The Other Side of Desire: Four Journeys into the Far Realms of Lust and Longing

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How do we come to be who we are sexually? How do we cope with the forces of desire? How can we understand the relationship between the transcendent and the physical, between the wish for love and the anarchy of the erotic? Award-winning writer Daniel Bergner looks for answers in the stories of four people whose unusual desires raise fascinating questions about the erotic differences between men and women and the nature of ecstasy itself.

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The Other Side of Desire: Four Journeys into the Far Realms of Lust and Longing

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How do we come to be who we are sexually? How do we cope with the forces of desire? How can we understand the relationship between the transcendent and the physical, between the wish for love and the anarchy of the erotic? Award-winning writer Daniel Bergner looks for answers in the stories of four people whose unusual desires raise fascinating questions about the erotic differences between men and women and the nature of ecstasy itself.

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Editorial Reviews

Jennifer Egan
“Searching, deeply humane. . . . Our reactions to the stories Daniel Bergner recounts reveal as much about ourselves as they do about his oddly winning subjects.”
George Packer
“Daniel Bergner’s characters live in erotic no-go zones where most of us would fear to tread. Their stories will sadden, enlighten, disturb, and move you—for they are completely, intimately human.”
Metro New York
“In this fascinating book, Bergner, with a novelist’s eye but a reporter’s grit, examines amputee devotees and S&M fanatics without resorting to sensationalism.”
“Bergner does what science cannot: He illuminates peculiar longings. His method is at first descriptive and finally poetic. . . . Given the limitations of science, resonant journalism may be the best way to approach paraphilia, and Bergner’s book has a musical quality.”
Washington Post Book World
“Attentive, carefully controlled…[Bergner’s] goal is empathy. He gives depth and shadow to his subjects’ longing, never mocking, oversimplifying or vilifying.”
New York Times Book Review
“Unsettling but riveting....what makes [this book] so powerful is that it’s as much about desire and what’s normal as it is an exploration of why we are the way we are, whether we like it or not.”
The Oprah Magazine O
“Girded with scientific data about the nature of sexual identity, The Other Side of Desire is a foray into extreme passion, in quest of the human soul.”
Lori Gottlieb
…unsettling but riveting…On one level, this book has all the elements of a top-rated HBO series—provocatively graphic sex, humorous dialogue and moral ambiguity. But what makes it so powerful is that it's as much about desire and what's normal as it is an exploration of why we are the way we are, whether we like it or not.
—The New York Times
Lisa Zeidner
…the book's strength lies in its attentive, carefully controlled tone. It would be easy enough to express outrage with the child sex-abuse educator who insists that pedophiles "are not monsters. They are us." Bergner hardly ratifies that view. But he does ask us to try to understand people who often feel like the Hunchback of Notre Dame or are driven to suicide, and to admire some of them for finding a harmless way to live outside the norm. His goal is empathy. He gives depth and shadow to his subjects' longing, never mocking, oversimplifying or vilifying.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

As if it weren't already difficult enough to find a suitable mate, what if a prerequisite was that the lover be missing an arm or a leg? Or willing to be roasted on a spit? Comparatively, a mild-mannered foot fetish seems, well, pedestrian. Bergner (God of the Rodeo) investigates how "we become who we are sexually, whether our lusts are common or improbable." The book's combination of titillation, shock value and documentary evokes a set of page-turning conundrums: is a man who desires feet any less odd than the psychiatrist who treats him or the scientist who studies pedophilia or the journalist who describes a whipping session in precise detail or the reader who becomes voyeur? It's all fairly delicate and disturbing material, and while the descriptions can grow florid, the author's strongest moments (e.g., evoking the tabooed desires impelling the artist Hans Bellmer's work) compensate for the lapse. Bergner has an empathetic sensibility and convincingly suggests that what a fetishist needs is a willing and loving partner with complementary interests. (Feb.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

This arresting book confronts readers, rendering fascinating yet palpably voyeuristic glimpses into the lives and psyches of people whom most would consider "perverts." A staff writer for the New York Times Magazine, Bergner (God of the Rodeo: The Quest for Redemption in Louisiana's Angola Prison; In the Land of Magic Soldiers: A Story of White and Black in West Africa) lures readers into a journey to unanticipated corners of human longing. To this end, Bergner supplies four narratives-interspersed with vignettes featuring sexologists-derived from interviews with his subjects: a foot fetishist, a dominatrix, a pedophile, and a man who craves relationships with female amputees. From these humanizing portraits of sexually aberrant people, readers can gain intimate insight into the realities of "abnormal" sexual desire and its attendant torments. Recommended for university and large public libraries collecting titles such as Richard von Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis: The Case Histories and the various works of Alfred Charles Kinsey.
—Lynne F. Maxwell

Kirkus Reviews
New York Times Magazine staff writer Bergner (In the Land of Magic Soldiers: A Story of White and Black in West Africa, 2003, etc.) follows four people into areas of rarefied longing where few dare or desire to go. The author eschews passing judgment-not so easy while watching a woman whip someone bound to a chair-but doesn't switch off his journalistic instincts. In carefully etched prose, Bergner unpacks the tightly twisted roots of desire, power seeking, self-hatred and theatricality that motivate his four pseudonymous subjects. The first chapter concerns Jacob, whose desires are focused entirely on women's feet. This well-behaved married salesman is "mortified" by his preference, which he would much rather do without. Unlike the self-flagellating Jacob, the Baroness is entirely at ease in her basement dungeon, "a place of pleasure, of lashing, burning, beating, cutting, gagging, branding." She's an uncommon creature; true female sadists are very rare, and most dominatrixes are simply specialized prostitutes. Resplendent among her submissives, she finds laughable the idea of a safe world without masters and slaves. Readers will be most disturbed by Roy, a likable computer technician who is also a child molester. Yet this chapter is extremely interesting, as Bergner tries to ferret out the seeds of Roy's affliction. He dissects a range of possible reasons and cures with much insight, but offers little in the way of easy answers. The last chapter, concerning men sexually attracted to women who are missing limbs, is the most emotional. Bypassing the expected curiosity over the root of these men's desires, Bergner looks intently at the more common disgust with the physically maimed.Even amputees' friends and family often make them feel less than human, he notes; at least those who want them for their wounds treat them as wholly desirable. Compassionate wisdom about dark needs.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060885571
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/9/2010
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 983,859
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel Bergner is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and the author of three previous nonfiction books: The Other Side of Desire; In the Land of Magic Soldiers, a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year and winner of an Overseas Press Club Award and a Lettre Ulysses Award for the Art of Reportage; and God of the Rodeo, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Read an Excerpt

The Other Side of Desire

Four Journeys into the Far Realms of Lust and Longing

By Daniel Bergner
Copyright © 2009

Daniel Bergner
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-06-088556-4

Chapter One Jacob Miller loved Toronto. He thought of it every day. He was American, and lived in a snowy American city, but a Canadian flag, with its broad bars of red and its red maple leaf, hung in his home office. A printout of the flag, on a sheet of computer paper, was taped to the wall between his kitchen and dining room. Pasted to the rear window of his car, a flag decal hinted at his love. When he dressed casually in wintertime, he favored a letterman's-style jacket. The leaf, big and bright, adorned the back.

If he'd won the lottery, he would have retired and moved to Toronto. If he could have designed his own world, that city would have occupied his entire planet. "When we had our son, I wanted what I call a T-R name," he said, laughing at himself. "Tristan. Troy. Trice. I didn't tell my wife why. I didn't tell her, 'Because it would remind me of Toronto.' She said, 'I'm not naming him Tristan, kids are going to make fun of him. I'm not naming him Troy.' She said, 'What kind of name is Trice?'"

Toronto was a realm where everyone was accepted. On Yonge Street, during a visit in his twenties, twenty years in the past, he'd seen the kids in their punk gear, the parents pushing strollers, the beggars with their cups, the prostitutes in their spandex, the gays hand in hand, all intermixed, passing each other on the sidewalk, tolerating each other, yes, but more than that, seeming tacitly to welcome each other. He'd filled the beggars' cups. Toronto, he felt, was a place even for monsters, a city for men such as himself.

Jacob owned a tidy wooden house not far from downtown in the city where he'd grown up. In the living room, plants cascaded from the mantelpiece; a flat-screen TV was mounted above the greenery. The furniture was soft and stylish. A small white-haired dog trotted across the carpet. The ashes of another, a terrier-beagle he still mourned a decade after its death, sat on a shelf in a box painted gold.

In the driveway, in the months when it wasn't covered in snow, he played basketball with his eight-year-old son, his only child. Ben was dark-haired, frail. They shot at a portable hoop Jacob had bought, lowered to a height the boy could manage. Jacob himself had never been much for sports, but Ben had lately taught him to play Pig. "It's easy, Pop!" he'd cried out. "It's easy!" So they shot and talked, shot and talked. Ben had suffered a stroke during his fifth month in the womb and had cerebral palsy. In the winter months, Jacob was teaching him to ski.

He'd been married to Ben's mother for sixteen years. He'd thought her beautiful when they met; he thought her beautiful now. "I've had men say to me, 'You're a lucky guy.'" She had a profusion of black hair and smooth olive skin and large dark eyes. She was petite and full-breasted. She'd come from a small town, and he took her, on their first date, to a restaurant she saw as dazzling. Over a dinner much more expensive than she was used to, he learned about her job for an airline, at a ticket counter, which allowed her to fly for free. This struck him as glamorous. And he told her about his success as a salesman. "This gorgeous woman," he remembered. "She put me on a pedestal, and I put her on a pedestal."

He still felt they were wonderfully matched. "We're homebody people," he said, listing the things they loved to do together: sit on the porch and watch Ben ride his bicycle or his electric scooter; go to craft shows and collect southwestern ceramics decorated with a flute-playing figure called Kokopelli. After sixteen years, they still called each other from work three or four times a day.

Jacob had put together this life of comfort and love despite at least two relevant obstacles. One was a learning disability so extreme that, in his mid-forties, he could read sentences and calculate numbers no better than most fourth-graders. He'd been given special glasses as a child, with cardboard frames and one green and one red lens. For much of each school day, he'd been made to wear this clownish gear.

The remedy hadn't worked; the only way he'd kept up at all was that classmates read his assignments into a reel-to-reel, and at night he lay in bed, listening. When Jacob was in his late thirties, the head psychiatrist at the hospital of Johns Hopkins University had used him to instruct his students. With Jacob's consent, the psychiatrist had placed him within a U of sixty pupils, and asked him to imagine having seventeen apples and giving away five-how many would he have left? Jacob couldn't answer. There were more questions like it, and a simple paragraph he stumbled through and couldn't comprehend. Then, after the stymied gasps of the psychiatrists-in-training, the head made his point about people's ability to overcome. For Jacob was prosperous, thriving in his job. He kept his customers, across a vast swath of territory along the Great Lakes, unfailingly supplied in the goods he handled, and he supervised a team of junior sales-people. Painstakingly, he managed never to jumble his accounts. He could have carried out his business almost entirely by phone and the Internet, but, always anxious that no one should be unhappy with him, he drove for hours and hours each day to present himself in person, a slightly short, husky man, neatly dressed in a jacket and turtleneck or tie-just to shake hands and chat for a few minutes, just to ask his customers if they had any complaints and reassure them that he would make all adjustments.

The second obstacle had to do with sex.


Excerpted from The Other Side of Desire by Daniel Bergner Copyright © 2009 by Daniel Bergner. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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