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Jay A. Gertzman

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Bookleggers and Smuthounds: The Trade in Erotica, 1920-1940 (2001)- Jay A. Gertzman [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]


Jay A. Gertzman is an American writer documenting the US East Coast softcore 20th century erotica business and the author of Bookleggers and Smuthounds: The Trade in Erotica, 1920-1940 (2001) and SIN-A-RAMA: Sleaze Sex Paperbacks of the Sixties (2004) (with Adam Parfrey and Lydia Lunch).

Bookleggers and Smuthounds: The Trade in Erotica, 1920-1940 (2001) - Jay A. Gertzman

    This is a wonderfully conceived and splendidly executed history of the most important formative period of American erotica. Here, thanks to Gertzman's scholarship, the reader will find information available nowhere else: on marginal publishers and sexy books, and on the police and officials who tried to suppress them. The book chronicles investigations and campaigns by assorted smuthunters such as the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, the Post Office, ambitious district attorneys, and the FBI. Gertzman breaks out the huge volume of erotica from underground presses into useful categories, and discusses each in detail, having drawn on neglected archives and hard-to-find resources. For all its careful scholarship, the book is a fine read. The discussion of Samuel Roth, perhaps the most notorious of all American pornographers, is itself worth the price of the book, because it allows Gertzman to speculate on the essential value of pornographers to a culture. --Joseph Slade via amazon.com

    The author tackles the question of why people who distributed books which were banned or critized as pornography were often Jewish. He has done his homework, digging up prominent examples, and makes comparisons between the other kinds of dirty jobs immigrants and their sons did, and the publishing and selling of smut. Sometimes, this "smut" was great literature; sometimes it was just plain curious and brought in good money during the depression. You get to know some of these men pretty well. You do not like them much, maybe, but you do understand. The author does a good job of explaining the career of the most famous of these publishers, a very complex and haunted man you diskike, but feel sorry for too. --Adele Greenberg via amazon.com

    Why did I write this book? In downtown Philadelphia in June 1960, a "raiding party of five county detectives"--followed closely by TV reporters and their cameras--visited my uncle Ben's book shop. Bail for the clerk, his brother Isadore--my father--was set at $500. Isadore was seen on the local TV news that night trying to move the NBC microphone far enough from his face to wave the police off the premises; he said they were "hurting his business." "The books sold," said the Assistant District Attorney, "Would arouse any man, unless he were made of stone." But plenty of copies were available in any event, and could always be safely purchased at the local department stores. My uncle was just a businessman, but he sold material which could be seen as sexually explicit and therefore harmful. He was a "pariah capitalist," and had developed a certain range of talents and a healthy amount of chutzpah. In _Bookleggers and Smuthounds _I try to describe the reasons for prosecuting this sort of businessman, and how these "bookleggers" of the roaring twenties and hungry thirties distributed the wide range of materials they did. As I studied the interaction between the bookleggers and the smuthounds, I become convinced of a salient fact: publishers of erotica and the moralists who attacked them during the mid-twentieth century had (as they continue to have; see my Epilogue) a subtle symbiotic relationship. As good businesspeople, erotica distributors necessarily appealed to prurient fascination. Because they invited their clients to indulge curiosities which kept intact the association of sex with obscenity and shameful silence, the blunt fact of their existence provided the anti-vice crusaders with the public enemy they needed to show how fascination with sex was indeed a vice exploited by people with contempt for purity. One bookseller above all shouldered the burden of being a "dirty books man," and accumulated the emotional scars of being a pariah capitalist. This was Samuel Roth, the first to publish an unexpurgated edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover in America. My final chapter is about the way this complex individual advertised his books, defined himself, and defied authority. I hope to show, by describing his career, the conflicted motives and psychic pressures of dealing in erotica in the interwar years, when books were still a chief means of communication, and when it was "sex o'clock in American literature." --Jay A. Gertman

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