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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Cover Lover - Under the Covers, Lovers!

Cover Lover wants to invite you back to his place for a peek at his etchings. Well, not really. Cover Lover has no etchings—it’s just a clever ruse to get you back to his place and help him lay some ant traps. Not much of a date, you say? What if Cover Lover mentioned that once you were done vacuuming, he’d let you have a peek at his modest collection of vintage sex manuals? Friday night, then? Saturday? It’s useless to resist Cover Lover, unless that stiff white hankie you’re waving happens to be a restraining order.

Post-war era sex manuals typically come in two varieties: dull, dry textbooks with not a lot of interesting diagrams, and salacious, albeit clearly bogus “case studies” designed to appeal to lonely traveling salesmen. For the record, Cover Lover’s interest in sex is more pure than prurient, which is something Cover Lover’s lawyer made up. In truth, the prose is what makes these relics so darn appealing. Here’s an example: “In classical Rome, the attitude with the wife astride was greatly favored.” It just doesn’t get any better than that, does it? And if you think that’s good, wait until you get a load of “abnormalities in the external stimulus.”

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

How to Pick a Mate, by Dr. Clifford Adams and Vance Packard (Dell, 1946) is an excellent starting point. Let’s consider the time period for a moment. World War II was over, there was no Match.com, and only Western Union sent text messages. According to their introduction, the authors had zero competition on bookstore shelves:

As far as we know this is the first time anyone has written a book attempting to put mate selection on a sensible basis, despite the fact that sooner or later almost everybody selects one.

The authors’ “sensible basis” includes 20 fact-filled chapters (“Is it Love—or Infatuation?” and “Nine Dangerous Characters”) along with 15 quizzes for you and your future spouse to complete and compare. Cover Lover and his fiancée took nine tests last Sunday and matched up 90% of the time. How to Pick a Mate may be dated (some of the questions dealt with our fears about the atomic bomb and the growing threat of Communism), but it’s clearly well-intentioned. When the book was written, Dr. Adams was already head of Penn State’s Marriage Counseling Clinic and had interviewed and tested hundreds of couples. Journalist Vance Packard would eventually write The Hidden Persuaders (1957), an early “pop-sociology” title devoted to media manipulation.

Sex & Marriage Problems, as told to E. B. Taylor (Hillman Publications, 1948) purports to be “intimate records of a psychoanalyst,” but Cover Lover was not born yesterday. For the record, Hillman Publications specialized in true confession/true crime magazines, which makes the book a little suspect. That said, how could you not embrace a book that begins like this:

Annette M. was only twenty, but in her eyes was a lifetime of learning about men—the wrong kind of learning. President Harding once said it was a good thing he wasn’t a woman, because he couldn’t say no. That was Annette’s problem too.

The whole book reads like a lurid love noir, with chapters—er, “cases”—such as “The Strange Love Triangle” and “The Frigid Wife.” The analyst is obviously more fraud than Freud, but the book is still a kick.

“Only one generation ago it was impossible for a layman to obtain a frank and scientific treatment of sex except in some exorbitantly priced book concealed behind a bookstore counter.” (from the introduction of The Hygiene of Marriage)

The Hygiene of Marriage, by philosophy professor Millard Spencer Everett (Eton Books,1951) is—according to the back of the book—“an achievement in lay-medical literature on sex,” and darned if it isn’t. Cover Lover is fond of this book because takes marriage, sex, and family planning so seriously, and was happily surprised by the solid information it contains. It goes without saying that this is a stimulating and penetrating read, but Cover Lover enjoys overstating the obvious.

Guide to Sexology, Illustrated was compiled by the Editors of Sexology Magazine (Paperback Library, 1965). That’s right, Virginia—the very same Sexology magazine started by the godfather of science-fiction, Hugo Gernsback, back in the early 1930’s. The book is comprised of short articles (“The Obscene Telephone Call,” “Strange Sex Fixations,” “166 Men in Dresses”) and an entire chapter devoted to fifty “basic” sex questions that would not be out of place in a “Savage Love” column. Endlessly entertaining, if not wholly satisfying.

3 comments:

lartronics said...

Hugo Gernsback was amazing. You're right he did publish Sexology. To learn more:

I’ve recently published a new 900-page biography about the life and times of Hugo Gernsback. It is available on Amazon. Just follow this link:

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The manuscript was found while I was in the process of closing down Gernsback Publications Inc. in 2003. It was apparently written some time in the 1950’s. It covers all the areas that Hugo found interesting: wireless communications, science fiction, publishing, patents, foretelling the future, and much more.

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Aimée said...

This reminds me of the film "Peyton Place," although it probably occurs in the book as well. The teenagers don't have a way to find about about the opposite sex, or themselves for that matter, so they send off for a book about sex and it comes all wrapped up in brown paper so no one will know what it is.

John Tynan said...

Every other morning or so over breakfast, while Rene folds back the pages of The Times, I catch up with the latest posts from the HFR blog on my Amazon kindle (by way of a clever update from feedbooks.com). And I have to say, I love everything you all are doing! I wish there was something like this going on when I was working on my MFA... my reading/writing life and sense of community around words would be much different. As it is, I'll continue to take pleasure in the pleasure that HFR takes in language and the literary life! All the best, JT