30 October 2006

Eliot, George. Middlemarch (1872). New York: Washington Square P, 1963.

This novel is greater than most others I've ever read. It deals with money, law, medicine, religion/the clergy, inheritance, property, farming, railroads, love, gypsies, and more and more and more. It is the exact wrong novel to read in a week's time.

Comparable books to this I've read include:
  • Infinite Jest
  • Gravity's Rainbow
(I haven't had a lot of time to devote to supremely dense and long novels.)

At any rate, I can't imagine poring through these with flashing, quick, unthinking eyes, looking only for the What of each page, and missing all the How and Why. Causaubon is impotent, turns out. And how delicately insinuated!

There's so much one misses in and about a book when one reads it in one's PhD program.

25 October 2006

White, Edmund. A Boy's Own Story (1982). New York: Vintage, 2000.

I Finished! this book four days ago, and have yet to come up with anything to say about it. White is like the foregrandfather of gay literature. He's like gay literature's Henry James, which is an awful comparison because James was himself maybe gay. At any rate, he's big time and I thought this novel was pretty bad. The following is bad, yes?
Like a heated square of pavement in an otherwise snowy sidewalk, the child burned through the adolescent and, luminous within the child, glowed this shifting cat's cradle of sensation, whether spiritual or physical I'm unable to say (158).
Just as each shell held to the ears roars with a different ocean timbre, each of these [boys'] bodies spoke to me with a different music (153).
The sun solemnly withdrew into its tent of cloud, disappointed with the world (123).
Isn't this stuff inexcusably bad and purple? But you should see the praise this book got and the high position it has in the 20th-C gay-male lit trad.

This, though, is very smart and insightful, and, I think, describes perfectly the situation felt viscerally by every closeted male teen in the history of the universe:
I didn't want [my gym teacher] to like men, just me, not even me as a man but me as discarnate ardor, pure willingness in his naive, manly, exquisitely untested arms (163).
This "novel" (it's pretty much a memoir, and, if published today, would be marketed as such) has much too few of these kinds of insights. Maybe the sequels are better.

17 October 2006

Carroll, Lewis. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) & Through the Looking Glass (1872). New York: Signet, 2000.

I've read these books about ten times, beginning back when I was still in elementary school. Fourth grade, I think. I remember flipping through the book—comprising both novels, as this edition does—and seeing chapter XI in TTLG, the one titled "Waking", which in its entirety reads: "——and it really was a kitten after all." I remember thinking that a half-sentence chapter was the coolest thing ever.

Years after leaving Hutchison Elementary, I returned and chatted with the librarian, who was still there, helping kids find books, and on a stroll through the stacks which came up to mid-chest I found the edition I'd read years before. Still tucked inside the back cover was the checkout card on which I wrote "Dusty M"—twice. By now, the school had switched over to an electronic system. I asked if I could keep the card. I still have it today, serving as a bookmark in my copy of Gardner's Annotated Alice.

This time reading was strange in that I knew I was going to write a term paper on the novels, and so I read with a pencil and tossed theories and ideas around in my head as I followed Alice every step of the way I knew so fully. What began interesting me was the idea of animal hostility and gentility. Those Wonderlanders are so mean to Alice, so short-tempered and strict. But reading through TTLG, I think I'm more interested in hybridity in the Alice books. It's everywhere, really. Any creature that appears as an animal but walks on two legs and speaks English is a hybrid. The cards that form croquet arches are hybrids. Alice, when she grows tall enough that her neck extends and gets floppy, is accused of being a serpent, thus forming her into a hybrid. Even the language itself, with its nonsense words and portmanteaus (slithy, chortle, mimsy), is hybridized.

There's something to say that links the hybrids in Carroll's books with Darwin's finches and sexual selection. But what? But what?

10 October 2006

Broken fax machine, Joel. various blog entries. blogspot.com: Aug-Sep 2006.

Joel Broken fax machine is probably only worth reading if you believe in your trusting heart that he's really a 13-year-old from Canada. The endless typos help achieve and maintain this illusion. He and I share an interest in cinema, and I now have a complete awe of his ability to craft sentences I wish I could:
I think it's regular for a man to cope with his past by jumping on couches and being strict with thin haired Matt Lauer on the today show.

My face is the most amazing you will ever see.

Also, it seems that Americans don't care too much about their job. The guys who worked at Cedar point used their walkie talkies to chat with other employees and the people at the subway dropped a peice of plastic in my roast beef sub. It wasn't plesant!
It's worth ten minutes of your time. Steal something for your own various projects.

Ackerley, J.R. We Think the World of You (1960). New York: Poseidon P, 1989.

This book details a love triangle between an older bachelor, a younger married man, and a dog, Evie. The title, then, is pretty clever. Despite the older man's narrating the novel, i.e. using "I" throughout, the pronoun used in the title is "we". The plural signifies any two points of the triangle, for indeed, all persons think the world of all persons, and yet jealousy comes into it quite naturally, destroying whatever potential harmonies could come of all this.

Also destroyed is Frank, the older man/narrator. He ends up with Evie in the end, the dog he spent time with only to get closer to the younger man he really loved. This is becoming a difficult thread to deal with in my reading of late. Time and again I've read books where an older, "gayer", upper-class man is in a consuming love with a younger, "straighter", lower-class man. Why is this such a staple in the 20th-century gay male canon? I imagine Forster, Isherwood, Burroughs, Ackerley, et al. were just living out their fantasies through fiction, a tradition spanning all genders and gender types, and without getting too much into it, it's clear that there's something very alluring about youth, about people who sit way out at the extreme ends of the traditional gendered-behavior continuum, and about people who are forced through lack of ability or interest to allow you to do all the thinking for them.

No book yet in the 1900s has ended with a central gay character overcoming this trap of fantasy.* Of course, I've only read up until the 1960s, after which gay subcultures come out fully into the public sphere and masculinity becomes expanded in scope to include more people than "men who prefer sex with women." Here's how The Joy of Gay Sex, 3rd ed. puts it. Well, I was going to quote it for you, but while TJOGS is pretty much a godsend for any closeted gay boy wanting to come out, full of plainstated truths and incredibly helpful advice (in between all the "hott" "pics" and how-to's along the lines of the original JOS's kama-sutra-y stuff), the language of these passages tends to be a bit too...unbearable out of context, I'll say.

To love men is to love whatever it is that is "the masculine", and for most gay men—well, for all of us—what is attached to "the masculine" has for so long been one small set of objects and images that what else can you expect us to gravitate toward, obsess over, and write about?
*It's interesting that Forster's Maurice, the first major gay novel written in the 20th century, resolves its plot with such a relationship, treating it as a kind of salvation whereas writers after him portray it as a trap.

03 October 2006

Burroughs, William S. Queer. New York: Viking, 1985.

Autobiographical follow-up to Junkie in which Burroughs's stand-in, Bill Lee, spends most of the time orating in Mexican bars. There's a fruitless jaunt down to South American for some theoretical telepathic drug. Sex between men is mostly hinted at in a way that's almost coy given Lee's ease with which he narratively drools over native boys.

It's the first time I've read Burroughs and I don't know that it won't be the last. I suppose Naked Lunch is the masterpiece, and should read that book before I write the guy off, but I'm not quite sure I see the appeal. Are the Beats a stage one moves through toward an "adult readership," whatever that means? There was a time I would have given credence to the Wikipedia fact that Kerouac liked Queer and thought it would go over well with "east-coast homosexual critics," but now such a thing makes my eyes hurt from all their rolling.

I read this in two hours. A good antidote to Dickens.

02 October 2006

Dickens, Charles. Bleak House (1853). New York: Modern Library, 2002.

Imagine reading one book for an average of three hours a night, every day for about two weeks. And imagine reading it fast, skipping over a lot of the detail to get to the action. This is how much reading I put into Bleak House, and rather than complain, I'm lamenting that most novels—particularly ones of the twenty-first century—don't allow for such a reading experience. Can't. Can't compete with the hundreds of thousands of characters that Dickens seems to throw at you.

It's important, to me at least, because it's great to know that novels can do this. It'd be hard to write a novel with three or four central characters after reading Dickens. Yes, there are great novels with three or four central characters in them, and pretty much all those novels are contemporary ones. A Dickens novel todaywould never sell. It's kind of sad, but there's always Dickens to go to when one wants Dickens.

This is my first time, so you'll forgive my giddy horniness about the man.

To give you a sense of why he's so good, here's just the second paragraph of the novel (on page 3 of 861), which has more life and complexity in it than all the stories I've written put together:
Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits [sic] and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of chipping, and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little 'prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds.*
How many times have I learned the lesson that all good writing is is a pretty string of precise nouns and how many times will I have to relearn it?

* It occurs to me that the past couple quoted passages have all been about unforgiving weather in European cities. Clearly, this is the way to go if you want accolades. Writers, commence.