Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Why read Faggots

Because it's Pride Month! Because this 1978 novel is groundbreaking. Because there's a sexy Winston cigarette man. Because it's a study of excess, and like all things excessive, it's heartbreaking to know what will happen later, when all things bright, care-free, pleasurable, and orgasmic come crashing down because of disease. Ah, Faggots, I couldn't recommend you enough.

Most people would know Larry Kramer as the playwright who penned "The Normal Heart," the play that has AIDS and the gay generation who first suffered because of it as its center. I love that play. If you haven't read it or seen it on stage, please do and have a box of tissues at your side. I guess the same thing can be said of Faggots. You still need a box of tissue, but for a different kind of body fluid. Wink, wink.
Of the 2,639,857 faggots in the New York city area, 2,639,857 think primarily with their cocks.
You didn't know that the cock was a thinking organ?
Well, by this time, you should know that it is.
― Larry Kramer, Faggots 
Faggots is a wonderfully dated work. I feel its appeal and charm grows through the years. It's somewhat of an autobiographical work, as the main character, Fred Lemish, is loosely based on Larry Kramer. Lemish is one of the many characters we meet in this kaleidoscope of a novel, where each character comes to grips with his sexuality, his place in the 1970s gay community, his continuous search for sex, love, and belongingness.

Never again will the gay community experience such excess, where it's de rigeur to go to bath houses, participate in orgies, be oblivious to people watching you as you engage in sex. The 1970s were a time when people actually had to go out of their houses to hook up. There wasn't any Grindr to speak of. There weren't any pics of your private parts going around. You have to see these intimate parts up close, usually in the club's bathroom. And if you approve, you take him home.

One of the characters in the novel is the handsome and sexy Winston man,
who is clearly a shoutout to the classic Marlboro man. 
The mustache was big among gay men in the 70s and the early 80s.
Hmmmm . . . mustaches. Reminds me of this very un-PC joke:
Why do gay men wear a mustache? To hide the stretchmarks. Tasteless, I know.
The 1970s was quite hedonistic, as it was the pre-AIDS era. Pretty much everyone humped like rabbits. We do know what happens after that period, yes? But that is a discussion for another day. In Faggots, it's all about drugs and sex. The novel portrayed the gay community back then in such an honest light that it showed some unflattering aspects of gay men. A few gay activist groups cried foul. Manhattan's one and only gay bookstore at that time even pulled the novel out of its shelves. I guess the truth really hurts. So Faggots basically pissed off both the straight and the gay communities.

In a way, I feel indebted to the characters in Faggots. These people belonged to a generation that was instrumental in LGBT equality. These were the first gay men who had the courage to go out in public and declare their sexuality. Yes, some of them were persecuted for it, and some of them died because of the unsafe sex they all practiced. But today's LGBT community would have never existed because of these people. For a few years back then, they partied, and they partied hard. But they will never party like that ever again. Their fight started the long battle toward equality. And it's still far from over though.

Even the title of the book is an indication of its now-classic status. I would never ever call someone a f-----. I don't want to go to gay hell. You can even get flak for calling someone this name, like what happened to this Gray's Anatomy actor. It's pretty much like the "n" word now. But unlike the "n" word, it's seldom used among gay men. Now, it's all about "queer." We have queer cinema, queer lit, queer everything.

We're here, we're queer, and we have fierce queer faces. LOL.
With my good friend Orly, who blogs about theater, books, and whatnot.
My goodness, it took so many takes just to get this shot. (27 takes, I think.)
That fierce look is so difficult to pull off! My cheekbones hurt.
In Faggots, there's no sugarcoating to what was happening to gay men in the 1970s. There's no bubblegum romance angle. There are no twee story lines. The novel feels very gritty, but it's also funny as hell. The dialog and the one-liners are a gas.
“Holy shit," somebody muttered in the dark.
"A virgin," sputtered another.
"I didn't know they still made them."
"He just did.” 
“Looking thirty, claiming forty, actually forty-five.” 
I do make it a point to read LGBT books every now and then. My favorite read last year was a gay-themed young adult novel (Aristotle and Date Discover the Secrets of the Universe). I consider Edmund White, Sarah Waters, and Alan Hollinghurst to be literary gods. I love Edmund White's A Boy's Own Story and The Farewell Symphony to bits. But I have never read a novel like Faggots. It's raunchy, hysterical, always on point, and fascinating. And it took me to a time when everyone scratched one another's itch, shoot drugs like there's no tomorrow, and basically live your queer life like it's the last day of this queer effing world.

One of the funnier queer novels I've read recently is Robert Rodi's Closet Case.
A bit dated, as the novel was published in 1993. Still campy and a riot though.
Again, so many takes just to get the right look for this picture.
You should've seen the photographer's face. It was fierce, but in a non-queer way.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Why read The Old Man and the Sea

Ah, Papa Hemingway. I just love your sparse sentences. Sometimes, I try out your writing style. Just the subject, followed by a short predicate. It reads like crap though. Like the sentences in this paragraph. Such a total waste of virtual real estate. So I bow down before you, Papa Hemingway. You make it seem so easy.

My first Ernest Hemingway read was A Farewell to Arms. That book made me an instant fan. I reread a few pages of it last month, as the book club's theme for May was all about Ernest Hemingway: his works and a bio. Then I realized that some of the lines spoken by the main characters are just so insufferable. I gag, but in a good way.

Here's a rather simpler way to show this to you, dear reader. Man asks, "Do you love me?" Woman responds, "No." Man asks again, "Do you love me?" Woman responds again, "No." Man asks for the third time, "Do you love me?" Woman finally admits, "Yes." To which the man says, "I like your hair." Argh!

The book club's swag during the discussion
I wonder if Papa H would approve of all these.
Somehow, I imagine him thinking, "Great. More stuff I don't need."
But I'm not here to talk about A Farewell to Arms. I love that book too much to talk badly about it. What I want to discuss is a much shorter work of Hemingway, which is The Old Man and the Sea. I'm not too sure how to categorize it—is it a novel, a short story (that's gone too long), or a novella? Let's just call this a novella. I love that I suddenly became all gung-ho and just decided that for you, dear reader.

Anyway, The Old Man and the Sea is the perfect book to read if you haven't read any of Hemingway's works. It's short, which will make you instantly decide if you like his writing style or not. It's also what I would like to call a gateway novel. It connects Hemingway's older works with his later fictions. It won the Pulitzer Prize, and I think it just might be the work that tipped the Nobel committee to award him the Nobel Prize for literature.

Wasn't Papa Hemingway a hottie? I get palpitations looking at this.
He served as an ambulance driver during  World War I.
Well, he can take me to the hospital anytime. 
I am partial to Hemingway's earlier works though. The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms are just brilliant. His later novels were hits and misses. The novel that preceded The Old Man and the Sea was very much lambasted by critics; it prompted Hemingway to write something that he said will be his best work. I don't think The Old Man and the Sea is his best though. But a lot of people from the book club liked it, which is good enough for me.

I don't think the novella is about man versus nature; it's more of a man-versus-himself kind of thing. The old man and the marlin that he has caught and held on for a few days are like mirror images. Only a great man can catch a formidable inhabitant of the sea. And having caught the marlin, the old man proved that he still had it in him. He still got his mojo. He rocks.

What I didn't get in the novella are all those religious references pertaining to the old man. He was supposed to represent Christ. He got wounds on his hands which some people compared to, ummmm, the stigmata. And when he finally went home after having spent several days in the sea holding on to that marlin, he collapsed in his bed in a position similar to Christ being nailed on the cross. Whatever. But the novella did make me crave for sushi. Mmmmm. . . Having fresh sushi—now that's a religious experience.

Oh, and this is the first official book club discussion that I attended this year. There's just been too much work. And I had to keep R. company, as the past few months were a very difficult period for him. Well, it definitely felt good to be back, and what better time than a discussion on one of my favorite authors.

R. (right) and I (left), after the book club discussion
Yes, we both wear reading glasses now.
No, we are not hipsters.
We also got the chance to read any biographical work on Ernest Hemingway. I didn't finish mine though. But thank goodness for Wikipedia, yes? From what I read of Papa Hemingway's life, he certainly did lead a very interesting one. War veteran at 19, married 4 strong women, lived in 4 continents, struggled with depression, took his own life. Compared to his, my life seems very much uneventful. But looking at what happened to Hemingway during his twilight years, I realized that uneventful is good.

I opted to read A. E. Hotchner's classic memoir of the time
he spent with Ernest Hemingway. It's a heartbreaking read.