Monday, December 10, 2007

Espirit d'escalator

Descending into the Dupont Metro Station from the northern entrance at 20th & P, you may have noticed that thirty years after its completion the circular rim haloing the escalators has been written on. It's the last stanza of the Gay Gray Poet's "The Wound-Dresser" (a timely reminiscence of the horrors of war to a later, glory-struck generation):

Thus in silence in dreams' projections,
Returning, resuming, I thred my way through the hospitals,
The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand,
I sit by the restless all the dark night, some are so young,
Some suffer so much, I recall the experience sweet and sad,

The next two lines, concluding the poem, are

(Many a soldier's loving arms about this neck have cross'd and rested,
Many a soldier's kiss dwells on these bearded lips.)

Homophobic? I don't think so. They are in parenthesis (representing interior monologue), and the rim does seem filled.

Monday, November 26, 2007

woodworms & tallboys

"Where would you find homosexual woodworms? … In a tallboy." From Anthony Shaffer's play Sleuth (1970). Quoted out of context, but context here doesn't seem to matter. I can think of no explanation that makes this even remotely funny. I think I understand "tallboys" and "woodworms" ... it must be the "homosexual" part — how embarrassing! I don't know whether this quip's in the first (Mankiewicz) movie. The more sittable among you may inform me whether or not it's in the forthcoming Branagh.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Defiant Entreaty

Turn to the list of Edmund White's other books, "BY THE SAME AUTHOR," opposite the title page of My Lives. I defy anyone to make any sense of its ordering ... beziehungsweise, as the Germans might say, I beseech anyone to tell me any sense they can make of it!

The Third Friend?

We didn't discuss (because I hadn't yet read it myself?) the supplemental essay at the end of the paperback edition, "My Lives, 'My Master,' My Reader." White laments the (only) three friends he's lost through his writing. Susan Sontag of course we know about (Caracole). T, it turns out, was lost as well with the publication of My Lives. Who I wonder was the third? Larry Kramer naturally comes to mind, but how much of a loss could he have been!?

(Wikipedia, by the way, is a floodgate to interviews with Edmund White. David Shankbone's, which I referred to last night, is so hot on the pixels that it was "published" this month!)

EVW III's generosity

A question I forgot to ask last night was how reading My Lives changed anyone's understanding or perception of Edmund White, whether there was anything really new and revelatory in it. Given that most of us had read nothing by him before, this was perhaps not such a lost opportunity. For myself, however, the big revelation was that White hadn't been born prattling away en français. He's so smart and sophisticated I assumed without knowing it that he was fluent in French at least by the time he hit The Big Apple. It was touching to learn how late he learned to speak French and with what difficulty. (And nothing roots his upbringing so irremediably in the fifties as his having studied French at Cranbrook without ever having to speak or hear it!) This was a big surprise for me but is a part of a larger value of My Lives, which unfortunately we scarcely touched on last night: to wit, how someone from the well insulated heartland comes gradually over a life time to make contact with a larger world. It's summed up in a way by his comments on page 351: "My true friends share my feeling of being a tourist on earth, a visitor dropping in on life ... [striving] to be wordly without being blasé, to be innocent without being naive—to know everything and to take nothing or granted...." This is the highest and most admirable generosity, feeling generous about life.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Tin Star

Gay romance pulp? J.L. Langley pulls out all stops in her 2006 novel, Tin Star, about a stunning cowboy, a studly rancher, a vengeful father, a faithful dog, and a mystery shooting. I didn't pay a lot for this book, and you shouldn't, either.

While the sex scenes are (at times) homoerotic hardcore, the writing is right in the middle of the romance-mystery-pulp genre. I hadn't a clue, though, who the audience was for this novel. Do women really read homoerotic, hardcore romantic pulp? Or is this novel aimed at young, gay or questioning men? Of course, my big question was how Langley did her research. Perhaps she read Bob Vickery and Dale Chase.

With these questions in mind, I poked around the Internet. Unknown to me, indeed, women are writing homoerotic romantic fiction for other women. Dale Chase writes excellent porn for the guys, but I didn't know she had some sisters doing their bit for straight women. Here's a gay romance fiction blog, Friction Fiction. It's full of rugged cowboys who ride more than their horses, but has its fair share of gay werewolves(!), as well.

Back to The Tin Star, the book has too much a women's touch. The main character's name is Jamie, and his knight in shining armor is Ethan. No self-respecting Texas cowboy would traffic with either name, but I suspect a New Jersey salesgirl might. (You guess who's the top and who's the bottom; Jamie's nickname is Blue-eyes....) If you check out some of the other gay romantic fiction titles, you'll see similar problems. In The Tin Star, Jamie sometimes "peaks" rather than "comes." Now that's a queer verb! I don't think any gay male porn writer would ever peak.

One of the main themes of this novel (other than the cowboy-on-cowboy bareback riding) is the struggle for gay acceptance in a hostile society. Langley treats the issue sympathetically, but both Jamie and Ethan have great difficulty accepting their same-sex attraction. The novel initially treats homosexuality as only being acceptable within the private sphere, but as the novel progresses, Langley expands her characters' awareness and acknowledgement of their sexual lives in the public sphere, too.

I enjoyed the book. Be warned: it requires zero thinking. Its characters are an imagined gay in an imagined Texas that is at once hostile and supportive. It's a story more of events than character. The sex scenes are pretty good, drawn realistically enough so that I could figure out the positions, and hot enough that I could get caught up in my own romantic moment with myself.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Coleman Dowell

Richard Canning has a review of Coleman Dowell's work in the latest Gay and Lesbian Review. Coleman Dowell? I was a little less ignorant from just having read Ed White's short essay about him in his recent collection, Arts and Letters. There are three major novels: Island People (1976), Too Much Flesh and Jabez (1977), and White on Black on White (1983). The first two have been reissued by the estimable Dalkey Archive, the third is putatively still in print in England. I'm keen on reading and discussing one of these but a little unsure which to choose. Anyone read these, have any ideas? I'm inclined toward Island People, since it's the first and supposedly the best but Too Much Flesh and Jabez looks like a lot of fun. I'll put a link up to Canning's review if/when it becomes available.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Empedocles at Etna

I mentioned in our discussion the legend of Empedocles throwing himself into the volcano at Etna. I hadn't checked this legend by the time of our discussion, as I had hoped to, but having done so now, I think it's an integral albeit ambiguous aspect of Forster's story. The philosopher Empedocles is supposed to have thrown himself into Etna for a variety of reasons but they all seem to have had something to do with belief (others, in him) and with his own (belief) in the transmigration of souls. It's not obvious to me how this relates to Harold except that he too has thrown himself into something similar and with somewhat similar expectations.

I appreciate other people's valuing the story more highly than I did and taking Harold's story more seriously. Having reread "Albergo Empedocle" (Empedocles' Inn), I'm more of their mind. Certainly "Tommy" the framing narrator, whose company Harold beseeches, who believes his presence might have saved Harold and who is still present with Harold in the sanitarium, takes Harold's other life, his greater and better life in Acragas, seriously. The story is a nice treatment of imagination and reality and the pretense toward either. The part I still like most is the mind of Mildred at work in reassessing herself and her fiancée once her pretensions toward a remembered life at Acragas have been blown.

Virginia Woolf wrote somewhere that the hardest part of fiction was getting one's characters into and out of the rooms one wants them in. I think Forster might agree with her considering his own difficulties in the climactic scene in the albergo's "dirty little sitting-room." Mildred is alone there with "a stiff-backed lady" when she reassesses her prior life in Acragas and her present life with Harold. After that, Harold enters to tell her her father has found the key for his Gladstone bag. He tries for a kiss, she leaves in a rage (calling him a "charlatan and a cad"). Suddenly Sir Edwin is in the room, quickly departing after his elder daughter, leaving his wife and younger daughter, suddenly there. Very awkward, and not just a slip—it catches the reader up and causes genuine confusion.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Alex Sanchez's new book

From a listserv I get, here's information about Alex Sanchez's, author of Rainbow Boys, newest book. Alex also has a home page

"First, I received an email from one of our first authors, Alex Sanchez. He has come out with a new book, The God Box, about gay Christian teens. Alex will be in town to do a reading. Says Alex: "I'm doing well, enjoying Thailand, and writing heaps of manuscripts. Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church gave a wonderful quote: 'Alex Sanchez evokes the crucifying experience of adolescents wrestling with their sexual identity and their identity as Christians. This book is a gift not just to teenagers, but to those who love and work with them.' " Alex has written a series of groundbreaking novels about gay teenagers.Please stop by, buy a copy of The God Box, and have Alex personally inscribe it for you.When: Wednesday, October 17Time: 7pmPlace: Lambda Rising on Connecticut Ave. in Dupont Circle"

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Aciman at DCJCC

André Aciman, whose novel call me by your name we're quite likely to discuss next year, will be signing copies of his book and commenting on it at the Jewish Community Center, 1529 16th St. NW this coming Tuesday (10/9), at 7 p.m. Admission is $8. For further information call 202-777-3250. (I'm hoping someone will go and tell me how his name's pronounced.)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The First Verse

We've just finished Edmund White's anthology of new gay fiction, Fresh Men. One of the stories there was an extract about a Dublin student who gets caught up in a strange "reading" cult (Book Men DC !?). Many of us found it captivating. I've read the novel by Barry McCrea and predict that if you found that extract about obsession obsessively readable, you'll probably find the whole novel that way as well—a considerable achievement, considering that it's sustained over a space ten times as long! What's more, despite my lengthening backlog of books unread, I'm up for a re-read if there's general interest. Check it out at Lambda Rising.

A Dangerous Mind

For those of you who have been attending for a while and are curious about what ever happened to Mark Rice, you can read a whole ton about him (by him!) on his blog, which coincidentally has ended just as we've moved on over here to Blogspot. We miss you, Mark!

Small Town Gay Bar

What's it like to be in the Bible Belt, a hundred miles away from anything gay? Well, see some of the people who live it in this worthwhile documentary about "Rumors" in the tiny town of Shannon, Miss. (pop. 1,657). Has all the vividness of our earlier reading, Men Like That, with none of its tendentiousness. For a preview, go to Netflix.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

the bois have grown up

We used to be known as Boys & Books. (Originally, our name was Potomac Gay Men's Book Club!) As catchy as that handle was, many of us have come to feel it's misleading. "Bois" will always be welcome but only a couple of us can any longer be considered such. So the boys have grown up and now we're Book Men DC—grrr!