Written by Lauren Baratz-Logsted Monday, 16 August 2010 14:15
Early Friday evening, it was still light out and I was sitting on the small bench outside my small home, reading a book. One of the great joys of my life is reading on that bench. One of the hazards of reading on that bench is that any acquaintance who happens by immediately assumes that I am looking for conversation. I could tell these chatty people that if that were the case I would not have my nose in a book, but that would be rude. So on early Friday evening when I was sitting on the bench reading a marvelous novel by Stephen McCauley called Insignificant Others and an acquaintance happened by, I patiently closed my book. We’ll call the acquaintance, a male, X. Here is the conversation that transpired:
X: What’s the book about?
Me: Well, soon after it opens, the main character discovers that his longtime partner is having an affair with another man. But no sooner does the reader start feeling sympathy for the main character—so harsh, discovering it via text message!—than the reader also discovers that the main character has had his own affair going on with another man for quite sometime. It’s very good.
X: Oh. So all the characters are gay then?
Me: Well, not all the characters. The women aren’t and a fair number of the men aren’t either, just the main ones.
X: I see. I started to read a gay book recently but there was a lot of in-your-face sex right at the beginning, so I stopped. I wonder if a woman would have the same reaction.
A couple of things could have happened at this juncture in the conversation. I might have asked the title of the book so that I could be the test woman for its frank depiction of gay sex. I might have asked X if he had similar reactions to books with in-your-face straight sex so I could better deduce if my acquaintance were a true reading homophobe or just generally put off by graphic sex. But neither happened because another acquaintance came wandering by, also assuming I’d prefer to talk than read, and the conversation ended there. It’s stayed with me in the days since, however, sparking a series of cartoon-like thought bubbles to appear over my head. The following are some of the thoughts that filled those cartoon bubbles.
How did I, a straight woman, wind up on a bench reading a book by a gay man about a gay relationship?
There’s a pretty straightforward answer really. I’d returned books to the library and was looking through the New Fiction section when the title caught my attention: Insignificant Others. I hadn’t heard of the book before, which can sometimes be a good thing, and the title promised intelligence and humor, so I pulled it from the shelves. The cover was not hugely appealing—I didn’t care for the combination of colors of the two men’s ties depicted—but beneath the author’s name, Stephen McCauley, it said “author of The Object of My Affection.” Since I’d enjoyed the movie made from that book, I decided to read the inside flap. I didn’t read the whole thing. Instead, my eyes were drawn to the fifth paragraph, which was enclosed in quotes, a brief excerpt from the book: “In the three years I’d known Benjamin, I’d come to think of him as my husband. He was, after all a husband, and I saw it as my responsibility to protect his marriage from a barrage of outside threats and bad influences. It was the only way I could justify sleeping with him.” Since I was in the mood for something intelligent and humorous depicting the folly of we mortals, I added the book to the growing stack in my arms and continued browsing.
As the first cartoon bubble filled over my head I realized that had I been browsing the bookstore instead of the library, I’d never have picked up this book, not unless the publisher had paid for front-of-store co-op. I’d have never picked it up because I never would have even seen it.
Wednesday, 11 August 2010 19:54The folks at BookBalloon haven't stopped talking about Kings of the Earth by Jon Clinch since it hit the shelves on July 6. "Just fantastic," "rich on so many levels," and "best book I've read all year," are just some of the raves it's garnered among our members.
Stewart O'Nan has called Kings of the Earth "Upstate Gothic," which feels like the perfect description. Here's a very brief summary of the plot from Publishers Weekly: "[A] death among three elderly, illiterate brothers living together on an upstate New York farm raises suspicions and accusations in the surrounding community. After their beloved mother, Ruth, dies, Audie, considered mentally 'fragile,' is devastated, but goes on tending to the Carversville farm with his brothers Vernon and Creed. When Vernon, frail at 60 and not under a doctor’s care, dies in his bed with evidence of asphyxiation, Creed is interrogated by troopers, along with Audie, the brother closest to Vernon."
What makes Kings of the Earth so rich is the way the narrative is handed off from one fully realized character to the next, flowing forward and backward in time like an elaborate game of cat's cradle, and yet you're never in danger of dropping the thread.
BookBalloon is pleased to be hosting Jon Clinch for a special Q & A event on Monday and Tuesday, August 16-17. Join us in the Forum for what is sure to be a lively discussion of one of this year's most notable books. Forum registration is free.
- Jon Clinch's blog, The Horsehair Couch
- Jon Clinch's website
- Kings of the Earth at Random House
- BookPassage review of Kings of the Earth
Thursday, 05 August 2010 00:00
The month The Twin's Daughter (Young Adult, Bloomsbury) will hit the shelves, taking its place next to The Education of Bet (YA, Houghton), which was published in July. Collectors of the Sisters Eight series for young readers (Houghton) have a double bonus this year: Book 5 Marcia's Madness was released in May, and Book 6 Petal's Problems will be released in October.
Saturday, 03 April 2010 20:36
Mary Sharratt, author of Summit Avenue and The Vanishing Point, has written a new book titled Daughters of the Witching Hill, inspired by historical events in 1612 in Lancashire, England. Congratulations, Mary! You can read an excerpt on line, or dig deeper into the research behind the novel at Mary's blog.
Monday, 07 September 2009 18:05
Cliff Garstang's short story collection, In an Uncharted Country, debuted on September 5. Tim O'Brien calls the book "an impeccably written, sumptuously imagined, and completely enchanting book of stories, each with its own high ambitions, each successful both as prose and as story." Learn more about Cliff and his work at CliffordGarstang.com.
Lauren Baratz-Logsted's newest teen/young adult book, Crazy Beautiful, is a poignant re-telling of the Beauty and the Beast fable with a modern edge. Lauren has written several books for adults and teens, and with her husband and daughter is the author of the Sisters Eight series for young readers. Catch up with Lauren's latest at her website.
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