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FALL ARTS PREVIEW 2017: Books

Maupin’s memoirs, drag photos, ‘Davie Bowie Made Me Gay’ among fall book highlights

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books, gay news, Washington Blade

‘Black on Both Sides: a Racial History of Trans Identity’ is slated for a December release. It explores the lives of black trans women throughout U.S. history. (Photo courtesy University of Minnesota Press)

EVENTS

The 22nd annual Baltimore Book Festival returns to the Inner Harbor Promenade Sept. 22-24. The festival, which is free and open to the public from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. each day, will feature about 500 presenting authors and 3,000 books for purchase at the Ivy Book Shop. Some of the literary stars who will be presenting include Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, children’s book writer Adam Gidwitz, and queer poet, writer, and performer Eileen Myles. For more details, including the full schedule of events, visit baltimorebookfestival.org.

Hot off the release of his highly anticipated memoir, “Logical Family” (Harper, Oct. 3), Armistead Maupin will speak at the National Museum of the American Indian (4th St and Independence Ave., N.W.) at 6:45 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 4. “Armistead Maupin: Tales of a Lifetime,” will include a reading, discussion and book signing. “Logical Family” traces Maupin’s journey from his childhood in conservative North Carolina to Vietnam and eventually 1970s gay San Francisco, recounting the relationships he cherished along the way and how they have shaped him into one of America’s most celebrated writers. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit smithsonianassociates.org.

RELEASES

Hillary Clinton’s seventh book (her third memoir) “What Happened” (Simon & Schuster, Sept. 12) recounts her failed quest for the White House last year. Clinton has been more candid of late, a change of tone some — political ideology aside — are finding refreshing. Be prepared to shell out big bucks if you want to catch her on her book tour. Her Sept. 18 appearance at Warner Theatre in Washington is nearly sold out (and may be by the time this is published). As of Monday, tickets were still available ranging from $195-345. Visit livenation.com for details.

If you’re a poetry fan, “Madness” by Sam Sax (Penguin Books, Sept. 12) is a stunning debut collection that interrogates our understanding of heterosexuality, sanity, masculinity and addiction. Sax, a queer Jewish writer and educator, draws on his personal and family mental health history to confront these difficult themes with fearlessness and candor.

In his latest conceptual series, “Beautiful Berlin Boys” (Kehrer Verlag, Sept. 12), Iranian American photographer, Ashkan Sahihi, pays homage to the gay creative community ravaged by the AIDS epidemic in 1980s New York City through nude photographs of gay artists in modern-day Berlin. In compiling the spare, intimate portraits, Sahihi discovered a haunting familiarity in his subjects, who recall the gay avant garde of his past while representing the newest generation of gay men in what he considers today’s creative capital.

“True Sex: the Lives of Trans Men at the Turn of the Twentieth Century” by Emily Skidmore (NYU Press, Sept. 19) tells the overlooked stories of 18 trans men who assimilated into small town communities during the late 1800s. Skidmore pieces together reports from local newspapers, medical journals and other sources to offer queer narratives that were not cosmopolitan or subversive, but rather quite ordinary, challenging our preconceived notions of community, rural identity and who we think of as trans or queer.

Amidst political uncertainty surrounding LGBT rights, “Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America” by Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding (Picador, Oct. 3) is an inspiring collection of essays from leading feminist writers who describe how we got here and how we can resist. Featured essays include Samantha Irby on living as a queer black woman in rural America, Randa Jarrar on cross country travel as a queer Muslim woman and Meredith Taulson on feminism and the transgender community, among many others.

The Book of Love and Hate,” a new novel from Lambda Literary Award winner Lauren Sanders (Akashic Books, Oct. 3) tells of of protagonist Jennifer Baron encounters with queer Palestinians in Israel while searching for her missing father.

Also out that day is “TELL: Love, Defiance and the Military Trial at the Tipping Point for Gay Rights” by Maj. Margaret Witt with Tim Connor (ForeEdge, Oct. 3), a personal account of Witt’s decorated military career and the path to the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for LGBT servicemembers.

Any true Sasha Velour fan already has “Drags” (Kmw Studio, Oct. 16) set to preorder. Shot by photographer Gregory Kramer, the collection features hyper-glam black and white, full-length studio portraits of New York City’s drag kings and queens. “Drags” also includes essays by some of the photo subjects themselves: Charles Busch, Linda Simpson, Goldie Simpson, and of course, the ever-scholarly Sasha.

With recipes written as deliciously as they taste, “The Juhu Beach Club Cookbook: Indian Spice, Oakland Soul” by Preeti Mistry and Sarah Henry (Running Press, Oct. 31) has already sent the foodie world into a frenzy well beyond the Bay Area. Mistry, a gay Indian American chef beloved for her big personality, provides a contemporary spin on the traditional Indian cooking she grew up with in this eclectic collection of street food, comfort classics and haute cuisine.

Andrea Lawlor’s debut novel, “Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl” (Rescue Press, Nov. 1), offers a witty and raucous portrait of LGBT radicalism during the early ‘90s. The story follows Paul Polydoris, who studies queer theory and writes provocative zines when not tending bar at the local gay club. Lawlor portrays an exhilarating picaresque hero whose identity seesaws from Riot Grrl to leather cub as he parties through era staples, such as the Michigan Womyn’s Festival.

As a blend of memoir, true crime and ghost story, “Mean” by Myriam Gurba (Coffee House Press, Nov. 14) is difficult to categorize, but hilarious and poignant at every twist and turn. Gurba, a spoken-word performer and visual artist, tells her own coming of age story as a queer, mixed-race Chicana in California. “Mean” tackles themes of sexual violence, racism and homophobia with brassiness and heart as multilayered as Gurba’s approach to genre.

“Every Night is Saturday Night: A Country Girl’s Journey to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame” (BMG, Nov. 14), written alongside Scott B. Bomar, is the long-awaited autobiography of Wanda Jackson, the legendary “Queen of Rockabilly,” “First Lady of Rock & Roll” and treasured gay icon. Jackson shares personal stories on her relationship with Elvis Presley, her faith and the challenges she faced in bringing sex appeal to country music and femininity to Rock & Roll. The book also features a foreword by Elvis Costello.

In need of some playlist inspiration? “David Bowie Made Me Gay” by Darryl W. Bullock (The Overlook Press, Nov. 21) is a highly comprehensive history of LGBT music, spanning a century from early jazz and blues to today’s most recognizable pop stars out of the closet. Bullock meticulously chronicles the LGBT community’s vast influence on music through a historical lens, revealing how society’s oscillation between acceptance and persecution has shaped what we listen to today.

In “Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity” (University of Minnesota Press, Dec. 5), C. Riley Snorton uncovers the obscured or erased narratives of black trans women in the United States, beginning with the mid-19th century and continuing through present-day oppression and resistance. Snorton, a professor of Africana studies and feminist, gender and sexuality studies at Cornell University, builds on early sexological writings, fugitive slave stories, Afro-modernist literature and other materials to craft this essential account of black trans history.

Other releases of note include:

• “Murder Under the Fig Tree: A Palestine Mystery,” by Kate Jessica Raphael (She Writes Press), is a murder mystery novel that draws Rania Bakara, a Palestinian policewoman, deep into the underground Palestinian gay scene as she investigates the death of young man in a village adjacent to her own. The book is $16.95 and releases Sept. 19.

• “The Ultimate Guide to Gay Dads: Everything You Need to Know About LGBT Parenting But Are (Mostly) Afraid to Ask,” by Eric Rosswood (Mango), is a generous resource for gay and bisexual men who are thinking about starting a family together. The guide is $13.85 and releases Oct. 24.

• “Mostly Straight: Sexual Fluidity among Men” by Ritch C. Savin-Williams (Harvard University Press) is a biological, empirical and psychological research-based exploration of the personal stories of 40 young men who identify as sexually fluid or “mostly straight.” The book is $27.95 and releases Nov. 3.

• “Patient Zero and the Making of the AIDS Epidemic,” by Richard A. McKay (University of Chicago Press), investigates the introduction of the term “patient zero” into the popular lexicon during the 1980s AIDS epidemic. The book thoughtfully traces the life of Gaëtan Dugas, who was incorrectly identified (and vilified) as the first AIDS case in North America. It is $24.91 and releases Nov. 15.

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Books

Architecture junkies will love new book on funeral homes

‘Preserved’ explores how death industry evolved after WWII

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(Book cover image courtesy of Johns Hopkins University Press)

‘Preserved: A Cultural History of the Funeral Home in America’
By Dean G. Lampros
c.2024, Johns Hopkins University Press 
$34.95/374 pages

Three bedrooms upstairs. That’s a minimum.

You need a big kitchen, a large back room would be a bonus, you want lots of bathrooms, and if you can get a corner lot, that’d be great. The thing you need most is a gigantic all-purpose room or maybe a ballroom because you’re planning on a lot of people. As you’ll see in the new book “Preserved” by Dean G. Lampros, not all living rooms are for the living.

Not too long ago, shortly after he took a class on historic preservation, Dean Lampros’ husband dragged him on a weekend away to explore a small town in Massachusetts. There, Lampros studied the town’s architecture and it “saddened” him to see Victorian mansions surrounded by commercial buildings. And then he had an epiphany: there was once a time when those old mansions housed funeral homes. Early twentieth-century owners of residential funeral homes were, in a way, he says, preservationists.

Prior to roughly World War II, most funerals were held at home or, if there was a need, at a funeral home, the majority of which were located in a downtown area. That changed in 1923 when a Massachusetts funeral home owner bought a large mansion in a residential area and made a “series of interior renovations” to the building. Within a few years, his idea of putting a funeral home inside a former home had spread across the country and thousands of “stately old mansions in aging residential neighborhoods” soon held death-industry businesses.

This, says, Lampros, often didn’t go over well with the neighbors, and that resulted in thousands of people upset and lawsuits filed. Some towns then passed ordinances to prohibit such a thing from happening to their citizens.

Still, funeral home owners persevered. Moving out of town helped “elevate” the trade, and it allowed Black funeral home operators to get a toehold in formerly white neighborhoods. And by having a nice – and nice-sized – facility, the operators were finally able to wrest the end-of-life process away from individuals and home-funerals.

Here’s a promise: “Preserved” is not gruesome or gore-for-the-sake-of-gore. It’s not going to keep you up all night or give you nightmares. Nope, while it might be a little stiff, it’s more of a look at architecture and history than anything else.

From California to New England, author Dean G. Lampros takes readers on a cruise through time and culture to show how “enterprising” business owners revolutionized a category and reached new customers for a once-in-a-deathtime event. Readers who’ve never considered this hidden-in-plain-sight, surprising subject – or, for that matter, the preservation or re-reclamation of those beautiful old homes – are in for a treat here. Despite that the book can lean toward the academic, a good explanatory timeline and information gleaned from historical archives and museums offer a liveliness that you’ll enjoy.

This book will delight fans of little-know history, and architecture junkies will drool over its many photographs. “Preserved” is the book you want because there are other ways to make a house a “home.”

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‘Mean Boys’ raises questions of life, death, and belonging

New memoir wanders but enjoy the whiplash

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(Boom cover image courtesy of Bloomsbury)

‘Mean Boys: A Personal History’
By Geoffrey Mak
c.2024, Bloomsbury 
$28.99/267 pages

It’s how a pleasant conversation is fed, with give and take, back and forth, wandering casually and naturally, a bit of one subject easing into the next with no preamble. It’s communication you can enjoy, like what you’ll find inside “Mean Boys” by Geoffrey Mak.

Sometimes, a conversation ends up exactly where it started.

Take, for instance, Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” which leads Mak to think about his life and his inability to “cull the appropriate narratives out of nonsense.” Part of that problem, he says, was that his living arrangements weren’t consistent. He sometimes “never really knew where I was living,” whether it was Berlin or California, in a studio or high-end accommodations. The parties, the jokes, the internet consumption were as varied as the homes and sometimes, “it didn’t really matter.” Sometimes, you have to accept things and just “move on.”

When he was 12 years old, Mak’s father left his corporate job, saying that he was “called by God” to become a minister. It created a lot of resentment for Mak, for the lack of respect his father got, and because his parents were “passionately anti-gay.” He moved as far away from home as he could, and he blocked all communication with his parents for years, until he realized that “By hating my father, I ended up hating myself, too.”

And then there was club life which, in Mak’s descriptions, doesn’t sound much different in Berghain (Germany) as it is in New York. He says he “threw myself into night life,” in New York Houses, in places that gave “a skinny Chinese kid from the suburbs… rules I still live by,” on random dance floors, and in Pornceptual. Eventually this, drugs, work, politics, pandemic, basically everything and life in general led to a mental crisis, and Mak sought help.

“I don’t know why I’m telling you all this,” Mak says at one point. “Sometimes life was bad, and sometimes it wasn’t, and sometimes it just was.”

Though there are times when this book feels like having a heart-to-heart with an interesting new acquaintance, “Mean Boys” can make you squirm. For sure, it’s not a beach read or something you’ll breeze through in a weekend.

No, author Geoffrey Mak jumps from one random topic to another with enough frequency to make you pay close to attention to his words, lest you miss something. That won’t leave you whiplashed; instead, you’re pulled into the often-dissipated melee just enough to feel almost involved with it – but with a distinct sense that you’re being held at arms’ length, too. That some stories have no definitive timeline or geographical stamp – making it hard to find solid ground – also adds to the slight loss of equilibrium here, like walking on slippery river rocks.

Surprisingly, that’s not entirely unpleasant but readers will want to know that the ending in “Mean Boys” could leave their heads swirling with a dozen thoughts on life, belonging, and death. If you like depth in your memoirs, you’ll like that — and this.

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New book offers observations on race, beauty, love

‘How to Live Free in a Dangerous World’ is a journey of discovery

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(Book cover image courtesy of Tiny Reparations Books)

‘How to Live Free in a Dangerous World: A Decolonial Memoir’
By Shayla Lawson
c.2024, Tiny Reparations Books
$29/320 pages

Do you really need three pairs of shoes?

The answer is probably yes: you can’t dance in hikers, you can’t shop in stilettos, you can’t hike in clogs. So what else do you overpack on this long-awaited trip? Extra shorts, extra tees, you can’t have enough things to wear. And in the new book “How to Live Free in a Dangerous World” by Shayla Lawson, you’ll need to bring your curiosity.

Minneapolis has always been one of their favorite cities, perhaps because Shayla Lawson was at one of Prince’s first concerts. They weren’t born yet; they were there in their mother’s womb and it was the first of many concerts.

In all their travels, Lawson has noticed that “being a Black American” has its benefits. People in other countries seem to hold Black Americans in higher esteem than do people in America. Still, there’s racism – for instance, their husband’s family celebrates Christmas in blackface.

Yes, Lawson was married to a Dutch man they met in Harlem. “Not Haarlem,” Lawson is quick to point out, and after the wedding, they became a housewife, learned the language of their husband, and fell in love with his grandmother. Alas, he cheated on them and the marriage didn’t last. He gave them a dog, which loved them more than the man ever did.

They’ve been to Spain, and saw a tagline in which a dark-skinned Earth Mother was created. Said Lawson, “I find it ironic, to be ordained a deity when it’s been a … journey to be treated like a person.”

They’ve fallen in love with “middle-American drag: it’s the glitteriest because our mothers are the prettiest.” They changed their pronouns after a struggle “to define my identity,” pointing out that in many languages, pronouns are “genderless.” They looked upon Frida Kahlo in Mexico, and thought about their own disability. And they wish you a good trip, wherever you’re going.

“No matter where you are,” says Lawson, “may you always be certain who you are. And when you are, get everything you deserve.”

Crack open the front cover of “How to Live Free in a Dangerous World” and you might wonder what the heck you just got yourself into. The first chapter is artsy, painted with watercolors, and difficult to peg. Stick around, though. It gets better.

Past that opening, author Shayna Lawson takes readers on a not-so-little trip, both world-wide and with observant eyes – although it seems, at times, that the former is secondary to that which Lawson sees. Readers won’t mind that so much; the observations on race, beauty, love, the attitudes of others toward America, and finding one’s best life are really what takes the wheel in this memoir anyhow. Reading this book, therefore, is not so much a vacation as it is a journey of discovery and joy.

Just be willing to keep reading, that’s all you need to know to get the most out of this book. Stick around and “How to Live Free in a Dangerous World” is what to pack.

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