Daniel Handler: "Want Teenage Boys to Read? Give Them Books About Sex."

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/07/31/daniel-handler-want-teenage.html


I can’t read this without hearing it in Patrick Warburton’s voice, in the deadpan delivery he does so well on the show.


Can’t say I disagree. Classic literature can be filthy. Also:

I can describe an axe entering a human skull in great explicit detail and no one will blink twice at it. I provide a similar description, just as detailed, of a penis entering a vagina, and I get letters about it and people swearing off. To my mind this is kind of frustrating, it’s madness. Ultimately, in the history of [the] world, penises entering vaginas have given a lot of people a lot of pleasure; axes entering skulls, well, not so much.

-George R.R. Martin


During my early high school years I bravely strolled into the adult section of the public library, and started reading SF novels. I was fairly amazed at the amount of sexual detail many those books contained. So much so that I had trouble avoiding blushing when I carried particular authors’ works up to the checkout counter. Good times.


I remember my Great Aunt gave me a novel. Not sure why. I am not even sure why I read it. It wasn’t at all what I was into. It was like a horror/ghost novel. But it had at least one sex scene I remember. Think that was my first encounter in literature.

I “borrowed” Everything you wanted to know about sex but were afraid to ask from a lady on my paper route whose dogs I fed while there were on vacation. It was just in with a pile of books in their garage.


Sci-fi. Yes: “The World Inside” by Robert Silverberg.

Have fun!


A bunch of local parents tried to get “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” banned over some mild sexual references. All that was accomplished is to make it one of the most popular reads in school.


It was on that list, in fact it slotted right in. Now, Phillip Farmer… Sigh.




I didn’t bother to read the list!

The book has a sort of weird, slightly sublimated burlesque-ish humor to it. I can’t ever forget one of its main characters, Sigmund Kluver, and his antics, or one of the punishments meted out by the future society depicted, i.e., “Down the chute with the bastard, boys!”, which – in my now adult retrospect – seems weird given all the flagrant sex.

I suspect that many successful writers (including sci-fi ones) started out with sex-themed stories and such… just to survive. Think Stephen King.


Good quote. As I read somewhere years ago, to the ultra-conservative mind, describing murder is ok, but doing it is bad. Describing sex is bad, but doing it is ok.


Boys and girls are going to find ways to discover sex, and it’s easier than ever with the interwebs, but it was never that difficult. In principle, I agree with exposing them to positive sexual role models through literature and other media. Now if only there were more positive role models to be found in pop culture. If that is what Handler wants to create, then I say more power to him. But given how sex is typically presented in adult pop culture, I’m skeptical.


Exactly! My other thought was that there is so much existing literature with sex in it that they could already be reading, probably with their parents’ blessing. My parents were thrilled that I was devouring classic literature at 12, and probably never noticed that some books fell open to certain oft-read passages.


I see wut u did dere!

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Yeah, back in high school parents in my district tried that.

My mom showed up and deflated their balloon by among other things asking if any of them had actually read the book like she had, or were they just going on rumor?


laminate them, first.


Heinlein comes to mind, but then despite the enthusiastic nudity I suppose he doesn’t get into sex all that much, per se.

Todd Strasser was the most transgressive author I encountered in my youth.


I read a lot of fantasy as a young lad. LotR, Narnia, CS Lewis’s ‘sci-fi’, Thomas Covenant (least likable protagonist ever), Elric, anything Michael Moorcock (a bit of sex in there for sure). Then I started branching out into SciFi. Starship Troopers, Forever War, then Stranger in a Strange Land (wow! tons of sex in there!) then I got ahold of John Varley’s work…

Favorite line: “‘In five years, the penis will be obsolete’ said the salesman.”


I mostly agree with this, except that I am a bit puzzled because I seem to remember lots of sex in many of the books I read as a teenager. Sure I know that occasionally some trending book sets off a tizzy (which of course triggers way more interest), but unless things have changed I wouldn’t describe a lack of sex as a problem. I could definitely see an argument for better sex. Certainly I remember some books where it seemed like some sex scenes were added after the fact for no apparent reason other than “you need a sex scene”. And I have to say that if your average teenager questions whether a sex scene is really necessary, perhaps your writing needs a bit of polish.


this is absolutely true. In Jr High I got interested in History because there was a picture in the textbook of Cro-magnons sitting around a fire NAKED, so I had to read about fish traps and brain tanning to justify returning to that page many times. (life was hard then, it was before the pill)

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