Sunday, July 30, 2017

"psychologically denatured"?

Here is the statement Donald Britton appended to his earlier published "The Winter Garden" when it appeared in Ecstatic Occasions, Expedient Forms:

Book Tar-Baby

I'm glad Steve has read all of A Little Life  and posted his reactions. It is the most controversial gay novel of our still adolescent century. Extreme positions have been taken by Garth Greenwell and Daniel Mendelsohn, each of whom has appeared in our "Books We Have Read" as will, I've no doubt, Hanya Yanagihara herself in due time. It's a big book but a quick read. Once you start you have to break away not to finish it. It's a treacly soap opera and even discontinuing it midway through I had to peek ahead several times to sate my taste for dish in this "shabby little shocker". I won't reread what I have read nor finish what I haven't but I will attend the discussion which I'm sure will be lively and divergent.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Wide Margins in the Publishing World

This perhaps should be a post about presses Harrington Park and Haworth—Routledge being a second or third marriage—but I don't have the time to redact nor the knowledge to redact from. Suffice it to say, that of all the odd books we BookMen have held in hand, Gay Travels in the Muslim World

may be the oddest yet. Donald Bathelme's early short story "Margins" presciently illuminates these "delicate sensibilities":

all-around wide margin shows a person of extremely delicate sensibilities with love of color and form, one who holds aloof from the multitude and lives in his own dream world of beauty and good taste.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

OutWrite Is Coming!

Mark your calendars now for the DC Center's annual OutWrite festival, a celebration of LGBT literature, authors, writers and poets.

This year’s festival will kick off on Friday, Aug. 4, with an event in collaboration with Smut Slam DC; location and details to be announced soon!  On Saturday, August 5, there will be a full day of readings, panels, book sales, and exhibitors.  And the weekend will conclude with several writing workshops on Sunday, August 6.

This year’s keynote speaker is Cecilia Tan.  Cecilia is an author, editor and publisher at Circlet Press, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.  

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Like Anal Sex?

A.L. Kennedy is supposed to have replied once to a query regarding her dense literary style: "It's like anal sex. If that's what I want to do to you and you're not into it, then go away, because that's what will keep happening."

Saturday, July 8, 2017

"A Little Life" = A Big Book!

Some of you know from our post-discussion dinners that this spring, I finally got around to tackling one of 2015's "big books"—you know, the type that generates lots of buzz among the smart set and makes the "Best Books of the Year" lists, but then languishes on coffee tables in a weird, partially read limbo until being moved to make room for the next Big Book.  (Not sure why it seems to take me two years to do that, but I had the same lag time last summer with Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch.)

In this case, I speak of Hanya Yanagihara's 2015 epic, A Little Life, which I recently finished (all 720 pages!) and warmly recommend--with one major caveat.  To quote the book jacket:

As the sly references to "devotion" and "brotherly bonds" insinuate, three of the four protagonists are gay or at least bisexual, as are a good number of the secondary characters.  Yet A Little Life isn't primarily a Gay Novel—which, for me, is both its strength and its weakness.  Indeed, in some ways it was a relief to read a book that presents homosexuality as normal and healthy, without making sex the main focus.

I came to care deeply for most of these guys despite (or because of?) their manifold flaws, but that prompts my warning: Don't read this book if you're seeking uplift or reassurance!  I'm not giving anything away when I observe that Yanagihara really seems to enjoy inflicting hardships and suffering on her characters—usually, but not always, to test, or build, their mettle.

That said, there are many lyrical passages and a good deal of humor, albeit mostly in the first third of the novel.  And some characters do find happiness (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) along the way, if not necessarily where and how and with whom they had expected.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

"The Master" at the Morgan

Last week I took a quick trip to the Big Apple and had the pleasure of viewing a new exhibition at the Morgan Library: "Henry James and American Painting."  If you like late 19th/early 20th-century art (and who doesn't!), the show is worth viewing in its own right, even if you aren't a big James aficionado.  It will be up through Sept. 10.

As a bonus, on June 28 I attended a joint lecture at the Morgan by Colm Toibin, author of The Master  (which we discussed way back in November 2005, and I highly recommend) and Jean Strouse, an authority on Alice James. They focused on the paintings and photographs in the show, but also explored some of the themes Toibin incorporates into that novel.

That one-two combination prompted me to dig out a book I'd purchased many years ago but never gotten around to reading: The Painter's Eye: Notes and Essays on the Pictorial Arts by Henry James.  Compiled and edited by John L. Sweeney in 1989, this collection is out of print (alas) but widely available.  While many of James' reviews are fussy (bordering on bitchy) and precious, and/or address obscure figures and paintings, his wit and precision are ever in evidence.  Here's just one example, in which he unloads both barrels on Gérôme's "Un combat de coqs":

"The horrid little game in the center, the brassy nudity of the youth, the peculiarly sensible carnality of the young woman, the happy combination of moral and physical shamelessness, spiced with the most triumphant cleverness, conduce to an impression from which no element of interest is absent—save the good, old-fashioned sense of being pleased."