Monthly Archives: May 2011

“WE HAVE TO STOP NOW”– Writing a Marriage Manual

“We Have to Stop Now”

Writing a Marriage Manual

Amos Lassen

 

Marriage is not something to be tried on like a pair of shoes—it is serious business. Kit (Jill Bennett) and Dyna (Cathy DeBuono) are successful therapists and partners and they decide to co-write a marriage manual that quickly becomes a best seller but the strain from working so closely together affects their relationship. So others will not know that there is “trouble in paradise”, they decide to go to counseling and their therapist is played by none other than Susan Westenhoefer. And if that is not enough, the popularity of the book causes a documentary to be made about the writers. The film drew tags them day and night and they cannot let down their guards which just makes things that much more tense. You can only imagine what can happen in this subscription only web series. It is a lot of fun and hopefully more people will subscribe and get a chance to see it.

“SWIMMING WITH LESBIANS”– Building an Archive

“Swimming with Lesbians”

Building an Archive

Amos Lassen

Madeline Davis is an activist, an author and a songwriter and she is building an archive of LGBT history. In 1993 she published “Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold”, now regarded as a classic, and told about Buffalo, New York and the lesbian community there and now she is building and taking care of the history of Western New York. She collects letters, photographs and whatever else and puts them in the basement of her home. In the film we meet Davis and others from her community and here of what they are doing to preserve our history. We have interviews and footage of collection material for the archives and discussions about what is found.

The swimming in the title refers to real swimming—we learn that the reason Davis lives in the suburbs and not the city of Buffalo proper is so that she can have a swimming pool and he and her friends gather there. The pool times are welcoming and accepting of all and acceptance is the idea of this film—memory is based upon friendship and acceptance and so is our history.

The film also becomes personal when Davis tells us about her experiences in the S/M lifestyle and when she talks of friends that are no longer here. Reading archival materials often also becomes quite personal and in order to be political it is necessary to be personal.

The film takes a look at the protection of members and history of our community and we even see that people at Buffalo State College where the archives will be stored are not completely comfortable with the idea. After all Buffalo is a working man’s town and far removed from the center of LGBTQ life.

“Shaming the Devil: Collected Short Stories” by Winston G. James– The Hearts of Men

James, Winston G. “Shaming the Devil: Collected Short Stories”, Top Pen Press, 2009.

The Hearts of Men

Amos Lassen

It is only fair to start this review by saying that I am not particularly fond of short stories as I prefer spending time getting to know characters. However, Winston James is making me change my mind about short fiction. While the stories are dark, they have a lot to say about how we live. These stories peer into the human condition and deal with the important issues of sexuality and gender, religion and community, race, violence, HIV/AIDS, aging, eroticism, life, class and sex. These are topics that affect us directly and they need to be talked about. The stories disturb and heal simultaneously and as we see James’ reflections on the human condition, we think. James shocks and provokes, makes us uneasy and comforts us. James examines the individual, the family and society in terms of desire and what desire means. He references race by having his characters harbor feelings for black men and we enter the minds of these men.

In “Uncle” we meet a six-year old who is facing his homosexual feelings for his uncle and he does not understand the way he feels. “Confining Room” goes straight to the issue of gay men and “Church” is about an HIV positive Langston who comes home to see if he is still accepted by his church. James writes about marginalized sexuality with sexual descriptions that are honest and sometimes violent.

We feel the gamut of emotions as we read and more than once I had to stop reading and look up from the book while at other times I had to stop and laugh.

Winston James is a powerful writer and his debut onto the literary scene is an explosion of talent and I predict that as times passes he will become more and more important.

“Precincts of Light” by Henry Allen– Siblings Come Out

Alley, Henry. “Precincts of Light”, Inkwater Press, 2010.

Siblings Come Out

Amos Lassen

In the early 90’s in Portland, Oregon a brother and sister who have recently come out try to recover their children’s’ love and respect. The novel is related to us by five different narrators—Joanne, a poet and mother, Harold, a minister and father, Appleton, a retired law professor and grandfather, Eleanor, a broker and grandmother and Samuel, a politician, father and member of the Portland Protection Alliance, a homophobic organization. The novel deals with the themes of diversity and finding a peaceful solution in the precincts of light. This is the story of an American family that is forced to come to terms with surprises that show that anything is possible.

We meet a family that is in shreds because of homosexuality, homophobia and politics. Set in Oregon during the political struggles of the 90’s, the novel is relevant to any period of time. We get looks at suffering that one family endures set against a battle for equality.

“Warrior Prince” by J.P. Bowie– War, Romance and Friendship

.

Bowie, J.P. “Warrior Prince”, MLR Press, 2009.

War, Romance and Friendship

Amos Lassen

Interestingly enough I have seen the name J.P. Bowie all over the place and I just never much thought about him until I saw he had a new book out which is now on its way to me. However, I thought I had better pick up a copy of something he has written to prepare myself. “Warrior Prince” is a fantasy that deals with war, star crossed lovers, romance and friendship. It has a historical base and definitely is for those who love war and blood and romance. The story is narrated by three different men, a Roman tutor, Lucius, a runaway gladiator slave, Callistus and a Roman commander, Flavius who helps Lucius and Callistus find each other without knowing that he is doing so. Even though this is a story of Rome, it is realistic and evidently Bowie did his research well.

Intrigue and betrayal are what goes on and conflict and war are the backdrop for this unusual and well written story of lovers who just want to be together and fulfill their love. There is a god deal of eroticism but the book is better classified as a story of Rome and the love between Lucius and Callistus, while erotic, is only an added pleasure.

“Foxe Tail: Skyler Foxe Mystery Series” by Haley Walsh– First Year Teacher

 

Walsh, Haley. “Foxe Tail: Skyler Foxe Mystery Series”, MLR Press, 2010.

First Year Teacher

Amos Lassen

Skyler Foxe returns to his Alma Mater, James Polk High in a conservative town in California for his first teaching assignment since college. He is somewhat out—at least his friends Jamie, Philip and Rodolfo know he is gay as does Sidney, his best female friend but his work nor his family even have a clue…or do they? When Sky and Sidney go to a gay bar they come upon a dead body which just happens to be the son of the very straight and uptight principal at James Polk High.

Sidney does not want to get involved and  wants the police to handle the investigation because if the school finds out that Skyler was at a gay club, his job might be put in jeopardy plus his mother would learn that he is gay. Skyler, however, begins his own investigation and things get very interesting when the new biology teacher and assistant football coach fall down some stairs and everyone becomes suspect in everything and the plot is filled with twists and turns. Then there is a subplot that involves Skyler helping one of his students.

The novel is well written but with a few too many coincidences. There is a surprise with the discovery of the murderer and Skyler is quite an interesting literary character. He seems to be irresponsible at times yet he takes unnecessary risks to find how who committed the murder and says he is doing so because  he is tired of being a victim (yet he makes no effort to come out). He shows no signs of wanting romance in his life and what feelings he expresses he does so with one night stands.

How Not to Write a Review

An author was very upset about this review of his book and justifiably so. Have a look and see what a librarian has to say and how in one review she breaks every rule of fairness and then tops it off with a snide last paragraph. This is a libarian–a person who is supposed to know books:

 

Tomorrow May Be Too Late

 

Marino, Thomas. Tomorrow May Be Too Late. Tommy100, 2009. 388pp. $24.00. ISBN: 978-0578008233.

One man’s story of coming out in the late 1980s, Tomorrow May Be Too Late moves quickly from the casual pick-ups of the club scene to an abusive scam of a relationship. Marino meets his boyfriend (also named Tom) and moves in with him despite misgivings that he is being used for money. Even when all of his credit cards are in his boyfriend’s wallet and he’s cosigned on two car loans that he can’t afford, Marino ignores his uneasy feelings and continues the relationship, which increasingly sours as the book continues. The story is frequently interrupted by short descriptions of sexual interactions that neither titillate nor move the narrative forward ― although Marino occasionally inserts jarring religious references in the middle of sex scenes to break the monotony. Each encounter is followed by a requisite shower, which left me wondering whether Marino should have taken time from his busy romantic life to invest in some sort of body wash company.

People of the same generation might appreciate references to popular songs of the time, and it is possible that this book would inspire some reminiscence about youthful adventures to those who have been involved more heavily in the club scene than I have. Marino moonlights as an exotic dancer, and there are some interesting descriptions of that work that distract from his relationship. On the whole, however, the prose falls flat. The reader is well aware that the new boyfriend is bad news from the second date, and waiting for Marino to come to this same conclusion over months of dating has a similar effect to that of watching any acquaintance make poor relationship decisions ― after the first few pages of warning bells it starts to seem that anyone who would ignore the red flags deserves what comes later.

That Tomorrow May Be Too Late was self-published is evident from the very beginning. The book suffers from the largest problem of self-published works ― the want of a good editor. Marino seems like a nice person, and one that I hope has found happiness in his later life, but the memoir feels self-indulgent and overly long. While well intentioned, it was at times difficult to read and there are far better examples of bad-relationship memoirs (I Am Not Myself These Days by Josh Kilmer-Purcell, for one) that provide a more compelling insight into the twists and turns of an abusive relationship. Readers expecting that level of quality will be disappointed by Marino’s efforts. I do not recommend this book for library collections, unless there is an interest in collecting all works of GBLTQ memoir, regardless of quality.

 

Reviewed, by Emily Faulkner
Adult Services Librarian
Chicago Public Library

“Tomorrow May Be Too Late” by Thomas Marino–Gay in the 80’s

Marino, Thomas. “Tomorrow May Be Too Late”, Tommy 100, 2009.

Gay in the 80’s

Amos Lassen

Thomas Marino’s memoir is almost a diary of coming out in the 1980’s. He became involve with a guy who was nothing but trouble and who marred whatever he touched. How Marino dealt with that is what this book is about. Marino was lucky to get out when he did and to get out at all. As bad as it was Marino now can look at the situation he found himself in as a learning experience. He came out of it as a better person who now can understand the meaning of the word love as well as knowing how one can he in the stars one day and under the ground the next.

Marino met Tom at a club and moved in with him even though he was not sure he was doing the right thing at the time. He sort of felt he was being used financially  but young love seems to know better. Before he realized it his credit cards were maxed out and he was the co-signer on two car loans, he still turns a blind eye to the truth. The relationship which at once seemed so good was disintegrating and Marino sensed that but refused to accept it.

Marino  had worked as a dancer in gay clubs to supplement his income and we learn something about what kind of work that is. As an object of lust and adoration, he should have realized that Tom was not good but sometimes (most of the time) one is blind when in love.

I am not always successful in reviewing a memoir of someone who is still alive for that very reason. I want to be gentle and kind and it is not always that easy. The problem I had here is that I know what was coming and I wanted to warn Marino but I also wondered why he didn’t see it as well.  And then I sat back and I realized that I probably would have acted exactly the same if I was in love. It is easy for us to condemn, as another reviewer did, but that is because we are just reading. When one puts himself in the other’s place, it is a lot easier to understand.

The two Toms were instantly attracted to each other and as their relationship moved forward, it stopped. Marino tells us honestly what happened and how he was duped into believing that he had something when in reality all he had was a leech drawing everything out of him. Yet this relationship soon became a defining moment in Marino’s life and when physical violence enters the picture Marino knows that the time has come to move on. What had once been considered as love turned nasty and disastrous. Perhaps if he had not wanted love so badly, he might not have reached this point and who are we to pronounce any kind of judgment whatsoever. This is not something new and many of us have been there ourselves. I applaud Marino for his honesty and I am so glad that he managed to get out of the relationship and then able to clear his head enough to write this book. While some of us will learn nothing here, others will undoubtedly have a chance to reflect on their lives which is so very important. Marino does not hold back when he tells us his story as if he wants to tell us not to do what he did and I admire him for that. His prose is gritty and hard but so is his story and I cannot think of a better way for him to tell it than he did.

I feel I must add this quote from Emily Faulkner,a librarian in Chicago who said in her review  “that Tomorrow May Be Too Late was self-published is evident from the very beginning”. What a catty remark from soneone who works with books. I find it to be offensive and unwarranted and the implication that it holds is unjust. I have read a lot of garbage published by big publishing companies and I have read some very fine literature that is self publisshed. Fualkner, get your nose back to earth and reality and maybe look for a job where you are not allowed to  be a snob.  am sure your library board would not apporve lof such a remark.

“Seventy Times Seven: A Novel” by Salvatore Sapienza–Catholicism and Homosexuality

Sapienza, Salvatore. “Seventy Times Seventy, Lethe Press, 2008.

Catholicism and Homosexuality

Amos Lassen

“Seventy Times Seven”, Salvatore Sapienza’s first novel explores the Catholic religion and homosexuality. The main character is a Catholic brother and a teacher and his story is told by a real life former brother and an openly gay man. It is set in the early 1990s and we find Brother Vito Fortunato close to his final vows as a brother in the Catholic church. He is torn between his spirituality and his gay sexuality. While teaching catechism, he struggles with his own issues of forgiveness–forgiving Mother Church, forgiving the homosexual community but most of all forgiving himself. Yet there was that summer when he volunteered at a San Francisco AIDS center and fell in love with Gabriel, a recently divorced landscaper, and this has caught Vito between sexual identity and his personal idealism. It takes him on the path of attempting to change the views of the church on homosexuality and Aids.

Sapienza, himself, is a former Catholic brother of the Marist Order who taught high school English. He worked alongside Father Mychal Judge, the chaplain to the New York Fire Department who died in the 9/11 attacks. Included in the book is Sapienza’s essay on his experiences with Father Judge.

The title for the book comes from the Biblical passage that Jesus taught us to forgive those who have wronged us “seventy times seven times.” While Vito teaches this ideal of forgiveness he realizes that he must also adhere to this adage. How does one integrate his religious beliefs with his sexual desires? And this is what punctuates the novel all the way through. He does this by not only using quotes from Scripture but with song lyrics from Madonna and Prince–two artists who merged these two worlds both provocatively and in a groundbreaking manner. Alongside that problem Vito also struggles with an idealism that drives him to change the ways of the Church.

Vito yearns for a quiet gay life–one of more than pride parades and bars. He wants to celebrate his desire for a same-sex meaningful relationship. His candor is real, yet delicate and his prose tells the story of salvation. There are twists and turns and the reader is engrossed from start to finish. And the story is moving, touching those parts of the gay psyche that makes us proud that Sapienza has bothered to write his story. The book took me to places I have never been and the prose made the trip a pleasure. The conflicts are real, present, and important. This is not a book about religion but about the dignity of man. The insight that the book gives, allows us to embrace ourselves and is this not what the spirit tells us to do?

When I first began reading, I thought that I would be reading about a closeted priest who in his struggles to accept himself led a life of pain and shame. But I was wrong. Being gay is not the struggle here. Rather it is the incorporation of his sexual nature to his spirituality. The men Vito meets denounce religion, just as the Church does homosexuality. The period in which the novel is set was that time when sexuality and spirituality were juxtaposed. Many went dancing shirtless at night and to church the next morning. Sexual beings could also be spiritual–there is no mutual exclusivity here. One would think that a book of this nature would be a heavy read but it is far from that. It is a delight and shows us that faith in the human spirit can rule out any adversary.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. When I finished it, I felt renewed and cleansed and that I had just read a really fascinating book. We have had so much about the abuses of the Catholic church that to me it was a special treat to read about someone who knowingly and consciously went against it. Although one man can’t do it all, one can crack the door open.

“Gay as a Gift” by Salvatore Sapienza– Gay Spirituality

Sapienza, Salvatore “Gay as a Gift”, Tregatti Press, 2009.

Gay Spirituality

Amos Lassen

I first heard of Salvatore Sapienza when he published his first book “Seventy Times Seven” and I remember thinking to myself that this guy is someone to watch. He deals with gay spirituality in a way that it should be a part of each of our lives and as a deeply spiritual and religious Jewish gay man, I must agree.
I was able to find my own way but others are not so lucky and for them, Sapienza has written this beautiful little book. I say “little book” because there are just over one hundred pages in it but each page has something important to say. I understand that the idea for the book came from an Oprah Winfrey television show on gay spirituality and if that show has not affected anything or anyone else, we are so lucky that it brought Sapienza to write this wonderfully concise handbook on spirituality.

We learn that in raising our gay consciousness, we also find that we have a need for spirituality. Much too often gay people leave religions because they feel there is no place for them or that they are not wanted or welcome. Leaving religion does not mean that spirituality need be left behind with in. It does not take much to uncover each person’s inner gifts and in doing so finding the spirit.

Whether we want to accept it or not, we must understand that we are part of a larger society and therefore we have to find a way to exist in it. Using our own natural spirituality makes it that much easier. Understanding our past also helps us come to terms with our spirituality and there’s been gay spirituality as long as there have been gay people and that means forever. We just need to find out how to tap into it and the author here shows us just how.

I am not going to tell you anything that he says to do because to do so would ruin a wonderful reading experience for you. Let it be enough to say that Salvatore Sapienza writes like a master and uses words and ideas that are easily understood. To me, he is like a nurturer or mother hen showing us how easy it is top come to terms with ourselves and that is the first step we must take. We must accept ourselves before anything else.

The book makes it seem so easy and, believe me, it is. Use “Gay is a Gift” as a guide and you will find yourself more at peace not just with yourself but with everyone. I loved Sapienza’s first book but now it will have to move over to make a place for my new favorite book, “Gay is a Gift”.

It is written so beautifully and says so much that, if you are like me, may find yourself reading it with tears in your eyes. That is the first step on the way to finding your spirituality.