Taki Taki

Take three books

Taki lives the High Life

Reading good books is like making love. Reading bad ones is like masturbating. I’ve just read three good ones, one of which got on my nerves because it was about a homosexualist, as opposed to a homosexual. Which in fact was what the other two were about. Now if someone had suggested to me long ago that I would be reading three books about three men who preferred their own sex, I’d have said they’d been puffing on the magic dragon, but that’s neither here nor there. I was curious to read about James Lees-Milne (by Michael Bloch) because, although I never met him, I knew and know some of his so-called straight friends. The other two are the biography of Somerset Maugham, by Selina Hastings, and of John Cheever, by Blake Bailey. But let’s start with Lees-Milne. The homosexualist.

Lees-Milne was — like the other two subjects — bisexual, but unlike the other two had no children. His was a benign idiopathic homosexuality, but he viewed things only through the prism of homosexual eroticism. Hence my calling him a homosexualist. Here was a man who fell in love with women, although the affairs were almost never consummated, a serious lover of beautiful old buildings, and a writer of note, whose whole life was shaped and influenced by his homosexual mentors and gay friends. Yet he had a horror of those who flaunted their proclivities and he often called such people buggers and homos. Mind you, this was the buttoned-up England of the Thirties and Forties, with no Elton Johns around to wave the gay flag.

Still, Lees-Milne emerges as a hell of a gay cat, cattiness being the operative word. He thought of many of his fellow gays as shallow, slick, sophisticated and absurd, adjectives I used to use about old queens who hung out around Monte Carlo in the Fifties.

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