I wrote down everything I read and began writing my own first novel...

This blog aimed to contrast what I was reading in in 1975-79 with the same month, week and day, 30 years later in 2005-2009. I'm leaving the blog up in archive mode, blogging in real time on Live Journal--and still writing novels.

Lynne Murray's Live Journal and Bride of the Dead Blog

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Fragments and Puzzle Pieces- from Sanditon to The Sluts

April 25 to April 30, 1976

Notes to a Science Fiction Writer, Ben Bova
It would take me years to figure out that I am not going to write science fiction.

Epoch, Robert Silverberg and Roger Elwood (Ed.)
My note: didn’t finish. A short story collection, so I guess that means I didn’t read them all.

How to Hide Almost Anything, Daniel Krotz
My note: didn’t finish. When I looked this up, it came back to me--it literally was about hiding things--I think 1976 was a more openly paranoid time. My problem was and is that I naturally forget where I so cleverly hide things, or even if I’m not trying to conceal things...

Sanditon, Jane Austen and Another Lady
I didn’t have any comment, but my memory of this final Austen fragment “completed” by a modern author, is that the non-Jane Austen parts were ho-hum. I haven’t been drawn to re-read it, though I’ve re-read most of Austen (some several times) since.

April 25 to April 30, 2006

The Sluts, Dennis Cooper

I had not heard of Dennis Cooper until I read about his misfortune in being one who was “befriended” and used by the perpetrator of the JT Leroy scandal. Cooper's work, but it was so praised that I went to check out him out at http://denniscooper.net/. After reading a sample online of the riveting first chapter—or segment, the book doesn’t have formal chapters--I had to read The Sluts.

Not everyone will want to read this book, no matter how well written. There are some books I won’t read (Bret Easton Ellis, who has a blurb on the back of The Sluts, is an example of an author who has never tempted me—though Lunar Park looks interesting). Also, other people may be put off by the highly explicit sex and extreme violence. The sex part was so far away from anything that pushes my buttons that it didn’t “get under my skin” so to speak. When the violence went over the top, I skipped some parts (notably the castration scene).

Good news/bad news. Good news: Cooper is a master storyteller and I read the book pretty much in one day. Bad news: That’s about all I did that day. But that is why I read books anyway, to go to different places. And this was a very different place!

Cooper achieves a very interesting distancing effect with both the sex and violence by presenting the story through many people’s online postings to a website. So the intense scenes are filtered through each emailer's fantasy or fetish requirements. The effect is fragmentary in a similar sense to Lawrence Sanders’ The Anderson Tapes (which was told entirely in transcripts from surveillance audio tapes), but the material so over the top that the fragments become jigsaw pieces, as the reader tries to sort of pure fantasy from real events.

The reader is drawn into a mystery where the objective truth is always elusively a few pages further on.

Cooper perfectly portrays the way an online community can develop around hot button issues—in this case, an attractive, intriguingly flawed and possibly dangerous young hustler, whom some pursue and some wish to murder.

As I read, I couldn't help wondering if this is the sort of gay lifestyle that many homophobes believe to be the norm. It’s not. But if it were, do you think my gay friends would tell me?

Um, I think I might be able to manage to guess though--“Would you like some more of this amazing torte? David really outdid himself in the kitchen this time. Oh, ignore the screaming, it’s our slave boy, down in the basement—could you go put some tape on his mouth, dear, we do have guests.”

All the characters in The Sluts are gay men who hire young hustlers and review them on a website set up to consider sex as a product to be rated and recommended. We've got online descriptions of extreme fetishes, courting and spreading HIV as a lifestyle, damaging and even killing sex partners as a fantasy to be shared, acted upon and, in some cases hidden from the authorities. The dehumanizing aspect of this is clear. In a variation on the “not involving humans” viewpoint—it’s only expendable hustlers who die. But Cooper ties up most of the loose ends and brings it back to a human grounding in the last several pages.

I also want to quote The New York Times review on the cover and Cooper’s website: “In another country or another era, Dennis Cooper’s books would be circulated in secret... This is high risk literature.”

I lived in the era described, in the United States in the 1950s and ‘60s, and I value the freedom we have now to be able to read an author like Cooper. It would be tragic if we lost that freedom.

Monday, April 24, 2006

JT Leroy and the Dybbuk factor

April 18, 1976 to April 24, 1976

Curtain, Agatha Christie
This last of her books was the first Christie that I remember reading.

Cop Killer, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

Jack Benny: An intimate biography, Irving Fein
Author, Fein, was Benny’s manager and I remember this as being an affectionate book.

April 18 to April 24, 2006

Sarah, J. T. Leroy

As a literary hoax this was interesting. The motivation is crystal clear to any writer. I call it the Dybbuk factor after a Playhouse 90 production of S. Ansky's The Dybbuk that made a lasting impression on me when I was 12. The bride, at her wedding is possessed by the spirit of her dead fiance--who will not let her go, and speaks through her mouth. This production had her mouth move and the dead man's voice come out. I realize that this effect has been used many times probably before, and certainly since in horror films (notably The Exorcist) but in 1960 it sure knocked my socks off.

My point is that when someone's mouth moved, and an unexpected voice comes out, we are intrigued, riveted or captivated.

As a middle-aged woman novelist Laura Albert was a non-event—a 1 on a scale of 1 to 10. Middle-aged women write novels all the time—and they’re hard to sell. The fact that Albert works or used to work in the phone sex industry and currently plays in a band would not make her novel of any particular interest—even if it happened to be about the phone sex industry and playing in a band. You’ve still got the older woman writing about young boy prostitutes—it’s not a plus, and I wonder if some in the publishing industry would even suggest keeping the author’s identity under wraps so as not to discourage buyers. In this case, the author figured that way before presenting the novel.

Now take the very same novel and present it as “thinly veiled autobiography” written by an underage, homeless, transgendered former boy prostitute. Now that’s a 12 on a scale of 1 to 10--the kind of sexy that sells. Albert went further than that in that she used her phone and email skills to court the kind of literary personalities who could and would make crucial introductions for the "self" she presented as a pathologically shy young man, apparently trying to raise himself out of the gutter through writing.

Crucial to any kind of a con is finding where the person being conned is vulnerable. In this case Albert tapped a humanitarian desire to help a traumatized young person in trouble, a curious itch to hear about child prostitution from the viewpoint of a survivor, and every writer’s belief in the redemptive power of writing.

I didn’t hear about this book till the hoax was exposed. This weekend I read it, and found it mild rather than wild. A PG17-rated Terry Southern or a Southern-fried Nathaniel West. I didn't find it funny enough to laugh--for some reason I also thought of Rita Mae Brown, who's a hundred times better writer, and who does make me laugh. Dunno why I thought of her--maybe the Southern flavor. Only the dialog, or the narrator's report of it, is explicit and burlap bag coarse. The sex scenes mostly occur off-stage. The background for the story may have some legitimacy—I have no idea. It seems surreal—the high flown gourmet food at the greasy spoon truck stop restaurant for example. I loved how New York Magazine writer, Stephen Beachy, in an article from October 2005 unraveling the hoax said, “I came away from reading Sarah knowing nothing about truck-stop prostitution in West Virginia or about West Virginia…” http://www.newyorkmetro.com/nymetro/news/people/features/14718/

I have mixed feelings about one outcome of the hoax. Some young people are inspired enough by J. T. Leroy, that they refuse to believe "he" is not real. The web page is still there, and the books are still selling.

Monday, April 17, 2006

A mixed bag from the past, and a small taste of fantasy in the present

I'm still besieged by deadlines, so it’s been a week with only a little book reading, unlike the same week 30 years earlier.

April 10 to April 17, 1976 I read:

The Best of Judith Merrill
Somehow rather depressing. (That was my note, can't recall why I thought so.)

Son-Rise, Barry Neil Kaufman
A father’s account of a couple determined to find a way to nurture their autistic son. Evidently, there’s 1993 follow up to the 1976 book called Son-Rise: The Miracle Continues, with the Kaufmans’ son, Raun, at that point a college student, as co-author. How cool is that?

Japanese in Action: An Unorthodox Approach to the Spoken Language and the People Who Speak It, Jack Seward
I enjoyed this more for insights into Japanese culture, as I’m not a student of the language.

Hefner, Frank Brady
I vaguely remember this biography. It’s long out of print now.

April 10 to April 17, 2006, I read:

Moon Called, Patricia Briggs
The first in a new series featuring Mercedes Thompson a coyote shapeshifter and auto mechanic raised by werewolves. This author has a couple of other series I will have to check out. This one was interesting, one of those fantasy books about werewolf/vampire/fae folk meeting modern life. Convoluted other worldly politics. It held my interest.
She has a website at http://www.patriciabriggs.com/index.shtml

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Reinventing the wheel and grabbing diamonds

This is one of those, “yours, in haste,” kind of days, as too many deadlines in the non-blog world are threatening. I intend to review two of the books I read last week at length, and I’m putting in links to their websites.

March 30 to April 9, 1976 I read:

Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Judith Rossner
I read three of her books and liked them. I didn’t realize she had passed away, but she sounds like she was a great person
Also, I just discovered a site that I’ll probably end up using again, alas, RIP, Ms. Rossner.

Clarion 11 (SF Anthology)

The Immense Journey : An Imaginative Naturalist Explores the Mysteries of Man and Nature, Loren Eiseley
I didn’t note it, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t finish this book (too immense, I guess). I remember because it’s one of those books that I’ve been “meaning to” go back and finish for about 30 years....hmm, still got a copy somewhere I think.

Pictorial Astronomy

Hammett, Joe Gores

The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin

Return to Earth, Return to Earth, Col. Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin, with Wayne Warga
He now has a pretty cool web site, best selling children’s book etc.,

March 30 to April 9, 2006 I read:

Just a few words about Taking Up Space, and Living Large—both of which I intend to review soon on my website. I read an online reaction to hearing an interview by Michael Berman. Found the link it was at

The comment was along the lines of Berman seeming to have the impression he invented size acceptance. Ya know, we all do.

Those of us who have come to accept and deal with our bodies as they are must each of us reinvent the wheel. It’s so painfully rare to stand up and accept oneself, in the teeth of prevailing gale force winds urging NOT accepting one’s body, that every time one person does it, it’s like a small miracle. The other metaphor along these lines that occurred to me to relate to what you might call “Health and Self-Esteem at Any Size” comes from my early days as a young Buddhist. Encountering and fostering spiritual growth in others was described as grasping a handful of diamonds. When each life is a diamond you try not to lose hold of even one.

Staying Dead, Laura Anne Gilman


Taking Up Space: How Eating Well and Exercising Regularly Changed My Life, Pattie Thomas, Carl Wilkerson, (intro by Paul Campos)


Living Large, Michael S. Berman and Laurence Shames