Think a kiss is just a kiss? New book tells all

TOKYO Fri Feb 11, 2011 5:07am EST

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Ever wondered about the political uses of a kiss, the kiss's changing status or legendary movie kisses? Do you find yourself needing to say the word in Albanian, Icelandic or even, perchance, Maori?

Fear not. "A Compendium of Kisses," the guide to everything oscular -- that's "of or pertaining to kissing" for the unenlightened -- tells all about one of the world's most universal gestures, whether simple greeting or sublime.

"When I came to look at the kiss, the romantic side is such a small part of it," said British novelist and actress Lana Citron, who compiled the book.

"I love how when you're born, the first thing is, you're kissed, you're welcomed into the world. It's this little gesture that follows you throughout life, through all the most important parts of your life."

Citron's interest in kisses began with a short story she wrote a decade ago about a lonely woman who collected kisses in jars -- such as one for the lover who spurned her, one that was full of yearning -- and labeled them.

That led to her invitation to do an installation of kisses in jars, all labeled, as part of an art exhibition. The response of viewers sent her to the internet, searching out books on kisses and deciding to write her own when nothing seemed just right.

"It was almost like opening a Pandora's chest and just being overwhelmed by all the different ways a kiss is expressed, the meanings attached to it and the things it symbolizes," she said.

"I fell in love with it, I really did. I was submerged in the world of kisses for a year and came out of it with a book."

Her compendium mingles brief kiss anecdotes with kiss factoids and scraps of poetry to cover evolutionary kisses, bonding kisses, artful kisses, screen kisses, bike shed kisses or first kisses, passionate kisses, Kama Sutra kisses, animal kisses and even The Death Kiss, to name just a few.

She also traces the evolution of kissing through history, from its use in Christian religious ceremonies -- "greet ye one another with a kiss" -- to its social role as a greeting on many levels, including between kings and the vassals they ruled.

"Then the kiss suddenly becomes eroticized, also compounded by advances made in dentistry. Once it becomes eroticized, it also becomes highly contentious socially," she said.

While she finds it difficult to pick one favorite fact about kisses, Citron does acknowledge being fascinated about the use of kisses in politics and history, from its involvement in accusations about witchcraft down to the present day.

"Superficially, you have sex scandals, kiss and tell scandals, which many politicians fall prey to," she said.

Though most of the book is written in a tongue-in-cheek style, Citron becomes practical when asked for kissing advice.

"Basic hygiene, I think, is the only thing I'd say."

(Reporting by Elaine Lies; editing by Paul Casciato)

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