My Year in Reading, Sort of: 2014 Highlights

reading falneur

(HOLY HOLY HOLY — UPON PUSHING THE “PUBLISH” BUTTON, I WAS INFORMED THIS IS MY 700TH POST ON THIS BLOG?!?! SOMETHING ABOUT THAT STRIKES ME AS … STRUCK. LOL)

Reading is my passion.

I’ve found great comfort and solace in reading. Reading took me to worlds I longed to visit but could not otherwise reach. Reading educated me. Reading saved me by making me aware of  possibilities and lives and loves I could never have imagined on my own. Reading gave me New York, the Algonquin Round Table, the Bridesheads, Jane and Paul Bowles, Helene Hanff, gay men, Fran Lebowitz, Andy Warhol and Studio 54, the Beats, the Bloomsbury Group, the Violet Quill bunch, and, holy of holy, as is Stephen Sondheim to my musical theatre jones, so is Joan Didion to my reading addiction. I actually think that without Joan Didion — and all the others — I would have killed myself long ago. Truly, I think it is reading that has kept me alive.

I’m not sure how much a favor to me that has been but that is another blog.

BooksReading has been my escape. Reading has been my constant lover and friend, my companion through my entire life. My memory may be going but I can still tell you where I was, approximately how old I was, and what was going on in my life when first I read HARRIET, THE SPY and JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH and DIARY OF A MAD HOUSEWIFE and Proust — okay, I’ve never actually finished Proust — but I can tell you all the times I bought new translations, new versions, why I did so, and what they looked like. I have in storage not one, but TWO CARTONS of versions of Proust and books about Proust. And I can tell you that I first read Joan Didion in Saturday Evening Post magazines I stacked and date ordered in one of the rooms in the abandoned wing of Libertytown, that room with the blackboard still on the wall left over from when the house had been an academy for wayward boys, that room I — the most wayward and lonely of boys — had turned into a library, where I gathered all the thousands of unwanted magazines and books strewn throughout the house and arranged them according to the Dewey Decimal Classification rules I’d been taught by Shirley Lyles, my elementary school librarian who taught me many things, not least of which was how to survive when you were the only one of something you knew. Yes, reading and the people and events around it in my life have served as my markers and been my touchstones; reading has been that thing I could trust to sustain me, to remind me of who I am (was/might be).

books june 6Why do I write? Because I have been given such love and light from authors, from reading, from recognizing myself and discovering other selves, because reading has given me — a person who has never really felt fully seen or loved — my only complete, real sense of belonging, and so I write because I want — in however small a way — to give some of that back.

On my good days, I imagine that my translation of life-experience into words might bring the same kind of joy and “a-ha” to others that the writing of others brings to me. Or, maybe, someone reading this blog might say, “Damn, I feel that way too. Okay, if Charlie can keep going, so can I.” Or, perhaps, these words will make someone smile. Or, my loquaciousness will give someone a chance to take a deep breath as they interrupt their day to read my long-winded rantings and ravings and roving.

So, what did I read these past 12 months? Well, Books August 20142014 brought me many wonderful literary gifts. Some of these I discovered through my own reading and web-trolling; some were brought to my attention by my Twit-Lit pals; and some were suggested by my friends at The Curious Iguana (click HERE), my local, independent bookseller and its marvelous owner, Marlene, who is a dear person and pal. So, here goes — with the proviso, this is not a “best” list as I have not read EVERYTHING, not even close, and lots of the books that have been mentioned on lists of musts and bests are still in my to-be-read pile. And, too, there is no “best” in reading (or, anything else for that matter) there is, instead, something for everyone for every time and mood in their life. So, yes, this is about my likes and enjoyments and need for both the fun and light and the heavy and insightful and all the things in-between.

Love and Light to you in your reading for 2015.

Thunderstruck and other stories Elizabeth McCracken

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THUNDERSTRUCK and other stories, Elizabeth McCracken

Charlie and Elizabeth McCracken 2

The day I stalked Elizabeth McCracken at the National Book Fair in D.C.

I’ve long loved Elizabeth McCracken’s writing and this collection of short stories is imbued with all of the magic of her brilliantly constructed metaphors, magical syntax, and transporting prose in which one can recognize those moments of heart and soul awakening. Elizabeth McCracken doesn’t just write, she illuminates, cracking through the fearful, defensive carapace behind which we hide our humanity, the centers of who we are, and lights the way to truth. Many of these stories are about loss, but none are self-pitying or agonizing; rather, each finds a way in to the process of grieving as part of life, grieving as moving forward and through and on. In the best possible way, this is a self-help book. It shines with the songs of shared experience and allowed me to take a deep breath in a way I had not taken one in ages. Beautifully done. Like I said, not a fan of “best” — but, for me, this was the very most moving and important book of my 2014 reading. And Elizabeth McCracken is a hoot on Twitter too, and charming when one greets her in person. All in all, highlight of my literary 2014. (I wrote about it HERE – click it)

Schaffert, Swan Gondola

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THE SWAN GONDOLA, by Timothy Schaffert

This was a magical, mystery tour full of gorgeously developed and complicated characters and a riveting plot. I wrote all about it HERE (meaning CLICK!)

 

 

A Brave Man

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A BRAVE MAN SEVEN STOREYS TALL, by Will Chancellor

Loved. A lot. A debut novel, years in the making, and fascinating. Required — in the very best way — an immediate second reading. Multifaceted, glittering, fascinating, compelling. Marvelous read. I wrote all about it HERE (click me).

 

 

And now for a few of my favorite men: this year I read books by four authors I have long loved, men who have helped shape my life and revolutionized the world in which we live so that all people might love and live freely. All four of these books moved me in very different ways for very different reasons.

CARSICK, by John Waters

carsick

Click book for link.

INSIDE A PEARL: MY YEARS IN PARIS, by Edmund White

Inside A Pearl

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THE SNOW QUEEN, by Michael Cunningham

snow_queen

Click book for link.

THE DAYS OF ANNA MADRIGAL, by Armistead Maupin

Days of Anna Madrigal

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And, too, I was touched and heard echoes thanks to a fifth about another who was the forerunner for those preceding four, and thus, made easier the way for me. and, TENNESSEE WILLIAMS: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, A Biography by John Lahr

tennessee williams

Click book for link

And, in this same gay-history catalogue, I discovered Sean Strub with his BODY COUNTS: A Memoir of Politics, Sex, Aids, and Survival (I wrote about it HERE, click me) and was stunned by the parallels with my life, we had even lived in the same areas at the same times, and I marvel at the ways in which fate allows us to intersect with some people and just miss others.

Body Counts

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trip

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And, about writers, the marvelous THE TRIP TO ECHO SPRING by Olivia Laing, about which I wrote HERE (click away). Very interesting book, a must for lovers of authorial lore and literature.

In the discovery category, by following so many writers, editors, publishers, agents, and LitBloggists on Twitter and eavesdropping on their conversations, I was turned on to lots of treasure in the world of words I might otherwise have missed. Top discovery (for me) from the backlist this year:

ElusiveEmbrace

Click book for link.

 

THE ELUSIVE EMBRACE: Desire and the Riddle of Identity, by Daniel Mendelsohn.

I did NOT write about this book. I could not. You have to read it. Just, trust me: READ IT. Here’s a link to the New York Times review (it was a notable book of the year when published in 1999 – click here) and here, another exegesis from an Amazon review:

When Daniel Mendelsohn was growing up, he “secretly imagined a place where all the people were other boys, and where all the stores and books and songs and movies and restaurants were by boys, about other boys. It would be a place where somehow the outside reality of the world that met your eyes and ears could finally be made to match the inner, hidden reality of what you knew yourself to be.” And while he’s found that place in Manhattan’s Chelsea district, Mendelsohn has only one foot there–his other foot is in suburban New Jersey, where he acts as a masculine role model (“not exactly a father but a man who would be present”) to the young son of a close friend. The Elusive Embrace is an elegantly written memoir that shifts effortlessly between these locales, and between the events in Mendelsohn’s life and the Greek and Roman classics that are his academic specialty. Whether he’s elaborating upon his earliest explorations of his sexuality or teasing out the secrets that redefine his family history, he writes with admirable grace and delicacy. –Ron Hogan

So, there, although 15 years old, well worth your time. Read it. Even though, unlike most of the others here, I can’t seem to win a follow from him on Twitter despite near stalking efforts.

endofsanfran

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Speaking of worth it and read it (and someone who DOES follow me on Twitter and is a darling), THE END OF SAN FRANCISCO, by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore was devastating in its searing honesty. It cut to the core of a life few people would have the courage and strength and sense of self to survive. I had to keep putting it down because of its power, the eviscerating effect of a heart laid bare on the page and the echoes it rang for me. I was nearly ejected from Wegman’s Food Court when I burst into blubbering sobs one day, foolishly reading this as I lunched. You should, you must read this. But, be prepared, rarely do I weep from books, but from this one, well, the sobbing was near keening at times.

I read quite a few other books that brought me joy. I am a big fan of mystery cozies and discovered M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin mystery series. Loving it. On number 5 now. Reading them in order. I confess — because I live in guilt — that I am collecting them one-by-one from Amazon in the “used” department. One cent copies, 3.99 shipping, usually hardback. I know … Amazon is the evil empire and I ought to buy them new, but, I really have almost NO INCOME and do spend a tremendous amount of money on new books — always from my local independent bookseller, so, please, cut me some slack?

I’ve also read my share of John Sandford and Harlan Coben, neither of whom needs me to link them. The fantastic Louise Penny’s How The Light Gets In. And, too, lots of hot new books by hot new writers, many of which I liked quite a bit. In fact, for me, almost every book I read is a highlight, so, the fact that I haven’t included it in this wrap-up only means there is only so much space and time I think you are willing to allow me.

heap house

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So, finally, two more. There was HEAP HOUSE (THE IREMONGER TRILOGY #1), by Edward Carey. Truth: I read it because he is married to Elizabeth McCracken. More truth, after I finished, I went on Amazon and tried to one cent all his back list. Yes, that good. Really, really good. I have since gotten five others I know to buy it. I feel proud and agent-like. I know, five not a huge number, but I only really have four friends, so . . . you do the math.

scarlet letter

Click book for link.

And, another connection, my dear friend, Mary McCarthy, has published her first novel this year; THE SCARLET LETTER SOCIETY. It was a rip-roaring rollick of a ride, and I wrote about it HERE – click for it.

That is going to wrap it up. Over 2000 words, too long, I know, but one last note, in addition to the gift of her own writing, and her husband’s, Elizabeth McCracken inspired me to read short stories, which I have rarely done save for Dorothy Parker, Jane and Paul Bowles, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams and Flannery O’Connor. Now, I have taken up Katherine Porter, Lydia Davis, and my, oh my, James Purdy. Stunning stuff there.

And another very important thing Elizabeth McCracken did for me this year, another gift that enriched my life — reading and otherwise — she introduced me to Duchess Goldblatt who has become a dear companion along this oft troubling and confusing late-in-mid-life stumble toward oblivion. And along with Her Grace, The Duchess, came Rafe Posey and Mattilda B. Sycamore and so many others of such value to me, I don’t want to start naming because — like with books, nearly every one has brought me a measure of joy and light and love. But, yes, perhaps the BEST LITERARY EVENT OF 2014 FOR ME (there, I DID say BEST) was finding my TwitLit community and friends.

And so, with apologies to all those TwitLit folks I did not mention by name and the great and gifted writers who I did not specifically cite and with much anticipation for another year of delight and discovery and escape wrapped in the pages of books rather than the arms of my lovers (Damn Russell Tovey just will NOT understand I am the ONE for him), there it is, my sort of 2014 sort of list of things that made me smile and think and buy even more books.

Love and light to you in your living for 2015.

 

 

 

 

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