Hawking a book for the ages --all over 18

Today marks a publishing landmark of sorts: The day that pop star Madonna's favorite sexual fantasies are scheduled to appear at book -stores near you.

After a carefully orchestrated media blitz -- Madonna last month strolling down a Paris runway in a midlength black dress, breasts exposed; a cheesecake photo spread in this month's Vanity Fair; Tuesday's release of the album, "Erotica" -- one million copies of "Sex" are finally available: 500,000 in the United States alone.


A spiral notebook with metal covers, the book resembles a photo album -- albeit a hard-core, hard-cover type. The book, which costs $49.95, contains erotic photographs of the 34-year-old celebrity enjoying various sexual romps with men, women and animals -- some famous, some not. It also contains a CD of the single "Erotic" from her newly released album.

The book is published by Callaway Editions,Inc. for Warner Books. Madonna worked on the project with Steven Meisel, her long-time photographer and collaborator. Many of the photos were shot in New York -- in the Chelsea Hotel, at the Gaiety, a male burlesque club, a nightclub called the Vault. Others were shot in Miami.


According to the Vanity Fair article, the project was completed under strict security; anyone involved was forbidden to speak of it.

Nonetheless rumors of controversy trickled out: Vanity Fair reported that several printers refused the project on moral grounds and the Midwestern printing company that in the end took the job requested anonymity.

Although it's not your usual Christmas coffee table book, many local booksellers are figuring "Sex" will sell.

At Greetings and Readings, the books and gifts emporium in Towson, advance orders for "Sex" have been steady, although not as brisk as they were for "Scarlett," the sequel to "Gone with the Wind," says book buyer Dee Peeler. At the moment, interest in Madonna is running neck and neck, as it were, with Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf.

"Obviously, the price of this book is not a problem," Ms. Peeler said.

But the book has posed a few policy problems for booksellers, all of whom say they plan to sell the book only to fans over the age of 18.

Yesterday, Australia's second-largest bookstore chain made policy questions moot by banning the sale of the book after management took a look inside one of the volumes.

Locally, the most common solution will be to keep a copy of the book at the book counter for anyone who wants to see what, exactly, their $50 will buy. The book's plastic covering prohibits browsing.


Waldenbooks will not keep any open copies of the book in their stores. The company's policy states that if a customer is disappointed by "Sex," he or she can return it for a full refund.

Some booksellers, however, have chosen to miss this Madonna moment.

"If people want to order the book here, they can. But I'm not going to have it in the store," says Ann Mackebee, manager of Louie's bookstore.

It won't appear in the libraries of Baltimore City or Baltimore County, either. Budget reasons, library officials say.

"We also figured that a book like that would be a one-time circulation," says Averil Kadis, chief of public relations for the Central Branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. "Either it wouldn't come back, or it would come back with pages missing. $49.95 is a lot of money for us right now. . . . We do have her other book, though -- 'Blonde Ambition.' "

Some who are awaiting the arrival of "Sex" have predicted it will become a sought-after collector's item. And there will be only one printing: The original million.


But Teresa Johanson, co-owner of Kelmscott Book Shop, which specializes in rare and antique books, doubts "Sex" will soar in value.

"I wouldn't buy it. I wouldn't touch it," she says. "In terms of its collectibility, I don't believe anything would ever happen there. The chances [of its being a collector's item] are minimal."

Besides, "Sex" won't be the last -- and may not be the least -- the public will see of Madonna: "Body of Evidence," a film with actor Willem Dafoe, which has a NC-17 rating because of its sexually explicit scenes, is to be released in January.