The Gay Men's Edition
Volume 4 Number 1
By Richard Labonte
Several months ago I wrote that the Gay Men's Edition of Books
To Watch Out For would be back on schedule pretty soon. Make that pretty
sooooon. But I'm there now, with apologies for the longish breaks between
installments. Thirty newsletters in a bit more than four years of what was
meant to be a monthly creature isn't quite what was pledged - though I (or
others) have commented on more than 500 books since issue number 1. With this
issue 31, I aim to keep it regular again.Richard Labonté
A new address for sending books and book catalogs is listed at the bottom
of this issue, but in case you don't scroll down that far, please note that
I'm now at:
Books To Watch Out For
PO Box 133
5596 County Rd. 12
McDonald's Corners, Ontario
K0G 1M0 Canada
And in this issue: reviews of 12 mostly self-published or very small-press
books that piled up in the past many months; I'll cover another dozen next
time. Reviews of 12 of the many dozens books I've read in the same past many
months; I'll cover another dozen next time. Two writers write about the travails
of being a writer. A new publishing venture for Latino/a writers. Links to
a dozen or so queer-lit items of interest. Information about my work as an
editor at large for Cleis Press. And a couple of queer bestseller lists...
They Did It Their Way: 12 Self-Published Titles
I have a weakness for self-published books. I admire the persistence of their
writers. I don't always admire the quality of the prose this persistence produces.
But the promise inherent in an un-cracked spine, the lure of an attractive
cover, and the potential of the first unread page all appeal to the book person
that I am.
I judge these books on several levels:
By their covers. Don't laugh at the cliché - a smart cover conveys
in a glance what a book might mean to the curious, cautious reader, more so
if the book is face-out on a bookstore shelf, or one of many piled on a new-arrivals
table; less so, perhaps, as an online image. A good cover can tell you a lot
about a story's story, even when the book can't be handled as a tangible object.
So I've graded the covers.
By their design. Words matter most, but the "feel" of a
book is important: the quality of the cover stock, the look and spacing of
the type on a page, the margins - intrinsic qualities that a great story can
surmount, but elements that can tip a so-what book to so-so. So I've added
a word about "book feel."
By their typos. This is a bad thing. I miss good proofreading. Spell-check
is no substitute. To two too, peak pique peek, but butt - all examples from
books I've read recently. Which doesn't explain the persistence of heroine
(go girl!) for heroin. I'm not going to single out any of the books reviewed
below, because I didn't make notes - but none of them is without flaut...I mean,
And of course, ultimately, by the quality of the writing and of the story
the writing tells.
Not all the books in the roundup that follows, received over the several
months of my hiatus, are self-published; a few are from smaller presses, and
sometimes the presence of a professional eye is apparent. But just as often,
the amateurs do a pretty good job. Books from, um, real publishers, are noted
with an asterisk...
*Adagio, by Chris Owen (Casperian Books, $15, 9781934081037)
Young man on the loose, younger man enters his life, romance ensues
- but not without a lot of trauma. Canadian lad Jason Stuart,
a semi-successful artist, has been living in Australia for half
a decade, but he's never
ventured far out of Sydney, the city where he landed - and where
he worked as a hooker for a spell, until taken under the wing
of an older mentor. But the time has come for a "walkabout"
in the Australian Outback, so Jason packs up his paints and some
canvasses and hits the road, soon to intersect with 19-year-old
Ryan, another Canadian hitching around Australia before returning
to school. Owen handles the dance of their hesitant but mutual
sexual attraction with authentic flair, and the trauma surrounding
a sexual attack on the younger man packs an emotional wallop.
Erotica, much of it for Torquere Press, is what Owen is known
for; this is a coming-of-age summer romance that blossoms, quite
believably, and not without honest conflict, into real love. This
is only Casperian's third title, but the (apparent) mom and pop
operation has its act together.
Cover: 4 - Pretty. But not at all descriptive of the story.
Prose: 6 - Nice and intricate, good and delicate, story neatly
Feel: 8 - Good cover stock, good interior desktop design, nice
The Chili Papers, by Chris Girman (Velluminous Press, $12.99, 9781905605118)
Fact-based fiction? Embellished memoir? It's hard to tell where
this sometimes raunchy, sometimes reflective work
falls along the literary continuum. Much of the story takes place
in Latin America, where the first-person narrator, as a college
student, indulges both his love for the culture and his lust for
the men. At the same time, the narrator refers often to how different
family members were either scandalized by or oblivious to "his"
book - Girman's own scholarly study of a few years ago, Mucho
Macho: Seduction, Desire, and the Homoerotic Lives of Latin Men.
In the end, this cheerful book's proper classification doesn't
much matter. The Chili Papers is propelled by the cockeyed
characters and absurdist world Girman either conjures up or draws
from, one where his sister is in love with a gay cop, his oddball
mother paints a dead lawn green so she can sell her house, and
he's fired from his job at a T.G.I.Friday's for squeezing unauthorized
lime juice into a margarita. Think Sedaris-lite.
Cover: 4 - Underly (rather than overly) revealing.
Prose: 6 - Good comic writing, serious introspection.
Feel: 7 - A handsome book.
The City, by NA Diaman (Persona Press, $14.95, 9780931906107)
Diaman's several novels include Ed Dean is Queer, Castro
Street Memories, and The Fourth Wall; he's been a self-publishing
pioneer with his Persona Press for many years.
The story of The City - that's what San Francisco calls
itself, capital T included - arcs across five decades,
from the late 50s, when Theo Demetrios finds his first apartment
(and his first male sexual partner) in The City, back when Beatniks
walked the streets, to the current day, charting Theo's life and
loves. Diaman writes with a light touch, weaving an obvious affection
for the city through the story. It's a bittersweet chronicle:
Theo's first lover leaves him for a European musical career, and
they never see each other again - though a sweet son appears on
Theo's doorstep; he shares decades of love with a second partner,
but that one soon gets restless. Through it all, Theo, son of
hardworking Greek immigrant parents, and with a sister with an
artistic bent, manages a bookstore and builds a contented life.
The City isn't a novel of great passions, but it is a quietly
Cover: 7 - Two cute men, leaning affectionately together on a
Prose: 6 - Not flashy, but the story moves along with dispatch.
Feel: 4 - Odd page layout.
Column Inches: Everyday Observations of a Gay Pragmatist, by Eric
Hunter (BookSurge, $14.99, 9781419634642)
Hunter was a regular columnist for Cincinnati's CityBeat
for about five years; the 40-plus essays in this well-crafted
collection start in 1997, with a thoughtful piece on
the importance of gay history, to a 2002 piece on the closing
of Cincinnati's Crazy Ladies women's bookstore. The shelf life
of newspaper columns is often pretty short, but Hunter's are well-preserved
by a smart combination of interesting if familiar topics - barebacking,
monogamy, organized religion, reality TV - and writing that manages
to be sometimes clever, sometimes sarcastic, without sacrificing
thoughtfulness. Self-publishing a book like this, were his mini-essays
not so deft, would have a whiff of narcissism to it. But this
book is engaging - even the columns that are Cincinnati-specific.
I'm not sure it's for fans of genre fiction or queer theory, but
as a slice of history, it's fresh enough.
Cover: 6 - There's not much you can do with black, white, and
a splash of red, but this does tell what the book is about.
Prose: 7 - Clean and clear - good journalism style.
Feel: 7 - Very well designed.
Deep South: Discovering My True Sexuality, by Jody Dixon (Cypress
House, $15.95, 9781879384651)
Most coming-out stories are nothing special, as important as they
are to the person telling his or her story (though they can often
be quite good: see Kevin Sessums's splendid
Mississippi Sissy, for example, for another one rooted
in the Deep South). But stories written by Southern gents who
came out at age 70 are something else. The prose in this straightforward
memoir is clear, elegant, and often quite moving; Dixon's accounts
of the segregated South of his very rural Georgia childhood in
the 1930s are a vivid reminder of the persistence of America's
racial divide, though Dixon’s well-to-do white family got on well
with black neighbors and employees; his life in the closet for
more than 50 years is recounted without self-pity; and the joy
of his decision to be the man-loving-man he'd longed to be is
Cover: 8 - Effective use of a photo of the author as a cute kid.
Prose: 7 - Nothing flashy, but a good mix of emotion and restraint.
Feel: 6 - A tidy package.
*Devil’s Bridge, by Greg Lilly (Regal Crest, $14.95, 9781932300789)
Regal Crest is better known for its lesbian fiction; I hope prospective
male readers look past the "women's/gay"
designation on the back cover. This is definitely a book for both
women and gay men - though gay women and straight men will
find a lot of value, entertainment and otherwise, to it. Lilly's
nuanced tale of the friendship between a gay man and his best
gal friend is taut and polished; gay men will identify with Topher's
need for a change in life after too many boyfriend disappointments,
and Myra's desperate need to get away from an abusive husband
is heart-poundingly realistic. This is a solid novel about how
integral emotional freedom is in life.
Cover: 6 - Hands reaching out for each other is a good pitch for
the soul of the story, but the background doesn't make much sense
until after you've read the book.
Prose: 8 - A definite page-turner, with well-drawn incidental
characters fleshing out the two principals.
Feel: 5 - Margins too tight, type too squeezed.
*Devils in the Sugar Shop, by Timothy Schaffert (Unbridled Books,
Nebraska author Schaffert's third novel is the gayest story without
much gay content that I've read in eons. It's
set in Omaha, and the back-cover description is awfully apt: "A
comical whirlwind of deception, adultery, desperation, drag queens,
stiff cocktails, nervous breakdowns, and suburban swingers."
The characters, who manage to be both daffy and complex, include
twin sisters Peaches and Plum, who run a bookstore that's the
center of the arty crowd; Ashley, who teaches erotic writing to
the women in her crowd even though her marriage is pretty much
sexless; June, who sells naughty marital aids at Tupperware parties;
Sybil the Guru, a blunt-spoken motivational speaker; and, mostly
in the background, Lee, Ashley's gay son, who has fallen in with
a caring crowd of those drag queens - he's crafting a comic based
on their lives, called Those Fabulous Bastards of Omaha
and their live-sex stage act, Bedraggled. Schaffert's novel about
Omaha's unexpectedly bohemian underside is a non-stop comic delight.
Cover: 9 - Perfect for the book, and the author thinks so; he's
included a "Note on the Cover Design" that's more expansive
than most author bios:
The cover of Devils in the Sugar Shop is based on a design
by Maciej Zbikowski for the Polish release of the 1968 Italian film Le
Dolci Signore, a bedroom farce starring Ursula Andress and Virna Lisi.
Poster design reigned as Poland's most respected and refined art form from
1945 to 1989, ending with the rise of capitalism in the country and a more
commercial, less artful, approach to the advertising of cinema, opera, and
the circus. The design work of the 1950s and 60s was known as the Polish School
of Poster, and demonstrated diverse influences: folk art, surrealism, art
deco, and pop art among them. The Polish designers of movie posters favored
abstraction over celebrity, metaphor over plot.
Prose: 10 - More fun than a French Tickler - though the author describes
it as "one long raucous cocktail party scene."
Feel: 9 - Airy yet solid.
Excerpt (scroll down):
The Hell You Say, by Josh Lanyon (iUniverse Editor’s Choice, $15.95,
Judging from this lovely lark of a whodunit, the "editor's
choice" slogan on a self-pubbed iUniverse book might actually
carry some cachet. This is the third of Lanyon's mysteries
about Adrien English, owner of the Cloak and Dagger bookstore,
and sometime boyfriend of a hard-bitten L.A. cop (the first two,
Fatal Shadows and A Dangerous Thing, were published
by the defunct Gay Men's Press). Adrien's relationship with the
detective is fraught with the cop's inner demons: he's not happy
being queer. And demons are bedevilling our bookseller, too -
his one full-time clerk is implicated in a satanic cult, and his
cop boyfriend is investigating a series of ritualistic murders
- including a body found in the clerk's bed. The plot is serviceable;
what makes this mystery sparkle are Lanyon's sturdy characterizations,
from the turmoil of the sexually conflicted cop to the bubble-headed
bounciness of three girls who are about to become Adrien's half-sisters,
when his imperiously dotty mother remarries.
Cover: 7 - iUniverse basic, but its cartoonish colors suit the
Prose: 6 - Brisk enough, though Lanyon doesn't make much use of
Los Angeles and its many atmospheres for his story.
Feel: 7 - Nice interior look.
The Literary Six, by Vince Liaguno (Outskirts Press, $24.95, 9781598006957)
The Big Chill meets Freddy Kreuger. Wait - is that first
film reference, about college chums reuniting years after their
friendship first formed, familiar to anyone these days? Hmm. Doesn't
matter. They can Google it. Liaguno's fast-paced horror story
has all the tropes chillingly in place: a touch of romance, flashes
of humor, moments of pathos, bloody (very bloody) revenge, and
a moral to wrap it all up. The "six" of the title bonded
over their literary affinities in college, and - as snobby types
are wont to do - played a cruel prank on a college prof, one that
comes back to haunt them twenty years later at a reunion on a
- what else - isolated island. Liaguno's plot holds together well,
and he has a nice way with words.
Cover: 8 - Fog-shrouded stairs and roiling sea convey spooky;
the title and author are easy to read.
Prose: 6 - A little bit overwritten, but then purple prose does
suit the horror genre.
Feel: 7 - Very tidy.
*Stolen, by Annette Lapointe (Anvil Press, $16, 9781895636734)
There is real literary art to this poetic novel about drug-dealing
drifter Rowan Friesen - not a typical loser's name! - and his
debauched and sometimes desperate life. The story is set in rural
Saskatchewan, not the usual
environs for a gay-interest story; Rowan, after blowing up his
high school with a sleepover buddy with whom he shares lusty same-sex
escapades (even after his unstable school chum is institutionalized),
has made a living for several years breaking into houses and selling
what he burgles on the Internet. He's the product of a bruised
upbringing, with a schizophrenic father and a mother whose self-centered
path in life left her science-geek, rock-music-obsessed son pretty
much abandoned. So it's no surprise the man's a rebel, a drifter,
and a grifter, with his own emotional scars. As protagonists go,
Rowan's not particularly likeable at first - but he grows on the
reader, as romance blossoms (albeit with bumps) with a teacher
he meets hanging out with a community of university students,
and as he finally comes to care for the mother who neglected him
in younger days. His life is pretty grim - but Lapointe writes
about Rowan, and about the prairie landscape where he roams, with
startling beauty; phrases like, "The air's so warm he can
feel it rubbing into his skin" pop up on almost every lustrous
page. This is an exceptional debut novel.
Cover: 3 - It sure is arty, but it says nothing at all about the
book; thank goodness for a more artful back cover (and a strong
Prose: 9 - Luscious. This is a grown-up book about, well, not
quite growing up.
Feel: 8 - Nice design inside and out.
Strings Attached, by Nick Nolan (BookSurge, $18.99 paperback, 9781419628894)
Adolescence is a hazardous way of life for 17-year-old Jeremy
Tyler; his father died in a mysterious accident when he was a
child, and his mother has since descended into alcoholic hell
and forced rehab; that's when he's sent from the Fresno slums
of his childhood to the posh
estate of his overbearing great aunt Katherine and her censorious
husband - liberated from an economic prison, only to land in an
emotional one - and is overwhelmed by the change. It's not easy
for him to fit into the upper crust, particularly because he's
trying to hide how much he's attracted to other boys. Jeremy's
story of breaking free from the strands of dishonesty, deceit,
and self-doubt has its parallels to the tale of Pinocchio, but
Nolan's queer take is totally contemporary: think the TV series
The OC - girls with mean cheekbones, well-built guys with
snotty attitudes, and Jeremy in the role of a queer Ryan Atwood.
He's a good-looking kid, with a sleek swimmer's physique - and
the swim team's champ is out to get him. He dates one of the smart-set
girls in an attempt to keep his gay hormones at bay - but that
doesn't do him much good. Nolan's debut novel is a kitchen sink
of genres - coming of age, coming out, mystery, romance, erotica,
even a dash of the supernatural - that add up to an impressive
story about the passage from boyhood to manhood.
Cover: 10 - Perfect for the book, clean and crisp and easy on
Prose: 8 - Excellent for a self-published book, leanly written
and well plotted.
Feel: 8 - Good design overall.
*Tattoo This Madness In, by Daniel Allen Cox (Dusty Owl, $10, 9780973926644)
The "dazzling, snarling" smile of a Smurf - that's what
rebellious Florida teen Damian Spitz tattoos onto the young bodies
of the boys and girls he woos away from the fellowship of the
Jehovah's Witness church,
in this zippy novel of punk mayhem, sexual transgression, bloody
epiphanies, and artfully outrageous subversion. It's the story
of an angry young kid, written with subversive glee by a talented
young writer who may be angry himself - but who knows how to brighten
the dark edge of his first novel with sharp wit. Those Smurfs?
It seems that they were singled out as spawns of Satan in a sermon
that sets Damian on the path of transformation, from a kid afraid
to masturbate because God won't like it to a sexual rebel fucking
a fellow former Witness. Which perhaps proves that churches that
hate are good for something after all.
Cover: 8 - Rebel with a cause personified: cigarette butted out
in the palm.
Prose: 8 - Raw but impressively irresistible.
Feel: 7 - Pulpy, more like a 'zine than a book, but the style
suits the substance.
A Dozen Recent Stellar Reads
Stray, by Sheri Joseph (MacAdam Cage, $25, 9781596922013)
Paul, a university student in his early 20s, is the uneasily kept
boy of an elderly acting teacher. Kent, 30, a lackadaisical musician,
has been married for a year to Maggie,
a Mennonite public defender with a passion for doing good. The men
were lovers (and minor characters in Joseph's debut novel, Bear
Me Safely Over) before going their separate ways; a chance encounter
resurrects the passion - and ignites a tangled triangle. Kent adores
his wife, but sex with Paul excites him; Paul cares about his once
charismatic mentor, but is ashamed of depending on him for financial
support; Maggie is ready to build a family with Kent. Their delicate
interpersonal dance explodes when Paul's sugar daddy is brutally
murdered, Paul becomes the prime suspect, and Maggie takes on his
legal defense. Married man with a secret, wife who doesn't suspect,
needy gay man in the middle: the plot is familiar, almost trite.
But Joseph's potent tale of sexual deception and emotional redemption
is a seductive stew of love story and murder mystery about three
fundamentally fine, and gratifyingly complex, people.
A Memoir of a Boy in a Man's Prison, by T.J. Parsell (Carroll
& Graf, $24.95, 9780786717934)
Fantasies about prison rape are a staple of gay porn. This is
the real thing: the memoir of a 17-year-old white boy's journey
through America's sexually predatory prison
system. Turns out those fictional scenarios aren't all that implausible
- though they lack the layer of emotional terror this story delivers.
When Parsell was sentenced for armed robbery - he held up a drive-through
photo stand with a toy gun for a few dollars - he entered a culture
of omnipresent sexual violence and a hierarchy where muscle and
meanness ruled. Four inmates raped him on his first day in the
general population. After a coin toss, he became one seasoned
convict's bitch. Parsell is raw and unsparing in recounting his
harrowing prison stint as a closeted gay kid thrown into a world
where man-on-man sex was a commodity. But he also recalls, with
surprising affection, sex with one straight prisoner with whom
he reconnects by mail 25 years later. Parsell was paroled in 1984,
and became a force behind the Stop Prison Rape movement, described
in an epilogue that tells how he came to thrive despite the scars
of his incarceration.
Hex: A Novel of Love Spells, by Darieck Scott (Carroll & Graf,
Fidel Castro has died, and Miami's Cuban exiles are partying in
the streets. Except that the dead president is spotted around
town, adding to the hysteria - just one of many weirdnesses in
this steamy cauldron of supernatural mysteries, psychic manifestations,
parallel universes, time travel twists, magic spells (one gone
tragically awry), and a good amount of gay lust, both painfully
repressed and sensuously realized. Despite its heft, Hex
reads like a text-heavy comic book, albeit one written by a race-conscious
black intellectual with a yen for commentary about American politics
and culture. It's crammed with a slew of colorful characters,
but five young men - two hunky African-American friends, one macho
Latino circuit boy, one fierce white drag queen, and one mixed-race
fellow who's sure he's straight, though he sleeps in the same
bed as the gay guys - make up the queer core of this ambitious
potpourri of mystical adventure and sexual shenanigans.
Charmed Lives: Gay Spirit in Storytelling, edited by Toby Johnson
and Steve Berman (White Crane Books, $16, 9781590210161)
Some of the 30-plus spirited contributions to this collection
are queer fairy tales, fey fiction with a whiff of magical realism.
Some are essays focusing on gay spirituality.
The mix sets Charmed Lives charmingly apart from the norm
of contemporary gay anthologies, most of which these days draw
deeply from the erotic well to sate gay readers. A book where
spirit takes prominence over sex is a treat. Among the essays,
Bill Blackburn writes movingly about visiting the irrepressible
Harry Hay on his deathbed; faerie Mark Thompson and Episcopal
priest Malcolm Boyd tell how they fell in love; and Bert Herrman
dwells wisely on the authenticity of a life - not necessarily
religious - of faith. On the fiction side, there's magic in Victor
J. Banis's story about an elderly man and a disfigured man finding
beauty in each other; in Michael Gouda's story about a surviving
lover finding solace in his late partner's possessions; and in
Martin K. Smith's story about a tea that compels anyone who drinks
it to speak suppressed truths.
Mississippi Sissy, by Kevin Sessums (St. Martin's Press, $24.95,
The shelf of queer coming-out confessionals is certainly crowded
- almost as many gay memoirs (25) as gay novels (30) were eligible
for a Lambda Literary Award nomination
this year. But this account of growing up a Southern sissy is
a decided standout. Sessums was butch enough to play football
with some talent in 1960s Mississippi, but he preferred dressing
up as actress Arlene Francis, whose long run as a panelist on
TV's What's My Line captured his little fag heart. His
parents died within a year of each other when he was ten. A Bible-thumping
Baptist minister molested him in his early teens. Racists who
cheered Martin Luther King's assassination surrounded him. But
young Kevin's instinctive gay radar led him to a "found"
family of actors, artists, and writers - including Eudora Welty
- who nurtured his more fey interests. Sessums's poignant but
celebratory memoir ends at age 20, when the older gay man who
mentored him was murdered by a trick; the author left the South
soon after, to become an editor at Interview and a writer
for Vanity Fair. As an account of coming out and coming
of age, this book is far different from Jody Dixon's Deep South,
reviewed above; but both memoirs share a strong Southern identity.
Shakespeare's Sonnets, by Samuel Park (Alyson Books, $24.95, 9781555839550)
The time is 1948, the place is buttoned-down Harvard, and the
boys in this literary love story are scandalous dandy
Jean and closeted rich kid Adam. Jean's scholarship is slipping
away as he parties with the campus lavender set; Adam is on course
for an academic career, a fine marriage, and a life of privilege.
Their prickly first meeting becomes a tentative friendship and
then a passionate, private romance - the story arc of any number
of novels about young men and forbidden attraction. But Park adds
lyrical texture to his take on the genre with the suggestion -
not all that shocking now but scholarly heresy six decades ago
- that Shakespeare's sonnets were written for a beautiful young
man. That historically daring research topic is what binds the
young men together in this sweet, smart novel. (A short film based
on the book has made the festival rounds and is available on the
DVD Boys Briefs 3).
Talking to the Moon, by Noel Alumit. (Carroll & Graf, $14.95,
Alumit's impressive fiction debut, Letters to Montgomery Clift,
was a distinctly queer coming-out novel filtered through a young
American-Filipino's perspective. Talking to the Moon artfully
emphasis: though one of the central characters is a gay man, this
book is more about Filipino experience in the United States -
particularly that of mailman Jory, shot by a crazed bigot, and
his wife Belen, a weary nurse. Atmospheric flashbacks describe
their earlier years in the Philippines, where she was an upper-class
debutante and he was a poor-born seminarian, class differences
that appalled Belen's parents. Thirty years later, the couple
has built a life in Los Angeles, though they mourn the accidental
death of their first son and are bewildered by the gay life of
their second son, Emerson, who too easily bottles up his emotions.
A tidy subplot focuses on Emerson's on-again, off-again romance
with a Taiwanese flight attendant, but the heart of this sophomore
success lies in its examination of how a quiet family copes with
the sensational aftermath of a racially motivated shooting.
All: A James Broughton Reader, edited by Jack Foley (White Crane
Books, $28, 9781590210208)
James Broughton was a poet, filmmaker, and all-around faerie for
whom effervescent joy was a way of life. More than a gay artist,
"made art gaily," as this marvelous potpourri of excerpts
from his journals and reprints of his poetry attests. One chapter
assesses several of his many short avant-garde films, the first
of which he made in the 1940s, the last of which he made in the
70s and 80s together with Joel Singer - the man he married in
1976, way before gay marriage was in the news. Editor Foley contributes
a lengthy interview with Broughton, conducted in 1997, two years
before the poet's death at age 86. But the real spirit of this
collection springs from the poems, which infuse whimsy with a
spirited wisdom that's always playful, often intense. Broughton
published more than twenty collections of verse in his lifetime;
this rich sampler, smartly compiled with a caring touch, is a
delicious introduction to the words of a shaman whose life, as
much as his art, celebrated the necessity - and the fun - of love.
Dog Years, by Mark Doty (HarperCollins, $23.95, 9780061171000)
Got a dog in your life? Get ready, as you read, to grin with recognition
and to weep in sympathy. Dogs Arden and Beau were minor characters
in Heaven's Coast, Doty's
elegant memoir about the AIDS death of his lover Wally more than
a decade ago. This equally elegiac remembrance is all about the
pooches. Memories of romps in the woods and runs on the beach,
celebrating the joyous physicality of a beloved pet, are rendered
with tender amusement; those moments when a dog's eyes reflect
a man's soul, expressing the intricate mystery of how dog and
man meet in the world, are analyzed with poetic emotion. There's
no end of books about the role dogs play in our lives, about their
ever-present unconditional love and their ineffable connection
to our moods; Doty breaks no new ground in this joyous, heartbreaking
celebration of the bond between man and mutt. The triumph of Dog
Years is how Doty illuminates the lives - and the deaths -
of his dogs with a lyrical and philosophical intensity that is
Voices Rising: Celebrating 20 Years of Black Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual &
Transgender Writing, edited by G. Winston James and Other
Countries (RedBone Press, $25, 9780978625139)
Other Countries was founded twenty years ago as a collective committed
to black gay male writers and writing,
back when a mere handful of emerging African-American voices could
be found on gay bookstore shelves. This hefty collection of more
than 100 contributions from more than sixty writers expands on
Other Countries' original focus on men to include essays, short
stories, poems, interviews, and play excerpts from lesbians as
well as bisexual and transgender writers. The result is a rich
and hefty reader, and a generous testament to black literary accomplishment.
Established authors like Jewelle Gomez, Marvin K. White, Cheryl
Clarke, Reginald Shepherd, Letta Neely, and Samuel R. Delany stand
out - but dozens of younger, newer voices also "rise"
in this historic anthology, so many so good that singling out
even a few would do a disservice to the rest. Voices Rising
is a hymn to the power of words to build community, express emotion,
realize dreams, and explore the complexities of identity.
Androphilia: A Manifesto Rejecting the Gay Identity, Reclaiming
Masculinity, by Jack Malebranche (Scapegoat Publishing, $12.95,
It's almost guaranteed that anyone reading this review of Androphilia
in BTWOF will despise the book - after all, you've paid
money to read news and reviews about queer
literature, and the author's thesis, after all, is that there
really ought not be anything like a "gay community."
And if there is, he wants no part of it. Nope. He's a masculine
fellow, a man's man who just happens to sleep with other men.
So it's tempting to write this screed off with a gay-icon quote
(he's not fond of gay adoration of divas, by the way) from, say,
Bette Davis, something like, "But ya are, Blanche."
But that's too simplistic a response to what is in fact a heartfelt
argument that "the gay identity" is too sissy, too socialist,
and way too libertine for this man-loving man. There's a history
of queer intellectuals insisting that they're too masculine to
represent perceived gay stereotypes: Andrew Sullivan, Bruce Bawer,
and Daniel Harris come to mind. Malebranche's manifesto is an
extreme manifestation of their kind of stereo-phobia. Let's just
hate the book, acknowledge the author's personal honesty and articulate
passion, and leave it at that. So why are my comments included
in a roundup of recent stellar reads? Because, disagreeable as
I found the thesis, it’s well-reasoned.
SoMa, by Kemble Scott (Kensington Books, $14, 9780758215499)
Sexy but sexually ambivalent young Raphe, precipitously downsized
by San Francisco's dot-com implosion, is a frustrated writer with
a condo he can't afford, a menial job in a South of Market mail
drop, and an
apparent eye for the girls. Then he meets Baptiste, a suave Latino
lawyer who courts naïve Raphe with unctuous charm, sucking him
into the gay world's whirl. Scott's ebulliently filthy debut novel
prowls the sex clubs - gay and straight - of S.F.'s South of Market
(aka SoMa) underworld, introducing a cast of hipsters and hipster-wannabes
(two straight girls from the 'burbs are a hoot), all deep into
mind games and sex play. The many sex-club scenes manage, somehow,
to be both sordid and slapstick, which is a charm of this multi-textured
book. Sex-extreme novices may squirm at some of the action, but
anyone with sexual savvy will appreciate the author's sly, cock-eyed
observations. SoMa takes a slick, sick twist at the end,
when a raped Raphe, finally empowered, exacts extreme sexual vengeance
against his tormentor. But revenge is sweet - and so, perversely,
is this kinky story.
Kinky Heresy in a Catholic Context
It's 1983, and young Catholic priests are dying mysteriously. A concerned
Vatican calls in hotshot Father Javier Barraza, an Argentinian-born Jesuit
with a built-in disdain for his Church's more repressive dogmas - and more
longing in his soul for a childhood sweetheart, now a very special FBI agent,
than a priest of his stature ought to have - to investigate the viral epidemic
decimating America's priesthood. Part medical thriller and part Vatican expose
(quite reminiscent of church-insider Andrew Greeley's many novels set in the
shadowy world of Vatican politics, ambition, and ego), Mock's timely novel Mosaic Virus
stitches together Catholic homophobia, AIDS conspiracy musings, and one particular
Cardinal's thuggish self-interest, as the duo digs into decades of criminal
cover-ups and deadly deceit - an investigation into the unleashing of a horrific
"mosaic virus" that causes Barraza to question his Catholic faith.
AIDS and the Vatican intersect most imaginatively when, as characters, real-life
flight attendant Gaetan Dugas, said to be Patient Zero of the AIDS epidemic,
is seduced as a seminarian by Francis Cardinal Spellman, whose queer ways
are the stuff of legendary lore. That's the kind of kinky heresy that gives
this book its zip. Mock, at one time a practicing doctor, gets pretty detailed
with medical facts and theoretical extrapolations; his story, brisk enough
to carry readers over the expository bits, ends with the priest and the FBI
agent flying to an unnamed destination with an antidote that could end an
epidemic - until, in something of a cliff-hanger, a plane - their plane? -
is shot down. Seems a sequel is in the works... Floricanto Press, $24.95 paper, 9780915745791.
Mock, an activist who produces a steady stream of link-rich newsletters on
numerous topics, is also spearheading a move, in conjunction with his publisher,
to increase the visibility of Latino/a writers. Here’s what's happening:
"Floricanto Press, recognizing the void in today's GLBT Latino Literature,
is launching a new line. I've been hired as coordinating editor for the series.
We will have two titles ready for publication this summer. Felice Picano is
finishing editing my work, Papi Chulo: A Legend, A Novel, and the
Puerto Rican Identity, and Leo Cabranes-Grant's The Chat Room
and Other Plays: A Puerto Rican Anthology."
In addition, Mock and Floricante are working with poet Emanuel Xavier, who
is soliciting submissions for a First Modern Anthology of Latino GLBT Poetry—Mariposas
for a summer 2008 release.
Here's what Felice Picano says about the series:
"If self-identity is a crucial issue in this literature, then national
identity is another one that both authors address; and Papi Chulo,
actually is the story of a country as seen through the eyes and lives
of three strong women of several generations. In that novel, as in Cabranes's
play, In Mortality, the changing and changeable nature of Latino American
GLBT identity becomes a toy played with by the characters and the author to
express and illuminate the underlying anxiety that this topic always incites.
For Carlos Mock, the theme is felt so strongly that it must be openly expressed.
'To Puerto Ricans, I've become an American. But to Americans of Puerto Rican
descent, I'm insufficiently Puerto Rican because I've not undergone the years
of prejudice they have.' So the question becomes, who are any of these characters,
these authors, these people? And we've not yet begun to explore other themes
of this writing: machismo versus homosexuality, male versus female, and how
or even why that should alter to catch up to the rest of the world. Or the
role of the various religions - Catholicism versus Santeria for example -
that are touched upon in these works."
A Writer's Life: Two Views
A few months ago, within a few days of each other, two writers whose work
I admire mightily wrote on their respective blogs about being writers. Between
then and now, much has happened in the realm of publishing. News hit of the
implosion of Publishers Group West, distributor of well more than a hundred
presses (including a number of queer ones), a bankruptcy that sucked many
thousands of dollars out of the cash flow of the independent publishers affected;
in the wake of that disaster, Perseus Books - which took over distribution
of many of the PGW clients - announced it was folding two impressively gay-positive
publishers that it had acquired in corporate back-and-forth fiddling too complicated
to go into here. Gone: Carroll & Graf, where Senior Editor Don Weise (also
axed) had in just three years put together the most extensive mainstream-publisher
list of queer titles since the heyday of St. Martin's Stonewall Inn Editions
two decades ago. The elimination of his line of books came as a surprise to
Weise, who in the past three years has published work written or edited by
Noel Alumit, Cheryl Clarke, Leslie Feinberg, Kate Clinton, Michael Musto,
John Rechy, Michelle Tea, Dennis Cooper, E. Lynn Harris, Aiden Shaw, Michelangelo
Signorile, Jaffe Cohen, and many more. Books released this spring include
Samuel R. Delany's novel, Dark Reflections; Felice Picano's memoir,
Art & Sex in Greenwich Village; Edmund White's novella and short
story collection, Chaos; and Sarah Schulman's novel, The Child.
A tragedy - intensified because Perseus and its own several imprints has never
had a strong fiction line - let alone many queer books. Also gone: Thunder's
Mouth, which had a smaller but steady line of gay titles.
So, though neither blog entry was written specifically as a reaction to the
PGW bankruptcy and the demise of Carroll & Graf and Thunder's Mouth, they
have much to say to aspiring writers - or discouraged ones.
For another take on what the loss of Carroll & Graf and Thunder's Mouth
And an interview with Carroll & Graf senior editor Don Weise:
And a report on why some of the independent presses formerly distributed by
PGW are still hurting:
Why I’m Persevering, by Marshall Moore
I read somewhere that writers are more prone to depression than normal people.
Or perhaps we started out prone to depression, and among those of us who didn't
take up drugs or cutting or suicide, many channel our dark tides and black
currents (black currants?) into something creative.
Another one of my writer friends has announced he's throwing in the towel.
This is a disturbing trend, and I want to share my two cents worth. No, I'm
not going to name names.
I've been publishing about 10 years now, a fact I might have commented on
already. While I don't look down at the literary world from the heights of
Granta and The New Yorker, I also didn't short-circuit after
my first book. My third is in the pipeline. My fourth and fifth have better-than-decent
chances of being published, although I haven't yet summoned either the time
or the will to begin overhauling Bitter Orange. I'm not cranking out
short stories as fast as I used to, but hell, I changed careers and moved
abroad. When I was an interpreter, I had a job I could do in my sleep. Inasmuch
as you can phone it in, I was doing so. The only time my work-related reality
was real and raw was in the middle of my nervous breakdown. Everything's different
now, and my brain is more engaged than it used to be. But I'm still working
on new projects: I've finished an essay for the debut volume of Invert(e)
and a couple of pseudonymous smut pieces. I'm tinkering with a couple of other
things I'm not ready to mention. Point being: I'm not dead yet.
Other writers I know have dealt with struggles and disappointments and setbacks.
Two got hosed by Penguin in two different countries. One of them was so disgusted
by the whole thing - his fourth book was accepted, then dropped because of
its provocative content - he swore off writing for a while and went back to
his day job. He has written a fifth novel but is being maddeningly secretive
about any impending possibilities of publication. The other was also dropped,
just after delivering his third book. Both ultimately went with much smaller
houses; both books that were dropped are now in print; both are outstanding.
And the second of these two guys is blissing out on not having to write fiction
and deal with publishers for the foreseeable future.
Yet another one is threatening to call it quits. His first novel got published
by a small house that immediately collapsed, but the book is being reprinted
by an American publisher. There has been a significant delay in the publication:
it's about a year behind schedule. I'm close to the situation, so I can't
comment further, except to say the logistics are now sorted out and the book
will be coming to stores within the next few months. This writer has been
working on a sequel - and he's already contracted for it - but he's been rather
hard-pressed by life for the last year or so, and he has developed an intense
hatred for writing. The sequel may never see the light of day. Which sucks,
because I've read his first book and I want to know what happens next.
I could name a few other writers whose careers started around the same time
as mine, but who seem to have hit the wall. First novels published, followed
by nothing. Endless delays, discouragement, rejection, sophomore slump. I'm
more of a short story writer than anyone else I currently know (not a boast,
I just keep writing the damn things, and sooner or later most of them find
homes) so I've kept up a modicum of visibility between books. Others haven't
done so. Which is dreary to contemplate. I look at these people not writing
- talented, competent, imaginative, but consumed by either despair or just
the daily grind, or both - and feel awful for them.
This isn't an issue of competition. Other writers come along. The well of
human creativity never runs dry. For the individual it may, but not for people
as a whole. Someone will always have both the talent and the hunger.
Stephen King announced his own retirement, then broke his silence with Cell
and now Lisey's Story. The former is a good fun read and the
latter, which I finished on the subway, is simply devastating. Best thing
he's done in years. But I digress. I wanted to give Lisey's Story
an enthusiastic plug. King's reason was, if I recall, just that authors sometimes
have their reasons. When the publication of Cell was announced, he
said he might not keep cranking out the books and the stories as fast as he
used to, but the drive is still there.
I hope this is also the case with some of my friends and acquaintances who
have said that they're giving up. Our circumstances are different. I am persevering.
I hate to see others fall by the wayside. I don't know how I'd have made it
through the events of 2003/2004 if I hadn't been working on An Ideal for
Living, if I hadn't had a couple of good short stories in the works, if
I hadn't had ideas for a couple of other worthwhile novels in my head, if
I hadn't been thinking perhaps I ought to write a memoir someday to show Augusten
Burroughs how it ought to be done. Other people may not take writing quite
as seriously. Or they're more consumed by their day jobs than I allow myself
to be. Or they're simply letting their depression go unchecked, and it's getting
the better of them. (I believe this to be true of at least three of them.
Myself, I take happy pills. Fuck that suffering shit; pain is for other people.)
In terms of writing careers, which tend to span decades for the ones who don't
flame out along the way, maybe this is all very typical. And maybe some or
many or most do need to call it quits, because in the grand scheme of things
there's not enough room for everyone. I don't know. When it's personal, though,
and I see this talent going to waste, it's disappointing. Not in a gleefully
malicious schadenfreude kind of way, either.
Marshall Moore is author of the novel The Concrete Sky and the
short story collection Black Shapes in a Darkened Room; and he has
more books coming: "Looking ahead, I'm getting impatient for An Ideal
for Living to be published. The two books beyond that are basically done,
as well: Bitter Orange and the second story collection, which I now
think will be titled 'The Infernal Republic' when and if it's published."
His literary-chatter blog:
His other blog:
The Party Survival Guide for Writers, by Alexander Chee
I was notorious as a young man, so I'm not impressed automatically if people
have heard of me. I'm used to being worried about it. When I met the playwright
and activist Larry Kramer, for example, I was 24, in his apartment for Gay
Pride, and he said, Oh, you're thaaat Alex Chee, and it wasn't because he'd
read me. The difference between infamy and fame is a little blurred for me.
I used to like going to parties but once I started telling people I was a
writer, it got a little ugly. I used to think it would get better but it only
gets different, not better at all. This is how it went about 10 years ago:
Me: I'm a writer.
Me: I've had a lot of things in magazines and anthologies...I'm working
on a novel.
Guest: [odd, blank stare] Excuse me.
Now, 10 years later:
Me: I'm a writer. A fiction writer.
Guest: What kind of fiction writing?
Me: Literary fiction
Guest: So...what is that?
Me: A mystery novel where the mystery is basically humanity.
Guest: [Strange, eerie half-smile]
Me: Okay. Forget mystery novel. It's nothing like a mystery novel.
[Writer reaches for a small cake on the food table. I think it was a lemon
Guest: I just read nonfiction, mostly. I don't read much fiction.
And that, of course, is the show stopper. I don't know what the relevant
impersonal put-down would be to an economist, who in this case was the live
source of the above quotes - I only read Adam Smith? I'm a free-market nut,
a protectionist? If you know, let me know.
Some alternate endings:
Guest: Would I have heard of you? What's your name?
Me: Oh, I don't know. Alexander Chee is the name. The first novel's
Guest: I think I remember reading about it. How did it sell?
Me: Well enough.
Guest: Can I get it at a Barnes and Noble?
Me: Yes, just about every one of them.
The Barnes and Noble question is an interesting one. In the first year my
book was out in hardcover, it was a hard-to-find independent press release.
And then Picador took over, and suddenly the book was everywhere. To the minds
of the people at these parties, though, there was always a new level of legitimacy,
as if they all congregated somewhere and decided on how to afflict writers
at the different stages of their careers. At first I wasn't a writer because
I hadn't published a book, and then when I had, I wasn't a writer if they
couldn't get it at a Barnes and Noble, and then when they could, I wasn't
a writer unless it sold well and was famous, so famous they would have heard
of me. If I should eventually win a Nobel, there'd be someone, somewhere at
a party, who'd try to make it an insignificant accomplishment and set some
further standard for being 'a writer.' They apparently can't help themselves.
Mild-mannered creatures who would ordinarily shrink out of your way if you
even looked like you wanted to walk by them to get to the cheese plate get
a sadistic gleam in their eye at the mention you're a writer. And the more
confident ones get quizzical or condescending, even if the greatest thing
they ever did with their life was pay a parking ticket. They roll their eyes.
They leap at the chance to show you they haven't heard of you.
Over time, I've realized that the problem is the profession itself. The problem
is that I'm a writer, just as it is a problem for all writers at parties like
these. People who aren't writers really have no idea what it's like in here.
Partying with them is like a cross-cultural experience, as a result. So I've
learned to brace myself. Telling them I'm a writer apparently is like telling
them I'm made of some nonhuman substance. I'm not expected to have the ordinary
feelings. So while the testing me on how famous I am or how connected is a
bit like being thrown to the floor to see if I bounce, they don't know that.
And I've learned that if they haven't heard of me, and they say, I'm sorry,
I've never heard of you, they aren't sorry. They apologize because they imagine
I have this giant ego that's easily wounded by not being a celebrity to them.
As if they didn't know, every writer starts out getting used to being ignored
for their work.
The irony is that most people get into writing out of a social awkwardness
of some kind or another that translates into good writing. People who rehearse
conversations in their head, for example, are often quite good at dialogue.
The paranoid, suspicious, and jealous have a knack for plot, misused. Unable
to say what you meant at the time? You're likely a stylist. Shy and stands
at the back of the room? Detail, detail, telling detail. You may not be socially
awkward and in need of medication. You may just need to go write. All of this
is to say that the average person isn't wrong to think writers are full of
personality problems. We are. And we're trying to make a living off it, too.
We're human anthologies of anxiety called writers.
The best thing anyone ever said to me about all of this came from the late
Frank Conroy, a long-time director of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. 'Success
is as distracting as failure,' Frank said. 'You're on top, you stop writing,
you're on the bottom, you stop writing - so, don't stop writing. Don't even
think about it.'
I am used to telling my students not to talk so much about a book you're
working on. I think now, what's really required is not mentioning you're a
writer at all. Subterfuge, camouflage, whatever you have to do. You're a fiction
writer. Lie. Make stuff up. Think of it as rehearsal. Some alternate scenarios:
Guest: So, what do you do?
Me: I...work on my personality. Actually, wow. Sorry. I'm such
Guest: What kind of work do you do?
Me: [strange eerie half-smile] Excuse me.
Guest: What field are you in?
Me: I'm a contract assassin. Whoops, sorry. Have to take this call.
Alexander is author of the aforementioned Edinburgh and of The
Queen of the Night, forthcoming from Houghton Mifflin.
His current blog:
Stein, Maupin, Vidal & More
It's the summer of Toklas and Stein in San Francisco:
Celebrating the news that Michael Tolliver is still alive:
Gore Vidal's complicated relationship with gay culture:
The gay book club InSight Out, swallowed up:
Rice, Christopher, son, and Rice, Anne, mom, throw a party for the Lambda
Hooray for queer children’s books, or is that queer books for children?:
"You have to be a bit deranged if you're going to pick poetry and hope
to reach a lot of people. It's like picking Latin as a language to communicate,"
says poet Shane Rhodes, who's included in Seminal, a solid collection
of Canadian queer poets:
Scottish lesbian Louise Welsh on writing in a gay male voice:
British author Neil Bartlett in a passionate interview with Paul Burston
about the fur trade, fairy tales, and gay writers (and rights):
Andrew Holleran on Dancer from the Dance, Grief, and the books
in between: "To my mind Dancer is a critical/satiric book. It's
not a glamorization of gay life. It was a younger person's book so it came
out with a certain element of romanticism that has something to do with temperament
and false ideals. I do feel I've been in the grip of bleak realism for a long
time now. I've really got to let it loosen because that's not the only viewpoint
in life and I feel like I'm stuck in it. Grief, I think, was the end
of that. Grief, I think, was about as far as I could take it."
I'm Looking for a Few Good Books
Cleis, publishers of the Best Gay Erotica series that I've edited
since 1997 (and of a few other books I've put together for them: Hot Gay
Erotica, Country Boys, Best Gay Romance 2008, and Where
the Boys Are) has asked me to work with the press as an editor at large,
scouting for books for the Spring, Fall, and Winter lists. Cleis is interested
in good memoirs, thoughtful and provocative nonfiction, smart-themed anthologies,
imaginative erotica anthologies, and the occasional reprint. Children's books,
drama, and poetry aren't on the radar. My task is to scout for titles, and
work with potential authors to draft a proposal. Felice Newman and Frederique
Delacoste, the Cleis publishers, consider the proposal; I then work with the
author (or anthology editor), if they do accept the book, to make sure a clean,
polished manuscript is delivered to the press on deadline. In my role
as editor-at-large, I don't make the final decision. My function is to
look out for promising writers and writing - lesbian, gay, transgender - and
to initiate contact between Cleis and possible authors.
So: I'm open to queries. An initial email to
CleisEditor@gmail.com will start
the process. If the idea sounds promising, I'll request sample chapters or
the full book for a single-author work, or a smart proposal for an anthology.
I'd strongly suggest that anyone considering submissions look at the Cleis
for a more complete concept of the type of books
that have made it one of the premier queer publishers of the past three decades.
The bar is set high...
Bestsellers From Our Bookstores
Bestseller lists are always snapshots of time and place, and Outwrite's is
more up-to-date than that from Giovanni's Room, so it's not overly odd that
books by Armistead Maupin and Mike Jones are number 1 and 2 in Atlanta but
hadn't yet registered in Philadelphia - and of course Outwrite featured both
writers at book signings. But it is notable that only one book appears on
both lists: Kevin Sessums’s Mississippi Sissy.
Giovanni’s Room / Philadelphia Top
10 . . . 9*
1. Boston Boys Club, by Johnny Diaz (Kensington, 294
pp., $15 pb). Diaz depicts the lives of the men who gather in Boston's hottest
gay bar to drink, mingle, and share stories.
2. Mississippi Sissy, by Kevin Sessums (St. Martin's,
320 pp., $24.95 hb). Sessums brings to life the pungent American South of
the 1960s and the world of the strange little boy who grew up there.
3. Dark Reflections, by Samuel R. Delany (Carroll &
Graf, 295 pp., $15.95 pb). This novel concerns the life of a gay African-American
poet who has lived most of his life in NYC.
4. Manhood: The Longest Moan, by L.M. Ross (Q-Boro, 416 pp.,
$14.95 pb). Three African-American men are seeking fame, fortune, and love
in New York City.
5. Between Men: Best New Gay Fiction, edited by Richard Canning
(Carroll & Graf, 334 pp., $15.95 pb). Eighteen of today's best writers
are gathered in this stunning collection of new, unpublished stories.
6. Call Me by Your Name, by Andre Aciman (Farrar Straus Giroux,
248 pp., $23 hb). The story of a sudden and powerful romance that blossoms
between an adolescent boy and a summer guest at his parents' house.
7. Vintage: A Ghost Story, by Steve Berman (Harrington Park,
149 pp., $12.95 pb). This young-adult novel concerns runaway teenagers.
8. Giovanni's Room, by James Baldwin (Doubleday, 176 pp., $14
pb reprint). Set in the 1950s Paris of American expatriates, liaisons, and
violence, a young man finds himself caught between desire and conventional
9. Mothers and Sons: Stories, by Colm Tóibín (Scribner, 271
pp., $24 hb). The mothers and sons in Tóibín's superlative first collection
resist the changes wrought by transformative events.
(Book blurbs by Giovanni's Room: www.giovannisroom.com)
Outwrite / Atlanta Top
10 . . . 9*
1. Michael Tolliver Lives, by Armistead Maupin, $25.95
2. I Had to Say Something: The Art of Ted Haggard's Fall, by Mike
3. Forgiveness, by Jim Grimsley, $21
4. Looker, by Stanley Bennett Clay, $12.95
5. Queer Astrology for Women, by Jill Dearman, $14.95
6. The Transcended Christian: Spiritual Lessons for the Twenty-First
Century, by Daniel A. Helminiak, $16.95
7. Grief, by Andrew Holleran, $12.95
8. What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality, by Daniel A. Helminiak,
9. Mississippi Sissy, by Kevin Sessums, $24.95
Store info: www.outwritebooks.com
*Beats me why both lists stop at 9 books rather than going on to the traditional
Masturbation: How Long Is Too Long?
Do Nymphomaniacs Really Exist? The Ultimate Q&A for Guys, Ian
Coutts (Chicago Review Press, $14.95, US ISBN: 9781556526749, CDN ISBN: 9780470838433)
Upfront: there's nothing really gay about this book. The answer to a question
about breaking into adult films focuses on the excessively heterosexual (but
as far as I know, gay-friendly) porn star Ron Jeremy. The answer to a question
about prolonged erections might titillate at first, but the ones Coutts is
writing about go past the sexually fulfilling into the area of medical emergency.
How to self-tattoo might pique some fetishists; "What is life like in
the Foreign Legion" might fuel some fantasies; so might the answer to
a question about building up your body in prison (not by weightlifting, since
many U.S. prisons have eliminated barbells; think "burpee" - which
is not the result of too much cola swallowed too quickly. (Buy the book and
look it up.) "In a fight between Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears?"
is superficially queer - but neither of them, really, has any diva cred. There's
good news for young queers with lust in their heart but no boyfriend on the
horizon, though: unless you Do It to the point of developing carpal tunnel
syndrome - or bleeding - there's nothing wrong with a lot of masturbation.
So, then: why review this book in BTWOF's Gay Men's Edition?
Because the author is a friend of mine, and I told him I would, and the book
is a whole lot of fun, and we all in the end do need to know how to escape
quicksand, what it's like when your parachute fails to open, and whether exotic
female dancers (think go-go boys instead) catch colds. And there's another
question this book answers: what can a gay guy get his straight friend/brother/nephew
for a birthday gift? Now you know. Um, and the author is a friend of mine,
the husband of a woman I met in college almost forty years ago. Author Ian
is Canadian, by the way, and his book was first published here, with the much
less titillating (and much more reserved) title The Ultimate Guys' Q&A:
The Answers to Questions You Should Not Ask.