Sex and the Sicilian: Italian Lolita Pens Bestseller

Ed Palomar
ROME — The Amazon.com sales ranking for Jenna Jameson’s “How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale” is a phenomenal 18, out of the thousands of books that are published. And the Vivid Girls have been busy promoting their book “How to Have a XXX Sex Life: The Ultimate Vivid Guide.”

But with more than 900,000 copies sold, 18-year-old Melissa Panarello’s “100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed” is a top Italian bestseller that was published in 2003. Pope John Paul II has issued a warning against reading the sexually explicit book. (This may be a conflict of interest, as “Strokes” competes on Italy’s bestseller list with the pontiff’s latest autobiographical book.)

Panarello’s steamy tell-all is purportedly a loosely fictionalized memoir of her own torrid sex life as a teenager in Catania, Sicily. The 16-year-old protagonist has a series of sexual adventures – or misadventures – with a wide variety of mostly older men.

In one encounter, the heroine has sex with five males. In another, she makes love with a female. Panarello told the Guardian newspaper that 90 percent of “Strokes” is “real.”

According to the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper, Panarello – who has relocated to Rome - has been described as an Italian Lolita. But the authoress says she has never read Vladimir Nabokov’s novel about the affair between the teenaged Lolita and middle-aged Humbert Humbert.

According to the INHOPE Association, an Internet Hotline provider to the European Union for information regarding child pornography, Italy’s legal age of consent ranges from 13 to 16-years-old.

The success of the books by Jenna and the Vivid Girls, plus Panarello’s sex and the Sicilian confessional, are the tip of a new trend in women’s literature. The “Sex and the City” generation wants its kiss-and-tell books to tell readers about more than mere kisses, and to be more sexually graphic. Patrick Janson-Smith, the managing director of Transworld Publishers, has dubbed this craze “literary porn.”

According to the London Telegraph, this vogue began two years ago with the publication of “The Sexual Life of Catherine M.” This intimate account of a French intellectual’s sex life has sold more than 150,000 copies. In addition to “Strokes,” Nic Kelman’s “Girls” – which is about men pursuing their fantasies with younger women – is another example of the trend towards more explicit women’s literature.

Cashing in on the latest rage, more sexually candid books are on their way. In October, Serpent’s Tail (which is publishing “Strokes” in England) is releasing Jill Nelson’s “Sexual Healing,” about women who set up a brothel.

In 2005, “Belle du Jour,” a book adaptation of an Internet diary by an anonymous English hooker, is going to be published. So will “The Diary of Nymphomaniac,” by the Spanish prostitute, Valerie Tasso, and “The Almond,” a semi-autobiographical tale by a 40-year-old Algerian woman named Nedjma, about a Muslim wife who has an affair.

Panarello’s new tome, “The Smell of Your Breath,” is also expected to roll off the presses in 2005.