Ghosts of Nonfiction Past | Newberry

Ghosts of Nonfiction Past

“Man was created strong. Woman was created weak.”

It doesn’t get a lot more blatant than that. Once upon a time, this sort of top secret information was sold on an almost furtive basis, through ads in the backs of magazines, which offered ancient wisdom on life and its conduct.

“Whose prayers does God hear?’


We’ve had a donation which includes a number of these classic pamphlets, “nonfiction pulps” as a long-time student of the business, David Meyer, calls them. I picked two at random, one a joke book called Side Splitters by Hugh Mustlaff, the other more rather better seller, How To Make Love, by Hugh Morris. I am assuming the similarity of their names is a coincidence, but you never know.

“Tub yourself continually in hot weather and use cold water and soap to cleanse your skin so that it will always be alluring and attractive.”

“Where’s the other joke?”

“There’s only the one.”

“I thought Noah took two of everything onto that Ark.”

It is not the fault of the authors, I suppose, that a hundred years has made the work of serious nonfiction funnier than the joke book. The book on How To Make Love stayed in print longer, too. That was the way of the nonfiction pulp: once it had been set up, it could be printed until the plates wore out. (You can tell how many editions were printed, sometimes, just by looking at how muddy the type is in the later printings. And a title like that ensured that there would always be demand, at least in the days before the Interwebs, when a person in need of information had to rely on the printed word.

“Love, all love, builds for future happiness. And this future happiness is a successful marriage.”

Never mind that most of what’s IN the book could be found in a Boy Scout manual, or the latest issue of Reader’s Digest. The title was enough to sell the book. (In fact, there are plenty of nonfiction pulps which were reprinted for years with the same title, but with additions to the text from other publishers’ nonfiction pulps on the same subject, or even a slightly related subject.) I am sure How To Make Love sold thousands of copies, along with the other books in the series: Sex Facts for Men, Sex Facts for Women, Facts About Nudism, and 64 Card Tricks. As long as they got the title right, they could sell their 32-page classics forever.

I hope the card tricks worked. I’m a little worried about the chapter on kissing technique here, which begins “Now is your chance! The moment you feel the tip of your nose touch her scalp….”

“It makes me sick at heart to see you smoking, young man.”

“It gets me more in the stomach, ma’am.”
No, hands down, Hugh Morris is a lot funnier than Hugh Mustlaff. I love this paragraph which explains to a young man exactly where to put his hands when he’s taking his date to a movie. (This is less formal, we are told, than taking her to the theatre, so a little more motion is permissible.) The enhanced eroticism of rubbing shoulders with your date, as opposed to putting an arm along the back of the seat and around her shoulders, is emphasized (and this comes AFTER that luscious section where his nose is against her scalp.)

“The ailing woman is a menace to any love affair. She should be strong enough to do housework.”

“No smoking allowed here!”

“I’ve never smoked aloud in my life!”

It’s a pity one has to go in Humor and the other in How To, really. But if I sorted everything into humor that was foolish, we probably wouldn’t have a Political Science category any more.

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