This month, I came across an author who intrigued me, so I decided to commit hard to his backlist. Unfortunately, I’m not really feeling like we have a connection.
Commitment and connections play out in varied journeys. Relationships are like snowflakes: no two are the same.
Between Valentine’s Day, hard commitments, and lack of connections this month, CATEGORY IS: Unconventional Romance Novels.
MONTHLY FAST FACTS
Book of the Month: Vladimir by Julia May Jonas
Genre of the month: Memoir/Autobiography
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Lie With Me by Philippe Besson, translated by Molly Ringwald
The Meaning of Mariah Carey by Mariah Carey and Michaela Angela Davis
Ring Shout (or Hunting Ku Kluxes in the End Times) by P. Djeli Clark
English Lit by Bernard Clay
Closer by Dennis Cooper
The Dream Police: Selected Poems 1969-1993 by Dennis Cooper
Frisk by Dennis Cooper
Guide by Dennis Cooper
Jerk by Dennis Cooper & Nayland Blake
Period by Dennis Cooper
Try by Dennis Cooper
The Course of Love by Alain de Botton
Luster by Raven Leilani
Vladimir by Julia May Jonas
February is Black History Month and it also is the month to host Valentine’s Day. Going into this month, I knew that those were the two main boxes I somehow wanted to tick with my reading. I also knew that coming off of my ‘immersive’ January, I didn’t want to make living inside the books my primary focus going forward but that I still wanted to experience books where I could.
I began the month like normal by picking my Book of the Month and deciding the overall tone for the next 28 days. This month, I picked Vladimir by Julia May Jonas. I already had this book on my tentative TBR after I saw it appear on a Most Anticipated 2022 list. With Valentine’s Day around the corner, this pick seemed like the best fit and the tone was decided; this month’s generalized category would combat the rom-com.
Here’s the thing about me & Valentine’s Day: I think it’s stupid. It is a fake holiday invented to sell cards. I don’t like the concept of telling the person I love that I love them on the same day as everyone else simply because we’re told to and everyone is doing it. It feels like a disingenuous group-think simulation. Why designate a day to make a display of our love when you could just do that in small/big/medium – genuine – self-think ways everyday (or a couple of times per week, or once/month – whatever, it’s your display of your love. Do you.)?
Anyway, instead of spending the month reading traditional, conventional, standard, expected, cheesy, cliche, rom coms & Valentine’s Day reads (no offense if that’s your jam, it’s just not my mood this month), I wanted to read books that challenge the generally accepted concept of love. I wanted to read about love in its many forms & shapes.
While skimming through a list of 2021 books, I saw a book by an author named Dennis Cooper. The book attributed to him said it was the long-awaited unofficial capstone of the “George Miles Cycle.” Having never heard of the “George Miles Cycle,” I looked up Cooper and the cycle and was immediately intrigued.
The “George Miles Cycle” is a semi-biographical five-book series (with the 2021 book being the unofficial sixth) Cooper uses to try to understand his fascination with sex and violence and get to the bottom of his feelings for George Miles, his former friend-turned-brief boyfriend who committed suicide later in life. While reading about the cycle, I came across an attribution by another writer who called the series, “as intense a dissection of human relationships and obsession that modern literature has ever attempted.”
I was sold. The description of the “George Miles Cycle” fit exactly into the generalized category for the month and I decided that was where I was going to start. After looking into Cooper, who is widely regarded as a central & prominent writer for his time, I decided I wasn’t only going to read the cycle but everything he has ever written; and to my Author Backlist he was added – before I even opened one of his books.
The George Miles Cycle
Let me being with a disclaimer: CONTENT WARNING. The “George Miles Cycle” contains graphic content that could be triggering to some people.
The first book in cycle is Closer by Dennis Cooper.
In “Closer,” George Miles becomes the object of his friends’ passions, and, one after another, they ransack him for love or anything else they can trust in the mindlessness of middle America.
The second book in the cycle is Frisk by Dennis Cooper.
In “Frisk,” a formative experience as a teenager with gay snuff porn causes a man to become a serial killer. He writes letters about his murders to a childhood friend who, along with his brother, travel to Europe to investigate the man’s claims.
Supplement to the reading: “Frisk” was adapted into a film in 1995. Banned in the UK and boasting a 39% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, this unstreamable movie took me five days of searching (with effort) for a copy to get my hands on. It wasn’t worth it, though. There is so much plot & content missing from this movie that watching it without having read the book would’ve made absolutely no sense.
The third book in the cycle is Try by Dennis Cooper.
In “Try,” an adopted teenager is sexually abused by his fathers and turns from both of these men to his uncle, who sells pornographic home videos on the black market.
The fourth book in the cycle is Guide by Dennis Cooper.
“Guide” interweaves storylines involving a young porn star who wants to experience death at someone else’s hand, a young boy who has lurid fantasies about members of British pop bands, and a teenage runaway who sells prostitutes during the AIDS outbreak.
The (definitive) final book in the “George Miles Cycle” is Period by Dennis Cooper.
I genuinely couldn’t tell you what this book’s plot was – I did not understand what was happening.
Each of the books in the cycle is written in a different style. In this one, there are no quotations and a lot of the dialogue is formatted as bullet points. I could not keep track of who was saying what. As this book is a lot more dialogue-heavy compared to the other books in the cycle, I was just lost.
This book just reads like one giant run-on sentence.
Overall comments on the “George Miles Cycle:” There is a disconnect, and it has to be on my end. Cooper is regarded widely across the board as an important writer and there is much talk about his writing style & prose. I don’t get it, and it seems to be just me.
At the top of the December 31, 2021 episode on the “Apology” podcast, he is introduced in the following way: “Today’s guest is the writer Dennis Cooper. He’s got a really long and varied bibliography that goes from fiction to nonfiction to poetry, but he always maintains a really recognizable voice. I feel like there’s a world that his writing takes place in that’s not quite ours – runs kind of parallel to our world. And, I believe that unlike a lot writers he qualifies at this point for adjective status. I think you can call something Cooperian or however you would pronounce it and people who have read his work will immediately know what you mean.”
The host then goes on to laud the literary importance of the “George Miles Cycle” before he & Cooper together discuss how great Cooper’s prose is.
I genuinely don’t get it. I am somehow failing to grasp how seemingly earth-shattering Cooper’s simple sentences are. I fail to see & buy into the hype of his work. There is something I’m just not understanding about it. Now that I have finished the cycle (excluding the 2021 book), I plan on reading the two volumes of critic essays devoted to the cycle in an effort to educate myself and try to understand Cooper’s work better.
If you were to tally up all of the people I’ve had a crush on and/or desired, the data would show that the vast majority of those people come from academic settings – whether they’ve been classmates, upperclassmen, administrators, etc.
If each of them were assigned a numbered based on ‘level’ of crush/desire, you’d find that, overwhelmingly, the top spots on the list are occupied mostly by teachers.
TMI: Teachers are my biggest turn ons. They don’t even have to have taught me – I’ve met plenty of teachers out in the wild and have just been like, “Yeah, that’s hot.” Teachers just get my inner sapiosexual going.
So, it only made sense to make my Book of the Month Vladimir by Julia May Jonas. Jonas’s debut novel is about an English professor in an open marriage with another professor navigating her obsession with a new professor on campus (who is also married) amid allegations that her husband is having affairs with his students. What a mouthful.
Centered around a forbidden infatuation, the book fits into my general category of unconventional romance novels (despite being technically categorized as literary fiction).
In 2020, Vogue published an article under their Books section titled, “Harry Styles Really Likes Alain de Botton—And He Has the Sweatshirt Prove It.”
The article states, “After reading de Botton’s The Course of Love, Styles said he fully appreciated the work required in cultivating and sustaining a romantic bond.”
Looking the book up, I saw that The Course of Love by Alain de Botton was the antithesis of a rom-com and that it was perfect for this month.
While most rom-coms culminate in their protagonists finally getting together, “The Course of Love” opens with its protagonists getting together and follows the journey their relationship takes, some times swapping in and out of the role of antagonist.
My biggest issue with the book, however, is it starts to read less novel-like and more instruction manual on how to have & sustain a relationship the further you read. With “a novel” subtitled on the cover, I went into it with certain expectations.
Rounding out my unconventional Valentine’s reads was Lie With Me by Philippe Besson, translated by Molly Ringwald.
Disclaimer: I read this book every year. It is one of my all-time favorite books, and the only book I read annually.
In “Lie With Me,” a present-day narrator recounts a love affair from his youth with a schoolmate in their small French town.
And, it’s a gut-wrencher.
The first time I read this, it was December 30, 2019. It was the last book I read that year. I got off work around 1am and wanted to fit one more book into the decade. At the time, my go-to late night reading spot was this little gay bar downtown that was open 24-hours – I passed it every day commuting to/from work.
I was stopping in to read after work so often that I had my own booth. I was on a first-name basis with the staff and they knew my order (vegetable spring rolls and an Angry Orchard) to the point where when they saw me walk in they would automatically place my order for me.
Unbeknownst to all of us at the time, it would be last time I stopped in to read for a while.
When I got to the end, I sobbed. Like, sitting there in my booth and actually weeping. The ending was a knife to the heart – couple that with being a newly-minted baby gay (I had only been Out for two months at this point) who was both emotionally & socially stunted, and I was a wreck. While reading the book, I had mentally cast myself and my now boyfriend (at the time, he was a guy I was talking to and I was way more invested than he was at that point) in the roles of the main protagonists.
I left the bar embarrassed (hence why I stopped going for a while). On my way home, I had to pull over because I was crying so hard I couldn’t see the road. I’m not being hyperbolic. There are literally videos of me crying in the bar and also in my car.
BLACK HISTORY MONTH
In addition to anti-rom-coms/unconventional romance/etc., I always wanted to use this month to ensure some diversity in my reading in honor of Black History Month. Because I spent so much time getting through the “George Miles Cycle,” most of my Black History Month reads doubled up as challenge completions.
Ring Shout (or Hunting Ku Kluxes in the End Times) by P. Djeli Clark came across my For You page on TikTok.
There wasn’t any context to the plot outside of “a group of women hunts Ku Kluxes after the film ‘Birth of Nation’ captivates America.”
Honestly, I didn’t need to hear any other context. I was sold.
What I did not realize/process until about a third of the way into the book, however, was that one of the genres this book falls under is fantasy.
Fantasy isn’t a genre I tend to gravitate towards. I picked this book up under the guise of “alternate history,” a genre that does pique my interest, and was confused as to what exactly was going on. Once I realized (after a Google search) it is also a fantasy novel, things started making more sense and I could relax into the reading.
Luster by Raven Leilani checked off more than one box this month.
In addition to being a Black History Month read, it also satisfies the unconventional Valentine’s Day genre.
“Luster” is about black woman in her 20s who gets involved with a white man twice her age in an open marriage. Among the many trials & struggles that come along with that dynamic, she finds herself looking after his daughter, a young black girl adopted by the couple.
Like “Luster,” The Meaning of Mariah Carey by Mariah Carey and Michaela Angela Davis checked off more than one box.
My Genre Challenge for February was Memoir/Autobiography.
I had actually chosen two books to fulfill this challenge, both about iconic black women I stan: “The Meaning of Mariah Carey” and “Becoming” by Michelle Obama.
I chose to read Carey’s memoir first, honestly, because it was a quicker read and I was running out of time to complete the challenge for February – it was the last book I read this month.
I had bought “Becoming,” and still fully intend to read it.
Supplement to the reading: I listened exclusively to Mariah Carey’s albums for a week.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe satisfied two challenges:
- This was my scratch off in the fourth row of my 100 Epic Reads of a Lifetime challenge.
- In my 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, this satisfied the prompt “Book I Lied About Reading.” In my sophomore year of college, I took a course titled History of Africa 1800-Present. I had the professor who taught this course for a world history class my freshman year – I didn’t care what course it was, if I was ever presented with the opportunity to have her a professor again I was going to enroll in one of her courses. What I didn’t realize was that this was a capstone class for history major graduates. I was a sophomore taking this course for fun. How I was let into is beyond me. We had to read a novel per week. This was one of the novels assigned to us. I did not read it then, but I read it now. That’s what counts, right?
Memoir, fantasy, basically an instruction manual – there was a lot going on genre-wise this month, but one thing that was missing was poetry.
So, I chose English Lit by Bernard Clay. This is a collection of poems that juxtaposes the roots of black, male identity against an urban and rural Kentucky landscape.
In one of his poems, he references a Southern Indiana campus. I am not unconvinced the campus in question is the same one I took the History of Africa 1800-Present course on.
GOALS & CHALLENGE COMPLETIONS
There were two books (in addition to the “George Miles Cycle” by Dennis Cooper that I was able to check off my Dennis Cooper Backlist.
The first being The Dream Police: Selected Poems 1969-1993 by Dennis Cooper.
“Dream Police” is a collection of free verse poetry and short prose separated into three parts, by time period: “Dumb,” “Deaf,” and “Blind.”
Much like his novels above, I don’t understand the importance.
The other book checked off his backlist is Jerk by Dennis Cooper and Nayland Blake.
“Jerk” is stylized book with fiction by Cooper and art by Black.
It tells the story of a serial killer and his accomplices formatted as a children’s picture book featuring puppets.