Joseph Anton Salman Rushdie Judy Garland.

I've been thinking for several days that I need to write something about the book I just finished, Joseph Anton, Salman Rushdie's memoir about the fatwa years, because I can't remember when I've been so caught up in a book, but I've had trouble homing in on just what I want to say about it. There's so much.

1. It's an enthralling book. I really, really recommend it. It's full of suspense, tension, surprises, reads like the best fiction, except that it really happened. Great behind the scenes stuff about the art and literary worlds. Art, sex, politics, religion. And just a fascinating story about someone having an experience you could never imagine the likes of.

2. Maybe you have a vague negative feeling about Rushdie from reading about him in the tabloids for so many years. Then definitely read this book. One of its major themes is the distance between what we think is true and what is actually happening, the distance between who we think we are and who others think we are. Maybe you'll walk away with a different impression, but I finished the book feeling like I had gotten to know someone hugely intelligent, passionate, bighearted, courageous, and self-aware. He is scarily candid. His devotion to getting at the truth is breathtaking.

3. It's a perfect book for this impossibly puzzling moment in our encounter with Islam in the Middle East.

4. Read it if you are at all interested in art and freedom.

5. Maybe you've already read it. It's been out for a year or so. I got it for Christmas last year. Don't be daunted by its length. It's a page-turner.

6. One sort of tangential thing I learned is that Rushdie wrote a monograph on The Wizard of Oz, which I bought and read also. It's wonderful, sweet, fun, full of unexpected insight. And his thoughts on Somewhere Over the Rainbow, which he calls "a celebration of Escape, a grand paean to the uprooted self, a hymn -- the hymn -- to Elsewhere" (much of his take on the film, what he finds resonant in it, centers on what it says about dislocation, living in a place other than home, or in a home that doesn't feel like a true home, knowing that that true home might exist somewhere else, through the eyes of someone (Rushdie) who left home and was banned from returning) crystallized for me why I was so taken with Judy Garland years before I ever could have known of her gay icon status (and by extension why indeed she became that icon), and I'm certain this has been said many times but it never really sank in so simply for me: my sense of otherness, of not belonging, as a kid, and how compelling that idea of a place where there is emotional peace, belonging, contentment, must have been as a little kid, all those feelings were part of my world long before I associated them with sex. Judy (Dorothy) singing those words (to me, because who is she singing to, if not to me?) with such pure conviction was a huge dose of "Yes! That's it exactly!" It was easy to understand why I was obsessed with her as a 53 year old gay man, harder to pinpoint just why I was obsessed with her at 8. It was all about that song.

That's a lot of words typed very quickly. Hopefully some of it makes sense.