By Erin McHugh. $32.50; Abrams Books; 158 pages
I can appreciate just how difficult it would be to select a list of lesbians to include in a book about lesbian life. Just as The L Word can only represent a slice of that world, so does The L Life book, by Erin McHugh. The author and her photographer Jennifer May crossed the country to interview 26 lesbians from all walks of life. There are celebrities and politicians, but also a sheriff and non-profit leaders.
This is a sugar-coated, surface look at the lesbian world. These are not investigative pieces, and they do not deal with any real controversial issues that may surround some of those interviewed. But it doesn't pretend to be investigative journalism, and it really is just a simple look at the lives of 26 women, all of them deserving of recognition for their efforts. I could list a hundred more who should have been included (and Chicago is pretty much ignored, except for the few, like Jane Lynch, who used to live here). But any book trying to tackle the lesbian life would have those same limitations. McHugh set out to profile a sample of lesbian life and, combined with the images, she does just that.
Because she focused on those who are living, this is also not a historical book. But there are wonderful legendary lesbians included, such as Phyllis Lyon, Ann Bannon and Dr. Susan Love. I also applaud McHugh's effort to get a few folks under the normal media radar, and some younger faces. A few high-powered dykes are conspicuous in their absence (Rachel Maddow, Melissa Etheridge, Ellen DeGeneres, Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Wanda Sykes, Lily Tomlin, Sheryl Swoopes, etc.), but that was probably a good thing: If the author had room for just 26 people, celebrities could have dominated the list. As it is, she left room for more everyday folks, even though it is heavy on the bigger names, and very heavily white.
The full list of those featured in the book is: comic Kate Clinton, cartoonist Alison Bechdel, health advocate Marjorie Hill, actor Jane Lynch, musicians Amy & Elizabeth Ziff, activist Phyllis Lyon, union leader Randi Weingarten, New York politician Christine Quinn, journalist Linda Villarosa, leader Kate Kendell, Dr. Susan Love, international activist Nan Buzard, political activist Hilary Rosen, sheriff Lupe Valdez, political activist Elizabeth Birch, author Ann Bannon, Logo TV's Lisa Sherman, political activist Roberta Achtenberg, U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, Michigan Fest's Lisa Vogel, political activist Urvashi Vaid, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, corporate activist Sally Susman, urban farmer Mary Seton Corboy, youth advocate Tenaja Jordan and film producer Christine Vachon.
Since each profile is short, we don't learn extensive details on these women, and a few would deserve their own full-length biographies. The photos enhance the book greatly, making it serve more as a coffee-table discussion point than a detailed history of the lesbian movement. What I didn't like about the book is its attempt to claim itself as one of the only "cultural touchstones" that have opened people's eyes to everyday lesbian life. There have been thousands of books, movies, plays, songs and much more that do this very thing. There's no reason to make over-inflated claims about the role this book plays. It is an important book, and looks beautiful, but it is not all things to all lesbians, and it presents only a specific slice of the lives of 26 of us, out of millions.
I recommend the book for what it is, not for what it can't be: No one book will ever represent all of us. But The L Life is certainly a nice, pretty addition to our bookshelves.