Summer reading recommendations

Summer reading recommendations

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Becoming Barbra

By Bill Eppridge

Coffee-table book

Iconic singer and actor Barbra Streisand had a humble beginning, and this glossy book of photos serves as a reminder of it.

Life magazine photographer Bill Eppridge had full access to the young singer staring early in her career, in 1963, when he photographed Streisand in candid situations such as shopping in a thrift store and trying on outfits in her apartment. The camera followed her during an appearance on the “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” and in the meetings that led to her starring role in “Funny Girl” on Broadway. By 1966, Streisand was a full-blown star with three television specials, five gold records and one platinum album.

This book is a photographic time capsule that captures the throwback black-and-white glam and glory of a star on the rise in that era. If seeing Streisand as a young ingénue isn’t enough to make you want to pick up this book, the crisp fashions of the era make it a page-turner for fans of all ages.    

— Larry Nichols

Bone Music (Burning Girl #1)

By Christopher Rice

Fiction (suspense)

When a book comes out and the title tells us ahead of time that there will be sequels, as “Bone Music (Burning Girl #1)” does, a variety of thoughts pops into my head: First, you know there’s no danger of the protagonist being killed off, and that drops the suspense level dramatically. The same goes for the other characters who were obviously developed with an eye toward future installments.

But the opening! Seven-year-old Charlotte is kidnapped from a car after her mother pulls over to help a couple on the side of the road. They shoot the mother right in front of her little girl, then “adopt” her and keep her locked up while they continue a murder spree over several years. When finally rescued, the girl is traumatized and her birth father isn’t much help: He’s making money off her experience.

Charlotte subsequently becomes the first test subject to survive an off-the-grid pharmaceutical company’s attempt to help relieve anxiety and fear with a pill. It works. But the side effect is that Charlotte becomes a super-person with super strength, invulnerability and other gifts. She refers to the effect as feeling it deep inside her, down to her bones. Hence, “Bone Music.”

The absurdity of such a pill distracts somewhat, but Charlotte’s desire to bring down bad guys, serial killers and other villains makes her worthy of her own comic book. The first killer she takes on is creepy enough to worry anyone — He kills and removes the victim’s face to be displayed in public. As she tries to hunt him down, she becomes his target. 

As much as it takes away from the dangers Charlotte faced, the assurance that she and other characters will be reprising their roles in further Burning Girl tales is the best ending of all.

— Scott A. Drake

Boys Keep Swinging: A Memoir

By Jake Shears

Autobiography

Anyone who thinks sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll are a thing of the distant past, has reason to rejoice.

Jake Shears, the out lead singer for dance -pop group, Scissor Sisters, takes readers on a wild ride through his upbringing in Arizona and Washington state — where he faced bullying as a gay teen in high school — to his relocation to New York City, where clubbing, drugs, go-go dancing, casual sex and moving from one living situation to another became a way of life.

Shears ultimately was inspired to take performing to the next level, and in 2011, started the Scissor Sisters. The group evolved from electro roots and became a hit with LGBTQ audiences in the U.S. and beyond, rubbing elbows with icons such as Elton John and George Michael.

If you’re ever read any rock star’s tell-all biography, this should be familiar territory. But because it’s Shears and the story of the Scissor Sisters is still somewhat of a mystery to the band’s American fans, this story feels way more colorful and exotic as a result. The biography takes readers through the highs and the lows of trying to survive as an artist in New York as well as the fast-paced and grueling lifestyle that comes after dreams of fame and fortune come true. In search of a gripping and exciting read for the summer? Look no further.        

— L.N.

Depeche Mode: Monument

By Dennis Burmeister and Sascha Lange

Coffee-table book

This massive and expansive coffee-table book walks readers through the history of pioneering global synthpop, new-wave and alternative-rock sensations Depeche Mode, chronicling every international album and single (which turns out to be a staggering amount when you include remixes and 7- and 12- releases) over a 40-year career. The story traces the band’s rise from the underground dance clubs of Britain to packed stadiums and arenas around the world. 

Besides its encyclopedic detail of all of the group’s releases, this sizable tome is heavy on photographs of the group, as members evolved from teen musicians trying to emulate bands such as Ultravox and OMD to swaggering, world-dominating pop stars whose sound has influenced artists across genres and generations. Even if you think you know everything there is to know about Depeche Mode —  which performed to a nearly packed Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia without missing a beat just last week — there is surely something new to learn here.

— L.N.

Go the Way Your Blood Beats: On Truth, Bisexuality and Desire

By Michael Amherst

Essay

British author Michael Amherst’s principal concern in this thoughtful book-length essay is how a rigid adherence to categories such as heterosexual and homosexual actually limits human freedom.

Amherst begins with a phenomenon familiar to many bisexuals, himself included: having statements about their sexuality routinely dismissed by others, i.e., “She’s just going through a phase,” or “He’s really gay.”

Amherst admits that even he is occasionally puzzled by his sexuality. Rather than view this as an idiosyncrasy, however, he regards it as a clue that might reveal something about sexuality in general. As he puts it, “While sexuality may be a place of fixed certainty for some, it is not so for all. It can be a form of radical confusion.”

The author notes that this kind of metaphysical perplexity about one’s sexuality can be profoundly unsettling to people thinking in black-and-white terms. He reminds readers that these categories are recent, arbitrary inventions and questions why they perpetuate. How, he wonders, do we account for the fact that celebrities such as British Olympic diver Tom Daley or actor Ben Whishaw were hounded in the media for their fluid sexuality? The way that some gay men interpret any same-sex behavior, however trivial, as a deviation from the heterosexual norm is particularly troubling to him. “Essentially, this is heteronormativity enlisting gay people in the policing of heterosexuality,” he writes.

Human sexuality is not fixed, knowable or unchanging. In Amherst’s opinion, elemental human experiences such as attraction, love and sexuality are, ultimately, a mystery. As he puts it, “Desire is written through us without its every word being legible.” Describing oneself as queer, he notes, demolishes distinctions of gay and straight entirely: “Queer gives no ground. It’s an inclusive term for any who perceive the unreality of binary sexuality.”

Given Amherst’s views on sexuality, it’s fitting that he expresses them via an essay rather than, say, a legal brief or philosophical argument. Essays are tentative and exploratory. The form allows for digressions, epiphanies, false starts and multiple points of view. Throughout the book, Amherst cites author James Baldwin, queer theorist and poet Maggie Nelson and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, among others.

Some readers will undoubtedly reject Amherst’s views. It’s possible that his emphasis on what is personal, private and subjective could leave LGBTQ people vulnerable to political opponents who are better organized and uninterested in nuance. Amherst is aware of these objections, but insists that LGBTQ people are stronger when they recognize the differences existing among them. “None of us should have to concede our complexity as the condition for our equality,” he writes.

— Ray Simon

Left, Gay & Green: A Writer’s Life
By Allen Young

Autobiography

Out writer, publisher and social, environmental and political activist Allen Young has had a long career with the New York Times, Christian Science Monitor and other major publications. He caps his career by releasing his self-published book, “Left, Gay & Green: A Writer’s Life.”

And Young, now 76, has had quite the mobile life. He traveled the world he settled into the rural tranquility of the North Quabbin region of Massachusetts, where he spends his days tending his garden, exploring nature and providing insights into the history he has witnessed.

Young got involved in the anti-war movement in the ’60s, the gay-rights movement and, later in life, the Back To The Land commune movement.

What finally motivated him to turn the story on himself?

“I’m inspired by the fact that I’m getting older and also I think particularly of gay men of my generation,” he said. “I am partially motivated by the history of my gay experience. I didn’t just write a book about myself as a gay activist — I thought it was important to connect it to my childhood and my involvement with the anti-war movement in the ’60s and changing my lifestyle from urban to rural.” And because it was time.

“I was motivated by my age and my friends who told me, ‘Oh, you’ve had such an interesting life. You should write a book.’ I have had an interesting life and I am a writer. So what am I going to write about? There are plenty of other people writing about other things that interest me, such as the environment. So I thought I’d just write about myself.”

Young said the more-challenging part of penning an autobiography was reflecting on how much he and his views have changed from the idealistic activist he was in his youth. 

“The hardest thing to write about was my evolution from a very radical dogmatic perspective on politics to something a little bit looser and nuanced,” he said. “That is something that struck me — how I evolved away from dogmatic politics. It was very important to my own personal growth. Individuals who want to be activists and involved in social and political change are happier if they are not dogmatic, if they are flexible and more open-minded, and willing to make sure they have some fun while they are fighting for their rights.”

The author said he hopes LGBT generations can derive inspiration from his life story, as well as from those who lived that history with him and are featured in his book.

Young also offered a post-book declaration of hope: While things now seem bleak, the world is a better place than it was in his youth.   

“It’s hard to be optimistic in the age of the Donald Trump presidency. He has people in his cabinet that have backwards views on a number of issues, including the environment and LGBT issues. There’s a concern about going backward but I don’t think society will allow us to go backwards.” LGBT rights in particular, Young said, have radically evolved for the better.  “I don’t think gay people realize what it was like in the ’50s when I was a teenager. You did not see LGBT people in movies or on television or in print. That’s invisibility. That’s all over with now. We just have to be vigilant, and there’s more to be done.”

— L. N.

The Lurid Sea

By Tom Cardamone

Gay erotica

Whew. Is it hot in here or did I just finish a chapter of “The Lurid Sea?”

Rarely does an author writing erotica stretch his reach past mundane characters, atypical relationships and repetitious sex scenes to create something so unique as this book.

Nerites is a demi-god; his father is the god Neptune and his mother is a mortal slut. His half brother Obsidio is the son of Pluto, god of the netherworld. Obsidio has inherited the darkest traits of both Pluto and their shared mother while Nerites is beholden to the seas — especially to the pools and tubs of bathhouses.

Nerites is not only voraciously sex-crazed; he can dive through water to travel through time and participate in everything from a one-on-one encounter in old Italy to competing in the Fellatiolympics. There are scenes from bathhouses across eons — from before the Roman baths, to Hong Kong to San Francisco and to the disco era and the Continental Baths in New York city. Nerites believes that disco-era bathhouses were the apex for climaxes, so our protagonist doesn’t time-travel past the present day.

The story unfolds like a non-stop sexual fantasy as Nerites encounters dozens of horny mortals across history. Add in close encounters with his brother and father in different times and places.

All of the relationships are entertaining (“fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck — It’s my father!”) When he learns of Obsisio’s true dark and sinister plans, it becomes a race across time and the seven continents to stop him.

The real draw in this book, as in all erotica, is the lusciously described sex scenes. If there were ever a book for summer reading — especially because it very much NSFW — this would be it. It’s bright, dark, fun, campy, exciting and engaging. It’s a whole book of a wet demi-god’s dreams.

A word of caution: Do not read this on the beach wearing something skimpy and snug.

— SAD

Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality

By Sarah McBride

Autobiography

Sometimes a person’s private journey fortuitously intersects with a public ferment, and, quite spontaneously, both a movement and a leader are born. And so it seems with Sarah McBride and the movement for trans equality.

In many ways, McBride’s story is a familiar one: a childhood of feeling “different,” the difficult coming-out process—a path travelled by countless LGBTQ people. It’s when her personal journey of growth intersects with the world of politics that her story moves from interesting to informative.

She recounts this dual narrative of personal growth and public policy is recounted in her memoir, “Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality” (Crown Archetype; HB, 274 pp).

McBride is a native of Wilmington, Del., and grew up in a family well-connected with progressive Delaware politics. Her family knew the Biden family. As a teenager, McBride worked for Beau Biden’s campaign for Delaware attorney general. She first garnered national attention when, as student-body president at American University, she came out on Facebook as a transgender woman. The university newspaper reprinted her statement and she became a public figure.

McBride then went on to become an intern in the Obama White House — the first trans person ever to hold such a position. She then became the first trans person to address a national audience at the Democratic National Convention in 2016.

McBride also experienced triumph and tragedy in her personal life. In 2012, she met her first great love, Andy, a trans man and fellow activist. But their romance was to be short-lived: Andy was diagnosed with terminal cancer. They married in August 2014. Andy died four days later.

At age 27, McBride has a remarkably clear understanding of herself, as well as an impressive sensitivity to the emotions of those around her. It makes for compelling storytelling; for instance, when she recounts her coming-out process, she walks readers through her parents’ experience. She describes their initial shock, how they subsequently grieved for what they felt was the loss of their son and ultimately, how they arrived at understanding and acceptance.

One aspect of McBride’s memoir in which her relative youth works against her is in a lack of life experience. She needs more time to find context and meaning, not only for her journey of personal growth, but also for her political and advocacy work as well.

Nevertheless, her story — which she tells here in a clear and honest fashion — is important and a valuable one to experience. Not only will LGBTQ people, young and old, find much with which to identify, but it helps us all understand what a trans person must deal with on a daily basis, both before and after coming out.

— Gary L. Day


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