Books for the beach

Books for the beach

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“The Evolution of a Cro-Magnon”

By John Joseph

Autobiography

Joseph, a legend in the New York hardcore scene as the singer for the Cro-Mags, lays it all out in the gripping new autobiography. Even if you have no interest in the hardcore punk or crossover-thrash music his band pioneered, his story is a compelling read.

Among the more interesting aspects of this book are the harrowing details of life in New York City in the 1970s and early ’80s. The well-lit, sanitized, touristy, outrageously expensive and family-friendly Manhattan people have known for the past 25 years makes it easy to forget that not so long before that, New York City was a squalid, sleazy and dirty urban jungle overflowing with drugs, porn, violence and urban decay — and not in a good way.

Joseph speaks very matter-of-factly about the lows and highs being raised in foster care, being left to his own devices to survive on the streets, dropping out of school and eventually forming what would come to be one of the most influential bands in the genre of hardcore music. There’s a brutally Dickensian feel to Josephs’ description of life on the poverty-stricken fringes of society.

While this may not be the sunniest of reads, it is a vivid snapshot of a time, place and mindset that people like to pretend didn’t exist then and couldn’t exist now. 

— Larry Nichols

“Make Trouble”

By John Waters

Graphic novel

Out filmmaker, author and style icon Waters pretty much carved out his own niche and path to success in life as the creator of pop-culture touchstones like “Pink Flamingos,” “Hairspray” and “Serial Mom” — so much so that he was asked to give the commencement speech to the graduates of the Rhode Island School of Design. During the speech, he addressed the irony that he was asked to speak to college graduates, seeing as he was suspended from high school, kicked out of college and discouraged from following his dreams at every turn in his youth.

The speech in its entirety is presented in graphic book “Make Trouble” — and who better to be your spirit animal and advisor in these uncertain times than John Waters? The book is a great read for young adults entering the world, as well as anyone looking to blaze their own path personally and professionally. If you have a talent, unconventional life goals and a desire to march to the beat of your own drum, “Make Trouble” is an entertaining read as well as a cheerleader and manifesto for all your wild ideas. And it’s all presented in a delightfully colorful and compact package.

— L.N.

“My Brother’s Husband”

By Gengoroh Tagame (translated by Anne Ishii)

Graphic novel

Gay manja artist Tagame’s lovely black-and-white graphic novel gives readers a sense of varying attitudes towards homosexuality in Japan. 

Yaichi is a single parent, who is raising his young daughter Kana. One day, Mike Flanagan, a burly Canadian, arrives at their home. He is the husband of Yaichi’s late twin brother Ryoji. While Yaichi is taken aback by Mike’s presence, Kana readily accepts him. She literally embraces Mike (there is no hugging in Japanese culture), and says something in favor of gay marriage that causes Yaichi to do a spit-take. As Mike’s presence helps a closeted teen, Yaichi — who never knew his twin well — comes to understand more about homosexuality, and starts to change his mindset. Tagame’s drawings are terrific, and the story is visually, as well as verbally, dynamic. An image of Kana placing her hand on Mike’s furry chest is especially vivid and significant. Likewise, the characters’ thoughts and dreams (as well as the guys’ hunky bodies) are nicely depicted. 

“My Brother’s Husband,” is labeled Volume 1. As such, when the book ends, readers will be anxious for the next installment. 

— Gary M. Kramer

“Rough Patch”

By Nicole Markotic

Young adult

While young-adult novels are increasingly centering on LGBT topics and characters, it’s rare to see one that explores the topic of bisexuality — which is what makes “Rough Patch” so refreshing.

The book’s central character, Keira, is an aspiring figure skater who is dealing with the regular complications of high school: classes, extracurriculars and friendships, all amid a growing understanding of one’s identity. For Keira, that identity is coming into sharper focus, as she recognizes a budding attraction to girls. Like many LGBT and questioning teens, that period of exploration is not an insular one, as it is often guided by fears of societal perceptions. 

The strength of “Rough Patch” is that it recognizes the unique processes bisexual individuals may face during their coming-out process. Bisexual invisibility remains a significant issue in the LGBT community; in addition to seeking affirmation from society at large, those who identify as bisexual — or who consider their orientation to be more fluid than the standard labels allow for — may also face exclusion from within the LGBT community.

Novels like “Rough Patch” play an important role in promoting “B” inclusion in the community, and in serving as a needed resource for youth looking for community. 

— Jen Colletta

“Stealing Home”

By Tom Mendicino

Fiction

“Stealing Home” were originally novellas printed a few years apart in various forums and have now been compiled into a trilogy. The main characters, Charlie and K.C., are followed from their summer after high school when they worked together at a moving company, to college and the West Coast, to finally resettling into the Philadelphia area.

Written as stand-alones, each has its own strength, yet together the cohesion wavers some, as is the case often with stories that are written and set years apart. I’d frankly recommend reading each one with a few days or even weeks between, as I did between parts two and three. 

To be sure, it is an easily read collection perfectly suited for summer afternoons. Charlie and K.C. are interesting enough to carry the reader into each stage of their relationship/non-relationship lives, but read consecutively, they each feel like a reboot of the others. 

Grab this one and take your time enjoying the parts. In the meantime, if you haven’t read Mendicino’s other books, “Probation” and “The Boys From Eighth and Carpenter,” then by all means dive into those as well. He is an author we always look forward to reading. 

— Scott A. Drake

The Tower of the Antilles

By Achy Obejas

Short stories 

Wow. Reading “The Tower of the Antilles” is like being exposed to telepathic avant-garde imagery that consumes one’s consciousness and compels one to get copies of her previous works: “Ruins,” “Days of Awe” and “Memory Mambo.” If you haven’t heard of Obejas, as I hadn’t, it’s because it has taken some time for these works to make their way into the American stream after being translated into English. 

The stories in “Antilles” all have some kind of Cuba connection, whether it’s a revolutionary, an immigrant, an emigrant, a person of the working class or someone who was affected by the Cuban revolution in some way. Obejas visited Cuba multiple times and these stories are from different trips, different times and different circumstances, which gives the reader an excellently rounded picture of an island that is ever-changing. 

With such a variety of main characters, of course there’s a wide range of stories, so even if one doesn’t catch your fancy at first, there’s almost always another following it to get your attention. None of them take more than maybe 10 minutes to read. And to make a great story collection suitable for momentary indulgences, it’s a very small hardcover that will easily slip into a pocket or bag.

Get a taste of Cuba, or maybe I should say several servings, this summer. No passport required.

— S.A.D. 


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