ISBN 978-1-944521097, August 1, 2020
Softcover, 222 pages, 6.6 x 9.6 in.
Typerotica is a hilariously comedic and poignantly nostalgic portrait of an aspiring artist as a young man. Consisting of the typed manuscripts of two love stories—QWERTYUIOP and AZERTYUIOP—it illustrates an analogy: typing was once to literature what sex is to love.
As a fifteen-year old, Lee Siegel is dazzled by a then contraband copy of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, and decides that he must become a writer. He imagines that in order to do that he needs to learn how to type and then go to Paris to drink French wine, smoke French cigarettes, and have sex with French women. Imagining, furthermore, that in order to become a writer of compelling literature he needs to learn how to type, he enrolls in a typing class at a secretarial college in Los Angeles and falls in love with the typing teacher.
The two stories are framed by nonfictional introductions and annotations, including a true account of the author’s friendship with Henry Miller.
Set in the early 1960s, the novel nostalgically evokes that period when it was actually illegal to read authors like Henry Miller—who plays a large role here—and for that reason was thrilling and liberating for some readers.
Unfortunately, as Siegel notes in his mournful introduction, that earlier Puritan revulsion at frank depictions of sex seems to be making a comeback in politically correct/woke culture. Healthy, joyous, even silly depictions of sexual allure are now subjected to ludicrous sociopolitical theorizing, and subject to cancellation.
But don’t let that prevent you from reading this handsomely produced book. “Don’t be such a prude,” the narrator’s French lover tells him. “Don’t be so puritanically American.” — Steven Moore
Siegel is a conjurer and a tease, a connoisseur of language and a great fan and purveyor of entertainment. — Booklist starred review
Siegel’s work … is just the cerebral aphrodisiac we need. — Salon
Siegel ardently caresses words, relishes their sound and appearance on the page … deserves space on the short, high shelf of literary wonders. — New York Times Book Review
. . .
“Do you know the difference between a good secretary and a great one? A good secretary says, ‘Good morning, sir,’ to her boss. A great one says, ‘It’s morning, sir.’ ”
A large portion of the stuff that Mad Men was made of. And yes, the older and wiser Siegel is aware of the immaturities to be found in this juvenilia, yet it’s not as bad as all that. For instance, the love interest Miss Hammond is prim and proper and her sexuality is quite obviously a projection of the Siegel in heat. Plus, she isn’t a one-dimensional character composed only of “boobs and butts and hair” as Siegel’s disapproving friend put it after reading the manuscript, according to a quote in the introduction. Rather, she hopes to gain a prestigious typing job that will also come with a hefty pay raise. In some ways, her love of typing is greater than little Siegel’s, who is more passionate about what typing facilitates: writing.
"There are a lot of funny movies," one of my students recently remarked in a conversation about genre, "but serious literature is not often very funny." The comment sat with me. Yes, there are some funny books among serious literature, but why do we associate seriousness with darkness and tragedy? And which authors right now resist that association?
Lee Siegel is one of them. Since his first novel Love in a Dead Language (1999) he has established himself as a serious novelist, crafting playful and complex stories that brim with ideas about textuality, meaning, history, technology, and media—all of which are driven by the undeniable, and undeniably absurd, force of love. In their self-conscious play with narrative structure, coupled with their embrace of the body, Siegel's novels inherit the tradition of Nabokov and John Barth, Philip Roth and James Joyce, exploring the euphoria of love, its connection to language, and the deep physicality of both.
His latest, Typerotica, autobiographically examines the artist as a young man, but its idea of desire is starkly different from Stephen Dedalus's shameridden riot of the body. Instead, Siegel's novel is playfully silly about the ways our desire—and our language—are shaped.