Category Archives: GLBT memoir and/or biography

“History of Violence: A Novel” by Edouard Louis— An Autobiographical Novel

Louis, Edouard. “History of Violence: A Novel”, translated by Lorin Stein, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018.

An Autobiographical Novel

Amos Lassen

  1. Edouard Louis’s “History of Violence” autobiographical novel about surviving a shocking sexual assault and coping with the post-traumatic stress disorder of its aftermath has been an international bestseller and now is available in English.

On Christmas Eve 2012, in Paris, the novelist Louis was raped and almost murdered by a man he had just met. For Louis that was a shattering act of violence that made him a stranger to himself, so much so that it caused his return to the village, the family, and the past he had sworn to leave behind.

The story moves back and forth between past and present and between Louis’s voice and the voice of an imagined narrator. We read of the casual racism and homophobia of French society and the subtle effects these have on lovers, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives. We see the suffering that cones f from exclusion, domination, and poverty. Having grown up in poverty, we are taken back to the first book that Louis wrote, “The End of Eddy” in which he described growing up gay in a working class village in the north of France. We read of the harassing incidents that followed the rape as the novel examines guilt, homophobia and racism and we get a close look at the nature of violence and the dynamics that bring about an escalation of such violence. At times, it as if we are reading a police report. Louis is a masterful writer and an emotional force. We see that when one is confronted with violence, it is usually then reproduced against others and that the cult of masculinity often arises because of it.

This is not an easy book to read because it is so real yet it is an important book and a wonderful addition to the canon of LGBT literature and literature in general. The novel gives a give a voice to those affected by violence and reveals the sentiment of invisibility that strikes the dispossessed as well as critiques the values of the culture of violence.

“Given Up for You: A Memoir of Love, Belonging, and Belief” by Erin O. White— Yearnings

White, Erin O. “Given Up for You: A Memoir of Love, Belonging, and Belief”, University of Wisconsin Press, 2018.

Yearnings

Amos Lassen

Erin O. White in her candid memoir this candid and revelatory memoir tells us of her desire for both romantic and divine love, and how this transformed her life. In the late 1990s, she spent Saturday nights with her girlfriend and on Sunday mornings she went to Catholic confirmation classes. Then when the Church closed its doors to her, she faced a serious question— What does a lesbian believer do with her longing for God? She shares her feelings with conviction, as she explores heart and soul. Her memoir is candid and intimate and puts forth

 complex questions about the world and how we fit into it. White’s struggle to reconcile desire and belief reminding us, yet again, the loss we encounter when the church refuses our entry. Her story is the story of denied faith. What really hits us hard is the onus that comes with such carnal and spiritual denial.

She believes that “there may be no act more subversive than surrender, no prayer more devout than desire itself.” As she deals with the competing and rivalries of same-sex denial and Roman Catholicism, she shares very personal thoughts. She attempted to juggle these two desires and as we read we often find ourselves feeling exactly the same yet White decided to put his down on paper. White’s prose here is beautiful and heartbreaking in its honesty.

“Playland: Secrets of a Forgotten Scandal” by Anthony Daly— A Shocking Memoir

Daly, Anthony. “Playland: Secrets of a Forgotten Scandal”, Mirror Books, 2018.

A Shocking Memoir

Amos Lassen

“Playland” is a shocking and important new memoir from Anthony Daly and I must say that as one who is not easily shocked, I was indeed shocked and surprised as I read this book. This is Daly’s voice as he relates to us from being part of a dark scandal in the heart of London’s Soho in the 1970s. Daly came to London as a way of escaping the trials of living in his native Northern Ireland. He got a job at Foyles Bookshop and began a new life in England. However, because he was naïve, he was soon dealing with predators who were looking for young men to blackmail and sexually exploit. The irony is that he left Ireland in hopes of a better and freer life and found one that was so much worse than he could have ever imagined. He was victim to sexual and mental abuse by some the most influential men in England and he was forced to hide it. However, as time passed, the trauma of it all became harder to contain as he witnessed other revelations of historic abuse coming to light on TV and in newspapers. Ultimately, the voice he though he had lost was heard. For forty years, he had been silent and what he had to say was politically explosive. He has managed to tell all and to do so stylishly and with feeling (a feeling that I hope I never have). This is a haunting true story of a young man’s descent into a “hell designed to satisfy the powerful. A world which destroyed the lives of everyone involved. `[This is my] journey into a world of drink and drugs, a world of gangsters, rent boys, businessmen, politicians, pimps and pedophiles. Because of what happened to me and the fact that I kept a diary at the time, I am in a unique position to tell the real story of Playland.”

“Sleep Demons: An Insomniac’s Memoir” by Bill Hayes— With a New Preface

 

Hayes, Bill. “Sleep Demons: An Insomniac’s Memoir”, University of Chicago Press, 2001, reprint 2018.

With a New Preface

Amos Lassen

Some of you might recognize the name Bill Hayes from another book that he wrote, “Insomniac City” which I recently reviewed. It is a memoir of his years with the great Oliver Sacks. This book was originally written seventeen years ago and I suspect it has been reissued because of the success of the later book.

“We often think of sleep as mere stasis, a pause button we press at the end of each day. Yet sleep is full of untold mysteries—eluding us when we seek it too fervently, throwing us into surreal dream worlds when we don’t, sometimes even possessing our bodies so that they walk and talk without our conscious volition.” Bill Hayes explores the mysteries of his own sleep patterns and has decided, “I have come to see that sleep itself tells a story.

Hayes has been plagued by insomnia his entire life. The science and mythology of sleep and sleeplessness form the backbone to Hayes’s narrative of his personal battles with sleep and how they colored his waking life. He shares stories of fugitive sleep through memories of growing up in the closet, coming out to his Irish Catholic family and then watching his friends fall ill and die during the early years of the AIDS crisis in San Francisco and finally finding a lover. His stories are an erudite blend of science and personal narrative and they serve as an introduction to the topics for which Hayes has since become famous, including art, Eros, city life, the history of medical science, and queer identity. 

 The book is part reflection on his own lifelong turmoil with sleep and part inquiry into the worlds of sleep research, psychology, medicine, mythology, aging, and mental health.” Hayes brings memoir, history, and science together and pulls them apart again in a book that switches genre and subject. We have fascinating research and memoir of a gay man who grew up in a household filled with Ireland, Catholicism, and the military. Hayes brings together

his coming-out and queer-sex stories within the overarching theme of sleeplessness and in doing so he pushes the borders of gay autobiography, giving new life to a powerful genre. We might say that this is an “obsessional autobiography”.

“The Lost Autobiography of Samuel Steward” Recollections of An Extraordinary Twentieth Century Gay Life” edited by Jeremy Mulderig— What a Life!!!

Steward, Samuel. “The Lost Autobiography of Samuel Steward” Recollections of An Extraordinary Twentieth Century Gay Life”, edited by Jeremy Mulderig with a Foreword by Scott Herring, University of Chicago Press, 2018.

What A Life!!!

Amos Lassen

Samuel Steward was a man of several identities and each was exciting. Only his closest friends knew this about him. He was Samuel Steward, a popular university professor of English; he was Phil Sparrow, an accomplished tattoo artist; he was also Ward Stames, John McAndrews, and Donald Bishop, a prolific essayist in the first European gay magazines; and he was Phil Andros, the author of a series of popular pornographic gay novels during the 1960s and 1970s. Steward was a member of the circles of Gertrude Stein, Thornton Wilder, and Alfred Kinsey and friend of many other notable figures of the twentieth century. Steward was a compulsive record keeper who maintained a meticulous card-file index throughout his life that documented his 4,500 sexual encounters with men.

On August 21, 1978, a year before his seventieth birthday, Samuel Steward (1909–93) began his autobiography in Berkeley, California but it was never published. It is the story of many men but after writing 110,000 words in his first draft, he lost interest in it and instead subsequently published only a slim volume of selections from his manuscript.

With “The Lost Autobiography of Samuel Steward”, Jeremy Mulderig has integrated Steward’s truncated published text with the text of the original manuscript and has created the first extended version of Steward’s autobiography to appear in print and it is sensational, fascinating, and the enlightening story of his many lives in his own words. Mulderig’s thoroughly annotated text is more complete and coherent than either source alone and remains faithful to Steward’s style and voice with its self-deprecation and droll sense of humor. Now that we have it, it will, without doubt, be regarded as a landmark queer autobiography from the twentieth century.

Steward was an engaging prose stylist; and Mulderig is a meticulous and reliable editor who has written “judicious notes, glossing the various personae and cultural references with which some contemporary readers may need assistance.” The autobiography is readable like few others but then the man was one of a kind.

Because he was an English professor, Steward had a way with words and phrases. Then he led a fascinating life and just looking at the number of people that came into his life shows us the kind of man that he was.

            CONTENTS

Foreword by Scott Herring

Acknowledgments

Sources Cited by Short Title

Introduction

1 Woodsfield, Ohio (1909–27)

2 University Years (1927–34)

3 Out of the Nursery, Into the Wide Wide (1934–36)

4 Chicago and Friends (1936–65)

5 The Magic Summer (1937)

6 Gertrude and Alice (1937–67)

7 The Allergy Years (1932–49)

8 Anomalies and Curiosities (1945–48)

9 The Worst of All Drugs (1920–47)

10 Whither Now Wilt Thou Fare? (1948–56)

11 Dr. Prometheus (1949–56)

12 I, Tattoodler (1954–65)

13 Farewell, My Lovelies (1948–65)

14 Calor di Forni (1965–70)

15 Becoming Phil Andros (1927–78)

16 Oktoberfest (1970–81)

17 A Bonsai Tree, a Dog or Two (1973–81)

Index

“Mad Dogs And Queer Tattoos: Tattooing the San Francisco Queer Revolution” by Robert E. Roberts— Every Tattoo Has a Story

Roberts, Robert E. “Mad Dogs And Queer Tattoos: Tattooing the San Francisco Queer Revolution”, Fair Page Media, 2018.

Every Tattoo Has a Story

Amos Lassen

Robert E. Roberts was trained as a classical musician but he gave up composing harpsichord music to become a tattoo artist. In this memoir, Roberts, aka “Mad Dog,” describes coming out as a gay man and shared ink stories that document the height of the San Francisco Gay Revolution. He shows us that every tattoo has a story, and the way that Roberts categorizes tattoo images gives their meaning in gay life. The stories provide new insights into the great social changes that were taking place. Roberts details the identities, challenges, sorrows and joys of gay life in powerful images that have come to represent machismo, bear culture, tribalism, and mythology.

Tattoo ink is permanent ink and is eyewitness to the sex, art, and skin it took to create our queer identities after Stonewall. A tattooist is like a barber or bartender in that get to hear secrets of their customers. There is a unique authenticity here. Roberts is a master of anecdote from San Francisco to Amsterdam and he builds gay history from his clients’ tales. He tells all about tattooing and reveals truths about surviving gay human life because our tattooing is “a blood art with needles, existentially suited to rage against AIDS”. He lost his own lover to the disease and this has empowered to put names to faces of men long gone—men on whose skin he inked images drawn by Tom of Finland, Rex, and Disney. This book is a wonderful and alternative contribution to San Francisco gay history that is extremely well written. I would love to be able to say that this is a fun read but it is more bittersweet than fun.

Roberts was dedicated to his art of tattooing as he was committed to live to an openly gay lifestyle in “the very heterosexual tattoo world.” His history is also a history of the gay movement in San Francisco from the 1980s and beyond.

30th Annual Lambda Literary Award Finalists Announced

30th Annual Lambda Literary Award Finalists Announced

Awards Ceremony: Monday, June 4, 2018 in New York City

Lambda Literary, the nation’s oldest and largest literary arts organization advancing LGBTQ literature, announced the finalists of the 30th Annual Lambda Literary Awards – or the “Lammys,” as they are affectionately known.

The finalists were chosen from nearly 1,000 submissions and over 300 publishers. Submissions came from major mainstream publishers and from independent presses, from both long-established and new LGBTQ publishers, as well as from emerging publish-on-demand technologies. Visionary and Trustee Award honorees, the master of ceremonies, and celebrity presenters will be announced in April. The winners will be announced at a gala ceremony on Monday, June 4th in New York City.

“Celebrating our 30th year of Lambda Literary Award finalists is to recognize that this organization has been at the center of contemporary queer literature for decades,” said Lambda Literary Executive Director Tony Valenzuela. “This year is no different with another stellar list of authors demonstrating through their work that LGBTQ books tell richly textured stories about who we are in all our incredible diversity.”

Now in their thirtieth year, the Lambda Literary Awards celebrate achievement in LGBTQ writing for books published in 2017. The awards ceremony on June 4, 2018, will be held at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts (566 LaGuardia Pl, New York, NY 10012). The red carpet and specially ticketed VIP cocktail reception will be held before the ceremony. The after-party, open to all with a general admission ticket, will follow at Le Poisson Rouge (158 Bleecker St, New York, NY 10012). For more information and to buy tickets, please visit Lambda’s website.

67 literary professionals, including booksellers, book reviewers, librarians, authors, academics and previous Lammy winners and finalists volunteered countless hours of reading, critical thinking, and invigorating discussion to select the finalists in 23 categories.

Those marked with an asterisk have been reviewed here t reviewsbyamoslassen.com. This is the first time I find myself amazed at how few of these books I have read and reviewed. But there is no turning back as I have 97 books waiting for reviews.

Lesbian Fiction

 

Gay Fiction

 

Bisexual Fiction

 

Transgender Fiction 

 

LGBTQ Nonfiction

  

Bisexual Nonfiction

 

Transgender Nonfiction

 

Lesbian Poetry

 

Gay Poetry 

  

Transgender Poetry

  

Lesbian Mystery

 

Gay Mystery

 

Lesbian Memoir/Biography

 

Gay Memoir/Biography

 

Lesbian Romance

 

Gay Romance 

 

LGBTQ Anthology 

 

LGBTQ Children’s/Young Adult 

 

LGBTQ Drama

 

LGBTQ Erotica 

 

LGBTQ Graphic Novels

 

LGBTQ SF/F/Horror

 

LGBTQ Studies 

 

“The Rest of It: Hustlers, Cocaine, Depression, and Then Some, 1976–1988” by Martin Duberman— A Brutally Honest Look at Himself

Duberman, Martin. “The Rest of It: Hustlers, Cocaine, Depression, and Then Some, 1976–1988”, Duke University Press, 2018.

A Brutally Honest Look at Himself

Amos Lassen

This is a book that I never expected to read but am glad I did and I will explain that during the course of this review. Martin Duberman has always held a very special place in my mind in that he was not only a respected scholar but also an out gay man. I just never thought that he would have the same kind of problems and life situations as the rest of us.

When Duberman’s mother died, he began a twelve-year period filled with despair, drug addiction, and debauchery. He became involved in cocaine use, had a massive heart attack, and immersed himself into New York’s gay hustler scene. He became close to suicide and severe depression and he enrolled in rehab. This is the story of how Duberman managed to survive his personal life while at the same time held leading roles in the gay community and the academy.

Even with what was going on, Duberman was able to remain productive— he wrote his biography of Paul Robeson, rededicated himself to teaching, wrote plays, and co-edited the prize-winning Hidden from History. His founded the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies and in doing so he inaugurated a new academic discipline. At the outset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Duberman was politically active, and in this book he describes the tensions between the New Left and gay organizers, as well as the profound homophobia that brought about queer radical activism. Duberman gives us a lot of gossip here and we read about such people as Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer, Vivian Gornick, Susan Brownmiller, Kate Millett, and Néstor Almendros, among many others. The book was written with brutal honesty giving us insights into a troubling decade of both personal and political history. We certainly see why this was too painful to share until now.

What we really see here is Duberman’s passion about who we are and how we live. He both challenges gay invisibility and confronts anti-gay bigotry among the intelligentsia. These were unhappy years that was filled with crises and they reveal that our heroes are not always heroic and in many ways are just like the rest of us. What Duberman experienced was during a pivotal era in the United States and in the LGBTQ rights movement. He was part of shaping many of our movement’s milestones and in this book, he fills in the gaps of his life and we are very lucky that he did so.

“What Drowns the Flowers in Your Mouth: A Memoir of Brotherhood” by Rigoberto Gonzalez— An Immigrant Story

Gonzalez, Rigoberto. “What Drowns the Flowers in Your Mouth: A Memoir of Brotherhood” (Living Out: Gay and Lesbian Autobiography), University of Wisconsin Press, 2018.

An Immigrant Story

Amos Lassen

I remember clearly reading Rigoberto Gonzalez for the first time and being stunned by the beauty of his language. He has already written two volumes of memoir so I felt that I knew a great deal about him so I was surprised when this new volume came out. This is the story of love between brothers as they deal with grief, trauma, and poverty.

The Gonzalez family were Mexican immigrants to California’s Coachella Valley, and they were poor, vulnerable and illiterate. Three generations of González men turned to vices or withdrew into depression. As brothers Rigoberto and Alex grew to manhood, they were haunted by the traumas of their mother’s early death, their loneliness, their father’s desertion, and their grandfather’s abuse. Rigoberto was able to escape. He went to college and became a writer. However he was unable to escape his struggles with alcohol and abusive relationships. His brother Alex faced difficult family relations, a marriage on the rocks and fatherhood.

The brothers’ beauty came out of dark emotions and the hope they found helping each other. The Latino idea of machismo and what masculinity means always hovered over the brothers’ lives and as readers we get a look at the private lives of men, and how they manage to build strength while dealing with grief, loss, and despair.

Surely his growing up the way he did invokes anger and regret but instead of emphasizing those feelings, we get a lot about hope. Gonzalez writes with great power and emotion and I found it difficult to remain dry-eyed as I read. We see that he was able to survive through his generosity of spirit. The last two pages reduced me to weeping reader but one who loved every word of what I read here.

 

 

 

“The Unpunished Vice: A Life of Reading” by Edmund White— A Life Through Reading

White, Edmund. “The Unpunished Vice: A Life of Reading”, Bloomsbury, 2018.

A Life Through Reading

Amos Lassen

I cannot say much about Edmund White’s new book since it will not be released until June. I can tell you that it is Edmund White at his usual best as he shares his life with his readers. While he achieved fame as a writer, he looks back at other writers and their books that have influenced him thus making this a literary memoir. We see that every major event in White’s life has a book to go with it. I had a great time comparing my own reading history and was surprised to see how much we read in common. The occasions might have been different but the books were the same in most cases.

Just from having read his entire literary output, I knew that Marcel Proust was very influential on White and hear we learn that “Remembrance of Things Past” opened up the seemingly closed world of homosexuality while he was at boarding school in Michigan. White came to the poetry Ezra Pound poems through a lover he followed to New York and he tells us that one of his novels was inspired by the biography of Stephen Crane What I found especially interested was that White lost his desire to read when he had heart surgery in 2014 but it was also then that he realized the tremendous influence that books had on his life. Reading formed “his tastes, shaping his memories, and amusing him through the best and worst life had to offer.”

This new memoir looks at the various ways that reading has influenced both White, the man and his work. To do this White brings autobiography and literary criticism together. He has wonderful stories to tell about the amazing people he has met and who have shared his life.