Postcard Rex: A Single Man
A museum of love/grief, plus museum-related books
Hi, all. Since I last emailed I started working as the curator of a local history museum, a very exciting change! We’re in the midst of several updates to the galleries, including launching our new exhibition in June, so my head has been wrapped up in planning and the exhibition’s subject matter of queer LA stories. To that end, this month’s recs reflect both the show and museums more broadly.
A Single Man, Christopher Isherwood
Isherwood’s story follows one day in the life of George, a man who has lost his partner but can’t grieve publicly because he’s not out (it’s 1962). His sharp and humane observations about love, loneliness, and impulse come at a fast pace, easy to relate to and devour. I think this book holds up on each reread, and not just because he’s describing familiar emotions and familiar neighborhoods of LA. It’s one of those perceptive, needling books that makes you pause and consider about all the big questions we usually push to the side to get through the daily business of living.
Much of the book’s emotional heft comes from George’s memories of Jim in the house they shared. The novel is in no way about museums, but I was caught by this line that George speaks to a friend: “The past is over. People make believe that it isn’t, and they show you things in museums. But that’s not the past.” He’s right; it’s our version of it.
Artist Don Bachardy, Isherwood’s partner, created the novel’s jacket portrait of Isherwood (above right) and will be featured in our upcoming show. More on that next time.
If you like it
…but want something a little more upbeat, I’d suggest From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsburg—an adorable YA novel about two kids who run away to live at the Met Museum in New York. I haven’t revisited it lately (unsurprisingly, the library had a waitlist), but hope to soon. I’m very curious how it holds up after a few decades and more knowledge of how museums work.
If you don’t
For those interested in the contemporary approach to museums and the need to evolve the institution, try Laura Raicovich’s Culture Strike: Art and Museums in an Age of Protest.
Things I’ve written lately: