Saturday, May 27, 2017

"The Rule of Themed Anthologies"

Greetings, Colleagues--

The May 28 Arts & Style section in the Washington Post (which I received a day early as a longtime subscriber) features a review of a set of essays titled In Their Lives: Great Writers on Great Beatles Songs.  The book sounds absolutely dreadful, but I did get a kick out of the following comment by Michael Lindgren, the reviewer:

"The Rule of Themed Anthologies says that one-third of such collections will be thought-provoking and insightful, one-third will be just okay, and one-third will be tossed-off words from writers too guilty or desperate to say no to the commissioning editor."

Thinking back over the many anthologies we've read during our 18 years (and counting!) as a group, I would say that rule holds up pretty well!

Cheers, Steve

Thursday, May 4, 2017

"More interesting as a paranoiac than as a pederast"

Those of you who were unable to join the 10 of us for last night's discussion of "The Green Bay Tree" missed a great session!

As I promised at the end of our session, here are three online reviews of the play for your reading pleasure.  The first is The Spectator  review of the April 1950 revival, from which I have taken the title of this posting.  (I suspect, by the way, that the final sentence on the page, which trails off, ends with the phrase "twentieth century," but that's merely a guess.)

The second pair of reviews, from The Guardian and The New York Timesdiscuss the 2014 staging that forms the basis of the edition most of us used for our discussion.  No prizes for guessing which side of the pond gave the play a more sympathetic review!

Unhinting the Cochon

The poet Hugo Williams’ step-grandfather was Mordaunt Shairp and he wrote a reminiscence of him that appeared in the TLS  of 14 May 1993. Shairp and Stepen Spender taught at the University College School in Hampstead contemporaneously. Did Spender think Shairp was gay? “Oh yes, we all assumed he was gay. We thought his getting married was something to do with your father [Hugh Williams] and that The Green Bay Tree was semi-autobiographical. I know Forster and J. R. Ackerley thought it was a gay play.” Although Hugo’s father was tutored by Shairp at the USC and soon thereafter married Hugo’s grandmother, Hugo writes “the more I think about it, the more I see the wolf under the old lady’s bonnet: the wicked sybarite was none other than my granny” (whom he describes as “a large, powerful woman in the Edwardian dowager mould”). Hugh, Shairp’s stepson, played Julian in the first production. The reminiscence concludes:

… the play’s true content was abundantly clear to contemporary audiences. “Not for years have I observed such an outbreak of horrified protestation at any play", wrote the Sunday Referee. “The association between the man and his adopted son is such as to fill normal-minded people with abhorrence”, wailed the Evening Standard. “Only Shairp’s tactful handling of a very unsavoury theme can have got this play past the censor", said The Times. Or, as James Agate put it: “perhaps one cannot expect a playwright to go the whole hog when too obvious a hint of the cochon might suppress the animal altogether.”

The TLS Historical Archive (back to 1902) has only become available today! I am unsure whether I can link to it. But for any who have access to Gale databases, the document number is EX1200470024.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

RIP, William M. Hoffman

Today's Washington Post contains an obituary of William M. Hoffman (1939-2017), a prolific writer best known for his 1985 Tony-nominated play "As Is" and for his libretto for John Corigliano's 1991 opera, "The Ghosts of Versailles."

I could have sworn our group had discussed "As Is," but we haven't.  (We have discussed Larry Kramer's "The Normal Heart," which opened weeks after Hoffman's play.)  If memory serves, I nominated it several years ago, but it didn't garner enough support to make the reading list—but I think I'll try again. Here is a sampling of other obits:

  New York Times ,   Playbill ,   L.A. Opera ,   POZ .

Monday, April 24, 2017

Royal Beauty...

Just in case you missed the Washington Post story about it, I wanted to alert you to a very interesting title that will be released tomorrow: Kings and Queens in Their Castles by Tom Atwood.  According to the Amazon blurb: "Over 15 years, Atwood photographed more than 350 subjects at home nationwide (160 of whom appear in the book), including nearly 100 celebrities (about 60 of whom are in the book). With individuals hailing from 30 states, the book offers a window into the lives and homes of some of America's most intriguing and eccentric personalities."

Since it is a photography book, my assumption is that there wouldn't be enough text to qualify it for a Bookmen discussion.  However,  I may nominate it for our next reading list anyway, if it lives up to its promise.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017


While reading "Hidden..." I remembered (on page 64 "Rev. John Church") that I saw "Mother Clap's Molly House" at the National Theater in London in 2001.  There was this wonderful song that everyone broke into at the Molly House called "Shit on Those Who Call This Sodomy, Fabulous!"


Friday, April 14, 2017

Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh

I thought this conversation on Theater Talk was interesting when it turned to the "hysterical" Tennessee and Edwina and also the relationship between Tennessee's sexual and literary awakening.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Hadrian's "little" poem

On display before the first section is Hadrian's famous "little" poem, with odd unending ellipsis "…". I wonder how many readers realize when they finish the penultimate page of the Memoirs (page 295) that the poem has been translated and the ellipsis supplied, with Yourcenar's own thematic continuation. This poem "animula vagula blandula" is too good and too famous to be passed over so silently. I refer readers to William Fitzgerald's How to Read a Latin Poem If You Can't Read Latin Yet (or even if you can!). You can see what he has to say by clicking on the link above, next clicking on the "Look Inside" and then "Search[ing] Inside This Book" on "Epilogue", and finally clicking the second result. (Phew, I know!) But you will be able to read the entire Epilogue which is entirely about the famous "little" poem.

Monday, April 3, 2017

"Reflections on the Composition"

—the last section of Memoirs of Hadrian and I must admit, for me, the most interesting. Pages 335-338 discuss the portraits of Antinous, two of which Yourcenar singles out for special commendation. They are reproduced in the photo section after page 288. You can find better images on the web, in particular Temple of Antinous: The Gay God. I came across a side-view close up

of the Antonianos bas-relief:

I love these reliefs, bas or hauts, the emergence of forms from the sculpted material. Or in this case the submergence of Antinous, in the Nile ("as one incapable of her own distress").

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Information, Please

While re-reading Margarite Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian, I had the feeling we had read someone's recommendation of it in one of our "Books That You Should Read, or at least, Never Have Forgotten." It was the former: Richard Canning's Fifty Gay [etc etc (see below)] Must Read. Five years ago we had discussed the 22nd essay titled "Memoirs of Hadrian" by Edmund White. I couldn't remember why he had recommended it and eagerly took up the volume to remind myself. Turned out, I hadn't forgotten what he had said about Hadrian because he said almost nothing. The essay—a good one—was about Yourcenar's life. Someone, even perhaps myself, must have noticed that at the time. And the essay is about Yourcenar's life because it was originally a review of a biography about Yourcenar that appeared in the New York Times, 17 October 1993. Canning decided to recycle the review about the life as an essay about the 22nd book which "Everybody Must Read". The essay is virtually the review, with only references to the reviewed biography deleted. Nothing untoward here, everything above-board and acknowledged. What's still puzzling is how or why Canning would include a review about the life instead of a recommendation of the book! (For those of you who have never owned the Canning or have failed to retain it, you can read the original review on the nytimes website.

This post originated out of some pique at Canning's editorial practice but I can move past that by asking if anyone knows anywhere where White did write about Yourcenar's Hadrian ?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Covering Eddy



The covers for The End of Eddy  (reading left to right, top to bottom): French, English, and (gasp) American (is this the promised end!?). The very end, lower right, is Eddy or Édouard himself. Publishers would have to be crazy (and don't we know already they are) not to use this somewhere on the cover (back, inside or outside flap). M. Louis, at 24, has already accomplished enough to have his own (and quite respectable) Wikipedia page. (No, I'm not going to provide a link. You all know how to wiki-pedia, non? )

"The Epidemic of Gay Loneliness"

This interesting essay by Michael Hobbes has just been published online in the HuffPo's new Highline series. It argues, with stories and studies, that gay men have never been more isolated! Partly that's the bedrock matter of spending time in the Closet and having to Come Out of It (or to Stay In It). Partly, however, it's about the increased fetishization of the male body and its widespread imprinting in us from our easy access to pornography. Plus, the depersonalizingly efficient hook-up apps like Grindr.

Puzzlingly absent from his discussion are his friends, his buddies, the guys you hang with when you go to the bar or wherever. Even Millenials who watched Queer As Folk know about that, at least "about" that. The public space has become vacant. Friends need to be made there, even if they can be kept in private.

Gay Travels in the Muslim World

I told Sir Edmund (my GBE) my concerns about Tangier sounding jaded in Joe Ambrose's story "Tenth Story Love Song."  His response: "Tangier is divine!  Straight teens will slow dance with you."

"The End of Eddy" by Édouard Louis …

— will be released on May 2!

"Before I had a chance to rebel against the world of my childhood, that world rebelled against me. In truth, confronting my parents, my social class, its poverty, racism and brutality came second. From early on I provoked shame and even disgust from my family and others around me. The only option I had was to get away somehow. This book is an effort to understand all that.”

The End of Eddy  has been enthusiastically received in the UK and that nearby continent. Amazon is offering a pre-order price guarantee of $23. New (cheaper!) copies of the British paperback are available through third-parties. I'm very eager to read this. Should I wait or should I buy!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Yet another Bookmen DC title in the news!

Writing in today's Washington Post, Book World Editor Ron Charles reports that Garth Greenwell is one of the finalists for the 2016 PEN/Faulkner Award for What Belongs to You, which we discussed back in January.  Are we astute judges of literary talent or what?!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

"Anal Resilience"

So called by Jane Ward (p. 43). Curious, I googled. Unsurprisingly the first dozen hits were hers. Unexpectedly, but still unsurprising, the next dozen—female porn stars. (Guys never get the recognition.) But sandwiched somewhere in between was this  pdf  on “The nature of piles”. Which begins:

Few who reach middle age can claim never to have had any symptoms related to the anus.

What a promising beginning. One would think it better not to continue. But the good doctor, J Alexander-Williams, does:

Thomson has shown elegantly, if not originally, that what many regard as piles are normal vascular cushions. We all have them, and they are as natural as the vascular cusions at the upper end of the alimentary tract that we call lips.

Are you still with me? Leaving nothing out:

We are prepared to accept a wide variety of lips: thick lips, pouting lips, petulant lips, wet lips, and even hot lips. Similarly, variations in the vascular cushions at the anus should possibly be regarded as signs of character rather than disease.

Now I lay me down to sleep. You’ve got the link.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Butch & Bonded

Just a word on my reading so far of the book we're discussing this Wednesday, Not Gay. I found the first chapter something of a slog (theory!). But I've just finished the second chapter and find it much more readable and entertaining. So if Chapter 1 has you mired in a Slough of Despond, skip it!

And once you make it to page 139, you will have learned that surfers are an ideal (if not, the ideal) of straight men who want to have sex with men (with straight men). The cover, even so, might still be a little hard to read. Hence, this link.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Walt Whitman, a novelist? Who knew?!

I hadn't intended to keep posting items about Walt Whitman, but this one is too good to keep to myself! A researcher has just turned up WW's long-lost, never published novel, The Life and Adventures of Jack Engle. It sounds fascinating!

You can read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

More 19th-century love stories for your reading pleasure (and/or pleasure reading...:-)

If the item I just posted about Walt Whitman tickled your fancy, I invite you to check out two books our group read in 2006 and 2007, respectively:
Love Stories Between Men Before Homosexuality  by Jonathan Katz and
Graham Robb's Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century.

I found those, by the way, by scrolling down the list of "Books We Have Read" at the bottom of this blog, which the diligent Tim Walton regularly updates as our blogmaster.  If I counted correctly, we're now up to 254 titles—pretty good for slightly less than 18 years of existence!

Happy Valentine's Day from Walt Whitman!

The Metro section of today's Washington Post features a lovely story: "History's love letters provide heartfelt glimpses of the 'devoted' and 'besotted.' Among the examples cited is this one:

During the Civil War, Walt Whitman moved to Washington, where he met Peter Doyle, a former Confederate soldier. Whitman’s letters, including those to Doyle, were recently put online by the Library of Congress.

“They met one stormy night in 1865 when Whitman was the last passenger on Doyle’s car,” according to the Library Congress exhibit. “To Pete, the poet looked ‘like an old sea-captain.’ We were familiar at once. I put my hand on his knee — we understood from that time on we were the biggest sort of friends.”

“They said it was love at first sight,” said Barbara Bair, literature and cultural specialist. They took long walks. Whitman read Shakespeare to him. Doyle read limericks. In love letters, Whitman referred to Doyle as comrade, son and darling.

Their relationship changed, Bair said, when Whitman suffered a nearly fatal stroke while working late in the Treasury building. He moved to Camden, N.J., to live with his brother and recuperate.

In a letter dated June 20, 1877, Whitman wrote:

Dear, dear boy Pete I’m stopping here now for a week or two in the house I believe I have mentioned to you before, and where I wanted you to come and see me and still want you if you have a chance. But I spend most of my time down at an old farm down in New Jersey where I have a fine secluded wood and Creek and springs, where I pass my time alone, and yet not lonesome at all (often think of you Pete and put my arm around you and hug you up close, and give you a good buss often.)

“Your Old Walt.”

The profound portrayal of “longing” caused by the distance between the two lovers makes the letter compelling, Bair said.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

now what?

For those of you unfortunates (myself included) who have finished What Belongs to You and want more, Garth Greenwell has a wonderful homepage with links to other Bulgarian stories and to anecdotes about the composition, revision, publishing etc of his novel. There are also worthwhile non-fiction pieces, such as his Buzzfeed article on "How I Fell in Love with the Beautiful Art of Cruising."

Update: Greenwell had a fairly successful career as a poet before he ventured to Bulgaria and prose. The Beloit Poetry Journal published several of his poems. "Portrait with Hood and Bindings" is particularly striking.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Bookmen DC and a "Moonlight" connection...

Last June we discussed Tarell Alvin McCraney's 2015 play, Choir Boy, which most attendees agreed was powerful and moving.  (If you weren't with us for that discussion, I encourage you to check out the book for yourself.)

This year's Oscar nominations were just announced and "Moonlight," directed and adapted by Barry Jenkins from another McCraney play (that has never been staged, alas), is up for eight Oscars, including best picture, director and supporting actor and supporting actress.  The film is still playing in area theaters, and I can't recommend it highly enough!

Friday, January 20, 2017

"Our Caribbean" is still worth a visit...:-)

We wrapped up our yearlong exploration of Our Caribbean: A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writing from the Antilles (Thomas Glave, editor), one of our three third-Wednesday anthologies from 2016, this past Wednesday.

I want to thank Keith Cohen for his expert facilitation of those discussions, and encourage those of you who were unable to attend those sessions to consider reading the book, or at least dipping into it.  Like most anthologies, it is uneven, both in the writing and coverage; but, on balance, I think I speak for those of us who read it when I say it was worth the time we invested.

Because the book is somewhat expensive (though used copies are available and affordable), I would be happy to lend my copy to anyone who wants to take a look before committing to a  purchase.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

"Falsettos" Re-Viewed

The scene, acted with beautiful simplicity … affected me as no other in the theater this year….