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Book Marks


Richard Labonte | July 04, 2006

Grief, by Andrew Holleran. Hyperion Books, 150 pages, $19.95 hardcover.

From a lesser writer, Grief would be a bore. It's the story of a reserved professor, in later middle age, who is mourning his elderly mother's death, lamenting the lack of romance in his life, and whiling away lonely evenings with free concerts and long walks through Washington, D.C.'s gentrified streets. He's an insistent pessimist, wracked with self-esteem issues. He survived AIDS, while surrendering the right to be open in his life – he never told his mother he was gay, even on her deathbed, even as she prompted him to come out. On the surface, he evokes pity more than sympathy, perhaps even – from an activist sensibility – a measure of contempt: get over it, guy, and get a life. But there is much to be said about the power of reflective, elegant prose to render a pitiable character memorable and a stereotypical plot mesmerizing. Holleran's story – semi-autobiographical, as his few novels have all been – is a riveting extended meditation on the physical impact of loss and the emotional weight of grief, written with a gay elder's acquired wisdom and courage.



Same Sex in the City (So Your Prince Charming Is Really a Cinderella), by Lauren Levin and Lauren Blitzer. Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 250 pages, $14.95 paper.

The most elementary online search turns up several pretty good books about the lesbian coming-out process – so it's brash, verging on brazen, to open your own book lamenting that there are none. This one has a breezy, meaty flair, though, and that counts for something. Levin and Blitzer – both New York professionals, both cheeky and chirpy, and both now settled into contented lesbianism (though one of them detoured through bisexuality) – draw on their own experiences while dispensing nuggets of commonsense advice. Were they the only role models, Same Sex in the City would be an entertaining but narcissistic and Manhattan-centric coming-out and relationship guide. Blessedly, each of the 11 chapters – "Heartbreak," "Hooking Up with Straight Girls," and "Lesbe Friends" among them – includes substantial interviews with other women, a variety of mini-memoirs that add confessional dyke dimension to the Laurens' (as they often refer to themselves) own tips on dealing with family, friends, the workplace, the dating scene, the first flush of passion, and, yes, the urge to nest.



My Undoing: Love in the Thick of Sex, Drugs, Pornography, and Prostitution, by Aiden Shaw. Carroll & Graf, 320 pages, $15.95 paper.

This rowdy but not overly raunchy memoir, by the British star of several dozen popular porn DVDs, is probably not what devout worshippers of Shaw's impressive endowment were expecting, given the come-on of the title. For one thing, he writes at length about family, friends, a near-death car accident, and the edgy performances of – and quirky personalities in – his music trio, Whatever. Porn director Chi Chi LaRue and several of the Falcon Studios crew are depicted with respectful affection, there are a few descriptions of backroom sex and callboy outings, and incidents of stunningly heavy drinking and drug use pepper the book. But what Shaw doesn't write much about are his on-set sexcapades – surely a disappointment for fans interested only in the singular dimension of a muscular, Daddy-attractive, and privately fetishizable Aiden. The Aiden in this book is, quite plausibly, as brainy as he is brawny – and, in his frustrated quest for one true love, sensitive and even fragile. Sex is easy, writes Shaw, and so are hard-ons. But the takeaway message of this raw and honest book is that love is hard.



Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth, by Daniel A. Helminiak, Harrington Park Press, 235 pages, $16.95 paper.

In What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality (nothing much, in fact), Helminiak gave gays a solid theological defense to deploy against fundamentalist Bible-thumpers. That book, deservedly, remains a perennial bestseller more than a decade after publication. This one isn't likely to achieve the same stellar sales record; it's not as accessible a book. But it's no less supportive and inspirational a resource for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people – the author is wary of using "queer," for fear of offending someone. Drawing knowledgeably from biblical passages, Helminiak offers warm guidance and sound counsel to anyone seeking sexually honest, spiritually rewarding lives while holding on to and honoring their religious faith. His chapter responding to the Vatican's harsh condemnation of gay marriage is as sorrowful as it is illuminating; his thoughts on the holiness of orgasm as part of a wholesome life are wonderfully provocative; and his condemnation of how conservative religious leaders have hijacked Christian identity is lucid and stirring.



Featured Excerpt:
Hooking up with a gay woman is complicated enough. With concern for your mental health, we plead with you not to let straight girls become your vice. We have friends who played the straight-girl game for quite a while. In the end, most went back to lesbians. It's nice to be with a woman you don't have to worry will ditch you for a dude. Making a habit of converting heteros can make a lesbian feel like little more than an open buffet, which can be damaging to her self-esteem. –from Same Sex in the City, by Lauren Levin and Lauren Blitzer



Footnotes:
SAINTS & SINNERS, the annual New Orleans queer-lit festival, marked its fourth year in May by establishing a new Hall of Fame. Initial honorees were veteran lesbian novelist Lee Lynch, author of a long-running syndicated column, "Old Dyke Tales," and of more than a dozen books, most recently Sweet Creek; Steven Saylor, best known now for his mainstream historical mysteries set in ancient Rome, but also a popular erotica author in the '80s and '90s under the name Aaron Travis – Harrington Park Press is reissuing Slaves of the Empire in June; and mystery novelist (the Mickey Knight series, set in New Orleans) and Bywater Press co-founder J.M. Redmann. Harrington Park Press and its queer imprints – Alice Street editions for lesbian titles and Southern Tier Editions for gay titles – were also honored as first-year inductees. At the same conference, the InsightOut Book Club's Violet Quill Award went to Brian Sloan's comic coming-out novel, A Really Nice Prom Mess...
OVER IN ENGLAND, Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City sextet won Great Britain's Big Gay Read, the culmination of a months-long online vote by readers from around the world. Other writers whose work made it into the top 10 included Sarah Waters, Jeanette Winterson, Patricia Highsmith, Rita Mae Brown, Alan Hollinghurst, Patrick Gale, Jamie O'Neill, and Jake Arnott. Annie Proulx's Brokeback Mountain (the movie edition) was voted seventh-best book. For more info: www.biggayread.com.

Richard Labonte has been reading, editing, selling, and writing about queer literature since the mid-'70s.


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