Volume 5, Number 26 | June 29 - July 5, 2006

7 Days of readings

Recently Noted:

ALTERNATIVES TO SEX “Is it more embarrassing to admit your flaws and questionable behavior, or to deny them when it’s obvious that what you are writing has autobiographical elements?” wonders Stephen McCauley, author of the gay comedy of manners, “Alternatives to Sex.” McCauley’s fifth novel concerns William, a Boston based realtor who shares the author’s obsession for cleaning products like expensive vacuums, and cruises the Internet for sex. (Gary M. Kramer)
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COVERING: THE HIDDEN ASSAULT ON OUR CIVIL RIGHTS Living in New York, D.C., or San Francisco, many gays and lesbians might be excused for thinking we’ve all but won the civil rights battle. Except for some tenacious Middle America pockets that are expected to crumble as soon as the upcoming generation, raised on “Will and Grace,” MTV and “Brokeback Mountain,” takes over, gays and lesbians are enjoying an unprecedented openness, safety, and acceptance. Kenji Yoshino, a gay, Asian-American law professor at Yale, in his new book “Covering,” calls this a dangerous and naive belief. He demonstrates quite ably that there is an assumption among mainstream society, that gays and lesbians—and all other minorities—should cover, meaning mute or hide behavior and characteristics intrinsic to their status as minorities. (Stefen Styrsky)
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DIARY OF A DRAG QUEEN “I have never wanted to be a woman...” So begins Daniel Harris’s paradoxical memoir “Diary of a Drag Queen,” a witty, satisfying examination of gender and loneliness in the contemporary age. After his partner left him at the age of 45, Harris lights upon the idea that as a drag queen named “Denial” he might occasionally have success enticing an attractive man into his bed. (Stefen Styrsky)
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FAITH FOR BEGINNERS Travel can be a life-affirming experience, but not if your trip is a forced march. In Aaron Hamburger’s debut novel, Mrs. Michaelson has dragged her husband and son to Israel hoping her Detroit suburb’s Millennium pilgrimage will be inspiration for them both. Her husband is dying slowly of cancer, and her son Jeremy, an NYU student, recently placed either a suicide attempt or an accidental overdose under his belt, depending on whom you ask. Hamburger uses humor and insight to get to the heart of mother and son. (Seth J. Bookey)
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GOING DOWN IN La-La Land “Going Down in La-La Land” is a breezy read about a wannabe actor’s downward spiral in Los Angeles. A roman à clef, this novel is so thinly veiled at times that some of the names have been changed only barely. When author Andy Zeller who appeared in the films “Celebrity” and “The Fluffer” features a main character named Adam Zeffer who appears in the films “Celebrity” and “The Voyeur,” it is not a coincidence. But this is not a bad thing either. Whether Zeller—that is, Zeffer—is exorcising his demons from his time spent in Hollywood and the porn industry, or if he has deliberately created a fictional narrative out of experiences he actually had is not the point. “Going Down in La-La Land” is less about chronicling the life of an out of work actor than it is a cautionary tale about the depths of despair one can sink to. (Gary M. Kramer)
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GORE VIDAL’S AMERICA Dennis Altman’s new book is particularly welcome for its warts-and-all treatment of the great man’s life and work. Altman’s book is unique in being a critical assessment of Vidal by a writer who, like his subject, is left-wing and homosexual, and who also has made major contributions to the literature on (homo)sexuality, sexual politics, and social change. (George De Stefano)
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HUNG While we have turned the chapter on lynching, the black dick of destruction and desire still plays in our emotional background. And “Hung” works well when it mines the personal and popular. For example when Details magazine did an article in 2003 of which actor is known for having a big one, no black actors made the list, a rather odd omission considering the persuasiveness of the legend. While such cultural moments are fun, I ended “Hung” wondering what does all of it mean. Sure it annoys when so few people, black and white, seem unable not to buy into the legend of the large black one, but what does the myth have to do with where we are right now? (James Withers)
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LISTENING FOR THE OBOE “I think these sermons are for anybody who cares passionately about living a life of meaning in a world of despair,” commented Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum on her recently-published book of drashot, commemorating her first decade as senior rabbi of New York City’s Congregation Beth Simchat Torah. “Listening for the Oboe” compiles Kleinbaum’s and the congregation’s favorite sermons given by her between 1992 and 2003, in which she addresses the impact of AIDS, the place of children in an LGBT synagogue, and CBST’s solidarity with the African-American community on the subject of reparations. (Eileen McDermott)
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MANLINESS In a period in which the first lady, Laura Bush, is accused of stealing the presidential swagger and “Brokeback Mountain” tests the limits of liberal-sensitive manliness, the recent and highly excitatory attention given Harvey C. Mansfield’s book “Manliness,” comes as no surprise. The good news is that the book provides feminists with a reason to cheer. Why? Because we’ve been round this block once before. The anxiety of Mansfield, a Harvard government professor, over what he calls our “gender-neutral” culture recalls those other anxiety-ridden pages scripted by the likes of Henry Adams and Henry McBride during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (David Gerstner)
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MY LIVES For over three decades, Edmund White has proven a master at turning the messy, tragic, and exalted experiences of his life into confidently observed, witty, and transcendent fiction. His landmark 1982 novel “A Boy’s Own Story” is universally recognized as a gay-themed coming-of-age classic, with a hero that holds his own alongside Huck Finn and Holden Caulfield. Now, with “My Lives” we get an intimate glimpse behind the screen of his fiction, and at the dark Eros that is his muse. All this is told with the seductive zeal of a gay male Scheherazade. This sort of uncompromising, confessional non-fiction is more appreciated in Europe—where it is a literary and intellectual tradition—particularly in France, where White, an avowed “Voltairian atheist,” spent a good part of his professional life. In fact, the iconoclastic spirit of Andre Gide and Jean Genet—of whom White has written the definitive biography—runs all through “My Lives.” (Michael Ehrhardt)
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OUR LIVES ARE THE RIVERS Like most great novelists, Jaime Manrique has two goals—to tell the story of real people whose experience and struggles are timeless and universal, and at the same time to reveal the history and configuration of the world about them in time and place. By both measures, “Our Lives Are the Rivers”—a line from the epic poem by Jorge Manrique (who Jaime speculates may be related) about the death of his father—is a success. (Lawrence D. Mass)
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ROCKSTARLET When I first heard about “Rockstarlet,” the life-inspired novel by Stewart Lewis about a gay male rocker on the rise stuffed back in the closet by his managers, my reaction was, “Aren’t we past that?” After all, plenty of successful male musical artists are now out—Elton John, George Michael, Boy George, Pete Townsend, and Andy Bell. “Yeah, but notice something odd?” Lewis recently asked me. “That’s the U.K., they’ve always been more accepting.” This sweetly disarming satire is a deliriously satisfying read, and it’s impossible not to feel for—or fall for—the intrepid rocker. (David Kennerley)
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THE ROMANIAN Writer Bruce Benderson is an intellectual dandy devoted to danger, drugs, thugs, and sexual excess. He’s half Jean Genet, half Joan Crawford, and he tries out different points of view like Crawford modeled Adrian couture. Scornful of bourgeois complacency, he writes from the point of view of an outsider aware of his privileges yet still longs for the instability and vitality he observes in the lower and criminal classes. “The Romanian,” tells the tale of his passion for a street hustler in Romania. (Dan Callahan)

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