The Pat Parker/Vito Russo Library book discussion group meets on the first Tuesday of the month at 8:00pm (except when noted). We meet at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Community Center, 208 West 13th Street (near Seventh Avenue) in NYC. Ask at the information desk for the room number.
We're a friendly group, always open to new members. If you'd like, you can just read the book and join us at the Community Center. We'd be pleased to meet you. If you have questions or want more information, you can send e-mail to Howard@HowardWill.com. (If you send an e-mail, make sure you include the words "book club" early in the subject line because if you just say "Hey" or "I've got a question" it'll just get deleted because it looks like spam.)
I've created a FaceBook group called "Book discussion group at The Center in NYC". Please join it for a little discussion before and after the group, or to contact others in the group:
Jan 3: "Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity," a history of sex by Robert Beachy (336 pages)
An unprecedented examination of the ways in which the uninhibited urban sexuality, sexual experimentation, and medical advances of pre-Weimar Berlin created our modern understanding of sexual orientation and gay identity. Known already in the 1850s for the friendly company of its "warm brothers," Berlin became a place where scholars, activists, and medical professionals explored emerging sexual identities. From Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, a German activist described as the first openly gay man, to the world of Berlin’s vast homosexual subcultures, through some of the very first sex reassignment surgeries, Beachy uncovers the forgotten events that continue to shape the way we think of sexuality. Beachy’s scholarship illuminates forgotten firsts including the life and work of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, who created the world's first institution for the study of sex.
Feb 7: "On the Move," contemporary autobiography by Oliver Sacks (416 pages)
This is a disarming book. Sacks' honesty, energy, and clear restlessness illuminate each page, drawing the reader in to a life of great achievement in spite of some hurdles. The highest of those hurdles may have been his difficulty with romantic love. The origin of that difficulty can be traced to his mother’s severe reaction upon learning that he was gay: she called him “an abomination.” Sacks forgave his mother for that, even if he couldn’t shake her words. His solution appears to have been just to move on and keep moving. This can be seen in his love of motorcycles and weight lifting, in his desire to travel, in his move from England to the US, and even when he writes of his former addiction to amphetamines. His mind was moving at all times as well, and in this book Sacks continues to write convincingly about the ways our minds make us human.
March 7: "The Color Purple," modern classic novel by Alice Walker (300 pages)
Published in 1982, The Color Purple won a Pulitzer Prize in 1983. A feminist novel about an abused black woman's struggle for empowerment, the novel was praised for the depth of its female characters and for its eloquent use of language. It is the story of two sisters—one a missionary to Africa and the other a child wife living in the South—who remain loyal to one another across time and distance. Beautifully imagined, this classic of American literature is rich with pain, inspiration, and an indomitable love of life. Taking place in rural Georgia, the story focuses on the life of African-American women in the South in the 1930s, addressing numerous issues including their low position in American social culture. The novel has been the frequent target of censors and appears on the ALA list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books at least 17 times because of the explicit vioence and a lesbian relationship at the heart of the story.
April 4: "Lost Boi," gender bending retelling of Peter Pan by Sassafras Lowrey (240 pages)
Lambda Literary Award finalist. You'll be swept overboard in Lowrey's gorgeous queer reimagining of the classic Peter Pan story of orphaned, abandoned, and runaway bois who have sworn allegiance to Pan, the fearless leader of the Lost Bois brigade. Along with the tomboy John Michael, Pan convinces the bois to join him at Neverland. Told from the point of view of Tootles, Pan's best boi, the lost bois call the Neverland squat home, creating their own idea of family, and united in their allegiance to Pan, the boi who cannot be broken, and their refusal to join ranks with Hook and the leather pirates. Lost Boi situates a children's fantasy within a subversive alternative reality, chronicling the lost bois' search for belonging, purpose, and their struggle against the biggest battle of all: growing up.
May 2: "Just Kids," by NYC memoir by Patti Smith (220 pages)
Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe weren't always famous, but they always thought they would be. They found each other, adrift but determined, on the streets of New York City in the late '60s and made a pact to keep each other afloat until they found their voices --or the world was ready to hear them. Lovers first and then friends as Mapplethorpe discovered he was gay, they divided their dimes between art supplies and Coney Island hot dogs. Mapplethorpe was quicker to find his metier, with a Polaroid and then a Hasselblad, but Smith was the first to fame, transformed, to her friend's delight, from a poet into a rock star. Mapplethorpe soon became famous too--and notorious--before his death from AIDS in 1989. Smith's memoir of their friendship, Just Kids, is tender and artful, open-eyed but surprisingly decorous, balanced by her powers of observation and memory for everyday details like the price of automat sandwiches and the shabby, welcoming fellow bohemians of the Chelsea Hotel, among whose ranks these baby Rimbauds found their way.
We don't meet during the summer, but we'll probably go to a few movies on June 6, July 6, and August 1.
Sept 5: "Queen of the Night," new novel by Alexander Chee (576 pages)
Lilliet Berne is a sensation of the Paris Opera, a legendary soprano with every accolade except an original role, every singer’s chance at immortality. When one is finally offered to her, she realizes with alarm that the libretto is based on a hidden piece of her past. Only four people could have betrayed her: one is dead, one loves her, one wants to own her. And one, she hopes, never thinks of her at all. As she mines her memories for clues, she recalls her life as an orphan who left America for Europe and was swept up into the glitzy, gritty world of Second Empire Paris. To survive, she transformed herself from hippodrome rider to courtesan, from empress’s maid to debut singer, all the while weaving a web of romance and political intrigue. Featuring a cast of characters drawn from history, The Queen of the Night follows Lilliet as she moves closer to the truth behind the mysterious opera and the role that could secure her reputation -- or destroy her with the secrets it reveals.
Oct 3: "Black Deutschland," contemporary novel by Darryl Pinckney (294 pages)
Jed --young, gay, black, out of rehab and out of prospects in his hometown of Chicago-- flees to the city of his fantasies: Berlin. He's chosen to become the figure that he so admires, the black American expatriate. Newly sober and nostalgic for the Weimar days of Isherwood and Auden, Jed arrives to chase boys and to escape from what it means to be a black male in America. But personal and political phistory can't be avoided with time or distance. Whether it's the judgment of the cousin he grew up with and her husband's bourgeois German family, the lure of white wine in a down-and-out bar, a gang of racists looking for a brawl, or the ravaged face of Rock Hudson flashing behind the face of every white boy he desperately longs for, the past never stays in the past. An intoxicating novel of appetite, identity, and self-construction, Black Deutschland tells the story of an outsider, trapped between a painful past and a sad future, in Europe's brightest and darkest city.
Nov 7: "God in Pink," Iraq Muslim novel by Hasan Namir (240 pages)
2015 Lambda Literary Award winner, Best Gay Fiction. A revelatory novel about being queer and Muslim, set in war-torn Iraq in 2003. Ramy is a young gay Iraqi struggling to find a balance between his sexuality, religion, and culture. Ammar is a sheikh whose guidance Ramy seeks, and whose tolerance is tested by his belief in the teachings of the Qur'an. Full of quiet moments of beauty and raw depictions of violence, God in Pink poignantly captures the anguish and the fortitude of Islamic life in Iraq. "This book should be on everyone's shelf -- religious and non-religious alike. It is a raw, passionate, gritty tale of not only these two men who chose different paths, and are still making choices, but also of the many people around them who make their own life decisions to love, hate, accept, kill, tolerate or repel them." —Philadelphia Gay News Hasan Namir was born in Iraq in 1987 and this is his first novel.
Dec 5: "What Belongs to You" by Garth Greenwell (208 pages)
On a warm autumn day, an American teacher enters a public bathroom beneath the National Palace of Culture in Sofia, Bulgaria. There he meets Mitko, a charismatic young hustler, and pays him for sex. He returns to Mitko several times over the next few months, drawn by loneliness and risk, and finds himself ensnared in a relationship in which lust leads to mutual predation, and tenderness can transform into violence. As he struggles to reconcile his longing with the anguish it creates, he’s forced to grapple with his own fraught history, the world of his southern childhood where to be queer was to be a pariah. There are unnerving similarities between his past and the foreign country he finds himself in, a country whose geography and griefs he discovers as he learns more of Mitko’s own narrative, his private history of illness and exploitation. Fabulously well reviewed first novel by the NY Times (Sunday and weekly), New York magazine, New Yorker, Atlantic, OUT, and long-listed for the National Book Award.
Here are the Books Under Consideration to be read in the future.
Welcome to the Pat Parker/Vito Russo Center Library Reading Group at the LGBT Community Center. As our founder Mel always reiterated, this is a friendly group which is always happy to have new members. Being a friendly group means we encourage everyone to participate without fear of confrontation and with respect from fellow members. We have the following guidelines to help this effort as well.
(1) All attendees are expected to have read the book and be willing to talk about it.
(2) Every participant is entitled to express his or her own opinion as it pertains to the book.
(3) The format of the meetings consists of an initial opening round where each attendee talks about the work for a few minutes without interruption or cross talk. Once everyone has had the opportunity to individually address the book, the discussion is then opened to all for a general discussion of the book. This is an important organizing element of this group to make sure that every one gets an opportunity to express himself or herself without comment.
(4) After the initial opening round, It is perfectly acceptable to express a dissenting opinion to something another member of the group has said about the book as long as it is in a respectful and constructive manner.
(5) Please refrain from personally attacking another member of the group over an opinion they have expressed about the book.
(6) Inflammatory language or inappropriate behavior directed towards another member of the group during the discussion will not be tolerated. If this type of language or behavior persists, the person who is responsible for displaying it may be asked to leave.
(7) Please respect the authority of the facilitator.
(8) Please try to stay on topic during the discussion. Feel free to introduce new information that may be relevant to the discussion of the book (e.g., historical facts, biographical information of the author, book background, etc.).
History of The Group
The complete list of our discussion group appears below.
We don't meet during the summer, but we'll probably go to a few movies on June 6, July 6 (or so), and August 1.
Sept 5: "Queen of the Night," new novel by Alexander Chee (576 pages)
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