kahane's Obelisk Press... is one of the best.'
    James Campbell, The Spectator

    'Dirty Books is calculated, stylised, elegantly written and necessarily respectful of the kinds of vernacular expression in which pornographic literature is steeped.'
    Steve Whitaker, Yorkshire Times

    'Avant-garde art has long been associated with the shock of the new but in Dirty Books, Barry Reay and Nina Attwood show the extent to which erotic fiction fuelled modernist writing in London, New York and Paris. Drawing on a motley cast of characters from Anaïs Nin to Alexander Trocchi, Dirty Books is a gripping account of sex, censorship and the avant-garde. '
    Douglas Field, author of Walking in the Dark: James Baldwin, My Father and Me

    'By pushing the boundaries of legally and artistically valid expression, avant-garde literature often blurred the lines between art and pornography. But Reay and Attwood go further, arguing that even the sleaziest paperbacks from Obelisk and Olympia Press also contain unheralded moments of aesthetic brilliance. Filled with absolutely wild quotes from a plethora of titles and authors well beyond the modernist canon, Dirty Books just might be your guide to a whole new reading list!'
    David Church, author of Disposable Passions: Vintage Pornography and the Material Legacies of Adult Cinema

    'A short guide to the world of twentieth-century, English-language pornography where pseudonyms abounded, men wrote as women, women wrote as men, classics were eroticised, and new works were passed off as classics of the genre. Reay and Attwood describe a dizzying world where sex and money chased each other into books.'
    Lisa Z. Sigel, author of The People's Porn: A History of Handmade Pornography in America

    'Dirty Books lays bare the secret history of the mid-century literary underground, where modernist classics and porn-for-hire travelled along the same clandestine transnational circuits. A unique combination of scholarly analysis and anecdotal wit, it promises to be the authoritative resource on this crucial strand of modern literary history.'
    Loren Glass, author of Rebel Publisher: How Grove Press Ended Censorship of the Printed Word in America

    'Barry Reay and Nina Attwood's Dirty Books is proof-positive that the infamous have more fun. Maybe. Gathered in this clutch of microhistories of literary publishers and their coteries are tales elucidating the glittering and sometimes brutal oscillations between pornography and art in the period right before the sexual revolutions of the late 1960s.'
    Andy Campbell, author of Bound Together: Leather, Sex, Archives and Contemporary Art

    Contents

    Introduction
    1 Beginnings: Jack Kahane and Obelisk Press
    2 The syndicate: pornography for the private collector
    3 Olympia, Paris
    4 Repurposed pornography: the role of erotic classics
    5 Dirty books
    6 Sexual revolution: Olympia, New York
    7 Literature or pornography?
    Conclusion
    Index

    Authors

    Nina Attwood is the author of The Prostitute's Body (2011) and a co-author of Sex Addiction: A Critical History (2015)

    Barry Reay is the author of Sex in the Archives (2019) and Trans America (2020)

    Dirty books

    By Barry Reay, Nina Attwood

    Paperback £12.99 / $18.95

    Hardcover £20.00 / $29.95

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