And, Having Writ

I have not mentioned this before, because I thought it was unnecessary. A book that’s left near the telephone is in a danger zone. People WILL take notes and write down phone numbers on the nearest light-colored surface, and that’s all there is to it. But in most cases this means the phone book. So I….

Oh, all right. For the benefit of our younger readers, telephones used to be fastened to the wall, and there was frequently just the one phone in the entire residence. People had to go TO the phone when it rang, instead of just taking it from a pocket. And all you could use a phone for was talking. You couldn’t make notes on a digital notepad while you talked, so any piece of paper within reach of the phone was fair game, provided you had a pencil. A phonebook was a large volume where we had to look up phone numbers because there was no online service to do that for us. Yes, we had it rough in my day, but things got better when we could give up the tin cans connected by string. Oh? Well, a tin can was…never mind. Look it up on Wikipedia.

Anyhow, we do sometimes get books with light covers that have had names and numbers scribbled on them. This is indiscreet. And why did you have “The Joy of Sex” so close to your telephone, anyhow? And if I’d been writing down a hospital number, I’d have looked around for something else. Anything you write on the cover of “The Joy of Sex” is going to be suggestive.

What interested me particularly about this little incident was that one or two people I talked to about it honestly had trouble with the concept of “near the phone” but absolutely none had a problem recognizing the book I mentioned. I am inspired to think that Dr. Comfort created a legend. See, the Joy of Sex was published 41 years ago, long before the telephone took the place of television, checkbook, and pocket watch.

I have mentioned before how David Reuben’s book—Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask—created a surge of title imitations. (A quick check online finds Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Potassium, Lawyers, Gallerists, the United Nations, and a few dozen other subjects you were too cheap, too tired, too afraid to ask about.) The Joy of Sex, which took its title from the Joy of Cooking when the Cordon Bleu people refused to let him call it Cordon Bleu Sex, spawned just as many offspring, including, of course, the Joy of Socks, the Joy of Sax, The Joy of Six, and three different books called The Joy of X. Whether all the other Joy of books get their title from Irma Rombauer’s cookbook or Alex Comfort’s Gourmet Guide isn’t clear, and that tells its own story.

Like a lot of people who write an iconic book in the middle of doing other things, Alex Comfort was increasingly annoyed as years went by to find people remembered him for that one title out of a lifetime of writing. It wasn’t that he was uncomfortable about being known as an expert on sex (the illustrations are supposedly based on his personal Polaroids) but he would have liked to be remembered for his material on gerontology (pioneering), politics (out there), and sociological theory (farther out there.)

But there it is. His book is still known by people half as old as it is, who have probably never had to jot down a note during a phone call and who would never consider consulting a book for advice on sex with the whole Internet at their command. It has a reasonably good shot at immortality.

As do these notes you wrote in ballpoint on the cover. When you wrote “Scotch type” did you mean “Scotch tape”, or were you making plans for restocking the bar, is this some kind of slang I didn’t learn during the 70s? This is why you should be careful when choosing the book for note scribbling.  If you’d written that on The Joy of Cooking, I wouldn’t have looked twice.

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