Four Days until the Birth of a New Book Club

This morning I visited the Dunshee House website, and was startled to see that half the home page was devoted to the Seattle Gay and Lesbian Book Club. How exciting! Just last Friday the Seattle Gay News ran a quarter-page color ad for the book club. It’s really happening. Soon this reading group will cease being my personal dream and become my weekly activity.

My copy of Michael Downing’s Breakfast with Scot is waiting for me beside my reading armchair. It’s literate, dryly funny stuff, maybe not a pinnacle of literature – in fact, it’s probably the slightest of all the titles I’ll be choosing for the club – but completely unthreatening. It’s short, and warm-hearted, and complicated on enough levels that it makes a good discussion piece.

The seeds for this book club took root back in April of last year, when the Dalai Lama’s inspirational visit to Seattle – and in particular my good luck in getting to see him at Hec Edmundsen Pavilion – convinced me the time had come to think about what I would give back. Now, “give back” is a funny term considering I’d only read two of the six opening selections for our club before choosing them. I read a number of works that were new to me, and decided to start with the most accessible titles, so that I can build to the titles that really matter to me – Jean Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers, Andre Gide’s The Counterfeiters, Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, the giants of gay literature. If only we could read Marcel Proust! Ah, that’s a different book club. But we will include Yukio Mishima and Vladimir Nabokov and Christopher Isherwood. Sharing these incredible literary experiences, passing along a love for them to another set of readers, will be the mission of the club.

With any idea, there are always critics, and I’ve already heard mine yapping at my heels. There are no prudes like gay prudes, and some are already in a flutter over my postcard/poster design of the naked man reading. Too much skin! Are we all sex addicts taking a reading break? I can dismiss that one as just being silly, but one I have a harder time with is: four meetings for one book? What will we talk about?

As I re-read Breakfast with Scot this weekend, I’ll be looking for themes for discussion. I’ve already got two. Gender fears play a major role in the book, and an even greater role in the film, and certainly play a huge role in all our lives. The boy’s effeminacy – which may or may not have the slightest thing to do with gayness, both book and movie agree – rattles the narrator, one of the boy’s two substitute parents. Why is effeminacy in a boy upsetting?

Parenting is another provocative theme in the novel. There are many parents in the neighborhood to serve as foils to Sam and Ed, making mocking comments as the gay couple take on the burden of the breeders. Plenty of statements are made about raising children. I can’t help but notice that parenting is also the subject of two other lesbian works we’re reading, Jeanette Winterson’s exploration of her mother in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and Alison Bechdel’s exploration of her father in Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Parenting has played a defining role in many gay lives.

How? Why?

Plenty to discuss.

Okay, short blog for today. I’ve got a lot of re-reading to do. I want to give this book club every chance of being the kind of fun, stimulating, thought-provoking event that readers throughout the city return to compulsively. That means dipping into the book again, and seeing what I find there.

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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.

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