By September 28, 2008 4 Comments Read More →

Rethinking Seattle’s Gay Book Club

Just how useful is the word classics?

Until now the name of Seattle’s city-wide gay reading program, scheduled to begin in January at Dunshee House, has been the Gay Classics Book Club. I’m rethinking that. I’m suspecting maybe that word classics might be limiting, off-putting, might in fact be wisely dropped. In fact, I’ve been rethinking a lot, and it’s no time for rethinking. It’s time to get going on advertising, not changing the name and reading list.

Death in Venice  Dropping the word classics doesn’t endanger anything. I’m sufficiently classics-oriented in my tastes so that the program is in no jeopardy of losing its focus on the best of gay literature. But by leaving out that word, I open the selection to the best in more recent fiction, and can possibly accommodate film adaptations and author appearances. I’m still determined to tackle the greatest of gay literature – Andre Gide’s The Counterfeiters, Jean Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers, E. M. Forster’s Maurice, Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, Death in Venice by Thomas Mann, Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mishima – but maybe those treasures should be held back until the second year of the club.

Maybe a better name would be simply the Gay and Lesbian Book Club. Maybe first I need to gather a core of committed members, engage a team of stalwart readers in honestly sharing their thoughts about books together.

Besides, if I can include a couple more recent works involved with addiction and recovery, Dunshee House stands a chance of partnering with the Shift Recovery Network at Multifaith Works, a fine program under one of Seattle’s largest umbrella organizations for gay health care. I’ve got my eye on Josh Kilmer-Purcell’s hilarious, heartbreaking I Am Not Myself These Days, his account of life as an alcoholic drag queen in love with a crystal-addicted hustler. A delightful, profoundly revealing memoir, and a favorite of mine!

Not Myself  But I don’t have forever. Before we can launch our advertising campaign, I need to decide on the selections for the first six months. Until now the opening selection, because of the immediate name familiarity, was Gore Vidal’s novel, The City and the Pillar, an early realistic portrait of gay life that so offended The New York Times Book Review that it refused to review any novel by Gore Vidal for fifteen years. Historic, yes. Literate, yes. But is it the novel to start with?

City and Pillar  Maybe not. Maybe what we need is the defiance and upbeat, two-fisted energy of Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle. Maybe that would be a smarter opening gambit. Unlike the “victim of society” school of much early gay fiction, her semi-autobiographical 1973 bestseller is a refreshing dose of take-me-as-I-am gay self-esteem. Molly Bolt goes after what she wants and gives the finger to society.

Rubyfruit Jungle  I’ve just finished reading Rubyfruit Jungle for the first time, and I can see why it took the world by storm. It’s got a dynamite opening, one side-splitting prank after another as Molly Bolt out-Hucks Huckleberry Finn in sheer orneriness, locking her mother in the root cellar, substituting rabbit pellets for raisins, outrageous and loveable and eerily modern in her defiant self-confidence. Unfortuantely the second half of the book isn’t quite as much fun. The supporting characters become a little more cartoony, and the trim, irresistible, witty, wise Molly becomes pretty full of herself. When a smitten older married woman says, “…are all homosexuals as perceptive as you?” something inside this reader groaned. Fortunately, the book’s last-chapter returns to the mother who raised her and provides an emotional finale that rings true. But just in time.

Well, okay, if not that one, then what other guns have I got?

Breakfast with Scot  I noticed that the Lesbian and Gay Film Festival in Portland opened with the film adaptation of a highly-praised gay comic novel, Michael Downing’s Breakfast with Scot, about two rather yuppie-looking gay guys who find themselves suddenly raising an eleven-year-old boy who’s a flaming queen. I watched the movie preview online. I laughed. Funny premise, and if the film opens here in Seattle in a timely fashion, this might be a good starter. It would come with its own publicity.

Oranges Fruit  That’s next on my reading list, unless – well, unless I try Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. I’ve never read it, and even though I get the funny feeling I might not be crazy about her later work, that first rather honest-looking, semi-autobiographical novel has been highly praised, is appealingly short, and looks literate and promising.

Really, I should read them both. And I ought to try Junky and Queer by William Burroughs, and I truly ought to give Gore Vidal’s The City and the Pillar an actual read-through. If only there were time for them all!

But in order to create the postcards and posters and newspaper ads to promote this book club, I’ve got to come up with the first six titles, the best combination of books with the widest range of inclusiveness, the winning team to launch a successful club.

Time is running out. Enough blogging, I’ve got books to read.

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About the Author:

Nick DiMartino is a university bookseller in Seattle, WA. He was a Booklist contributor from 2007 to 2009 and is the author of Seattle Ghost Story (1998) as well as numerous plays.

4 Comments on "Rethinking Seattle’s Gay Book Club"

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  1. ameliagolfer@gmail.com' Amelia says:

    A Must Read Novel, “The Hills of Triumph”

    Fictional depiction of a Priest’s view of his sexual identity, preference and abuse.
    An extremely well written novel for the intellectual reader with an open mind. You may have never read a book about homosexuality and sex abuse in the Priesthood, like this; especially way back in the 50’s and 60’s. It brings this potentially disturbing subject to light in a most fascinating way. I don’t at all feel that the authors’ intention was for the reader to condone this type of behavior (abuse); but to make you understand its roots and how deep they actually are.

    This is the confession of a priest who has entered the religious profession aware of his inadequacy and short comings. His twelve years of seminary may have aggravated if not caused his homosexual tendencies. To better cope with his problem he chooses to be assigned overseas – Brazil of the 1950s – where he hopes he will be able to function, if not thrive in spite of his problem. His miscalculation of the risks involved is apparent from the very beginning, when all he faces spells seduction and maladjustment. The explicit sexual content of the story is presented in good taste and is deemed relevant due to the timeliness of the subject.

    Read it; it’s pretty deep stuff.

    The Hills of Triumph
    by Luigi Bresciani

    You can get it here:
    High Pitched Hum Publishing – Cooperative Publisher Jacksonville Florida

  2. wd.borden@comcast.net' William Borden says:

    Really, not until January? 🙁

  3. jpquinn1973@yahoo.com' JP says:

    A great book! One of my favorite things about it was the exploration of how so many lives were affected by an unspoken “taboo”. We see each character reveal how damaging it can be to suffer this pain in silence. The characters, as well as the settings, are described in beautiful language and in vivid detail that captures the imagination.
    I also like how the book deals honestly, yet tastefully, with a subject of great importance in the Church today. It’s a fresh perspective on an old problem, and it is refreshing to read a story that tries to examine the person as a whole,and looking at what forces are at work in his life, as opposed to just a blanket condemnation. This book is terrific!

  4. ameliagolfer@gmail.com' Amelia says:

    Hi JP: It’s good to find another person that has enjoyed this book. As a gay woman, it was even more interesting for me to hear about his struggles. Of course, as a woman I’m ineligible to become a Catholic priest, therefore I would never get the chance to experience what the character did, as a gay young man. We often hear about these “horrors” from the victims, however rarely is the experience explained by the “offender”. It’s not written to condone, but as you say, it “examines the person as a whole,and looking at what forces are at work in his life, as opposed to just a blanket condemnation”.

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