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For the Love of Books

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My first reading indiscretion took place when I was eleven years old. My friend got a free copy of a Mills and Boon book along with a bottle of Laxme Lotion. At the time she wasn’t much of a reader and passed it on to me. The name of the book was Counterfeit Bride, and while I enjoyed the romantic drama between the characters, the sex went over my head.

My pre-adolescent brain could not understand how a man could penetrate a woman and make shivers of pleasure shoot through her slim body. I thought about it for a long time, called up my friends and the girls could not understand either.

We decided to take the book to school and ask some knowledgeable girls, but they were as stumped as we were. The book became famous, and was passed around for a month before it was returned to me in a tattered condition.

Despite the skirmishes that we had with each other, being in a all-girls Catholic school, we were united in our decision to keep the book hidden from the teachers and parents. We debated over the ways a man could get under a woman’s skin, and even the most ludicruous explanation brought us girls together as we tittered and giggled.

The words penis or vagina were not mentioned even once in the book. Being a book published in the early eighties, intercourse was generally explained in rather delicate, erotic manner in most romance novels.

The book and I, however, were destined to part company the very day I got it back from the last borrower. I had hidden the book in my messy cupboard and my mother decided to do me a major favor and clean my cupboard up.

I distinctly remember a shiver of fear chill my spine when she screamed my name in a loud, truly dissed voice. I had never seen my mother so mad. She quietly spelled out how deep the pool of shit I had landed myself in and threatened to call my friend’s mother, the school teachers, and, worst of all, tell my father.

The book was confiscated for good five years before I became bold enough to ask for it. My friend and I had spent a whole week on tenterhooks. My mother played well on my fear by doing absolutely nothing.

No sex education was given, no calls were made to my friend’s mother or teacher met. Instead I was given the silent treatment along with pointed looks. My father and siblings remained oblivious to the tension between my mother and me.

Time passed slowly but surely, and I finally received my sex education by pouring over the Britannica Encyclopedia set that I received as a birthday gift a month later.

Enlightenment dawned on me soon enough, and I made sure I shared it with my fellow friends the next day, and the word spread to other classes soon enough. I enjoyed the status of a minor celebrity for the rest of the year.

I was the Miss Know-it-all till one fine day the nuns got a whiff that we knew “stuff,” and were given Sex Education a grade earlier. We knew that the penis went into the vagina and about orgasms, but it came as a shock when Sister Rose dressed a banana with a condom and passed packets for us to check out.

We were told about contraceptives, about boys wanting only one thing from girls, and how romantic relationships impregnated girls, destroyed career plans&#8212not to mention the social stigma that accompanied a sullied reputation.

Romantic books were said to be as distractive and corrupting as the opposite sex, and we had regular raids in our classes to make sure we weren’t having illegal transactions.

But no amount of corporal punishment, swollen calves and knuckles, stopped the barter; if nothing else we became creative in our hiding places. Our bags had false bottoms. I had made a slit in my coat where about ten books were hidden when we had a surprise raid, and my fellow mates were eternally grateful for coming to their aid.

Boys naturally followed, as curiosity and age made us test the boundaries marked by our parents and teachers.

While most girls were having romantic relationships I became more and more involved in the world of books, and found boys of my age to be numbskulls who couldn’t raise their eyes above our budding boobs.

Classics soon replaced romantic novels, and while my friends cried over their boyfriends, I mulled over Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, and drew comparions between those errant women and my boy crazy friends.

That being said, I wasn’t without my romantic inclinations&#8212I had a liking for older men, but had enough sense to know that to become a Lolita would be a sure fire way to self-destruct.

Men in their late twenties, early thirties, reminded me of the heroes in Classics, and also reflected some heroes from Mills and Boon. They were mature, noble, and had refined humor.

Keeping my romantic longings under a tight lock and key, I deliberately remained boyfriendless till I did my masters in history and archaeology.

However I continued to read romantic novels and watched them progress from using plot lines with macho heroes to whimpering heroines, to women who kicked ass and men with a liberal outlook towards life. Feminism had finally stepped into the world of romantic writing, and had positive influence on my young mind.

My favorite Mills and Boon authors, who peppered their stories with humor and gave the female protagonists enough backbone to say “fuck off,” were Emma Goldrick, Emma Darcy and Sara Craven

My all time favorite books by Emma Goldrick were The Road, Rent-a-Bride and Bringing up the Babies.

By the time I came to the ninth grade books by Jackie Collins, Danielle Steel, etc., were being casually passed around, and while we got to know what phrases like “giving head,” “blow job,” etc., meant, yet we remained an innocent bunch, as words like “nymphomaniac,” “necrophilia,” etc., had even the most jaded amongst us raise their eyebrows.

And though we had lesbians amongst us who hugged too close, toyed with each other’s buttons, or wrote letters in blood, we remained oblivious to their orientation, thinking they were just too bonded to their friends, till we came to high school and understood what gay relationships were all about.

Many straight girls in their ignorance considered homosexuality to be abnormal, and swallowed what the nuns and priests had to say about it hook, line, and sinker, yet some of us were saved yet again by books.

Jackie Collins had written about girl-on-girl and sweaty mixed orgies with an accepted briskness, and details were provided about anal sex, blow jobs, and the difference between fucking and making love.

Despite being utter trash, Collins’ books helped me maintain an open mind with regards to homosexuality, and once I discovered that Oscar Wilde was a homosexual and Lord Byron a bi-sexual, it was then that my arguments in my literature class strengthened against the teachers and nuns who propagated homophobia.

I was soon to swim against the tide again, and gain the title of a renegade as I began to educate my friends on Gay Culture and their contributions to society, and incurred censorship from the school administration, who even threatened to call my parents.

This time round there was no fear in my heart. I puffed my chest and told the principal that to censure books was a distinct feature of fascism, and if they tried to stop alternative viewpoints, then the school was a fascist organization.

These words had the desired effect, and while I remained a rogue reader in their eyes, yet they dealt with me grudging respect.

Books are like genies that can make frogs from a well become the owners of the oceans within the confines of the heart, if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphors.

Books egged on my thirst for knowledge that was deliberately held back, they gave me the courage to stand by my beliefs, and helped me evolve into a person who believes that libraries and books are treasure troves that can counter the spread of religious or political intolerance.

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About Deepti Lamba

  • she screamed my name in a loud, truly dissed voice…

    Did you mean distressed? Or that she felt “dismissed” or “disdained” by your choice of reading?

    Not having had the advantage of attending an all-girls school [grin], I can tell you that my singular “forbidden” read was Nevil Schute’s Trustee from the Toolroom. Once I read that, and could see no reason for it to be on the prohibited books list, I never looked back.

  • Don’t diss me, man!

    diss, dis (-ss-)

    verb {T} US SLANG

    to speak or behave rudely to someone or to show them no respect:

    Perhaps she was distressed, and after her scolding, I was dissed:)

    Must read the Shute – haven’t

    What worlds our books weave!

  • Bennett

    After all these years, I finally get the inside skinny on coming of age in an all girls school. Thanks swingingpuss! Fun reading. :-]

  • Aaaah, a girls’s first love.

    I skimmed right over that and read dissed as pissed.

    Why did the Nuns instruct about condoms. That’s a Catholic no-no or ….. ?

    Well read. Well told. Well Well.

  • Not only did the nuns talk about condoms but also other forms of contraceptives and before we passed out of school they had an OB-GYN come and talk to us and that lady was a hardcore feminist.

    I later taught in another Catholic School for about two years and was told by the nuns there that my school nuns were rather ‘forward and controversial in their thinking’.

    And by the way Temple not every girl’s first love are books:)

  • I was just riffing on the “fun” nun stereotypes and wondering.

    >And by the way Temple not every girl’s first love are books:)

    Father ……….. forgive me for i have sinned.

  • Lol, if you are gonna open the pandora’s box… we had a Catholic Boys school next door and were used to seeing priests coming out of the nuns quaters early morning…obviously it was perfectly innocent, confessions followed by breakfast but then again we knew who the favorite priests were as some of them graced our assemblies too often and had beaming nuns looking up to them.

  • Pandora’s box is very nice. Warm. Overflowing. Effusive. Easy to open really, I’m not sure of all the fuss.

    Can there be a more hormone-charge area than a Catholic boys and girls school next door?

    Give me nuclear radiation fallout any day instead. OK .. maybe not.

  • Shark

    Nice piece, Puss.

    (May I call you “Puss”?)

    It’s very interesting to see behind the Iron Curtain of Adolescent Gender Histories.

    I can’t remember my first ‘dirty’ book, (we liked to look at the lingerie ads in the Sears catalog, this was ca. early 1960s!) — but I do remember the first stirrings in my loins:

    Miss Powers, *third grade teacher, South Hills elementary.

    (*Wow, is that too early?)

  • Shark

    BTW: Some psychologist might find it significant that I can’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning, but I can remember my third grade teacher’s name and the precise shape of her butt as she wrote on the blackboard.


  • Sure Shark, puss sounds just fine.

    It is funny how hormones helps us remember certain memories down to the smallest details… I remember a whole bunch of first times…first crush when I was five, my first kiss and I even remember the date when ‘it’ finally happened 😉

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    The shape of your teacher’s behind Shark? Hmmmm. 🙂