Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Book-A-Day #85 (10/10): Memoirs of a Mangy Lover by Groucho Marx

I think it was Fritz Leiber who said that taboos on sex in books are no problem for a writer, as long as they're consistent; the problem is when they're changing, and a book that's dangerously racy one year becomes not just tame but silly in its circumlocutions a few years later. And he was absolutely right.

There was a burst of "racy" books in the late '50s through the '60s, urged along by a lot of things in the culture (Playboy and its imitators, the Ulysses decision, Beat poets, Lenny Bruce, and so on). They were in that middle zone, where the barriers were dropping but hadn't completely fallen yet (by sometime in the '70s, just about anything sexual could be printed in a book without trouble), and that's the most dangerous time.

This, I'm afraid, falls right into that time and milieu; it's the racy stories of Groucho Marx, as original published in 1963. It's pretty racy for its day, and Groucho tells his stories well, but it smells musty, like an old London club that hasn't been properly aired out in decades.

There is some non-racy material, too, which is OK, but Groucho's first book, the wonderful Groucho and Me is far superior. No one who hasn't read Groucho and Me should start here, but it's an acceptable second (smaller) dose of Groucho for those who have already been inoculated.

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