by Robert Julian
Uncut: The Natural History of the Foreskin by Sherwin Carlquist; Pinecone Press, $25
Of all the books I never expected to see, Uncut, an agitprop homage to foreskin, zooms right to the top of the list. Written by a 77-year-old biologist from the University of California, Uncut not only contains over 100 black-and-white images of uncircumcised penises, but the author creates an action hero, Captain Uncut, to guide readers through the text, courtesy of little cartoon bubbles. Readers may be amused, horrified, or disgusted when they notice Captain Uncut's head is topped by a large foreskin.
Author Carlquist spends the first quarter of the book describing specific parts of the intact male penis, as well as their uses and functions. Each description is accompanied by photos, and the information provided is precise and detailed. Carlquist is an anti-circumcision crusader (aka intactivist), and he carefully details the benefits of being uncircumcised, as well as the damage circumcision inflicts on male sexual response. He also seems to be a fetishist whose obsession with uncircumcised penises is somewhat outre.
All the photos of male genitalia in the book are close-ups, except for one shot that contains a face tugging on a long piece of foreskin like that little dog pulling at that bathing suit in the Coppertone ad, and a second that includes the body attached to one of the penises. Readers dating urologists may find some use for the plethora of penile details provided. These same readers may find a familiarity with terms like corona, meatus, smooth mucosa, ringed bands, and glans may put the "happy" in their happy hours. Other readers may feel these facts border on too much information.
But Carlquist really hits his stride in the final three-quarters of the text, which provide a visual cornucopia of penile images akin to those created off-Broadway in the show The Puppetry of the Penis. Carlquist demonstrates, in extreme close-up on high-quality paper stock, how the uncircumcised penis can be used as a vase, a change purse, a key holder, and an objet d'art. Stretched, pierced, tattooed, ringed, and weighted foreskins abound. It can never be said that Sherwin Carlquist lacks a sense of humor — although the precise nature and pathology of his humorous bent must remain in question.
Uncut, which the author describes as "a book more than 20 years in the making," is being published in a limited edition of 1,000. Although, like a gambler playing Texas Hold Em, that bet could always be raised. The information Carlquist provides in Uncut is useful and potentially helpful to parents who might be considering the circumcision of a male child. It is, however, unlikely this book will fall into their hands, to be catalogued beside J.K. Rowling and the Dick and Jane series. In a press release, the author declares the book is "being shipped to leading bookstores." Assuming those shipments will contain a return address, readers are encouraged to Google away.