On Friday afternoon, I went to Fisher Library. The book I actually went there to borrow was:

306.7660977 1 : The evening crowd at Kirmser’s : a gay life in the 1940s / Ricardo J. Brown ; edited by William Reichard ; foreword by Allan H. Spear. c2001 1

I came upon this book somewhere when following some (relatively predictable) chain of inquiry on the net.  – I’ve been reading a bit about “pre-Stonewall” gay history lately – not that, subjectively at least, my own pre-Stonewall period has ever really ended.

It is a memoir of the “evening crowd,” which was the gay and lesbian crowd, of a downtown bar in St Paul Minnesota.  In 1944 the memoirist (the book was edited and published posthumously) returned to St Paul, having been kicked out of the army (6 months after he had enlisted) as “Undesirable F4” – meaning homosexual – at the age of 18.  He discovered Kirmsers – a bar which seems to have become gay in the evenings through a combination of its hosts’ tolerance and the lack of any better patronage for the bar at that hour of the day.  The account finishes in 1946 or 1947, when (as per genre) the memoirist leaves for New York.

When I came to  307.6  was one of those moments you come face to face with history in your own lifetime. This is definitely a number which has come along since I was first a student: and 307.66 is the chink in the Dewey Decimal conception of the world (or at least the library) where books about homosexuality have been belatedly squeezed in. You can check this yourself if you click on that link go a page up or down (or more) – that is, you can see what other matters are snuck in at this point or thereabouts, and, if you sort by year, how relatively recent most of the books are. 

On my reckoning, of the 453 items now at this number in the entire university library, only about 33 were published at the time I first started uni, rising to about 50 by the time I first finished. 

It’s not that there weren’t books about homosexuality to be found, but they were with very few exceptions discreetly hidden away in other substantive classifications.  Even within those books the gay bits often took some finding or reading between the lines. Now gay is off the index and onto the syllabus.

I should tell you more about the book, but if you are interested you can find most of the more interesting bits on the net anyway, one place or another.  My one criticism is that, far from being an A B Facey or John Shaw Nielsen plain narrative, it is dressed up by the author (a lifelong journalist) in a slightly too jaunty tabloidese mode of recounting – I guess it’s meant to be folksy.  So just occasionally it seems to be a bit self-consciously guying to the reader.  But only very occasionally. 

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