As you may have heard, Tuesday is Election Day here in the U.S., and while I am engaged and (of course) plan to vote, I haven’t been exerting as much energy this election cycle as I did in 2008. That was the year it was all news, all the time in the Cass household. This time around, I’m getting my election/presidential-nerd kicks by engaging in some Presidential pop culture.
The West Wing
I avoided this show pretty much forever, which is weird for someone with liberal politics and an obsession with presidents. In my defense, after I got super into Aaron Sorkin‘s “Sports Night” thanks to Netflix Instant, I found out that the show was cut short so Sorkin could focus on the more popular West Wing. Boooo.
Nevertheless, a while back Kim was kind enough to send me the DVD set of the first season of The West Wing, and when I realized I’d had them way too long I figured I should probably watch them and send it back as soon as possible. (Sorry and thank you, Kim!) I just finished episode 16 and I am completely addicted. What strikes me the most, though, is that even as President Bartlett is portrayed to be a super liberal president, he’s against same-sex couples adopting (not to mention serving openly in the military and other issues). There’s even a story line about a high school student who is the victim of an anti-gay hate crime and the staff avoids having the parents of the boy talk to the press because the father is mad at the president’s weak stance on gay rights.
In a year when the President of the United States has come out in support of same-sex marriage, it’s a bit of a shock to the system to realize just how far mainstream gay rights ideas have come since the first season of The West Wing (1999-2000).
Of Thee I Sing
I am currently listening to Passage of Power by Robert Caro, the fourth book in his extensive biography of President Lyndon B. Johnson. While discussing the view many folks had of the Vice Presidency in a pre-Dick Cheney world, he mentions a song from the Gershwin musical Of Thee I Sing where no one can remember the Vice President’s name. I tracked down the original Broadway recording of the musical on Spotify and I’ve been giggling over the ridiculous songs all morning. I highly recommend it for light-hearted listening.
Louis As Lincoln
From last night’s SNL episode with host Louis CK:
Just as straight readers have always done with mainstream literature, I could finally read fictional works to see my own life reflected, explored, analyzed and re-imagined Through gay literature I could come to understand my place in the world. (425)
– from How To Be Gay by David M Halperin
Queer Library is a new feature on Bonjour, Cass! Every Friday I’ll write about a queer book on my shelves, an upcoming book I’m looking forward to reading, a review, or anything else related to LGBTQ books.
There’s a new biography of Thornton Wilder out, written by Penelope Niven and published by Harper. When I went to read the New York Times review of the book I was astonished to read this:
Ms. Niven, the author of books about Carl Sandburg and Edward Steichen, has dug deeply into the copiously documented life of her subject, drawing on access to substantial troves of previously undisclosed family papers. And yet, setting aside the dubious testimony of a single man who claims to have gone to bed with Wilder,“Thornton Wilder: A Life” tells of a life lived without the sexual relationships and romantic attachments that we sometimes falsely assume to be the most momentous passages in an artist’s — or anyone’s — life.
That “dubious testimony” was from Samuel Steward: author, tattoo artist, and friend of Gertrude Stein, who himself was the subject of an award-winning biography by Justin Spring. While Spring acknowledges that it is not 100% provable that Wilder and Steward had an affair, he presents a strong case based on the papers of Steward and letters from Wilder, Stein, and Alice B. Toklas.
What gets me about this whole situation isn’t that the NY Times refuses to acknowledge Steward by name or that Wilder is presented by Niven as a man without “sexual relationships and romantic attachments” (although that bugs me plenty), it’s the implication that acknowledging even the possibility that a beloved historical figure may have had homosexual entanglements will be offensive. Especially given that Wilder wrote “Our Town,”the most New Englandy of all New Englander plays, and a perfect example of the tendency toward repressed emotions of my fellow New Englanders.
If Wilder had written less famous or less popular plays, I don’t think Steward’s “dubious testimony” would be dismissed so easily. There is a major gap between modern society’s willingness to acknowledge the effeminate Oscar Wilde’s homosexuality and our discomfort in assuming the sexual orientation or desires of a less flamboyant, more traditionally masculine artist like Wilder.
Shorter: I really wish you’d read Secret Historian instead.
Total books read: 18
# of pages read: 1785
# of hours listened: 106
- Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell (audio): I was freaking out at work because I didn’t have an audio book ready and I couldn’t concentrate. This was a free download from an Amazon promotion for their new Whispersync feature (where qualifying ebooks and audio books sync to the same place when you open one after reading the other) so it was easy to decide to listen to. I probably wouldn’t have, uh, maybe ever read this classic otherwise. It’s an endearing portrait of middle-class life in 19th century England–and then I searched in vain for literary criticism of it to get a better idea of the impact it had.
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (audio): Another free audio book from Amazon. It’s read by Anne Hathaway, an actress I generally feel meh to yick about, but she does a really good job.
- Heart of Darkness by Joesph Conrad (audio): Yet another free Amazon book. Shorter version: WHITE IS GOOD BLACK IS BAD. Yikes. I immediately read Chinua Achebe’s famous response and felt much better for it.
- Love, In Theory by E.J. Levy
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (audio): Free amazon audio book, read by Elijiah Wood. I pretended to read this book in high school so I finally gave it a chance. I am not a fan, although Wood narrates it really well.
- Seconds Away (Mickey Bolitar, #2) by Harlan Coben: Readathon mystery fun.
- You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon (audio): My general response: meh.
- Diary by Chuck Palahniuk (audio): Enjoyable fun, performed excellently by Martha Plimpton. Hey did you know Palahniuk is gay? Cool cool cool.
- The Grave Tattoo by Val McDermid (audio): My second attempt at a McDermid mystery. I just don’t think she’s the one for me.
- Astray by Emma Donoghue (audio): Thanks for reminding me how interesting and fun short stories can be, Ms. Donoghue.
- Dancing In the Streets: A Novel of Collective Joy by Barbara Ehrenreich (audio): You know those books you generally have nothing to say about?
- Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris by David King (audio): When your subtitle is more interesting than your actual book, you have a problem.
- Twilight of the Elites: America after Meritocracy by Christopher Hayes (audio): Surprisingly fantastic.
- Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness by Jessica Valenti (ebook): Birthing children is terrifying.
- But I Really Wanted to Be an Anthropologist by Margaux Motin: More readathon fun.
- Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin (audio): Shorter: Dickens was nice to prostitutes, not so much to his wife.
- Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Life of Bible Belt Gays by Bernadette C. Barton (ebook): Writing reviews of academic works makes me SO nervous, but I really need to try with this one.
- How to Be Gay by David M. Halperin: I have never before encountered a 500+ page work of queer theory and thought “I WISH THIS BOOK WAS LONGER!” I could talk about this book forever.
Have you signed up for my LGBTQ Book Blogger Directory yet?
This is a sticky post. To see new content, please scroll down. Thanks!
I have been dreaming about a directory of blogs that review LGBTQ books for pretty much the entire time I’ve been blogging. In the past few months, however, I started to realize that hey, maybe instead of waiting around for this magical unicorn of a project to spontaneously happen, perhaps I could MAKE it happen.
So I am.
While the LGBTQ Book Blogger Directory is still in its very, very early stages, it now actually exists as a (granted, very empty) blog. To help me get everything up the ground, I hope you’ll sign up via the embedded Google form.
To be eligible to be listed, you must:
- Have a blog.
- Read and review LGBTQ books.
That’s it. As long as you read and review books containing LGBTQ characters or topics/themes, the niche of your blog does not matter.
Any questions, comments, ideas, or concerns can be left on this post or emailed to bonjourcass at gmail dot com or lgbtqbookblogs at gmail dot com.
I was so excited to see that Ana and Amy had organized an All Hallow’s Read book swap this year. Spoiler alert: I have a…weakness for any and all surprise book swaps. It just so happened that my giftee for this swap was Kelly from The Well-Read Redhead, the winner of my Banned Books Giveaway. (In case you’re curious, I sent her a copy of Coraline.)
Kai from Fiction State of Mind sent me an adorable package containing a Frankenweenie tote bag, Zombies Hate Stuff, and Blink Once, a YA novel. Thanks Kai!
In other news, I’m trying to not get freaked out about the impending doom of a storm that’s hitting the East coast. Last hurricane, my family in Connecticut lost power for days and it had trees fall on their house and all sorts of other fun things that I’m totally not worried about happening here. Ahem.
There’s probably some kind of battery charger for iPads, huh? Obviously I don’t have enough time to find one of those, but I am really glad I have so many print books to choose from so I’ll never be without reading material.
Yes, that concern comes vaguely before food.
PS I still haven’t bought myself a single book for my birthday. But I DID buy a new dress, wallet, and purse. I guess dresses come vaguely before books which come vaguely before food.
Today is my birthday and I am busy being glamorous and day-dreaming about all of the books I should treat myself to.
Top Ten Tuesdays is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.
- The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman: An adopted family of ghosts? Yes, please.
- Horns by Joe Hill: You know when you wake up and suddenly you have horns growing out of your head and people can’t stop telling you terrible secrets? Rough AND incredibly entertaining.
- The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson: A terrifying house and super smart, witty characters. I want to reread this book all the time.
- The Crucible by Arthur Miller: I read this in high school around Halloween and then we went to Salem, MA, to visit the museums focusing on the witch trials. The play is now and forever linked to Halloween fun for me.
- Nocturnes by John Connolly: Scary Short Stories for Adults
- Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell: The (original) illustrations are scarier than most of the stories. I used to read these by flashlight under the covers of my bed.
- Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army by Jeremy Scahill: Blackwater is pretty much the scariest.
- Zombies vs Unicorns edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier: Light hearted fun with unicorns. I have no complaints.
- Danse Macabre by Stephen King: King’s look at horror movies and novels and radio. If there’s anything I love more than horror movies and novels and radio, it’s critical analysis of those things.
- Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson: OoooOOooo she can’t remember things when she wakes up and her husband may be fucking with her on purpose! OoooOOoooOO
Top Ten Tuesdays is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. I will entirely admit that I narrowed down today’s list based on the projection of how
loudly I would squeal excited I would be if one of the authors had a new book coming out.
Top Ten Favorite LGBTQ Authors
- Patrick Califia: The first Califia book I read was Public Sex: The Culture of Radical Sex,which I borrowed on a whim from my college library. It ended up changing the way I see myself, the way I think about sex, and the way I identify with the LGBT community. Later on I read Sex Changes: Transgender Politics, a book that I still use as my go-to recommendation for anyone interested in learning more about transgender folks. There’s even an essay in Sex Changes where Califia analyzes Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues in relation to Minnie Bruce Pratt’s S/He(the book I love most ever) and I pretty much had a brain explosion because of the awesomeness. And in case you doubt me, I just counted my bookshelf and it turns out I own fifteen Califia books, including a couple first editions. He’s kind of a big deal.
- Jack Halberstam: Female Masculinity is one of the most important non-fiction LGBT books ever published. Every time I read a book by Halberstam I know I am going to have capital-t Thoughts and actually have to use my brain and it makes me so very happy.
- Zoe Whittall: I’ve written about how much I loved Holding Still For As Long As Possible and Bottle Rocket Hearts. What I like most about Whittall is that she doesn’t write about Issues, she writes about people. I feel like I know all of her characters, that they could be friends of mine, and after reading dozens of novels with LGBTQ characters that were all about the Issues instead of the actual people those Issues affect, nothing is more welcome.
- Patrick Ryan: His YA novel Gemini Bites, about twins (a boy and a girl) who fall for the same maybe-vampire, was the most original novel I read in 2011. His other YA novel, In Mike We Trust, surprised me by avoiding usual coming-out tropes. It sometimes feels that all YA novels featuring LGBTQ characters follow the same plot (oh no I might be gay! OH NO I MIGHT BE GAY! Fight/homophobic attack/outing followed by careful tolerance by others) and Ryan’s novels stand out for avoiding that plot.
- Leslie Feinberg: Stone Butch Blues: A Novel should be (and in some places is) required reading. If you are afraid you might be a robot, try reading this book: if you don’t tear up even a little, you are indeed a robot. I also highly recommend Transgender Warriors : Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman, a great look at the complexities of gender throughout history.
- Dorothy Allison: You’ve probably know her for her award-winning novel Bastard Out of Carolina: A Novel, an examination of class and violence and strength. I’m also a big fan of her non-fiction work Skin: Talking About Sex, Class And Literature.
- Emma Donnoghue: I appreciate any author who can write sweet romance novels like Landing, a non-fiction examination of love between women in literature, and a mainstream work like Room. I’m always excited to see what direction she’s going to take next.
- Sarah Waters: I don’t love every Waters book the way some people do, but I do appreciate that she is a literary author pretty much writing literary lesbian romance novels. I’m glad she’s around.
- Michelle Tea: I felt Valencia changing me while I was reading it.
- Helen Boyd: There aren’t a lot of non-exploitative books by cis partners of trans folks, so Boyd’s books seemed like a special gift to me when I found them.