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Between the covers
by Amos Lassen

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This month brings us a lot of good reads and diverse list as well. I know that I have already mentioned Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America ( Twelve Publishers ) by Christopher Bram but I must add that after reading it for a second time, it quickly found a place on my list of favorite books. It is a book that is so badly needed, and yet it is great fun.

In a single volume, Bram presents our modern literary history without missing an author or a significant book—and he does so with great and readable style that makes it almost impossible to stop reading. We first learn that following World War II, a small group of gay writers formed a group of "power players" in the literary world ( a world at that time that kept us closeted ) . These writers changed the rules by causing cultural changes that we would feel for a long time afterwards and that would forever change American literature. With the rise of our literature, we had the rise of a gay consciousness.

Roy Kirby Chaudoir has compiled The Gay Reader's Annotated Bibliography ( Lulu ) and it is also something that we have needed for a very long time: a bibliography of gay literature. This is not just a bibliography; it is more of an almanac of the gay written word and gives us a great deal of information about our literature. I cannot imagine the research involved in producing such a book and we all owe Roy Chaudoir a thank you.

It is conveniently divided into categories—research, major tributaries, authors and books, general collections and references. As I browsed, I periodically checked out the entries and checked out other places where I could find similar information and was very pleasantly surprised to find that all I really needed about an author was here. However, you must realize that we are speaking of literature and not just gay writers.

At this point, you must think about what is literature and why an author is included here and another writer is not. We have Jean Genet, Edmund White, Andre Gide, Bruce Benderson, Andrew Holleran and many others but you will not find, say, Larry Kramer as a separate entry. We have extensive lists of gay authors and a history of gay literature as well as a list of the "Top 100 Gay Novels" ( which means my work is cut out for me, although there are very few that I have not read ) . There are lists of the Lambda Literary and the Stonewall Literary award winners and an extensive bibliography or as I would say "Everything You Want to Know." What I really like is the way the resource material is presented so that I know just where to go if I need to look something up.

In fiction I must recommend one of the most beautifully written gay novels to come along is some time, Benedetto Casanova: The Memoirs by Martin Weber ( Create Space ) . I have been hearing a great deal about it and my copy came a few days ago so I am now able to comment. This is one of those books that once you begin you cannot stop reading. I am sure many of us had no awareness that the famously infamous Casanova had a gay brother ( and whether he really did or not is not important as this is a novel ) .

J.V. Petretta's An Impossible Dream Story ( Dog Ear Publications ) has us both laughing and weeping. With humor and passion, Petretta invites us to join a ride on a bicycle that will take us through life and by coming along we learn about the struggle for LGBT equality.

I have been a fan of Eric Arvin for about five years and I love that we can watch him mature as a writer as we read his work. In Galley Proof ( Dreamspinner ) we meet Logan Brandish, a successful writer who finds himself in a rut as he realizes that he is stuck and cannot seem to think of something new to write about. He has been going from editor to editor trying to find his way back into writing but it was not until he met Brock Kimble that he felt a change. Kimble is not only good-looking but he is smart as well, and he holds nothing back as he begins to show Logan what he needs to do. Brock flirts with Logan and tells him that his writing is no good thereby challenging him to write more and better.

Mari SanGiovanni's Camptown Ladies ( Bywater Books ) has to be one of the best reads I have had since Sally Bellerose's The Girl's Club and that is saying quite a mouthful. I am often asked how I approach lesbian literature being that I am a man, and here is where I have to tip my hat to a graduate course in feminist literary criticism, where I learned that men and women read differently and in order to truly enjoy writing by women, I would have to learn to read as a woman. Marie Santora is nursing a broken heart and uses her family as a way to forget. And what a family! If you know Italians then you know what I mean but above all there is great love in the Santora clan. Coming home for solace and rebuilding, she finds her sister, Lisa, has other plans for her besides finding vaginas in almost everything. Lisa wants to take a "rundown" campground and turn it into a gay and lesbian "paradise" with a five-star restaurant. You will have a very funny read and, in fact, I am still laughing.

Kergan Stout Edwards' Songs for the New Depression ( Circumspect Press ) is interesting in that we all face periods where we just want everything to be finished and then we realize that life is meant to be lived and enjoyed even with the trials we face. Gabriel Travers is one such person—it is in his head that death is coming soon even though his doctor tells him that he is doing okay. Gabe does not like what he sees in the mirror and thinks that his best days are gone. When he was younger, he had the world at his feet. Everything was wonderful until he tried to make it matter and things went terribly wrong.

One of the books that is making a lot of noise this year is Bil Wright's Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy, and it has just won this year's Stonewall Award. The story is about Carlos Duarte, a high school student who is a whiz about makeup. He has a great sense of style and gets the job of his dreams at Macy's as makeup artist at the FeatureFace counter. He soon discovers the competitiveness in the world of makeup and he sees that if he wants to succeed, he must really believe in himself.

Joy Ladin's Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey between Genders ( University of Wisconsin Press ) is an amazing read by a wonderful writer. Professor Jay Ladin was teaching literature at Yeshiva University and had done so for years. When he came to campus as a woman, headlines went up around the world not so much because of the change of gender but because the university, which is Jewish and Orthodox, allowed her to stay on. Jay was now Joy and a new door opened which allowed us to embrace that part of our community that was usually marginalized. In this autobiography, Ladin takes us along as she is transitioning and changing genders and creating an entirely new person.

One of the more important publications is Queer Religion, edited by Donald Boisvert and Jay E Johnson ( Praeger ) that examines where religion and same-sex desire come together from St. Augustine to the present, and does so by presenting two volumes of diverse essays. We see that religion can be compatible with queer culture and we learn that homosexuality and spirituality have existed side by side throughout history.

Robert Walker is a dynamic young poet who tells us in his book, the buoyancy of it all, that he is really only good at three things: writing, making things up and performing fellatio. I, however, did not have the chance to get him to prove either of the last two to me when I met him at Saints and Sinners Literary Festival so I can't say anything about his making things up or performing oral sex, but I can unequivocally say that he is not only good but brilliant at writing. I am a somewhat emotional person but it takes a good deal to make my eyes tear when I read. Robert Walker had me weeping with his absolutely gorgeous poetry. He does things with language that are just amazing.

Finally, and not least, is Alan Kessler's A Satan Carol ( Wild Child Publishing ) . In it he reminds us that evil still exists in the world by giving us a disgruntled Satan who feels that the world has neglected him and that those things that gave him license to work are no longer important. Heresy is a thing of the past and Satan really just gets blamed for death and disease. Think about it—did we blame Satan for 9/11 or for Katrina?

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