On Bullies and Tripping Down the Up Only Staircase

A Blonde Boy With A Backpack Running Up The Stairs Of A School On His First Day Of School

My almost three year old son starts school on Wednesday. School is going to widen our son’s world. New teachers, new friends, new things to learn. He’ll start to bump up against the bigger, harder world.

Thought my husband and I have done everything we can to avoid it, I can’t help being worried about him being picked on for having two dads. After seeing him push another boy on the playground, I also of course worry about him picking on other kids.

As we get ready to help our son transition to pre-school, I’m so glad I found this perfect essay about school and bullies by novelist Patrick Gale in The Guardian. Gale recently received a “heartfelt, two-page apology from a man who had done his best to make my life a misery at school.”

Gale’s story has me thinking more about Keith, my own teenage tormentor. In 8th grade, I was awkwardly trying to figure myself out, just starting to get a grip on being gay. Keith probably knew something about me that I didn’t know about myself then. One day in between classes in our overcrowded junior high, Keith tripped me down the up-only staircase.

I have a very poor memory of my own personal history. I have a hard time remembering the date and even the year I was married, but I can tell you the exact pattern of the brown linoleum and dark bricks of that junior high school staircase. I have deep sensory memories of falling down those steps in the wrong direction, banging against the other kids all the way down. Sometimes I wish I could remember more of what happened before or after I feel. Other times I think my poor memory might be a mercy. It is amazing to realize that this happened 29 years ago.

I can’t resist a little digital detective work and admit I do keep tabs on Keith. I think he now owns a shop that repairs auto glass. I doubt he’s Googled me.

Patrick Gale’s new novel Take Nothing With You is on sale in the UK and available via Amazon

A Bookish Pause Before The End of Pride Month

That feeling when you’ve just finished a great book – and don’t know what to read next. For me, that’s one of the most crazy-making feelings in the world. It’s some strange mix of anxiety and dread with a little bit of retail therapy mixed in. “I’ll never find another novel as good as this one?” meets “Why aren’t there more books about men like me and families like mine?” all staring into the vastness of just how many books I haven’t read and realistically will never get to. Sometimes I worry that this feeling chokes off the buzz I can get from finishing a great read.

Before all the glitter goes down the gutter at the end of Pride month, I wanted to call out some finds. Full disclosure: I haven’t read any of these yet. I’ll jump back here next time my Kindle tells me I only have 10% of my book left and the weird “I don’t know what I’m reading next” feelings kick up again.

I saw Part 1 of Angels in America on Broadway about 10 days ago. The epic scale and nuance of this play still hasn’t settled over me, but I have been wondering about new novels that might have more to say about the AIDS crisis. The New York Times jumps in with Michael Cunningham’s beautiful review of Rebecca Makkia’s The Great Believers. Cunningham’s The Hours is the high water mark for connecting stories; him calling The Great Believers “ingeniously interwoven” with “deep emotional impact” has me ready to start this book right away.

Now I’m a big non-fiction reader, but Caleb Crain’s New York Times review of Queer City: Gay London from the Romans to the Present Day by Peter Ackroyd is enticing. I struggle with reading history, even our own gay history. The review says: “This is a guided helicopter tour, not a research seminar. Still, it’s impressive how much detail can be seen even at this elevation and speed.” I think I’m in. I’d like to try it. By there way, this reviewer Caleb Crain has a novel I’m been meaning to read for a long time: Necessary Errors.

I’ve been planning to read a novel by Rakesh Satyal for a long time now. Satyal won a Lambda Literary award for his first book Blue Boy. Yesterday, I got an email from Goodreads announcing that the Kindle edition of his second book No One Can Pronounce My Name is on sale for $2.99. I grabbed it right away – knowing it would be an easy answer to my nagging “what should I read next” sometime soon.

Right now I’m reading The People We Hate At The Wedding by fellow Brooklynite Grant Ginder. How about you?

 

Isolation and Passion of the Gay Greatest Generation

hide_matthew_griffinHappy Pride from Brooklyn! While we were in Manhattan celebrating yesterday, today’s a quieter day for us. My husband just left for the garden store to pick up a new boxwood bush.  I just put kale from the farmer’s market on the back burner to simmer with some garlic and olive oil while our son takes a nap.

I love these quiet domestic scenes in my own life: entirely everyday and yet hard-fought and centering. These moments are rarely written about in contemporary fiction, especially between gay men.

This is why I’m so glad I discovered Matthew Griffin’s novel Hide at my favorite Three Lives & Company last week. The novel lifts up the long relationship of taxidermist Wendell and World War II vet and factory worker Frank. Staying together required them to live in deep isolation in the woods of North Carolina. They barely spoke to anyone for decades.

My favorite parts of the book center around their domestic life. As Frank gets old and very ill, Wendell pushes to find a cake he can make that will taste good to Frank, whipping up every cake and cookie he knows. In my favorite section of the book, they once dare to go to the grocery store together. They are simultaneously fear being outed and flirt with the power a couple finds when being seen together in  public.

Trigger warning: The novel has a gritty Southern Gothic side. I had to skip a couple of grisly pages. I didn’t have the stomach for it.

There is a certain Pride in  Hide. Frank and Wendell forge a long, contented life together. Still I couldn’t close the book without wondering how they’d feel about marriage equality and the other steps forward (along with some stumbles along the way) over the past decade or so.

If you’re looking for another book about a contented gay couple and their garden and other hobbies, I recommend one of my all time favorites: Our Life In Gardens.

What have you been reading lately?

North Morgan’s Novel Is a Masc, Musc Must-Read

Joy

Grab North Morgan’s fast, fresh, and bold book Into? and head to the beach. It is a light, sexy read — like a scroll through Instagram if you know the right hashtags. The book is more than this too: a cultural time capsule of urban (white) gay men of a certain social circle today with their Instagram, protein powders, and all those flights to Miami.

This gay novel is written in first person and Konrad pulls you into the novel and won’t let go. Morgan’s able to capture the hypervigilance so many gay men experience. We read about Konrad’s search for masc men, his gym goals, and his quirky neighbors in Venice Beach.

At the risk of being kicked out of the party that this novel creates, I’ll quibble and say that I wish the secondary characters were more developed. I want to hear more from Konrad’s ex and friends and Grindr hookups. While the book has plenty of thrusting, it could use more rising action. Still from Provincetown to Palm Springs, this book should be in your beach bags this summer, boys.

If you’re up for Into?, you’d like Jade Chang’s The Wangs vs. The World too. While Wangs doesn’t have a gay main character, both novels share a sense of modern longing among the upper classes.

Andrew Sean Greer Wins a Pulitzer, Puts A Dog In Pajamas

I first discovered Andrew Sean Greer’s “Less” through Ann Patchett’s blog. The book thrilled me — funny, savvy and so poetic. It was my favorite summer read ever, but if I’m being honest I didn’t think about it winning awards. Weighty books usually win these weighty awards. Books about gay people don’t often pick up big prizes. Less is a light, bright exception.

Check out this Amazon review from October 2017:
When I finished it, I bought four copies to give as gifts. The book is not going to win a Nobel or be taught in universities or anything but it was a pure pleasure to read and it’ll stay with me for the rest of my life.

Well, it didn’t win a Nobel prize (yet?!), just a Pulitzer! And it is sold out everywhere.

Andrew Sean Greer string of tweets about his win is perfect.  I can’t wait to read whatever he writes next!

 

 

Four Short Gay Novels To Read Right Now

Young Business Man Relaxing With Cup Of Coffee On Teracce

I am about one third of the way through Alan Hollinghurst’s door-stopper of a novel The Sparsholt Affair. While I love settling in to a 432 page by a master gay novelist like Hollinghurst, I’ll admit that short novels are often my favorites.  Books under 200 pages are perfect for reading over one weekend or plane trip.

I find slimmer books give me a satisfying sense of accomplishment and they are simpler to return to each evening after my son’s done with bath and tucked into bed. Here are my favorite short gay themed books, all under 200 pages.

  1. Everything Begins and Ends At The Kentucky Club by Benjamin Alire Sàenz (180 pages)
    A series of seven rich stories about life and love on the border between Texas and Mexico. A quote from the last story in the Lambda Literary award winning book: “And the only way to survive is to do the love thing, you know? Yeah, I think I called it the hurting game. Yeah, love hurts”
  2. We The Animals by Justin Torres (128 pages)
    “The smelled my difference – my sharp, sad, pansy scent. They believed I would know a world larger than their own.” The shortest book on this list. I read this tight poem of a novel about brothers growing up poor and different in New York City six years ago and am still captivated by it. Read more amazing Justin Torres in The New Yorker (subscription may be required).
  3. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin (178 pages)
    A classic by one of America’s best writers. Baldwin takes us to 1950’s Paris and inside the dark mental struggles that often came along with being gay then. I feel like it should be required reading, certainly for every gay man, especially us gay men in big cities. I recommend this book with a big asterisk: Baldwin’s short novel boils with unhealthy self loathing that is dated (let’s hope so anyway) and might be too much for the newly out or those new to LGBTQ literature. “… And you bring me fever but no delight,” Giovanni tells David. Baldwin grabs the simultaneous passion and hatred –“the stink of love” — that closeted men have felt for their first love. The excitement of oysters and white wine at Les Halle’s early morning market is one of  my favorite scenes in literature.
  4. Sergio Y by Alexandre Vidal Porto (160 pages)
    A well-known therapist takes on a mysterious patient toward the end of his career. A wise bookseller at Three Lives & Co. asked me to start the book without reading anything about it. Even ignore the jacket copy, he said so I did. I’ve already told you more about this book than I knew when I started it. Give it a shot and read it in a night or two and come back here and let me know what you think.

‘Call Me By Your Name’ Heads To The Oscars Tonight

Call_Me_By_Your_Name_Book

It’s a big night for gay literature. Call Me By Your Name – a gay coming of age movie based on the novel by André Aicman – is in the running for four Oscars tonight, including Best Picture.

While I’m thrilled to see a story about two men in love up for Academy Awards, I can’t help thinking back to Miz Cracker’s piece for Slate: Why has Call Me by Your Name attained such an iconic “gay” status when it is anything but? When its main characters seem almost aggressively isolated from gay culture or politics? When its precocious protagonist has to be reminded that it’s gauche to make fun of people who are openly gay?

It’s pretty peachy that James Ivory, an 89 year old out gay man, is expected to take home the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for Call Me By Your Name. Catch up on the story of Ismail Merchant and James Ivory in The New Yorker.

I’m hoping Call Me By Your Name is one more call to publishers and producers to keep telling our stories. More diverse stories and stories by LGBT novelists with LGBT actors and actresses portraying us. More novels! More movies!

I read Call Me By Your Name back in 2007, shortly after it came out. “This novel is hot,” said The New York Times. Have you read it yet?

A great literary thriller – is it gay?

thedestroyers_bollen

I wish the protagonist in The Destroyers was gay. Sharply, strongly, sassily gay. Since the author Christopher Bollen is gay, I expected (or at least hoped) that his main character Ian Bledsoe would be too.

Ian’s sexy, smart, screwed up and strangely likable. Ian goes for girls – but has a sharp eye for the men around him too. He admires men’s muscles, watches a gay couple have sex, and eyes his best friend’s below-the-belt wardrobe malfunction, comparing his friend’s scrotum to a newborn’s head.

The novel is a beautiful escape to the Greek island of Patmos interrupted by some hot takes on New York City. This line was one of my favorites: “The only redeeming quality left in a New Yorker is their ability not to take up space.”

The book reads a bit long to me, but the reader’s patience are rewarded with reflections on “all the jobs that growing this 1.5 oz. bag of potato chip to the beach grass of a Greek island . . . ” and the hymn On Eagle’s Wings.

Bollen dedicated this book to his agent Bill Clegg. Bill Clegg’s memoir Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man is a great gay memoir.

I like that this book makes reader’s question what a queer novel is or what it might be. Is a novel about gay men written a straight man, like Call Me By Your Name, any more or less gay than a book written by a gay man about seemingly straight men?

 

Three New Gay Books, Discovered At Three Lives Books

Three-Lives-and-Co-Bookstore-1
Photo: Carly Tati

I took my birthday off to have lunch with a friend and wander the West Village. After lunch and Big Gay Ice Cream, we wandered into Three Lives and Company Bookstore.

Three Lives has the greatest LGBT sections of any bookstore. Since the store is so small – the gay book section isn’t marked, none of their sections are. But if you walk in you’ll find it toward the left near the staff stairs to the stockroom.

It seems almost rude in retrospect, but I complained to the staff that there just weren’t many good gay books out right now. I’d read so many of the books in their LGBT section. A great guy – I wish I knew his name – came over to help me.

First, I asked him about Ross Raisin’s new book A Natural that I’d read about in the New York Times. While strangely it wasn’t in their gay book section, they had it in stock. That was my first book on my birthday to buy pile. Sports books with gay main characters are rare, so this is a find. I’m was interested in how A Natural sits with the murky day to day grind of the business side of football. I am very interested in novels that show gay men at work; Adam Haslett’s Union Atlantic is my favorite.

After suggesting some books I’d already read, he recommended Sergio Y by Alexandre Vidal Porto, a Brazilian novel translated from Portuguese. This short book captures a psychologist near the end of his career and an intriguing patient. The man in Three Lives  told me to just dive into the book and trust his recommendation, without reading any of the reviews or jacket copy. And so I did. It was one of the best birthday presents I’d given myself in a while.

The last book I picked up at three lives was Insomniac City: New York, Oliver and Me by Bill Hayes. I’d thought about reading this book before, but it never reached the top of my to-read pile because I wasn’t familiar with the work of Oliver Sachs (shame on me!). I am glad Three Lives put this book in my hands because it is one of the best and most creative books I read this year. I love a downtown New York City story and this is it: quiet and carefully written with fresh observations about our city that never sleeps. I wish that perhaps the book went deeper into coming out issues and age disparity in relationships, but maybe that would have broken the mood of this memoir.

I bought my books and headed across the street to Julius’, a bar with a rich history and one of New York City’s oldest gay bars. I’m deliberately not linking to any of these books because I’m hoping you’ll be able to buy them from your own local book store or you’ll call or email Three Lives and ask them to ship these to you. I never would have read Insomniac City or Sergio Y without the recommendations from Three Lives. We need to support their business.

Congratulations, Andrew Sean Greer!

Less_novel

Andrew Sean Greer’s Less was my best beach read this summer. Buzz for this funny book is still building: the Washington Post named it a Top 10 book and the New York Times named it to their Top 100 list.

It’s sweet to see a novel by a gay men about a gay character get this kind of recognition. I agree with Ann Patchett: Less is “the book I’ve been looking for, and it seems quite possible it’s the book you’re looking for too”