Given that the latest blog topic is to chat about your favorite (no U) piece of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered Literature, I decided to pop up on my soapbox a little about "literature" as a term itself. I also thought that if I was going to talk about my favorite piece of literature, I could talk about the gay book that most impacted my life and is a favorite because of it.
I mentioned in an earlier blog that at one point in my life, I was living alone in a small bachelor apartment with very little in the way of belongings, as I'd been replaced by a younger and blonder model of boyfriend and asked to make room for him. At the time, I was not in the best of spirits - though perhaps I was consuming some - and I my job, and reading, was one of the few things I did that kept me feeling sane and somewhat together.
I'd read some gay fiction before. Not to do a disservice, I will say that the gay fiction that I'd happened to find - because it took some hunting to find any - had all been, for lack of a more elegant way of putting it, a real freaking downer.
Most of the time, I read to escape. I read as entertainment. I do have my degree, and I do enjoy literary fiction and classics. That sounds a bit defensive, and I don't intend it to be, but suffice it to say you're as likely to find me reading one of the latest Star Trek books as you are to find me reading the a book by the author who has won the latest G.G., Man Booker, or Giller. I'm not a book snob, and I find book snobs tiresome. My limited experiences with gay fiction had up to that point been relentlessly literary - not necessarily in a bad way, but certainly I'd never picked up a work of gay fiction and put it down with anything approaching a smile on my face.
Given the timing of things (see above, re: dumped by boyfriend) I'd pretty much stopped reading gay fiction.
Then I found THE NIGHT WE MET.
It was actually an accident. I'd bought enough gay fiction at work to "flip a switch" and gay titles were showing up automatically - just as I'd pretty much stopped reading them. One day I opened a box, and blinked. There were two guys on the cover of a very yellow hardcover, and I was pretty sure they were smiling at each other just so. It was called THE NIGHT WE MET. The cover had a blurb: Disorganized lovers, Organized crime, A different sort of love story...
I flipped it over.
"I really enjoyed this. A hilarious romp, charming, satirical and sexy." -- Diana Gabaldon
Wait. What? Hilarious? Satirical? Sexy? I was hilarious and satirical. I loved being hilarious and satirical. And when I tried to be sexy, it was really hilarious (and not just a little satirical). I remembered flipping open the dust jacket, and reading the bold text inside.
In the tradition of Married to the Mob, and The Wedding Banquet, Rob Byrnes' wickedly funny debut novel serves up the most deliciously wacky love story in ages - a screwball romantic comedy where boy gets gorgeous Mafia boyfriend, boy loses Mafia boyfriend and nearly gets whacked by most of New York, boy gets Mafia boyfriend and more than he bargained for...
There was an actual moment of disconnect where I didn't quite understand that I was holding a gay book. I stared at the book, and re-read the blurb, and then brought the book to a co-worker to buy it. All the while I was thinking this sounds fun.
At the start, there were some unfortunate parallels. The main character - Andrew Westlake - gets dumped for a younger, blonder model. He works in the book industry and wasn't having a blast with his life at the moment. His ex was even an accountant - did I mention my ex was an accountant? But more important than all of the parallels was what happened to me while I read the book.
First, on the bus-ride home, I got stared at for laughing out loud a few times. Second, I got yelled at at the corner pizza store across from where my apartment was while I ate pizza and laughed out loud - hopefully not showing what I was chewing too often. I was actually asked to leave by the owner. Third, I laughed so hard at one series of scenes in the book in my apartment that I had to put the book down and wipe my eyes. When I finished the book - at two in the morning, having not stopped since I'd picked it up - I went to amazon.com and wrote a review that had spelling errors and barely passable grammar exclaiming that I hadn't had that much fun with a book in years, if ever.
I think I said THE NIGHT WE MET was for everyone who loved Janet Evanovich and wished that Ranger would have ended up with Morelli.
It was fun. Actually fun. Laugh-out-loud fun!
I got an e-mail from the author a short time later - and I was over-the-moon about that - and he thanked me for the review. When I asked, Rob Byrnes at the time said he had another book underway, but that no, THE NIGHT WE MET was currently his only book. But he suggested I try Timothy James Beck.
I did, and loved Beck. When I emailed Timothy James Beck to say so - now feeling confident I could e-mail an author to gush - I got four replies, since it turned out Timothy James Beck is like one of those amalgamated transformers and is actually four people. They suggested other authors to me, and it soon become like that shampoo commercial. Greg Herren, Michael Thomas Ford, Andy Schell - I was reading as voraciously as I'd ever done. That year, I believe I clocked in over two hundred books.
Were it not for THE NIGHT WE MET, I don't think I would have kept trying gay fiction for many years. I'd had no idea that gay fiction that was fun even existed. I'm not ashamed to admit that I've had books move me to tears - and I'm not talking those demure "pass the handkerchief" tears. I mean snot-bubble, blotchy-skinned, strangers-are-going-to-cross-the-street-to-avoid-my-deranged-puffy-face-and-wailing-sobs tears. I think when a book moves you, it's a magical thing. But tears of laughter are just as appreciated, and all the more rare.
A few years later, I was in New Orleans, where I'd signed up to go to the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival for the first time, and I got to meet Rob Byrnes in person (and half of Timothy James Beck, and Greg Herren, and so many other wonderful authors and writers). I was about to be a writer for the very first time myself, too - while there I signed my contract for FOOL FOR LOVE - and while I was there, I learned that Rob Byrnes was going to be in the same anthology.
I have always enjoyed writing. I have always felt incredibly lucky when something I've written has been accepted into an anthology or a magazine. But I've never been as proud as I was then, at the company I was keeping. Had I not read THE NIGHT WE MET, I wouldn't have likely found the Timothy James Beck books on my own - I wouldn't have been looking. Had I not done that, I would never have had the opportunity to write for more than my own amusement. I certainly wouldn't have tried.
I think as readers and as a community, sometimes the GLBT (QRSTU?) culture considers importance in the same manner my English Lit professors considered importance - as a synonym for seriousness. Literature is supposed to be something that is - or was - important. Without intending redundancy, I'll even agree: the important things are important. Fighting for rights. Maintaining a clear sense of history. Increasing awareness of issues and reaching out to educate. But you know what else is important?
Having fun. Laughing. Especially at ourselves.
THE NIGHT WE MET is singularly the piece of gay literature that had the most impact on my life. Truly.
I mean, when was the last time a book got you thrown out of a pizza joint?