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BOOKS Smorgasbord of Words
by Tracy Baim, Windy City Times
2013-03-13

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E-books may be the hot trend, but I still get piles of books each month eager to be opened and reviewed. I can't possibly keep up, but what follows are some highlights from the in-box.

Please support independent bookstores by purchasing your books through them. Stores we recommend include Women & Children First, Unabridged Books, The Book Cellar, After Words, the Book Table, 57th Street Books, Quimby's and Powell's.

Non-Fiction

A wonderful new addition to the stack of regional gay history books comes from Minnesota. Land of 10,000 Loves: A History of Queer Minnesota, by Stuart Van Cleve (University of Minnesota Press), provides a sampling of a wide range of LGBTQ history. Too often our history is focused on the coasts, and this book shows the deep and incredible activism and culture from this Midwest state. There are more than 120 essays, each of them very brief (in some cases too brief based on their importance), providing a road map for those who want to learn more. There are also more than 130 illustrations. Van Cleve mined the archives of the Tretter Collection at the University of Minnesota to produce the book, and Minnesota is fortunate to have such passionate historians working to preserve our history. Van Cleve is a former assistant curator at the collection, which gave him a unique insider's view to this treasure trove. Highly recommended.

The Gay Agenda is a guidebook to the modern LGBT movement, written by eQualityGiving.com co-founder Juan Ahonen-Jover ( www.GayAgenda2012.com ). It provides a basic understanding of what LGBT even means, and then works through a series of "agenda" items on the movement's to-do list. Youth, gender, marriage, military service, and the varied paths to equality are all discussed. It also gives tips on how readers can turn interest into activism. It came out prior to the 2012 elections, so some of it is now not relevant, but the concepts certainly are. There's a fun list of prominent LGBTs (and any list of course is going to have its limits), and it includes a copy of The Dallas Principles, a 2009 document created to push for full LGBT equality—now.

Remember the "gay panic' defense used in murder cases? An important new book about masculinity and homosexuality is now available from David McConnell and Akashic Books. American Honor Killings: Desire and Rage Among Men investigates several killers who "resorted to murder when their masculinity felt threatened. Each instance in this book is a crime against a gay man (or someone perceived to be gay), but these attacks could have just as easily been against a black man, a woman, or a Jewish temple—the hate these men carry within them is not exclusive to any one type," according to advance materials for the book. Among the murderers studied: Jon Schmitz (from The Jenny Jones Show case); gay porn star Darrell Madden who turned into a neo-Nazi and killed a gay man; and the Williams Brothers. I would have liked photos and images in the book, and also an exploration of even more cases, but it is an important contribution to the discussion of the roots of violence. A great companion on this subject is Arthur Dong's Licensed to Kill (DeepFocus Productions), a 1997 documentary that interviews the killers of gay men—many who turn out to be gay themselves.

On a similar topic of masculinity, Professor Mark Anthony Neal of Duke University has written Looking for Leroy: Illegible Black Masculinities, coming out this May from NYU Press. Neal investigates "the complex ways in which black masculinity has been read and misread through contemporary American popular culture." The common view of black male bodies as simply criminal "bring welcome relief to white America, providing easily identifiable images of black men in an era defined by shifts in racial, sexual, and gendered identities." One chapter that is particularly fascinating: "Fear of a Queer Soul Man: The Legacy of Luther Vandross." He speaks about the difficulty Vandross had acknowledging his sexuality, and mentions the same problem facing other black male singers. One incident I didn't remember hearing about was the 1982 car crash involving singer Teddy Pendergrass and a transsexual passenger, Tenika Watson. The accident left Pendergrass paralyzed (Watson had minor injuries), and raised questions about the singer's sexuality. This is an important new book for gay and straight alike.

American Hipster: The Life of Herbert Huncke, The Times Square Hustler Who Inspired the Beat Movement, by Hilary Holladay, is now out from Magnus Books. The promo says the book "tells the tale of a New York sex worker and heroin addict whose unrepentant deviance caught the imagination of Jack Kerouac (On the Road), Allen Ginsberg (Howl) and William S. Burroughs (Junky) and inspired some of their most famous writings." The book also looks at Huncke's youth in Chicago, his work with sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, and details his longtime partnership with Louis Cartwright, whose 1994 murder is still unsolved.

Hustling is also one of the themes in Touching Encounters: Sex, Work, & Male-for-Male Internet Escorting, by Kevin Walby (University of Chicago Press). The book examines "how masculinity and sexuality shape male commercial sex in this era of Internet communications." Walby, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Victoria, even draws on Michel Foucault in discussions about power and commercialized sexuality. The author interviewed male sex workers, and also discussed the "feigning of intimacy." A surprising academic approach to what can be a decidedly unacademic pursuit, and interesting even for those who have never paid for sex.

Melanie Hoffer writes a passionate memoir about her life growing up on a farm in North Dakota, Prairie Silence (Beacon Press). After college she moved to Minneapolis to be free to live an out gay life. She returned for a visit at harvest time, but felt like an outsider, even though she longed for home. This is a personal memoir that also deals with the loss of a way of life, as these prairie towns are becoming deserted: "The towns are like crawfish that have died, leaving their beautiful exoskeletons behind." This is a book tens of thousands of LGBTs can relate to, those who migrated to the big cities over the past decades, hiding in the anonymity of Chicago, Minneapolis and Madison, but sometimes longing for the silence of the prairie.

The LGBTQ community is not immune to the problems that face everyone as we age, or as our relatives age. Many don't have children, so it's even more important to stay as healthy as possible as long as possible, with no next generation to help with care (and even with kids, there is no guarantee!). The Alzheimer's Prevention Program by Dr. Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan (Workman Publishing) gives you basic some short- and long-term tips to keeping your brain active and healthy. The book has been updated with new research, and it also has a 7-day jump-start program. It includes food recommendations and cross-training ideas.

Former Chicago Tribune reporter Kenan Heise writes about an under-represented political group in The Book of the Poor: Who They Are, What They Say and How to End Their Poverty (Marion Street Press). He investigates areas across the country, including Chicago, and takes a journalists-eye-view of the problems, and solutions, for this complex issue.

Speaking of community, Richard Sennett explores one in Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Cooperation (Yale University Press). It addresses "why people and parties find it so difficult to cooperate." Given the state of Congress and the White House, this is a very timely discussion. It is not a gay book, but does address how people can cooperate across differences.

Fiction

Paulette Mahurin uses the trials of Oscar Wilde in 1895 as a backdrop for a Patience & Sarah-like tale of the Old West in The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap (Blue Palm Press), a fun imagining of life for lesbians on the range. As the promo for the book noted: "The year 1895 was filled with memorable historical events: the Dreyfus Affair divided France; Booker T. Washington gave his Atlanta address; Richard Olney, United States Secretary of State, expanded the effects of the Monroe Doctrine in settling a boundary dispute between the United Kingdom and Venezuela; and Oscar Wilde was tried and convicted for gross indecency under Britain's recently passed law that made sex between males a criminal offense. When news of Wilde's conviction went out over telegraphs worldwide, it threw a small Nevada town into chaos. This is the story of what happened when the lives of its citizens were impacted by the news of Oscar Wilde's imprisonment. It is a chronicle of hatred and prejudice with all its unintended and devastating consequences, and how love and friendship bring strength and healing." I enjoyed the connections between closeted lesbians in Nevada and Wilde's own trials, and Mahurin does a nice job of creating these characters just from the inspiration of photograph.

Perry Glass, a longtime gay journalist, is also an award-winning author (How to Survive Your Own Gay Life). His King of Angels (Belhue Press) is a novel about the "genesis of identity and belief." This is a Southern coming-out and coming-of-age story set in the 1960s. The central character is 12-year-old Benjamin Rothbery, growing up in Isle of Hope, Ga., the son of a Southern-WASP mom and New York Jewish dad. He attends the Holy Nativity Military Academy and finds out soon about a sexual underground—including pedophile monks. Read on as he journeys to self-discovery during a tumultuous decade.

Hillary Sloin's debut novel, Art on Fire, from Bywater Books, is a "pseudo-biography" of artist Francesca deSilva. Don't be fooled, this is a satire, an imagined life by a creative writer, one who aims her sharpened pen (keyboard?) at art world pretentiousness.

Shades of Gray is Kathy A. Kron's sequel to Don't Tell (both from Lethe Press), and both are based on lesbians in the military and how they juggle love and work. Kron bases her writing on her experience in the military. This is a novel set in a training unit that also works in the virtual world.

The Lava in My Bones by Barry Webster (Arsenal Pulp Press) is described as a "magic-realist novel. … [Webster] combines elements of fairy tales, horror movies, and romances to create a queer, boundary-breaking celebration of excess and sexuality." Get ready for an escape into a new world of a geologist who eats rocks and wants to have his first same-sex relationship, and other fully imagined characters.

Children's Books

When Loves Comes to Town, by Tom Lennon, was first published in Ireland in 1993, but now it is available for the first time in the U.S., from Albert Whitman & Co., a children's book publisher in Chicago. Lennon was a pseudonym for an Irish writer who died in 2002. The new edition includes a forward by James Klise, a high school librarian in Chicago. The book is set in 1990 Dublin, where we meet Neil Byrne, a rugby player who is struggling to keep his sexuality secret. Many years after the book first came out, Gareth Thomas became the first openly gay rugby player in Europe's pro leagues. Thomas came out in 2009, and he is now retired.

Former Chicago Tribune reporter Jean Latz Griffin, who for a few years covered the gay beat for the paper, has a children's book out, with illustrations by Jane Gaunt. One Spirit: A Creation Story for the 21st Century, is a gay-inclusive, racially and species diverse look at spirituality. A nice addition to your children's library, by CyberINK in Arlington Heights, Ill. There is also a DVD and cards. See www.cyberinkonline.com .


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