Tag Archives: Paul Monette

The Sunday Salon: Go Fourth and Read

The Sunday Salon

It has been a spectacularly gorgeous Fourth of July weekend here in Pittsburgh, one that lent itself to some quality time spent reading on the deck … which is exactly where I’ve been most of the last three days. Part of me feels a bit guilty for not partaking in all that Pittsburgh had to offer during this weekend (the regatta, fireworks, etc.) but the reality is that we don’t particularly like huge crowds and the kids are outside and active all day during the week with their day camp. Reading on the deck and watching baseball games suits us just fine.

The Signature of All Things

Last night I started reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things. I haven’t read anything of hers before (I never bought into the whole Eat, Pray, Love hype) and frankly, Signature just wasn’t on my radar until I heard that a) there was a Philadelphia aspect to this one and b) Elizabeth Gilbert will be part of the upcoming Monday Night Lectures series with Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures this season. I’m on the fence about whether to get tickets for Elizabeth Gilbert, but in the meantime, I’m trying to read as many of the PAL authors as I can.

Big Book Summer Reading ChallengeThis is a chunkster and thus qualifies as my book of choice for the 2014 Big Book Summer Challenge, hosted by Sue at Book by Book. I love this reading challenge and I try to participate every summer. It’s easy; all you have to do is commit to reading one book of at least 400 pages. There’s still plenty of summer left to participate, as this one goes to Labor Day. (This post counts as my official “I’m signing up to participate.”)

Some other reading recaps from the week:

My audiobook of the week was French Lessons by Ellen Sussman, a new writer friend of mine. If you happen to find yourself on a beach this week and in need of a light, fun, escapism, sexytimes sort of read, French Lessons is it. I’ll admit, this strayed a bit into the romance/chick lit realm for my typical taste, but whether it was the fact that I was just getting back from vacation, this was a fun listen during my daily commute to and from work.

On Friday, I finished reading Paul Monette’s extraordinary memoir Borrowed Time, which I reviewed here yesterday. This is likely going to be one of the best books I will read this year. It left me speechless.

And speaking of this year, can you believe we’re already halfway through 2014? As of June 30, I’ve read 33 books this year, with exactly 1/3 of those being audiobooks. My goal is 75 books total by the end of the year, so I’m pleased with that.  Interestingly, this happens to be exactly where I was this time last year. I’ve read more female authors (23) than male (10), which is typical for me.

Of the books I’ve read, 10 were fiction; nine were memoirs; six were nonfiction; three were short story collections and three were poetry. The other two were historical fiction. My average rating for a book is 3.6.

My picks, then, for The Best Books I’ve Read During the First Half of 2014:

Fiction:
Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It, Stories by Maile Meloy
Frances and Bernard, by Carlene Bauer
Transatlantic, by Colum McCann
Perfect, by Rachel Joyce
Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, by Chris Bohjalian (to be published 7/8/2014)

Memoir:
Nest. Flight. Sky, by Beth Kephart
Glitter and Glue, by Kelly Corrigan
In the Body of the World, by Eve Ensler
Hope for a Sea Change, by Elizabeth Aquino
Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir, by Beth Kephart

Finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to send out get-well wishes to one of my very favorite authors,  Colum McCann. It’s a holiday weekend, so some may have missed the news that Colum McCann was attacked in New Haven, Connecticut while trying to assist a woman involved in an apparent domestic violence incident. (“An Author Known For Empathy Has None for His Attacker,” NYT, July 3, 2014). I was horrified to hear this (although not surprised to hear that he intervened, because that’s the sort of person Mr. McCann seems to be). I’m glad to hear that it seems that Mr. McCann is going be all right, as this could have been much, much worse. Not that I think he reads this blog or anything (but, hey, you never know) but I hope Mr. McCann makes a full recovery and that his attacker is caught and brought to justice for both incidents.

I also hope that the woman involved in the incident seeks support, for on Independence Day and every day, everyone deserves to be free from that type of abuse in their lives. Next time there might not be someone to come help.

Hope all of you who were celebrating had a happy – and safe – Fourth of July.

Book Review: Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir, by Paul Monette

Borrowed TimeBorrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir
by Paul Monette
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
1988
342 pages 

During a critique session, someone in my writing group asked me about my motivation for my novel-in-progress. It’s set in the midst of the AIDS epidemic and is a young adult novel based on real-life experiences. It’s a story that I’m compelled to tell for several reasons.

I thought about my answer for a minute before responding to my friend.

“I don’t want this story to be forgotten,” I said simply, adding that for my kids’ generation, the fear and the panic of AIDS – not to mention the blatant indifference from the government – has become the stuff of ancient history.

Borrowed Time brings it all back.

Paul Monette’s memoir about caring for his partner Roger Horwitz during his fight with AIDS is, without a doubt, one of the most powerfully affecting memoirs I’ve ever read – about AIDS or otherwise. It doesn’t matter that this was published in 1988. This is timeless.

Drawing heavily from Paul’s journals, Borrowed Time has a chronological feel to it, giving the reader the feeling of being in medias res during the nineteen months from Roger’s diagnosis in March 1985 to his death in October 1986.  It’s unabashedly human and raw, as Paul spills emotions of anger and frustration, admitting what he doesn’t remember and portraying vividly what he does.

Living with AIDS feels akin to living on the moon, Paul writes, and that metaphor – along with the symbolism of light and dark – shows up frequently in Borrowed Time. In 1985, that’s how it was; AIDS patients and those caring for them were very much on a different planet than the rest of society.

The writing in Borrowed Time is spectacularly gorgeous. There’s not a single page where Paul Monette doesn’t leave a piece of his heart while taking part of his reader’s.

“Hope had left us so unprepared. We had grown so grateful for little things. Out of nowhere you go from light to dark, from winning to losing, go to sleep murmuring thanks and wake to an endless siren. The honeymoon was over, that much was clear. Now we would learn to borrow time in earnest, day by day, making what brief stays we could against the downward spiral from which all our wasted brothers did not return.” (pg. 183)

Borrowed Time is a lot of things. It’s a roller-coaster ride; one minute Roger is well and the next he is near death. It’s a testament to the bond of friendship, because not only do Paul and Roger have a support system of close friends, they also know the right people in 1985 to be able to access drugs like suramin and AZT and protocols that buy Roger extra time.

Borrowed Time is maddening as hell, because of what we know now. (“It will be recorded that the dead in the first decade of the calamity died of our indifference.” (pg. 18).

It’s about family. “Craig’s mother cut him off one night as he complained about the blood tests and the circular doctors’ appointments: ‘Listen, this whole thing is your own fault. I don’t really want to hear about it.’ That turns out to be rather mild, and at least it’s honest. The real hell is the family sitting in green suburbia while the wasting son shuttles from friend to friend in a distant place, unembraced and disowned until the will is ready to be contested. And even that is to be preferred to the worst of all, being deported back to the flat earth of a rural fundamentalist family, who spit their hate with folded hands, transfigured by the justice of their bumper-sticker God.” (p. 205)

It’s about the very real emotions of being the primary caregiver for someone who is terminally ill. It gets at the unbearable burden of secrecy that was absolutely necessary to protect the people we loved.

Above all, Borrowed Time is a story about what it means to truly love someone. It’s impossible to come away from this without realizing how very much in love Paul and Roger were, which is part of what gives this memoir its overwhelming sadness.

Paul Monette died of AIDS in 1995, nine years after Roger’s passing. From a literary perspective, the mind reels at the loss of such an immensely talented writer as Paul Monette. It’s impossible not to think of what might have been if things had been different, in so many ways.

5 out of 5 stars. Highly recommended.

 

 

 

 

 

Armchair BEA 2014: Some People Buy Shoes, I Buy Lecture Tickets.

ArmchairBEA 2014

 “Some people buy shoes, I buy lecture tickets.” ~ my Facebook status before a Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures event

We’re lucky here in Pittsburgh.  We’re an incredibly literary town, moreso than the average person might imagine. Among the literary offerings is a very popular lecture series called Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures that brings world-famous authors to town at a price that is affordable for all. This has quickly become one of my favorite ways to spend an evening.

When I heard that Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures would be hosting Colum McCann, who happens to be one of my all-time favorite writers, I bought my ticket A YEAR IN ADVANCE. Yes. An entire year. And then I upgraded my seat at the last minute, paying extra to sit in the second row (which was so worth it). And then I met him.

And then I died and went to heaven.

Melissa and Colum McCann

That was almost three months ago and I still haven’t written a coherent post about it because I am still grinning about how wonderful Colum McCann’s talk was here in Pittsburgh.  Thank God I took good notes.

I’ve been fortunate to meet several writers but I have to say that having the chance to talk with Colum McCann (even briefly) was extraordinary. And his lecture! If you ever have the opportunity to hear him, go. You won’t regret it.

Ann Patchett was another author I met through Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures. So incredibly gracious and kind. Her lecture was lovely, and when I got my books signed by her, I mentioned that I was interested in reading The Magician’s Assistant because I’m writing a novel about the AIDS epidemic.

“Oh, you want to read Borrowed Time by Paul Monette,” Ann Patchett says to me, scribbling down the title on the Post-It note with my name that marked the place for her to sign my book. “You need to read this.”

Well, when Ann Patchett gives you a book recommendation, you listen. At least I do.  (Guess what book I’m currently reading?)

(Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures has an awesome lineup for next season. James McBride, Simon Winchester, Elizabeth Gilbert, Jesmyn Ward, and Jodi Picoult are just a few of the authors who will be appearing.)

Rachel Renee Russell and daughters

Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures has author events for kids, too. (As a child, I would have been over the moon. To be my daughter’s age – 12 – and meeting my favorite writers?! Are you kidding me??!!) I’ve taken my daughter to meet Rachel Renee Russell, author of the Dork Diaries series. Ms. Russell’s daughters help her co-write and illustrate her books and they were all absolutely lovely.  (This was a crazy book-signing … they each signed every kid’s book, and there were hundreds of kids! Some people were in line for nearly 4 hours.)

I would also be remiss without mentioning Rachel Simon (The Story of Beautiful Girl) and Beth Kephart. I consider each of them friends now, but I started out as a regular fan. (OK, maybe a little bit on the groupie side.) I met Rachel in 1990 when I attended a writing conference and she was the keynote speaker. She had just published a short story collection called Little Nightmares, Little Dreams and was regularly writing columns in The Philadelphia Inquirer. I admired her writing and soaked up any bit of advice and knowledge I could get from her – and when I had the chance to take a class with her, I was thrilled.

There are other authors I’m forgetting, but I’ll leave you with this photo of me and Beth Kephart from Book Expo America in 2010 (actually, it’s the Book Blogger Convention). I look like I am ready to collapse; that day, I left my house at 3:30 a.m. to catch a train to New York City (chances are, Beth did too) and I was fading fast when this photo was taken. Beth, on the other hand, looks vibrant and radiant in her fuschia, ready to take New York by storm, as she always does.

Book Blogger Convention (38)

Now it’s your turn: which authors have taken your life by storm?