Monthly Archives: October 2013

Alexius’s Top 5 GLBTQ Books

Alexius

Alexius has been a longtime member of the book club and brings much joy to us, coining the phrase “This book is not MRT-friendly” and “the fried chicken theory.” His unique perspective on novels often tickles us and sheds new light. He blogs at Alexius Locker, with the subtitle “Never Think Too Literally”– or, in the case of our book club, never think too literarily.

1. The City and the Pillar (Gore Vidal)

This is the first homosexual book I read when I was about 14-15. The plot follows an idealized handsome youth, his journey around the gay circles and his life till the mid-twenties. He is not dead after that, but it got way depressing; something of which a quick and clean death would probably do some good to the ending. Although the closing is a little too abrupt and disappointing (”why the pillow got watery instead of somewhere else?”), nevertheless Jim Willard achieved his sexual endeavour from coast to coast, crossing between age groups to even different sexual orientations (Bob Ford). Gore Vidal must have a good time fantasizing when writing this novel. Nevertheless, it is still an interesting holiday read for me. [See our book club discussion on the novel.]

DG-10pvb522. The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde)

Yet another book that contains a protagonist with sex appeal. It says a lot that good appearance bring many willing helpers, but can it bring everlasting happiness?

In Wilde’s novel, you can’t. Dorian Gray’s infectious pathological narcissism – a gulling need to consistently maintain his reputation and appearance – ultimately led to his demise, a topic seemingly relevant to today’s camwhoring society.

The unctuous writing style, coupled with random droppings of some philosophical sounding phrases every third line just make you feel more intelligent, even if you didn’t know what were the characters talking most of the time.

3. Confessions of a Mask (Yukio Mishima)

Although the paragraphing is quite cumbersome in modern standard, Yukio Mishima never fails to deliver a good read. Whether is it the sea trilogy or other of his works, you could just expect the sea waves, medical examinations, saltiness and the four seasons.

imgthe_jungle_book44. The Jungle Book (Rudyard Kipling)

Who could not help but like Bagheera the panther and Baloo the bear? Both wild creatures acting as some sort of nanny and tutor to the wolf-boy Mowgli. When Mowgli is in danger, which in this book is more often than not, Bagheera and Baloo would risk their lives in order to whisk him away from danger.

5. Book of Han, chapter on Passions of the Cut Sleeve (Ban Gu)

The historical narrative of Emperor Ai and his lover Dong Xian in 23rd BC is too hard to miss. There is one account whereby King Ai, upon seeing that his boyfriend is still sleeping, decided to cut off part of his own long sleeve (which is stuck on Dong’s back) in order not to disturb him from bed when the King rose to meet the court. I find this an interesting read, and it is a good theme for a LGBT story.

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Filed under Gore Vidal, Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling, Top 5, Yukio Mishima

52nd Discussion: Sonya Sones’s One of those Hideous Books where the Mother Dies

one-of-those-hideous

Present: Timmy, Luke, Aaron, Jiaqi, Gavin and Alexius.

Themes

1. Father-Daughter Relationship: Why does Ruby need to know that Whip loves her mother before forgiving him? Timmy suggested that knowing it is a revelation for Ruby, turning her world around, sets her thinking.

Timmy also said that Ruby giving Whip his name is Whip’s way of submission.

For Ruby to reconcile with Whip, several severe incidents have to occur: death of a classmate (Jiaqi’s point), betrayal of best friend and boyfriend (Jiaqi), natural disaster (Timmy), and substitution of absent, seemingly uncaring Aunt Duffy with Aunt Max (Aaron). (Alexius chimed, “Wah, Ruby makes a very good accountant, she knows her debts and balances”.)

Except for Jiaqi, we thought that it was heavy-handed for the author to bring the father-daugther together in such a manner. Jiaqi was thinking in terms of time, and said that it was relatively short time (6 months) for the daughter to accept the father.

Would the author be so heavy-handed if it were a straight father? Aaron contended that the heavy-handedness is a form of overcompensation, and hence, showing insecurity of one’s sexuality: “Look here, everyone abandons you, except for your gay father and his boyfriend, so gay people are nice people after all.”

This overcompensation is also shown in the “clean” handing of Max and Whip’s relationships. Alexius pointed out, “Why is the house so quiet at night? How come they don’t moan?” Throughout the book, there are no telltale signs of Max having an intimate moment with Whip, or no direct declarations of “I love yous.” Javin said, “They are gay, but they have no sexuality.” Indeed, it seems like gay men are Ken dolls.

Because of the overcompensation of a gay father, Aaron argued that the author worked so hard to bring about the reconciliation of the father-daughter pair. A gay father is better than “an alcoholic heroin addict who brutally beats her and sexually molests her thereby causing her to become a bulimic ax murderer” (p. 7). It is as if the author is saying, “phew.. look here, the father is gay, but he loves the daughter and does all these things for her that no one else can do. A gay father is a step up from a child-molester, right?” Jiaqi disagreed with Aaron, stating that there was no direct evidence of the sexuality of the father having to do with her acceptance of him.

2. Gay Stereotypes: Alexius observed that stereotypes of gay men are presented: goodlooking actor and buff, sensitive nanny. The usage of “Aunt Max” irked us, although Alexius justified that it is easier to call “Aunt” (1 syllable) than “Uncle” (2 syllables).

3. Mother-Daughter Relationship: Timmy brought up the emails that Ruby sends to a dead mother as a form of working through her grief, which Aaron found touching while Alexius found inane.

Structure/ Literary Devices

1. Verse: Both Alexius and Timmy thought the novel is MRT-friendly, easy to read in bite-size.

2. Readership: Javin pointed out the narrator is an American teenage girl and the target reader is an American teenager.  Timmy continued that we may be too old to read a Young Adult book, which accounts why we didn’t like the book.

3. Lyrics: Aaron noted that in many instances (pp. 89, 48, 87, 191, 207, 205) are written very similar to song lyrics. Timmy suggested that the writing came off as trite.

4. Movie references: There are several movie references, as if Ruby’s life is a movie. Alexius hinted that it is because Ruby’s epistemology is learned from movies, and Timmy suggested that instead of coming off as smart, the author’s plans backfire, making the novel predictable and cliche.

5. Title: Alexius disliked the title because it is too long to be keyed in the National Library catalogue, hard to search, while Timmy thought the

Characters

1. Ruby: Most of us, especially Timmy, disliked her because she is self-absorbed and unforgiving but insecure.

2. Ray: Alexius’s favorite character.

3. Colette: Timmy’s favorite character.

4. Max the muscle bear is Aaron’s favorite, although Alexius finds him creepy; he keeps going to Ruby’s room, like he’s the 3 bears and Ruby is Goldilocks.

5. Alexius hates Mom because she is the cause of everything.

Conclusion

Timmy said the book doesn’t deserve the blurbs on the back cover. “‘Ruby’s voice is pitch-perfect’….ly off-pitch,” Timmy said.

While we all disliked the book, we wanted to end on a positive note and say something nice. Timmy calls on the “Disney ending.” Both Timmy and Jiaqi agreed it was easy to read. Alexius liked the consistence book covers across all her books–they all have an orb of light. Javin, who didn’t read the book, turned the cliche-ness of the book into something positive: “I can discuss the book even without reading it.” Timmy’s favorite part is page 226. The page starts with “Things I am Thankful For”–and is a blank page.

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Filed under Family, Gay, Love, Sonya Sones, USA, Young Adult

51st Discussion: Edward St Aubyn’s Never Mind

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Raj made quiches and bought eclairs.

WOO HOO! Ernest wrote this awesome piece.

GENERAL SENTIMENT OF THE BOOK

Javin did not like the book and felt that the book was uneventful.

Jia qi felt that the characters were nasty. Father was psychopathic. Friend Nicholas was bitchy

Raj felt that the book was a good portrayal of reality, and that every character had their own unique characteristic. Child was too intelligent and hence unrealistic portrayal (him knowing how to maneuver his way around adults).

Timmy felt that the book was monotonous, and that it simultaneously repulsed and fascinated him. Men were bitchier and women were more sophisticated and intelligent (even though all of them were american) It was like a car crash – you don’t want to watch, but you still have to slow down to watch. Something akin to Mrs Dallaway by Virginia Woolf.

Aaron felt that the book was awesome but was too patronizing towards the end. Towards the end, Ann and Victor left the party, which felt fake (it was a literary device to draw the distinction between the aristocrats and the rest). Aaron could not understand why Victor had to leave with Anne in the end when he spent his whole life sucking up to the aristocrats.

THEMES OF THE BOOK

(1) Sadomasochism

(2) Rape

(3) Sexuality, desire

(4) Race

RACE: Timmy felt that the Indian was the antithesis of Raj – for example, why did the Indian want to be like an aristocrat. Aaron agreed that the Indian was made into a grotesque caricature that everyone hated. Raj clarified that the Indians used to be the servants for the whites in Britain, even to date, and that racism was very much a part of the British culture. Anne hated the Indian because of his actions, and Jiaqi felt that the Indian was vulgar and crass (whereas the others were sarcastic but not crass). Perhaps he was hated because his actions did not conform to the social norms. His actions with relation to pornography was a mix of bestiality and Rihanna-ism according to Timmy. The aristocrats were hypocrites because they invited the Indian to the party, but they made it clear that they didn’t like him (perhaps because of his money). Jiaqi and Aaron were of the opinion that Victor was generally more accepted into the group because of his intelligence, whereas the Indian was despised because he was more explicit and less scheming in his climbing the social ladder.

According to Raj, Bridget was trying to socially exclude the Indian by supply supporting details, which unfortunately backfired, and aroused more curiosity in the social group. In fact, the Indian was disliked to the point that Anne made up 2 stories about him (long distance international phone calls vs finding objectionable porn). Perhaps in Anne’s mind, the other characters were probably sickos as well. Aaron continued by saying that perhaps she was testing waters to check whether the rest were sickos and that’s why she eventually left, once she’s ascertained their characters. Timmy continued then by saying that Anne was very smart, but acted as a puppet master.

Aristocracy: David was seen as a good match for Anne according to Aaron, as they were complementary.

In a way, everybody idolized David, because he could say whatever he wanted and get away with it, especially with his conviction that he is always right, according to Raj. Aaron mused as to why people tolerated this behavior of bullying. Jiaqi and Timmy suspected that this was also partly contributed by fear inspired and charisma of David. Jiaqi suspected that only Nicolas (who idolized David) and Victor wanted to suck up to David. People had difficulty rejecting him, and that he had power over people.

In the story, Nicolas David and Eleanor were aristocrats, while the rest were not. Aaron asked about the differentiating factors between aristocrats and non aristocrats. The dead man said that he pursued beauty wherever it elf him, even to unbeautiful places. Raj said that aristocrats were able to say whatever, whenever they want i.e. they were the big fucks. Jiaqi expressed that David accepted that the dead man, as an aristocrat, was able to pursue abstract ideas of beauty, which were beyond commoners. Aristocrats were sarcastic because there was a hidden meaning behind their sarcasm, which only the intelligent would understand. Aaron disagreed and said that DAvid would sometimes say things to the point which were hurtful, for example, who Eleanor’s pants matched her eyes. Raj opined that David’s tongue was akin to a sword, which kept him above criticism from the rest (by fear). Javin was curious as to why Eleanor still stuck by David when he dominated and humiliated her consistently.

Aristocrats were possibly sarcastic to each other because of their boredom, according to Aaron. They had difficulty finding meaning in their lives, according to Raj. Aaron affirmed that the aristocracy was otherwise dead and lacked vibrancy.

Nicholas, David and the dead man shared a common trait of being effeminate, as aristocrats e.g. David wanted to be a pianist, which was rejected by his father. Aristocracy were also sexually perverse, which may be associated with their boredom (e.g. Nicholas was found in bed with 2 other women by his wife, Nicholas sleeping with a young girl, David making his wife eat off the floor). Jiaqi felt that they were lecherous, but not perverse (as in, this was not deviant, as old men would want to sleep with younger women). Aaron/Timmy felt that that Nic was deviant, by choosing someone (Bridgit) much younger than him.

Eleanor submitted to David during her first date by eating off the floor in a way of SM. Aaron and Jiaqi opined that she despised convention, and therefore wanted to break convention. Raj agreed that she could do so because she could afford to a an aristocrat. Timmy opined that Eleanor was Rihanna and David was Chris Brown. Raj, Aaron: Her limit was reached at the time of the rape, but stayed on because of her son. Raj/Timmy/Javin had no sympathy or pity for Eleanor because they felt that she used the life she went through as a means of obtaining sympathy, especially since she enjoys her suffering (she feels noble suffering according to Javin). She did not stay in the abusive relationship because of her son, as evidenced by the fact that the son needed her during the meal, but she chose to stay on (although there was speculation that she did so because of fear of David). Jiaqi and Aaron felt sympathetic to Eleanor. David raped his son and Eleanor because of his disdain for societal norms.

Raj felt that the lack of graphic detail of the rape was made all the more real because rape victims would block out such details. All in all, everyone agreed the rape was described tastefully. In this way, the attention was still on the person, and not just on the act, according to Raj.

Another SM scene was between Bridget and David (scene with the knife, where David fed Bridget figs) and “she felt a punch in her womb”

Aaron liked the masturbation scene by Bridget because it addressed female sexuality (and indicated that Nicolas did not fulfill her sexually). Javin found it tastefully done.

CHARACTERS

Javin liked Bridget because she was white trash. and he adores the masturbation scene (and he wants to emulate the Bridget). Jiaqi liked Bridget because of her honesty and her un-sophistication. He also found her amusing.

 

Raj liked David, because his character was beautifully written, and how he was able to wield power over others. It was a powerful portrayal of how he was able to control his guests, wife, son (he knew where his son was hiding). Aaron’s favorite character was also David. The author actively tried to make the reader dislike David, even to the point of dehumanizing him by referring to him as the doctor initially without giving him a name. In a way, he was a victim because of disapproval by his father even though he was relatively talented. He was blue blood, but his father cut him off. And in the end, it was not clear what his sexuality was (his desire was everywhere). Perhaps he had no desire because he was emasculated by his father, and exerts his desire by emasculating others. He was the true victim.

Timmy liked Anne (although he had a soft spot for Bridget). Anne was portrayed as a strong woman for that era. She was smart (although scheming), and had the feminine wiles.

SUMMARY

All the characters were bitchy in the book, according to Aaron (more bitchy than gay people).

Javin did not like the book because it had very limited drama (masturbation scene), and did not find it interesting.

Jiaqi enjoyed the book and felt that it was well written. He felt that the observations about people were sharp and the characters were true to life. It was also humorous.

Raj liked the book and felt that it was well written. The characters were bitchy, but intelligently bitchy (not stupid bitchy). The book managed to evoke strong emotions, which was praise worthy. Especially when one can relate to it in real life.

Timmy liked how the book was repulsive, but yet fascinating enough to make the reader want to read on. “There are such people who are perhaps both destructive and cruel towards to who are closest to them, often possess a vitality that makes other people seem dull by comparison”

Aaron liked that instead of going the Jodi Piccoult way (melodrama and writing herself into the book in a victimized way), the author did not cast himself as a victim. One sympathizes but does not pity him, because he is a strong, intelligent and driven character.

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Filed under Class, Edward St Aubyn, Family, Gay, Love, Politics, Queer, Race, S/M, UK