Pornographers like to pitch their industry as harmless fun for curious adults, but the back-alley bookstores and web sites that porn customers haunt don't discriminate between good-natured eroticism and harder-edged pursuits, and people in the business tend to lose their sense of a moral continuum. How To… Make Love Like A Porn Star, the memoir/exposé of adult-film actress Jenna Jameson, is collage-like in design, flitting among girlhood diary entries, instructive cartoons, movie transcripts, family conversations, vividly descriptive sex scenes, harrowing tales of drug abuse, and copious cheesecake photos. It's also appallingly casual about the violence and exploitation that anchors her life story. Even when describing an earthquake, Jameson breezily writes, "The house next to us collapsed, killing the people inside it… and I was supposed to be at work in less than three hours."
Jameson writes (or has her co-author Neil Strauss write) as though crank-fueled lesbian encounters in strip-club bathrooms constitute a run-of-the-mill American adolescence. Her parenthetical references to extraordinarily lurid events—being stalked by Mafia hit men, discovering her best friend's corpse—are so tossed-off that they almost seem fabricated to make the book spicier. As for Jameson's insistence that she grew up idolizing porn stars like Savannah and Jeanna Fine, that too sounds like revisionist biography from a woman with a huge stake in the idea that porn has become a staple of every consumer's entertainment diet.
Of course, there are some for whom Jameson's ascendancy is as much a '90s pop-culture phenomenon as The Macarena. For those people—and even for those who missed out—Porn Star holds some fascination for its rare look inside the adult-movie business from the perspective of a top draw. Jameson has limited her number of screen partners and the sex acts she'll perform on-camera, but she still knows first-hand about magazine photographers who pay models next to nothing but work them like pack mules, as well as gonzo video directors who drain newcomers of any enthusiasm they might have had for dirty movies. When Jameson dishes on the ins and outs of the in-and-out, her book feels insightful and true.
She also lights up when she recalls her gawky pre-teen self, chewing on toothpicks dipped in cinnamon extract and watching The Black Stallion. But Jameson loses the tread somewhere between the loss of her virginity and the moment she pries the braces off her teeth to get a job stripping in Vegas. She's explicit about bad boyfriends, crystal meth, and random sexual assaults, but she can't justify adult entertainment's central fallacy—its reliance on patrons whom the performers don't really respect. An ill-fitting, queasy juxtaposition of disgust and come-on fills How To… Make Love Like A Porn Star. It's hard to know how to feel about a book with a description of a rape on one page and a picture of Jameson exposing her breasts on the next.