All the LGBT Books Around My House

Pride month ends today, and I still haven’t penned anything LGBTQ-related. Considering so much of my career has been in gay media, that seems wrong. But what to write? I’m pretty out of touch with queer politics and culture at the moment, so I guess I’ll just keep it simple: a cruise through lavender-tinged titles around my house.

Starting in my office, where I spend most of my time, the top row of a tall brown Ikea Billy bookshelf holds many homo-related hardbacks: Leo Lerman’s diaries, The Grand Surprise, abut Between Me and Life, Meryle Secrest’s biography of lesbian painter Romaine Brooks, which are next to the equally Sapphic Selected Letters of Willa Cather, which is pressed against The Days of Anna Madrigal. Theoretically the rest of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series should be up here, but those paperback copies are elsewhere.

On that same row you’ll find Tim Murphy’s Christadora, about the lives, loves and losses of people in the East Village apartment building of the same name, and Cathers’ collection of short stories, Obscure Destinies, which I’ve never read but hope to soon. Speaking of, I’m not sure where my copy of O Pioneers! moseyed off to; I do know My Antonia was abandoned on a Brooklyn stoop — I didn’t care for her. Meanwhile, a few titles over from Destinies, are three EM Forster tomes: his realist and oh-too-relevant political collection, Two Cheers for Democracy; the heart-breaking Maurice; and a collection of the English author’s short tales. (Howard’s End is elsewhere.)

Finally, off to the right, a recently acquired paperback of John Rechy’s raunchy Rushes lays on its side, appropriately removed and aptly aloof.

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Found in the LOC: A Cat’s Autobiography

While Found in the LOC is typically a collection of images found in the Library of Congress’ online archives, today’s is but a link and very brief excerpt to/from the 1901 book Pussy Meow: Autobiography of a Cat.

Dictated to author Louise Patteson as a means of encouraging respect for animals, it’s an endearing tale with an enduring message. A brief taste, from the cat’s perspective:

One morning, when my mother had gone away as usual, I saw some children at play on the sidewalk, and I thought how nice it would be to be with them. It was very naughty for me to think of such a thing, because we had been told never to go outside the yard; and as neither Trix nor Nora would go with me, I went alone.

As soon as I reached the sidewalk, a big black dog came across the street and barked at me. I started to run back through the gate, but it had closed, and I hadn’t time to look for a hole to crawl through. So I ran down the sidewalk, trembling with fright.

When I had run a long way, I went into a yard, but the people there didn’t like cats; a boy was sent to chase me through the gate, and I continued my wearisome journey. How I did wish that somebody would take me up, or show me the way home; but nobody seemed to care what became of me. Finally, being so very tired, I crawled in under a fence, and seeing no one around, I lay down in the corner and went to sleep.

I do not know how long I lay there. When I awoke the moon was shining, and I continued my

journey down the sidewalk, hoping to find my yard. But when after a long walk I didn’t find it, not knowing what else to do, I sat down by a tree and began to cry.

Find out what happens to this erudite cat by checking out the full copy over at the LOC.

Archive Diving: Gender in ‘Main Street’

On the occasion of the 133rd birthday of Sinclair Lewis, Nobel-winning novelist of works like Babbitt, Elmer Gantry, It Can’t Happen Here and Arrowsmith, all of which deal with the tension between rote-loving mainstream society and unique thinking, here is an excerpt from Main Street, which I originally cited in 2011 at the LGBTQ news site Towleroad.

This blurb deals with a small town reaction to a man who doesn’t fit gender norms:

“Mrs. Dyer was bubbling, ‘Oh, have you folks heard about this young fellow that’s just come to town that the boys call ‘Elizabeth’? He’s working in Nat Hicks’s tailor shop. I bet he doesn’t make eighteen a week, but my! isn’t he the perfect lady though! He talks so refined, and oh, the lugs he puts on–belted coat, and pique collar with a gold pin, and socks to match his necktie, and honest–you won’t believe this, but I got it straight–this fellow, you know he’s staying at Mrs. Gurrey’s punk old boarding-house, and they say he asked Mrs. Gurrey if he ought to put on a dress-suit for supper! Imagine! Can you beat that?

‘And him nothing but a Swede tailor–Erik Valborg his name is. But he used to be in a tailor shop in Minneapolis (they do say he’s a smart needle-pusher, at that) and he tries to let on that he’s a regular city fellow. They say he tries to make people think he’s a poet–carries books around and pretends to read ’em. Myrtle Cass says she met him at a dance, and he was mooning around all over the place, and he asked her did she like flowers and poetry and music and everything; he spieled like he was a regular United States Senator; and Myrtle–she’s a devil, that girl, ha! ha!–she kidded him along, and got him going, and honest, what d’you think he said?

‘He said he didn’t find any intellectual companionship in this town. Can you BEAT it? Imagine! And him a Swede tailor! My! And they say he’s the most awful mollycoddle–looks just like a girl. The boys call him ‘Elizabeth,’ and they stop him and ask about the books he lets on to have read, and he goes and tells them, and they take it all in and jolly him terribly, and he never gets onto the fact they’re kidding him. Oh, I think it’s just TOO funny!'”

If you haven’t read this work, or anything by Lewis, I really suggest that you do.

John Steinbeck Sums Up Being a Writer

In lieu of Tuesday’s traditional Word Play post, here are a few John Steinbeck quotes on the agony and ecstasy of being a writer. Mostly agony.

These quotes come from his 1953 essay “My Short Novels,” which originally appeared in the Literary Guild Review’s periodical, Wings, and which was reprinted in America and Americans, a collection put out by Penguin Classics.

The first note regards the writers’ complicated relationship with their work, how passion fades once the piece is done and gone:

“It is true that while a work is in progress, the writer and his book are one. When a book is finished, it is a kind of death, a matter of pain and sorrow to the writer. Then he [or she] starts a new book and a new life… The writer, like a fickle lover, forgets his old love. It is no longer his own: the intimacy and surprise are gone.”

And of these stories, “thrust out into an unfriendly world to make their way”? “They have experiences, too — they grow and change or wane and die, just as everyone does. They make friends or enemies, and sometimes they waste away from neglect.” 😦

Finally, after recounting how his first three novels failed to sell out, and how the $90 he earned from The Red Pony seemed like “more money than I thought the world contained” and encouraged him to continue, Steinbeck notes, astutely:

“It takes only the tiniest pinch of encouragement to keep a writer going, and if he gets none, he sometimes learns to feed even on the acid of failure.” It’s true. We writers are kind of like those sea creatures that feed off of noxious gases spewing from oceanic anuses, only less cute.

 

14 Things You Don’t Know About Log Cabins

The log cabin is more complicated than you may think. In fact, I wrote a whole book about it, one beginning with the question, “Why is the log cabin a BFD in the USA?”

You can learn the fully labyrinthine and altogether fascinating answer in said book, The Log Cabin: An Illustrated History. But as you wait for your copy to arrive, here are 14 things you never knew about log cabins, plus two tangentially related factoids, too.

1. No Log Cabins in Plymouth:

We’ve all seen school books and Thanksgiving cards depicting cheery Pilgrims building log cabins, images that cast the structure as the invention of English settlers, as America’s first true home. But that’s all bunk.

The truth of the matter is that English colonists didn’t live in log cabins. They didn’t even know how to make  log cabins. Accustomed to fine brick and frame homes back home, that’s what they built when they got here. Well, not immediately.

First, they slummed it in subterranean dugouts, waiting in the mud until planks could be cut and bricks kiln-fired. It was not a good look… Luckily these ugly bits would be edited out in the centuries ahead.

2. The Swedes and Finns Did It:

So, if the English didn’t bring log cabins to American shores, then who? I guess the sub-header here sort of spoils the beans, but, yes, it was the Swedes and Finns of New Sweden who erected America’s first log cabins. They and their ancestors had been building them for generations, so whipping them together here was simple as pie. But they didn’t make a lasting impression.

New Sweden was so small in population and so short-lived — it fell to the Dutch in 1655 and the land was brought under British rule in 1664 — that it had very little pull in colonial culture at large. Their English and Dutch neighbors weren’t about to copy their homes; Swedish and Finnish log cabins were therefore anomalies in this era, and the structure probably would have faded into oblivion had it not been for the thousands of immigrants who started arriving in the 1700s.

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