instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Flatbush Flashback

Flatbush Is My Dublin

 

Next Tuesday, June 16, is Bloomsday, the day that Ulysses, by James Joyce, takes place—in Dublin, in 1904. Joyce picked that day to commemorate his first date with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle. During their outing, while walking along the banks of the River Liffey, Barnacle put her hand into Joyce's trousers and masturbated him. It left an impression.

 

Ulysses is one of those novels that everybody knows about but few people have read. Its fame rests on the book's frank portrayals of sexuality. In one scene, the main character, Leopold Bloom (hence "Bloomsday") masturbates in public—probably the most poetic description of public masturbation in literature. Published in Paris in 1922, Ulysses was banned in the USA.

 

Despite its sex scenes, the book—an experimental stream-of-consciousness narrative, full of puns, parodies, and obscure allusions—is, to say the least, a challenging read.

 

I read Ulysses in 1977—simultaneously with a dictionary. On some pages I had to look up, literally, every other word, some of which were not in the dictionary. It's the kind of book that requires a sherpa to guide you through. But I stuck with it because it's considered one of the greatest novels in the English language, and in those early years of my career, I thought Ulysses was a book every writer should read.

 

I can't say I enjoyed it or understood all of it, but I did admire what Joyce accomplished. Writing in self-imposed exile in Trieste, Paris, and Zurich, he brought to life, in granular detail, the streets, alleys, pubs, bedrooms, and people of his native Dublin. Joyce transformed an ordinary day in the life of an ordinary man into a universal story. Dublin was the world.

 

Though Bobby in Naziland is neither stream-of-consciousness nor experimental and does not require a dictionary or sherpa to understand, I did try to do with Flatbush what Joyce did with Dublin: bring to life in gritty, visceral detail its streets, alleys, ball fields, bedrooms, candy stores, and people, and make it a universal story told through the consciousness of an ordinary boy. Flatbush was the world.

 

Though sheltering in place and curfews have at times made my life in Manhattan seem like one of exile, it's not. But when I started writing Bobby in Naziland, I probably hadn't set foot in Flatbush in more than a decade, and I only went back to explore my old haunts after I'd finished a first draft.

 

So yes, Flatbush is my Dublin, and I'd suggest a good way to celebrate Bloomsday next week (since it's not a great idea to hit the Irish bars yet, in the traditional, Guinness-fueled manner of celebration) is to pick up a book that you will read and that tells a universal tale of the place I left behind 55 years ago. It just might be a place that you left behind, too, even if you lived in Dublin.

________

Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you'll hopefully be able to buy it again someday soon.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my eternally embryonic Instagram.

Be the first to comment

It Was 110 Years Ago Today

James Joyce, a writer banned in America for obscenity.
Happy Bloomsday to all those who are celebrating the 110th anniversary of the day that James Joyce's Ulysses takes place. Joyce chose June 16, 1904 because that was the day he had his first date with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle. The novel, in part, depicts protagonist Leopold Bloom's--hence Bloomsday--activities in Dublin, which include such things as voyeurism and public masturbation. That's why Ulysses was banned in America, and that's why, two years ago, I chose June 16 to celebrate the U.S. publication of Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography, at the Killarney Rose, an Irish bar on Beaver Street in downtown Manhattan.

At the time, Amazon had refused to make the print edition of Beaver Street available, and it was only after they got wind of the fact that the book-launch party was turning into a public demonstration against Amazon censorship that they managed to fix the “computer glitches” and “bureaucratic snafus” that had already cost me all pre-orders and three months of sales. “We would never censor a book,” an Amazon spokesman told me. (I’m pleased to report that sales have since recovered, and Beaver Street now routinely ranks among Amazon’s best-selling books on pornography.)

Bloomsday on Beaver Street was such a success that I decided to do it again last year, when June 16 fell on Father’s Day, and that, too, went rather well. It looked as if my literary celebration, featuring readings, music, porn stars, and theatrical performances, was going to become a New York City tradition.

This year, unfortunately, life (and a new job in magazines after a 14-year hiatus from the workforce) interfered with mounting Bloomsday on Beaver Street III. As much as I would have liked to, I just didn’t have the time to put together what’s become the equivalent of an Off-Off Broadway revue. This evening, however, I will raise a glass of something alcoholic (perhaps Guinness) and join in spirit all those who would have liked to gather in the Killarney Rose on Beaver Street and celebrate great books that were once denounced as obscene. Read More 
Be the first to comment

There Will Be Porn Stars

As this cruelest month winds down, I find myself thinking seriously about what, exactly, is going to happen, on June 16, at the second annual Bloomsday on Beaver Street event, at the Killarney Rose, in downtown Manhattan. Last year was easy. My book had recently been published in the U.S., and Bloomsday was a book launch party celebrating not only Beaver Street, but other literary works, like James Joyce's Ulysses, that had once been branded pornographic and banned.

This year, I'm expanding the theme to include other authors whose works lend themselves to what is actually being celebrated on June 16, the day that Ulysses takes place. On that day, in 1904, Joyce had his first date with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle, and to put it in the most explicit terms, she gave him an epic handjob.

This much is definite:

Eric Danville will be reading from his book The Complete Linda Lovelace, which he’s now revising, and will re-release in September to coincide with the release of Lovelace, starring Amanda Seyfried as the deep-throat artist. I suspect that Danville will read, among other things, a zombie story he’s working on titled “Dead Throat.”

Lainie Speiser, author of many books about sex, will read from her latest work, Confessions of the Hundred Hottest Porn Stars.

There will be porn stars present. Musicians will perform. Byron Nilsson will MC, read, and sing.

I will again be reading from Beaver Street, this time a historical (rather than a personal) passage. And I will also, for the first time in public, read from my novel-in-progress, Bobby in Naziland, for which I offer no apologies to James Joyce for the subtitle, “A Portrait of the Author as a Young Jew.” He would have understood.

Mark your calendars now, and stayed tuned for more news about additional performers. Read More 
1 Comments
Post a comment

A Holiday that Celebrates a Handjob

The New York launch event for my book Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography, which I called Bloomsday on Beaver Street, and which was held on June 16 at the Killarney Rose, on Beaver Street, was a celebration of numerous things. We celebrated banned books, like Ulysses, by James Joyce, and Beaver Street, that some people had branded “smut” and “filth” and that others, correctly, had recognized as literature. And we celebrated the 40th anniversaries of Deep Throat, the movie, and Watergate, the political scandal, both of which are connected to Beaver Street.

June 16, of course, is the day that Ulysses takes place—in Dublin, in 1904. It documents approximately 24 hours in the life of the book’s protagonist, Leopold Bloom, which is why the celebration is called Bloomsday. Traditionally, people read from Ulysses, as MC Supreme Byron Nilsson did, eloquently reciting the passage that got Ulysses banned in America for 13 years—Joyce’s description of Bloom masturbating.

There was, however, one thing that should have been explained but was not explained at Bloomsday on Beaver Street: Why, exactly, did Joyce set Ulysses on June 16, 1904?

The answer to that question can be found in the July 2 issue of The New Yorker, in an essay about Joyce titled “Silence, Exile, Punning,” by Louis Menand.

That was the day that Joyce had his first date with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle. Menand explains what happened on that date: “They walked to Ringsend, on the south bank of the Liffey, where… she put her hand inside his trousers and masturbated him.”

Quoting from a letter Joyce sent to Barnacle several years later, Menand provides more detail: “It was not I who first touched you long ago down at Ringsend. It was you who slid your hand down down inside my trousers… and frigged me slowly until I came off through your fingers, all the time bending over me and gazing at me out of your quiet saintlike eyes.” Joyce later notes, in another letter, that on that night Barnacle “made me a man.”

So, Bloomsday, then is a literary holiday that celebrates a handjob. And Bloomsday on Beaver Street was such a success, I’m considering making it an annual event. You can rest assured that next year, the MC Supreme will take pains to explain the sticky origins of the celebration.

Ladies and gentlemen, mark your calendars. Read More 
Be the first to comment