Once again, PGN has scoured the shelves, sifted through the galleys and reviewed the press releases until we came upon books that we hoped would be of interest to you, dear reader. (Or, at the very least, of interest to us.) This year there were some great reads; others were a challenge to make it through the introduction. We read fiction, romance, memoirs, children’s books and etiquette guides. Without a doubt, the book industry has changed. On one hand, self-publishing is more accessible for new writers; on the other, self-publishing is more accessible for new writers. And it’s still not clear how e-readers will affect the publishing industry. Maybe next year they’ll send us review copies via Kindle. Grab a book — or an e-reader.
Aging with HIV, A Gay Man’s Guide By James Masten, Ph.D, LCSW Medical Self-Help
From summer 2004 through spring 2006, Masten had conversations with 15 gay men who were surviving HIV into mid-life. “Aging with HIV” is a product of those interviews.
Masten has crafted a book that informs longtime survivors of HIV on how gay men are coping with a disease that, frankly, many did not expect to survive long. Peppered with quotes, fast facts, research review points and reflections, this guide covers many aspects of the physical, emotional, spiritual and sexual lives these men have — and continue — to face. There are also sections where the author presents some of the various responses to questions, such as “How did you recognize your middle age?” and “What is dating like?”
This guide may be of interest to gay men with HIV of any age, though it’s targeted to the mid-lifer. It would also be useful to partners and perhaps family members who take an active role in any HIV-positive man’s life, and would certainly make an excellent base for a group study and support group.
— Scott Drake
Angels and Manners By Cynn Chadwick Fiction
The bumpy road to self-empowerment comes to life in Chadwick’s humorously relevant “Angels and Manners.”
Former housewife Jen Manners finds herself the newest, and most unlikely, resident in a North Carolina Section 8 complex, where she strikes a surprising bond with rough-and-tumble carpentry apprentice Carrie Angel. The two women initially take comfort in their shared hatred for their ex-husbands but gradually draw strength from one another to embrace their latent aspirations and desires.
“Angels and Manners” confronts the reality of the recession — the emotional toll that job losses, food stamps, welfare checks and child support have on mothers and children. While the topic may seem, and is at times, heavy, the novel is not one of doom and gloom; the author frames these issues within the family dynamic, allowing for the vitality of the characters’ intertwined relationships to champion their strapped finances.
The coming-out process of one of the mothers, as well as one of their children, is handled well, as Chadwick demonstrates the gradual and self-fulfilling nature of the journey in a subtle, unapologetic way that allows the reader to see the parallels among self-acceptance of all forms.
“Angels and Manners” is a no-holds-barred commentary on loss, love and learning to make not just a living, but a life.
— Jen Colletta
Benedetto Casanova: The Memoirs By Marten Weber Historical Romance
Written as a translation of a long-lost memoir, “Benedetto Casanova” is the fictitious story of Casanova’s lesser-known gay brother, and the writing style conveys the period without the distraction of historical-style accuracy as it pulls the reader pleasantly into the 18th century.
Weber has created Benedetto as an engaging character who has the charm and wiles to seduce (or allow himself to be seduced by) nearly every man he encounters, regardless of their age, nationality, marriage status, race, religion or station in life. They include painters, soldiers, servants, noblemen, teachers and merchants.
There are also as many different venues: Milan, Paris, Verona, Rome, workshops, bathhouses, bedrooms, studios, shops and table tops. Benedetto is many gay men’s fantasy to be able to have whomever, whenever, wherever, and Weber makes the journey very entertaining.
Alternately a story of love, espionage, travel and a diary of sexual encounters, “Benedetto Casanova” will keep the reader entertained and engaged with this “Age of Enlightenment” story.
Celluloid Activist: The Life and Times of Vito Russo By Michael Schiavi Biography
Vito Russo is probably best-known for his landmark book, “The Celluloid Closet,” which provided an encyclopedic account of LGBT films, filmmakers and characters throughout cinema. While this deserving author/activist receives his own encyclopedic account of his life here, that is not necessarily a good thing. Schiavi so painstakingly researched Russo’s life that the book he produced is exhausting and frustrating to read. He includes details such as a list of films on theatrical release the moment Russo was born, and the year Russo’s high school in Lodi, N.J., was founded (along with a description of the building’s architectural details). There is even a complete menu of what Russo’s father served at summer barbeques. Buried under all these unnecessary — not to mention uninteresting — details are important points about Russo’s involvement in the Gay Liberation Front and Gay Activists Alliance, which strengthened his personal politics. A later chapter describes Russo’s work on his landmark book. But anyone seriously interested in Russo’s life and work would become bored hunting for valuable nuggets among the minutia.
— Gary Kramer
Chelsea Boy By Craig Moreau Poetry
By the author’s own admission, the term “Chelsea Boy” has become more a description of where someone lives and what gender he is instead of the longtime descriptor of the partying, sex-driven boys of days past in New York City.
Moreau shines brightest in his “Chelsea Boy Survival Guide” pieces and especially in “Lesson #3: How to do a Bender.” He shares the emotions that prey on the circuit partier who has been up for two days, how his language is impacted and the thought process is altered throughout the course of an event.
Many of Moreau’s other poems have a more subtle, thoughtful emotional bent. His location poems such as “Ode to 8th Avenue” and “Sitting at a Hotel in Le Claire, Iowa” are wistful, while “Rawhide, 21st Street” is light and funny.
A struggle in his poetry occurs when Moreau works within the serious and darker sides of emotions — something that should become richer once this young, first-time-published poet has a broader volume of life experiences.
This 70-page first volume of poems is easily toted to the shore, in a backpack or with your laptop. It is serious poetry, but with a sense of fun and adventure to which many readers will respond.
Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners: The Definitive Guide to LGBT Life By Steven Petrow with Sally Chew Nonfiction
We’ve got to hand it to Petrow for being so very thorough with this guide, which effectively covers every aspect of LGBT life, from coming out and sex to marriage and funerals.
For under $18, you get over 400 pages that cover all the bases, almost to a fault. While the writing and advice is pretty straightforward and easy to read, there’s a lot that comes off as just plain common sense and decency.
Petrow issues information under the assumption the reader has zero amount of home training or survival instincts to begin with, and goes from there. Granted, there probably are some people out there that need oral-sex etiquette to be spelled out for them (how people with a lack of hygiene and respect continue to get oral is beyond us), but those individuals usually resolve those issues pretty quickly with the help of the Internet or some immediate Pavlovian conditioning, or are too clueless to seek out this book.
Still, the guide is overflowing with nuggets of wisdom and advice anyone can use, like how to host a wedding where children aren’t invited.
That alone is worth the price.
— Larry Nichols
Donovan’s Big Day By Lesléa Newman Children’s Fiction
More than 20 years after her groundbreaking “Heather Has Two Mommies,” Newman’s latest book tells the story of young Donovan on his big day — the wedding of his moms.
Newman’s book approaches same-sex marriage from a child’s perspective, going through a day in the life of Donovan — except that this day is very important.
Newman saves the same-sex wedding aspect of the book until the very end, taking the reader through all of Donovan’s important tasks for the day: feeding the dog, cleaning himself, getting dressed, holding the rings, getting kissed by grown-ups and walking down the aisle.
“Donovan’s Big Day” gives gay families an opportunity to see themselves in a traditional wedding, giving children a role — and a stake — in the festivities.
— Sarah Blazucki
Don’t Tell By K.A. Kron Lesbian Romance
Set in the Army before the first Gulf War, Kron crafts a love story under the military’s pre- and post-“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on openly gay servicemembers.
Gray Edwards and Annie Randall hadn’t planned to fall in love in basic training. But navigating that challenge proves easier than maintaining a long-term, long-distance relationship in the military, facing geographically separated training and assignments and having to keep their relationship under wraps.
Gray becomes a pilot, Annie a doctor, and the two manage to maintain their connection and a semblance of closeted happiness. Until Gray is deployed to the combat zone. And Annie volunteers for an assignment — without telling Gray.
Giving a glimpse of military life, the impact the ban had on gay and lesbian lives and, later, combat, “Don’t Tell” is insightful and engaging, though it doesn’t resonate with the emotional weight that it ought to have had.
The Fire in Moonlight: Stories from the Radical Faeries Edited by Mark Thompson LGBT History Reference
Thirty-five years after Harry Hay and the founding of the Radical Faeries comes this part-history, part-anthology collection of stories by current and past members of the group. With homage to Walt Whitman and his Calamus poems, the history part of the book is interesting and gives multiple perspectives of the rocky road to its current incarnation.
The personal stories include first-time gathering experiences, sexual encounters, participating in the heart circle and mysticism of finding one’s self. Philadelphia’s own Chris Bartlett (The Lady Bartlett) writes an insightful short regarding the difference between joining and belonging in the Radical Faeries. Other contributors engage the reader with poetry, historic personal narratives, humorous incidents and tales of unrequited love.
“The Fire in Moonlight” is an excellent reference for anyone who has little or no knowledge of the faerie background and will delight anyone familiar with the group or a current participant. But don’t expect the book to give you insight into who the members of the Radical Faeries are, what the collective consciousness means to them or any member’s reason for belonging; that answer lies within the individual and must be found through the experience.
Games Frat Boys Play By Todd Gregory Erotica/Mystery
Jordy Valentine spent his youth being lonely and miserable in a Swiss boarding school as his self-made millionaire parents globe-hopped. When he finally gets his say regarding college, Jordy chooses to go to CSU-Polk, join a fraternity and tries his best to make real friends. His first crush is on his rush chairman, drop-dead gorgeous Chad York, who rejects him, and Jordy never forgets, nor forgives him.
The book opens, however, with a police officer (who is struggling to be professional and not engage in sex with him) questioning Jordy in the recent death of Chad. Jordy denies involvement even though he was seen running from the scene of the crime immediately after Chad’s plummet from the frat house window.
In flashback, Jordy recounts the gym workouts and trysts, frat brother hookups and hazing rituals both usual and unusual to the officer. Jordy tries ever harder to gain the normal life of every other student there while making himself more and more desirable and managing to engage in more than his fair share of sexual encounters.
“Games Frat Boys Play” is Gregory’s second book set in a fraternity.
The Jack Bank By Glen Retief Memoir
Retief’s memoir recounts his apartheid-era childhood in South Africa, giving a moving account of both his coming to terms with his sexual orientation and the oppression and unrest of the country. The book reveals the cultural, racial and religious conflicts of South Africa with a literary account.
Retief’s father worked on a game preserve, providing both a symbolic and literal haven for him. Both he and his family knew he was different from the other boys: Much of his childhood is spent trying to fit in and come to terms with it when it doesn’t always work.
His efforts to be more masculine are successful at turns, though he’s torn between trying to gain the favor of the racist Afrikaners and his parents’ negative views on segregation, between pranks and boarding-school hazing that cross into abuse and not wanting to be seen as a momma’s boy.
Both he and others suffer abuse, and it’s difficult for him to separate his same-sex attraction from what he endured.
Interestingly, Retief acknowledges gaps in his memory, and draws conclusions from them about what must have happened, sometimes with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.
My Soul’s Been Psych-elicized: Electric Factory — Four Decades in Posters and Photographs By Larry Magid with Robert Huber Nonfiction
Music buff and music historian alike will find a lot to be intrigued about with the coffee-table book dedicated to one of Philadelphia’s premier music venues and the concert promotion company that shares its name.
From the flower-power era of the late 1960s through today, the Electric Factory and many other venues in the city have seen all kinds of performers come to town: This gorgeous, colorful and glossy book is chock full of concert posters, live photos and stories about some of the more legendary shows through the years.
While this book makes a great addition to any music lover’s library, its overall scope a lot of times feels too safe. Granted, it is wonderful to read about and see pictures of the first time Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Elton John and Pink Floyd played the modest-sized club/theater in Philadelphia on the way to super-stardom. It’s cool to read how Philadelphia was one of first places that Bruce Springsteen was popular enough to fill an arena. But the book spends a lot of its pages on subjects well-documented elsewhere. Live Aid and Live 8, as well as stadium tour stops by The Who and The Rolling Stones, were given a lot of face time that could have been better spent on lesser-talked-about performances of the era.
But it’s still an entertaining read and a nice slab of visual music history.
Normal Gets You Nowhere By Kelly Cutrone with Meredith Bryan Nonfiction
If you’re a fan of fashion industry and PR badass Kelly Cutrone, go ahead and buy this book.
If you’ve never read a book of mantras, life lessons and assorted stories of misadventures and struggles hammered out by someone who is kind of famous, you also might want to give this book a gander.
If you’ve read a book like this written by anyone else, you might want to save your money. Don’t get us wrong, there is a lot to learn about life, love, sex, money and the fashion industry from the successful Cutrone. She’s seen and done a lot over the course of her career. But the pearls of wisdom she’s dropping aren’t exactly rare or unique to her experience.
We read “Follow the Model: Miss J’s Guide to Unleashing Presence, Poise and Power” by Miss J. Alexander last year. It’s the same message: stay committed to your individuality, be fabulous, work hard, my life kicks ass, yours can too, repeat.
If you’re a follower in search of a guru (and you don’t see the irony of purchasing this book to fulfill that goal), go for it.
A Passionate Engagement By Ken Harvey Memoir
In mid-May 2004, publications across the globe carried photos of same-sex couples embracing on the steps of Massachusetts city halls as the state became the first to sanction same-sex marriage. What the cameras didn’t capture, however, was what writer Harvey did — the anxiety-filled roller-coaster ride that same-sex couples in the state were thrust onto.
From first date to honeymoon, the memoir details the stages of Harvey’s relationship with his partner, which, unlike a typical love story, is colored by politics. While the story takes readers to marriage-equality protests in Boston, it also brings them home with the couple, as they move to a new house, plan their wedding and deal with the day-to-day work and family balance, brought together through a seamless fusion of the politics and the personal.
While depictions of married same-sex couples have become more common since Massachusetts took its groundbreaking step, “A Passionate Engagement” goes a long way to demonstrate the simple, subtle challenges same-sex couples are still confronted with — like the search for LGBT-affirming florists and caterers — that even a state-issued marriage license can’t always surmount. However, Harvey’s memoir demonstrates that a bond between two people — regardless of sex — has the power to overcome any odds.
Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme Edited by Ivan E. Coyote and Zena Sharman Anthology
This new anthology of butch/femme essays is a sequel/homage to the 1992 “The Persistent Desire: A Femme-Butch Reader,” edited by Joan Nestle. Her pioneering work gave historical context through real women’s voices on gender, sexual orientation and roles.
Coyote and Sharman’s new anthology gives this gender discourse a new setting, grounding it with new and known voices, including S. Bear Bergman, Jewelle Gomez, Victoria Brownworth and Belinda Carroll. The pieces are funny, erotic and thought-provoking, providing new discourse on butch, femme, lesbian sexuality, gender and sex roles.
Jewell Gomez’s “Femme Butch Feminist” uses Cheryl Clarke’s poem “Of Althea and Flaxie” to deconstruct femme and butch identities and sexuality.
In Amber Dawn’s “To All the Butches I Loved Between 1995-2005,” the author works to reconcile how her decade of sex work impacted her butch lovers. Dawn is honest in her self-assessment, owning how her work complicated and undermined her relationships.
Belinda Carroll’s “A Guide to Getting Laid by a Girl in Lipstick and High Heels” is a wry look at how femme lesbians can pass as straight, even in a gay bar trying to pick up women.
Rainy Day Recess: The Complete Steven’s Comics By David Kelly Comics
Like sex-advice columnist Dan Savage says in the forward, this collection of comic strips that could be found in gay publications throughout the mid- to late 1990s captures what it was like growing up a “sensitive” (read: gay) child in the 1970s.
There were no antibullying rules or law in the ’70s and society was less enlightened about LGBT issues, but through the eyes of a kid those days it was all about school and being shuttled around from one divorced and dysfunctional parent to another, plus a few grandparents and cool aunts.
But Steven could always fall back onto his first crush, friends, his idolization of Wonder Woman, creating his own super-heroine (Star Woman), the Muppets, “Star Wars” and other things that would be magical to a child of the 1970s to get him through.
Bonus: The book includes new artwork and strips published for the first time. Whether you are new to “Steven’s Comics” or a longtime fan, this book is a treasure.
Remembrance of Things I Forgot By Bob Smith Fiction
Gay comedian Bob Smith blends comedy, science fiction and social commentary to make a good comedic romp his latest novel.
“Remembrance” follows John, a comic-book dealer in 2006 who decides to break up with his boyfriend on the same day said boyfriend finishes inventing a time machine for the government.
John decides to use the time machine to travel back to 1986, where he encounters his younger self with the express purpose of fixing the issues that wreck his relationship in the future, preventing tragedies that happened to his family and preventing George W. Bush from becoming president.
(Personally, we would have loaded up on Microsoft and Apple stocks and gone to a bunch of Prince concerts, but this isn’t our book.)
Now, anyone who has ever seen or read a story where time travel is involved knows that things never, ever go as planned when you time travel. So it’s no surprise when John’s plans don’t go as smoothly as he envisioned them.
Thankfully this is comedy, so John’s misadventures with his younger self are quite entertaining, especially when his younger self laments his future self’s lack of hair — but then immediately rejoices when he realizes his future self won’t have AIDS.
This is definitely a fun read.
A Saving Remnant: The Radical Lives of Barbara Deming and David McReynolds Martin Duberman Biography
Duberman originally intended to write about a half-dozen or so gay people who had served as a “saving remnant” — a small number of people who were neither indoctrinated nor frightened into accepting oppressive social conditions. Instead, he ended up focusing on just two: Deming and McReynolds.
A lesbian and a gay man, the two were left-wing radicals in the 1960s and ’70s who maintained a respectful friendship through their disagreements.
Duberman’s thoroughly researched tome is saturated with details — making it a meticulous read. The subjects led amazing activist lives: Deming ended up living in a lesbian commune and McReynolds ran on the Socialist ticket as the first openly gay presidential candidate.
“A Saving Remnant” is a significant, historical account of a turbulent time in the gay- and civil-rights movements.
Shine Lauren Myracle Fiction
Myracle’s “Shine” looks at homophobia and hatred through a small-town lens.
When gay teen Patrick is brutally attacked in an apparent antigay hate crime, his estranged friend Cat embarks on her own Nancy Drew-like mission to seek justice. She finds resistance, however, from a town whose residents are largely unwilling to acknowledge the underlying tensions that may have led to Patrick’s attack and, in the process, Cat herself is forced to recognize the truths in her own life.
“Shine” is a suspenseful, gripping tale that will have the reader guessing up until the last page. With each chapter, a new piece of the puzzle is revealed, and it isn’t until the end that the pieces finally come together flawlessly.
The book is an excellent commentary on the rampant homophobia that is allowed to take root in many rural areas. Yet it also puts forth the idea that, just as all gay people should not be blanketed by the same stereotype, neither should all small-town folks.
“Shine” illustrates that, in order to uncover the origin of hatred of any form, one must be prepared to also courageously take an unabashed look at his or her own fears.
“Slaves to the Rhythm: A Love Story” By Terry Connell Memoir
Philadelphia-area native Connell’s cathartic self-published memoir alternates between diary entries that chronicle the last year in the life of his AIDS-stricken lover Stephan with chapters recounting Connell’s growing up and coming out/to terms with his sexuality. The revelations here are nothing new, but they nicely capture the rhythms of life — be it caring for others or accepting oneself. From crying jags (Connell has plenty) to hospital visits to descriptions of Stephan’s body “betraying” him, this story will ring true for those who know the anger, fear, guilt and pain of living with and caring for a dying loved one. “Slaves to the Rhythm” will also resonate with those readers who grew up gay in a religious household where, as Connell emphasizes, “faith trumps family.” Connell’s fear and repression of his sexuality causes him shame and insecurity, which prompts him to (ab)use alcohol and drugs. Yet what ultimately emerges — and what makes “Slaves to the Rhythm” worthwhile — are the observations about the power of love, what love means and what we do for (the ones we) love. Connell’s book is certainly therapeutic for him, and it will provide a sense of comfort and reassurance for others going through similar experiences — something Connell probably needed during the painful years described in his book.
Torn Apart Judy Rickard Nonfiction
In light of the recent debate on the Obama administration’s refusal to defend the federal ban on same-sex marriage, Rickard’s “Torn Apart” couldn’t be more relevant.
The book details the personal impact that the nation’s immigration law — which, because of the Defense of Marriage Act, prevents binational same-sex couples from sponsoring a partner for citizenship — has had on Rickard’s own relationship with her British-born partner. The book goes on to provide an array of personal accounts of other couples whose lives have been turned upside-down because of the immigration law.
The couples tell of the months, and even years, they’ve been forced to live literally half a world apart, and the unshakable fear they face each time they proceed toward the immigration desk at an American airport.
Although no two stories are alike — with partners hailing from different countries, having experienced varying levels of difficulty with the law and choosing different paths to confront it— taken as a whole, they put a public face to what may be an intangible law for many.
“Torn Apart” is a moving and informative look at the life-changing effect of the nation’s immigration law — one that should be circulated throughout Capitol Hill for lawmakers to remember when it comes time to consider the Uniting American Families Act.
An Unconventional Life Jonathan Clift Fiction
Clift’s “An Unconventional Life” follows one man whose life is marred by many tragedies — as well as many lovers.
The novel centers on Jonathan, a British country boy struggling with his sexual orientation in the 1950s, a feat that becomes even more complicated when he enters the military. Once he breaks free of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”-like confines of the military, Jonathan comes to embrace his own sexuality and embarks on a series of relationships, each of which adds a new element to his own development.
While the book doesn’t provide an overwhelming depth to the characters, their stories are nonetheless engaging. The novel also provides an interesting look at gay culture, as it follows Jonathan’s and the gay community’s maturity and growth through the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. From British pubs filled with closeted military members to lavish British theater parties to a drug-filled binge in an L.A. mansion, the changing settings of Clift’s book will have resonance with readers of numerous generations and geographies.
Although “An Unconventional Life” traces Jonathan’s myriad ups and downs from his teen years through adulthood, it does so with a quick, fluid pace — allowing most readers to get from cover to cover during a day at the beach.
Where’s My Wand: One Boy’s Magical Triumph over Alienation and Shag Carpeting By Eric Poole Memoir
As a young boy, Poole thinks magic — and channeling Endora from “Bewitched” — will help him through the rougher parts of life. As a queer boy with a domineering mother and bullies for schoolmates, he often drapes himself with a caftan and prays to God for things to go well — or at least not so badly. Of course, he just needs to believe in himself. The episodic — and fitfully amusing — “Where’s My Wand” includes moments, such as his mother defending her son against his father’s drunken boss, where Poole finds some measure of self-worth. But most of these stories, such as ill-fated camping trip with his aunt or his efforts to thwart a neighborhood animal killer, seem to be merely excuses to hang clever one-liners, or to put down anyone intellectually or otherwise inferior. Poole’s humor is surely a defense mechanism for his own insecurity, and he can produce some laugh-out-loud funny lines, but “Where’s My Wand” is best when his personal stories are universal. A chapter about befriending an armless young girl or awkwardly trying to seduce another boy are far more interesting than his very special life lessons about death, growing up and developing self-esteem.
Willy By Robert Dunbar Suspense
The only really queer thing in Dunbar’s “Willy” is the odd sense that something is not quite right with the main character of this novel, set in a school for emotionally disturbed boys. Unfolding in an undated diary format, “Willy” has the unnamed narrator explain his lack of familiarity with certain words, games and expressions. While Dunbar has audiences encounter things as the narrator does, the story does not get interesting until the title character appears. When the narrator becomes infatuated by and fascinated with his roommate Willy, the book comes to life. A scene of the two boys in the school’s infirmary is intimate, and shows their symbiotic relationship. Likewise, the secret bond between them crackles with illicitness. But when Willy the character is not around, “Willy” the book is less interesting — even when incidents occur that require the police. Dunbar addresses issues of power, identity and thinking for oneself here, but his writing — and the book’s deliberate typesetting — alternates between obfuscating and being too precious. “Willy” may appeal to genre fans, but anyone expecting a sexy suspense tale will be disappointed.