‘Mandra’ by Anais Nin

I am including Nin’s erotic collection, as when Fifty Shades of Grey hit the world, supposedly revolutionizing literary female sexuality, many of us said, “Why the hell weren’t people reading the more exquisite, sensual words of Anais Nin?” ‘Mandra’, set in New York, where “the illuminated skyscrapers shine like Christmas trees” is the story of Mandra and her erotic adventures with Mary and Myriam, with and without their clothes on. 

Written in the 1940s. First formally published posthumously, in Little Birds, Harcourt Brace, 1979. Now available as a Penguin Modern Classic

‘The Woman on the Dunes’ by Anais Nin

I loved Nin when I was in my early twenties; as I’ve gotten older, I still have an abiding respect. 

For her bluntness, for her insistence on including the erotic in all things, in making it so central and complex. I still think she could have done more interesting things with adjectives, but this story of a horny man prowling a beach, the ensuing sex with a beautiful woman, and the unapologetically dark meta-fictive flourish at the end, is an example of Nin at her juicy best. I like that erectile dysfunction is handled with tenderness, not drama, that the limits of masculinity melt away in the kindness and the water. The repetition, the narrative of changing moods, the combat of it all, is so finely judged. Nin forensically collected and presented all those tiny, compulsive things that we need to get off. I truly think the world is a better place because of artists who take the textures of sex seriously. 

First published in Little Birds, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979. Currently available from Penguin Modern Classics, 2002. You can hear [a rather bad] reading of this story here