BY Amos Lassen
Here are selected books that are either new or coming soon. Some of these I have been lucky enough to get advanced reader's copies for and have already reviewed, some are based on my own personal choice because of the author and some just look like books I want.
Voguing and the Ballroom Scene of New York (1989-1992) is by photographer Chantal Regnault, who spent several years photographing the scene. This is a beautiful document of the scene that began in Harlem in the mid '80s, which spawned a national dance craze and made popular the term "polysexual." The vogue was more than a dance; it was a way of dressing and expressing self.
The Sixties: Diaries: 1960-1969 is the second volume of Christopher Isherwood's diaries, and it begins when the author turned 56. We are reminded of the bohemian atmosphere of California and we also hit Europe, India and Australia. We read when Isherwood met his lover, Don Bachardy, who was 30 years his junior, and learn of people whose names are a who's who in literature, acting and culture. We also learn a great deal about Isherwood himself and the politics of the period.
Icelight, by Aly Monroe, is set in England after World War II; the country is filled with corruption and money has little value. Harold Watkins, a gay man who had been convicted for "gross indecency," is found dead and it is suspected that he died by his own hand. Peter Cotton, a colonial intelligence officer, begins a quest to find out was responsible. He is drawn into the theater and politics, and learns some very dark secrets as he tries to find out what really happened.
Murder in the Irish Channel by Greg Herrena new Chanse Macleod mysteryis again set in New Orleans. Herren really knows New Orleans and his descriptions are right on the button. (I know; I was raised there.) This time we have a missing person's case that is tied to the Catholic Church and the world of real-estate developers. Corruption in high places puts our gay detective's life in great danger.
In Franky Gets Real, by Mel Bossa, the title character had had a run of bad luck and his life has no direction. He needs to get away from the city, and he and four friends set off for a weekend of camping. Facing adulthood, the five friends discover new aspects of themselves, but Franky finds himself facing the biggest change of all when he discovers that one of the guys is what he has really been searching for.
Gay Men Don't Get Fat, by Simon Doonan, is a look at how we live. Doonan's idea here is that gay men are in actuality French women and that we really turn up our noses at almost everything. We love sexy underwear and we are firmly convinced that we are artistically brilliant, and are obsessed with our weight. This nonfiction look at our lives seems to have some new ideas that I am sure we will not all agree with.
Edmund White is a true gay man of letters and he has two new books coming out in the next few weeks. The first, Jack Holmes and His Friend, is the fictional story of a friendship between Jack Holmes and Will Wright, and it looks at the sexual revolution from both gay and straight perspectives. Jack is in love but his feelings are not returned. White gives us a good look at New York City of the 1960s before gay liberation, and the way that Jack's and Will's lives come together. This is quite a look at U.S. society and a wonderful character study of two men with different sexual appetites. As much as White looks at sexuality, he also looks at sensitivity and this book has it all. Once again White cements his place in the literary world. In nonfiction White gives us Sacred Monsters: Writings on Artists and Authors, a collection of writings about artists and authors from John Cheever to Patti Smith, Henry James, Andy Warhol, E.M. Forster, Tennessee Williams and many others. I love this book for the insights it gives us and because of White's wonderful style.
Christopher Bram brings us a look at gay writers who have made a difference. His Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America is an amazing read as we go back to after World War II and see how gay writers changed not only what we read but how we read. Bram tells us that the first wave of major literary figures included Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, Allen Ginsberg and James Baldwin. It was these men who set the stage for the future generations of gay writers and in that new generation are Armistead Maupin, Tony Kushner, Edward Albee and, of course, the man who has remained at the steering wheel of gay writers, Edmund White. Also, there are others in both waves, including the Violet Quill, which was a group of gay writers who demanded to be heard. While Williams, Vidal and Capote were good friends, that was not true for all of the writers, and there were intrigues and feuds.
For something completely different we have Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars by Scotty Bowers, a tell-all memoir of sex with the stars and closeted Hollywood of the 1940s and '50s. Bowers spent 30 years going to bed with men and women, and he even arranged sexual liaisons for others. He gives names like Spencer Tracy, Vivien Leigh, the Duke of Windsor, Cary Grant and Edith Piaf. His "call customers" included Mae West, James Dean, Rock Hudson, Rita Hayworth, Errol Flynn, Katherine Hepburn and others. Here is a look at life before AIDS, when sex was everywhere and everyone partook. Written in wonderful style, this is not a book you will likely forget.
Finally there is a local book about a local hero by Tracy Baim and Owen Keehnen, Jim Flint: The Boy From Peoria, about the Peoria-born drag artist and businessman known in Chicago as "Felicia." The book is full of wonderful characters and takes us behind the scenes into the world of female impersonation. I am waiting for my copy and looking forward to the read.