I can tell it’s gotten cold again. Sure I’ve pulled my coats and jumpers out of storage, rekindled my love affair with the clanging sound my radiator makes at night, stocked up on boxes of soup. But the real indicator of the change in climate has not so much to do with the temperature, but with my lifestyle. I’ve read three books in the last seven days, symptomatic of the tendency to hibernate in my studio rather than deal with the elements outside.Feeling the impending shift in climate, I recently stopped by Three Lives Company in the West Village. Apart from being an excellent bookshop, worthy of its reputation as a lower Manhattan institution, Three Lives also takes me back to my afternoons in Ely, spent wandering around Topping and Company, perhaps the finest bookstore anywhere. The selection, the atmosphere, the staff – these two places share the ability to create an environment that encourages you to choose your next purchase carefully, to curate your own internal collection of literary experiences, books read, reread, or even discarded.
That all said, I’ve been a good boy this year. I’ve read stuff by Nabokov, Balzac, David Foster Wallace, Joan Didion, etc. the stuff I “ought” to read, dripping with either disdain or existential angst to counter the kung-pao chicken or tuna salad sandwich I might be eating concurrently. Considering the weather however, I wasn’t in the mood for something to warm my sensibilities. I wanted something juicy. I needed a beach read. Something empty, familiar and intellectually unchallenging.
Now, any self-respecting gay man will tell you that the absolute best way to find trash novels is to head to the LGBT section of a bookstore. Whether it’s yet one more account of the death of the West Village/San Francisco, a coming of age/coming out novel, autobiography, romance novel, or whatever, the book is going to be at the very least, a little… well, steamy. I generally tend to avoid this section of the bookstore, knowing full well the insipid content of many of the books. So, I consulted the Great Gay Oracle (Facebook) to get some recommendations. I got the typical suggestions: Christopher Isherwood, Michael Cunningham, Alan Hollinghurst, blah blah, yawn. I ended up going with André Aciman’s Call Me by Your Name. I wanted a beach read, but I got rather more than I bargained for. Be careful what you wish for.
This book is beyond purple, completely addictive, and totally befitting of my sensibilities. It’s perhaps the worst book I’ve read since Twilight (yes, I went there) and I could not put it down to save my life, going so far as to ditch both my shrink and physical therapist to finish the book. As this isn’t a book review, I won’t go through the formalities of explaining the style, plot, literary foibles, and what not. All you need to know is that it’s set in Italy, and describes the building of sexual tension between two young Jewish-American academics, one a musician and one a classicist. That’s right. Someone wrote an erotic novel about your college professors, got it published and won several awards for doing so.
My favorite highlights included passages…
…on Haydn (page 9)
At dinner that evening, I sensed he was staring at me as I was explaining Haydn’s Seven Last Words of Christ, which I’d been transcribing.
I don’t know about you, but neither Haydn nor any discussions of music have ever rendered impure thoughts. Like, ever ever.
…on Bach (page 13)
I knew exactly what phrase in the piece must have stirred him the first time, and each time I played it I was sending him a little gift, because it was really dedicated to him, as a token of something very beautiful in me that would take no genius to figure out and that urged me to throw in an extra cadenza. Just for him.
We were – and he must have recognized the signs long before I did – flirting.
(I can’t make this up).
…on Dante (page 88)
If he didn’t touch me, then I’d be the one to touch him, and if he didn’t respond, I’d let my mouth boldly go places it’d never been before. The humor of the words themselves amused me. Intergalactic slop. My Star of David, his Star of David, our two necks like one, two cut Jewish men joined together from time immemorial.
What if he didn’t like me? In the dark they say all cats… What if he doesn’t like it at all? He’ll just have to try, then. What if he gets really upset and offended? “Get out, you sick, wretched, twisted piece of shit.” The kiss was proof enough he could be pushed that way.
Amor ch’a null’amato amar perdona.
Things are heating up by this point in the book (kind of).
…on Brahms (page 89)
I liked feeling so rested. Maybe the ancients were right: it never hurt to be bled from time to time. If i continued to feel this way, later I might try to play one or two preludes and fugues, maybe a fantasy by Brahms. I swallowed more of the yoghurt and put my leg on the chair next to mine.
Who needs a post-coital cigarette when you could just eat a Yoplait and play some Brahms?
…on Caesar (page 119)
I folded the piece of lined paper and slipped it under his door with the resigned apprehension of Caesar crossing the Rubicon. There was no turning back now. Iacta alea est, Caesar had said, the die is cast. It amused me to think that the verb “to throw,” iacere in Latin, has the same root as the verb “to ejaculate.”
He could have stopped here. But no.
No sooner had I thought of this than I realized what I wanted was to bring him not just her scent on my fingers but, dried on my hand, the imprint of my semen.
…on Ovid (page 146)
I got up and reached for one of the peaches, opened it half-way with my thumbs, pushed the pit out on my desk, and gently brought the fuzzy, blush-colored peach to my groin, and then began to press into it till the parted fruit slid down my….
I was always taught not to play with my food…
“Fuck me Elio, fuck me harder” and after a moment “Harder, I said” while I scanned my mind for images from Ovid –
wasn’t there a character who had turned into a peach, and if there wasn’t, couldn’t I make one up on the spot, say, an ill fated young man and young girl who in their peachy beauty had spurned an envious deity who had turned them into a peach tree, and only now, after a thousand years, were being given what had been so unjustly taken away from them, as they murmured , “I’ll die when you’re done, and you mustn’t be done, must never be done?”
The story so aroused me that practically without warning the orgasm was almost upon me. I sensed I could just stop then and there or, with one more stroke, I could come, which I finally did, carefully, aiming the spurt into the reddened core of the open peach as if in a ritual of insemination.
. . .
I’m never eating peaches again.