Cleis (May), $14.95
"Stephen Elliott's reading almost made me cry," reported my friend Liz. This is not an uncommon response to Elliott, a local author who tells violent, sad stories beautifully and who is an understated, moving reader. But Liz was talking about an event featuring work from Best Sex Writing 2006, so her reaction came as something of a surprise. There were other unexpected things about the book, she related: It isn't made up of erotic short stories, and it isn't that explicit. On reading it myself, I agree. The collection is hardly smut, and though I'm all for smut, the selections tend to be about sex, not of sex. Annalee Newitz watches researchers trying to formulate "Viagra for women," Shalom Auslander gets nostalgic for a time when sex was naughty, and Paul Festa neurotically auditions for a movie he's unsure whether to call pornographic. But Elliott's "Just Always Be Good" isn't the only sad moment. Mark Pritchard's "What I'm Giving Up" describes the author's relationship with a dancer from the Lusty Lady peep show; her death leaves him a lonely older man on the other side of the Plexiglas. Pervs, fear not, however: Tristan Taormino's "An Ode to Ass: Reflections on Sex Ed, Porn, and Perversity" is a critical examination of free-speech issues as they relate to exhibitionism, but she also gets down and dirty along the way.