Thursday, June 24, 2010

Funny Gay-moirs: Not Just for Gay People Anymore

As we close on June, National Lesbian and Gay Pride Month, and head into July (which is, among other things, National Baked Bean Month, really ), I reflect a bit on the phenomenon of gay-moirs.

The success of the humorous but clearly biographical essays of David Sedaris and the essays of Augusten Burroughs (the memoirs can be pretty serious) has led to these mostly humorous essays (long and short form) by openly gay men that are really not about gay issues (like an old-school Michelangelo Signorile tome) but simply accept the fact of the author’s sexuality, and include it in the narrative (as opposed to, say, Ellen DeGeneres’ pre-coming-out bestseller, My Point…And I Do Have One).

Not having access to national purchase data, I can only wonder at the makeup of these books' readerships, though I can offer an anecdote about our recent event with Stephen McCauley, for his novel (yes, I know, not a memoir, not even an autobiographical novel, but still it gives me another mention of his wonderful book) Insignificant Others.

In addition to our normal marketing plan for events, which includes an email newsletter feature, in-store event calendar, generous table and window display, a listing ad in at a local paper, and a press release to a list of contacts (which led to a nice write-up in the Journal Sentinel that did lead to some extra attendance), and a blog feature, I tried to a little extra for this wonderful book.

This seemed like the opportunity to go after a gay male reader, much the way we’ve targeted Latino or Irish audiences for certain authors. Though of course many readers are always trying to expand their reading horizons, who doesn’t like to at least occasionally read about someone akin to his or herself?

That said, our not-embarrassing-but-certainly-should-have-been-bigger audience of just under 20 people was about 75% women, and I’m not counting me or Kirk. One of my longtime customers who did attend put it bluntly, “Where is everybody? This guy’s hilarious.” And he is. I wish I could link to a video of his Q&A. Alas, someday. Buy the book.

I can’t link to it at the moment, but I’ve written a review/essay on this conundrum for Wisconsin Gazette, where you can read more of my thoughts on McCauley’s novel. Also reviewed, and included in their website, are my thoughts on the new memoir by Eric Poole, Where’s My Wand? It's the story of a young midwestern boy who takes magical thinking a step further, by dressing up like Endora to make it so.

Twenty years ago, Poole’s story might have been a coming-of-age novel published by Dutton, or as a fallback, Alyson. Now it’s published by Amy Einhorn/Putnam (a very broad publishing program), and the bold-face-iest quote on the advance copy was from Laurie Notaro, a very, very funny and very straight writer who sells very well in bookstores.

Who doesn’t like to laugh, and why box in the potential readership? Read more about Poole’s funny/sad story here. And note to Electrolux—my very scientific test-marketing has shown that folks under 30 don’t know what “Bewitched” is, so if you want young purchasers, you’re wasting your money licensing that theme music. Here’s my babbling review at the Gazette website.

Random House went one step further when they toured Wade Rouse for the hardcover of At Least in the City, Someone Would Hear me Scream, now available in paperback on our new release tables. It’s the story of a funny gay man who gives up on city life to repeat Thoreau’s experiment. And though I haven’t read the book, I know enough to know that Saugatuck isn’t exactly wilderness—there’s a thriving arts community and enough gay men to host a tea dance (that means daytime frolicking at a bar, preferably at least partly outside, if you haven’t accompanied a gay man on vacation). Very different from a tea party, by the way.

In Milwaukee, they put Rouse at Next Chapter in Mequon. My first thought was, “Huh?”, but when I looked at the rest of his tour schedule, I got it. His entire tour was to thriving independents in outlying suburbs and smaller towns, most likely targeting women looking for a laugh. My friends at Next Chapter actually went to Pridefest to hand out fliers. I think they got mistaken for evangelical Christians—apparently there were some amusing stories (for one of their own humorous memoirs, perhaps focusing on bookselling). More on Rouse’s website about the book.

Rouse has a dog anthology coming up. Good angle! just out in paperback is Robert Rodi’s Dogged Pursuit: How a Rescue Dog Rescued Me. Rodi was previously known for writing very funny comic novels with gay protagonists (for Dutton of course) but in his recent nonfiction outing, at our store at least when we hosted him for his hardcover event, the winning angle was dog lovers! Rodi and his partner brought their Sheltie, who did some basic tricks. One 90-something attendee confided to me later that she was not impressed with the sheltie.
One author who included his partner in the narrative is Josh Kilmer-Purcell, whose new book, The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers, chronicles their lives at Beekman Mansion, which they discovered while apple picking. Stacie raves about this book in a previous email newsletter. The New York Times liked the book but was so-so on the related Planet Green series, "The Fabulous Beekman Boys." Really, it's not on Bravo. Can you believe it?

The marketing program for these kinds of books seems to be to try a little of this and a little of that, hoping that they will work. If all else fails, you can copy Justin Halpern and turn your father’s amusing and off-color musings into a book (and a television show!). Or did Bob Morris already do that in Assisted Loving: True Tales of Double Dating with my Dad? I haven’t read it, but it's supposed to be very funny.

No comments: