August 2004

Michael Schaub

propaganda

Welcome to the Puritan Jungle

Ever since Bookslut has taken off, we haven't had time to review books the same way we used to. Originally, we tried to judge books on their literary merits, after giving them a close reading and careful analysis. Those days are gone. Time constraints have forced us to make judgements about books based solely on (a) their cover art, and (b) how easily they can be made into parlor games. It is admittedly not a perfect system for reviewing books, but it's still better than Salon.

I'm happy to report that The Puritan Jungle, Sara Harris' looooooong-out-of-print 1969 book about "America's flourishing sexual subculture, where
anything goes," is an unqualified success on both counts. The cover features a watercolor painting of two couples in various states of undress. The women are wearing only underwear, and look bored and disaffected, or possibly both. The men are both wearing tight pants and no shirts. They have nice pecs. They both look about 50. I don't think this was intentional, as 50-year-old men very seldom have chests as rock-hard as these guys. In spite of the scantily clad women next to them, the men also seem bored. They are not visibly erect, which seems odd, as the women are hot in a watercolor sort of way. Perhaps they're gay. Luckily for them, anything goes in America's "shocking sexual wasteland," where one can encounter "prostitutes, pimps, homosexuals, vice cops, (and) wife swappers." (This is an easy joke -- that's why I made it -- but I grudgingly admit that author Harris is unusually progressive, particularly on the issue of gay rights, for a mainstream journalist writing in 1969.)

So the cover art is good. But it's the parlor game that really sells it. You can make your own up, but the one I've had the most success with is one in which you read a randomly selected sentence from the book, and then try to guess what the next sentence is. I call it "Read a Randomly Selected Sentence from the Book and Then Try to Guess What the Next Sentence Is." It's absolutely loads of fun, and can be made into a drinking game easily. The great thing about this game is it requires no context, and no expenses outside a copy of this book (which you can probably find used for fifty cents), and depending on your disposition, a bottle of some form of grain alcohol. Hardcore players will be able to excel at this game with almost no prompting, but for the beginners, I present some sample questions in multiple choice format. It's like the SAT, but with more allusions to fucking. Give yourself a point for every correct answer and see just what kind of Puritan you are.

1. "He tenderly places an arm around her shoulder, covered with the half-torn Alencon-trimmed nightgown. 'You poor darling,' he says. 'You can count on me to stand by you, no matter what happens.'" (27)

a. "No fool he!"
b. "He fingered the lace, equally tenderly. 'Is that point d'Espagne?' he asked with evident tenderness. 'No, it's Alencon,' she replied in a tender voice. 'But many people make that mistake.' Then they had sex."
c. "'You should really get that lace repaired,' he said, not without tenderness. 'Allow me to give you the name of my lace conservator. He's the best.' She sighed and gazed tenderly at him. 'If only I could find someone to repair...my heart.'"
d. "They fell silent and could hear the shouts of street youths mixed with the impatient honks of speeding cars. 'It sure is a jungle we're living in,' he said. 'Yes,' she replied. 'A Puritan jungle.'"

2. "Many swappers, though not all by a long shot, are exhibitionists." (77)

a. "They like to have themselves photographed in exotic sex positions."
b. "They like to have themselves photographed in sex positions, but not exotic ones. That's where they draw the line."
c. "They like to have themselves photographed standing next to cardboard cutouts of celebrities. They then like to show these photographs to their friends and see if they can convince them that they actually met these celebrities."
d. "They like to have themselves photographed wearing fine lace-trimmed nightgowns. They prefer Alencon, but will settle for Swiss bobbin."

3. "Well, we never got up to have our dinner or anything else, and we stayed in bed till noon." (96)

a. "And in the morning, we did have anal intercourse."
b. "And in the morning, we did have toast, followed by anal intercourse."
c. "And in the early afternoon, we did have some tea and those nice cucumber sandwiches, after which we engaged in anal intercourse."
d. "At the advice of our pastor, we sometimes waited until nightfall for the anal intercourse. Not often, though."

4. "A 'threesome,' of course, is either two women with one man (this seems to be the preferable arrangement) or two men with one woman. A 'foursome' may consist of two couples or three people of one sex with one of the other." (102)

a. "'French love,' known even to many non-swappers as oral stimulation of the vulva by male or female and practiced in swap circles, particularly when new and comparatively decorous ... members are initiated."
b. "'French toast,' known even to the most casual observer of the breakfast scene, is often topped with cinnamon, and is delicious. It is often followed with anal intercourse."
c. "Group sex makes Jesus cry."
d. "'Swedish love' is like regular sex, but with lingonberries."

5. "The story sounds familiar, because I have heard it from so many homosexuals. Harold, in his forty-nine years, had had up till then 1,953 sexual contacts with men." (147)

a. "This is absolutely correct, he says, because he has reconstructed all his experiences for Dr. Hooker, kept an accurate record."
b. "This is absolutely correct, he says, because he keeps a detailed list of all his sexual partners. He's totally anal about it."
c. "The weird thing about this is that he's straight."
d. "No fool he!"

Correct answers: (1) a, (2) a, (3) a, (4) a, (5) a

In addition to the points you received for each correct answer, give yourself a point for each second it took you to realize that all the correct answers were going to be "a," because I was too lazy to set it up any other way. Give yourself ten points if you rolled your eyes at the predictable, sophomoric half-pun about sodomy in the "b" answer to question five. Give yourself twenty points if you've ever eaten lingonberry pancakes.

Finally, give yourself a thousand points if you actually have a copy of this book and find yourself disturbingly turned on by the seminude watercolors on the cover. Then take a drink.

So by our new standards, The Puritan Jungle is actually pretty good. I learned a great deal, particularly that "grindie" was apparently once an acceptable synonym for pornographic movie.

I am so fucking glad I didn't grow up in the '60s.

The Puritan Jungle: America's Sexual Underground by Sara Harris
Pocket Books
ISBN: 67177154X
193 Pages