Monday, March 28, 2005

Book: Sin-A-Rama: Sleaze Sex Paperbacks of the Sixties (2005)

I bought this Feral House book for the articles. I swear. And I did it in spite of Bill Crider’s best efforts to stop me.

My non-prurient interest in the soft-core novels of the era stems from the fact that my two favorite crime novelists, Lawrence Block and Donald E. Westlake, toiled in these fields under assumed names. So did other mystery greats like Harry Whittington and Evan Hunter.

The book’s introductory material details how “sleaze” publishers capitalized on the collapse of the science-fiction market, which is why several big names from that genre cranked out sex novels too. One of them is Robert Silverberg, whose storied essay My Life As A Pornographer is reprinted here. There’s also a piece on filmmaker Ed Wood, one of the few sex book authors who refused to use a pseudonym because he loved seeing his name in print.

I’m with James Reasoner in wishing that the book included even more background; it’s a fascinating period in publishing history. And I would have loved to have heard more from the writers themselves. Turning out books according to a strict formula (“We need a hot scene every chapter, but which kind is up to you. And nothing too blue or we’ll get grief from the post office.”) must have provided an invaluable education. Some of today’s big-time novelists could have benefited from that kind of training.

But the real reason to pick up SIN-A-RAMA is for the glorious full-color reprints of the paperback covers. They’re organized into sections like sex in the workplace (HORIZONTAL SECRETARY), counterculture carnality (HIPPIE HARLOT), and the sordid suburbs (lots of swapping titles). The copy on the jackets is great, too. I had no idea the word ‘wanton’ could be used as every part of speech. That also indicates how relatively tame this material is now; when’s the last time you heard anyone use the word ‘wanton’?