Monday, August 28, 2006
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