Saturday, July 18, 2015

Some Book Reports

Couldn't Read:
David Halperin: How to Be Gay. This is a really awesome project and I really wanted to like it, which is why I kept reading and reading and reading and then finally stopped. About 10 or 15 years ago Haperin taught a class at the University of Michigan (I think, I forget now) with this title and there was general uproar. He wasn't, in fact, teaching students how to be gay (obviously), but discussing what it means to be gay. He writes "That distinctively gay way of being [italics in original- he does this a lot and it's kind of annoying], moreover, appears to be rooted in a particular queer way of feeling. And that queer way of feeling- that queer subjectivity- expresses itself through a peculiar, dissident way of relating [see what I mean?] to cultural objects ... and cultural forms in general..."  The class and the book "set out to explore gay men's characteristic relation to mainstream culture for what it might reveal about certain structures of feeling distinctive to gay men." I think this is kind of cool and awesome. He basically outlines how even when gay men weren't allowed to be outwardly gay, there were things that they (and others) identified with and as queer- musicals, for example. And when, post-Stonewall, it was more okay to be queer, these things stuck. Then, in the 80s, when it was about respectable identity, cultural idiosyncrasies were downplayed or even denied. But when he polled his students, or even just talked to them, some things were still obviously relevant to them as gay males, and not just the literature by and about queer men. What's that about? That's the project. The book, however, is way too repetitive and high-faluting and not enough camp, if you will, not IN the material but about what the material might be. Lit crit gone wrong. Skip it. Good title, poor execution.

Niles Eldredge: Why We Do it. You can also file this one under "don't fall for the title." Although I knew this one was about the science behind sex, I didn't realize exactly what the subtitle "Rethinking sex and the selfish gene" was about. This entire book is basically a refutation of Richard Dawkins selfish gene theory, which I haven't read. (If you want, you can read the whole thing here.) The selfish gene theory is very influential, but honestly, I am not a science person and don't really care. So I *really don't care about a guy who REALLY cares about it enough to write a book-length rebuttal. Damn.

Now for the surprises- I recently discovered that I really like Alexandre Dumas! Who knew? My education largely skipped the classics, especially those by dead white men (which may be all of the classics, who knows. I read the Count of Monte Cristo- one of the abridged (translated obviously) versions and man, I really liked that thing! I fell into the romance of it and the cruelty of it, and what's not to like (except the fact that this purist was reading a translated and abridged version...) and I liked it so much that I then read the Black Tulip and I loved that, too! Like Thomas Hardy, there's something addictive and sweetly nostalgic about these old books that are still resonant today.