Tag Archives: Theodora Keogh

Books Acquired Recently: Holiday Edition

I’ve acquired a number of books over the past few weeks. Most of them (the ones without their provenance listed) have been gifts, though a few I’ve bought for gifts to myself to read over the semester break.

Ballard, J.G. Cocaine Nights. 1996. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1998.

Ballard is an author that I love to read in my spare time because of his fiction’s cynical view of society, which I tend to share. I’ve never attempted a systematic investigation of his oeuvre (which is rare for authors that I enjoy as much as I enjoy him), but I buy one of his books every once in a while when I come across them and am never disappointed.

This and the books by Cha, Rechy, Rhys, and Walker were acquired with a gift certificate that I received to DogStar Books in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Cha, Theresa Hak Kyung. Dictee. 1982. Berkeley: U of California P, 2001.

I remember reading about this book, which is classified as poetry, in a book about postmodern fiction at some point. It has all sorts of visual elements–photographs, facsimiles of handwriting, drawings–that I love in text-based books. My knowledge of Asian American literature is also lacking, so I am excited to read it.

Keogh, Theodora. Street Music. 1952. N.p.: Olympia, 2009.

I love Keogh’s fiction because of its subtle queer bent, but haven’t had the time to read any of her novels in a while, thus I was glad to receive this as a gift.

Kuper, Simon. Ajax, the Dutch, the War: The Strange Tale of Soccer During Europe’s Darkest Hour. New York: Nation, 2012.

Growing up in the 1990s as a soccer fan in the U.S. I always felt the lack of available books on soccer history (and especially European soccer history) keenly. I am happy that with the sport’s recent rise in popularity here this lacuna is being filled.

Kushner, Tony. Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. Rev. ed. New York: TCG, 2013.

Angels in America is my favorite play, and I teach it often. I just recently discovered that a revised edition has been published, which, frankly, worries me (what if Kushner’s meddling with the play is along the lines of George Lucas’s with Star Wars?). However, it is an essential enough text that reading the new version at least once is a necessity.

This and Miller’s Eyes at the Window were acquired from amazon.com’s network of independent sellers.

Mass, AJ. Yes, It’s Hot in Here: Adventures in the Weird, Woolly World of Sports Mascots. New York: Rodale, 2014.

Mass used to be Mr. Met. I read an excerpt of this memoir when it came out a few months ago and enjoyed it, so decided to put it on my wish list.

Miller, Evie Yoder. Everyday Mercies. Milton: Big Girl, 2014.

I’ve been asked to review this novel for Mennonite Quarterly Review. I had heard of Miller, but have not read any of her fiction before. It is good to see more Mennonite writers from the U.S. working in the genre.

—. Eyes at the Window. Intercourse: Good, 2003.

I bought this book to read to get a sense of Miller’s work before I read Everyday Mercies.

Rechy, John. Bodies and Souls. New York: Carroll, 1983.

I have enjoyed the couple of Rechy’s novels that I have read, and he is a foundational queer Latino writer, so I was excited to buy this book when I found it in my browsing at DogStar.

Rhys, Jean. Jean Rhys: The Complete Novels. New York: Norton, 1985.

I have been wanting this volume since 2005 when I saw a graduate school classmate’s copy during a discussion of Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea. I have looked for it in used bookstores since then and was thrilled to finally find a copy. I have grown a fondness for twentieth century female British-ish writers (Muriel Spark, Doris Lessing, etc.) over the past year or so, and look forward to reading Rhys’s corpus as a furthering of this interest.

Walker, Alice. In Love & Trouble: Stories of Black Women. San Diego: Harcourt, 1973.

I wrote about this excellent book in my dissertation, but did not actually own a copy. I’ve been looking for it in used bookstores recently and was happy to find a copy in very good condition for only $4.00.

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Books Acquired Recently: Last Names Beginning With K Edition

Keogh, Theodora. The Other Girl. 1962. N.P.: Olympia, 2009.

I read a number of Keogh’s books last summer and have been wanting to read more of them, but hadn’t had the time. I plan to rectify that this summer.

Klosterman, Chuck. I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling With Villains (Real and Imagined). New York: Scribner, 2013.

Klosterman is one of my favorite writers because he thinks in ways that I have never encountered before about a wide range of subjects, including sports and all facets of pop culture. He’s one of the few authors whose books I buy automatically whether they sound interesting to me or not because they inevitably are, and this one sounds quite fascinating. Klosterman writes essays considering a long list of villains, mostly men. Some of the ones I am most excited to read are those on Nancy Botwin (from Weeds), Michael Stipe, Ice Cube, Al Davis, Darth Vader, and Patrick Bateman (from Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho). You can read an excerpt from the book here.

Both books bought on amazon.com.

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And Now for Something Completely Different: Books Acquired Recently

D’anna, Lynnette. RagTimeBone. Vancouver: New Star, 1994.

This is yet another of D’anna’s books that have been trickling in over the past few weeks. I am waiting until they all arrive to begin reading them. Summer is a great time for reading a writer’s oeuvre straight through because of the extra time off. I used to spend extended periods of time with authors (Chaim Potok, Philip Roth, Samuel R. Delany, and Louise Erdrich, to name a few) a lot, but, with the exception of a brief Theodora Keogh phase last summer, my reading over the past two years has been rather piecemeal. I’m looking forward to re-encountering the luxurious feeling of being enveloped in a writer’s voice for several weeks on end.

Hill, Lawrence. Someone Knows My Name. New York: Norton, 2007.

A colleague told me about this book recently. It’s a neo-slave narrative told from a Canadian perspective, which should be fascinating.

Both books bought via amazon.com’s network of booksellers. These are the last two books I will acquire before I move to New York next week. I pity the movers having to carry all of my books and bookcases!

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Theodora Keogh’s My Name is Rose

Theodora Keogh’s 1956 novel My Name is Rose is, like her 1954 novel, The Fascinator, about a married woman having an affair. However, unlike the earlier book, where the story builds up to the affair and the woman is not punished, My Name is Rose depicts a woman whose actions drive her to madness because of the guilt she feels (the narrator’s voice does not seem to condemn her). It takes place in postwar France, with all of the stereotypical touchstones one might expect from such a setting–the poor artistic neighbors, the husband who works on a literary magazine, the American expatriate (Rose herself), the clandestine meetings in cafés, et cetera. But Keogh’s brilliance lies in how affecting, how sharp, how uncanny her books are despite their simple plots. She makes us care for Rose and hope for her happiness, hope that she will realize her husband, who is so modest that he refuses to see her naked, will always make her unhappy. Keogh does this by switching back and forth between first and third person, with Rose’s sections in the form of journal entries. These entries get more and more frenzied even as Rose’s affair makes her happier and happier. Her fatal flaw is that she is only able to take what she wants via action rather than also in spirit–she never commits to doing what she needs, instead letting men use her like a pawn. Rose’s inability to love herself is her undoing. Keogh thus creates another profound proto-feminist text, showing that women must grab control of their own lives.

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Theodora Keogh’s The Fascinator

Theodora Keogh’s 1954 novel The Fascinator is a stylistic departure from many of her other novels in that it follows numerous characters closely instead of one or two, and in that the climax occurs on the very last page rather than allowing room (sometimes too much room) for a denoument. The book is a slow, languid description of the build-up to an affair between a young Manhattan housewife and an older Yugoslavian sculptor. The reader knows almost immediately that they must end up having sex at some point, but the brilliance of the book is in putting this event off for so long (and thus constantly surprising the reader for the last 200 of the novel’s 250 pages) that it becomes unexpected when it finally occurs. The Fascinator is subversive like Keogh’s other works because the reader is rooting for Ellen and Zanic to consummate their flirtation even though they are both married. The mysterious magnetism between them affects us, too. The first third of the book is much clumsier than Keogh’s other writing–it takes her some time to figure out how to juggle all of the characters–but once the reader is hooked in to anticipating the sex scene and its aftermath (the latter which we never get, though it will almost certainly lead to the dissolution of Ellen’s marriage) the book is difficult to put down.

Once again Keogh does an excellent job of describing the desperation felt by her female characters in the pre-feminism 1950s. The women (even Ellen’s four-year-old daughter!) are skillful politicians, adept at wounding one another because it is the only power they have. Their viciousness is stunning because it is completely believable rather than being exaggerated, and the horrible thing is that the men are too clueless to have any idea that it is occuring.

 

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Books Acquired Recently: Theodora Keogh

Keogh, Theodora. The Fascinator. New York: Farrar, Straus & Young, 1954.

—. My Name is Rose. 1956. New York: Signet, 1958.

—. The Tattooed Heart. 1953. New York: Signet, 1954.

Theodora Keogh is my latest literary obsession, so I’ve been buying her out-of-print books on amazon.com as I find them (several of her novels have been reprinted by Olympia Press, thus I have been focusing on acquiring the out-of-print ones first). I love the look of old pulp fiction, and these editions are still in good condition because Signet was smart enough to produce them with colored page edges (I’m sure there is a technical term for this, but I don’t know it, which is terrible) to help protect the pages. I remember my elementary school librarian, Charles Kolataze at P.S. 97 in the Bronx, teaching us that books with this feature would last for years and years, but books without it would maybe only last for ten. Now, it is ridiculous to say that any book, even one being handled often by grubby children’s hands, will only last for ten years–see Nicholson Baker’s excellent exposé of this and other ridiculous librarian myths, Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper–but it is true that books with protected edges stay in good condition.

The first edition of The Fascinator (great title!) is also, well, fascinating, as it gives a glimpse into Farrar, Straus and Giroux’s (Why don’t they use the Oxford comma??? Arghhh.) early history. That third partner slot was apparently an unstable one, as The Fascinator has Young as the third partner and My Name is Rose notes that it was first published by Farrar, Straus & Cudahy.

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Theodora Keogh’s Meg

I just finished reading Theodora Keogh’s 1950 novel Meg, which is about the eponymous protagonist’s struggles with her entrance into womanhood in the year before she turns thirteen. I am generally not a fan of books that are primarily about children (two major exceptions are Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and Miriam Toews’s The Flying Troutmans), but Meg is a thought-provoking, well-written book. It is a cross between Judy Blume and Lolita, with the salacious bits just titillating enough to keep the reader’s attention without causing them too much worry about Meg’s fate, and the more innocent parts genuine enough as to not verge into sappiness.

What impresses me most about the novel is how prescient it is about the enforced conformity of the decade that followed its publication. Nothing much scandalous happens (There are constant hints that something will–Will Meg be seduced by her best friend’s father? Will she be kidnapped by a child molester? and so on–but the only time the book lives up to its luridly suggestive cover is when Meg loses her virginity to a slightly older boy, an experience that is neither pleasurable nor traumatic for her. Her description of the experience is beautifully profound: “‘What did it feel like?’ She thought a moment as she buttoned on her blouse. ‘Well, it was as if there was no place and you were making one, only you never quite got to make it.'” [95]), but the book feels subversive simply because it portrays characters who are unsatisfied by the roles society assigns them and want something more. Unfortunately, as is par for the course in most 1950s pulp fiction, most of the characters are punished for their differences. The prostitute Miss Tracy is murdered by her pimp, and Meg blackmails her history teacher when she finds out that she is a lesbian in order to get a passing grade. Aside from this one act, though, the reader roots for Meg, and she happily gets through the book relatively unscathed, albeit wiser, and the reader knows that she won’t grow up to be the kind of adult drone which the novel writes against.

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Book Acquired Recently: Theodora Keogh’s Meg

 

Keogh, Theodora. Meg. 1950. New York: Signet, 1951.

I bought this book after reading Keogh’s novel Gemini, which I enjoyed. I love old pulp fiction paperbacks, and thus am especially excited to add this edition to my library. The cover painting isn’t as lurid as pulp fiction illustrations often are, but the descriptions of the novel are clearly meant to titillate. The text at the top promises to reveal “The Secret Life of an Awakening Girl,” and we are told further down that the “book so honestly bares the secret thoughts and acts of boldly curious adolescents that you will never again take for granted the innocence of youth.” If the reader isn’t already hooked by these descriptions, the back cover blurb describes some salacious characters: “Miss Otis–the respectable history teacher with a guilty secret… Eddy Smollet–a man with an evil taste for little girls… Godwyn–in the basement he brooded about the prostitute upstairs.” Count me in!

Bought on amazon.com.

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Theodora Keogh’s Gemini

I just finished reading Theodora Keogh’s 1961 novel, Gemini. As I mentioned in my previous post, it is about a brother and sister who are lovers. Their attraction for one another is never fully explained; it is part of their mysterious connection as twins, a magical force unknowable to outsiders. As such, it is difficult to make an argument either for or against their incest (or to tell whether the novel itself does so)–they never make an argument for it, it just is, and there is thus nothing to “agree with” or “disagree with.” I am anti-incest, but the book did not horrify me or get my hackles up. The plot itself elicited an “eh, whatever” response. If Keogh intended it to be shocking, it no longer accomplishes this purpose.

However, I really enjoyed reading this book! Keogh’s use of language is beautiful in a smooth, languid way. Her prose is clear, with enough physical detail that I could easily picture in my mind the small Long Island village where the story takes place. One indicator of when a book is well-written is when its descriptions of food make me hungry, and Gemini had me craving good seafood the entire time (too bad I live in Utah!). I found myself really savoring the novel throughout its entirety. It makes me want to read more of Keogh’s writing, which is one of the best compliments a book can receive.

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Ann Bannon’s The Marriage

I just finished reading Ann Bannon’s 1960 novel The Marriage. It is the only one of her novels that is not a part of the excellent Beebo Brinker series of lesbian pulp fiction. However, two characters from the series, Laura Landon and Jack Mann, play a major role in it, and it takes place just after the events in the series conclude (note that the last book written in the series, Beebo Brinker, was not published until 1962, but portrays the earliest chronological events in the series).

The novel is the story of a heterosexual couple, Page and Sunny, who fall madly in love and get married, only to find out that they are actually brother and sister–Page was given away at birth by their parents and does not find out his true identity until after Sunny is pregnant with their child. The couple are divided about what to do about this incest, as Page believes they should never see each other again and Sunny believes that they should stay together because they love each other and did not intentionally flaunt what she views as an arbitrary taboo. Most of the novel is devoted to their struggle to resolve this conflict, which results in some razor-sharp, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf-esque arguments (Page even cuts part of his left pinky off to prove his bravery when Sunny accuses him of cowardice!).

The couple finally agrees to keep their baby and stay together in a neo-Naturalist scene at the end of the novel, which at first seems absured and overwrought, but upon further consideration is a profound argument in favor of the sexual Other. Sunny has gone from New York to California to be away from the stress that Page is causing her because it is endangering the baby. He tracks her down, and they are driving back east along Route 66 when they decide to do some sight-seeing in the Nevada desert and, of course, get lost (side note: Fictional road trips from the pre-interstate era are so fascinating! It would be impossible for the couple to get lost off-road if they were driving now, but back then, as in John Updike’s Rabbit, Run, the rural landscape is still barely touched by pavement, and thus defeats them easily.) They spend nearly two days in the desert sun without food or water before they are rescued, and it takes this isolation from society for Page to realize that all sexual mores are mere constructions. He finally understands Sunny’s point that it is only their love that matters, and the book ends happily.

The Marriage is certainly not pro-incest (side note two: It is interesting to compare The Marriage‘s attempt to minimize incest’s scandalousness with the fetishization of incest in contemporary “girl-on-girl” pornography directed at heterosexual males, which often portrays mother-daughter or sister-sister relationships, apparently in order to add an extra level of taboo to the already heteronormatively “illicit” nature of [pseudo-]lesbian sex): it is clear that the only reason Sunny and Page are allowed to stay together is because their incest was accidental, and since they have already had sex it is not as though their mistake will be exacerbated by further relations. The point of the novel is really to advocate for more sexual openness in general. When Page tells Jack about what he and Sunny have discovered, Jack tries to comfort Page by revealing his homosexuality in order to show Page that people whom society designates as sexually Other are not the horrific caricatures society paints them as; they are instead “normal” people. This is why The Marriage is valuable, and is still worth reading in the ridiculously sexually-backward travesty that is contemporary America. While it is not as well-written as most of the Beebo Brinker series, and has been marginalized because of its inclusion of incest (it is only available in a badly-produced Olympia Press edition alongside another pulp novel about incest, Theodora Keogh’s Gemini [I haven’t read Gemini yet because I bought the book for The Marriage since I am a big Bannon fan, but judging from the blurb it apparently is pro-incest. If this is the case, The Marriage‘s value is even further obscured due to this pairing.], whereas the Beebo Brinker books are currently in print in a lovely edition from one of the best/most important queer publishers out there, Cleis Press), it still has lessons to teach, and is worth reading as a part of Bannon’s important oeuvre.

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