Wednesday 16 October 2019



THIRTY, as intensely erotic a book as I’d ever written, is what happened after I stopped writing erotica.

Beginning with CARLA in 1958, I spent half a dozen years laboring in the vineyards of Midcentury Erotica, writing no end of books for Midwood, Nightstand, Beacon, It was a wonderful training ground, a comfortingly forgiving medium, and I’ve never regretted the timer I spent there, although for a time I wanted to disown the work I produced. (That changed with the passage of time, and now I’ve been eagerly reissuing much of that early work in my Collection of Classic Erotica. I like to tell myself this represents great progress in self-acceptance, but I have a hunch Ego and Avarice play a role here.)

Never mind. I went on writing for Bill Hamling’s Nightstand Books until a break with my agent deprived me of the market, and I can’t regret that, either, because it’s safe to say I’d stayed too long at the fair, and would have stayed longer still if given the chance. Instead, I took a job editing a numismatic magazine in Wisconsin and went on writing fiction in my free time. I placed some stories with Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and THE GIRL WITH THE LONG GREEN HEART with Gold Medal, and then I wrote THE THIEF WHO COULDN’T SLEEP, which turned out to be the first of a series about a fellow named Evan Tanner.

This was the first book in a voice that was uniquely mine, and the most satisfying work I’d ever done. I went on to write a total of seven books about Tanner (an eighth would follow after a 28-year interval) along with a couple of other crime novels, and then one day I got a call from my agent, Henry Morrison. Berkley Books wanted to launch a line of erotic novels, but on a different level from the old Midwood/Nightstand/Beacon ilk. It was 1968, censorship had essentially vanished, and American letters from top to bottom was embracing the sexual revolution and the new freedom. As Cole Porter might have put it, some authors who’d once been stuck with better words were now free to use four-letter words.

Meanwhile, I was going through a period of discontent with the whole notion of fiction. I had nothing against the idea of making things up, but the artificiality of the novel suddenly rubbed me the wrong way. Narration, whether first person or third person, was a weird voice in one’s ear. Who are you? Why are you telling me this? And why should I believe you?

What appealed more were books that presented themselves as documents. Fictional diaries, fictional collections of letters, whatever. Yes, of course they were novels, we knew they were novels, but they took the form of actual documents.

Thus THIRTY, which would take the form of a diary kept by a woman in her thirtieth year. I had just reached that age myself, and while I recognized it as a landmark, it seemed to me that turning thirty was rather a bigger deal for a woman than for a man, that it was very much a turning point. So I plunged in, and I strove throughout to write what Jan would have written in an actual diary, leaving things out, skipping days altogether, and letting characters come into and go out of her life, and events pile one on the other, the way they really do, with less pattern and logic than one typically demands of fiction.

I just read the book prefatory to writing this book description, and I was surprised how much I liked it. (And how little of it I recalled.) I decided from the jump to put Jill Emerson’s name on it, a name I’d shelved after WARM AND WILLING and ENOUGH OF SORROW. THIRTY is, to be sure, a creature of its time, as one knows when Jan whines about having to pay $375 a month for a Grove Street apartment. But I think the book holds up.

In any event, Jill was back in business, and she’d go on to write two more books for Berkley’s sexy new series, both of them pseudo-documents like THIRTY.

Another Audible book consumed over the course of a week or so's driving to work and back. My commute is about 20 minutes, sometimes longer each day which allows the opportunity to get about 3-4 hours more "reading" in a week. Happy days.

Here we have a diary of a woman, plotting her journey from slightly dissatisfied housewife to a single sexually liberated free woman. I'm not too sure if she is any happier at the end of her journal than she was at the beginning, but she's had a fair few adventures along the way.

No crime or mystery to this one, which is what you can usually expect from Lawrence Block, but as he explains above it's a different book written for a different audience at a different time in his writing career. This is quite graphic with it's prose and the level of explicitness in its descriptions of our main character's sexual liaisons. It's quite a contrast to a couple of his other early books that I listened to previously - 21 Gay Street and Of Shame and Joy. Between the early 60s and 1970 you can definitely see a relaxation in censorship laws.

In short then..... a 29 year old woman, married and bored, a chance remark from a friend and a different outlook on life, a fumble at a party, a treat for the kid shovelling snow, a packing of the bags and a move to the city - New York, a series of encounters - single men, two men, one woman, a woman and a man, new experiences, a control freak, enjoying it, enduring it, a whole tick list of variations and possibilities from A-Z - probably a few more as well, giving it away, selling it, making new friends and acquaintances, falling pregnant, an abortion, an encounter with an old neighbourhood friend, an encounter with the estranged husband, pick-ups and trysts in bars, hotels, taxis, apartments etc etc.

I was fairly entertained by the shenanigans, without every feeling any great warmth or affection for our main character, Jan. Scrub that probably no affection for her. I did fear for her at one time, in her encounters with the controller Eric. He comes across as sadistic and inhuman, as opposed to some sort of liberator and mentor, freeing Jan from her shackles emotionally, from a personal level and those imposed by respectable society. Maybe around the mid-point he kinds of fades from the scene.

A week or two on from listening to this, I can't exactly remember where we left off with Jan, which is no great source of regret. I enjoyed the time spent in her company, Fifty years on, it would be interesting to have a catch up with her now and see what she's been up to in the last half a century. I'm betting she'll have calmed down a bit. I hope she's happier than at this stage of her life.
Without ever coming close to being the author's most enjoyable book ever, I did have fun with this one.

An enjoyable listen, with a pleasant narration from Emily Beresford.

3.5 from 5

Read - (listened to) - October, 2019
Published - 1970
Page count - 190 (5 hours 11 mins)
Source - Audible access code received from author's assistant
Format - Audible


  1. I give Block a lot of credit for working in different genres, Col. Admittedly, this isn't one I'd pick up, but I do respect him for doing different sorts of writing.

    1. I did think you might let this one pass you by, Margot.

  2. Col, have you read "Getting Off" by Jill (Block) Emerson? I enjoyed most of it, and it does have a violent revenge thread running throughout. You might want to give it a try. :-)

    1. Cheers for stopping by Michael. Not read that one yet - or at least all of it. Some of the early chapters were released as kindle singles, which I have read. I do need to get to it in its entirety. Thanks for the reminder.

    2. That's the one Hard Case Crime did, isn't it?

      The one with that cover. I ordered it through my library and, oh boy, was that an embarrassing day when I had to go pick my copy up from the girls. And my wife ribbing me all the way home in the car . . .

    3. Yes, I think they've released a few of his actually. That one you probably wouldn't read on public transport though.

  3. Just a query, Col: Aren't you in danger of driving into a ditch while listening to porn at the wheel?

    1. Both hands firmly on the steering wheel! I do find myself laughing a lot of the time - so maybe some funny looks when queuing and when I picked my daughter up the other night she reckoned she could hear the book from 50 yards away.