Thursday, December 19, 2013

Madame Zilinsky

This is who Madame Zilinsky reminded me of …  [click here!]

Monday, December 16, 2013

Mary and the Mendl's Son

A recent issue of The Times Literary Supplement (11/29/13) includes Daniel Mendelsohn's introduction to the Folio Society's "Alexandriad" (pictured below). The issue also contains a re-review of Renault's The Charioteer, published sixty years ago. Unfortunately, each article is behind the TLS paywall. As was Mendelsohn's "Personal History" in the 1/7/13 issue of The New Yorker about Mary Renault in his life, both before and after their first meeting. These are worth reading if you're on friendly terms with your local library. There is a supplementary video, however, which anyone can see. The playback can be quirky (web traffic?) and oddly improves when expanded to your monitor's full screen (by clicking on the icon of a rectangle with arrows coming out of each corner).

Friday, November 1, 2013

Mendelsohn Renault tweet

"So proud to have been able to write the Introduction to the Folio Society edition of Mary Renault's Alexander Trilogy."


Thursday, October 31, 2013

Mendelsohn Cavafy tweet

This afternoon's "afternoon poem" is this masterwork of 1930 by Cavafy:

   The Mirror in the Entrance

In the entrance hallway of that sumptuous home
there was an enormous mirror, very old;
acquired at least eighty years ago.

A strikingly beautiful boy, a tailor's assistant,
(on Sunday afternoons, an amateur athlete),
was standing with a package. He handed it
to one of the household, who then went back inside
to fetch a receipt. The tailor's assistant
remained alone, and waited.
He drew near the mirror, and stood gazing at himself,
and straightening his tie. Five minutes later
they brought him the receipt. He took it and left.

But the ancient mirror, which had seen and seen again,
throughout its lifetime of so many years,
thousands of objects and faces—
but the ancient mirror now became elated,
inflated with pride, because it had received upon itself
perfect beauty, for a few minutes.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Allan Gurganus coming to Arlington Nov. 7

He'll be at the Arlington Central Library to discuss "Lost Souls", a trio of linked novellas.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Gay Bars …

—Steven Fry on

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

In anticipation

In anticipation of next month's read, Allan Gurganus: How I Write.

"Read your work aloud daily. Read it once a week to your friends. Provide the wine yourself."

Monday, October 7, 2013

Cavafy Sesquicentennial Celebration

Writers, actors, performers, translators and artists —

André Aciman, Michael Cunningham, Mark Doty, Olympia Dukakis, Craig Dykers, Edmund Keeley, Daniel Mendelsohn, Orhan Pamuk, Dimitris Papaioannou, and Kathleen Turner

— gather at the PEN American Center next month to bring to life one of the most original and influential Greek poets (and the only one we've ever read), Constantine P. Cavafy!

Thematic Body Parts

Still thinking back on Spanbauer's rollicking tale, I'm wondering if I overlooked a theme running through the book focused on a certain body part?

Toward the end we have severed arms, legs, and blind(-ish) eyes. We've got man-parts and lady-parts throughout the book, though handled so casually they seem disposable. Was anyone decapitated? Did Dellwood remain whole in the end?

Shed is clearly on a quest to find a family, where he came from, and where he belongs, but I never picked up on a quest to find a brain or a heart. Did anyone else?

Monday, September 30, 2013

Oct. 2 at AFSA — NOT Tenley

Short of a deus ex machina intervening to save the day, it looks like the federal government will shut down on Oct. 1, however temporarily. And that, in turn, normally means that the D.C. government—including the library system—would also shut down.

Mindful that Mayor Gray has sought to forestall an automatic closure by designating all municipal employees essential, I stopped by the Tenleytown Library on Friday to find out whether they had any guidance. The librarian I spoke with said that as far as she knows, if Uncle Sam closes, they still will, too.

Accordingly, let’s play it safe and move this Wednesday’s meeting to my office building in Foggy Bottom, where we meet on third Wednesdays: 2101 E St. NW. (AFSA headquarters).

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Payette River Watershed


—cuz inquiring minds want to know!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Is "Necessary Errors" a Necessary Book?

Last month I flagged a fascinating Salon essay by Daniel D'Addario titled "Where's the Buzzed-About Gay Novel?" that I thought painted an (overly?) bleak picture of prospects for a breakthrough in the genre. So I'm delighted to report that reports of the death of gay literature may have been premature. Here's how D'Addario's latest Salon posting begins:

Earlier this summer, Salon asked where the buzzed-about gay novel was — the major literary novel taken seriously by critics and audiences that managed to convey in frank tones what it was like for gay people just as so many major literary novels do for straight people.

While Caleb Crain’s "Necessary Errors" may not quite be that book — it’s too particular about time and place to be extrapolated seamlessly to life in America 2013 — it’s a step in the right direction. The book, about which James Wood recently raved in The New Yorker (“'Necessary Errors' is a very good novel, an enviably good one, and to read it is to relive all the anxieties and illusions and grand projects of one’s own youth,” the critic wrote), tells the story of Jacob, a callow youth who, having just graduated college in 1990, heads to Prague to escape anything and everything that can’t be set aside for a drink at the local gay bar or an impromptu trip to another city.

Jacob meets men, sleeps with men, hangs around with friends, drinks, travels — the whole thing is episodic in exactly the manner one’s early 20s are.  And yet the novel is notably gay in its sensibility as well as its subject matter--it's hard to imagine a novel about a man cycling through women bearing as little explicit moral judgment as does "Necessary Errors." We spoke to Caleb Crain about the degree to which his book is marketable to an audience publishers fear might not pick up a gay-themed book, about the creation of a protagonist, and about the debate over whether characters must be likable.

The interview follows at that point. Color me intrigued! 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Searching for the Seventies

Preceding back in time (v.i.), you have till Sunday to catch the Documerica Photography Project at the National Archives. Maybe a hundred photos from 1972-1977. Guess how many gay photos there are? Well, none, explicitly. But consider:


Can anyone do the Hustle?  Here's the caption:

Chicano teenager in El Paso's second ward. A classic barrio which is slowly giving way to urban renewal.

See if you can spot the two guys in the background who are about to not so slowly be doing a little "urban renewal."

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Queen's Essays

One of the books we'll be discussing this winter (either January or February, most likely) is The Queen’s Throat: Opera, Homosexuality and the Mystery of Desire by Wayne Koestenbaum (introduction by Tony Kushner). Those of you who don't want to wait that long may wish to whet your appetite by checking out the Aug. 23 edition of Salon, which features excerpts from Koestenbaum's new memoir, My 1980s & Other Essays. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Ural Uganda

Timely is Laurie Essig's essay "Russia's theory: Gay can be cured" in last Sunday's Washington Post. I was surprised—but I suppose I shouldn't—at how deformative decades of Stalinism have been. Given the general obliviousness to the profound otherness of Mother Russia, her book Queer in Russia (1999) may be not dated at all, but still timely!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The State of the Gay Novel

Greetings, Fellow Bookmen--

Salon just posted a fascinating essay by Daniel D'Addario titled "Where's the Buzzed-About Gay Novel?" that paints a pretty bleak picture of prospects for a breakthrough in the genre. D'Addario cites various factors to explain this, but it basically comes down to the classic dichotomy: Critically acclaimed novels tend not to be popular, and vice versa—a phenomenon he postulates particularly afflicts non-mainstream literary genres.

Among the examples D'Addario cites is a 2011 novel I'd nominated for our last reading list: The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach.  Alas, only a couple of you voted for it, and I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't go ahead and read it for my own pleasure.  But I've just ordered it, and if it lives up to expectations, I may well renominate it.  (You have been warned!  :-) 

Cheers, Steve 

Monday, July 22, 2013

OutWrite 2013

… is upon us (first weekend in August). Detailed information is at the DC Center or, for a quick look at the schedule, click on the image below.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

"a Morris Finestein"

Posted for John:

In our excellent discussion of "The Ballad of the Sad Café" last night, one point we didn't get to: on p. 9 in the edition most of us had, speaking of Cousin Lymon, "one of the twins" says: "I'll be damned if he ain't a regular Morris Finestein." The narrator goes on to explain:

Morris Finestein was a person who had lived in the town years before. He was only a quick, skipping little Jew who cried if you called him a Christ-killer, and ate light bread and canned salmon every day. A calamity had come over him and he had moved away to Society City. But since then if a man were prissy in any way, or if a man ever wept, he was known as a Morris Finestein.

"Well, he is afflicted," said Stumpy MacPhail. 'There is some cause.'"

I infer the "calamity" was something that directly revealed that Finestein was homosexual. What makes the townsmen think of him at this point is the fact that Cousin Lymon has started crying. I don't know if MacPhail's comment implies he thinks maybe Lymon isn't actually a Finestein. But interesting that nothing further is said about this possible aspect of Lymon.

Anyway, I hope Finestein had a better time in Society City—sounds more like his kind of place.

P.S. I remember years (decades) ago running across a parody entitled "The Salad of the Bad Café". I just googled this title, and find that it is listed in the table of contents of Twentieth Century Parody: American and British, ed. Burling Lowrey and Nathaniel Benchley. The author of the parody was Julian MacLaren Ross, a British novelist. I haven't recovered the text. The googling also turned up all kinds of more recent stuff with the Salad title—a performance art piece, an Australian short story ...

Amelia Redgrave


I was vaguely aware that there had been a movie version of "The Ballad of the Sad Café" but hadn't checked it out until after our discussion last night. The trailer corresponds to nothing in my reading, but Vanessa Redgrave is always worth watching. And then I noticed on IMDb that Simon Callow had directed and that Edward Albee had written the screenplay … from his own 1963 adaptation of the novella (and by now it was beginning to all come back to me). The playscript is in print and might prove a worthwhile follow-up to last night's discussion.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The PLAYBOOK

For whatever reason (and for whatever it may be worth) this is the final paragraph, which didn't make it into the book (hardcopy):

Rules can feel restrictive and yet liberating. Sometimes, following the Grindr rules I feel mechanical, but I also understand they create a framework to interact within and knowing them makes each step feel more certain. Arrive at Grindr with a playful mindset, viewing it as a game—it'll make the rejections feel less stinging and the interaction more fun. Slow down the perusal of guys: check out one profile at a time to weaken the assessment mode. Message more people, because these apps are numbers games, using favourites to sort and blocks to clear, and, for better or worse, don't necessarily believe what people write. Remember that visuals count, and pick your profile image accordingly. Create profiles that are easy to understand, as to reduce ambiguity. Take a page from Twitter and Facebook and update profile pictures often (even if it is hard to let go of that super-cute picture from a few years ago) and attempt to go real-time because it introduces novelty and will draw more interest. It's okay to follow the Grindr script, because it helps reveal what each person is looking for. If it leads to an in-person meetup, do it immediately or within a short period to avoid shopping cart abandonment. Keep yourself sane by not setting crazy expectations upon the encounter (like love, for example). Use Grindr as an excuse to see the town, as you'll also draw new men on screen. And finally, don't depend on just Grindr, because it is the Cookie Crisp cereal part of the a [sic] complete breakfast.

All of which parts may seem obvious … but nicely put together, I think, as a whole.

vulnerabile and undesirable

Jaime Woo writes in Meet Grindr : "Simkhai is an attractive, smart man with a warm smile who has maintained a vulnerability … I can only imagine how competitive the New York dating scene must have been for him to feel undesirable."

Oofta — my imagination fails me! J.S. looks to me like one very hot little puppy. It is, however, perhaps indicative of what a difference there is between the Toronto scene and the New York one and how different Woo's book might have been had he lived and written in the latter.

Name & Logo

Grindr creator Joel Simkhai gave these answers in an interview with the Daily Extra:

Xtra: Can you explain what the name and logo are about?

Simkhai: The word Grindr comes from a coffee grinder. We’re mixing people up together, a bit of a social stew. It is a little bit rough – not to mix, but to grind. Our design, logo, colouring – we wanted something a little bit tougher, rough. It’s also very masculine. It’s a masculine word, sound. We wanted something that wasn’t necessarily about being gay. It could be anything.

We looked at this notion of meeting people and the idea is very much a basic human need to relax and to socialize. I went back to primitive tribal arts in Africa and Polynesia. One of the things I saw was these primal masks. It brings us back to basics, primal needs. Socialization is the basis of humanity.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

"Such Times": Get This Book!

Greetings, Colleagues--

At our meeting this past Wednesday, the first essay we discussed in The Lost LibraryGay Fiction Rediscovered (Tom Cardamone, editor) was Jameson Currier's tribute to Christopher Coe's second (and, alas, final) novel,  Such Times.

I've had that book for many years but, like so many others on my shelves, just never got around to it.  But this weekend I finally read it--something I've vowed to do every time we've read an inspiring essay  in the various anthologies we've discussed over the years, but never before actually did.

Perhaps the best tribute I can pay to Coe is this: I've always been a fast reader (perhaps too fast), but it has been years since any book captivated me enough to finish 300-plus pages in three days. Don't get me wrong: It's not a perfect book by any means, any more than is its narrator, Timothy Springer.  But if there is such a thing as a character who is redeemed by his flaws (and I tend to think there is), it is he.

Don't take my word for it, though: Discover  Such Times  for yourself. (But read Currier's essay first.)

And if, like me, you have a bucket list of books about which you've read reviews or essays, do yourself a favor and make the time to read at least one of them. Even if the experience doesn't fully live up to your expectations, it's still worth taking a chance.

Cheers,
Steve Honley

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Haunting Douglas



Richard Canning's essay on Ghost Dance in 50 Gay … [Blah-Blah-Blah] didn't interest me all that much in Douglas Wright but looking at excerpts from Leanne Pooley's documentary Haunting Douglas certainly has. I'm tempted to spring the $35 for a NTSC copy. Check it out!

Until the acropolis …

Some people tweet, others facebook, I tumblr … in particular my favorite aggregator of images on the web, Foonman's Spiritual Remedy:



Clayton Coots (1936–1984)



Frank Rich has written a haunting memoir in the May 26 issue of New York about an older man who befriended his seventeen-year-old self at a troubled moment in his adolescence. An exemplary "life in the shadows" of a revenant in our triumphalist parades.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Inaugural Hatchet Job Award

Adam Mars-Jones' review in the Observer  of Michael Cunningham's By Nightfall — "killingly fair-minded and viciously funny" — won the 2012 (inaugural) Hatchet Job award, given to the writer of "the angriest, funniest, most trenchant book review" to have appeared in the preceding year.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Vote Grindr!

You may be voting on our next list this weekend. Please consider Jaimie Woo's Meet Grindr. You can read a sample on amazon and I think it will persuade you that this is a smart and well-written work covering the personal, the technological, and the political (all of interest in the Grindr phenomenon). And if you're eBook savvy, it's a steal on amazon for $2.99!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Horace Mann School

There's an erotics to the act of teaching and sublimation in the art of it. Ten months ago the New York Times Magazine published an article detailing some of the failed sublimation in the decades after the Sixties. This month the New Yorker does a probing profile of one of the creepier of the Unsublimated. Together they make worthwhile (and available!) reading. We might even use a meeting to discuss them. The price is right.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"Paul's Case" — the opera



The Post today has a review of the world premiere by UrbanArias of Gregory Spears' opera of Willa Cather's story at Artisphere in Rosslyn. Last three performances are this weekend. I'm unable to go but I hope someone else will and post a review or comment. A ten-inch sample (oh Mary, how deranged!) — a ten-minute sample can be heard by clicking here.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

where the lines break

What is a poem? In high school the joke was anything with a jagged right margin. Hence a "prose" poem (or maybe that's a prose "poem"). Dan Chiasson has something to say about this in his review of Carl Phillips' twelfth collection Silverchest :

Many fine poets would retain their power even if their poems were printed as prose. … The prosiest poets would not: there is no William Carlos Williams, or H.D., or George Oppen, without line breaks. Phillips is one of the latter.

And as an example: "The trees wave but, except to say 'wind—up again,' this means nothing." Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to break the quote and turn it into poetry. You can check your efforts against the original in the latest, 4/15/13 issue … Oh, how annoying! It's behind The New Yorker paywall! (Paying to read a poetry review—the idea!). I'll post the "answer" as a comment (below).

Carl Phillips, by the way, we've come across him in three anthologies we've read, most extensively in Word of Mouth. He's gay and black but doesn't make much of either. Notwithstanding, a very fine poet.

Monday, April 1, 2013

February House: The Musical!

Greetings, Colleagues--

While preparing for our Feb. 6 discussion of February House: The Story of W. H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Jane and Paul Bowles, Benjamin Britten, and Gypsy Rose Less, Under One Roof in Brooklyn by Sherill Tippins (which I highly recommend), I came across a reference to an off-Broadway musical based on the real-life characters Tippins tells us about in her book.  It ran at the Public Theater a year ago; here is Ben Brantley's review in the May 22, 2012, issue of The New York Times.

My intention was to order the cast recording at that time, but (as too often happens) I promptly forgot about it.  But now, prompted by an article about the show's composer, Gabriel Kahane, in the March 31 Washington Post, I've finally ordered it.  I'm hopeful the music will live up to his reputation!

By the way, Kahane is giving a joint recital with another composer/performer, jazz pianist Timothy Andres, in the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress this Friday, April 5, at 8pm. And Kahane's newest song cycle, "Gabriel's Guide to the 48 States" (sic) will be performed at the University of Maryland's Clarice Smith Center on Sat., April 20.  I can't make it to either gig, alas, but if any of you attend, please let me know what you think.

Cheers, Steve 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sublimation Point

So sorry to have missed the discussion of Jason Schneiderman's book of poetry. I've thought of posting some of the things I might have said (the Caliban poem, e.g., is wonderful, and the aperçue  "To think / that the young are always beautiful / is to admit to have grown old" is trenchant) but the best commentary is perhaps simple quotation:

THE SURFACE OF THE WATER

has properties, tension, behaves differently
from the rest of the water. If you fell

onto it from a height, you would bounce.
The surface would reject you, say

I'm a solid too—we can't both be here,
but then the rest of the water would accept you,

take you into itself, pull you down
away from the surface, saying I'm sorry,

I want you, come in.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Guide for Boys

D. A. Powell, several of whose poems we read in Timothy Liu's Word of Mouth, has won the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry (2012) for his collection Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys

a hymn to beauty and fantasy, a song-cycle to the Bay Area's bars and boathouses, [bringing] forward a verve and jocularity that is exhilarating, generous, and typical of this deeply sprung lyric poet.

Pope Aflutter

As Benedict departs, Colm Toíbín wrote an absorbing piece for the London Review of Books on him, homosexuality and the Catholic church:
"Among the Flutterers." His legacy for some of us has been his dazzling wardrobe, from his gorgeous hats to his perfect red pumps.



May he enjoy life at Castel Gandolfo while laypeople prepare his retirement suite in the Vatican. We will miss his sumptuous appearances.

The Ambassador from Venus


We've read enough by and about Robert Duncan, here and there, that some BookMen, I am sure, will be interested in looking at Michael Dirda's excellent review.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Richard Blanco's Inauguration Day Poem

Greetings, Colleagues—

For anyone who missed coverage of the actual event, here is the text Blanco (who is out and proud, as most of you probably know) read. (As a bonus, check out the video with Rep. Eric Cantor's grimace when Blanco got to all the "furin talk" in the sixth stanza.  He truly looked like he was going to throw up—priceless!)


The following poem was delivered by inauguration poet Richard Blanco during ceremonies for President Obama's second inaugural Monday. The text of the poem was provided by the Presidential Inaugural Committee.


One Today

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us, on our way to clean tables,
read ledgers, or save lives—to teach geometry, or ring up groceries
as my mother did for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the “I have a dream” we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth
onto the steps of our museums and park benches
as mothers watch children slide into the day.

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands
as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it
through the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,
or whispers across cafe tables, Hear: the doors we open
for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom,
buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días
in the language my mother taught me—in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn’t give what you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars.
Hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Proust



I thought this was an interesting read if you're into everything Proust as I am.  However, don't get too attached to M. Guerin.  He was not a nice man.