Dope Menace: The Sensational World of Drug Paperbacks 1900-1975

Reviews

As faithful readers of my blog may have noticed, I’ve begun to promote my forthcoming novel, The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl (PS Books, May 2009), somewhat shamelessly over the past few weeks. In some ways, the novel is a literary homage to “anti-dope” paperback novels of the last century — so I was very excited to find Stephen J Gertz’s Dope Menace: The Sensational World of Drug Paperbacks (Feral House, 2008), a nonfiction tome on that very subject, upon a recent visit to Doylestown Bookshop.

In Dope Menace, Gertz chronicles many of the social, legal, economic, and moral(istic) trends that helped to popularize and then undermine the market for drug paperbacks throughout the first three quarters of the twentieth century. From the earliest anti-drug tomes with titles like Plain Facts for Young Women on Marijuana, Narcotics, Liquor and Tobacco to latter-day tales of psychedelic excess like Beatnik Wanton (blurb: “She lusted in sin orgies and reefer brawls.”), Dope Menace provides not only an insightful examination of the ways in which popular literature reflected changing attitudes toward sex and drugs over the course of the twentieth century, but also what might prove to be a postmortem of the publishing industry itself. Yet as interesting as Gertz’s investigation of these phenomena may be, nothing speaks to the issues he discusses more clearly and colorfully than than the books themselves: dozens and dozens of book covers are reproduced in full color throughout the book along with wonderfully telling passages. Among my favorite titles: The Town That Took a Trip, Campus Sin Cult, and If the Coffin Fits.

If I have one complaint about this book, it’s about an issue that’s completely out of the hands of the author: I want to read almost all of the novels that Gertz mentions. Who, for example, could resist a title like Orgy Town, Prison Nurse, Rubber Goddess, or I Like it Tough? The only problem is that they’re all out of print and nearly impossible to find. But if you really need a literary fix along the lines of what Gertz discusses, you can always check out my book.

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