Friday, December 28, 2012

Goodbye to Soho by Clayton Littlewood

Goodbye to SohoGoodbye to Soho by Clayton Littlewood
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Be wary when someone tells you the sequel is better than the original, for this is almost never so.

In Dirty White Boy: Tales of Soho, we see the wonder and magic of Soho and through the eyes of the skilled narrator, we can understand it's charm.

This follow-up is a tale of loss, as Littlewood says:
"And I seem to have lost the will to write. Nothing seems that funny to me anymore. The excitement of living here long since drained away."

I believe it, I noticed it as well in the writing.

The author seems to have not spent enough time in Soho to have written this follow-up, so he pads it with brief flickers of autobiography. These are generally welcome, as when he details meeting Quentin Crisp:
"how could you possibly meet Quentin and not want to ask, ‘What was it like then? How did you get through it? Are you an angel sent to guide us?’"
but it's just not really what I came for.

I was moved by the whimsy and wonder of the first book, and while I loved seeing the familiar characters again, this book had a very different tone and the struggles of the author I feel took their toll.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Dirty White Boy: Tales of Soho by Clayton Littlewood

Dirty White Boy: Tales of SohoDirty White Boy: Tales of Soho by Clayton Littlewood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A charming, wonderful book about the residents of Soho.
I think what makes this book so great is the author's keen eye for detail and noticing others. It's something I couldn't do, and I doubt many people could. He makes the ordinary extraordinary and has an eye for getting the real stories under the surface. People on the fringes of society have their stories told with a grace and charm that the reader will find infectious.
I also really liked the diary entry style, perfect for the modern person on the go. You can read a few paragraphs and take a break for life without feeling like you're losing your place.
'"You write a diary for the whole world to see? Who do you think you are? Anne bleedin' Frank?"'
Littlewood's dry British wit had me laughing out loud:
'"Can I help you with a size at all, gentlemen?" ...they both look round in horror and stare at me as though the potted plant had just come to life.'
A fresh new perspective I've never read before, the shop assistant/owner, and a wonderful read. As soon as I finished it I started the sequel.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

In Cold BloodIn Cold Blood by Truman Capote
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was debating for the longest time whether to give this four or five stars. The book itself I would say four stars, but when you include the story behind it, with the two films I've seen, the story as a whole adds up to five. As I was unable to separate the two in my mind, it gets five.

Capote writes of a rural area and an era long gone and hard to imagine in some respects.
"Kenyon was eleven when his father allowed him to buy, with money he had earned raising sheep, an old truck..."
"We were both twelve. My dad lent me the car, and I drove her to the dance."
"Which to his partner seemed a ploy so feeble that it couldn't possibly 'fool a day-old ni**er'".

I went into this with a little trepidation as somewhere in my recent past and with age, my interest shifted from caring about the criminals and learning what made them do what they did, to frankly seeing them caught and punished. I found myself shocked reading this that I actually supported the death penalty in this case. These people shot a family of four in the face for $40, and they continued to show little subsequent regard for human life afterward.
"They were waiting for some solitary traveler in a decent car and with money in his billfold—a stranger to rob, strangle, discard on the desert."

I appreciated Capote's humour and gay sensibility, as shown in this passage:
"But the queens on ship wouldn't leave me alone. A sixteen-year-old kid, and a small kid. I could handle myself, sure. But a lot of queens aren't effeminate, you know. Hell, I've known queens could toss a pool table out the window. And the piano after it."

Capote includes quotes from one of the boys' notebook:
"If called upon to make a speech: 'I can't remember what I was going to say for the life of me—I don't think that ever before in my life have so many people been so directly responsible for my being so very, very glad. It's a wonderful moment and a rare one and I'm certainly indebted. Thank you!"

Another example of Capote's humour:
"Well, I'm just a dizzy blonde. I believe you. But I wouldn't tell that tale to any brunettes."

It's these candid moments that really give the book it's power. Capote is also a master of voices, recounting many conversations and still giving the people their own unique voice. You always know who's talking, whether they say their name or not. A rare gift for writers. One of the reasons I considered taking a star off though was when I started the book 10 years ago, I remember being awed at the language and phraseology, but I've read many books since and was less awed now.

I think too I've already formulated some idea of what makes these kind of people tick, and it was reinforced in some parts. I think violence is a way of taking control when a man feels emasculated, as shown in:
"All that belonged to him, Dick, but he would never have it. Why should that sonofabitch have everything, while he had nothing? Why should that 'big-shot bastard' have all the luck? With a knife in his hand, he, Dick, had power. Big-shot bastards like that had better be careful or he might 'open them up and let a little of their luck spill on the floor.'"

Certain passages did bring some sympathy for the killers, after all, no one was a winner in this case. One of the boys' sister talks easily about forgiving and forgetting, but a friend says:
"It is easy to ignore the rain if you have a raincoat. But how would she feel if she were compelled to hustle her living on the streets? Would she still be all-forgiving about the people in her past?"

Still in many ways this seems distant enough to be a tale of the old west, the characters have a callousness that leaves them in many ways unrelatable.

Capote immersed himself so deeply in the events he became part of the story. But by keeping himself so determinedly out of the story, referring to himself in the third-person as an anonymous reporter, I don't know that he did the book a favour. Modern times favour more emotional involvement and created a slight disconnect with me and this book.

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Saturday, December 22, 2012


I may not answer the phone for a couple days.  I'll be... housecleaning.  Yes, that's it.  Housecleaning...

Friday, December 21, 2012

Convenient scapegoat
...there is literally no evidence linking exposure to violent media and acts of violence in young men. The head of psychology and criminal justice at Texas A&M said just this week that there isn't even the smallest evidence for any sort of causation. The US is in fact not the leading consumer of video games per capita, yet its level of gun violence is far beyond that of any other developed nation.

Video games are just another convenient scapegoat for people that don't want to deal with the real problems. John Hinckley attempted to assassinate a president explicitly because he saw Jodie Foster in a movie. Does that mean Jodie Foster causes violence?

The vast majority of young men have played violent video games. You can't take the fact that a small group of men happen to have also committed violent crimes and claim that their playing of video games is in any way related.

Posted by: OddBet
Dec 21, 2012 1:25:09 PM

Totally agree!  If you want to stop gun violence, get rid of the fucking guns.  Why is the US the only country that can't see this?
Maybe they should blame Marilyn Manson again.
My sympathy for Americans in this tragedy is running thin, much like the sympathy for Sept 11 was wiped out by invading Iraq.  If you want sympathy and compassion and assistance, you need to stop pointing the finger everywhere but at the problem.
The mentality that says armed guards is acceptable in every public school is to blame, not a video game.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

In My Father's Arms: A True Story of Incest by Walter De Milly

In My Father's Arms: A True Story of IncestIn My Father's Arms: A True Story of Incest by Walter De Milly
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

An interesting story that is increasingly choppy in it's narrative until it dissolves into insanity.

I felt the author did a great job at presenting a realistic viewpoint of his father. He was molested by his father, but he still only had the one father, and he looked to understand him and I appreciated the humanizing of the situation. I feel like too often in our society these abusers are painted as evil in black and white, and by looking at his humanity and some shades of grey we get a deeper understanding of the situation and how to treat and prevent it in the future.

Not that the father was necessarily deserving of such compassionate treatment. After molesting his son for years, when the son says he's gay the father says "I'd rather blow my brains out than have a son who's a homosexual."

In fact there were several times the father's actions infuriated me and I was yelling at the author to walk away. When the father is caught molesting a neighborhood boy, he attends a group therapy session. When the son asks how it's going, the father says:
"There's only one reason I'm going to these sessions," he told me.
"What's that?"
"To bring each member of the group to salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ."

At that point, it's like, "Well, I tried. See you in the next life, I'm done with you in this one." But the author stuck around.

Perhaps it was the treatment from all the adults in his life that set him up to keep coming back for more. Like when he's sent to a psychiatrist to "cure" him of his homosexuality. The psychiatrist helpfully says:
"Once you're married, you don't even have to have sex that often," the doctor said. "All you have to do is find the right girl and get married. You'd be surprised at how undemanding she might be. It's not as bad as it seems."

Strangely, 10 to 15% before the end, the book gets into the 'lasting healing' section and descends into incomprehensible craziness. I don't know why, it wasn't like that for the first 90%. I don't know what happened.

Like when this random paragraph pops up:
Several weeks later I felt an incredible urge to go to the Pacific island of Bora Bora. Nowhere else. I didn't know why. But I had to do it. Four weeks later I arrived.

The book ventures into dream symbolism, the author has visions, he talks to people who aren't there, he cries as he murders panthers in his sleep. This is the healing?

At one point his father goes fishing with some boys and loses the son's fishing rod. The son relates it to the psychiatrist:
"I guess I felt like the rod was part of me... a phallic symbol? Anyway, it was like he used me so he could get his hands on the boys. The fishing rod represented my youth. That was me he had out there, that was me he was using to get other boys. And he lost us both into the deep."

The fishing rod represented my youth and was also a phallic symbol. Yep.

Then the author starts questioning how much the ocean really loves him:
"I decided to take my time riding home. I stopped by a dock on the Atlantic. There was a breeze, and a million fine waves slipping past. Did they have something to say? Did they love me? I will never know, I thought."

And finally he gives up all hope as:
"the prolonged stress of sexual abuse can cause such an abundance of certain hormones in the brain that they begin to—quite literally—excite neurons to death."

Yes, the author's brain cells had died after the ocean didn't love him and he lost his fishing pole penis. I don't mean to over-simplify a difficult situation or story, but in the world of reality, none of this makes sense. I don't see how this ending got published.

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Revenge of the Vinyl Cafe by Stuart McLean

Revenge of the Vinyl CafeRevenge of the Vinyl Cafe by Stuart McLean
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A good set of stories in the Dave and Morley cannon, but not the best in the series.

Part of the appeal is always picking up the new book and stepping into life with your old friends and catching up with these quintessential Canadian tales and that was here for me.

The stories however didn't seem to come together as much as earlier volumes I have read. Part of it may be the mood I'm in over the last day while I read the book, but part of it is definitely the writing. When an author starts talking about the difficulty of writing a story, the difficulty of ending a story, the difficulty in finding a plot, you know you're not in for the A-level material frankly.

Several of the stories seemed improbable, several of the stories seem to be collected short ideas and collections of paragraphs rather than a cohesive tale. And while I did smile, I don't think I laughed out loud.

I loved the stories of Cape Breton and the interesting concepts McLean works in, like how the native Canadians made maple syrup without a pot and without boiling it. I don't know that his heart was truly in this one though. For example, the first story, the Monster in the sewer. I loved it, I'm telling all my friends about it. But it just stretched my credulity a little too thin for my taste.

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

Our Mutual FriendOur Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was the first Dickens book I ever finished. I had started A Tale of Two Cities and had trouble, specifically the romance made me nauseous. I had tried Oliver Twist or something similar years ago and wasn’t ready, but I was determined to finish this.

This book has been called people’s favourite, the greatest book ever written, etc, and I can’t agree with these sentiments. It was good, but there were flaws.

The good was the scope of the story. The glances into Victorian life I loved. Jenny with her crooked back and her queer legs I loved. Sloppy was great, needed more of him.

Less good were the resolution between Bella and the Boffins, the motivation of the school teacher was never really explored, and some of the characters I had no idea who they were at all, such as Tremlow.

A little too heavy on the romance, a little implausible. Could have done with more villains. I thought they were setting the lawyer up to be a villain with his impertinence to the school teacher and the brother, then they switched that, not sure why.

Some notes I made while I was reading:

why did Jenny call the elderly Jewish man “godmother”. Was he gay and a screaming queen? I searched Google for other references to calling elderly men godmother, didn’t find any.

The female school teacher is pining for the male teacher. She’s watching his house and seems a former pupil go in, a male. Then we get:
'They must find it rather dull and dark, Miss Peecher, for the parlour blind's down, and neither of them pulls it up.'
'There is no accounting,' said good Miss Peecher with a little sad sigh which she repressed by laying her hand on her neat methodical boddice, 'there is no accounting for tastes, Mary Anne.'
Which I assume is a reference to homosexuality, which I thought interesting for a book from 1865.

Finally a quote from the book about someone tasting wine which shows Dickens wonderful way of expressing himself:

Making a stiff arm to the elbow, he poured the wine into his mouth, tilted it into his right cheek, as saying, 'What do you think of it?' tilted it into his left cheek, as saying, 'What do YOU think of it?' jerked it into his stomach, as saying, 'What do YOU think of it?' To conclude, smacked his lips, as if all three replied, 'We think well of it.'

So I liked the book. Was it a 3 out of 5? A 4? Something like that.

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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Oddly Normal: One Family's Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with His Sexuality by John R. Schwartz

Oddly Normal: One Family's Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with His SexualityOddly Normal: One Family's Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with His Sexuality by John R. Schwartz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very emotional story that was well written. I was very moved by several sections of the book, on the point of choking back tears.

The positives are the love this father and mother have for their son and their ideas about letting him grow up to be who he is and proud of and happy with himself are fantastic. Several key issues were explored in ways I hadn't seen discussed before and with a depth and modernness that made this book very relevant and refreshing.

I was happy that not too much time was spent on the opposing viewpoints, which can fill and overwhelm this kind of story, just read a book by Dan Savage. The story here is not close-minded people but dealing with a gay teen in a modern concept, in a post-Matthew Sheppard world, what does that look like now?

Another thing that made this very special was that the father cared enough to write the book, it wasn't the son writing this 10 years from now. That the father cared enough to find out all this back story is very moving.

That being said, the book does derail a tiny bit in the second half. The statistics become overwhelming and the American-centric viewpoint can be tiring when you live in a country that has had gay marriage for 10 years. Also the medical jargon and diagnoses of the son seemed to be just perfect in the first half and I loved the factual interludes, but in the second half I lost the ability to follow along as the talk of the spectrum and the final diagnosis, whatever it was, were going on and on.

This is a book that was waiting to be written and it was done well. I had never heard of the minority stress ideas previously and it's a fantastic, well presented concept.

I had some quotes:

"’s natural for effeminate kids to butch up a bit as they become conscious of the ways and attitudes of those around them. But further research suggests that hiding that side of themselves can come at a high price."

""if they believe that [negative attitudes about gays] and thought, Well, this is what is in my future.”
These anguished feelings, he said, impinge upon our sense of what is known as the “possible self”—our imagined future, our mental construct of the possibilities ahead. “The possible self is not only important because of how it projects to the future and how it maybe helps a person think about the future,” he explained. “It is also related to what people feel right now” about themselves.""

"The parents [at PFLAG] referred to the moment of coming out as a statement of something fundamental, using phrases like, “He told me who he was.” Not that he told them what his sexual orientation was, or how to classify him in the taxonomy of sexual types. This was identity, something at the core."

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil; God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

“I feel like the school would rather he had autism than be gay,” she said. “They seem more comfortable with the concept of autism, which they understand how to deal with.”

"They [parents] don’t like to think about kids having sex... Even though people have a sexual orientation long before they have sex, he said, society tends to conflate the two."

"He was a young boy who was quite normal in many ways, but quite odd in other ways. Most people are, you will find."

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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Best LGBT Books of 2012

One of the highlights of my year, and something I always look forward to, is BandofThebes annual list of the best LGBT books of the year, with authors picking their favourites.

This year I found some great choices, beginning with a book I'm currently reading and loving, Oddly Normal: One Family's Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with His Sexuality by John Schwartz. Other books I found, making my radar for the first time, include The German by Lee Thomas, The Survivors by John Eads, Birthday Pie by Arthur Wooten, Yield by Lee Houck, The Paternity Test by Michael Lowenthal and One By One by Penelope Gilliatt.

The list also pushed other books higher up on my "to read" list like Flagrant Conduct by Dale Carpenter, These Things Happen by Richard Kramer, Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay, edited by Paul Vitagliano, Twentysix by Jonathan Kemp, and both books by Clayton Littlewood.

Not being an author, I wasn't asked to contribute of course, but if I was I would have said:

"My favourite LGBT book published this year was Letters to One: Gay and Lesbian Voices from the 1950s and 1960s edited by Craig M. Lofton. It takes LGBT voices from the period and delivers them uncensored, something that has rarely survived to present day, in a way that blew my mind and connected me to the gay brotherhood. Cobra Killer: Gay Porn, Murder, and the Manhunt to Bring the Killers to Justice by Peter A. Conway and Andrew E. Stoner was almost as good as the wait was long to get it. The Golden Age of Gay Fiction by Drewey Wayne Gunn is an expensive book and a history lesson worth every penny.  The best book every written on the gay pulp era.  Finally, Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story by Paul Monette is perhaps the best book I've ever read.  It taught me that it's okay to be flawed and less than perfect, and also that the gay brotherhood and sisterhood is the best gift gays could have been given."

Handsome Is... by Alexander Goodman

Handsome Is...Handsome Is... by Alexander Goodman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Download book here.

I believe this is Goodman's only full length book, the rest I think are all short story collections.

The story, with a narrative as choppy as the Pacific Ocean, concerns a young woman who sets out to find what her boyfriend Tony has been up to. She travels to New York and meets all sorts of shady characters from the gay underworld.

In part two we learn Tony has been a live-in hooker for Paul, a Rock Hudson type of movie star. From there things spill quickly into melodrama with murder, S & M whipping scenes and a world where young men are available to the wealthy playboys for the right price.

As usual in Goodman's work there are elements of the men thinking they're straight, playing gay for a laugh. The older men are all out for one thing and will stop at nothing to get it. I'm digitizing all his work for historical purposes and this one falls somewhere in the middle.

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