If you’re like us, you’re looking forward to kicking off your summer with some leisure time this long Memorial Day weekend. To assist you in packing your bags for the beach, pool or park, PGN staffers scoured the latest titles for LGBT readers. Dive in and enjoy!
“The Art of History”
Bram (“Father of Frankenstein”) has penned a slim, impassioned book about how history is depicted in fiction and nonfiction. His illuminating case studies discuss issues of time, character, fact and details. Bram focuses on 30 books while referencing another 50-plus. These include titles by queer authors ranging from Gore Vidal — his historical novel “Burr” — and Lytton Strachey’s comedic “Eminent Victorians,” to gay novelist Paul Russell, whose book “The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov” provided an opportunity to imagine what gay life was like in the past. Other chapters and passages nimbly discuss slave narratives, Virginia Wolff’s gender-bending “Orlando” and a fascinating biography of Benjamin Franklin.
Bram is a smart, enthusiastic and well-read guide who illuminates the pleasure of discovering history in books, as well as the various ways authors interpret and re-present truth.
—Gary M. Kramer
N. Maxwell Lander
Erotic photo book
Described as an “X-rated tunnel of love,” this book of photographic art takes you on a jagged, non-linear visual journey through a place that is part sex club, part S&M dungeon, part dark-art gallery and part “Dexter”-esque snuff-film fantasy — courtesy of photographer, designer and artist Lander.
This book gets points for straddling a lot of different fetish territories and sexual orientations in its subject matter with seeming equal amount of guy/girl, girl/girl, guy/guy scenarios depicted throughout. And with the frequent appearance of fake blood, we hope everybody was familiar with the concept of safe words. There’s also an admirable effort to maintain a punkish everyman vibe and be different from other erotic fetish/art books out there. But visually, technically and thematically it’s kind of all over the place, and one could come away from a trip through these pages with the feel that they’ve seen edgier, more cohesive and more creative versions of this theme ... most of the time for free on the Internet.
“Carnal Anomaly” is a solid effort and will hold its own in anyone’s fetish art library. While it doesn’t reinvent the wheel in the genre, it’ll be interesting to see where Lander will take his photography in the future.
— Larry Nichols
“Cruising the Movies: A Sexual Guide to Oldies on TV”
McDonald’s movie reviews, originally published in the mid-1980s, are hilarious and smutty.
Limiting himself almost entirely to B movies that he watched on television, McDonald focuses on stars’ sex appeal, not their acting. He thumbs his nose at middlebrow critics and explicitly draws the connection between watching movies and the other thing people do in the dark — fucking. Consequently, jump cuts matter little to him, but a glimpse of David Nelson’s crotch in the otherwise forgettable 1959 movie “The Big Circus” inspires a memorable paean.
Nor is McDonald impressed by Hollywood icons. Instead, he celebrates bit players and character actors like Franklin Pangborn — who may have “let himself be used as a gay scapegoat,” but he fought in World War I. All of John Wayne’s battles, in contrast, were waged onscreen.
McDonald reserves his harshest reviews for Ronald Reagan, a third-rate actor-turned-politician. He vociferously objects to Reagan’s mean-spirited policies, which hurt gay men and others terribly during the early stages of the AIDS crisis.
Throughout, images from the Museum of Modern Art’s now-defunct Film Stills Archive illustrate the text. The one of Gary Cooper wearing lipstick in 1928’s “The Legion of the Condemned” is especially provocative.
— Ray Simon
YouTuber Self wrote a debut novel that captures a millennial take on coming of age as a gay teen. The insecurities stem from JT’s desire to make it out of his sleepy Florida town, not a struggle to get people to accept his sexuality.
In chapter one, JT describes being gay “like an extra order of fries at Wendy’s because the lady in the window isn’t paying attention while she fills your bag.” He adds later, “I had never lived in a world where gay wasn’t at the very least the description of a wacky next-door neighbor on a TV show.”
The young-adult novel, which came out in April, is a quick read at 261 pages, which is great for the beach. It feels like a spiritual sibling to John Green’s “Paper Towns.” Both capture the particular humid malaise of central Florida and include a rushed road trip up the East Coast.
In JT’s case, his boyfriend, Seth, encourages him to compete in a drag-show scholarship contest in New York City. JT needs to win to pay for school without the help of his gas-station-owning parents. He also wants hope that he and Seth, who plans to attend college out of state, can stay together beyond high school.
— Paige Cooperstein
“Fair Play: How LGBT Athletes are Claiming Their Rightful Place in Sports”
Zeigler, the co-founder of OutSports.com, put together a 12-point analysis of issues LGBT athletes can face both on and off the field. The book, called “Fair Play: How LGBT Athletes are Claiming Their Rightful Place in Sports,” comes out next month.
Zeigler starts the 207-page book by pinpointing the day of Matthew Shepard’s murder as “the day the homophobes lost the culture war.” He then points to the weeks after the Super Bowl in 2007 when John Amaechi, a former NBA player, came out, and current pro athletes were widely asked their opinion on the topic of gay athletes.
The easily digestible chapters feature interviews with athletes, including one familiar to the Philadelphia LGBT community: Brian Sims, the first openly gay elected state lawmaker who played football in college.
The book does focus mostly on male athletes, but a chapter called, “Yes, Lots of Lesbians Play Elite Sports,” looks at women like Brittney Griner in the WNBA. There are also chapters on locker room talk and Zeigler’s analysis of the news cycle that had him writing columns asking, “Is [insert athlete’s name] gay?”
Edited by Faith Beauchemin
This slim volume of essays loosely focused on bisexuality is difficult to categorize — and that’s a good thing.
Part personal narrative, part analysis, it explores the various ways that bisexuality upsets what many contributors refer to as monosexism, the assumption that you can only be attracted to people of one gender.
Editor Beauchemin sets the tone in her introduction, alerting readers that the book doesn’t offer a grand, unified plan of action. Instead, she situates bisexuality into the capacious, eclectic framework of queer politics. That can’t be taken for granted because, as she correctly notes, bisexuals still struggle to make their voices heard among gays and lesbians.
The book includes a helpful glossary, a brief bibliography and some theoretical analysis, but it’s the 14 personal narratives that are the book’s core.
Two major themes emerge from those accounts. First, in a world where bisexuality is often either hypersexualized or erased, it’s an affirming, political act whenever bisexuals present and interpret their personal stories.
The second is the harmful consequence of denying the diversity of sexual orientation. Many contributors were raised in evangelical Christian households; their coming out was made doubly painful because they lost both their faith and their family.
“Lily and Dunkin”
With the ongoing “bathroom debate” plaguing our country, “Lily and Dunkin” is a timely tale.
The work follows the lives of two teens coming into their own: Lily and Norbert (who prefers the name Dunkin). Throughout the book, which alternates between each character’s perspective, Lily and Dunkin traverse normal teenage trials, and also confront some unique obstacles stemming from Lily’s identity as a transgender woman and Dunkin’s as bipolar.
Both together and alone, they learn how to meet these challenges and embrace the wholeness of their identities.
“Lily and Dunkin” is a charming story perfect for readers of all ages; in particular, it could be a perfect primer to help young adults who feel marginalized, and also those who need to open their minds a bit. Its strength lies in the honesty of its two protagonists, who are well-rounded, full of flaws and wholly real; their realistic nature will have readers rooting for them from page one to the end.
— Jen Colletta
Susan Wittig Albert
“Loving Eleanor” is like a memoir written by Lorena Hickok, but it is actually a work of fiction based upon some of the more-than 3,300 letters (including newspaper articles written by Hick and other historical references) between Hick — as she was called by many — and Eleanor Roosevelt. Spanning three decades, this new, fictional incarnation of their lovers’ tale, their strength, passion and drive, could be another greatest story ever told. The more years that go by, the more vibrant and fascinating the once-scandalous and whispered stories of Roosevelt and writer-reporter Hickok become.
In an era of desperation and hopelessness, these two strong, independent, yet publicly emotionally reserved women are revealed as more than just friends and lovers, but also as activists and compassionate humanitarians. How they evolved their friendship and relationship, the roles they played in furthering women’s prominence in the 1930s and ’40s and the shear determination they both shared are written into the story so well that the reader will feel as though it is a historically pivotal one, and doesn’t play back seat to Franklin Roosevelt and his accomplishments.
And you’d be right.
Within the chaotic backdrops of state and national politics, the Great Depression, the workings of Roosevelt’s New Deal, World War II and all that went on in those early years, Eleanor and Hick worked tirelessly and passionately on their personal projects while maintaining fairly discreet personal façades. The author not only humanizes both the First Lady of the World and the Associated Press “girl reporter,” but brings them to life as feeling, flawed and torn individuals and somehow transcends their mutual love and respect.
Some may shy away thinking they know the tale well enough or think it wouldn’t interest them, but “Loving Eleanor” is a near-perfect love story of two women that will enthrall men and women of all eras and ages.
— Scott A. Drake
"The Meaning Of Life in a Nutshell"
Calabro’s “The Meaning of Life in a Nutshell” explores the questions many people have, relying on the author’s own spiritual connections for answers.
The book is part-memoir, part-spiritual advice; Calabro relies on his own life lessons to support his writings on spirituality and religion. The Philadelphia native tells of his adolescence and family in a relatable and engaging voice, one that local audiences will especially find interesting.
Calabro relates his experiences as a spiritual guide, describing his ability to travel to other dimensions and communicate with other-worldly beings. Though some readers may initially be resistant to the ideas Calabro puts forth, he tells them with a distinct level of conviction that will make some re-evaluate their preconceived notions; reading the book with an open mind is key.
Calabro effectively does not try to convince readers of the merits of one organized religion over another; the book instead focuses on spiritual connection, regardless of views on organized religion — making it an interesting read for readers of diverse backgrounds.
“Our Young Man”
Guy, the title character of White’s delicious, breezy read, is a handsome, simple-minded and sought-after model. Given the “miracle of eternal youth,” this Frenchman looks 23 even when the coy Guy is 40.
White’s contemporary spin on “Dorian Gray” has moments of amusing depravity — an S&M scene — and many witty observations and turns of phrases, making it as irresistible as its hero. But the author also has some pointed remarks about America, vanity, desirability, guilt and love as Guy’s encounters with various lovers (and would-be lovers) involve lawsuits, law-breaking and AIDS. Even when the story shifts to focus on Guy’s much younger lover, Kevin in the last third of the novel, “Our Young Man” is no less interesting or pleasurable.
“Tom House: Tom of Finland in Los Angeles”
This book offers readers a detailed look into the home and private world of revolutionary gay artist Tom of Finland. Creative director and interior-design writer Reynolds guides readers through the artist’s unique home, which includes art-filled living spaces and the occasional dungeon, in Los Angeles’ Echo Park neighborhood. We get a behind-the-scenes view of the artist behind the hyper-masculine erotic art.
As he takes us from art-filled room to art-filled room, dining room to dungeon, almost every surface of the house is covered in work made by Tom himself, or by those he influenced and inspired.
Hardcore fans of Finland’s work will probably appreciate how much the artist integrated his artwork and his inspirations into his home life. Tom of Finland’s muse, Durk Dehner, still lives in the house to this day, and this book celebrates in detail the house’s interior design, as well as the life and times of an artist who has left a long-lasting imprint in the art and gay-history worlds.
“The Wedding Heard ’Round the World: America’s First Gay Marriage”
Michael McConnell with Jack Baker; as told to Gail Langer Karwoski
McConnell’s brief, breezy account of his 1971 marriage to Baker is a reminder that the fight for gay marriage began decades before 2015.
The couple was introduced in 1966 at an off-campus barn dance at the University of Oklahoma. McConnell, then 24, was already looking for Mr. Right. At first, Baker seemed too good to be true — handsome, clean-cut and assured — but the two soon became an item.
McConnell is matter of fact about being gay. Thanks to his family, he was neither confused nor ashamed. Baker’s upbringing was less fortunate, but McConnell’s love and support emboldened him to become a vocal gay-rights activist.
Together, the couple shared many significant accomplishments. While studying law at the University of Minnesota, Baker was elected the first openly gay student body president in America. And McConnell cofounded Gay House, the Twin Cities’ first social-service support center for gays and lesbians.
Most important, however, the couple identified a loophole in Minnesota’s marriage-application process that enabled them to get a marriage license and wed. The ensuing legal wrangling over that, and a related employment-discrimination lawsuit, required genuine courage and fortitude.
By McConnell’s account, the couple had plenty to spare.
“What Belongs to You”
If you read dust-jacket synopses to determine the worthiness of a book without reading any of the author’s words, style or construction, you miss out on some great writing. The first impression of “What Belongs to You” is that it is just another tale of an older guy falling for a young hustler and it will never work out, his heart might be broken, something tragic might happen and so on, but while the concept may ring a familiar bell, this story is nothing less than extraordinary.
Greenwell has crafted an award-worthy tale that embraces those conflicts of passion and reason that every person encounters at some point. Sometimes reason wins, sometimes it is suppressed because we still override it, believing that eventually the love will be returned and sometimes it’s about compromise — the compromise being we understand things will never be the way we wish and want and yet we are content to remain in the struggle of mind and heart because that’s where we surrender ourselves to be.
In one of the most enthralling pieces of writing I’ve encountered in recent years, Greenwall manages to write the second chapter of this modern-day Greek tragedy as a single paragraph that moves and shifts between the present day — as our protagonist moves through Bulgaria towards his estranged dying father — and flashbacks to rural America and the events that led up to their parting ways. In the end, the process comes to an understandable result: He terminates his travels without seeing his father and returns to his day-to-day living.
Mitko, his singular obsession, is the young hustler who disappears for long periods of time only to return to covertly seek money for various needs: some practical, others contrived. Mitko declares at one point that they are friends — a point not missed by one who desires more than a friend with benefits — and perhaps that is one of the more poignant moments in the story. The otherwise-unlikely social pairing of the two men is punctuated by the long-established pattern of support and comfort that binds them. One man wants more than a friend and another, who has only that one friend, cannot seem to permit anyone else to share anything intimate emotionally, just physically.
As a debut novel, Greenwell has struck literary gold. He has taken familiar tales — part “Romeo and Juliet,” part “Beauty and the Beast” — and passionately and compassionately brought two destitute souls into a relationship of longing and resolve that will never flourish in the sun, and they both know it. There is unspeakable love between them and yet spoken regrets and rebukes. “What Belongs to You” will belong to you for a long time after you have read the last paragraph and closed the book.
And that is what good reading and great writing are supposed to do.
“When Your Child is Gay”
Wesley C. Davidson and Jonathan L. Tobkes, M.D.
“When Your Child is Gay” is a work that many LGBT readers would likely wish existed during their coming-out process.
The book helps families navigate the often-messy landscape of the coming-out process. It was a joint effort by an LGBT-rights blogger and a psychiatrist, whose specialties allow their advice to be conveyed in a relatable way.
“When Your Child is Gay” is full of case studies that discuss real coming-out experiences of LGBT people through their own accounts and those of loved ones. The stories candidly address doubts, misconceptions and fears family members and friends of LGBT people experienced, mistakes and missteps they have made and, in many cases, how they ultimately reconciled their perceptions with the reality of unconditional love. The book does an admirable job of addressing topics like shame and guilt parents may experience, without passing judgment; it’s an approach that people who have struggled with acceptance will likely find affirming, and one that will keep them reading.
The book also excels in its ability to convey clinical information in an engaging way. By connecting psychiatric topics to real-life stories, “When Your Child is Gay” is able to provide a realistic and relatable illustration — giving its message about the power of acceptance even more credibility.