It is rare that I read a book that has won as many accolades as Less by Andrew Sean Greer. The national best seller went on to win the Pulitzer Prize and even though I was initially questioning what all the hype was about, once Arthur Less starts his travels, I couldn’t help but get swept up in this story about a little known novelist, trying to live off the acclaim he received from his first book and past relationship with a famous, aging poet.
When Less Andrew’s on again / off again lover (who is much younger than him) sends him an invitation to his wedding, it proves to be more than he can handle. That news, combined with the realization that he will turn 50 in a few months results in a comical midlife crisis. Less decides to decline the wedding invitation and embark on an around the world trip first to NYC then Europe before heading to Morocco, India and finally Japan before settling back home in San Francisco. I think of the trip as a funnier and more relatable, Eat, Pray Love (gay men of a certain age are really going to enjoy).
Less is about a struggling gay author who suffers a spectacular midlife crisis which Greer details beautifully in his book.
Andrew Sean Greer makes a handful of literary references in each chapter, most of which go over my head, but in spite of those references, I found myself either smiling or laughing as I turned the pages. The book is also full of really beautiful insights like this conversation Less has with a friend late one night in Morocco after he learns his friend is splitting with his partner of 20 years. His friend, Lewis, refuses to think of his 20 year relationship as anything but a success.
“But you broke up with him. Something’s wrong. Something failed.
No! No, Arthur, no, it’s the opposite! I’m saying it’s a success. Twenty years of joy and support and friendship, that’s a success. Twenty years of anything with another person is a success…
You can’t do this, Lewis. You’re Lewis and Clark. Lewis and fucking Clark. It’s my only hope out their that gay men can last.
Oh Arthur. This is lasting. Twenty years is lasting! And this has nothing to do with you.”
This book can be purchased online at major resellers but you may also buy this in person or online at local bookstores. If you’re open to supporting local bookstores try one of these links, which will take you right to the book so you can make a quick purchase online if that is your preference.
Brookline Booksmith 279 Harvard Street by Coolidge Corner
Harvard Bookstore 1256 Mass Ave in Harvard Square
Papercuts JP 5 Green Street, Jamaica Plain
Porter Square Bookstore 25 White Street in Porter Square
Trident Bookseller’s & Cafe 338 Newbury Street in Back Bay
I had never heard of Beijing Comrades when I purchased the book but there was something about the novel’s description that caught my attention. Before I share with you what the story is about, let me give you some history because the way the story came to be known is slightly notorious. Bei Tong is the pseudonymous author whose real-world identity remains unknown since the story was first published in 1998 as an e-novel. The Translator’s Note in my copy said it is among mainland China’s earliest, best known and most influential contemporary gay novels and after finishing the nearly 400-page book I can believe it.
This may be one of my favorite gay novels of all-time
The love story – because that is what it is – opens in Beijing in 1987 and chronicles the on again, off again relationship between Chen Handong and Lan Yu. Handong is a narcissistic businessman from a well-connected family and Yu is a poor student who moves to Beijing to attend university. The novel is extremely sexually explicit and generally such books don’t capture my attention, but his novel is the exception to that rule. The story couldn’t exist without the sexual nature of their relationship. In many ways it is the glue that keeps these two together and provides fodder for the ups and downs, fights and making up.
The book’s opening lines read, “He’s been gone three years now. A thousand days and nights and each time I close my eyes there he is before me, the person I see in my dreams.“, so I’m not spoiling anything by telling you that the ending isn’t a happily ever after but it doesn’t matter because it touched me in a way that few stories ever have. A few times while I was reading the story, I thought to myself, here we go again – another fight or another make up sex scene – but now that the novel is over and I’ve put the book down I wish there was another hundred pages so I can continue to read about this complicated couple who so clearly loved each other but often times were their own worst enemies.
NOTE: If you decide to purchase this book, look for the cover I’ve shown above and the copy translated by Scott E. Myers. Over the years there have been several translations and some of the previous translations have watered down or edited the graphic sexual content. I can’t imagine this book having the same impact it did for me if I read such a redacted or toned down translation and for that reason I suggest you get this copy: Beijing Comrades by bei tong and translated by Scott E. Meyers.
Gay Anglophiles may want to add this new hardcover to their reading list. I was sent a copy of A Very English Scandal by John Preston to review and while I’ve only just started I can tell you this is a page turner.
Preston’s novel is based on the true scandal that rocked all of the United Kingdom when Jeremy Thorpe a British politician who served as Member of Parliament was tried at the Old Bailey in May 1979 on charges of conspiracy and incitement to murder, based on his earlier relationship with Norman Scott, a former model. The book may be based on real life, but it reads like a thriller filled with hypocrisy, deceit and betrayal.
Published by Other Press the story unfolds in 323 pages and is available starting Monday, October 10th.
I recently finished reading an entertaining mystery that takes place in the fictional, New England town of Idyll, Connecticut. The 280 page book published by Seventh Street Books and written by Massachusetts author, Stephanie Gayle was a quick and easy read that I thoroughly enjoyed.
The story centers around the new Chief of Police who moved from NYC and is tasked with solving the town’s first murder in years. Complicating the investigation is the fact that the Police Chief, Thomas Lynch, meets the victim hours before her murder but cannot share that news without revealing his greatest secret: he’s gay. A ghost from Chief Lynch’s past haunts him, while he tries to solve the town’s murder, but to do so he has to learn to avoid the advances of Donna Daniels, a middle aged waitress who has eyes for the Police Chief and an ever growing pile of paperwork, Mrs. Dunsmore, the town’s local busy body and precinct’s bureaucrat threatens to bury him under.
Idyll Threats is available for sale, starting September 8th. You can pre-order or purchase this detective murder mystery on Amazon.com or locally at Porter Square Books in Porter Square, Cambridge.
Idyll Threats – Available on Amazon.com
Idyll Threats – Available at Porter Square Books
Next weekend – Memorial Day Weekend – is the official opening of prominent New England summer destinations like Provincetown, Ogunquit, Newport and the islands. Traditionally, I share a few gay-themed book options for those looking to add to their summer reading.
My first suggestion is Take This Man: Gay Romance Stories. This 232 page paperback published by CLEiS Press is available starting on June 26th and can be pre-ordered at your local LGBT bookstore (here in Boston contact Calamus Bookstore in the Leather District).
This book is a compilation of sixteen romantic / erotic short stories. The book opens with the 10-page short story, A Good Heart Is This Day Found, a very seductive and endearing story about two men who have just married by Rhidian Brenig Jones. The short stories make for easy summer reading and I enjoyed the naughty narratives, despite rarely reading this genre.
For those who prefer non-fiction, I would strongly recommend Michelangelo Signorile’s latest book, It’s Not Over, which is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and is currently on sale everywhere.
Signorile’s 259 page book is a wake up call of sorts. He warns the LGBT community not to take for granted the amazing progress we’ve made by assuming equality is inevitable. He makes a persuasive argument pointing to how the conservative movement is reorganizing and how groups the LGBT community often view as allies are sometimes without even realizing it becoming complacent and as he puts it “become a roadblock to progress.” Definitely worth the read if social justice and politics are your thing.
My third and final suggestion is actually an older book that was first published by St. Martin’s Griffin in 2008 called The Conversion and is written by Joseph Olshan (author of the popular gay novel Nightswimmer).
The 278 page novel captured my imagination as it centers on Russell Todaro, a young American translator who wakes up one morning in Paris to find his lover dead. The story quickly relocates to Tuscany where you learn more about this conflicted man against the backdrop of one of my favorite places in the world, Italy.
As I mentioned previously, while all these books are available via sites like Amazon.com, I’d ask that you consider ordering / purchasing one or more of these books from your local LGBT bookstore. If you don’t have a local LGBT bookstore, consider calling Boston’s last remaining store, Calamus Bookstore and having them ship you the book(s).
Earlier this week I was pleasantly surprised when Blake Little’s book, Manifest, arrived at my house. The coffee table book has 100+ pages of men from coast to coast photographed by Blake Little. As Nick Offerman says in the foreward “These people look like men, like real men.” Clearly my weekly Furry Friday posts have found new found inspiration in Blake’s collection.
Thank you very much for sending this to me. I have proudly placed it on my coffee table and will continue to peruse it. If you’d like to read more about this book or order a copy visit manifestbook.com.
I don’t regularly share book reviews because I think there are a lot of great sites that do this far better than me. However, every once in awhile I read a book that I really like and want to share with others.
Earlier this year, I paid a visit to Boston’s sole remaining LGBT Bookstore, Calamus Bookstore, and picked up a handful of books. One of those books was Joseph Olshan’s The Conversion. I thought this story about Russell Todaro – a young American translator who wakes up in a hotel in Paris to find his lover (a world renowned poet) has died in his sleep – hard to put down.
Russell’s story unfolds in a villa in Italy after he accepts an unexpected offer from a celebrated Italian author to recover from the shock. While in Italy, Joseph Olshan shares more about Russell’s quest for love and overcoming a persistent writer’s block that he (Russell) learns his former lover attributed in his yet unfinished memoir to his fixation on failed relationships – Ouch!
Joseph Olshan lives in Vermont and is perhaps best known for his books, Nightswimmer and Clara’s Heart. You can learn more about the book and the author, here.