Father Complex

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul realizes that despite his best efforts he has become his father, in a scholarly way.

For many years, I’ve been concerned about turning into my father, even immersing myself in psychotherapy to ward off some of his less charming tendencies.  But on holiday, I came to the conclusion that one of his more obsessive tendencies snuck through—a near manic compulsion to devour as many books as possible on vacation.

Every other year growing up, my father would load up the car with the family and two suit cases for him.  One was pack mostly with 17 collared short sleeves shirts that he could only find at Neiman Marcus, and the second suitcase filled to the brim with his own reading material.

At the crack of dawn, we would make a mad dash out of Texas and across Louisiana and Mississippi, ending up at a family resort known as The Grand Hotel.  While my sisters and I rode bikes and lapped around in the gargantuan pool, my father parked himself in a lounge chair outside our beach side cabin and read book after book after book after book. Only occasionally did he rouse himself to play a game of tennis, and a mean game of croquet during which his sole goal seemed to be to knock my ball into the murky waters of Mobile Bay.

Lil JP stealing one of my Dad's books at The Grand Hotel

As an adult, my editor Dana at Condé Nast Traveler gave me the opportunity to revisit the stomping grounds of my family holidays this time with Chef in tow—you can read about it here.

Now Chef and I have traveled the world together, but I’m not sure he was quite prepared when we arrived at our rented casa in Merida’s Yucatan peninsula and I unveiled a suitcase filled with a few Speedos, a range of paperbacks and hardbacks, and my Kindle’s power cord—I had downloaded just a few more necessary tomes before the plane took off at Newark.

Just like my father, I stationed myself on a lounge chair poolside and let Chef and my “chosen” family of Susan and Shannon worry about meals.  Upon completion of every book, I snapped the cover closed in triumph and moved onto the next.  Chef looked at me in wonder.

“You’re reading like a book a day.”

“I know.  It’s glorious.”

“Are you skipping parts?”

“What?  I’m just a fast reader.  Like my Dad.”

Unlike my father, I actually did participate in other activities, and shared with everyone my thoughts on the books I was reading.  My reading list below might give you some insight into my current range of interests and influences.

Upon reflection, I could have done worse to let my father’s book obsession creep into my life.  Thank god I didn’t inherit his fashion sense.

JPB’s 2009/2010 Holiday Reading List (in order of consumption) and curiously devoid of any fiction:

City Boy, Edmund White.  Read in hardback.  Latest memoir by a groundbreaking author who paved the way for later gay authors (like me?).  His depiction of life in 70s New York was captivating.  And I’m always impressed with his extreme honesty about his sex life—I try to be just as honest as him in my own writings.  I would pee my pants to meet this hero of mine.

Open, Andre Agassi.  Kindle.  When all the press broke about the tennis legend’s drug use, I wasn’t really interested.  But I felt like I should make my own judgment.  And boy am I glad I read this.  A fascinating look at a child sports prodigy and how much he disliked the game that brought him fame and fortune.  Good for him to be so honest, and find a way to love and happiness.

Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street, Michael Davis.  Paperback.  A compelling backstage look at the history of children’s television, and how this magnificent show got produced.  Plus, when I was about 9 or 10, I got to meet Emilio—he was the stepfather of a guy my sister Paige was dating.  It was at a movie theater where my father had taken us to see Freaks—and I couldn’t even speak.  I don’t know if it’s because the movie was so disturbing, or I was awe struck by Emilio.

On the Line, Serena Williams.  Hardback.  Well, I love the Williams sisters.  And this book made me love Venus even more, even though Serena is the star.  After reading Andre’s heart felt honesty, it was sometimes hard to take Serena’s always positive attitude.  I wanted more about her struggles.  But I still love her.  And was happy to have the behind the stories of her dislike of Indian Wells tournament, and the torment of her sisters’ death.

Official Book Club Selection, Kathy Griffin.  Kindle.  What a delightful inspiring surprise this book was!  Of course, as any good gay, I’ve been a fan of Kathy even following her on the Pink Flight to Mardi Gras on Air New Zealand (my photo of her running through the cabin in her bra ran in Star magazine).  Her book makes clear just how much handwork and determination is behind Kathy’s success—what she’s been up against, and how she makes it happen for herself.  I especially took note of her irritation with agents—you can think they will work for you.  It just gave me an extra kick in the butt to keep working on my own book.  Thanks Kathy for being funny, but also inspiring and dedicated.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, Allison Hoover Bartlett.  Hardback.  No, not the story of my Dad, or me but of a con artist stealing from rare book dealers.  A fascinating true crime story.  Made me think about my father’s own rare book collection, and what I’m going to do with all these vintage comic books I’ve inherited.

Knives at Dawn, Andrew Friedman.  Hardback.  A behind-the-scenes play-by-play of America’s attempt to field a winning team for the legendary Bocuse d’Or food competition.  Could not put this book down.  I got a real sense for the personalities of Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud; the latter I previously disliked and now think he’s a captivating character and food genius.  I’m booking my ticket for 2011 for Lyon to see this circus show up close!  Friedman is also a tennis writer—and his sports background really comes in handy as he narrates the story with such flare.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Father Complex

  1. Corie

    Funny — I vacation the exact same way — with the invention of the Kindle my book obsession has gotten much more convenient over the last few years as I now do not have to tote so many books around with me. On our honeymoon Ed was so excited that he finished 1 book to my 5 books. And thank god he likes to sleep, be still and drink or we would not vacation well together since, he isn’t much of a reader. (Sooner or later I will break down and buy the new Kindle so I can download internationally, but version 1 is working just fine still)

    Like you I inherited this from my parent’s to this day you can find my Mom and Dad poolside, beach side and even on their boat kicked back with cocktails and their books. As a kid we vacationed with friends of my parents and she was a librarian it was always a great excitement when we would arrive to see what Sarah had brought for us to read that vacation to this day she is a wealth of book knowledge even though she left the library years ago to be a full time french teacher.

    And thanks for the review of Open I’ve been debating on whether or not to dive in for awhile now.

  2. wife

    I want vintage comic books.

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