Category Archives: GLBT short stories

2016’s list of most-banned books is dominated by LGBT authors

LGBT books dominate 2016’s most-banned list

2016’s list of most-banned books is dominated by LGBT authors

Nearly half of this year’s most-banned books list have LGBT themes, signalling a worrying trend.
Banned Books Week aims to challenge censorship in schools and libraries across America by raising the profile of books that have most frequently been objected to and removed from collections.
The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) receives reports from libraries, schools, and the media on attempts to ban books in communities across the country.
2016’s list of most-banned books features, as usual, a number of LGBT-related books that homophobic and transphobic bigots have demanded removed.
Ranking at number three on the most-banned list is I Am Jazz by transgender teen author Jazz Jennings – which recounts her real-life experience of living as a trans kid, and educates and helps others.
Number four on the list is Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin, another book featuring young transgender people discussing their own identities.
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Out feminist Alison Bechdel’s award-winning autobiographic comic Fun Home ranks in at 7 for purported “graphic images”, presumably referring to the depiction of her early sexual experiences with women.
Republicans in South Carolina previously tried to strip funding from a university because its library contained ‘gay themed’ content including a copy of Fun Home.
Rounding out the list at number 10 is young adult novel Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan, for obvious reasons.
The ALA said: “This list is a snapshot of the reports we receive every day.
“Our goal is not to focus on the numbers, but to educate the community that censorship is still a very serious problem.
“Even with all of our efforts to follow up and provide support, surveys indicate that up to 85% of book challenges receive no media attention and remain unreported.”
The full list is below:
Looking for Alaska, by John Green
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and other (“poorly written,” “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”).
I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
Reasons: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group.
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin
Reasons: Anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”).
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
Reasons: Offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“profanity and atheism”).
The Holy Bible
Reasons: Religious viewpoint.
Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
Reasons: Violence and other (“graphic images”).
Habibi, by Craig Thompson
Reasons: Nudity, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter
Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence.
Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan
Reasons: Homosexuality and other (“condones public displays of affection”).

“Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?: Stories” by Kathleen Collins— Sixteen Stories

whatever happened to interracial

Collins, Kathleen. “Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?: Stories”, (Art of the Story), Ecco, 2016.

Sixteen Stories

Amos Lassen

I must admit that I had never heard of Kathleen Collins until I read this book but I am now certainly glad that I am familiar with her writing. Kathleen Collins was a groundbreaking African-American playwright, filmmaker, and educator who has been largely forgotten since her early death in 1988 at age 46. She was the first black woman to produce a feature-length film, and when that never-before-released movie, “Losing Ground”, finally premiered at Lincoln Center few years ago, it played to sold-out audiences for three weeks. Collins also wrote short stories, although her fiction was never published in her lifetime, or in the years since until this book.

In these sixteen stories, Collins writes with brutal honesty about the experiences of women and African Americans from the perspective of the seventies and eighties. She captures everyday lives and does so with grace and humor. She also intimately writes about race, gender, family and sexuality. She presents us with a look at race in the 1960s; something that only those of us who lived through that period can sense what is was like to be Black and female in this country.

She writes of the mingling of politics and desire and the quest for a place that is exotic and different while looking at the historical context in which the stories take place. Collins has preserved the past and what it was to black, young and in love amid the Civil Rights movement. She covers the themes of self-determination, group affinity and individualism, lovers and the power plays between them in ways we have not seen before. 

We read of “parents and children, blacks and whites, blacks and blacks, lovers, intellectuals, artists, dreamers, strivers, braggarts and idealists” and they all wan the same thing— justification for their lives and to be able to share that with others. This is a look at interracial America that we have never had before in that is a look at both white and black striving for the same goals

The characters here are conscious of their race but it is not what determines how they travel through life and/or make choices. With Collins the profound becomes personal and intimate and this is something I wish we would see from more writers. The stories make the black experience part of the characters’ lives and I emphasize the word “part”— black is only a part of who they are. I am not much of a short story reader mainly because I prefer to be involved with a book over a longer period of time but these stories not only allowed me to get to know the characters but to see them as friends and contemporaries. I grew up in the South in the 60s and dared defy my family by attending a southern integrated university where I met “some of the characters I read about here” but had forgotten them. This book puts them back into my life and I am so grateful for that.

“Homoerotic Tales” by David Holly— Twenty-eight Stories

homoerotic tales cover

Holly, David. “Homoerotic Tales”, David Holly’s Gay Romances, 2016.

Twenty-Eight Stories

Amos Lassen

I was just about to give up on gay erotic fiction since it has been a long time since I have read something that knocked me out. But then I received a copy of David Holly’s “Homoerotic Tales” and my mind was changed instantly. The stories collected here are about gay sex among men (duh!). They cover the spectrum of erotica and some are “explicit, comical, erotic, lascivious, enthralling, lewd, mouth-watering, shameless, scandalous, indecent, dirty, smutty, naughty, ribald, and rude”. I have, of late, maintained that thee are really two kinds of erotica—trash and literary smut. David Holly writes literary smut. In fact, on page six, Holly informs us that his stories are explicit and erotic. I have always felt that in order for erotica to really succeed, it has to rely n more than just being erotic. We need characters we can identify with and stories that are so far fetched, they just could not be. Holly obviously believes that as well as his stories are more than just cheap sex related in a tawdry manner. I even liked some of the characters and the plot lines (strike that word “even”—it sounds forced).

I have a problem with collections like these when it comes time to sit down and write a review. I suppose the best way to do this would be to same something about each of the stories but the that review would go on forever. I can say that I like the book but that in effect means nothing if I cannot say what I like about it. I could describe the erotica but that could get me censored. I could commend the author on a great imagination but the stories might be based on his own personal experience (and if these stories really happened to Holly, he is a very lucky man with a permanent erection. The best I can say is to tell you to get a copy and then see for yourself.

“A Book of Revelations” by A. C. Burch— Eight Stories

a book of revelations

Burch, A.C. “A Book of Revelations”, Homeport Press, 2016.

Eight Stories

Amos Lassen

In A.C. Burch’s new collection of eight short stories, we meet characters who face life with courage and humor as they seek to find meaning in their existence. in a tenacious search for meaning and fulfillment. The stories are set in Provincetown, Palm Beach, Boston, Maine, Carnegie Hall, and the Caribbean, and they not only deal with different places but also with different life experiences. these memorable stories span not just distance but the range of life’s experiences. There is a sense of the cautionary in each story and themes include coming of age, confronting old age, dealing with fear and old romance and each story is, as the title suggests, a revelation.

We all have our secrets and some of these we even keep from ourselves but somehow write Burch knows what they are and exposes them in his collection. The characters are both weird and wonderful and some become heroic by the most unlikely of circumstances. As I sat down to write this review, I was not yet sure how to approach. I have reviewed collections of stories before when I actually had something to say about each story and other times I reviewed just the book as a whole. I think because these stories are filled with surprises that I prefer to look at the book as a whole.

Burch is a wonderful writer and he writes to the readers’ emotions and I believe that this is what pulls us into his stories. I have never been a fan of the short story simply because they are short and I want to really get into the characters and the plot. In short stories there is not always time to do that. However, Burch’s were like novellas and I felt that I indeed got to the know the characters and where they were going even if there was a surprise at the end.

Burch is such a good writer and has such a way with words that I could not close the covers until I had read the entire book. Some of the stories deal with a style of lifetime that I am nowhere near but that did not stop me from identifying with the characters. High, middle and lower classes, we all share something and while it might not be obvious, it is there—- whatever it is.

I almost forgot to mention the wonderful illustrations by Madeline Sorel. I supposed I was too busy concentrating on handling the text in a way that I could it justice. If there is a single theme here it would have to be the human spirit and its abilities. And, Burch deals with those on the fringes of society as well as a part of it. If that sentence is unclear to you, you will understand what I mean by reading the book.

“Funny Bone” by Daniel Kelly— Laughing at Ourselves

funny bone

Kelly, Daniel. “Funny Bone”, Bold Strokes Books, 2016.

Laughing at Ourselves

Amos Lassen

“Funny Bone” is a collection of short stories about humor. “Men get into all kinds of predicaments that poke at the funny bone” and here we see how this works in erotic literature. We meet a witty gay guy who becomes a stand-up comedian when his straight co-worker offers to bottom for him. We read about college party boys make their gay virgin dorm mate into a sex machine with no off button. There is an employee who to the private island home of his boss to advocate for same-sex spousal benefits and gets scared silly by a proposal that he cannot turn down; a doctor explains why his specialty is the butt of jokes and a newly single man discovers that nothing puts a smile on his face quite like a “cherry pop”. Everyone in this anthology is looking for a laugh.

I must say this is not what I expected from Daniel Kelly after having read his other work so it was quite a surprise to see him move from mystery to comedy and erotica.

Some of the stories connect with each other yet each can stand-alone. I had several laughs but there were a few instances where I did not get the humor of non-consensual sex. However once I crossed that point and just read for pleasure, I enjoyed the book. Comedy, it is sad, is the most difficult genre to write in because there will always be those who think that something is not funny. To them, I say sit back and relax and let your mind go free. There is plenty to enjoy here.

“The Dream Life of Astronauts: Stories” by Patrick Ryan— Nine Stories

the dream life of astronauts

Ryan, Patrick. “” Dial Press, 2016.

Nine Stories

Amos Lassen

In his collection of short stories that are set in and around Cape Canaveral, Patrick Ryan’s writes of understanding, of regret and hope, of relationships and family, and the universal longing for love. As the characters try to understand where their lives are going, we get both heartbreak and dry humor. We meet a Miss America wannabe as she auditions for a very shady local talent scout, a NASA engineer who thinks that the woman he is having a sexual affair with is poisoning her husband, a Boy scout leader who is dealing with the after effects of a stroke and trying to help on the scout as he is being bullied by the leader’s own sons, an ex-member of the mob in a witness protection program fights with a neighbor, a grandmother who after an accident is forced to take driver’s ed and she falls for her instructor. There is also the story about teenaged Frankie who is filled with lust over one of the astronauts. In another story in which Frankie is the character, we see him through the eyes of a young girl who enjoys his radical and strange otherworldly behavior.

 Author Ryan perceptively writes about sex and sexuality that can lead us to states of confusion. We read how sexual adventures can be a way of testing the boundaries of identity and how that is accepted as part of a character’s identity. I believe that Ryan set these stories at Cape Canaveral to show that even though our civilization is “shooting for the moon”, others are dealing with simpler problems. Through the stories and the characters we see the failure and successes of the American space program and that it reflects the ideals of this country.

In each story we meet a character whose human qualities resemble our own but there is no clichéd writing here. Ryan’s descriptions are powerful and his prose is lyrical. I suppose we can categorize the stories as tragicomedies or comedic tragedies as we read of characters who seem to be defined by their families. The characters seek redemption and we want them to find it.

“Eric’s Body” by Jason Fury— 25 Stories

eric's body

Fury, Jason. “Eric’s Body”, Open Road, 2016.

25 Stories

Amos Lassen

To really appreciate “Eric’s Body”, it helps to know some of what it went through before finally being published. Originally it was published in l995 by Badboy Books and became an overnight sensation. Writer Jason Fury, (the nom de plume of Jery Tillotson), sent the manuscript to 120 publishers and was rejected by all of them. Several would not touch the book because of the theme of male/male love. Fury was lucky enough to find Richard Kasak, a publisher who specialized in high-class erotica and the book was published are reprinted over and over and became Richard Kasak’s best-selling book that year and the year after its first publication. Nonetheless, it was considered by many to be pornographic and bookstore owners were arrested for selling it and Fury realized that America was not as free as people thought it to me. The 25 stories deal with many themes such as heartbreak (“Barbed Wire”) and humor (“The Bastard of the County”) to the haunting (“The Last of the Seven Beauties”) and we meets some unforgettable men who are complex— jocks, convicts, bad boys, and evangelists.

“Forty Wild Crushes: Stories” by Jim Provenzano— Autobiographical Short Stories

forty wild crushes

Provenzano, Jim. “Forty Wild Crushes: Stories”, Myrmidude Press, 2016.

Autobiographical Short Stories

Amos Lassen

“Forty Wild Crushes: Stories” came as a surprise to me. Having read all of his other works, I had no idea that this book was coming and that in it would include an excerpt from his Jim Provenzano’s upcoming novel. Also included are new and previously unpublished works and what really struck me here is the diversity of the themes and the intimacy of the stories. The stories are autobiographical. The title story is footnoted so that we can better understand who Provenzano is writing about; i.e. Toby Markley whose footnote shares “lanky large ‘penised’ hick. Later in his life arrested for assault in a bowling alley”. While we really do not have to know this, it is fun to do so. We read of teen lust, cheating, Ohio (where Provenzano was raised), New York City, death and funerals, a transgender rock star wannabe, churches and museums, a gay father and pop culture. The stories span the time from when the author was a child up to almost today (discounting the time between when he finished his collection and publication). Provenzano is the narrator in many of the stories and the basic idea that runs through almost all of them is growing up gay and Italian in this country.

I enjoyed both the use of footnotes (something new in short stories) and the references to pop culture. The references provide a way of knowing where we are and we see its influence on the characters. The footnotes at time can destroy the flow of the story but I would rather have the extra information they provide rather than be left in the dark. I must admit that I read a review by a person who did not like these as he read but then it is impossible t please everyone. He also felt that the plots were not well developed which makes me wonder about two thoughts— did he really read the stories and did he realize how difficult it is to write autobiography? It is difficult to bring back the past and it is also impossible to do so. Instead we get Provenzano’s past as he remembers it.

As I sat down to write this review I was still not sure how to do so—I could either summarize each story or take the book as a whole which is what I have chosen to do since the stories are linked to each other as an autobiography.

Intimacy and the desire for it seems to me to be the overall theme. I found a great deal to identify with even though the author and I come from very different backgrounds. We both have fallen for the wrong person and we have both been bullied and we both have led lives guided by the idea of hope. I am sure that the two of us are not alone in this and everyone will find some of themselves here. The stories help us to relive our own pasts and while many of us do not have the ability to write fresh and beautiful prose, we can leave that to the author. What we really see here is that youth is fleeting and that we only have it for a short time but that dies not limit us unless we choose for it to do so.

The sixteen stories here give us quite a diverse look at the lives of gay men—more specifically at the life on Jim Provenzano but as I said earlier, each of us will find something of ourselves in the stories. Some of the stories are about contrasts between the way things are and the way we might want them to be. We see that life is about coping and sticking with it.

I understand that there are also stories that are less autobiographical if that is possible. Being who we are causes us to include ourselves in everything we write.

“How to Whistle: Stories” by Gregg Shapiro— Magical Stories

how

Shapiro, Gregg. “How to Whistle: Stories”, Lethe Press, 2016.

Magical Stories

Amos Lassen

I must start this review with a confession. I have has a copy of this book for about four months now and for my own personal reasons, I chose not to post a review until now. I also missed Gregg Shapiro’s reading here in Boston for the very same reason. I read a great deal of LGBT literature and I read a great deal of Jewish literature. When the two come together it is magic and that is what happened when I read this collection of stories. I found some of these stories to be quite personal and I was not ready to share my thoughts with anyone else. I realize that by not posting a review, writer Shapiro (whose work I always love) was nervous about what I thought and every writer wants a review to get the word out. I was selfish in that and I apologize. I suppose my reasoning here went back to my childhood—when something was so good for me, I did not want to share it for fear of losing it.

We meet gay men in the pages of this book that are sarcastic and to use Shapiro’s term, “sardonic”. This part of them seems to come naturally and they really do not give a damn. They are out for themselves above anything else and it was easy for me to identify with them. They represent all that we do not want to be but may be in secret. Shapiro who is also a poet has a knack for writing great detail— little facts that others often ignore but that he uses to put the meat on the bones of a plot.

I also love that the reader does not have to be gay or Jewish or both to enjoy these stories and there is something to be learned from them. I had to decide that in reviewing this whether or not to say something about each story or just the book as a whole (and that is what I decided).

There is something very real about what we read here. Whatever that is, it resembles life. It seems to me that Shapiro’s background as a poet slips into the way he writes short stories and if you did not know that he also writes poetry you would feel it as you read, “How to Whistle”. I wondered if Gregg Shapiro and I knew the same people since I saw so much that I recognized in his characters who were not at all universal in scope. Granted that we have all searched for our places in the world but never have I met people who searched the way I did. As I think about the places I have lived and what I have lived through, I realize that I never expected to meet someone who has had the same experiences as I did including fighting in Israel as a member of the army, going through Hurricane Katrina and moving to Boston at the age that most others stay put. Yet I saw some of that in the characters here. I do not think it possible to have “déjà vu” for something not experienced but I had it here several times.

Shapiro wrote these stories as a narrator looking in and as he does he remembers and he returns the past to life anew. His characters are both simple and ordinary yet there is something very profound in them. They are vulnerable, naïve, sensitive, tender and hard. They do not understand the world that they live in and so choose to live apart. We have lovers, family, friends and all kinds of combinations of these. The surprises that we get here are not earth shattering except for those who experience them. I felt the sense of “the gay everyman” in the characters but to different degrees and it takes a very skilled author to write as Gregg Shapiro does here.

“Girls on Campus”—- A Hot Anthology

girls on campus

Lowe, Sandy and Stacia Seaman (editors). “Girls on Campus”, Bold Stokes Books, 2016.

A Hot Anthology

Amos Lassen

When this book arrived I must say that I was a bit puzzled about how a gay man could review a book of lesbian erotica. I have a rough time with erotica anyway and in the past when I have been asked to review lesbian erotica I used to say no. I guess I can say that although I once read a good deal of gay erotica but I stopped several years ago because it seemed so redundant and familiar. So I am asking you to bear with me as I attempt to review this book.

Have you ever thought about what girls do when they go away to school? Today’s dorms are co-ed but there was a time when….. College has become a coming of age (and for some a coming out) rite. Rules, it seems, are meant to be broken and college is good for breaking rules as well as for feeling free and liberated. Here we see girls in all kinds of activities and where sex can freely can place.

I must say that the girls in this volume have a great time experimenting with sex among themselves are the stories and the girls are hot. However, if you are looking for literature you are in the wrong place. What might have begun as a collection of nineteen stories actually becomes nineteen various sexcapades with the stories taking a back seat to the erotic elements. The plots were lost along the way.