On Gay Literature and A Boy’s First Love OR Montreal Author, Christopher DiRaddo, Takes the BD Spotlight

December 6, 2014

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Novelist, Christopher DiRaddo’s, latest book, The Geography of Plato, has garnered excellent reviews so far: taking place in Montreal’s gay village, the story follows Will Ambrose as he navigates both his break-up and his mother’s illness. Read on for some tidbits on DiRaddo’s book recommendations, his cocktail-napkin method, and his undisputed love for his parents.

Describe a teacher who had an impact on you.

My high school drama teacher, Ms. Small. She was young and fresh out of school when I took her course. We might have even been her first class. Ms. Small spoke to us in a way the other teachers didn’t, like she was one of us.

She was very rock-and-roll and taught us about improv and theatre sports. Suddenly, this shy 15 year-old was performing Buddy Cole monologues in class. She really brought me out of my shell and helped me develop my sense of humor.

Which writer inspired you to become a writer yourself?

Andrew Holleran.

I always knew I wanted to be a writer, but it was only until I read him that I knew I had something to say. Dancer from the Dance was the first book of his that I read.

It was published in 1978 and spoke of gay life in Manhattan. I ate it up like it was chocolate cake.

Before then, most of the classic gay lit I read felt like relics. They were great reads, but still very different from my own life. Dancer, however, shook me to my core. It transcended time. It was brutally honest, and resonated with me in very direct ways. Every generation feels like they were the ones who did it first.

Reading Holleran made me realize no, we didn’t.

What would you like Book Dumpling readers to know about you?

That I’m a Mama’s boy. That I go home every Sunday for dinner with my parents. That they were the people (not friends, not reviewers) that I was most worried about not liking my book.

As a gay man, I am fascinated with the relationships we have with our mothers. There is this intense closeness, but also a wide chasm when it comes to our personal lives. I wanted to write about this. About the two great loves in a gay man’s life – his first love and his mother.

Do you have any funny stories regarding writing your past book?

I’m not sure how funny this is, but this book started out as scribbles on the backs of cocktail napkins. When I was just coming out, in the early 1990s, I didn’t know many gay people. So I would head out to bars on my own. I’d sit in a corner and watch the parade of people go by, each one causing me to ask more questions about myself and the life I wanted to lead.

Often, I would grab a cocktail napkin or a flyer from the bar and write these intense thoughts down. I’d keep them in a box under my bed. Years later, when I was going through them, I realized I had the beginnings of a story.

What is the last, great book that you read and to which type of readers would you recommend it – try to be as specific as possible when you recommend the book 🙂

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. I read it for maybe the fifth time this summer.

Each time I read it I’m amazed at how gifted a storyteller Baldwin was. I’d recommend this book to people who “don’t read gay novels.” I often get asked if I’m worried that people might dismiss my book because its protagonist is a gay man.

I don’t know.

I’d like to think that people like to read all kinds of books about all kinds of people. It’s true, though, that some people might think they can’t relate to a “gay novel.”

But I think they can. Baldwin’s story is about a doomed love affair between two men living in Paris in the 1950s. These men are dealing with love, lust, jealousy, poverty and alienation. I think some people would be surprised to find that they can indeed relate.

What types of books would you suggest your protagonists read?

Will is curious about his history, so I think he would appreciate How Long Has This Been Going On by Ethan Mordden. This book is a sprawling epic. It starts in 1949 in an underground gay bar off Hollywood Boulevard named Thriller Jills and concludes in 1991 at a gay pride march in New York City. Over some 500 pages we see how gay people lived, loved and lost one another all across the United States. It’s an important work about the rise of the gay movement and I think he would love it.

I’d also recommend he read Rat Bohemia by Sarah Shulman. It would be one of the books that his friend Angie would have leant him. At heart, Will is more of a lesbian than a gay man and Angie is more of a gay man than a lesbian. Rat Bohemia is the story about how lesbians and gays, united by the AIDS crisis, came together to create their own community in New York City.

Do you have a favourite bookstore?

 My favourite bookstore exists only in memory. L’Androgyne was Montreal’s gay and lesbian bookstore. It closed in 2002. It played such a big role in my personal development. I would visit often, buy a book or magazine or just browse, pick up the free publications, and then talk with the staff about books and life and nothing for hours. I really miss gay bookstores. Not many exist today. I miss travelling and being able to walk into one and immediately know what was going on in that city.

E-reader or the real thing?

The real thing. I spend WAY too much time working on the computer to want to subject my eyes any further to electronics. Plus I love the way a book feels, smells, and looks on a shelf. Often, when I read a book I like, I find the memory of reading it hides in the spine, the cover and the worn pages. That’s all missing with an electronic file.

Tell us a little bit about the book that has a soft spot in your heart.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. What an amazing little book. It’s a children’s book, but I only read it in my 20s. It’s so wise and has such great messages about life and love. “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.” I think I will remember this line for the rest of my life.

If you could add one book to the high school curriculum, which one would it be?

Fruit by Brian Francis. I love this book. It’s smart. It’s funny. It’s touching. I think teenagers need a dose of empathy every now and then, and I think they’d get that by reading about 13 year-old misfit Peter Paddington. Brian Francis is a great writer.

Which question(s) do you wish I had asked you?

What book are you avoiding reading, and why are you avoiding it?




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