Daddyhunt Book Club Kicks Off with Giovanni's Room

October 4, 2011
Category: The Arts

Welcome to our first ever Daddyhunt Book Club! For our inaugural selection, we've chosen to James Baldwin classic homonovela Giovanni's Room. First published in 1956, the tale of a young lad coming to grips with his sexuality in Paris and of course, doomed love. In the interest of engaging those of you who haven't read the book recently or at all, I thought we could talk about the book a little more broadly at first and then get a bit more granular with the details further down. I say this because so much of the book sparks conversations that we can all engage in without knowing all the details of the books. Please discuss any of the following and let's get the comments section buzzing with engagement. So let's begin...

I guess the thing that struck me the most about the book is how much of it is still, in many ways, applicable to our gay lives today. The universal emotions and struggle to come to terms with ones sexuality, that David experiences, is the same in the 1950s as it is today. Sure, things seem easier today with society's growing understanding and acceptance, our more positive presence in the media, and the many outlets and safe havens in which we can take shelter, but at its core, the journey to self acceptance is essentially the same. Our protagonist, David's first gay experience when he's a teen shapes and shames him for years to come. It's a crucial turning point for him and one in which I think we can all relate. In his case, he ran away from it, as far as he could emotionally, and eventually through distance. But as we all know, it's nearly impossible to run from oneself, no matter how hard you try or how far you go.

"A cavern opened in my mind, black, full of rumor, suggestion, of half-heard, half-forgotten, half-understood stories, full of dirty words."

I remember thinking when puberty hit, and I started to think more and more about boys, how shameful it was. Not because I was ever told by my family or religion, but it was almost like it was ingrained in me from birth. What I was doing was not normal, it was wrong. Baldwin's synthesizes that process and realization so eloquently. When he first brought the book to his publisher he was told burn it, but critics were surprisingly not as hard on the book because of the writer's artistry.

**We're going to get into a few more details, so if you'd like to avoid plot points, you may want to hop on down to the comments section and discuss the above.**

When it comes to the love affair between David and Giovanni, we're faced with the now cliched homosexual arc of love, that ends in tragedy. And yet, as with all doomed love affairs, I couldn't help but hope for a happier ending. The book really kicked in for me when these two met, and as the patrons in the bar noted, their first meeting was electric. And despite David's initial reluctance, they fell right into love. Giovanni asks David:

"Tell me," he said, "what is this thing about time? Why is it better to be late than early? People are always saying, we must wait, we must wait. What are they waiting for?"

I'm of the belief that things that come together too quickly, fall apart just as fast. But when I read this, I was moved to question my modus operandi. Why wait? Why take things slow? If it's there, if it's as electric as it was for David and Giovanni, why not just embrace it? I struggle with this, because on the one hand novels, movies, and music, hyperbolize these feelings, and I have to remind myself it's not real life. On the other hand, I've never been in love and have never felt this feeling, so maybe it does exist? You tell me.

But back to the story at hand...

The two gentlemen get swept up in each other's arms and lives until David's shame, in the form of Giovanni's Room, begins to suffocate him. And as his girlfriend Hella inches closer and closer to returning to him in Paris, David realizes he must choose. Not going to lie, David was kind of huge dick to Giovanni the way he left him. Actually, David is a dick throughout the book, but you tend to sympathize with him because of his internal struggle. In end, he ruins the lives of three people, himself, Hella, who finally get's confirmation that Giovanni was always more than a friend to him, and of course, poor Giovanni, who just wanted to be loved by David. Maybe my perceptions about the past are a bit off, but it seemed to me that Hella was a very modern girl. Traveling on her own, finding herself, and then understanding David and Giovanni's relationship - these all seem like things women of the 1950s weren't known for. Add to that her general acceptance of David's friendship with known/supposed homosexuals, and seems like she was ahead of her time.

I'd be remiss if I didn't bring up the relationship between older gentlemen, Jacques and Guillaume, and David and Giovanni. It's clear that sugar daddies have always existed in one form or another, so what did you think of their portrayal in the book?

Now it's your turn. What about this book resonated with you? Did you wish for a happy ending? Was the tragedy necessary to make for a compelling story or do you think it was indicative of the times (that homosexuals are doomed to suffer)?

Also, as this is a little different than our normal posts, please feel free to come back and comment on comments and keep the thread going. I plan on doing so myself.

Tags: Books, Daddyhunt Book Club, James Baldwin, Giovanni's Room, Gay Lit, Literature
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Post written by RobHeartsDH (View Author Profile)
About this author: Rob lives in Manhattan with his black pug Riley. When he’s not thinking about daddies, he enjoys writing, eating burritos, watching copious amounts of television, and thinking about his next meal.
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Comments

Love in any combination is fraught with danger. The level of expectations is often set so high as to guarantee pain or failure. As to what works best, quickly or slowly, an individual thing. The problem is that too man people try to analyze the greatest emotional upheaval that humans can have by intellectual means. What one thinks/believes/knows intellectually can be far from what we feel. Just as intellect can fail, so can emotion. So what to do? One can only do what one thinks is best. One can discuss it with others, but beware of advice and taking it, and beware of giving advice, someone might take it.

There is no magic formula or antidote. That's why in retrospect, for straight marriage, arranged ones have not fared badly in comparison to unarranged, from the "heart."

Of course there are some different dynamics with gay relationships, not readily always understood by those in them. Love & pain go together. First love maybe even worse. Yet there are many examples of first loves being the sweetest and most remembered. My first love was when I was 14, I met him for only 2 weeks the summer of 1948. The next year I left UK for USA, and never saw him again. We corresponded for 5 years, but we never saw each other again. I still remember his name, and his face is clear in my mind.

I have read a number of James Baldwin's books over the years. When one remembers the times they were written in and set in, then the tragedy, and sharpness is more easily understood.

Is there a page set up for bookclub - as a novelist and a reader I'd be very interested.

I'm a little sorry that the book club idea didn't really take off here..I like the idea of talking about books with a bunch of guys who read good books.

And Giovanni's Room is a good book, shocking for its time, well crafted, and now dated.

David is, of course, the archtypical dick, the kind you can't help but fall in love with, the kind of man who is far better in fiction--or in someone else's life--than he is in your own.

David reminds me of Jordan Baker, in the Great Gatsby:

"You're a rotten driver," I protested. "Either you ought to be more careful, or you oughtn't to drive at all."

"I am careful."

"No, you're not."

"Well, other people are," she said lightly.

"What's that got to do with it?"

"They'll keep out of my way," she insisted. "It takes two to make an accident."

"Suppose you met somebody just as careless as yourself."

"I hope I never will," she answered. "I hate careless people. That's why I like you."

David was careless; Giovanni was not.

Please let me know if an actual book club or regular book reviews do develop on this site. It would be a pleasant surprise.

Michael Travis Jasper, author of the novel "To Be Chosen"

I will have to check this site a little more, did not know about the book club. I wish you much success...I need a reason to start reading good book again. I last read Giovanni's room about 25 years ago. Loved it!

Guys sometimes seek risk and drama without realizing it and then they have issues with pretty much every guy they meet because they need the excuse to continue the private stage play where the guy mentioned in the Giovanni book is like many guys who get tangled up in a web because thats what they seek sometimes deep down deep rather than to risk getting to know someone where it might end up limiting their idea of fun and seeing the many personalities interact sort of like a research project in the dating sense that never ends. It is poosible for guys of a certain feather to just recognize each other without a lot of drama at all.

Wonderful writer, great book, but we've all read it. I'm not sure I would get too excited about a book club discussion of The Front Runner or Dancer from the Dance, etc. either. These books gave us something to identify with when we were younger. Not only has a lot of water passed under the bridge since those days of shame, conflict, and confusion over being gay, but a tsunami of change both painfully turbulent and yet rising victorious to the point where one shakes one's head in wonder at how far we've come. I agree with a previous writer/ poster. By all means read the classics, but check out those of us writing about current issues as well. A recent and prominent ad in this site is a reminder that some of us have survived HIV for 20-25 years, but what about the side effects of taking meds for that long? How does a formerly handsome, hot 45 year old gay public relations man deal with the ravaging effects of facial lipodystrophy? Check out My Strange Little Oasis, a novel populated by hot-blooded daddies and largely set in a sex club with "one big heart on" called The Oh Aces.

I can identify with the character of David so much. I grew up with some kind of built in shame about being gay, and fought the urge throughout my youthful days. This shame nearly killed me, and, in addition, the shame caused me to miss many incredible opportunities for some fun sexual experiences and possible youthful relationship mistakes. I had many cute boys who wanted me to blow them, or who wanted to fuck me, and of course I said no.

Later on, when I did finally accept my sexual identity, I became a total "top". I acted, in many ways, just like David in the novel. I left many lovers wondering why I hurt them, and why I abandoned the relationship. I was often cruel about it, and a real "dick" as well. It seems as though I could never stop my bad behavior, and I became selfish and aloof in the bedroom. I have paid the price for my indifference and coldness, and seeming inability to love any of them.

Initially, I fall madly in lust, but I always think of it as love. It isn't, of course. I soon begin to feel suffocated and trapped. In many ways, David is me, or rather I am him. I have often felt as though I am being stalked by something and all I can think about is the overriding need to run away.

My sexual life has been a mess and a disaster for all involved. I am sure that the universe will reap it's revenge upon me. I will probably die a horrible death, as payment for my bad behavior and the pain that I have caused others. Oh well. Thanks DaddyHunt for choosing Giovanni's Room, and allowing me this self induced therapy session