Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Happy 22nd Birthday to Us! 🌈

On May 11, 1999, Potomac Gay Men’s Book Group, the original incarnation of our intrepid band, met for the first time. And 22 years later, we’re still going strong!   
For a good overview of our illustrious history, here is the profile Metro Weekly published in conjunction with our big 20th-birthday bash at the D.C. Center. The Washington Blade also ran an article, but it's a bit cumbersome to get to; you have to click on the PDF file and scroll to p. 38. And, of course, there are various postings on the subject from the spring of 2019 on this blog (scroll down to "Older Posts," select 2019 and go from there).

Monday, May 3, 2021

Stephen Fry spills the tea!

English actor and comedian Stephen Fry was the subject of the May 2 New York Times Magazine's Talk feature. The whole interview is great fun, but the most delicious part for me was a story Fry tells about Gore Vidal. I don't want to steal the Times' thunder by recounting it here, but I'll say this much: It lends new meaning to the term "full service!"

Saturday, April 24, 2021


Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's latest PBS project, "Hemingway," has renewed interest in the legendary writer. One important facet of his personality that the series reportedly brings out (full disclosure: I haven't yet watched it) is that despite his carefully cultivated reputation for machismo, Hemingway insisted that all four of his wives keep their hair cut short and dominate him in bed. (This kink may well have been at least partly the legacy of his domineering mother's insistence on dressing Ernest and his sister identically until their teens.)

The question of Hemingway's potential bisexuality had already surfaced in his incomplete novel, The Garden of Eden, posthumously published in 1986. In it, a young American writer, David Bourne, and his glamorous wife, Catherine, fall in love with the same woman. But I was not aware, until BookMen member Richard Schaefers brought it to my attention (thanks!), that the series also references his 1927 short story, "A Simple Enquiry" (sic). Here is a synopsis (adapted from Wikipedia): "Three Italian soldiers are snowbound. The senior officer, the Major, calls a 19-year-old orderly into his room and asks him whether he has ever loved a woman. Most critics interpret the ensuing conversation as the major propositioning the orderly. When his questions are rebuffed, the major dismisses the orderly on the understanding that he will not report the matter."

Richard also notes another Hemingway story, "The Sea Change," in which a man and his female partner, who is having an affair with another woman, discuss the situation.

Another gay poet to know: Kaveh Akbar

Earlier this week, I posted an item spotlighting Poem-a-Day, which recently featured a gay African-American poet, Cyrus Cassells. The April 23 edition of that service brought "My Father's Accent" by Kaveh Akbar, a gay Iranian-American writer who is currently poetry critic at The Nation and has published several collections. In contrast with Cassells, whose work tends to be sensuous and lyrical, Akbar's style is rough and gritty, and his poems overflow with violent images--as in a 2017 poem, "Ways to Harm a Thing." To put it another way: If you like Dennis Cooper novels, you'll probably like Akbar's poetry.


Thursday, April 22, 2021

Nocturnes for the King of Naples

The title of Edmund White's novel comes from a series of nocturnes composed by Franz Joseph Haydn.

Around 1785, Joseph Haydn was commissioned to perform a series of concerts for King Ferdinand IV of Naples. It was an unusual assignment, because the works had to be written for two players of the "lira organizzata," a kind of hurdy-gurdy with a small, built-in organ. This instrument, of which no specimen has survived, was very popular on the streets of Naples at the time. The king himself was a virtuoso player of an improved version of the instrument, which had been designed by Norbert Hadrava, an Austrian legation secretary in Naples. 

Hadrava continued to write to various composers, including Haydn, to compose works for the lira. Around 1788, Hadrava gave the composer a new commission, this time for a number of "Notturni" for two lira, winds and strings. Even during Haydn's lifetime, these works were performed in various arrangements, with flute and oboe or two flutes substituted for the lira. Some of these nocturnes have been released on CD by the ensembles Mozzafiato and L'Archibudelli, among others. 

Where Bookmen can get their books

Ernie Raskauskas reminds us that the Montgomery County Public Library system often has multiple copies of the books we discuss available. (A tribute to our good taste!). For example, it has 17 copies of our upcoming selection, Live Oak, with Moss, on its shelves. And you do not have to be a resident of the county or even the state to borrow these books. They're available, free of charge, to anyone in the DMV with a library card via interlibrary loan.

As a bonus, the more often LGBTQ titles are borrowed from libraries, the stronger the case librarians can make for ordering more of them. And in honor of Earth Day, here's one more incentive to go the borrowing route: Using libraries is like recycling.  ðŸŒˆ

Nabokov and Edmund White

 I want to correct something I said last night.  Nabokov did not say "Nocturnes for the Kind of Naples" was the best book he'd read that year (Nabokov died in 1977).  He said that about White's first novel "Forgetting Elena."  Edmund White and Nabokov never met in person but they had phone conversations.