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Book Marks


Richard Labonte | September 26, 2007

Looker, by Stanley Bennett Clay. Atria Books, 276 pages, $13 paper.

Kudos to Atria, an imprint of mainstream publisher Simon & Schuster, for including queer romances in its lineup of black-interest fiction. That said, Clay's brand of man-on-man passion – though perhaps more crisply written, imaginatively plotted, and realistically sensual than others – is as generic as most any gay love story. The hot guy, entertainment attorney Brando Haywood, bruised by a relationship gone bad, is leery of emotional entanglement as he moves among the African-American upper crust of L.A. His best boyhood friend, celebrity journalist and sexual dynamo Omar, has lusted after Brando for years, satiating his longing with a succession of one-night stands. Brando successfully defends a prominent woman (and lesbian) author against murder charges after she shoots her rapist; Omar successfully steers himself away from a life of sexual dissipation after one too many tawdry trysts goes bad. And, inevitably but quite sweetly, Brando, feeling better about himself after a professional triumph, and Omar, more secure in his own body, figure out they were meant for each other all along.



Such a Pretty Face, by Gabrielle Goldsby. Bold Strokes Books, 256 pages, $15.95 paper.

Body image and self-esteem are the serious subjects underlying the light tone of this lively romance and its engagingly unorthodox heroine. Mia Sanchez is a woman of some substance, in every sense. She's a top-notch investment counselor, with a roster of satisfied clients. But she's a chunky gal – her highly critical mother and her anorexic, size-zero sister flat-out call her fat – whose lover has taken to making catty remarks about weight gain. And since misery loves calories, Mia packs on a few more pounds when her lover tells Mia their relationship is over. But when Mia meets Ryan, the well-toned woman who is remodeling her office – and who finds Mia's curves quite alluring, but wants her healthier – daily workouts become a part of life. Ryan has issues of her own, including an abusive father, a deadbeat brother, and an emotionally demanding mother, all of which make her wary of romance. But Goldsby, skillfully mixing sharp humor and incisive insight, sorts out both women's emotional issues with solid plotting – and plenty of hot sex on the side.



Someone Gay: Memoirs, by Don Clark. Lethe Press, 364 pages, $18 paper.

In the days before high school gay-straight alliances, relatively positive gay role models on TV, and Internet access to gay chat rooms and queer information sites, there was Don Clark's classic coming-out guide, Loving Someone Gay. Clark's pioneering compendium of compassionate advice has eased the way into self-acceptance for generations of gay – but afraid – men, and is still in print after more than 30 years. This leisurely memoir – displaying a prodigious memory for the names of boyhood buddies and young-man chums – tells how he came to his own self-realization in the mid-1970s, after years of furtive under-the-cover sexual encounters, confused emotional attraction to other men, and many years of marriage. Clark was practically a fey-boy stereotype, yearning for learning beyond the bigoted worldview of his lower-class family, eventually escaping into books and music. It's a tale often told by gay men writing about their lives, and Clark tells his own with quiet style and strength.



Wearing History: T-Shirts from the Gay Rights Movemen, by Steve Gdula. Alyson Books, 224 pages, $18.95 paper.

It's poor critical form to criticize a book for what it's not. But this dull history, dressed up – with no style – as a gift book, isn't nearly as definitive as it could be. Fewer than 50 T-shirts are depicted. One male model appears to be wearing them all – even the lesbian tees. Sidebar text meant to provide historical context – including for epochal activist tees produced by ACT UP and Queer Nation – is perfunctory. And sometimes inaccurate: Outwrite, the first-ever national queer literary conference, which convened in San Francisco in 1990 with more than 1,000 attendees, was not a "writing program." Most discouraging of all – for a book that ought to vibrate with the passionate activism, angry rebellion, and witty defiance of the '70s, '80s, and '90s – is Gdula's overview of queer activism from Stonewall to the 21st century: it's little more than a college-level term paper distillation of several far more comprehensive and far less turgid histories. Wearing History is neither competent history nor a dazzling trip down the memory lane of provocative fashion.



Featured excerpt:

The most difficult times in my life have offered me learning. Like the iconic Dorothy on the yellow brick road in 'The Wizard of Oz', once awakened to the wonder of our inner emotions, we gay people are confronted with adversity as we journey through life. We are forced to discover the fullness of our intelligence, courage, compassion and, finally, the wisdom that will shape our gay identity. Without the wholeness of that gay identity, there is no 'home'. –from Someone Gay, by Don Clark



Footnotes:

BOOKS TO WATCH OUT FOR: Fey British novelist Denton Welch, closeted gay singer Johnny Mathis, the late atheist proponent Madalyn Murray O'Hair, and Miss Esther – proprietor of "the scariest bar in Baltimore" – are among the personages profiled in Role Models, filmmaker John Waters' forthcoming "memoir-in-homage." What do the disparate subjects have in common? They all contributed to Waters' particular brand of self-described neurotic happiness. The book is coming from Farrar, Straus & Giroux next year...
GALS AND GUYS both wicked and good, momentous queer events, and catchy quotations are the subject of three slim non-book books just out from Alyson. The Portable Queer series, authored by Erin McHugh, includes Out of the Mouth of Queers: A Compilation of Bon Mots, Words of Wisdom and Sassy Sayings; Homo History: A Compilation of Events That Shook and Shaped the Gay World; and A Gay in the Life: A Compilation of Saints and Sinners in Gay History. McHugh has a thing for wordy titles; the Barnes & Noble employee has also compiled "The 5 Ws" series – five collections exploring the quixotic who, what, where, when, and why of the world. Sample title: Who? An Omnium-Gatherum of Popes & Playwrights, Dogs & Dukes, Actors & Advocates, Ogres & Others Who've Made Their Mark in Our World.

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


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