‘Out on a Limb: Selected Writing, 1989-2021′
By Andrew Sullivan
c.2021, Avid Reader Press
Gay writer and political commentator Andrew Sullivan’s first day in journalism began on a Sunday afternoon in 1984 in London at the Daily Telegraph. The paper was housed on the “original Fleet Street,” Sullivan writes, “the place Evelyn Waugh had made eternal in his satirical novel Scoop.”
The editor that day, “a high Tory intellectual,” was completely blind, chain-smoked and “wore a patch over one eye, like a pirate,” Sullivan writes.
He was told to write an editorial on a topic he knew nothing about. Using, “all the skills my Oxford training in extemporaneous bullshitting had given me,” Sullivan writes, he wrote the piece.
Sullivan, who was instrumental in bolstering support for mainstream equality and for dismantling “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the military, hasn’t stopped writing since.
Sullivan’s writing is as colorful as the Fleet Street editor with the eye patch.
I’m a blind lesbian. Reading “Out on a Limb” (on Audible and Kindle), there were times when I rolled my blind eyes.
At other moments, I marveled at Sullivan’s bravery and compassion.
But, whether I disagreed with or applauded Sullivan, I couldn’t stop reading him.
I’m betting this will be the case with you.
An Irish Catholic gay man, Sullivan is one of our most provocative and fascinating writers.
The essays in “Out on a Limb” cover everything from the death of Princess Diana to AIDS to “Brokeback Mountain” to Abraham Lincoln’s sexuality.
Sullivan, a self-described small-c conservative who was one of the first to bring Barack Obama to the attention of the mainstream press, has angered many.
“I have been criticized for abandoning the right,” he writes, “and for criticizing the left.”
Sullivan’s voted for, among others, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair in Britain, and Ronald Reagan, Obama and Joe Biden in America.
The causes he has supported over 40 years include: marriage equality, the legalization of recreational drugs, welfare reform and, as he writes, “a very expansive concept of free speech.”
If you didn’t disagree with Sullivan on anything, you wouldn’t be human.
But, if you didn’t agree with him on some things, you wouldn’t have a heart or a brain.
The essays in “Out on a Limb,” are a time capsule of Sullivan’s career from his time with The New Republic (where he was the youngest editor in the magazine’s history) to his current perch with “The Weekly Dish.”
The collection shows how Sullivan’s views have evolved over the years. Sullivan, who with “The Dish,” was a blogging pioneer, is a refreshingly honest writer.
Some writers never want to cop to a mistake. This isn’t true with Sullivan, who says he was wrong about supporting the Iraq war.
It’s hard to remember how brave it was for Sullivan in 1989 to pen the essay “Here Comes the Groom: A Conservative Case for Gay Marriage” for The New Republic.
Then, when sodomy laws were on the books in many states, it was courageous to be out as Sullivan was.
Marriage equality wasn’t on the horizon – let alone on a magazine cover.
Sullivan writes movingly about seeing the AIDS quilt in 1992 on the Mall in Washington, D.C.
The collection includes some controversial pieces such as “When Plagues End: Notes on the Twilight of an Epidemic.”
It’s true that for many AIDS is no longer a deadly plague.
But AIDS is still a death sentence for many who don’t have health insurance or access to care.
Sullivan’s essays on gender and campus life such as “The He Hormone” or “We All Live on Campus Now” made me want to throw the book across the room.
I wish Sullivan hadn’t published a symposium on Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein’s book “The Bell Curve” in The New Republic. (The book says there is a connection between race and intelligence.)
But I was moved by the essay “Dear Ta-Nehisi,” in which Sullivan explains why he felt compelled to air writing of, as he writes, “sometimes painful topics.”
“Out on a Limb” is a cornucopia of wit, queer cultural history and provocation. Enjoy the feast.
‘Capote’s Women’ is catnip to older pop culture fans
Revisiting iconic author’s seven ‘swans’
By Laurence Leamer
C.2021, Putnam $28/356 pages
Her lips are locked tight.
Your best friend knows all your secrets, and she’s keeping them; you told her things you had to tell somebody, and she’s telling nobody. You always knew you could trust her; if you couldn’t, she wouldn’t be your BFF. But as in the new book “Capote’s Women” by Laurence Leamer, what kind of a friend are you?
For months, Truman Capote had been promising a blockbuster.
Following his success with “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “In Cold Blood,” he was “one of the most famous authors in the world” but he needed a career-booster. The novel he was writing, he teased, would be about “his swans,” seven wealthy, fashionable women who quite personified “beauty, taste, and manners.”
His first swan was Barbara “Babe” Paley, whom he’d met on a trip with the David Selznicks to Jamaica. For Capote, “Babe was the epitome of class,” simply “perfect” in every way; it helped that the famously gay writer was no threat to Paley’s “madly jealous” husband.
Babe’s “dearest friend” was Nancy “Slim” Keith, who quickly learned that if a lady wanted her confidences kept, she didn’t tell Capote anything. She shouldn’t have trusted Babe, either: When Slim left for a European trip, Babe asked if Slim’s husband could accompany Babe’s friend, Pamela Hayward, to a play.
Slim was aware of Pamela’s predatory reputation, but what could she say?
Of course, Pamela, another of Truman’s swans, stole Slim’s man, a scandal that Capote loved.
Gloria Guinness was highly intelligent, possibly enough to be a spy in Nazi Germany. Lucy “C.Z.” Guest was an upper-crust “elitist” with a “magical aura.” Marella Agnelli “was born an Italian princess”; Lee Radziwill, of course, was Jacqueline Kennedy’s sister.
Through the late 1960s, Capote claimed to be writing his masterpiece, his tour de force based on his swans, but several deadlines passed for it. He was sure Answered Prayers “would turn him once again into the most talked-about author in America.”
Instead, when an excerpt from it was published, his swans got very ruffled feathers.
Every time you stand in line for groceries, the tabloids scream at you with so much drama that you either love it or hate it. Or, in the case of “Capote’s Women,” you cultivate it.
And that’s infinitely fun, as told by author Laurence Leamer.
Happily, though, Leamer doesn’t embellish or disrespect these women or Capote; he tells their tales in order, gently allowing readers’ heads to spin with the wild, globe-hopping goings-on but not to the point that it’s overdone. While most of this book is about these seven beautiful, wealthy, and serially married women – the Kardashians of their time, if you will – Capote is Leamer’s glue, and Truman gets his due, as well.
Readers who devour this book will be sure that the writer would’ve been very happy about that.
“Capote’s Women” should be like catnip to celeb-watchers of a Certain Age but even if you’re not, find it. If you’re a Hollywood fan, you’ll want to get a lock on it.
James Ivory on movies, beauty — and a love of penises
If you enjoy film and wit you’ll love ‘Solid Ivory’
‘Solid Ivory: Memoirs’
By James Ivory
C.2021, Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Few things have been more pleasurable to me during the pandemic than Merchant/Ivory films. COVID becomes a dim memory as I ogle the costumes, beautiful vistas from Italy to India, music and spot-on dialogue of “A Room with a View,” “Maurice,” “Remains of the Day” and other Merchant/Ivory movies.
For decades, fans from gay men to grandmas have enjoyed these films, directed by James Ivory and produced by Ismail Merchant in partnership with the writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.
In “Solid Ivory,” Ivory, 93, gives us his memories of movie making, growing up gay, his decades-long romantic and professional partnership with Merchant and (you’re reading this correctly) the penises he has known.
If you believe that elders don’t enjoy sex, Ivory’s memoir will blow your ageism to smithereens.
From watching the movies he’s directed and knowing his age, you might think (as I did) that Ivory would be shy about talking of his sexuality. Wow, was I wrong!
Ivory appreciates penises as a sommelier savors fine wine.
Ivory knew that he liked boys early on. Ivory recalls playing at age seven with a boy named Eddy. He and Eddy were “putting our penises into each other’s mouths,” Ivory writes, “…I made it clear that Eddy’s dick must not touch my lips or tongue, nor the inside of my mouth. I had learned all about germs at school by then.”
Though Ivory and Merchant were devoted partners, they each had other lovers. Bruce Chatwin, the travel writer who died from AIDS, was Ivory’s friend, and sometimes, lover.
Chatwin’s penis was “Uncut, rosy, schoolboy-looking,” Ivory writes.
Ivory’s memoir isn’t prurient. His sexuality doesn’t overpower the narrative. It runs through “Solid Ivory” like a flavorful spice.
The book is more an impressionistic mosaic than a chronological memoir. Ivory, often, tells the stories of his life through letters he’s written and received (from lovers, friends and professional contacts) as well as from diary entries.
Many of the chapters in the memoir were previously published in other publications such as The New Yorker.
“Solid Ivory” was originally published in a limited edition by Shrinking Violet Press. The Press is a small press run by Peter Cameron, a novelist, and editor of “Solid Ivory.” Ivory grew up in Klamath Falls, Ore. He was originally named Richard Jerome Hazen. His parents changed his name when they adopted him. Some of the most engaging moments of the memoir are when Ivory writes about what life was like for a child during the Depression.
Ivory’s father lost his savings when the stock market crashed, and his mother frequently gave food to “tramps” who came to the door.
His “eating tastes were definitely formed during the Depression,” Ivory writes.
Since that time, Ivory has lived everywhere from England to Italy. “But although I consider myself an advanced expert in the more sophisticated forms of cuisine,” Ivory writes, “My gastronomical roots remain dug deep in the impoverished soil of the American Depression.”Ivory became smitten with movies when he saw his first picture when he was five.
He and Merchant, a Muslim from India who died in 2005, fell in love when they met on the steps of the Indian consulate in New York in 1961. I wish Ivory had written more about the 30+ movies that he made (mostly with Merchant and Jhabvala, who died in 2013).
Yet, he provides tantalizing recollections of filmmaking, actors and celebs.
The chapters on “Difficult Women like Raquel Welch and Vanessa Redgrave” are fun to read.
Welch, a bombshell brat, doesn’t want to play a love scene in “The Wild Party.” During the filming of “The Bostonians,” Boston is captivated by the drama of Redgrave’s off-screen politics.
Ivory isn’t that impressed when in 2018, at age 89, he becomes the oldest Academy Award winner when he receives the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for “Call Me By Your Name.” “Its fame eclipses even Michelangelo’s David and the Statue of Liberty,” Ivory says, with irony, of the Oscar statue.
If you enjoy the movies, beauty and wit, you’ll love “Solid Ivory.”
Bisexual journey ‘Greedy’ is a book to share
A tale of universal experiences – rejection, love, vulnerability
‘Greedy: Notes from a Bisexual Who Wants Too Much’
By Jen Winston
c.2021, Atria $18/336 pages
Share, and share alike.
That may, in retrospect, be the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard. You’re not asking for the stars and the moon; you just want what you want and why pass it around? As in the new book “Greedy” by Jen Winston, who’d ever think that getting what you deserved to have was wrong?
Back in the “aughts,” when Jen Winston was rocking her AIM handle and pretending to be boy-crazy, she had no word for liking boys and girls – though she knew she did. Had she questioned anyone, she would have been told that it was a phase, an experiment, or a matter of confusion but she never asked. She instinctively knew that doing the “gay stuff” was hard.
As she grew up and learned the word for what she felt, the idea of being with a woman became more appealing but not quite comfortable. Yes, Winston quietly told herself she was bisexual, but bisexuality “never felt queer enough.” Besides, dating straight men was like the equivalent of “comfort food,” though it never worked and was really not much fun.
Various roommates through the years indulged in her search for love, though, by crowdsourcing answers to questions posed by online dates. They also looked the other way as Winston learned that self-pleasure could be ugly, and she didn’t want to be “U-G-L-Y.” She tried threesomes but they were loaded with potential rejection; she tried chatrooms but they were scary. She learned that “we” is a painful word when you’re not part of it.
Bisexuality comes with a lot of frustrating myths and bisexual people, says Winston, are sometimes not included in the LGBTQ community. Bi people aren’t especially promiscuous – they’re not trying to steal your partner from you – and they’re not all just white or female. They are well aware that dating sucks, fairy tales are hard to believe in, and that there are lots of different ways to be gay.
You want it all: You want hearts and romance but you also want down and dirty. You want to be heard, but you don’t want to talk about it. You want to be enough but not so much that it’s weird. And you want it with laughs, though that’s not the main thing about this book.
While its cover indicates lightheartedness and author Jen Winston seems perfectly happy to tell funny, tongue-in-cheek tales about herself, “Greedy” sports a serious vein that almost feels like a shout. Winston writes of universal experiences – rejection, falling in love, vulnerability, and wanting so much to be adored – and she makes light of them in a way that clearly isn’t meant to be all that humorous. We can chuckle, yes, but she also lets us pretend that we don’t care about those hurts – even though, like Winston, we all know that we do.
Be aware that there are chapters here that are very graphic and are not appropriate for just anyone. If Winston’s journey is your journey, too, though, “Greedy” is something to share.
Canadian Senate approves bill to ban conversion therapy
Chile marriage equality bill receives final approval
Does a potential overturn of Roe imperil LGBTQ rights?
In plea deal, D.C. trans woman’s killers could be free in 3 years
Boris Johnson’s LGBTQ rights advisor visits D.C.
The gay man who shook Brazilian sports and society
Bob Dole dies at 98; anti-LGBTQ record is part of his legacy
Victory Fund honors gay Guatemalan congressman at D.C. conference
Rainbow History Project to honor LGBTQ ‘Pioneers’
Victory Fund honors Maine House speaker at D.C. conference
Sign Up for Blade eBlasts
World2 days ago
The gay man who shook Brazilian sports and society
National6 days ago
‘Very familiar’: Mark Glaze’s story brings into focus mental health for gay men
Politics2 days ago
Bob Dole dies at 98; anti-LGBTQ record is part of his legacy
Opinions6 days ago
Should we be scared of Omicron?
a&e features6 days ago
The ultimate guide to queer gift giving 2021
National6 days ago
Matthew Shepard honored at National Cathedral
Local7 days ago
Long-time LGBTQ activist running for Md. House of Delegates
Commentary7 days ago
It doesn’t take a miracle