Books

Porn: An Oral History could have been fascinating

Polly Barton's book exploring people's attitudes to porn never manages to go beyond the bounds of her friendship circle.

Porn: An Oral History book cover

In the introduction to her latest book for Fitzcarraldo Editions, the translator and author Polly Barton questions why we are all so uptight about porn. It is something that everyone on the planet consumes and yet nobody ever wants to discuss. So, Barton decides to reach out to her friends and mutuals and conduct 19 anonymous conversations about porn. This book, Porn: An Oral History, is the transcripts of these conversations.  

A book about how and why everyday people consume porn would be endlessly fascinating but, annoyingly, Porn is not that book. There is a moment in Barton’s introduction where she writes, “the agenda of this book is not to expound my beliefs about porn… I am increasingly unsure what a position or even an opinion on porn could look like from me.” Over the next 350 pages of transcripts, Barton proves that she really doesn’t have any real opinions to share. 

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By exclusively foraging through her extended friend group for interviewees, many of the interviews end up feeling very samey and, at times, insufferable. I think of how much this book would have benefited from Barton peering outside her realm, chatting to people from different class backgrounds and societies. Instead, from the off, the entire experiment just comes across as flawed. 

Barry Pierce is a journalist and cultural commentator  

Porn: An Oral History book cover

Porn: An Oral History by Polly Barton is out now (Fitzcarraldo Editions, £13.99). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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