Wednesday, June 9, 2010

June Is Bustin' OUT All Over

Here then, my June list, of the new books by and or about, in all cases but one, and she very much a friend to us all, Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, Transgenders, Queers and or the Questioning. Actually, I don't know that there is a transgendered person to be had in this list, nor is there, come to that, anyone in that last category, my least favorite iteration of inclusiveness in our community. ( I'm older now, and grown impatient of questions on this subject. Figure it out, kids.) Much as I've come to be somewhat impatient with publishers for dumping all their GLBTQ books into this one month marked "Pride," I am nonetheless always glad to see such wonderful new stuff come in. It is the official announcement of Summer, so far as I'm concerned, when the faggots bloom again.

This little list is of course not meant to be in any way exhaustive, but rather just the highlights of the year to date, at least for me. Of the books mentioned, I'm already reading my way through three of them, read one in a day, and have all the others waiting for me to see me through, if not the summer, at least the rest of the month.

We're reading Forster's Maurice this month for Seattle Gay & Lesbian Book Club. Honestly, I don't know that I would ever have been induced to reread the book for any other reason. I must say though, the opening of Wendy Moffat's new book, A Great Unrecorded History: A life Life of E. M. Forster, made such a glorious fuss about Forster's "secret" novel, that I found myself eager to give it another go. When I'd first read Maurice, all those long years ago, I'd been so repelled by the way the great, chaste romance of the first two parts came to an end, that I'd disliked the book ever thereafter, and had little more patience with the idyllic last third. Moffat's biography, in restoring Forster's full sexual and emotional history, and in telling the story of his last novel, gave me reason to rethink my callow judgement even as I reread. Since, I've had a difficult time putting Moffat's wonderful book down long enough to take Forster's back up.

Another new literary biography that has proved irresistible, Selina Hastings' The Secret Life of Somerset Maugham: A Biography, promises to be fascinating. I've read Hastings' previous books, on Nancy Mitford, Waugh, and Rosamond Lehmann, all quite satisfying, and each about a difficult personality. Maugham, likewise. But Hastings, like Moffat, has a unique opportunity to treat her subject's private life with a candor and understanding that was not likely, or perhaps even possible for earlier biographers.

A beautiful new book, edited by Keri Walsh, offers an astonishing collection in The Letters of Sylvia Beach, perhaps the last great figure of "The Lost Generation" to be given her due in this way. Just dipping into the book, almost at random, presents the reader not only with an amazing view of the greats of 20th Century literature, but also a portrait of this remarkable woman, intellectual, and bookseller.

Not to neglect new fiction entirely, there is a new novel, Insignificant Others, from the always delightful Stephen Mccauley. Few contemporary novelists have contributed so many memorable, yet entirely familiar characters to the literature. In this latest story, Mccauley addresses the consequences of infidelity with his customary wry wit, and makes, yet again, the very best of a not altogether funny situation.

Emma Donoghue is perhaps best known to general readers as a novelist and the author of such bestselling books as Slammerkin and Life Mask, but in her new book, Inseparable: Desire Between Women in Literature, she takes on the whole history of lesbianism in literature, and the results are amazingly unpredictable and fun. Just like an Emma Donoghue novel. Already there are a dozen books discussed in this one I would never have thought to even consider reading, but Donoghue's analysis is making me wonder what I've been missing. I've laughed out loud more than once, and I'm less than half way through the book. This is not the usual dry, academic reading. This is a juicy treat.

Legendary cultural terrorist, John Waters, in his new book of essays, Role Models, has managed, after all these years, to shock even me. It is a full of wonderfully funny and even quite moving portraits of many of the usual -- if that's ever a word to be used with Waters --glorious eccentrics with whom John Waters' name is most often associated: strippers, pornographers, the denizens of various low Baltimore bars, but herein the reader will also find tributes to his favorite artists, a fashion designer, and Johnny Mathis. Who could ask for anything more?

And finally, how could I let such a gay round-up go without mentioning a book I read at one sitting with nothing but the purest nelly pleasure, Alison Arngrim's memoir of life before, during and after her days as the Bad Seed of my generation, in Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated? Ms. Arngrim's little book has everything from TV stardom, to a gay father, and a mother who actually was the voice of Miss Polly Purebred, among others. Imagine. Alison herself has been there, done that, and it's all in here: the abuse at the hands of her monstrous brother, the cattiness, the backstage stories, but also her ongoing activism on behalf of various organizations fighting for the rights of children, and fighting AIDS. I'm telling you, this "bitch" is fabulous! And, she's funny as hell.

Now, how's that for a little summer reading, sweeties?

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