My review that ran on March 8, 2008 in the Los Angeles Times: There’s something about reading almost five hundred pages of sexual fantasy that throws...moreMy review that ran on March 8, 2008 in the Los Angeles Times: There’s something about reading almost five hundred pages of sexual fantasy that throws the doors of perception a little off their hinges. Just knowing that 90% of humanity is out there screening some kind of porn film in their heads, makes, say, the lunch crowd at Fudrucker’s more interesting to observe. Does that waitress serving chili fries dream of being wrapped in cellophane and spanked? Does the bus boy want to be licked by Keanu Reeves? Does that businessman chipmunking on his Blackberry dream of being cavity searched by terrorists? At least, that’s how it seems after reading Brett Kahr’s “Who’s Been Sleeping in Your Head: The Secret World of Sexual Fantasies. ” Kahr, a Freudian psychotherapist with over twenty years in the field, sensed there was therapeutic gold in the undulating hills of our erotic imaginings. Kahr’s interest was far from prurient, he suspected fantasies don’t exist for purely recreational purposes, that they are in fact “psychological fingerprints’ that can help us unravel the mystery of our deepest, darkest selves. “Our sexual fantasies remain, by and large, an unprocessed, unsynthesized area of the mind, crying out for explanation.” P. 61 “Inspired by the psychological insights of Sigmund Freud, the large-scale methodological rigor of Alfred Kinsey, and by the brave public dissemination of Nancy Friday, I decided that I would attempt my own research, a “Kinsey of the mind,” so that I could begin to answer some basic questions,” Kahr asserts. Chief among those questions was, “Do our fantasies represent just a bit of private fun, or do they have more profound implications for how we lead our lives?” Thus he began The British Sexual Fantasy Research Project, culling statistical data from a combined group of 20,153 British and American adults p. 67 and conducting exhaustive, five hour interviews with several hundred subjects. This monumental undertaking offers for the first time, an anecdotal adjunct to the bigger game of sexual activity itself. Kahr makes it clear that to ignore sexual fantasy is to miss a large piece of the puzzle in human psychology. The discrete, methodical and clearly sensitive Kahr approached his interviews less like a Sherlock Holmes and more of a Dr. Watson, asking questions, listening with his “third ear” (the one that hears not only what the subject is saying, but what he isn’t saying) and being careful not to jump to conclusions. The book provides a nice insight into the point of view of the therapist. “We must approach each fantasy rather like a giant jigsaw puzzle or mystery story. At the end of the analysis, every piece must fit in order that we may gain a clear picture of the contents of the mind of the fantasist.” P. 338 Sure enough, Kahr discovers that sexual fantasies “have developed as both a means of gratifying wishes and of conquering intrusive memories of early traumatic experiences.” In other words, we use fantasy to turn that which haunts us into something we have psychic mastery over, or as Kahr calls it, “equilibration of the self.” This is all very interesting and highly worthwhile, but for the, er, layperson, the best parts of this book are the dirty parts. Kahr has done a great job of culling and organizing his respondents’ fantasies, and they are repeated verbatim, often to unintentional comedic effect. Grouped into categories like “Bisexual Fantasies,” or “Fantasies of Celebrities” the narratives flow with blunt, artless logic. Some fantasies are related in coy shorthand, and others are elaborate, describing antics in language that would make Susie Bright blush. Kahr warns us, “On first reading, many people become either sexually aroused by the private fantasies of others or embarrassed by them.” Indeed, the erotic reveries are arousing, embarrassing, shocking, boring and most surprisingly, hilarious. There’s the woman who wants to be squeezed between Serena Williams’ thighs, and the guy who fantasizes about watching an episode of Lost with a girl, then duct taping her to a counter so he can “change her views forever about how many orgasms are acceptable in an evening’s encounter.” Senior citizen, “Isadora” has been fantasizing about Gregory Peck for decades: “Gregory is the mainstay of my fantasy. Yummy. I think he is dead now. “ p.146 Then there’s “Berger” who thinks Seth Green and Topher Grace “would be one hot man-on-man action. “Sancho” fantasizes about a week in Vegas with a harem of chorus girls; “All of the showgirls are tall and beautiful and their job is to be nice to me all week – laugh at my jokes, tell me what a great guy I am, massage my neck, dance with me at nightclubs, etc. –- and of course, have sex with me and with each other like crazed weasels in every possible position in the Kama Sutra.” Many of the choicest fantasies are so laden with coprolalia (“dirty talk”), they cannot be reprinted here, but they amply illustrate the full, quirky spectrum of human sexuality, which appears also to include a large subset of people who are turned on by Margaret Thatcher. Of course, there’s a dark side to all this. The book has many accounts of people who are so damaged that their fantasy lives drip either with cruel sadism, or heart-wrenching masochism. Most of these erotic reveries are what Kahr calls “the ordinary sadism of everyday life,” and for the most part these people are harmless. But Kahr encountered enough disturbing material to ask himself “should these individuals be tolerated, or should they be treated?” He admits, honestly, to not having a clear answer, though he is sure that his interviews were not the appropriate context for real therapeutic intervention. But for most of us, sexual fantasy is a pretty healthy indulgence, allowing us to find an outlet for desire, and turn past trauma into a source of pleasure, rather than pain. There is a prescriptive element to “Who’s Been Sleeping in Your Head?” Fantasy research can be used in a diagnostic-predictive manner, to protect society from dangerous sexual predators. Another practical application Kahr suggests is using fantasy data to match up potential partners through dating services. As Kahr points out, “Such factors may prove to be much more pertinent to compatibility than whether one enjoys films, eating out, and country walks.” Now there’s something to fantasize about.
Okay, I wrote this book, but I thought it'd be fun to review it a year after publication. Basically, this is a good first book. The author is funny an...moreOkay, I wrote this book, but I thought it'd be fun to review it a year after publication. Basically, this is a good first book. The author is funny and insightful and has a fresh, unique voice. But the book is flawed. Her publisher did NO editing on the book (as in literally none whatsoever) and as she was on deadline to turn it it, lacked objectivity and is not an editor, it reads pretty rough in spots. Some pieces are too long, others don't go deep enough into her emotional truth. Also the order of the pieces can be a little jarring. It is a shame as it could have been a really excellent book instead of just a very good one. One has the sense that the author is just finding and exercising her voice here. I look forward to her next book which hopefully will go deeper into her subjects while maintaining her funny, engaging, irreverent tone. Schickel has learned a lot from her first publishing experience. Okay, that was weird. But fun. I hope this review helps, or at least amuses.(less)
Loved this book when I read it years ago. One of the best accounts of teen sexual obsession. I loved how it turned from a boy's journey to unravel the...moreLoved this book when I read it years ago. One of the best accounts of teen sexual obsession. I loved how it turned from a boy's journey to unravel the mysteries of girls into a full-blown psycho-drama. The movie didn't do it justice.(less)
I tried reading this and bailed halfway through. It lost me. Though I feel I should try again because so many have loved it. What am I missing? Loved...moreI tried reading this and bailed halfway through. It lost me. Though I feel I should try again because so many have loved it. What am I missing? Loved "Virgin Suicides."(less)
I reviewed this book for the LA Times (and that is my quote on the back of the paperback!). I loved "Eat" and "Pray", thought "Love" was far less inte...moreI reviewed this book for the LA Times (and that is my quote on the back of the paperback!). I loved "Eat" and "Pray", thought "Love" was far less interesting. Unlike others who have held the pedestrian nature of her problems against her as motivation for her adventures, I don't. She writes with great wit and honesty.(less)
I read this book in college and re-read it with my daughters last year. Cather is a giant and this book is her masterpiece. Not only is it an incredib...moreI read this book in college and re-read it with my daughters last year. Cather is a giant and this book is her masterpiece. Not only is it an incredibly tender love story, but the details of life pioneering the plains are riveting and transporting. One of my favorites.(less)
Lenney is a beautiful, funny, deeply human writer. Though her story centers around an extraordinary event, it is full of details recognizable to anyon...moreLenney is a beautiful, funny, deeply human writer. Though her story centers around an extraordinary event, it is full of details recognizable to anyone who has grown up in a mixed-up family.(less)