mercredi 31 octobre 2007


Sunday, October 28th 2007

In the past, small minorities remained invisible and powerless because individual members were scattered amid larger groups without any mean to communicate. Today, the tremendous growth of urban life, the internet, the balkanization of communications, and the global economy have changed all that. Small groups can form, communicate, grow, be identified and targeted therefore exercing influence and power through these new, emerging, and sometimes counterintuitive trends.
Mark Penn is the CEO of the public relation firm Burston-Marsteller and president of the polling firm Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates. He is the key advisor of Hillary Clinton for her 2008 presidential campaign, after having successefully helped her to be elected Senator of the state of New York.
Microtrends (Twelve, 2007) the book he wrote with Kinney Zalesne is about these new trends which are shaping the world. "There are no longer a couple of megaforces sweeping us all along. Instead, America and the world are being pulled apart by an intricated maze of choices, accumulating in 'microtrends' - small, under-the-radar forces that can involve as little as 1 percent of the population, but which are powerfully shaping our society. (...) In fact, by the time a trend hits 1 percent, it is ready to spawn a hit movie, best-selling book, or new political movement."
Among the 75 'microtrends' described in the book, some are more interesting than others, some are relatively expected (Extreme Commuters, Stay-at-Home Workers, 30-Winkers: people not sleeping enough, etc.), some are more surprising (Cougars: women dating younger men often without a long-term commitment, Southpaws Unbound: more left-handers, Pro-Semites, Long Attention Spanners, etc.). If the number of single women in America has increased it is because "whatever the actual number of gay people may be, gay men outnumber lesbians in America by approximately 2 to 1." Based on several studies Mark Penn hypothesizes that 5 percent of US adults are gay, 7.5 million gay men and 3.5 million lesbians. "Late-Breaking Gays" are also on the rise, according to him. The number of men in america who are or were married and who report having had sex with other men is over 1.2 million. The rise seems attibutable to the increasing acceptance of homosexuality.

In the
New York Times Book Review a review of the first story collection from a physician, Vincent Lam, draw my attention. "Lam is better when he emphasizes the inherent strength of his material. He is himself an emergency physician and thus brings to mind Somerset Maughan, William Carlos Williams and Chekhov - the first is a former medical student and the others doctors for the whole of their literary careers. But Lam's work fits better among that of nonfiction writers like Jerome Groopman, Sherwin Nuland and Atul Gawande. He writes what is sometimes called 'documentary fiction', providing an insider's view of his field."

As does the short mention of a book under the Editors' Choice heading in the Best Seller list section:
High Season, by Jon Loomis (St. Martin's Minotaur, $23.95). A married televangelist turns up dead at a gay men's beach in a muumuu. A whodunit ensues.

lundi 22 octobre 2007

How Starbucks Saved my Life

Sunday, October 21st 2007

Michael Gates Gill's book,
How Starbucks Saved my Life (Gotham Books, 2007), is an attractive book - before you read it.
The author is a former successful advertising executive who lost his job in his fifties, after the new owner of his firm, the J. Walter Thompson agency in New York, decided to focus on the bottom line and claimed "I like young people around me." He hardly makes a living from consulting during a few years afterwards, has an affair with a young woman who falls pregnant, and spends all the money he had set aside in a divorce and in college tuition for his four kids. He ends up broke, living alone in a small rented apartment, without health insurance and a newly diagnosed brain tumor. He is now 63 years old. Miraculously he is offered a job at a Starbucks café in Manhattan Upper West Side. As part of the job he gets a good health insurance. He finds happiness in his new, simple and straightforward, life. "I am happier than I have ever been", he realizes on a cold December night when he walks out of his store. Does it mean that his 64 previous years have been a waste? "I hated to think that my whole life had been a lie." It looks like a coming-out story.
The book is scattered with reminiscences of his youth, when he was growing in a wealthy family on the Upper East Side, before moving into a mansion in an upscale suburb town, vacationing in the hills of Connecticut and studying at Yale. The portraits of his father, the renowned
New Yorker writer Brendan Gill, and his numerous famous literary friends are appealing. His firing at JWT, the quick dissolution of his relationship after the birth of his last son ("She imagined me as a man at the top of America, fulfilled, productive, successful, and happy. She got to know me as I was: an insecure little boy not that good at dealing with reality"), the portrait of the surgeon he sees for his neurinoma, the extraordinary way in which his mother, who 'lived in the full bloom of New England optimistic denial', does not dare telling him that his father has died, are all greatly depicted.
Unfortunately the book is spoiled by the scenes at Starbucks. They read like an upsetting advertising for the company, and display very dull and simplistic lessons. They are simply not credible. The quotes from the Starbucks cups at the head of every chapter are pitiful.

Senator John McCain's campaign for the Republican nomination seemed over. He was trailing in polls, unable to raise enough funds, and had to fire his top aids last July. But now he is back. In polls he is reducing his lag behind Giuliani, the Republican frontrunner, and appears to have a better chance of beating Hillary Clinton in the general election. And the surge in Irak, which he strongly supported, could be delivering results... The fact that he finished last with less that 2% of the votes in a poll at the Christian conservatives summit this week-end in Washington DC makes him sympathetic. To those who question his age (he is 71-year-old), he points to his mother. The
Financial Times reports in its week-end edition that 95-year-old Roberta McCain was fined by the Arizona highway police last year for driving at 110 mph. She leaps on and off the campaign bus without assistance. "The Christmas before last", says John McCain, "she went to Paris and they refused to rent her a car because of her age. So she went out and bought one."

For the last week or so, the weather has been unusually warm, with temperatures raising to the high 70s. The fall foliage colors are at their peak in this part of Connecticut. The conditions are perfect for reading outside on a deck, while smoking a cigar, and from time to time admiring the view. David Leavitt's last novel,
The Indian Clerk (Bloomsbury, 2007), which I started over the week-end, seems very promising. I will tell you more about it.

mardi 9 octobre 2007

Edmund White, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Sunday, October 7th 2007

Edmund White's last book is puzzling.
Hotel de Dream (Ecco, 2007) narrates the last weeks in the life of the American writer Stephen Crane (not to be confused with the gay poet Hart Crane). Having retreated to England with his wife Cora, to avoid gossip about her past as owner of the Florida bordello which provides the title of the novel, he is dying from tuberculosis at the age of twenty-eight. In his feverish state he remembers his days as a journalist in New York in the 1890s, when he met a boy prostitute who was been courted by a married man who ruined his life to wins the boy's love. He starts dictating a novel based on this story to Cora, The Painted Boy. This fictitious novel is the basis of a large part of White's book. Although the circumstances of Crane's last days are based on facts, the encounter with the boy prostitute and the dictation of the novel are invented, based on some very doubtful biographic details reported after his death, as Edmund White explains in a short postface. "Crane is one of the classic American authors of the nineteenth century, along with Hawthorne, Melville, Dickinson, Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, and James, but in many ways he remains one of the most mysterious. Of course this very obscurity has provided me with the space necessary to invent. I have tried to imagine in this book what 'Flowers of Asphalt' (the title of the book which would have been chosen by Crane, according to the posthumous doubtful biographic information) might have been like, though not one word of it is extant. How would a heterosexual man who had wide human sympathies, an affection for prostitutes, a keen, compassionate curiosity about the poor and downtrodden, a terminal disease - how would such a man have responded to male homosexuality if he was confronted with it? How would he have thought about it in a era when homosexuals themselves were groping for explanations of their proclivities?" The character of Theodore Koch, the married man, is not very credible, at least at first view, which is the major flaw of the book. Cora is very successfully depicted, together with "Crane's literary milieu, the urban gay subculture of his time, and the relationship of a writer's experience to his fiction", as reports the New Yorker.
Edmund Wilson, the great literary critic of the 20th century, suggested the idea of an American Pléiade, which the Library of America has embarked on. Coincidentaly, two volumes collecting his critics from the 20s through the 40s have just been published. Wilson did not have a high opinion of the post-Civil War literary world. During that period, he wrote, Stephen Crane "was a vortex of intensity in a generally stagnant sea."

Ahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, visiting New York last month for the United Nations General Assembly, was invited by Columbia University to give a speach and answer questions. The invitation generated a lot of controversy. In an unexpected turn around Newt Gringrich, the former Republican Speaker of the House, became the most ardent defender of gays rights, stating that the head of a state which executed homosexuals should not be given the opportunity to talk! The issue was raised by the moderator during the debate. "We do not have homosexuals in Iran" did he answer most seriously, eliciting a big laughter from the attendance, "Where did you get that from?"
Certainly there are no Iranian bars among the world top 50 best gay bars listed by
Out magazine (October). One is in New Haven (Gotham Citi). Paris (Okawa, Le Raidd, L'Insolite and Le Queen) and New York (Therapy, Cubby Hole, NK and Splash) both have 4 bars listed, the largest number of any other city.