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Flavorwire Author Club: James Baldwin’s ‘Giovanni’s Room’

I highly recommend this book!

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Last summer, I wrote a post about what I saw to be a sad truth of the publishing industry: we would not likely see the Great Gay Novel anytime soon. “It’s a non-homosexual world, and the majority of those who are buying, selling, and reading literature are non-homosexual,” I wrote. “When a marginalized group of people are being packaged for a larger, mainstream audience, the representation is never truly going to be honest or believable to LGBT readers.” To be fair, that was before I read James Baldwin’s 1956 novel Giovanni’s Room earlier this month; now I’m willing to say it’s the only Great Gay Novel we’ll ever need. 

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50 Sexy Books to Get You in the Mood (for Valentine’s Day)

Only 4 out of 50 (Much Ado about Nothing, The Folding Star, The Great Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises) – I must be seriously lacking in romantic sentiment.

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As Valentine’s Day (not to mention yet another cold night) approaches, you may find yourself in the mood for love. But what if you don’t? Never fear, because all you have to do is pick up a book. Yes, reading is sexy — especially when you’re reading one of these books, which range from literary fiction (with, ahem, some notable scenes) to famously romantic plays to “highbrow academia porn” to real literary erotica. After the jump, check out 50 books guaranteed to get you in the mood — or at least provide you with some seasonally appropriate train reading — and chime in with any titillating lit missing here in the comments.

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Introducing Flavorwire Author Club’s February Selection: James Baldwin

An interesting alternative to a book of the month club. I’ve already read Giovanni’s room and am looking forward to learning a bit more about Baldwin, one of our most important black writers, this African-American History Month.

Flavorwire

Flavorwire is excited to introduce our new Author Club series. It’s like a book club, but instead of focusing on a single work, we spend the month profiling several books by a single author and invite our readers to join in with comments that we will round up at the end of the month. We’ve chosen James Baldwin as the inaugural writer, and will spend each remaining week of February discussing one of his books. We’ll kick things off in a few days with his best-known work, 1953’s Go Tell It on the Mountain, then look at his second novel, Giovanni’s Room, finally finishing the month with some of his most famous essays. The Author Club aims to both start conversations about authors among those who are already familiar with them and serve as an introduction for readers who are new to their work.

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New York Times Best Books of 2013

The FlamethrowersThe Goldfinch, and After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead are all on my list. Which ones are on yours? 

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December 5, 2013 · 9:14 AM

The bear went over the mountain, eh?

Click the title of this blog post for a link to the short story.

When Canadian author Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature earlier this fall I was eager to read some of her work. I had seen quite a lot of literary buzz about her most recent (and, supposedly, final) short story collection Dear Life. Last spring I exchanged my unused frequent flier points – it seems one never has enough of these to buy an actual, you know, ticket – for more magazine subscriptions than I care to admit. The New Yorker was among them but it has since, sadly, expired. Much to my delight, while browsing the New Yorker website this morning looking for those rare freebie articles, I had the good fortune to stumble across this sucker punch of a short story, first published in the December 27, 1999 issue of the magazine. That year I was 11 years old and hated the fifth grade, but that’s a story for a separate post on a different blog altogether.

All that I knew about Munro’s writing before reading “TBWOTM” was that her stories focus almost exclusively on the lives of ordinary people living in small-town Ontario and that her characters and settings are deceptively simple to the inattentive reader. “TBWOTM” opens with Grant and Fiona as college students who get married almost on a whim. Fiona proposed to Grant asking, “Do you think it would be fun if we got married?” Fast forward around forty years and Fiona, whose memory has deteriorated, is now committed to a care facility called Meadowlake. During her first thirty days at Meadowlake Fiona is not allowed outside visitors. When Grant returns to visit her, Fiona has forgotten who he is but has become close to a man named Aubrey with whom she often plays cards. Aubrey is at Meadowlake on a short-term stay while is wife goes on vacation in Florida with her sister. Fiona tells Grant, she “knew him years and years ago. He worked in the store. The hardware store where my grandpa used to shop.” Munro is not clear whether their relationship is sexual or whether the two patients have simply become close.

Grant, a retired professor of Anglo-Saxon and Nordic literature, spends some of his now copious alone time thinking about the many affairs he has had with former students. A good number of his lovers were “Married women who had started going back to school. Not with the idea of qualifying for a better job, or for any job, but simply to give themselves something more interesting to think about than their usual housework and hobbies.” In an ironic twist of events (I am beginning to see why Munro’s stories are said to be deceptively ordinary) Fiona is devastated when Aubrey’s wife Marian takes him back home and she still does not remember who Grant is. Eager to help his inconsolable wife any way that he can, Grant tracks down Marian and visits her at her well cared for home on an otherwise distressed suburban street.

Marian is initially hostile to Grant, thinking that he has come because he is jealous of the potential romantic relationship between their mentally frail spouses. Grant assures Marian that this is not the case, but that his only concern is getting Fiona’s spirits up so that she will not be moved to the dreaded “second floor.” Over coffee and gingerbread cookies, which Marian somewhat aggressively states are homemade, as if Grant would be foolish to have assumed otherwise, have a discussion about reuniting their spouses for Fiona’s benefit. Marian is at first hesitant to take Aubrey and visits to Meadowlake and says that she cannot afford to place him there permanently. “TBWOTM” concludes with Grant bringing Aubrey, whom Fiona no longer remembers, to visit. However, she indicates that she may remember Grant, saying, “You could have just driven away,” she said. “Just driven away without a care in the world and forsook me. Forsooken me. Forsaken.” Grant and Marian’s relationship, a continuation of Grant’s philandering habits, has saved Fiona. How’s that for irony?

This is were the story’s title, taken from the popular children’s song, “The Bear Went Over the Mountain,” comes into play. In the song, the bear goes over the mountain to “see what he could see.” But, of course, all he sees is the other side of the mountain. By introducing the reader to Grant and Fiona as young college students and then somersaulting rapidly into their old age, the reader has essentially gone “over the hill” or “over the mountain” with them. Additionally, Munro changes the verb in the children’s rhyme from “went” to “came.” What is the significance of this shift in direction? By using “came,” Munro implies that the reader of this story that alternates between the present and various points in the past, is not on the safe, youthful side of the mountain, but the old age side. The reader comes away with the unsettling conclusion that he or she has already come over the mountain and seen all that there was to see.

Alice Munro, consider me a fan.

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November 8, 2013 · 5:32 PM

Intro to My Shelf Space

After a full summer (and now part of the fall!) of my partner poking and prodding me, insisting that I should start a blog because I read so much, I finally did it!

If you’re a Millennial like me, you can probably relate to the numbing ennui that comes along with our generation’s defining buzzword, “funemployment.” In an attempt to keep my mind from turning to mush and spilling its student loan funded content out of every orifice in my head, I’ve been devouring books at a furious pace. For the first time in, well, I can’t remember how long, I have a library card. The Free Library of Philadelphia has kept me supplied with a steady stream of reading material. And, importantly, it’s all FREE!

Since I read so much and have copious amounts of free time (aka time that I should be spending applying to jobs) I will use My Shelf Space to write reviews and blurbs about the books that I enjoy the post. This blog will 1) ensure that I  (hopefully) don’t forget what I’ve read and 2) provide you, the reader, with book recommendations and/or a space to comment on my reviews of books that you yourself have read, are reading, or have on your to-read list.

Aside from books, I will also post thought provoking current events pieces that I find. You can thank my MA of International Relations for that!

I look forward to creating a space for smart, but not too serious, discussion of books, current events, and anything else that works its way into My Shelf Space!

Alex

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