Carter Sickles’ touching novel ‘The Prettiest Star’ is an AIDS novel. I remember there was a time when there were a lot of these kinds of stories – stories of gay men during the late 80s and up to the mid 90s affected by the plague. I used to devour these kinds of stories – these were the stories of our lives then. But things got better. Advances in medicine made the plights less urgent. Still, there are a lot of stories left unwritten, and I am glad Sckels wrote one.
The=is is Brian’s story, from Chester Ohio. After his lover Shawn dies, he goes back to his hometown of Chester, Ohio – to reconcile with his family, but really, to die. This is still 1996, though, wherein middle America still does not know much about the disease, and he faces discrimination and judgement.
The story is told from different points of view: from Brian himself, from Sharon, his mother, and also from Jess, his sister. I thought the voices were a little too close to each other’s, but the points get told. It’s a sad story of people’s intolerance based on ignorance. I would like to believe people now are more educated about AIDS but this story is a good snapshot of what was happening then. I was into the story deeply, and found myself deeply affected by it, probably reading the book during the pandemic did not help.
‘The Sunlit Night’ is a movie with a promise unfulfilled. It is based on a book, and stars a charming Jenny Slate, playing a character that could have been annoying. She plays Frances, who goes to Lofoten, a city in Northern Norway, to help a famous artist, played by Fridtjov Såheim, paint a house that will put his name on the map (literally) He is not nice to him at first, but eventually warms up – this could have been the central part of the story, and I would have been fine with it, but we get a sub story line with Frances meeting Yasha, who she remembers from Brooklyn – that romance is half-baked so you do not get a sense on why the characters are drawn to each other – and I felt the film almost forgets about the initial storyline, the one that drew me into the film. And they they add some weird characters and I am totally lost, and disappointed. I felt that the film was choppy and I bet the book and screenplay, both by Rebecca Dinerstein, was richer.
I have been in a reading rut. It was a good run there for a while but nothing has been sticking to me, so I thought reading something I coukd potentially relate to will get me out of it, so I chose Matt Ortile’s “The Groom Will Keep His Nam: and other vowd I’ve made about race, resistance, and romance.’
The book is a collection of essays from Ortile where he writes about his life, and his struggles as a gay Filipino-American in New York City after moving to Las vegas from the Philippines at the age of twelve. Surely, something in there should stick with me, as I have lived in both NYC and LV. But Ortile is a millennial, and honestly, I am a genration older from him. For me, the resistance was AIDS, for him it’s Marriage Equality and the Trump administration. I appreciated his honesty, and when he gets personal especially with his love and sex life, it’s refreshing and relatable. But part of his essays seem to be very lecture-y, probably part from his academia influence, and frankly, not what I am looking for, reading wise, in these pandemic times. I was expecting this to be a quick read, and it took me a while to get through it. It’s very good, but it’s mostly not for me.
I was looking forward to reading ‘Big Summer’ by Jennifer Weiner. Based on the synopsis, it sounded like one of those big summer books, one I can easily dig into while relaxing. And yes, it started out like that – a plus size influencer, Daphne, gets invited to the wedding of the year by her former BFF, and I thought this was going to be a story of renewed friendships and all that went with that. But no, the book veers into something else – a murder mystery. I mean, I am not averse to that, but really, it’s not what I paid for, And while the ‘mystery’ part started out well, I didn’t think it was as interesting to me as I thought it would be. In the end, this book became a big disappointment.
I think I was at about the seventh chapter of Mason Deaver’s ‘I Wish You All the Best’ when I exclaimed to myself, ‘this is very good.’ Nowadays it’s getting rare and rare for me to really emotionally connect with art, and I can say i connected with this one. The book is about Ben, who in the beginning of the book comes out to their parents as non-binary. he gets immediately thrown out in the middle of the night – in thirty degree weather with just his socks on. They call their sister who they have not seen in ten years, and they start to live with her, and study at a new school. So you could just imagine what they – and the readers – have to go through. I found myself riveted by everything – as he gets paralyzed by what is happening to him. They meet Nathan, and they fall in love with him. I have to admit this gave me a lot insight about what non binary is – I have not really been educating myself as deeply as I should have. But all in all, this is a fantastic story about self-acceptance and finding yourself in a world where you have to pick yourself up.
I have a pile of TBR books, and when I finish one, it is always tough for me to choose what to read next – do I go serious, or light? My mood changes a lot, and there have been many instances that I would give up on something a couple of pages after starting it. But I just randomly chose to read ‘Swimming In the Dark’ by Tomasz Jedrowski next. I knew this was a gay love story, and nothing else about it. I find out later that the title comes with a lot of hype, a bidding war for its rights when it became available.
Written in. first person in a form of a letter, the story is Ludwik, and tells initially of growing up gay in Poland. He realizes his orientation early on, and meets Janusz at a summer camp in 1980. They become lovers, as they go back to Communist Warsaw in 1980. It feels like a doomed love affair – Ludwik dreams of freedom, Janusz wants tp stay, and why not, since he has connections in the government and can lead an easy life – he has to pretend he is straight, and has no problems with that. Their story develops as the country has more conflict – rebels want freedom, and the government in charge desperately holds on to it. Even though we know that Ludwik is able to escape (he starts his letter writing fro m New York) we still get caught in the suspense of his story, and feel the depth of his longing for Janusz. It’s onw of those once-in-a-lifetime love affairs, and its setting has made it infinitely more romantic. This was one of those books I couldn’t put down and in fact, I finished it in a day. I wanted to know what happened next, and I luxuriated in the romanticism of it. This feels like it would make a wonderful movie as well.
I wanted something light and easy to read this time around, so I thought Jack Harbon’s ‘Meet Cute Club’ fit that bill. The title alludes to the weekly book club that main character Jordan holds in his house, basically a discussion book of romance novels. He meets Rex, who works at the local book store, and, well, you can probably can tell what happens next. If you want something warm and familiar, go for this, but do not expect depth. It’s cute, and with everything that is happening in the world right now, that could be refreshing.
I am coming to the book version of Sally Rooney’s ‘Normal People’ AFTER watching the Hulu series. I loved the show so much that I wanted to see if reading the book would ‘complete’ the experience. I wish I had gone in the other way around. The show was such a faithful adaptation that I felt I did not gain a lot more by reading the book. A lot of the situations and dialogues are exactly the same, and the show captures a lot of the nuisances of the characters to a T. Do I feel like I know the characters more than before? Sure, but I felt I already knew these characters well. There are some people who are watching the show and are saying they don’t get it – what’s the conflict? why can’t these two people be happy together, when obviously, they are so in love with each other. There is so much love there but for some reason, they just cannot connect, they cannot be truly themselves with each other, even if they can only be themselves when they are together. I think Rooney’s writing made me really understood that, but then again, the actors in the series were so good conveying them as well. It’s all good.
Of course, I started reading ‘We Met in December’ just as the temperature started to soar (it’s getting up to the 90s here now) and I think I describe this experience as akin to listening to Christmas Carols in July. But then again,, I have always been a non-conformist so I had no problems with this. In Rosie Curtis’ book, the couple in this lover story meet cute…and then things stall. Perhaps we are not really used to things progressing at a quick pace, but here the relationship takes time to develop. And that’s just fine, because love, at times, takes time. I thought this was nicely written, and I liked the first person point of view of someone who just started living in London – I think I will probably look at the experience the same way as she did. In a lot of ways, the relationship felt more real that way. I think people mistake this for a holiday romance kind of story, and it isn’t, so adjust expectations.
There are some books that are written so beautifully that you can choose a random page in it and find something so lyrical, so prosaic that you can read it out loud and be blessed by it. Ocean Vuong’s ‘On Earth We’re Briefly gorgeous’ is one of those books. I was lured into the book because I found it filed under ‘gay fiction,’ but the book is certainly more than that. It is also an immigrant story, and it touches upon something that for me is very interesting; the complicated oftentimes passionately love and hate relationship between a gay man and his mother. Indeed, the structure of the book is a letter of his son to his mother, knowing she probably will not read it. There were times I saw myself in how he interacted with her, as he is torn awe and pain of what she does to him, unknowingly adding more to the pain when one is discovering himself in the world. You can easily luxuriate in the words here, and instantly live in the narrator’s world. It is not one of those books with a lot of storytelling, and it does sometimes feel like it is stream of consciousness, but there’s so much beauty, and beauty is beauty.