Monday, December 6, 2010


This week, I hit a bit of a milestone:  I finished a book.  Cover to cover.  A book with words, and those words weren't in bubbles over pictures.  Whoa.

Cue sarcastic, yet polite applause from my perplexed, yet kind blog readers.

As someone who managed to painfully claw his way to an English literature degree many moons ago, it's a bit embarassing to admit that I rarely finish a book these days.  Don't invite me to join your book club - I'd be the worst member ever.

The truth is that I read and write all day for my job, as well as keep up with the regular newspaper, business newspapers and magazines (so I know what sectors are making money, even in these times) and fundraising periodicals (which make me feel inadequate provide helpful tips on raising money, even in these times).  And between all of that, with my Entertainment Weekly current event and cooking magazines, not to mention all the other crap I get in the mail (because I can't seem to get rid of my old United airmiles except by ordering more magazine subscriptions, and God knows I can't pass up anything that's for free), I don't have much time to crack open a tome by the end of the day.  (And yet here I sit, blogging and not reading...huh.) 

So unless the book is published by Marvel, DC or Dark Horse these days, it's likely to sit on my nightstand until I can muster up the courage to read it.  Even so, there are books that I start, but have to put down, and by the time I get back into them, I have to start at the beginning, because I've forgotten the parts that I've read.  So the constant question is - do I pull the trigger on actually starting a book, or dance the inevitable dance of having to restart it?  It's a delicate pas de deux that usually ends with a torn hamstring and tears.

But...there are a few authors for whom I will always make time:  Amy Tan, Kazuo Ishiguro, Armistead Maupin, and Carole Henikoff.  Which leads me to this posting - the occasion of having finished Mr. Maupin's latest book, Mary Ann in Autumn, a continuation of his Tales of the City series.

(So I'm trying out this new widget from the HarperCollins site which should direct you to an excerpt to read, if you're so inclined.  Hopefully it'll work, since I just copied the HTML from their site.)

Maupin's original Tales series chronicled the lives of a disparate group of San Francisco residents - straight, gay, transgender - and appeared in serialized format in a San Francisco newspaper, beginning in 1978.  The series was later published in book format, which I only discovered when I moved to Chicago, along with the television adaptations of the first three books, starring Laura Linney (to whom Mary Ann is dedicated) and Olympia Dukakis.  (Dukakis was at a Chicago book event a few years, and when I asked her how she came to play Anna Madrigal, she said that Maupin instantly thought of her for the role when the TV adaptation was in progress.)

There's definitely a soap-opera-ish feel to Maupin's books (now numbering eight in the Tales series, but I've read his others as well), with many characters chronicled and interwoven through the years.  Despite some pretty outlandish subplots (transmogrification - really?!), I think what I've enjoyed most about his books are the sense that for those who live in places where you have no relatives, family is what you create.  This is certainly true for his troop of Barbary Lane residents, who arrive in San Francisco with their own baggage - physical and otherwise - and come to depend on each other like family. 

Mary Ann in Autumn picks up a few decades after the original Tales series, and follows on the heels of Maupin's intermediary Michael Tolliver Lives.  The once idealistic Mary Ann is now 57 years old, and has spent two decades on the East Coast, essentially isolating herself from her ex-husband Brian, and her daughter, Shawna.  Now in a crisis of her own, she finds solace once more in her long-time friend, Michael "Mouse" Tolliver and his husband, Ben, and her San Francisco family, including D'Or, DeDe, and Mrs. Madrigal.

I won't go into much more detail, other than to say that - like the other Tales books - it's a quick, easy read.  I like that Maupin reverted back to his typical third-person, multi-story arc format (whereas Michael Tolliver Lives was in the first person and perhaps borrowed a wee bit too much from Mr. Maupin's personal life), and while the book probably won't win a Pulitzer, I have to admit that it's comforting to find out how each of the original, surviving Tales characters has turned out.  It's like the Facebook of the Tales world - which is somewhat ironic, since Facebook actually figures prominently in this particular book. 

Bottom line - if you love Tales of the City as much as I do, then this is certainly a worthy successor, and a fun read.  Much like Maupin's other books, loose ends always get tied up by the last page, and while some of them you can see coming from a mile away, it's reassuring to know that there's a - spoiler alert! - happy ending by the time you reach the back cover.

Which I did, quite proudly. 

The End.


Patricia said...

Hmm, same here. I probably read more than I ever did but none of it involves reading "quality" material. Too much factual stuff (newspapers, blogs, magazines, news sites, work related) that by the end of the day I am sort of read out but still manage to peruse the internet a bit more with my iPad. When I do actually read something else it tends to be lightweight stuff, crime dramas and the such, when I go on vacation. Anything else sort of gets half read.

Christopher said...

Thanks for commenting! Ditto on the vacation reading catch-up for me. On the read-to-completion wish list this December is "Passings" by Carole Henikoff (whom I know personally from a prior job), and the accumulated mound of Martha Stewart Living magazines on my desk...