Monday, August 28, 2006

Reading Tag

I was honored to be tagged by Old Lady to answer the following questions about books that have been important to me.

I have read a lot of books in my life. Some of those books, especially ones from my younger years, I loved so much that I read them again and again. But now that I am faced with the task of summarizing how some of these books have moved me, I feel almost frozen. I used to keep a written list of every book I had ever read, but it got destroyed when our apartment was flooded with heating oil. So now I have only my memory.

I also have a new policy of not owning books. I have moved many times as an adult, and have discovered just how costly it is to move even one box of books. Plus, I am a huge believer in the public library, and go there several times a month to check things out. Most modern libraries have web-based reserve and renewal capabilities which, when coupled with my daily access to a computer with auto calendar programs such as Outlook, make it easy not to miss due dates.

Once George and I settle down into a house that we plan to call “ours” for the duration, perhaps I will begin to rebuild a personal library. I look forward to that.

On with the questions: I reserve the right to make edits, additions and deletions in future blog entries. These current answers reflect only the mood of a CP on a lazy Saturday morning of cat-sitting at Oddrun’s.

A book that has changed your life
This was probably the most difficult question of the bunch. I have had many emotional experiences while reading – being moved to tears, anger, extreme empathy and understanding, or unparalleled laughter. I can’t even remember half the books that did any of these things to me, so instead I decided to tell you about my reading during a period of my life when I decided to read one thing and one thing only: gay fiction.

I went through an extreme identity crisis when I graduated from college in 1988. I had decided during my last two years of college that I wanted to date men exclusively for a while, but after I graduated I found that I hardly knew any gay people and that I had no idea how to define myself as a gay person. All my friends were straight, and I didn’t really get along with any of the gay guys I was meeting. Meanwhile, AIDS was busy killing off the older part of the gay community in the late 1980s, which did not exactly create a warm and friendly environment in which to be welcomed. Everyone was scared shitless.

The only gay people close to being my “friends” were a poisonous, odious ex-boyfriend who continued to try to get into my pants and who would alternately swear at me and pout when I wouldn’t put out; and an extremely queeny waiter I worked with who wore eyeliner and cried when I turned down his offer to go on a date with him.

In short, I just didn’t know what to do or how to fit in. So I sunk into a deep depression, and when I wasn’t waiting tables at night, I would sit home all day, smoking cigarettes and reading all the gay fiction I could find at the Minneapolis Public Library. I decided to read fiction because all the non-fiction I could find on the topic was either stupid or tragic. I figured that by reading fiction, I might get into the hearts and minds of some of the people who were supposed to be like me.

Although I would not be able to describe for you what I learned specifically from each book, these authors made me feel like I was not alone. I got some of the inside scoop on what these gay boys and men were up to, the kinds of thoughts they had, what their social and romantic lives were like, the kinds of things they did with their friends, the language they used, how they dealt with social oppression, and more.

Some of my favorite authors and books from this era were Edmund White (A Boy’s Own Story, The Beautiful Room is Empty), David Leavitt (Equal Affections, Family Dancing), Ethan Mordden (I’ve a Feeling We’re Not in Kansas Anymore, Buddies, Everybody Loves You), John Fox (The Boys on the Rock), Alan Hollinghurst (The Swimming Pool Libraries), Stephen McCauley (The Object of My Affection), and the Men on Men anthologies edited by David Bergman and George Stambolian.

A book that you have read more than once
I have a bunch of these. Of course, I read all my childhood favorites dozens of times: Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh; all of Madeleine L’Engle’s books (although Ms. L’Engle denies that any of her books were purposely designed to be for “children” or “adults”); all of Keith Robertson’s books about a geeky kid named Henry Reed; all of Beverly Cleary’s stuff; and all of John D. Fitzgerald’s works, which marked the beginning of my Mormon fascination.

As an adult I have enjoyed multiple readings of The Secret History by Donna Tartt. The suspense part of this book was fun, but being a foreign language junkie, I also could not help but be drawn into the students’ obsession with ancient Greek.

The Object of My Affection by Stephen McCauley. This book is absolutely nothing like the movie. It is a wonderful story of a friendship between a gay guy and a straight girl. I felt the movie trivialized and cheapened the story by making Jennifer Aniston fall hopelessly and pathetically in love with the protagonist, which, while there is slight hint of that in the book, is far from the focal point of the story. This book is hilarious, wonderfully written, and full of great characters and dialogue. It will make you laugh heartily and weep gently. Props to Lulu for introducing this into my repertoire.

The Rebel Angels by Robertson Davies is one I have read three times and plan to fit it in at least twice more before I die. Thanks to Lulu, I am an absolute Davies fanatic. I have read everything he’s written and actually cried when I heard about his death, which meant the end of his literary career. The Rebel Angels is, in my opinion, the bawdiest, funniest and sickest book he wrote. Rabelais was clearly one of Davies’ heroes, and it certainly shows in this novel.

A book that makes you laugh
The Rebel Angels by Robertson Davies – see above.

Also A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. Mindy June turned me on to this one. I laughed so hard while reading this on a plane that I actually threw the book three feet in front of me. Luckily, I was seated in bulkhead. A flight attendant stopped over to make sure I was OK. In my adult years I have become a devotee of the protagonist’s unique office filing system, which consists of letting papers pile up on top of your filing cabinet for several months, at which point you throw them in the trash.

A book that made you cry
The Crosswicks Journals by Madeleine L’Engle. I read this series of four books during one of my depressed periods. She is such an honorable and good person that I feel hope for humanity reading anything she writes. I cyberstalked her and have her address and phone number in Manhattan. I keep meaning to write her a fan letter to tell her how much she has meant to me over the years.

A book you wish you had written
The Rules by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider. I think this book would have been even more of a smash hit if I had written it. I know just as well as these gals how to be a passive-aggressive bitch. Sure, you can lure men into your lair with your little tricks until you finally get them to pop the question. And then it’s the big unveiling! What’s not to like about that?

A book you wish had never been written
What Kristians like to refer to as “The Holy Bible.” The whole idea of this “book” just pisses me off. For one, it’s not a “book.” It’s a series of ancient writings, written by people who either themselves claimed to be transcribing the “word of God” directly onto parchment, or who were said later by others to have done so. Furthermore, it is well documented that there were hundreds of other contemporaneous writings that were at one point considered worthy of inclusion in this “sacred text” but, for various social and political reasons, were not included. Furthermore, I find repugnant the idea that millions of people slavishly devote themselves to following, to the exclusion of all other evidence and good sense, every idea expressed in a group of ancient writings whose translations, motivations and very authorship are dubious, at best.

A book you are currently reading
Lulu and many of her commenters, including me, cannot commit to reading one book at a time. In keeping with this policy, I am currently reading the following five books, although there may be one or two that I have forgotten about.

The Clumsiest People in Europe, edited by Todd Pruzan. This book is a collection of “travel” writings by a Mrs. Favel Lee Mortimer, who lived in England during the mid-nineteenth century. She wrote “travel” guides about foreign countries, even though she herself left England only twice, and never visited the majority of the countries she wrote about. The best part is that she had virtually nothing nice to say about any of them. For example, she says of the people of Ireland: “The religion they teach is called the Roman Catholic religion. It is a kind of Christian religion, but it is a very bad kind.” And of Turkey: “The Turks are so grave that they look wise. But how can lazy people really be wise?”

Coach Yourself to Success by Talane Miedaner. I’m convinced this book will change my life. Be prepared.

The Brethren by Bob Woodward. A behind the scenes look at the Supreme Court during the Burger years. Fascinating. I don’t know why I don’t just plow through it and finish it, because I’m really enjoying it. I love how childish these old men are, and all the little playground games they engage in. People never grow up, a fact I love. Props to Sparky for “lending” it to me. (I actually took it without permission and then asked forgiveness. Not a bad way to go about life.)

Yes Man by Danny Wallace. Min left this at my house. It’s about some idiot in England who meets some Swami on a bus who tells him to say “yes” more. So he institutes a new policy where he can only answer “yes” to yes/no questions. Hilarity ensues, or so I hope because I’m not very far into it yet. But it sounds like the kind of thing I would do, so I hope everything turns out OK.

Beverly Hills 90210 (in Norwegian) by Mel Tilden. Brandon Walsh fortalte sin søster Brenda at han hadde aldri i sitt liv sett så mange Porscher, BMW’er, Mercedeser og Corvetter samlet på et sted!

A book you have been meaning to read
How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship and Musical Theater
by Marc Acito. Once again, props to Lu.

Now tag 5 people
Mindy June


wonderturtle said...

I heart you.

Echo said...

Very thoughtful assessments. I will definitely be checking some of your selections out!

As for the tagging, you can tag me anytime, CP.... wait a minute... that didn't come out right...

Now, the question is, which Echo will answer your tag...The smartass or the Smart Ass... hmmm...

jin said...

"Beverly Hills 90210 (in Norwegian)"

They didn't really, did they?!!?
Isn't the world rid of Brandon & Brenda YET?!!?

Dale said...

Great choices and now I have to look into some of those. More interesting than the books you've read though CP is the utterly engaging way you write about them. Very nice.

Coaster Punchman said...

WT: That's so funny, because I heart Wonderturtle!

Echo: Maybe smartass and SmartAss should have a face off, and your readers will decide who's better.

Jin: Yes, they did! And it's fabulous!

Dale: Do all Canadians worship Davies? There should be a bank holiday in his honor.

lulu said...

Thanks for the props and the tag baby. I will have to think about this for a day or two.

I'm glad to have been such a formative part of your reading life.

Coaster Punchman said...

Lu: My life can be divided into two categories: pre and post Lulu!

Dale said...

Davies is well loved here CP. I'm all for more holidays but dare I admit that I am woefully underread when it comes to him? I keep opening myself up to expatriation and will attempt to rectify the situation. Now I'll be on Lulu's shit list too.

Coaster Punchman said...

Oh, my. I don't know if the CPW Confessional is prepared to hear such dirty secrets. Perhaps we should all go back into denial, and drink a lot to cover our shame.

Old Lady said...

I agree with Dale, that sure was purtty!

lulu said...

And we have now known each other for more than 1/2 of our lives. Isn't that weird?

Dale, you are not on my shit list, but get reading!!!!!!

Dale said...

As luck would have it CP, I love shame and drinking! Cheers!

Yes teacher Lulu. I'm fixing myself a bacon sandwich and some gin and will then start reading.

I'm not sure if it was just my mood or the noisy cretins on my train loudly yapping at 6:30 a.m. yesterday but I began the much lauded Cloud Atlas and after 8 pages of what the hell am I reading, I put it down. I'll try again another day.

Coaster Punchman said...

Try "Atlas Shrugged" while you're at it, if you haven't read it yet. Another one of my favorites that I didn't have room to mention. Sparky turned me on to Ayn Rand. I remember him saying "I think there might be something wrong with her." He's right. But she was great anyway. And I saw a taped interview of her from about 1982 and she said "today's conservatives terrify me. They will be the downfall of this country." How prophetic was THAT?

lulu said...

I am reading Cloud Atlas right now. try it again Dale, it took me a while to get into it, but now I am loving it.

CP. I had to read Atlas Shrugged in high school. So did TenS. We were in the same class. All I really remember about it is arguing with the teacher constantly. It's way fucked up and mean spirited.

Dale said...

If it's mean spirited I'm there CP!

I will try again Lulu with Cloud Atlas, it was the wrong thing to try and concentrate on at that moment I'm sure.

As for Mr. Davies, at lunch today I walked to Chapters, one of our large chain bookstores and they didn't have Rebel Angels or another Paul Auster book I was looking for! The humanity! I'll order them probably and maybe add Atlas to the mix.

I did pick up and put down a lot of other books and journals and managed not to buy them. I'm quite proud of myself. I'm compulsively ridiculous.

lulu said...

Rebel Angels is genius Dale, and those who know me, know that isn't a word I use lightly. You might find it in a bigger book called The Cornish Triolgy, which you might as well buy, as you will end up wanting to read the rest of the books too.

Coaster Punchman said...

I tried to say the same thing about Cornish, but Blogger got mad at me and shut me out.

Lu, I think Ayn Rand is maybe not appropriate for high school. True, she is a bit over the edge, but I still think the crux of what she has to say is worthwhile, that is, be the best that you can be whatever you decide to do.

lulu said...

But what about the we owe nothing to anyone else part of the story? I find most of her ideas repellent, and if you go back and read it, the writing is terrible.

Coaster Punchman said...

Well I don't disagree with you completely. But her point is valid. If everyone made a commitment to be the best they can be, people wouldn't need to rely on the kindness of strangers as much. I think her problem is a matter of degree. It's not realistic to expect that every person will be capable to take care of him or herself. In Any Rand's world, I suppose such people would just be dead meat, while we bleeding heart liberals would want to save them.

lulu said...

In theory sure, but there are so many things about her that I find repellent. Her ideas about the relationships between men and women, which basically ammount to rape. Her cult of selfishness. Vile.

Dale said...

Thanks for the advice from both of you kind strangers Lulu and CP. Ayn sure sounds like a helluva gal! She knows how to spark a debate at least.

I'll continue my Davies quest shortly.

Beth said...

Oh. My. Gawd. You listed three of my favorite books -- The Secret History, The Object of My Affection (had it not been for Paul Rudd, the movie would have totally pissed me off, and The Rebel Angels!!! I also cried when I heard about Robertson Davies passing away. Such a shame that American high schools don't include his works in their required reading program. He was literary and yet very accessible.

Very impressed with this column -- and I now have more to add to my must-read list.

Coaster Punchman said...

Lu, you remind of Dieter when you say "repellent." Now is the time on Sprockets when we dance!

Dale, I would like for you to read Ayn Rand and then discuss it. Talk to you in a year. (Atlas Shrugged is like 1,000 pages long.)

Beth, what can I say? Great minds....our little blogger circle, in the words of Mindy June, is cooler, hipper and just plain better than other blogger circles.

Coaster Punchman said...

Min, in the future I request the right to tell people things are cooler, hipper and just plain better than other things, without citing you. Too many keystrokes, and it dilutes the message.

Melinda June said...

I don't remember saying that, so you didn't need to cite me the first time. But we are, so thanks!