Wednesday, January 11, 2012

By the book

There's a bibliomantic meme spreading around the internet (or at least Tumblr) that states the following: "Open the closest book to page 45. The first sentence will describe your sex life for the following year."

Naturally, I played along, opening The Wild Girl, Natural Man, and the Monster (thinking that with a title like that, there's got to be something good in store) to page 45, wherein I found the following sentence:
Once the girl is labeled an Eskimo (more precisely, a native of slightly less ferocious Labrador), her strangeness dissipates and her assimilation takes on greater value.
Seems like 2012 is going to be... hot? Weird? Both? ("... her assimilation takes on greater value.") Maybe I need more exciting bedside reading.

But some of the people I informed of the meme seem to be on their way to much less ambiguity (and, possibly in the case of the next quoted sentence, more profit) in their sexual future. For instance, the first sentence on page 45 of that classic culinary standby, Joy of Cooking, supplies one reader with the following:
Informal opportunities for comparisons abound: Walk-around tastings are increasingly popular, often as fund-raisers.
Another, er, culinary delight, which I was told of by one of our sales reps this morning, comes from Simonetta Agnello Hornby's novel, The Nun:
"Ah, how I love swordfish," Annuzza murmured, licking her wrinkled lips, certain she could already taste it.
As I was typing this, I explained the meme to a Green Apple employee shelving nearby. Perhaps unluckily, he was holding a India Calling, which informs him rather literally that:
The dependency scares you, as a needy lover's demands scare you, for it suggests a bottomless pit of giving that will devour you if you give in just slightly and allow yourself to care.
And, finally, another friend happened to have David Burns Feeling Good at hand, and was told unequivocally,
You are lonely and you decide to go to a social affair for singles.
I could do this forever. But now it's your turn.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Edmund White, an appreciation

by Green Appler Kevin Davis

This month I’m celebrating the publishing event of Sacred Monsters--a collection of Edmund White's “New York Review of Books” essays--and Jack Holmes and his Friend, a romance novel heavily informed by White’s pre- and post-Stonewall Manhattan life.

I have lived vicariously through this pioneer of gay sensibility in literature, who is also a generous, astringent critic with a monumental breadth of literary knowledge, entrenchment in high culture, and even friendships with late 20th century East Coast artistic luminaries.

White, who chairs Princeton’s Creative Writing Department, has lived a rarefied life by his pen in places like Rome, Key West, and the Ile Saint-Louis by cultivating wealthy patrons and grants.

In Monsters, White breathtakingly weaves criticism with biographical details that illustrate the wider story behind 20 artists and writers--Isherwood, Mapplethorpe, John Rechy, to name a few.

In his review of Paul Bowles’s The Sheltering Sky, a standout, White recalls the death of his lover in Morocco’s Atlas Mountain harrowingly wrought in his The Married Man.

Mr. White, who is 25 years my senior, first educated me at age 16 at San Diego’s Fashion Valley mall Waldenbooks on Christmas Eve, when I read his pointed instructions on the, to me, exotic gay men’s ritual of cruising.

He appeared again in timely fashion, to illuminate both our shared community and his own authentic, intricate emotional exploration when I read The Beautiful Room is Empty at age 27 in (former rare book dealer) Dr. Jack Collins's Queer Lit class at City College. The specific resonant events White illustrates from his young adulthood, are not so appropriate for this family medium though.

Today I still read White like those guys paint the Golden Gate Bridge. I read from one end of his memoir trilogy-- A Boys Own Story, Beautiful Room, and Farewell Symphony -- to the other, and back again. The consequences for me of foolishly opening a White title at bedtime is bleary sleep deprivation upon awakening. I am spellbound, entranced.

I’m not an open-minded, well-rounded reader, though. I tried Hunger by Knut Hamsun, a White progenitor who shares his exquisite cognitive honesty, only Hamsun operates in Nowheresville, Norway instead of Manhattan’s Chelsea Neighborhood, or Venice, and has no leather bars or casual sex to speak of.

I believe if one is lucky enough in life to discover one sympathetic artist applying his talent to elevate the customs and relationships of one’s tribe, well, that’s all I need.

Mr. White played a role in a mortifying event from my halting arts reporting “career.” I was given an open-ended 20 minutes of phone time in connection with a review I wrote of White’s 2006 memoir, My Lives. I crafted sweeping, informed questions, to convey my respect, and then out of nowhere, he turned the tables and asked, “Do you write?”

Flustered, I guffawed merrily. No, I don’t write in the sense that this Guggenheim fellow, and French Officier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, writes. But, tragically, I responded with one of those tactless, horrifying non sequiturs I’ve been guilty of many times which I now recall like a grisly slow-motion accident. I responded blithely, “Gosh your voice is so effeminate,” and laughed again.

Well, it really was high pitched, not the timbre I expected from one of the Great Men of Letters.

The newly created Magnus Books published Sacred Monsters under the aegis of esteemed longtime editor Don Weise, formerly of Carroll and Graf. Weise, who chose all the collection’s essays, was recently one of “Out” Magazine’s 100 most powerful gay people.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Book of the Month: The Orphan Master's Son

It doesn't arrive until tomorrow, but The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson is Green Apple's Book of the Month for January 2012. Why, you may ask?

Or here's Kevin Ryan's shelf talker:

Adam Johnson has said (I’m paraphrasing) that not every writer has a story to tell, and that not every person with a story to tell has the skill to write it, so writers must tell their stories for them. In The Orphan Master’s Son, Johnson tells the story of Pak Jun Do, raised in a North Korean orphanage. Citizens in the DPRK not only don’t enjoy freedom of the press and freedom of assembly, they truly don’t have access to freedom of thought, closed off as they are from the outside world and force fed a steady diet of propaganda. This brilliant, thoroughly-researched novel imagines life in that country, from citizens forced to “volunteer” to carry goats to the roof of their apartment building to be raised for food, to the horrors of the gulag, where dying prisoners are drained of their blood. But far from being a mere documentary of life in the DPRK, this is a hugely entertaining, often hilarious novel of assumed identity, casual cruelty, and collective delusion. Includes perhaps the greatest love scene ever to be written in jingoistic propaganda (“At length, in depth, their spirited exchange culminated in a mutual exclaim of Party understanding.”).

It arrives Tuesday, January 10, and you can buy it here or in the store. And here's the eBook version, if that's how you roll.