Who Wrote the Book of Love?

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Who Wrote the Book of Love? by Lee Siegel.

Lee Siegel Who Wrote the Book of Love?

Who Wrote the Book of Love? coyly straddles the line between memoir and novel. Author Lee Siegel admits in a prefatory note regarding his book’s protagonist Lee Siegel that “so many of our experiences are … identical,” but there are parts of this book that are certainly fictional. I was so entertained by Siegel’s account of the volume In the Beginning: A Child’s Book about Grown-up Love by Dr. Isaiah Miller, that I mentioned it to my Other Reader, thinking that it must be real. But she quickly used the ‘net to demonstrate that the only traceable references to it originated in Siegel’s book! I maintain, though, that my confusion was understandable, given the many references to actual culture and events of the 1950s that fill this book.

The structure of the book also belies a certain measure of artifice if not invention, in that it has five chapters (corresponding to the five chapters in the lyric of “Who Wrote the Book of Love” by the Monotones, as well as the five chapters of Miller’s In the Beginning), each divided into two years, and thus perfectly spanning the integral decade of baby-boomer childhood.

Siegel’s childhood takes place in a well-off Jewish enclave in Beverly Hills. His father is a physician and his mother is an actress, and he attends the curiously-named Ponce De Leon Elementary School until delivered to Beverly Hills High School in “Chapter Five, She Loves You, and All Your Dreams Come True.” The confessions of a childhood quest for love and/or sex are complicated only slightly by Cold War paranoia and the vagaries of US mass culture. Siegel and his cigarette-smoking pals tutor each other ignorantly through puberty, the reader is introduced to each of the girls in the series of his infatuations, and the story culminates in the exposure of the erotic origins of his cacoethes scribendi.

I’ve previously read one other of Siegel’s novels (Love in a Dead Language) and one volume of his scholarship (Net of Magic), and he has yet to disappoint. [via]