Thursday, December 20, 2012

Jane Austen, Jewess of Chawton

Interested in pinning down Gore Vidal's burial (place) in Rock Creek Cemetery, I went to and found this picture

(Gore as yet undead in Ravello). Coming across the unexpected terminal "r" I tracked down an explanation on (you'll have to scroll past several photos).

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Partners for 65 Years

My friend Lester passed away recently at the age of 91. In this picture he is seated at the organ at their home in Convent Station, NJ. Warren and I are seated below. Warren and Lester were partners for 65 years. They were mentors, occasional colleagues but most importantly dear, dear friends to me. They had a home in Brigantine were I used to live and I spent countless evenings with them making dinner, watching a film or just talking about music, literature and traveling. Warren & Lester met in March of 1947 when Lester was organist for West Park Presbyterian and Warren taught at the Collegiate School and quickly set up house. They rarely left each other's side even though Lester concertized in the US, Europe and Asia. They eventually settled in Convent Station when Lester took a position at Drew University. Lester never bragged about the things he accomplished but I knew that he did things like serve on the Organ Juries at the Paris Conservatoire, have impromptu concerts with Marie-Louise Langlais (widow of Jean Langlais) when she visited the US (they were good friends) among many other things. I even got to play a piece by Langlais for flute and organ in a recital once w/ Lester. They used to give me tickets to rehearsals of the Metropolitan Opera in NYC and once got my sister and me a private tour of the Met that is reserved for big donors. Nobody knew this till the funeral but since Lester's retirement from Drew they gave over 1 million dollars to the university. They were so humble and yet led such a rich life and they gave me so much of their time over the past 23 years. Warren survives Lester. He will be sorely missed (especially by me).

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Two Reviews & A Request

Having read What Do Gay Men Want?, BookMen may be peculiarly appreciative of two reviews of David Halperin's latest: one by Edmund White in the NYRB, the other by Richard Davenport-Hines in the TLS.

Halperin has scored a coup with his cover

a strip of photographs of model Roy Seerden titled "gayboy walking (after Eadweard Muybridge)" by Wouter Vandenbrink. You can read about it in How to be Gay by doing a "Search Inside This Book" on "Wouter". Vandenbrink has his own website but I haven't been able to find "gayboy walking" on it or elsewhere. Hence, my request: please help one gayman sitting find a site for gayboy walking.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


The house in Gordon Square where Virginia Woolf lived.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

"Paul's Case" — Third Time

The "case" in the short story by Willa Cather, which we read last year, is both a legal and a medical one: respectively of embezzlement and of "temperament". Christopher Benfey, reviewing a new biography of a gilded-age prototype of Bernie Madoff, suggests a third "case" … of implicit social protest, of paupers tricking their way into the gilded cage of robber barons. (Thanks to John for this notice.)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Finished "The Counterfeiters" and loved it.  I noticed this time that Dmitri Karamazov was mentioned at least twice so now I'm doing a reread of "The Brothers K..." (all 913 pages).

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Counterfeiters – Character Network

We have five weeks until our discussion of André Gide's The Counterfeiters (Nov. 7). Word is out not to delay beginning this novel till the last week, and some, who already have begun, are expressing a need for a chart like the above (kindly passed on to us by Keith).

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Gay Nabokov

In preparation for the meeting on Wednesday, the original article by Lev Grossman in Salon on Sergey Nabokov -- that sparked Paul Russell's imagination -- is extremely worthwhile reading. It mentions in the text a photograph taken of the family when it was in Yalta in 1917, but doesn't include it in the article. It seems to be the only photograph of Sergey. (Click above for a larger image.)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

"Merging Fiction and Fact"

BookMen are deep, I trust, in their reading of Paul Russell's The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov. After finishing (though at any time really — there are no "spoilers" for this book), they may be interested to read Kat Long's interview on the Lambda Literary Review website. Also worthwhile is Terri Salomon's review of this book there. Unreal Life has oddly had more blurbs (even without doubling) than reviews (at least that I've been able to locate).

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Too Much Flesh!?

After reading the first of the essays assigned in Fifty Gay and Lesbian Books, I googled Coleman Dowell to see how preposterous he was. I landed on the Amazon site of his book, "Too Much Flesh and Jabez" and found that the image on the cover was not reproduced unless you click on the image. With good reason, as can be seen here. After reading the critique, you will understand the reason why.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

BookMen's Disco Faves

Very good discussion last night about Alice Echols' Hot Stuff. I only regret that none of our younger readers showed up. We who did have lived through that era (some even danced through it—ecstatically!). I would have been most interested to have learned what disco had meant to someone who hadn't and how that perception had been altered by reading the book. All who attended enthusias-tically recommend Hot Stuff, if any young or old have been sitting on the sidelines wondering. I include the Saturday Night Fever poster because the book in all its multi-facetedness opened my eyes widest about this movie. I'm not sure I want to re-view it but I do feel as though I was formerly perhaps too dismissive. Anyhow, everyone loves a list and here's everyone's chance to pile on. Email me or better add a comment listing your (next) favorite three and I'll add them to the list below.
 "Make Me Believe in You" — Patti Jo          — 1973
              "Giving Up" — Zulema            — 1973
          "Dancing Queen" — Abba              — 1976
          "Kiss Me Again" — Dinosaur          — 1977
            "I Feel Love" — Donna Summer      — 1978
         "I Will Survive" — Gloria Gaynor     — 1978
         "Heart of Glass" — Blondie           — 1979
              "Hot Stuff" — Donna Summer      — 1979
          "We Are Family" — Sister Sledge     — 1979
               "Y.M.C.A." — Village People    — 1979
"Is It All Over My Face?" — Loose Joints      — 1980
      "Don't You Want Me" — The Human League  — 1981
      "Do You Wanna Funk" — Sylvester         — 1982
       "It's Raining Men" — The Weather Girls — 1982
                 "Gloria" — Laura Branigan    — 1982
P.S. I threw this together quickly. If anyone has a better youtube link, please let me know.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Next Reading List Recommendation

I long ago tired of juvie lit: coming-out stories and other YA prose. I figure we paid our dues with Rainbow Boys nine years ago. (Rainbow Party would have been more fun and became an éclat du scandale but … our dues had been paid.) Now for readers who want to harken back to the jeers and tears of yesteryears without the rigors of Musil's Young Törless (as too few here have), I can enthusiastically recommend Daryl Hine's own memoir of his fourteenth year encompassing the year and summer of Seventh Grade. Hine's experience outwardly could not have been more different from my own but I was at times almost overwhelmed with the remembered sensations of that first season of full-onset puberty. Academic Festival Overtures besides being evocative and witty is a quick read. Good prose like a strong current carries one through a novel. Good verse positively propels one. There's no figuring out how or where the emphasis should go. The meter virtually dictates it. You will not have had so much trouble putting a book of poetry down since … well, since The Golden Gate, which we read six years ago.

On the first day of school and the first page of the book we are introduced to the classmate who instantly becomes our narrator's crush (and who will continue so strikingly all the way to the end). The crush of course is everything Hine is not: poised, athletic, and popular. And the spark of attraction is oddly mutual, though certainly differing in intensity and kind. That afternoon as Daryl is walking home from school, the crush on his bicycle delivering papers offers him a ride.

Squeezed in front of him uncomfortably astraddle
   Between his pedalling legs and the handlebars,
I saw flash past the blocks that I had trudged that morning
   As he cut corners and careened about parked cars.
He had to reach around me to get each newspaper
   He threw, without stopping, onto somebody's lawn.
When I admired his aim, which was not quite unerring,
   He laughed: "You ought to see me do it before dawn."
I wondered then how many disgruntled subscribers
   Have any idea how fortunate they are,
As they retrieve their daily papers from the bushes,
   To have The Evening Sun brought by the morning star?

(Of course I quote this partly for its similarity and contrast to "Editio Princeps*" which we discussed at our last meeting.)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Daryl Hine 1936-2012

Keith calls our attention to the death of Daryl Hine three days ago. He also recently brought my attention to Hine's poem "Patroclus Putting on the Armour of Achilles". None of us perhaps can feel nothing special about Patroclus and Achilles (no matter how much David Halperin we read). This poem seems peculiarly severe on Patroclus, but I find it very engaging and the last line spot on.

How clumsy he is putting on the amour of another,
His friend’s, perhaps remembering how they used to arm each other
Fitting the metal tunics to one another’s breast
And setting on each other’s head the helmet’s bristling crest.
Now for himself illicitly he foolishly performs
Secret ceremonial with that other’s arms,
Borrowed, I say stolen, for they are not his own,
On the afternoon of battle, late, trembling, and alone.

Night terminal to fighting falls on the playing field
As to his arm he fastens the giant daedal shield.
A while the game continues, a little while the host
Lost on the obscure litoral, scattered and almost
Invisible pursue the endless war with words
Jarring in the darkening air impassable to swords.

But when he steps forth from the tent where Achilles broods
Patroclus finds no foe at hand, surrounded by no gods,
Only the chill of evening strikes him to the bone
Like an arrow piercing where the armour fails to join,
And weakens his knees under the highly polished greaves.
Evening gentle elsewhere is loud on the shore, it grieves
It would seem for the deaths of heroes, their disobedient graves.

Monday, August 20, 2012

China Mountain Zhang may seem like nine first-person short stories connected only, or mainly, by the eponymous hero whose narrative begins, ends, and alternates with those of four other characters (two of whom on Mars are rather remotely connected). There is a tenth story, however, "Protection," appearing in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine [right], that was not included. Protection is a Reform Through Labor camp. Recall that it was partly to escape just such a camp in Xinjiang that Zhang's lover Hintao commits suicide. The RTL as depicted in this story is somewhat milder than the one suggested in Xinjiang. As it well should. It's located after all in backward America. Hegemons such as China (we know from history, as well as our own life experience) are always anxious about the loosening of their moral fiber.

The narrator in this short story is Janee, a scrappy, smart, street kid in for larceny and assault. When a somewhat older "Political" prisoner named Paul is brutalized by the camp authorities, Janee takes a liking to him owing to his initial show of resistance. She takes him under her "protection" which is a very good deal for him since he'd otherwise have been a mark for every other prisoner in the camp. But Paul can offer something to Janee, a wider world of education and experience. Her experience in the camp is something of a race between her evolving political consciousness due to Paul versus the grinding labor and conditioning of camp routine. Quilt-making, in its most piecemeal aspects, is the labor that leads to "reform" in camp Protection. As in every story in China Mountain Zhang that work is described in detail and is an ultimate in alienation of labor. The race goes not to the swift and the finish line is prefigured some centuries earlier in 1984.

Why wasn't "Protection" included in CMZ? A connection with Zhang would have been easy enough to concoct. Paul is not just a political prisoner. He's a former high-school teacher who has written an incriminating letter to a former male student. Paul comes from Cleveland but he could equally as well have come from Brooklyn and have crossed paths with Zhang somewhere there, e.g. San-xiang's political study group. The reason not to have included the short story, I think (other perhaps than a publisher's concern for a tidier, i.e. shorter, book), is that Reform Through Labor, since it's a central motive in the novel's central episode, is best kept menacingly vague. Any depiction no matter how horrific would have detracted from the Hintao story.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Hine and the Beaver

We recently discussed Daryl Hine and will continue to discuss Canada and (at least some of) its poets in Seminal. Along those lines, both lines, Jason Guriel's review of Hine's Recollected Poems 1951-2004 in Poetry five years ago will be of interest.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Chavela Vargas (1919–2012)

PRI's "The World" closed today's show with a moving tribute. Do yourself a favor and click on the play sign ">" first.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Another Sci-fi Recommendation

While reading China Mountain Zhang, I thought back on a SF book I previously read by Jeanette Winterson: The Stone Gods. I've read a few of her books (what a soupy love story Written on the Body is!) and always enjoy her delicious writing, repetitive cadence, and themes of gender ambiguity. I haven't read a lot of SF but found this a unique read.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

what older women can come with

People may already know about John Irving's new novel In One Person. Stephen Abell has what strikes me as a very fair review—admission: I'm not a huge Irving fan (World According to Garp, Cider House Rules, etc)—of both the author and this work in the July 13th issue of the TLS. This novel about a man more gay than bi may be one we'll want to place in our "Books We Have Read" (below). There's one sentence picked up from the review (in an animadversion against exlamation marks [!]) that gave me a laugh:

Miss Frost was an older woman, and that goes a long way with boys—even if the older woman has a penis!

(One likes to think the "older" was a far distance of the long way.)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

OutWrite Book Fair 2012

To be held at the DC Center, August 3rd & 4th. In particular, note Philip's presentation on The Guild Press on Saturday, August 4th, at 2:00pm.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Only Connect

Local author KitKatKid has finished an online novel

about sexual awakenings and innocent love, of cruelty and desperation, of degradation and despair. It’s a gay love story and … political thriller with a controversial message that addresses a number of topics some may find objectionable. The story takes place over a five year period in an America that never was, but an America that may seem all too familiar in many ways.

Of particular interest to readers may be the locale of the second half of the novel: Washington, D.C. To read the entire novel and add your constructive comments, visit Connected.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

new blog

Ernie has come across a blog he's found interesting

    Band of Thebes

and wants me to pass it along. Looks worthwhile
—and is frequently updated. Check it out!

The Ultimate Underground

Anyone remember reading Gad Beck's An Underground Life ? Actually, it's even before my time. But everyone will probably be interested in reading the Post's obituary.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Nominations for September 2012 Reading List

The Art of Fielding  by Chad Harbach
Slant  by Timothy Wang
The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov  by Paul Elliott Russell
The Empty Family  by Colm Toíbín
We the Animals  by Justin Torres
By Nightfall  by Michael Cunningham
The Passages of H.M.  by Jay Parini
Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You  by Peter Cameron
Dorian  by Will Self
The Farewell Symphony  by Edmund White
Gods and Monsters  by Christopher Bram
The Eye of the Storm  by Patrick White
The Counterfeiters  by André Gide

The Last Deployment  by Bronson Lemer
Journey to Myrtos  by Robert Mitchell
The Fry Chronicles  by Stephen Fry
Dropping Names  by Daniel Curzon
Christopher and His Kind  by Christopher Isherwood

Secret Historian  by Justin Spring
What Do Gay Men Want?  by David M. Halperin
February House  by Sherill Tippins
Proust’s Way  by Roger Shattuck

The Best of It  by Kay Ryan
Blackbird and Wolf  by Henri Cole
Sublimation Point  by Jason Schneiderman

The Bereaved and Mary  by Thomas Bradshaw
Cock  by Mike Bartlett
Speech and Debate  by Stephen Karam
The Brother/Sister Plays  by Tarell Alvin McCraney

Boys Like Us ed. by Patrick Merla

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Somebody New

An executive summary of "Books We Have Read" below: We've read:

   three books by Edmund White

   two novels by Paul Russell

   two novels by Michael Cunningham

   two books by Colm Toíbín, and

   two books by Christopher Isherwood

I'd like to read somebody new.

Friday, June 1, 2012

“The Song of Achilles"

Here is a book and article that may interest readers:

Madeline Miller has won the Orange Prize for Fiction for “The Song of Achilles,” a novel set during the Trojan War which casts the Homeric hero’s relationship with his friend Patroclus as a love story.

The American writer received 30,000 pounds ($46,600) and a bronze statuette called “the Bessie” at a ceremony last night at London’s Royal Festival Hall. She overcame competition from Cynthia Ozick and four other novelists vying for the U.K. literary award for women.

Joanna Trollope, the head of the judging panel, praised the novel as being “interesting, passionate, uplifting and different.”

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Still Tight in East Lansing

When straight women's sex lives resemble gay men's, I'm always interested. Right now I'm reading The Sexual Life of Catherine M., an erotic memoir of a French woman who had a lot of sex—49 penises in a ten-year period which she could put a face to, but orders of magnitude greater for faceless phalluses (if I may be permitted the oxymoron)—and have just finished Toni Bentley's The Surrender, wherein a ballerina finds liberation, sexual and otherwise, by getting sodomized 298 times by "A Man". Unfortunately, it turns out, she was just dealing with daddy issues. All very reminiscent of Norman Mailer's all-time camp classic "The Time of Her Time" (a short story first published in his 1959 Advertisements for Myself).

The [!?] sexual revolution, it has been said, will have occurred when most straight men want to get pegged. On the basis of the latest episode of HBO's Girls (a younger and grittier Sex in the City) we're a ways off. Hannah is back in East Lansing from NYC, visiting her parents. She hooks up that night with Eric a cute pharmacist she knew in high school six years ago. They're under the blankets, near naked, making out:

HANNAH:  What's your favorite part?
ERIC:  Of what?
H:  Of fucking me?
E:  Don't know, I haven't done it yet.

[More making out, by which time Eric sheds the boxers he went down under the blankets with!]

ERICH:  What are you doing?
HANNAH:  Uhmm …
E:  Please don't put your finger in my asshole!
H:  You weren't telling me what it was that you wanted at all so I was just trying to guess what you wanted. You're allowed to just tell me what it is you want.
E (very patiently):  I just want to have … sex.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Benevento Head

                  always disponible, always open
to what the world had to offer, but always reserved,
  always sure—a little too sure—of his own innocence.

—and for more of which, the Louvre.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Moveable Feast

We have been meeting at the Tenleytown Branch Library but next week—May 16—we will meet at the American Foreign Service Association at 2101 E St NW (near the Foggy Bottom Metro on the Blue and Orange Lines).

We are an open and public group. That means our meetings are publicly posted and open to whoever shows up. To the best of my knowledge that makes us unique in the nation as a private (i.e. non-institutional) book club (gay or otherwise). We have met (if memory serves) at Cybercafe, Midi, Sparky's, Books-A-Million, Cleveland Park B.L., Capitol Hill Starbucks, and the Sumner School. We meet where the winds blow us and we find safe haven. We're always on the lookout for new places (Metro-accessible). Please keep your eyes peeled and clue us in on any potential venues!

Happy Birthday to Us!

This month BookmenDC (nee BoysnBooks) marks its 13th birthday as an organization. We started meeting in 1999, making us the D.C. area's oldest continuously-operating gay book group, and one of the longer-operating GLBT social organizations in the area. Definitely a milestone worth celebrating!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Brown Pudding

Allan Bennett's The Habit of Art, which we discussed a few months ago, occasioned this reflection by acclaimed novelist and critic Philip Hensher on their relationship (Auden & Britten's), ostensibly the play's central theme. Hensher's essay will be interesting to anyone interested in either Auden or Britten—more generally librettists and composers—as well as the play itself. Even the half-awake reader will discover why I have come across it so late (and yet still recommend it).

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Sweet Tooth

Serena finds a new boy friend, Jeremy, who is "attentive and skillful, and could keep going for as long as I wanted, and beyond." Perplexingly, however, he never comes. This poses a secret for her … and us. Careers separate them and a few months later she receives "a tender, regretful letter to say that he had fallen in love with a violinist he'd hear playing a Bruch concerto one evening at the Usher Hall, a young German from Düsseldorf with an exquisite tone, especially in the slow movement. [Notice how this is spun out.] His name was Manfred." So much for Jeremy in Ian McEwen's extract in the April 30th issue of The New Yorker from his forthcoming novel Sweet Tooth (does anyone remember Yves Navarre?). It should have come as no surprise since the story is in the first-person—Serena's—but I was disappointed enough to put it down. Still keep thinking of Jeremy, however, and his "sharply angled pubic bone" which made intercourse so painful that he resorted to a folded towel to pad the SAPB with. Hmm, Manfred—I wonder if he had any problem with it.

Gay Nobel Laureates

And no, not asking after Dag Hammarskjöld or other worthies, rather Nobel Laureates in Literature. Came up last night when we wondered who the first GNLIL was—more sharply the first out GNLIL. This question obviously depends on what we mean by "gay" and "out". My candidates, in chronological order, after a brief flip-thru on my iPhone, were: Thomas Mann (1929), André Gide (1947), and Patrick White (1973). Enumerate and/or discuss!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Are You My Mother?

Alison Bechdel's sequel to her Fun House which we read almost five years ago is going to be published next week. Judith Thurman's profile in last week's The New Yorker might tempt readers who don't know her work to think of it as a pre-pub puff piece. Of course it's not. Highly recommended but not available online.

I enjoyed this little confusion/confession: "I started drawing at the age everyone does—when they pick up a crayon. But most people stop, and I didn't. When I was little, I either wanted to be a cartoonist or a psychiatrist—they were conflated in my mind by all the analyst cartoons in The New Yorker."

And speaking of which, the new title reminds me of the anecdote regarding W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman shortly after they'd met, when the two of them were sorting out who was who in the psychodynamics of their relationship.

Scene: a NYC subway car. Decibel level: must shout to be heard.

AUDEN: "I am not your father, I'm your mother!"
CHESTER: "You're not my mother! I'm your mother! … You're my father!"
AUDEN: "But you've got a father! I'm your bloody mother, darling, you've been looking for her since you were four [when she died]!"

Friday, April 27, 2012

how books will survive amazon

—Jason Epstein blogging on the NYR website.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Notable 2011-2012 Books

by African-American LGBT Authors — Toni Newman in the Huffington Post.

Assaracus — a Best New Magazine

according to the Library Journal

Friday, April 6, 2012

Adrienne Rich: 5/16/29 – 3/27/12

To take note of the recent death of the great lesbian poet Adrienne Rich,
here are two of her  "Twenty-One Love Poems"  (written 1974-6):

Your small hands, precisely equal to my own—
only the thumb is larger, longer—in these hands
I could trust the world, or in many hands like these,
handling power-tools or steering-wheel
or touching a human face… Such hands could turn
the unborn child rightways in the birth canal
or pilot the exploratory rescue-ship
through icebergs, or piece together
the fine, needle-like sherds of a great krater-cup
bearing on its sides
figures of ecstatic women striding
to the sibyl’s den or the Eleusinian cave—
such hands might carry out an unavoidable violence
with such restraint, with such a grasp
of the range and limits of violence
that violence ever after would be obsolete.

Can it be growing colder when I begin
to touch myself again, adhesions pull away?
When slowly the naked face turns from staring backward
and looks into the present,
the eye of winter, city, anger, poverty, and death
and the lips part and say: I mean to go on living?
Am I speaking coldly when I tell you in a dream
or in this poem, There are no miracles?
(I told you from the first I wanted daily life,
this island of Manhattan was island enough for me.)
If I could let you know—
two women together is a work
nothing in civilization has make simple,
two people together is a work
heroic in its ordinariness,
the slow-picked, halting traverse of a pitch
where the fiercest attention becomes routine
—look at the faces of those who have chosen it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Unsheltered Movie

Finally got around to seeing Bertolucci's "adaptation" and even with the lowest of expectations managed to have them not met … or exceeded … I'm not sure which — but the upshot is it was terrible! Surprisingly so for the director of Last Tango in Paris. To paraphrase Clara Peller, "Where's the butter!?" A nice film to watch if you're into meharis on eregs. Plus a great shot of an ostrich (sorry I don't know the recherché Arabism), the mascot of the movie, whose director dug his head into the sand to escape the novel he was supposed to be filming.

Friday, March 9, 2012


From Daniel Halpern's note on the text of The Sheltering Sky in the Library of America edition:

According to Bowles' autobiography, Without Stopping, the novel's title came first: "Before the First World War there had been a popular song called 'Down Among the Sheltering Palms'. … [I was fascinated by] the strange word 'sheltering.' What did the palm trees shelter people from, and how sure could they be of such protection?"

Bowles' comment suggests that the adjective in "sheltering sky" is meant with some irony, and yet the only time the phrase occurs is in the very last paragraph of Chapter 23—Port's dying breakthrough—indeed, in the very last sentence: "Reach out, pierce the fine fabric of the sheltering sky, take repose." The irony here seems much less evident.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Bowles' Short Stories

We read "Pages from Cold Point" in the The Faber Book of Gay Short Fiction over ten years ago, so almost none of our current members could be expected to remember that. Nevertheless, it's a story that everyone would find worth reading, and doubly so for his other early short stories "A Distant Episode" and "The Delicate Prey," which both take place in settings similar to The Sheltering Sky. They're all to be found in his first short story collection The Delicate Prey and Other Stories as well as any other collection of his stories. (Additionally, most anthologies of post-WWII stories would contain one of them.)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"Lavender Scare" — The Movie

Our April book is The Lavender Scare. A documentary is being made from it and a trailer (and other cool stuff) is now available at the movie's website.


As I get to the end of the Bowles I'm reminded of Rimbaud when he said, "The only unbearable thing is that nothing is unbearable."

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Another Royal Road through Proust …

is provided by Eric Karpeles' Paintings in Proust, wherein passages mentioning paintings occur along with the paintings themselves. This can lead to some disappointment, as when Charlus praises Mme de Surgis' portrait by Jacquet

whereas Van Dyck's portrait of the brothers Stuart is more concordant with his greater interest (in her sons).

Still and all, a most attractive and well-made volume, and selling at a steep discount on Amazon.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Deserted Hubands

To read Edmund White's essay on his novel The Married Man in relation to Paul Bowles' The Sheltering Sky click on download now. (Thanks to Tom for content.)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

those darned typos...

I hereby retract my post on Glassco’s Villanelle.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Giovanni's Room

I decided to revisit Giovanni's Room after reading the essay in 50 Gay and Lesbian Books […etc] and it's excerpts like this one that remind me why I like Baldwin so much:

Behind the counter sat one of those absolutely inimitable and indomitable ladies, produced only in the city of Paris, but produced there in great numbers, who would be as outrageous and unsettling in any other city as a mermaid on a mountaintop. All over Paris they sit behind their counters like a mother bird in a nest and brood over the cash register as though it were an egg. Nothing occurring under the circle of heaven where they sit escapes their eye, if they have ever been surprised by anything, it was only in a dream—a dream they long ago ceased having. They are neither ill- nor good-natured, though they have their days and styles, and they know, in the way, apparently, that other people know when they have to go to the bathroom, everything about everyone who enters their domain. Though some are white-haired and some not, some fat, some thin, some grandmothers and some but lately virgins, they all have exactly the same, shrewd, vacant, all-registering eye; it is difficult to believe that they ever cried for milk or looked at the sun; it seems they must have come into the world hungry for banknotes, and squinting helplessly, unable to focus their eyes until they came to rest on a cash register.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Habit of Art

Near the end of The Habit of Art Bennett has Auden recite "faultlessly" some of his most famous lines, from the elegy for W.B. Yeats. Seeing the play and even more reading it, I was struck by the fact that Bennett includes three stanzas that Auden omitted in later editions of the poem ("Time that is intolerant ... Pardons him for writing well.") The stanzas, especially the third linking Yeats to Kipling and Claudel as writers whom time will pardon (for their right-wing views) because they wrote well, are pretty arrogant and probably Auden was right to drop them. I wondered why Bennett wanted them back in. But then it struck me they are what the play is about--writers/artists who are imperfect humans but great creators.
       Taking that as Bennett's judgement of Auden and Britten, it's rather arrogant of him—always arrogant to sit in judgement on others, at least publicly. Though I think the most Bennett really faults Auden and Britten for are types of normal human unkindness and the seediness which can go with old age (I speak as one about to go on Medicare).
       In his intro Bennett relates his play to Auden's long poem/prose work The Sea and the Mirror, even though Bennett says the latter is "(to me) impenetrable." Perhaps he would have been better off leaving it alone. The Sea and the Mirror is an "epilogue" to The Tempest which, I think, eventually suggests that the only way a work of art can really reflect reality is by being imperfect, thus mirroring the imperfection of our world and sending our thoughts towards God. There doesn't seem to be anything religious about The Habit of Art, I think Bennett's last words for his Caliban ("you want to be knowing") are untrue to the character, and the last lines about "always somebody left out" seem to want to have to do with The Sea and the Mirror but don't (Caliban escapes from dramatic resolution in The Sea and the Mirror, he isn't left out of it). (Excuse for holding forth: I'm listed as co-author, with my ex-wife Lucy, of "Artifice and Self-Consciousness in The Sea and the Mirror " [first published 1975, rpt. in Caliban, ed. Harold Bloom, 1992]—she wrote most of it.)

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Night Mail (1936)

"But who can bear to feel himself forgotten?" The most significant film collaboration of the Auden-Britten working partnership is, happily, up on Youtube (in various renditions). Auden's sublime doggerel kicks in about 4 minutes from the end, as does Britten's perky score, first heard over the opening credits ("Sound Direction: Cavalcanti [top billing] Auden Britten").

Sunday, January 22, 2012

"massive and misleading"

Googling around for some enlightenment on John Glassco's "Villanelle," I came across this sentence in a review of Seminal in Xtra!

There's a massive and misleading typo in one of the poems (John Glassco's haunting "Villanelle") …

Since some of us are professional editors and have spotted many more typos in our readings than I have, I won't even venture out on this one but offer it up to them in the spirit of good fun!

Saturday, January 21, 2012


This is mainly to thank Tim for overcoming the technical problems I was having and getting me on to the blog. I'm looking forward to our discussion of The Habit of Art. I wonder if others also saw it at Studio Theater this past fall. I hope I can keep that (excellent) performance out of my head as I read, so I'm open to other possibilities.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Merrill's Ouija Board

[John sent this for me to post.]

The Yale Alumni Magazine Jan/Feb 2012 issue includes a short article about Merrill’s Ouija board, which has been given to Yale’s rare book library. The article is by Langdon Hammer, professor of English at Yale and author of James Merrill: Life and Art, a forthcoming biography. Here is most of the article (I’m omitting description of the poems etc.):

… Merrill received a store-bought Ouija board as a birthday gift from a friend in 1953. As a lark, he tried the board with David Jackson, a fiction writer he had just met, and it was an immediate success. So was his relationship with Jackson, who would be his companion in daily life and on the Ouija board for the next 40 years.
For the first 20 years of their collaboration, JM and DJ—as they were known to the spirits—treated the board as a peculiar evening diversion, to be shared with friends after dinner over wine or a joint. They made their own board, to which they added numbers and punctuation, and they used a tea cup as a pointer. With this apparatus, they chatted at ease with dead friends and famous literary figures … Merrill and Jackson’s homemade Ouija board and the dime store tea cup they used as a pointer—glued together after more than one occasion when the spirits pushed it off the table in a pique—are kept in Yale’s Collection of American Literature at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. [They] were a gift to the library from J.D. McClatchy ’74PhD, adjunct professor of English at Yale, editor of The Yale Review, and one of Merrill’s two literary executors [and editors of Sandover]. With his left hand on the cup, Merrill used his right to record letters, sorting the lexical lava into words and sentences. [A few transcribed pages of this record are pictured with the article. They] are inscribed to “dearest Sandy”—McClatchy’s nickname--by DJ and JM, who call it “a page saved from the pyre.” The “pyre” refers … to Merrill’s choice to burn the Ouija transcripts he used to write Sandover. The pages shown here made it to the Beinecke, however, safe with the board and cup.

McClatchy, I find by googling, now lives in Stonington. In Merrill’s and Jackson’s house? If so, do you suppose … spooky, possums!

The issue also includes an excerpt from an account by Thornton Wilder of his time at Yale, c. 1916-20. It is to be published in February of this year in Thornton Wilder, The Eighth Day, Theophilus North, Autobiographical Writings, ed. McClatchy. The editors’ note with this article says Wilder “was homosexual—though never openly so, probably not even to himself.” The excerpt talks about his being an “outsider” at Yale, but there’s no reference I can see, even subliminally, to being gay.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Glassco's Villanelle - some additional thoughts

The quote that I mentioned during our discussion of Villanelle is from Donne’s “The Ecstasy”:

    Love’s mysteries in souls do grow,
    But yet the body is his book.

After rereading Donne’s poem this evening, I think it is a very clever seduction poem.  I think that Glassco’s poem may be a dialog between a body and its soul about the causes of loneliness, but not a body and soul that are two totally distinct entities. The poem asks two unanswerable questions. It would be interesting to know the context of quote, or paraphrase, from St. Augustine.  I couldn’t find it even in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"timeskip and gadabout"

So Merrill, describing the narration in "Book of Ephraim"—something we commented on but nowhere near so neatly. (Yes, I'm continuing … Mirabell — it's not getting less loopy.)

Monday, January 9, 2012

Party Time Proust, or Parting Glances

I've been snacking on the imperishable carcass of this beached whale, off and on, for many years. I had read the first two volumes and wondering whether it was worth the effort skipped ahead and read the last three-hundred pages … and decided it was!

All Proust, like Gaul, is divided into three parts: narration, impressions, and commentary. The commentary—echoing Flaubert on Tolstoy one might say he psychologizes—too often seems trivial, false, or incomprehensible. The impressionistic passages (I tell myself) are good for my soul. Much of the narration are parties. There are nine of them. Most of what we read was the sixth, the grand Guermantes soirée. These are for me the best part, certainly the most fun. Someone at our meeting said nothing ever happens in Proust. But something's always happening in the parties, usually somebody behaving badly. Nothing would be happening in a party if Proust sat off by himself describing his feelings of … (whatever … ) boredom—and analyzing them.

I had thought I would never read all of Recherche. I was bored with Swann's jealousy. How would I put up with two volumes of Marcello Gelosiato!? Our reading, however, has suggested to me that I may. People often talk about the best time for reading Proust being a long summer on a slow steamer to nowhere. Alternatively, nibble away, a few pages a day, somewhat à la Swann, in this long-running Gaulois. Even skip selectively through—or to—the jealousy passages, leaving the infill for later.

Our discussion, covering less than a tenth of the whole, could never be complete, could only be radically incomplete because there's so much to consider from the whole that cannot be seen in the parts until one has read (or at least read about) them all. Even if you've no wish to read Proust further, I recommend looking at Roger Shattuck's "field guide" Proust's Way. Reading about Proust for some people may be more rewarding than actually reading him!

And finally my awe of those early readers. A wit once remarked that Proust whether or not a great writer requires great readers. I wouldn't qualify as one, with my guides and synopses and indices and what not, but those first readers, venturing out onto that sea of ink, having no idea where they'd end up—whether they'd end up—simply enjoying the billow of the sail, the creak of the boards, the smell of the salt … it's humbling.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Edmund White on Proust

This is an excerpt from Edmund White's essay on Proust in his new collection of essays Sacred Monsters :

"Modern readers are responsive to Proust's tireless and brilliant analyses of love because we too no longer take love for granted. Readers today are always making the personal public, the intimate political, the instinctual philosophical. Proust may have attacked love, but he did know a lot about it. Like us, he took nothing for granted. He was not on smug, cozy terms with his own experience. We read Proust because he knows so much about the links between childhood anguish and adult passion. We read Proust because, despite his intelligence, he holds reasoned evaluations in contempt, and understands that only the gnarled knowledge that suffering brings us is of any real use. We read Proust because he knows that in the terminal stage of passion we no longer love the beloved. The object of our love has been overshadowed by love itself. Proust writes:

and this malady, which Swann's love had become, had so proliferated, was so closely interwoven with all his habits, with all his actions, with his thoughts, his health, his sleep, his life, even with what he hoped for after his death, was so utterly inseparable from him, that it would have been impossible to eradicate it without almost entirely destroying him. As surgeons say: his love was no longer operable.

Proust may be telling us that love is a chimera, a projection of rich fantasies onto an indifferent, certainly mysterious surface. But nevertheless, those fantasies are undeniably beautiful, intimations of paradise, the artificial paradise of art."

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Proust on Film

You can go directly to track 12 on the Kino DVD of "Time Regained" (1999) for the late, great Chilean director Raul Ruiz's enactment of Marcel's accidentally-on-purpose "drop by" of Jupien's male brothel, circa 1915. Book IV's signal voyeuristic event of Marcel espying Charlus's perverse encounter with Jupien in the courtyard, is re-echoed in Book VI: only this time, Marcel rather awkwardly lugs a chair to an open transom, mounts it, and watches Charlus being flogged by one of the brothel's denizens. John Malkovich speaks French very slowly in his insinuating reedy tenor, and makes for a very seedy Charlus. In Ruiz's film we see him go to the dogs over his nasty passion for Morel (Vincent Perez), becoming a shadow of his formerly vainglorious self. Pascal Greggory is a throughly obnoxious Saint-Loup. A superb rendition of Proust's world, for those who have read the first third of Book IV, and want to know how the characters end up.

Parenthesizing Proust

We talked last night about the difficulty of reading Proust, particularly his long sentences. The longest sentence in Recherche is supposed to occur in the middle of Proust's essay on "inversion." But it's merely eight semi-colons in search of a period. Proust becomes daunting when he inserts one thought within another thought within another: parenthesis, em-dash, colon etc. I challenge anyone to read and understand the following on the first trial through. (Background: Bloch has introduced Marcel to the easy women in brothels.)

So that if I owed to Bloch—for his “good tidings” that happiness and the enjoyment of beauty were not inaccessible things that we have made a meaningless sacrifice in renouncing forever—a debt of gratitude of the same kind as that we owe to an optimistic physician or philosopher who has given us reason to hope for longevity in this world and not to be entirely cut off from it when we shall have passed into another, the houses of assignation which I frequented some years later—by furnishing me with samples of happiness, by allowing me to add to the beauty of women that element which we are powerless to invent, which is someting more than a mere summary of former beauties, that present indeed divine, the only one the that we cannot bestow upon ourselves, before which all the logical creations of our intellect pale, and which we can seek from reality alone: an individual charm—deserved to be ranked by me with those other benefactors more recent in origin but of comparably utility (before finding which we used to imagine without any warmth the seductive charms of Mantegna, of Wagner, of Siena, by studying other painters, hearing of other composers, visiting other cities): namely illustrated editions of the Old Masters, symphony concerts, and guidebooks to historic towns.

This Moncrieff-Kilmartin-Enright translation occurs in "Madam Swann at Home," the first part of Within a Budding Grove (specifically the "Revelations about love" rubric from the Synopsis). Even after having made sense of this—after performing the kind of segmentation-anaysis one is sometimes in need of with Cicero—I doubt I could read it aloud and have anyone understand it … which constitutes a pretty far mark in the lands of unreadability!

how "temps" flies …

when you're reading Proust!

   Happy New Year!