John Valentine: Puppies

So I finally got around to read this gay classic! I remember seeing the Gay Men’s Press edition (pictured here) on the shelves of my local gay bookshop Rosa Rummet in Stockholm back in 1995, wondering what it was.

Puppies is a collection of diary entries where the author shares his sexual experiences, mostly from the 1960s and 1970s, with “puppies” – that is, young men. John Valentine was the pen name of Chester Anderson (1932-1991), an American underground publicist, and the book was originally published in 1978 by Entwhistle Books.

It’s an amusing read, if dense – you can only take that much pre-condom sex per day. Use Puppies as a rabbit hole that lets you peek into the happy and uncomplicated sex lives of gay men before aids, a bit like Gay Sex in the 70s.

Of course, that documentary was about gay men doing it with other gay men. Valentine mostly does it with straight boys and men, in the age range “from puberty to around (but very youthful) 35.” Oops! Gay men were so honest in those days! (The quote is from a journal entry in 1967, when Valentine was 35 himself.)

Valentine writes:

Aside from my youngest puppy, a precocious 12-year-old pool lounger (son of a friend of the boss) at the Travellers Motel who was already a two-year carnal veteran, and the jocularly horny 14-year-old son of a guest at the motel, the spring-flesh meadow I’ve browsed upon has been unfailingly graced with pubic hair. Within this age range, the younger, generally, the better. A flawless 21-year-old can retroactively shade a whole week with anticipation, a 17-year-old can restore my faith in nameless wonders I’ve not known I’d lost faith in, gold vibrating in my memory, while a 15-year-old w’d constitute a major health hazard. (p. 40 – October 9, 1967)

It’s poetry. And once again, I’m reminded of a verse by Strato from Daryl Hine’s translations of The Greek Anthology:

A twelve-year-old looks fetching in his prime,
Thirteen’s an even more beguiling time.
That lusty bloom blows sweeter at fourteen;
Sexier yet a boy just turned fifteen.
The sixteenth year seems perfectly divine,
And seventeen is Jove’s tidbit, not mine.
But if you fall for older fellows, that
Suggests child’s play no more but tit-for-tat.

(Strato IV, in Puerilities, p. 3)

Almost a genre, this “ode to the (teen) ages,” or what shall we call it. More examples, anyone?

The book is full of detailed descriptions of Valentine’s sexual encounters, but more than them, I liked his elaborations on sexuality and attraction, like here:

I’m interested in boys, not men. Football players & weight lifters, Clark Gables & Yul Brynners, leave me erotically unconcerned. Youth is the cosmetic that turns male flesh to my obsession. Craggily handsome athletes or body builders, no; but boyish ones can swell my fantasies until I’ve no spare mind for non-erotic thought & no will but desire to govern me. (p. 39 – October 9th, 1967)

He continues:

Boys. Preferably beautiful boys, but more essentially boys than beauty. Youth is most of my aesthetic. All my life I’ve known better than to become a teacher.

I was also captivated by the passages where he encounters exceptional beauty – always a mesmerizing theme:

Blake inspires instant tender Blakelust in everyone he meets – I saw this happen when visitors passed through – and no one who can sense this can resist it. All of his beauties are meant to be touched, and he likes to be touched. He is awesomely desirable & radiates desire. I have no way to describe any of this adequately to anyone who can’t experience it. The melting beauty of a boy is hard for a really heterosexual man to perceive or admit: it’s so much more than visual, but eyes are all a straight man dares to use. Lines, curves, handscapes of flesh more exquisite than any female body shows, more graceful & alive, the strength of his beauty – and more than a body for mine to glorify, but a mind of equal beauty wanting always to be taught, to be to my mind what his body is to mine … (p. 89 – April 16, 1968)

There are similarities to Michael Davidson, although Puppies doesn’t come close to Davidson’s Some Boys. Not least, Davidson has a way with words that makes you gasp. Puppies is not about life and death; it lacks the passion of Some Boys. Still, it’s a classic. Three out of five.

Was this a review? No. It was an entry in my hupomnemata.

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2 Responses to John Valentine: Puppies

  1. jokke September 13, 2014 at 10:28 #

    Cool to see that old books can be interesting to read again today. You should make a booklist of “puppybooks” from 60 or 70-ties. Where do you find them? Any secondhand bookstores to recomend in Berlin?

    • Karl September 14, 2014 at 12:44 #

      Good idea. I buy all my books online, even the second-hand ones. Except Amazon Marketplace, I recommend ZVAB.

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