Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer is Sick But Not That Sick

Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer was banned in the US and the UK in the ‘60s because it was “obscene”. I think HM got lucky because without the infamy, it probably wouldn’t have attracted plenty of attention; it would just be a novel with a central character that happens to be fascinated with cunts. It’s interesting that in the ‘60s, books have the power to scandalize people. Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine people being outraged by a book’s luridness. What’s not difficult to imagine though is some people disliking its self-indulgence and lack of a story. Henry Miller isn’t the loveliest of humans but it’s silly to dislike the book because he’s occasionally vile and a cynic.

The novel’s narrator Henry Miller would like you to think that he thinks about nothing but food, sex, and writing. But he thinks about a lot of things, too. He’s a penniless writer in Paris, which is exactly what you should be if you want to write a semi-autobiographical novel about being down and out. There are long, beautiful paragraphs that are at once hypnotic and exasperating. Reading about writers is fatiguing me a bit, but Henry Miller’s prose put me into a trance. Also, I hate starting books and not finishing them. I’d also give any book about the expat life a chance. I liked JM Coetzee’s ‘Youth’ because it had the nerve to touch upon visa problems. But HM’s too cool for that. He’d rather write about the ‘Paris that grows inside you like cancer, and grows and grows until you are eaten away by it.’

To him, being a vagabond who’s consumed by thoughts of how to get fed day by day is more compelling than worrying about visas and immigration officers. The men are  degenerates, foreigners like him who find sanctuary in whorehouses despite being penniless, and the women exist solely for the men’s pleasure. There is not a single interesting person because the narrator is too fascinated with his own thoughts to create one. Not that he hasn’t any right to be! It’s his book, and readers are entitled to certain authors’ masturbatory leanings. Ultimately, Henry Miller is just like one of the guys he hung around with in Paris. Sometimes they do and say interesting things, sometimes they’re just happy to ramble and exist. And you, the reader, is just happy to get to the next page and experience more of his being, that is, precious, poor and a man who has needs.

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Books, Bookstores, CDs and More UK Things

An Oxfam store in York

Ads for books
The streets of London are filled with ads and billboards, but there aren’t a lot of ads for iPhone X, cosmetics, and skin clearing products, which is a shocker. Instead, there are many, many ads for plays, movies, and books.

My most precious book find was ‘Butt’, a compendium of Butt magazine’s most intriguing interviews, which I found in one of the Waterstoneses (the five-storey one, the one where I could spend the rest of my life).

Fun fact: the United Kingdom, not Kinokuniya, has all the books you could ever want. But I could be wrong. Hearing strangers talk about books in the bookstore was a heart-stopping experience that has never happened to me before.

In Bangkok, we have Dasa, secondhand book and CD sellers. In the UK, they have Oxfam. Oxfam is better because every penny you spend goes to charity (and to the salary of Oxfam employees). When you buy a bunch of books, CDs, vinyl, or DVDs from Oxfam, you’re not really hoarding but donating and living your best Christian life.

HMV
I posted a photo of myself browsing CDs at HMV on Instagram and it came off sounding a bit shady because I captioned it with ‘I love museums’. I didn’t mean to imply that CDs, DVDs and Blurays are relics from the past. If you know me, you know that I am never shady toward anything that I hold dear. I need to explain this.

I spent around 4 hours in HMV stores – one in London and another in York – an amount of time that could have been spent in more ~important~ places or in other horror tours. But, to borrow a phrase from tour brochures, no visit to the UK is complete without a 4-hour stop at the local record store!

And what a record store. They have CDs from 1997, one of the best years in music, and DVDs and Bluray of movies and TV shows that you will never find in Asia. I bought Jeff Buckley’s ‘You and I’, which is probably the 57th Jeff Buckley posthumous live album release. It is the rare Jeff Buckley album that’s properly mastered, ie, doesn’t sound like it was lifted from cassette tape recordings like the albums ‘Live at L’Olympia’, ‘Grace Around the World’, and ‘Mystery White Boy’. Jeff Buckley died in 1997.

Only those who remain fascinated by physical media would see the wonders of such a magical place like HMV. Having visited a 1st world country for the first time, I was stunned to see a record store like HMV whose continued existence in the UK can be explained by two things:

1.) Piracy is a serious offense

2.) People consume culture by the bucketful, and we all know that the best way to consume things is by the bucketful. I only stayed for a week but the Brits seem very, very cultured. It’s very nice.

Whenever I go to an exotic country like the UK, I try to visit a record store and look for Jeff Buckley, Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan albums. I collect things, I don’t know why! But here’s a nice Italo Calvino quote from his essay “Hermit in Paris” which explains this mania of mine:

So now we are entering into the limitless Paris adored by collectors, this city which invites you to make collections of everything, because it accumulates and classifies and redistributes, where you can search as in an archaeological excavation. The collector’s experience can still be an existential adventure, a search of the self through objects, an exploration of the world which is at the same time a realization of the self.

Thanks, Italo.

Asian Food
European food is blandish but some sausages are scrumptious. I say this as a very Asian person who has only stayed in the UK for 7 days. Asian food is so good that you can’t not have it for more than 3 days. It seems silly to eat Chinese food while in Sheffield but on your 3rd day without an Asian meal, you start yearning for Asian soup and other Asian dishes that assault your Asian senses.

Harry Potter shops
There are plenty of Harry Potter stores in York which JK Rowling probably liked. York was exquisite. It’s no wonder pubs are a big thing; they’re warm places filled with stone-cold foxes, a great variety of beer, and human warmth. Yes, human warmth. Everyone knows everyone, and if you don’t know anyone, you could try butting in a conversation, or go with someone like our friend Aya who’s the mayor of Sheffield‘s London Street pubs. She could really rule that pub circuit.

If I were a Potter person, I would have died on right there on The Shambles, a quaint little district lined with wizard and witch-themed stores with names like ‘The Store That Shall Not Be Named’ and such. But what I am is a Chucky stan, which is why I was more excited about the HMV stores where all the Child’s Play movies are sold along with many horror movies, including the elusive ‘Cult of Chucky ‘ and ‘Halloween H20’.

I have a suggestion: The Philippines should market Jose Rizal’s novels ‘Noli Me Tangere’ and ‘El Filibusterismo’ like York does JK’s Harry Potter. Then, we shall put up Noli Me-El Fili stores all over the country, so someone could die in our streets out of sheer joy of finding a store that sells exclusive Ibarra collectibles.

Dreamgirls would never leave you
I was stunned upon realizing that the ‘Listen’ number in the ‘Dreamgirls’ movie was turned into a Beyoncé solo performance. In the play, it’s a Deena and Effie duet about listening to the girl you originally were, before you turned into a duplicitous, scene-stealing broad. I bet they changed it in the movie to make sure Jennifer Hudson doesn’t out-Beyoncé Beyoncé, which she ended up doing anyway. The West End play was very good. The Curtis character, unremarkable in the movie, is a commanding charmer in the play.

Trip steps
I fell down the stairs in the Air BnB apartment where we stayed, and it’s not even one of the trip steps which the Scottish peoples deployed in the old days to trick burglars into killing themselves. No one can be sure that the ‘trip steps’ were designed to kill burglars, rather than just seriously injuring them, but given the Scots’ fascination with killings and executions (at least in the old days), that’s probably the real intention. If you’re walking around Scotland, watch your steps.

Could I live in the UK?
I probably could, but I was told that the cold can be unbearable. I have no doubt that’s true. And for a thin-skinned skinny Asian like me, it could be a big problem.

I thought, yes, I could live in the UK because the people are polite, and as we all know all we really need in this world to survive is the warmth of human friendship and to be treated with politeness at all times. Living in a cold country like England sounds exciting and if things don’t turn out well, I could Down and Out in Paris and London myself and write a bad memoir about my difficulties with visas and things. I’d like to see a movie where someone moves to another country and shows how difficult it is to legitimize one’s residence. London has Waterstones and HMV, — also things necessary to survive — but for now we stay put.

A horror tour that works despite/because of an unlively tour guide

Greyfriars Cemetery

We went on a ‘dark side’ tour of Edinburgh’s freezing, history-rich streets for the low price of 10 pounds. Paula the tour guide wasn’t as compelling a storyteller as Adam, the Scottish-Czech guy who took us around town for an animated two-hour Edinburgh history tour. After the tour, you’d want to hug Adam and wipe the dribble of spit on his chin, and give him all your money. Listening to Paula meant working up the appetite to be scared, which was totally fine by me. I suspect a lively ‘dark side’ tour would have been cheesy.

At various stops, she told stories about grave robbery, infanticide, and serial killings committed by Edinburgh’s murder icons William Burke and William Hair, buddies from the 18th century who made easy money selling murdered harlots and drunkards’ fresh cadavers to medical schools. The two were eventually caught, and the neat semi-twist is that when they died, their bodies were donated to the medical schools at no cost. It was a good story that could have been corny if told in a costume, maybe.

Old Calton Cemetery

Paula also took us to the Old Calton cemetery which would have been frightening if there were less than 10 people (there were 16 of us) in the group. She made us step into a random mausoleum to tell the story of a woman who was buried prematurely and had her finger cut off by grave robbers who wanted her precious rings. And because it was told by Paula in her decidedly unthrilled, slightly snarky manner, you have to decide whether it was tragic, comedic or both. I chose tragic.

At other stops, Paula told stories about the witch trials which Adam had already covered with greater verve. The phrase ‘witch trials’ makes much more sense to me now thanks to the Scottish snack’s little history lesson.

The last stop was about the enduring impact of Akasha, the Queen of the Damned. It’s about a guy who wanted to become a vampire so badly that he ate animal liver for a year and murdered his best friend who called him out on his folly. Unlike the subjects in the earlier tales, the killer in this final stop was caught because his DNA was all over the corpse – an obvious detail that would have been completely boring in a modern era ‘horror tour’. This Akasha-motivated crime happened in the ‘00s, so…surprise! She saved this story for last for twist’s sake, which was very Paula of her.

The lesson of the horror tour is, probably, depravity, corruption of the soul, etc, can happen in any era in Edinburgh. Thanks, Paula. It was a very cold tour, but I think that was the intention.

Casual Fun Idea: Read David Sedaris’ Theft By Finding, Diaries 1977-2002

As expected, the book is a delight. Imagine taking a peek at David Sedaris’s diaries and reading about stuff that happened to him in real life, from the ‘70s through to early ‘00s. Of course, these had already been edited, but they’re ‘raw’ compared to the finished and/or stylized essays in his other books.

Some observations, thoughts, feelings:

1. He’s a well-known author with a huge following, so of course his diaries would be of great interest to millions of people who’ve read him and love him. But a book filled with seemingly nondescript, humdrum entries would have to be extraordinarily entertaining to be worth buying. So thank goodness his diaries are funny. I think it’s difficult to fake funny.

2. It’s great to read a famous author’s diaries and not have it be packaged as an ’insightful peek’ into his inner life. It definitely is that, but it’s terrific that it’s just really a collection of his diaries, like, ‘here are David Sedaris’s diaries, culled from his years of diarizing, transcribed from his numerous notebooks. We think you’ll enjoy it, and some of you, we’re pretty sure, will do find it immensely readable, enjoyable. Some of you will not, and that’s okay.’

3. Some of the most interesting, life-changing events happened in the ‘90s. It’s when he moved to New York. It’s when he ‘decided’ to have a crush on his long-time partner Hugh. It’s when he found work as an Elf in Macy’s, which resulted in the hilarious ‘Santaland Diaries.’ Thank you, ‘90s.

4. If you’re thinking of keeping a diary, try to leave out most of your thoughts and feelings. Just tell your notebook what happened and see how it turns out after several days’ or weeks’ entries. Hilarity, comedy, drama, tragedy could still ensue if you diarize well.

5. You really could make something out of your diary entries, compile them and turn them into a bestselling collection of essays. The ‘trick’ is to buy small notebooks that you can carry around wherever you go.

6. It’s difficult to determine whether he knew his diaries would be read by the general public someday, and whether that line of thinking was a contributing factor in creating what is now ‘Theft by Finding 1987-2002.’ He just kept writing and look how that turned out.

‘Call Me By Your Name’ is the Complete Fantasy

Elio and Oliver live a life of privilege. Elio is young, free, gorgeous, and has parents who own a charming Italian house. Oliver, a guest of his father’s, is likable, smart, and sexy. They’re two guys who fall for each other in a lovely Italian suburb and they both play at being strictly brotherly toward each other. They can do whatever they want except be romantic in public.

Elio may be too young for Oliver, and their romance could have come off as predatory, but it’s very clear (in the book and in the movie) that Elio desires Oliver as much as Oliver likes the taste of Elio’s peach-housed man juice. Elio and Oliver. Oliver and Elio. Nothing and no one’s being corrupted except for a piece of peach.

But still, they have to keep up appearances that everything in the world is as straight as they should be. This is why when Oliver gives Elio a playful massage, it has to appear perfunctory. It’s why Elio has to take Oliver to a secluded pond for a grope and make out session, and why they have to wait for midnight to consummate a fantasy.

It seems perfectly alright to let the world know; the story is set in 80s Italy when gay unions are tolerated. Elio’s parents would have understood too because they’re the intelligent and uncruel sort. But it’s two guys in love. Whether it’s in 1983 or 2017, you know there are barriers and those barriers are great.

And so they do what they must do. They escape to the mountains where they can yell each other’s name abandonedly, go to town to puke in the streets, and wild it out to ‘Love My Way’.

When Elio and Oliver share a tight hug and bid their wordless goodbyes in the train station, I got dehydrated. When Elio’s dad tells him to nurse his pain, and that he envies their beautiful friendship, I turned into a prune.

As an expert in this sort of thing, I can say with some authority that this is really how it happens. That is exactly the way it happens in trees at midnight when we have to be quiet and pretend like we’re just friends with that person with whom we climb the tree. Some of us get over that phase where we climb trees in our parents’ Italian summer house to make out with the house guest, but we never forget the bittersweet memories of these unforgettable late-night climbs.

Morrissey’s ‘List of the Lost’ is a comic novel we don’t deserve

 

I had hoped that sexy British author Morrissey’s ‘List of the Lost’ would be similar to ‘Infinite Jest’ (athlete friends getting high and saying clever things 24×7), but it wasn’t and that’s okay. What it is is a peculiar novel that manages to be everything that Morrissey the vegetarian-atheist-sexy person wanted it to be and more. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever read before (maybe).

It’s about four fabulously built athletes who play some sports things (javelin running or something) and their deadbeat coach Rims who likes to make speeches in italics. I would say he’s like a character in a Thomas Hardy novel except that I’m not sure whether or not that makes sense because really, he could be from any planet from any century, and he would still be special.

The finely musculatured foursome Ezra, Harri, Justy and Nails do, say, and feel things like most characters in many novels, until one day they run into a preachy hobo who manages to give a rousing monologue about sexual morality, police brutality, the imprecision of memory, and government greed among other things before dying in the hands of Ezra, the novel’s Hal Incandenza. And in the words of some youthful characters on Twitter, ‘sdsklskdlskdlsdksl’

The dialogue may be bad (I’m too busy to type the excellent sex bits but they’re hilarious and worth reading) but at least it doesn’t waste your time — it’s only 117 pages! There’s a special message for pork eaters, too. And if Jonathan Safran Foer can’t turn you into a vegetarian, don’t you worry because this won’t likely hypnotize you into giving up meat and dairy. Morrissey will only shame you and your pork-eating habits. You’re likely going to feel spiteful for that and continue being a carnivore. Meanwhile, some of you will be amused.

‘List of the Lost’ is clearly a comic novel that Steven Patrick took a week of his life to entertain you, Morrissey fans, and everyone else with the good sense to pick it up, and if you can’t see that I feel sorry for you. Don’t believe The Guardian who viciously urges its readers not to read this wacky book. Or believe them but read it anyway.

Tell Everyone About ‘Don’t Tell Anyone,’ literary smut by Shakira Andrea Sison and Ian Rosales Casocot

‘Don’t Tell Anyone literary smut‘ was supposed to be an erotica anthology featuring both straight and gay stories. But because the stories submitted by the straight writers weren’t bastos enough, the book project ended up being a gay collection written by gay persons, Ian Rosales Casocot and Shakira Andrea Sison. In short, the gays won because gays follow rules. If they are tasked to write erotica, they write ones with unflinching smuttiness.

‘all my broken i love yous’ begins with ‘how to melt stone,’ which I presume is an accurate depiction of lesbian courtship and climaxes. It starts out coyly, telling a certain ‘you’ how to act around a Drakkar Noir-wearing lesbian lover. It’s short and sweet, and for a moment, I thought the stories would all be this saccharine.

It’s only a matter of time, though, before “bare crotches,” “proud clits,” and “shiny thighs” begin to take center stage. You’d be foolish to expect a moment of rest from really hot lovemaking because from the second story, ‘short,’ onwards, it’s all steamy sexing with only a few pillow talks in between.

By the third and fourth story, I needed a reprieve so I jumped into the Casocot side, ‘all the loves of my life.’ And I was rewarded with stories that are sexy but also have characters who communicate. In fact, I recommend switching from the lesbian side to the gay side to avoid fatigue. Whereas Sison’s stories are truly erotic, they sometimes get to be too much.

That said, it helps that:

-the writing is superb; you won’t get lost mapping the geography of Laurie, Lana, Teresa or any of the ladies’ bodies because Shaki is an expert navigator and she makes sure you don’t get lost. But I couldn’t help but giggle at the many colorful ways in which vaginas were described, which include ‘my half’ (or something), ‘mound,’ and more. I realize these are standard descriptions of the female organ but they sometimes elicit laughter instead of something else.

-lesbian sex is rarely described in any piece of art, unless you seek it out. If you’re reading this because you’re curious or because you need to know, consider your curiosity satiated (although it’s really not in my place to say whether or not this is accurate).

-the characters, when they get a chance to speak, are articulate. They’re very horny but also very smart. In “The Teachers,” professors Lena and Carla discuss the finer points of lesbian sexuality and attraction, which intelligently raises misconceptions and confusion about the way lesbians perceive attraction amongst themselves.

Reading the lesbian stories first, gay ones second also works. The women in the lesbian side are, I feel, too serious and intense, and only pause briefly to catch their breath, smoke, or negotiate with pervy campus security guards who catch them humping.

Casocot’s stories, on the other hand, are quite conservative, and the characters are easier to remember. For example, you can tell the boys from ‘the boys from Rizal Street’ apart: Samuel is the douche with the huge d, Tobias is the cold top, and Joseph is the map enthusiast who says things like, “But sometimes even a fake map is a good measure of the real borders we believe our lives to be contained in. Their (they’re ?) renderings of our imagined places—and for that, they’re beautiful.” He gives the narrator named ‘Ian’ a hard-on.

This is why I love this story: I love that the author doesn’t even care that his name is Ian and his story’s protagonist is also named Ian. Some works of fiction are very thinly veiled personal anecdotes and to me that’s okay as long as they’re good stories.

‘the thank you girl’ is a lighthearted and engaging romp about two guys who met on Grindr and found themselves in too deep talking about an acronym you may or may not have heard of, OGT, which stands for Obviously Gay Trait. Their chat inevitably leads to a necessary Miss Universe strip game. I see a movie on the horizon starring two heartthrobs, preferably ones with great comic timing.

‘Don’t Tell Anyone’ is a breath of fresh air. I had to look up ‘smut’ because I thought the gay side was not sexy enough. It turned out I’ve equated smut with porn. Smut is, per Urban Dictionary, a work of fiction that includes one or more sexually explicit scenes, with a thin plot and lots of romance. And because Ian and Shakira follow rules, they’ve created really good smut. ‘Don’t Tell Anyone’ is an exhilarating (the lez side, especially) good time that titillates, tickles, and educates.