I was wandering the sere deserts of Amazon trying to find something interesting to read amidst the novelty napkin things that look like buttholes and all the other flotsam their highly praised algorithms seem to think I just can’t live without. I did not want an anal napkin ring. I wanted a book
Foolishly, I went looking in the Gay Fiction. All the things I found there made me think maybe butthole napkin rings might be the best thing on offer after all. There is never anything except Coming Out stories and how very hard they were. You know how I came out to my family? I had a tee shirt that said SEATTLE GAY PRESS on it under the regular shirt I was wearing and I got warm and took off the top shirt and suddenly I was out. I mean, it wasn’t like it was some state secret. I just stopped pretending like it was.
Anyway, one of the “books”that was not included in the megalith of Coming Out dramas has this as their description:
Teddie Parks White thinks he’s got the perfect marriage. His husband, Aiden, is a sweet, tender man who works hard to take care of him. They both come home from their jobs in the evening, make dinner together, then watch their favorite television shows on Netflix before turning in.
Does that sound like the makings of thrilling literary adventure? Does it? It sounds more like the start of every “domestic life is a living hell” story ever chiseled out by some bored housewife. Is this where a struggle out of gay ghettos has landed us? Somewhere in the ABC Family Hour?
This is why I keep re-reading Barbara Pym. She wrote primarily in the 1950s when the media was refining this pap as nirvana and Pym regarded it with a wry and suspicious eye. But how many times can you read “An Excellent Woman?” Seems like we’ll be finding out.
How come we have to read about some boy like this fretting that his marriage has lost its magic? I want to read about how he’s debased by a gang of, I don’t know, somebodies. Pirates maybe. I like pirates. Just not zombies.
OK, I’m just going to dive in and pretend like I haven’t been ignoring my blog for two weeks because no one is interested in to listening bloggers explain how they are just too darn busy to keep up. Life too much for you? What are you, a combination astronaut/brain surgeon? If you’re that important why do you have a blog? Obviously, I’m just a lazy pig.
My dear friend Rich from New Orleans (aka Magda) was in town the last week of July which was terribly amusing and good for me. We did pretty much nothing and it was fabulous to be reminded how solid friends we are, and why. We found the perfect little table for my front hall in a consignment store for $180 and when they wouldn’t come down to $150, I walked out. Magda patiently encouraged me to rethink the situation and the values inherent in it. Actually, what he said was “Queen. Are you going to pass up that table for thirty bucks? Shut up and get back in there.” I am immensely glad I did so and publicly thank Magda for his sensible advice.
I spent the entire day yesterday watching a Hoarders marathon on some cable channel’s whose motto should be “We Waste Your Time for You.” I’d never been able to stick out more than the first 60 seconds of these monuments to civilization because I always thought I was too delicate to watch more than that much of the filth festivals. Turns out I’m tougher than I thought; how comforting.
Hoarders is an excuseless revel in the fortunes of troubled individuals who cannot bring themselves to let go of a single piece of the flotsam and jetsam in their lives. These sad, sad creatures (or, as I like to think of them, “freakydirtycreepylosers”) exist in a bubble of denial. Look, if moving through your home requires you to climb over a moraine of empty gatorade bottles and old pizza boxes and if you cannot access your toilet for the vast collection of stuffed poodles you have dragged home from the thrift stores, do you really think all systems are go in your sweet little life? These shows are just the latest in a series of entertainment monuments (Design Star is another) that cause me to shriek at the television. This alarms Saki and makes me wonder if maybe the participants are any worse off than I am, carrying on a one-way conversation with household appliances.
I am also finishing up a 10 volume series of science fiction novels by Lois McMaster Bujold that center on a terribly amusing character named Miles Vorkosigan. If you like sci fi, you should give them a try. The conceit of a one character in this many settings allowed Bujold to study fantasy writing through the lens of different genres like hard-boiled detective noir, and regency romance, and whodunits. Thumbs up.
Also, houseboy booty:
I started out watching Marianne Faithful videos on youtube, drifted into the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (it made sense at the time,) was struck by their song Wuthering Heights, decided I needed to look it up on Wikipedia because I couldn’t remember the name of Heathcliff’s son, and now sit here, stunned by the inherent weirdness of it that I didn’t even remember.
I do remember I liked the stilted quality of the writing, but until I plowed through a synopsis of the plot, I had no appreciation for the byzantine quality of all the zig zags, double backs, and parallel tracks meandering through it. I think it unfolds so slowly, maybe I just didn’t notice its remarkable similarity to the plot devices of something like The Young and the Restless, sort of like Dynasty on the moors. It has everything but evil twins and alien abductions. Possibly they were edited out.
And wasn’t Little Miss Olivier a pretty thing when he was young?
This week, I’ve been reveling in a return to my teen years, but without the angst and acne. One of my favorite authors from that time, Andre Norton, has resurfaced in my reading. She (Andre was a nom de plume employed to circumvent the sexism in publishing in the early 60’s) cranked out science fiction by the yard and I ate it up.
Her characters had the depth and subtlety of Rocky and Bullwinkle, but without the humor, her story endings always seem to come less as a resolution and more to comply with some page limit her editors had imposed and every single one of her plots were identical. A young, sort of asexual loner is ostracized for a crime he did not commit and must make his way in an alien society filled with mysterious relics of a vanished society. Just the thing for a sensitive, budding homo who had no access to porn (me.)
Her writing style is the most stilted, archaic prose this side of Tolkien. I’m constantly surprised no one busts out with a “Forsooth…” occasionally. I quote from a selection at random:
“I shivered as along my spine sped a cold chill….”
No wonder I write like I do.
Oddly enough, all these gems were not some Arthurian fantasy knock offs, but space cowboy based. The loner outcast was an astronaut kicked out of his rocket ship (which had “finned down” at the space port,) armed with a ray gun, and tarted out in the latest in 1960s spacesuits.
Since Mlle. Norton (whose bio strongly hints at a sister-of-sappho background) wrote so very many books, you can usually count on finding some at just about any thrift store. My current is the classic “Moon of Three Rings.” And naturally, any story that includes the line “…do you offer to bring them thereafter and let me talk unto them.” would have this as the cover:
No wonder I’m queer
I was browsing on Amazon (because I am an easy mark) and came across an interesting sounding book. I refuse to share the title of it now, I want no one to know the depth of my shame. Just let me say that not even I could get past the last sentence in the product description/review:
“…one that will help her heal the pain of her own past and allow her to love again.”
Oh really? That’s your plan for pedaling this dog? A tagline that was musty when it was dragged out for an RKO weepie 80 years ago? No thanks.
In other book news, I am willing to share the name of what I’m currently engrossed in, Her Fearful Symmetry. Beautiful and interesting writing, by the author of The Time Traveler’s Wife, but I’m only about a third of the way in and it seems to be losing steam. I plan on forging ahead, we’ll see.
Also, houseboy Gunter Vitagio (below) has offered to heal your pain if it will allow you to love again. Reasonable rates apply.
The last time I took the Book Quiz, I wound up as Lolita, which thrilled me no end. This time, I’m Jane Eyre. JANE EYRE? The fuck? The most passive prig in literary history, oh, no, no I thank you. Plus the fall from Lolita to Miss Jane “Don’t Mind Me” Eyre is so dispiriting. Like moving from a hot dog to stale bread. Oh dear.
So here’s the sad news:
You’re Jane Eyre!
by Charlotte Bronte
Epic in scope and vision, you like looking at your own complete history. That said, your complete history is pretty much crazy. You seem to be followed by suitors, craziness, fires, and incredible turns of both good and bad fortune. Through it all, you persevere while maintaining adherence to your own somewhat middle-ground moral code. While you have confidence that everything will work out in the end, you sometimes wonder if it’s worth it along the way. Oh sweet sweet Jane.
Take the Book Quiz II
I went to my first meeting of my queer sci-fi book club tonight. Eight very nice guys, not at all the nerd fest I was dreading. There was a wide range of opinions about the book we discussed, Flora Secunda. Most of them pretty much stuck with “I liked it…” or “I didn’t like it…” and then a sentence or maybe two about some detail that had struck them. Not mrpeenee. I adore sharing my opinions; perhaps you’ve noticed. After all, my insights are so darn insightful it would be selfish to keep them to myself.
I really let loose about how much I enjoyed the book (and I truly did, it’s charming,) how it compared to other examples within the genre, the queer subtext of two of the characters, the clever sendups of the clichés in fantasy writing, all the good stuff. I believe I used the word “trope,” and I used it correctly.
My sister clubbers seemed a little overwhelmed. I could see them wondering, “Does this queen think she’s Oprah?” But I had a good time. I haven’t had a chance to talk about reading like this since I was in school and then I was so shy, so blanketed with self-directed homophobia, I would never have dreamed of taking the floor so assertively. I seemed to have blossomed, or, possibly, over-ripened.
We also chatted about the book coming up next month. At some point since the rise of Lord of the Rings in the late hippie era, science fiction split off into two main arenas: hard sci-fi and fantasy. Hard stuck more with possibilities of actual science, computer and astronomy usually. Fantasy, influenced by Tolkien, wandered off into magic and parallel universes. It’s more concerned with metaphysics than physics. The shorthand way to talk about the split is space cowboys vs. elves. I tend to prefer fantasy, although not exclusively, but I suspect the rest of the group are more of the Space Cowboy ilk. We’ll see.
When I was a wee little pansy boy in the swamps of Texas, I would read anything, but my favorite genre was science fiction. The public library in the unimportant burg where I grew up had a smallish s.f. section of about four shelves and although I never set myself the goal of reading all of it, in the end I think I did. Everything from the florid wasteland of Lovecraft to the thinly veiled anticommunist gibberish of the 1950s through the post-apocalyptic grinds that popped up during the Vietnam war. I love Asimov, le Guinn, Clarke, but I was perfectly willing to plow though the tons of mediocre tripe that traveled with them.
Somewhere along the line, I decided I was too sophisticated for scifi and let it slide off my radar. Maybe the level of tripe just overwhelmed me. I returned to it a few years ago and now I’m back to reading almost nothing else. Escapism! Yay!
The biggest change has been around the edges; wild ideas that seeped in from actual science are now a given, things like parallel universes and wormholes allow authors more and more complicated plots, but underneath them all, they’re still mostly cowboys in space. The best, obviously, are the rare birds who rise above that. You know who’s great? China Mieville, even though I don’t know hot to pronounce his last name. His style is grim and dark, but filled with sometimes beautiful writing. He tends to a little to much excrescence, but I’m willing to hold my nose, so to speak, and revel in his mastery.
Also, Lois McMaster Bujold who wrote the Hugo winning Paladin of Souls which is peopled with charming, vivid characters and presents a fully developed world.
Anyway, the point is, I’ve run across a gay men’s science fiction and fantasy book club and I’m joining it. I’m nervous since I don’t really like groups and “gay sci fi” sounds like the members (unlike me) will be something out of a John Waters’ movie, but I’m going anyway. What I’d really like is a Gay Brazilian Porn Stars Who Put Out Sci Fi Club, but I can’t find one. Imagine my disappointment.
Our dear friend John is a gadget whore. Any device is irresistible to him, no matter how obscure, unnecessary or unproven its function might be. Naturally, he sprang for a Kindle as soon as it was available. He tried flaunting it to me, but I was vastly unimpressed. For one thing, it looks like a puny Etch-a-Sketch. For another, all its selling features compare it to printed books, and not in a way that says the Kindle is better, simply that it is as good as a real book. So why not get a real book? $350 for something that you then purchase downloads from Amazon to use? What?
I think its main promise is that you can download books instantly. Well, you know, I live in a big city with plenty of bookstores available (although fewer than there were before Amazon, thanks. Goodbye Staceys, adieu Cody’s) and when I want a book, it tends to be not that difficult to purchase one. They make a big deal about having 250,00 titles, but I figure once you eliminate Belva Plain and investment how to’s, you probably down to the five figures.
So I’m a a grouchy old man. Goddam young punks and their gizmos. So what? When they can wire Barbara Pym and E.F. Benson directly into my brain, let me know. On second thought, I’ve already done that, never mind. When they can stream porn directly into my brain, THEN I’ll consider an upgrade.
Speaking of books and all that literacy stuff, what’s mrpeenee reading these days? I’m glad you asked. I’m re-reading the Judge Dee series, a weird little series of mysteries written in the 40’s. Here’s the low-down by Wikipedia, because I’m too lazy to recreate it:
Van Gulik was the son of a medical officer in the Dutch army of what was then called the Dutch East Indies (modern-day Indonesia).The Judge Dee character is based on the historical figure Di Renjie (c. 630–c. 700), magistrate and statesman of the Tang court. During the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) in China, a “folk novel” was written about Judge Dee. Van Gulik translated it into English and had it published under the title Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee. This gave him the idea of writing his own novels, set with the similar Ming anachronisms, but using the historical character.
Yadda yadda yadda. Whatever. The interesting parts of the books are the background Van Gulik packs in about Ming China. For instance, did you know hookers then used to turn tricks on watercraft called Flower Boats? I didn’t think so.
The “mysteries” are a very small step above Nancy Drew and depend on the most amazing coincidences ever. Since English was Van Gulik’s second language, the writing has a charming awkwardness to it, but throughout, the characters erupt into the most fabulous intemperate language. Just try dropping some of these specimen into your conversation and see if your life isn’t improved: