I have three Jenga-worthy stacks of books to review, and that's just from the past few weeks of reviewer proofs and purchased books. There is, as usual, a smorgasbord of words, from LGBT fiction to non-fiction, mainstream photo books to queer history.
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.
Marriage is much on the minds of the community this year, as battles rage in the courts and the court of public opinion. Here Come the Brides! Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage is a collection of essays edited by Audrey Bilger and Michele Kort for Seal Press. This is a much-needed analysis of both the personal and political issues behind the marriage movement, an especially needed look at the diversity of opinions on this complex emotional issue. Among the highlights: National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendell interviews long-time lesbian activist Phyllis Lyon about her marriage to longtime partner Del Martin. Joan Lipkin, Leslea Newman, Jennifer Camper ("Six Reasons Lesbians Should Not Get Married"), M.V. Lee Badgett, Holly Hughes, Susan Goldberg and many others give their take on the institution of marriage.
For more analysis of the couples issue, from a mostly different perspective, there is Single: Arguments for the Uncoupled, by Michael Cobb. Cobb (author of God Hates Fags: The Rhetorics of Religious Violence) tackles head-on the rush to couplehood in societyincluding within the LGBT community. "Singles might just be the single most reviled sexual minorities today," the press release for the book states. This isn't just one man's venting, however. Cobb looks at the topic through the writings of Plato, Freud, Ralph Ellison, Melville, Woolf, Obama, Dickson, Morrissey, Beyonce, Georgia O'Keeffe, Hannah Arendt and the Bible. How is that for literary diversity?
And now … back to marriage. Melanie Heath looks at the fight to hang on to the hetero-only past in One Marriage Under God: The Campaign to Promote Marriage in America. Heath's analysis is about the projects that have been created to reinstitutionalize heterosexual marriages, no matter the cost, literally and figuratively. She provides a researched, detailed analysis of such efforts in Oklahoma, but much of what she finds is reflected elsewhere in the U.S.
The Right to be Parents: LGBT Families and the Transformation of Parenthood by Carlos A. Ball provides a detailed history of court decisions on LGBT parenting rights going back to the 1970s. Courts today are still mixed in their rulings about LGBT parents, so this book is unfortunately timely for those who care about this important issue facing millions of LGBT families. It is also an important document of previous cases fought by courageous parents.
Chicago Whispers by St. Sukie de la Croix is an in-depth look at pre-1970 Chicago gays, the culmination of years of research by former Windy City Times writer de la Croix. Windy City Times did an in-depth interview with him a few weeks back, but I wanted to mention and recommend the book for our readers. De la Croix has managed to uncover some new documents and stories from Chicago's rich gay past, so even the most credentialed historians will find new information to add to the collective knowledge of our community. The gay universe never revolved solely around the East and West coasts, and this book is an important addition to the dialogue about our community's roots. It is so very frustrating to read gay histories that ignore our Midwest work, and coast-biased historians now have another tool to turn to for reference.
Transitions of the Heart: Stories of Love, Struggle and Acceptance by Mothers of Transgender and Gender Variant Children, edited by Rachel Pepper, is a welcome collection of stories about the mothers who go through a parallel emotional process when their children are transitioning. The moms represent a diversity of backgrounds, and also have children of different age groups, from 6 to 60. Read more about the book at www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Transitions-of-the-Heart/38662.html .
Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality, by Hanne Blank, came out late last year. It traces the formation of the concepts of hetero and homosexuality to the 19th Century, and helps break down the false arguments that claim that heterosexuality is an inevitably or the only way. Blank writes that heterosexuality is "a particular configuration of sex and power in a particular historical moment."
Who doesn't love the cult classic film Rocky Horror Picture Show, especially those raised in the 1970s and 1980s? Well, there are fans and there are FANS, and Confessions of a Transylvanian by Chicago theater veteran Kevin Theis and his writing partner Ron Fox documents the true hardcore fans of this cross-dressing phenomenonthe cast of the live version of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Theis was a boy who became "a man in fishnets" in this story of the cast friendships, loves and losses. The only thing missing is photos, but the juicy details are still worth the read.
Cobra Killer: Gay Porn, Murder, and the Manhunt to Bring the Killers to Justice, chronicles the 2007 murder of 44-year-old gay porn entrepreneur Brian Kocis. Written by Peter A. Conway and Andrew E. Stoner, the book looks at the underworld of gay porn, and ultimately the investigation leads to the arrest of former military men turned porn producers.
City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster that Gave Birth to Modern Chicago, by Gary Krist, is not a gay book, but it is a great exploration of a period of Chicago's history that I was not familiar with. This includes the crashing of a blimp, Wingfoot Express, in downtown Chicago, killing 13 people. This tragedythe first major aviation disaster in American historywas just the start of a very difficult time in the Windy City. Dive into this very detailed look at a moment of time, including a race riot, a transit strike and a child murder. The legendary characters of Chicago's past, including Big Bill Thompson, Jane Addams, Carl Sandburg and Clarence Darrow, are all there.
Any fan of sports, and lesbian history, should read this excellent book by Peggy Miller Franck: Prides Crossing: The Unbridled Life and Impatient Times of Eleanora Sears. We reviewed this book in the Feb. 2 Windy City Times, but I wanted to recommend it again as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Title IX this summer, and with the pending Olympics in London. Sears was entwined with some of the legends of lesbian American history, and she was also a very accomplished athlete in multiple sports. There are photos and great tales from her life. Highly recommended.
Chicago author Anne Laughlin gives us another treat with her newest novel, Runaway. Private investigator Jan Roberts investigates a survivalist camp as part of tracking down a teen runaway, and while she looks into the girl's disappearance, her own hiddenand terrifyingpast comes more clearly into focus. This is a fun page-turner that gives insight into the survivalist movement, while also providing a hot lesbian investigator with some fun liaisons along the way.
Jim Provenzano takes us back to 1970s Pennsylvania is his novel Every Time I Think of You. It is a wonderful summer read about teenage love and angst, told from the perspective of an inexperienced gay high school distance runner. Reid is charmed by Everett, a wealthy neighbor he meets in a chance and sexy encounter in the winter woods near their homes. The story takes unusual twists and turns, and is a terrific coming-of-age story that really puts you deep into the mind of a young gay man trying to find his way in the world.
And in the running vein, in the tradition of Patricia Nell Warren's The Front Runner, Robert Lennon tells the story of love and friendships in the running communities inspired by Warren's book, in his debut novel The Miles. Lennon was a president of the gay running group Front Runners in New York, so his novel is clearly informed by his personal experience with the club and its runners.
Samuel Delany is one of the most esteemed and award-winning gay sci-fi writers, but he has also written in other genres. The prolific 70-year-old professor is out with an 804-page futuristic novel, Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders, that looks at a rural network of gay men supported in the early 1980s by a Black multi-millionaire, operating outside the urban sphere. Delany traces their relationships for decades, imagining a fascinating future.
Marshall Thornton's Nick Nowak series continues with Boystown 4: A Time for Secrets. This is the first full-length version of detective Nowak's character, and it is set the summer of 1982 when he finds himself investigating an old murder with ties to a candidate for Chicago mayor.
Elijah Rising by Lyn Lejeune is the story of the friendship between two men: a wealthy white New Yorker, Michael Cooke Holt, and a Black tent-fundamentalist preacher, Elijah Broom, during World War I. The men are physically drawn to one another, but will outside pressures be too much to handle?
Michael Lowenthal's The Paternity Test is a nice twist on an old storyhaving a baby to save a relationship. The relationship here is between two men, and one of them wants a baby as a way to create a stronger glue with his partner. We all know how that can turn out, but Lowenthal provides interesting views on how surrogacy can impact a gay couple with an already complicated partnership.
The Time of Women by Elena Chizhova is one of those novels that transports you to entirely different time and place, a book that forces you (in a good way) to imagine the lives of people far removed from your daily life, allowing you to escape in its pages. It is the story of three older women raising a small mute girl in a communal apartment in 1960s Soviet Union. A factory worker becomes an unwed mother, and the communal apartment is the best choice for her in raising her little girl.
The Survival Methods and Mating Rituals of Men and Marine Animals by Chris Kenry may sound like a non-fiction book, but it's all novel. Davis has been dumped by his boyfriend and sent on a research vessel to Antarctica as a technical writer. The odd characters he meets help challenge, and reinforce, his beliefs.
Well, let's just make it clear from the title: Give It To Me is Sean Wolfe's new novel, and it's a collection of 12 erotic stories sure to inspire some fantasies for gay men.
Lesbian romance writer Georgia Beers' newest book is 96 Hours. She tackles the 9/11 terrorist attacks through the lens of a lesbian romance.
The Vampire's Quest by Damian Serbu is book two of this series. Gay vampire lovers Xavier and Thomas return for this story. If the straights can have Twilight, why can't there a gay vampire romance?
Religion and Spirituality
Former Chicagoan F. Jay Deacon, a leader in the gay spirituality movement, is out with a book that examines the complexity of religion and sexuality. Magnificent Journey: Religion as Lock on the Past, or Engine of Evolution tells Deacon's journey from fundamentalist Christianity through his process of coming out as a gay man. Deacon served a decade as minister at Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Oak Park, Ill., and prior to that was pastor of Good Shepherd Parish Metropolitan Community Church in Chicago. He holds a Doctor of Ministry from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. Deacon now lives in Massachusetts and is a part-time minister in the UU Church. Deacon is among the subjects I interviewed for ChicagoGayHistory.org, see www.chicagogayhistory.com/biography.html .
Mel White is a legend in the gay religious world, having come out late in life after a career serving the evangelical Christian community, including as pastor and ghostwriter to some powerful anti-gay leaders. But his most recent decades have been spent trying to make up for that as an openly gay religious man. His newest book is Holy Terror: Lies the Christian Right Tells Us to Deny Gay Equality. Well, the title says it all. In the book, White traces the links between the old Moral Majority to the Christian Coalition and today's Tea Party movement. He says the Tea Party presents a clear and present danger to gays and all Americans. A timely book in this highly divided election year.
Gay Conversations with God: Straight Talk on the Fanatics, Fags and the God Who Loves Us All, by James Alexander Langteaux, is an in-your-face approach to the topic of being gay and Christian.
Looking for humor to handle homophobic religious attitudes? Check out The Christwire Handbook, by Kirwin Watson, Bryan Butvidas and The Christwire Flock. This is the Onion for the spiritual, and they have often fooled their right-wing targets. Even liberals have taken them too seriously at times. Rachel Maddow calls them brilliant, so that may be the only endorsement you need. These folks take on righteousness head on, including attacks on gays. They have some very fun LGBT stuff, including a description of house mom lesbians, model lesbians, lesbros, butt bloggers, BFFs and much more. No sacred cows, indeed!
Moms: A Tribute to Mothers of LGBTs, with photos by Kat Fitzgerald, and edited by me, is a book created by the Windy City Times team as a salute to the mothers who don't kick us out, don't hate us, don't shame us, and don't shut the door on love. It is now available as print-on-demand from Amazon, and there will be copies at Women & Children First soon. The focus is on Chicago-connected moms, and there are also a few nationally known mothers, including Judy Shepard.
Woodcut by Bryan Nash Gill is a look at the beauty of nature through the cross sections of trees. There is a mystical power in these arboreal rings that reveal a tree's age but also an incredibly mesmerizing pleasure. Take time to stare into the lines and find some inner natural peace.
Much-honored lesbian writer Leslea Newman is out with a new book, this one a collection of poetry inspired by the murder of a gay man: October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard. Newman shows a very personal and emotional response to the killing of 21-year-old Shepard in October 1998: "Their truck was the last thing he saw / Tears fell from his unblinking eyes / I cradled him just like a mother / I held him all night long." Newman was scheduled to be in Wyoming that week for gay awareness programs at the University of Wyoming. She spoke there shortly after the attack that would soon take Shepard's life, and change the gay community forever. This is powerful poetry to soothe the soul. "When I heard what happened / I told / the world / I'm gay and it could have been me."
Award-winning writer Sarah Schulman is also an activist, and someone who helps us remember the dark days in the peak years of loss surrounding AIDS. As a lesbian, she marched alongside her gay brothers in ACT UP, and now tells those stories in her new memoir The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination. Schulman recounts how the deaths of more than 80,000 in New York City alone caused the vanishing of a vibrant downtown arts scene and queer culture, to be replaced by "gay conservative spokespeople and mainstream consumerism." She links this to the gentrification of NYC in the 1970s. Her personal stories are coupled with political analysis, and we learn about the deep anger Schulman feels because the work of women is so often ignored and dismissed by the mainstream culture. Schulman's use of the gentrification parallel for gays is fascinating; she says that the gay community, because of the trauma of AIDS, is responding in similar ways as the U.S. did after World War II: "We have been streamlining into a highly gendered, privatized family/marriage structure en masse." This is a complicated and important memoir, and recommended reading for those who care about LGBT and feminist politics and culture.
I am a huge fan of Alison Bechdel and her Dykes to Watch Our for comics and books. Her cartoon was a longstanding feature of Windy City Times and Outlines newspapers. Her Fun Home book was a groundbreaking graphic telling of her relationship with her father, and it was received to wide acclaim in the LGBT and mainstream communities. Her follow-up graphic book, Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama, is a similar story of family, but this time with a focus on her mom. This is a very different book from Fun Homeit is deeply about psychoanalysis and its impact on Bechdel's life and relationships. It is sometimes heavy with psychoanalytic language and terms, but I still love the detail Bechdel puts into her artwork.
Kristen Johnston is best known for her very fun acting gig on TV's Third Rock from the Sun. She's a comic always ready to laugh, and one with a big gay following. But this strong towering diva was struck down from the inside, when her guts literally rebelled against years of alcohol and drug abuse. She almost died in London while there for a theatrical starring turn. The lessons she learned from this near-death experience are painful, but also very important. But most important for fans of Johnston, her humor is evident through this book, appropriately titled, Guts.
How to Die in Paris, by Naturi Thomas, is a dark true-life tale of Thomas, who went to Paris to commit suicide but who survived to tell the stories of living without money on the streets. She finds a series of exploitive male suitors, but eventually learns important lessons that help her find beauty, enough to make her want to truly live.
Unlikely Friendships for Kids is a three-book series featuring the work of Jennifer S. Holland, adapted from her other work. She shows how unlikely animal friendships can inspire humans in their everyday lives. Take the dog and piglet, the orangutan and the cat, the monkey and the dove, the bear and the cat, the leopard and the cow, or the zebra and the gazelle. The books are great treats for the kids in your lives.