Truths: Talks With a Boy Concerning Himself - a pure treasure to own

Truths: Talks With a Boy Concerning Himself by E.B. Lowry, M.D. is the perfect reason not to own a Kindle.  You would never be able to find this book on the Kindle, not in a zillion years.  There’s a good reason for that.  It’s a ridiculously out-dated book about teaching young men about sexuality from 1919.  It is bad to the point of utter hilarity.  So why would I ever recommend it as a reason to still love books?  Precisely because it is bad to the point of utter hilarity.

First, a little background.  I found this book when I was still working at Powell’s and it’s the perfect kind of book to exemplify an enormous used bookstore.  You never know what you might possibly find.  In fact, it’s a reason to browse book stores that are far less organized than Powell’s.  After all, I found this while working at the store – it wasn’t actually available for sale at the time.  But this is the kind of treasure you can find when searching the haunts of used bookstores that take any kind of book.  You’ll find it buried in some random pile that they never knew existed.  It’s the kind of pure joy that can only happen with a complete random discovery.

Now, as for the content.  Well, after I found this, rather than price it, I began to flip through it.  Then I began to read parts of it aloud at staff meetings.  It wasn’t long after that that I bought it.  I couldn’t bear to part with it.  Just look at this part of the introduction when the author is explaining his purpose (to provide a guide to explaining reproduction to your son):

Fortunate is the boy whose father is a companion to him.  The man who can break away from his business cares, become his boy’s chum, take long walks with him, talking about the wonders and mysteries of nature, gradually leading up to nature’s method of reproducing her kind and teaching him the sacredness of the human body, will be fully repaid for his effort.

It then goes on to explain that 40% of the childless homes and 70% of the blindness in the world are due to STD’s.  A bold claim to make in the wake of the Spanish Influenza and World War I.  But the book has a purpose – to instruct those boys whose fathers aren’t around to have that talk in the woods.  For a while the book proceeds in the way of a very badly written book.  It is written in the second person, from the point of view of a father telling his son about the facts of life, with ridiculous stories and vague analogies concerning the natural world (always with an aside about going for a walk or getting some fish).  But when the father finally begins to explain about semen, it gets great.  He calmly explains about how semen works during sex, then explains that you can’t waste it.  “Sometimes boys who do not understand the use of this fluid will waste it.  These boys seldom develop into strong men.”

This is where the book suddenly turns brilliantly hilarious.  The narrator explains how masturbation can keep you from becoming a strong man, then explains how it will ruin your nervous system.  Then he explains how a good doctor can explain that you need to stop: “The treatment is first to stop the practice, then take a great deal of exercise in the open air, eat nourishing food without condiments or spices, sleep on a hard bed and do not have too much bed clothing, then fill your mind full of other thoughts.”  He then explains how irritation of the foreskin prompts masturbation and that circumcision can take away the desire (I wonder how the AMA would feel about that recommendation).

He then goes on to discuss the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and we come to the best line: “There is a possibility of a person contracting one of these loathsome diseases by the use of public towels, drinking cups, pencils, etc.  So I hope you always will have your own personal property.”

Got that?  You can get the clap from a pencil.  We’re not talking cholera here.  We’re talking an STD.  But don’t worry!  “Fortunately, many authorities are taking up this matter.  Some of the railroads and many of the states now prohibit the use of public cups.”  All clear?  That should keep you from getting syphilis.  Well, no it won’t, unless you were planning to fornicate with the cup.  The S in the acronym stands for sexually.

I enjoy this book.  I like to keep it around, partially as a reminder of how not to teach Thomas about sex when he gets old enough.  But also because it’s great fun at parties to pull out the book and read aloud and watch the expressions on people’s faces when I explain to them that you can get the clap from a pencil.