Tomorrow, July 5th, is Read Naked Day. I mean, so is every day, right? But still, what a terrific day for naturist readers and writers! Just in time, and in addition to all the great works by the writers who run this site among many others, I’ve got a wonderful recommendation for you naturist readers.
I was familiar with Michael Beyer’s work and style only from his contributions to the “In the Nudist Colony” anthology series edited by Ted Bun and yours truly. Last week, Michael ran a promotion for one of his works on Kindle, and I became aware of it only because it was highly recommended by naturist pioneer and uber-reader Gerardo Cisneros. Michael’s work Recipes for Gingerbread Children is a pleasure to read – a marvelous mix of stories within stories, all related to the power of nudity as both authenticity and vulnerability.
Gretel is an aged German woman living alone in rural Wright County, Iowa. She’s known in town for her fantastic cooking, and she’s often visited by some of the local children as much for her cookies as for the stories she tells in her Yoda-like, German-inflected English. Gretel grew up participating in Freikörperkultur but has mixed feelings about nudity due to a horrendously traumatic experience from decades prior. Some of her frequent visitors, the eighth-grade twins Sherry and Shelly, reside in a naturist home, and so they drop their clothes at the door whenever they visit Gretel. The twins would like to convince their friends Sandy and Todd to try going clothesfree as well, at least within the safe walls of Gretel’s tiny home.
At the same time, Gretel’s cooking skills are needed by the fairy denizens of Wright County for a magic recipe. Contextual clues about children and ovens might lead the reader to anticipate a “Hansel-und-Gretel” fate for the children; on the contrary, they are able to fight heroically against both the fairy kingdom invaders and the misconceptions about social nudism held by some of the townsfolk.
Michael Beyer’s prose is full of insightful observations about nudity. For example, Gretel extols the virtues of a naturist upbringing:
“Being naked raised, good for the soul is. It makes a child more open and honest, less likely dishonest and deceitful to be.”
Beyer, Michael. Recipes for Gingerbread Children (p. 32). Kindle Edition.
Yet, informed by her own memories of forced nudity–a harrowing backstory from Nazi Germany interwoven into the other stories–Gretel warns the twins that nude participation should not be imposed unwillingly:
“You must why you are wanting this to happen be thinking, Liebchen. Your family takes joy in being naked that way. Other people this view of life do not share. You must selfish be not, and think of others you must.”
Beyer, Michael. Recipes for Gingerbread Children (p. 23). Kindle Edition.
When Todd finally does decide to take the plunge and undress along with his friend Torrie at Gretel’s cottage, Sandy (who has a crush on him), grows so flustered and confused that she leaves immediately. The message is that social nudism isn’t for everyone, nor for every context. Todd doesn’t feel good about what has happened, and even remarks,
“Yeah, I feel like getting dressed and going home,” said Todd. “This experiment kinda went all wrong. I think I may be depressed.”
Beyer, Michael. Recipes for Gingerbread Children (p. 102). Kindle Edition.
But near the end of the story, when the parents of the involved children call an emotional meeting with Gretel to discuss the incident, there are still wholehearted defenses of nudity to be heard. Sherry says–poetically, as one of the characters remarks–
“[Nudity] gives you a feeling of confidence and freedom. It makes you feel like there is nothing about you that you have to be afraid of or ashamed of. You are only what God has made you, and it doesn’t matter who sees or knows.”
Beyer, Michael. Recipes for Gingerbread Children (p. 129). Kindle Edition.
All of the stories come together beautifully in the end, including a subplot involving a character with hypertrichosis and how that affects what we think of as nude exposure. Gretel’s ultimate transcendence is compelling and entirely fitting. Highly recommended! For more about Michael Beyer’s work, check out his website at https://catchafallingstarbook.net.