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Toni Bentley's THE SURRENDER - Best Books of 2004 - Publishers Weekly
You Dare Mention Duality on the First Date?

Published: October 15, 2004

With publishing such a competitive racket, it was downright heartwarming to see the lineup of editors who turned out on Tuesday night to honor TONI BENTLEY and her new book, "The Surrender: An Erotic Memoir," published by Regan Books.

There was DAVID HIRSHEY, the executive editor of HarperCollins, of which Regan Books is an imprint; DAN HALPERN, the head of Ecco press, which published JOYCE CAROL OATES; MICHAEL MORRISON, who heads William Morrow; JAMES ATLAS, president of Atlas Books; and the snazzily attired ERROLL McDONALD, executive editor at Pantheon.

We are pretty certain this lineup had strictly to do with the literary quality of "The Surrender," which deals with what the promotional material calls "the last remaining taboo" and which Ms. Bentley refers to as "the forbidden pathway" and "the back story to my love story."

Still, we couldn't help noticing the two publishing execs who were gazing appreciatively at the author, formerly a ballet dancer, who wore a black gown with a dramatically low-cut back and was turned away from the two, greeting her guests. "I just can't stop looking at her back cleavage," we overheard one say.

But this was a New York literary event, so perhaps an excerpt would be appropriate: Anal sex, Ms. Bentley wrote, "is the event in which RAINER MARIA RILKE's hallowed dictum to 'live the question' is, in fact, finally embodied.'' The act "resolves the dilemma of duality that is introduced and magnified by vaginal penetration.''

MR. SEGUE MAN, get us a drink. PLEASE!

The party, held by Regan Books and Playboy, seemed rather jolly; nothing like a risqué book to lighten the mood. Folks were drinking real drinks, and many puns on the subject of the Last Taboo could be overheard.

One editor told us he had never seen a party with so much pinching. Several guests made a point of telling us that Ms. Bentley's last book was published by Yale University Press. Having read in Ms. Bentley's memoir that she saved the used condoms from her 298 acts of the last taboo, this was probably a good thing.

Ms. Bentley, who talks very fast, and punctuates her talk with nervous sounding laughter, took all the jokes in good humor. Her passion for her subject, which she has said helped her know God "experientially," remains unabated.

When she first saw NANCY FRIDAY, she called her "my heroine"; later we saw her in animated discussion with Ms. Friday. "Transcendent," we heard Ms. Bentley say, and "Great sex is dancing," and "Well, why I am telling you?"

Our question, when we dragged Ms. Bentley to the lobby, was in keeping with the high-minded literary tone of the night.

So, we asked, how's your social life? Because when we read your book, we figured your phone had to be ringing off the hook.

"Actually, I have a Web site, and I did have a link where people could write to me, but I started getting a few too many e-mails," Ms. Bentley said. "Many positive lovely ones, but some I think from very radical feminists who were very upset and a lot of propositions from men with photos that are really rude and crude."

We take another shot. Is Ms. Bentley single? Living with someone?

"Well, I don't really want to discuss my current personal life," Ms. Bentley said.

We burst out laughing, nicely we like to think.

You're kidding, we told her.

"You can say I'm single."

We try again to learn about the impact on her personal life and get a long answer from Ms. Bentley about the interesting literary people the book is bringing into her life, about how it is her greatest act of liberation, and finally about how feminism is about the right to choose.

Right to choose. We understand. We're for that.

So has the phone been ringing off the hook or not?

"Well, I had a life before this and my phone is unlisted, so it hasn't literally been ringing off the hook."

Back we go to the party, where ILENE ROSENZWEIG, who these days runs a design firm with CYNTHIA ROWLEY, had a journalistic suggestion: Find out how many guests at this party have tattoos on their behinds. A little later, Ms. Rosenzweig volunteered that she had such a tattoo, a little pink lightning bolt. She and Ms. Rowley had gotten identical ones.

A party for the Last Taboo does nothing if not make one boldly specific.

Which side?

"Left," Ms. Rosenzweig said.

Toni Bentley in the New York Times Book Review

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