“My Own Words” by Ruth Bader Ginsberg—One of America’s Most Influential Women


Ginsberg, Ruth Bader. “My Own Words”, Simon and Schuster, 2016.

One of America’s Most Influential Women

Amos Lassen

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg has served for almost twenty-five years as a judge on the highest court in America. During that tenure, she has captured the popular imagination because of the depth of her devotion to basic rights for all humanity and especially those causes that advance gender equality. With the assistance of her official biographers, Mary Hartnett and Wendy H. Williams, Ginsburg brings us a compilation of her finest writing, beginning with an editorial for her school newspaper when she was only 13 years old though highlights from the Court’s most recent term. She shares who she thinks are the trailblazers she has admired throughout her career as well as the bigger and broader issues in her life and some of what went on behind the bench regarding groundbreaking Court decisions.

This is the first book from Ruth Bader Ginsburg since she became a Supreme Court Justice in 1993 and it is witty, engaging, serious, and playful. She covers many topics but especially interesting are her writings “on gender equality, the workings of the Supreme Court, being Jewish, law and lawyers in opera, and the value of looking beyond U.S. shores when interpreting the U.S. Constitution”. Throughout her life Justice Ginsburg has been (and continues to be) a prolific writer and public speaker. Justice Ginsburg and her authorized biographers Mary Hartnett and Wendy W. Williams selected what is included here and they really had a lot to choose from. Justice Ginsburg wrote an introduction to the book, and Hartnett and Williams introduce each chapter. They giving biographical context and quotes taken from hundreds of interviews that they have conducted. So much has been written about Justice Ginsberg that it is hard to imagine that there is something new but this book is filled with tidbits about Ginsberg, the person that we have not read before. We feel her respect and admiration for other justices on the Supreme Court who have different views than hers and we see this in her

posthumous tributes to fellow justices Rehnquist and Scalia. Ginsberg is best known by her devotion to basic rights for all humanity and especially for those causes that advance gender equality.

This is not a standard autobiography but rather a collection of selected essays, articles, speeches, etc that span and that provide a great deal of information about Justice Ginsberg, her roots, her husband Martin Ginsburg, her family and her works.

The book is conveniently divided into five sections: “Earlier Years and Lighter Side”, “Tributes to Waypavers and Pathmarkers”, “On Gender Equality: Women and the Law”,” A Judge Becomes a Justice” and “The Justice on Judging and Justice”. We immediately find ourselves in awe and admiration of her when we read about the awe and admiration she acknowledges for the contributions of women waypavers and pathmarkers (Belva Lockwood, Sandra Day O’Connor, Gloria Steinem and several others) that we read about in the second section of the book. While Justice Ginsberg has been an inspiration and trailblazer for nearly two generations now, we read of the respect she has for others that have been so influential on her own life and thought.

What I find truly unique is the concept of the book.  is a fascinating mix of Supreme Court writings, historical insights and personal recollections. The expected readings on the rights of women is here but there is also a great deal of the unexpected. The variety of subjects is wonderful as is Ginsburg’s gift for detail.


“Queer Sexualities in Early Film: Cinema and Male-Male Intimacy” by Shane Brown— The Silent and Early Sound Period of Film


Brown, Shane. “Queer Sexualities in Early Film: Cinema and Male-Male Intimacy”, I.B.Tauris, 2016.

The Silent and Early Sound Period of Film

Amos Lassen

Beginning in 1981 with the publication of Vito Russo’s “The Celluloid Closet”, we have had a great deal written about how LGBT characters have been portrayed in the movies. However, not much attention has been focused on the silent and early sound period. Shane Brown looks, in detail, at recently found films and has another look at others as to images of male-male intimacy, buddy relationships and romantic friendships in European and American films that were made prior to 1934. These include “Different from the Others” (now being restored) and “All Quiet on the Western Front”. He shows how these films when looked at in terms of their socio-political and scientific context, explains how they were intended to be viewed and how they were actually understood. From this, we get a new and unique look at a time in both LGBT and movie history.

This book fills a gap in our history and shows us a good deal about our history. We gain a new understanding about the perception of gay men in European and American cinemas of the early twentieth century. This is a book we have needed for a long time and adds much to the canon of writings that look at the covert history of queer cinema. Here are the roots of non-traditional masculinity in film.

“No Tea, No Shade: New Writings in Black Queer Studies” by Patrick E. Johnson— Nineteen Essays


Johnson, E. Patrick. “No Tea, No Shade: New Writings in Black Queer Studies”, Duke University Press, 2016.

Nineteen Essays

Amos Lassen

“No Tea, No Shade” is a sequel to“Black Queer Studies” (also published by Duke), and is an edited collection that brings together nineteen essays from the next generation of scholars, activists, and community leaders doing work on black gender and sexuality. It builds on the foundations that were presented in the earlier volume and here the contributors deal with the new truths about the black queer experience while at the same time exemplify the codification of black queer studies as a rigorous and important field of study. The topics covered here include include “sex, pornography, the carceral state, gentrification, gender nonconformity, social media, the relationship between black feminist studies and black trans studies, the black queer experience throughout the black diaspora, and queer music, film, dance, and theater as well as raw sex”. The contributors invalidate naysayers who believed black queer studies to be a passing trend and respond to critiques of the field’s early U.S. bias. They look to the past as they point toward the future and move black gay studies forward in new and exciting directions.

The contributors here are Jafari S. Allen, Marlon M. Bailey, Zachary Shane Kalish Blair, La Marr Jurelle Bruce, Cathy J. Cohen, Jennifer DeClue, Treva Ellison, Lyndon K. Gill, Kai M. Green, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Kwame Holmes, E. Patrick Johnson, Shaka McGlotten, Amber Jamilla Musser, Alison Reed, Ramón H. Rivera-Servera, Tanya Saunders, C. Riley Snorton, Kaila Story, Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley, Julia Roxanne Wallace and Kortney Ziegler.

“Immortal for Quite Some Time” by Scott Abbott— A Meditation on Friendship


Abbott, Scott. “Immortal for Quite Some Time”, University of Utah Press, 2016.

A Meditation on Friendship

Amos Lassen

Scott Abbott tells us about his brother John, a man who at the age of forty, died of AIDS in 1991. Abbott says right away that this is not a memoir but a look at and a meditation on the nature of friendship. It is set with an uncertain plot and characters that are in flux. I doubt that many have read a book like this before. Abbott assures us twice that this is not a memoir. It was his intention to write about his brother but he soon discovers that in order to do so, he must write about himself. He also writes about his “warm-hearted, educated, and homophobic LDS family that forged the core of his identity”.

Through images, quotations ands memories, Abbott shares his thoughts as he takes us to his brother’s autopsy at the morgue and then we read about the family disintegrating and the fact that the family stopped speaking to his brother, John.

The prose is gorgeous add the ideas challenge the reader to find a definition of what is wholeness and what is resolution. As Abbott began to write about his brother, a bisexual ex-Mormon male with AIDS, he found a problem in that he is a heterosexual and practicing Mormon and he learned that to describe his brother, her needed to describe himself. There can be no doubt that his religion played a part in what he wrote. Therefore he could not write about his brother without outing him and in defining him, he does so according to LDS guidelines.

What is unique here is the appearance of a female voice that questions what he writes as if to have a say in what is written. Abbott misses his brother and tries to reconstruct him with his prose.

Abbott tells us, “My book invites readers into the intimate workings of a secure, warm-hearted, educated, sweetly racist and homophobic LDS family, at least one member of which might have lived better and longer in a society that recognized gay marriages”. Now that is a powerful statement. As we read we are engulfed in emotion and at times outraged and hurt and other times feel pity and sadness for the family. Here is love, religion, sexuality and freedom side-by-side on the page.

Abbott has recreated his feeling of brotherhood with John here as he tries to understand and make sense of his death when he still had so much life left to live. He works hard to remember his brother and as he does, he also relives his own life and actually reorganizes it by understanding the connections between past and present. Here we see brotherly love entwined with pain and a testament to both.

I understand that this book has been in the making for some twenty-five years. We learn that from the very moment that Abbott saw his brother’s dead body, he could not stop thinking about him. As he began to pack away his brother’s possessions, each item he touched set off thoughts and images that had once been associated with John. These are what drove Abbott forward and we see that the presence of John was disturbing and distressful yet at the same time gave meaning to Abbott’s life. Because he is a writer, he decided to write everything down as it came to him. What he does is create a home for the now nonexistent brother to come back to. I find great beauty in this thought. Abbott shares his feelings on family, religion, politics, sexuality, betrayal, and all the other things that we carry both within and without. It is his love for his brother that we feel above all and when he ties that love to the realities of his religion, we sit up and take notice. Joanna Brooks (author of “Mormon Girl”) says,

“This book opens the door to a long overdue conversation about the suffering men in our community bear without speaking”. 

“PITCHFORK”— Coming Out Gets Gory



Coming Out Gets Gory

Amos Lassen

The union between sexuality and horror has been attempted several times and now we have one more attempt to bring being gay together with the horror film genre. Here we see coming out as set upon a background of gore as you can see in the trailer below. Here is the official synopsis.

“Having recently shared a life-changing secret with his family, Hunter recruits his friends to come with him from New York to the farm where he grew up as he faces his parents for the first time. As the college students enjoy the fresh air of Michigan farm country, an older, more dangerous secret slowly emerges. While Hunter (Daniel Wilkinson) navigates a new place within his conservative family, a vicious creature from their past descends on the farm, putting the unsuspecting city kids in mortal danger.”

“The Full Spectrum: A New Generation of Writing About Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and other Identities” edited by David Levithan and Billy Merrill— Looking at Who Our Young Folk Are


Levithan, David and Billy Merrill (editors). “The Full Spectrum: A New Generation of Writing About Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and other Identities”, Embers, 2006, reprint 2016.

Looking at Who our Young Folk Are

Amos Lassen

Today teenagers are very aware of their sexuality and identity than we ever were and they begin looking for answers and insights, as well as a community of others. In order to help create that sense of community, Young Adult authors David Levithan and Billy Merrell have collected original poems, essays, and stories by young adults in their teens and early 20s. “The Full Spectrum” is an anthology that includes a variety of writers (gay, lesbian, bisexual, straight, transitioning, and questioning) who have written on a variety of subjects including coming out, family, friendship, religion/faith, first kisses, break-ups, and many others.

I do not know how I missed this when it was originally published ten years ago but I was happy to see it at my neighborhood bookstore (yes we still have those in Boston) and so I bought a copy and brought it home and spent the rest of the enjoying it. It certainly stands by its purpose of helping “all readers see themselves and the world around them in ways they might never have imagined”. It is designed for readers in grade 8 and up and consists of works that were submitted anonymously through the book’s website that the editors created in conjunction with the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). Levithan and Merrell then selected 40 essays, mini-autobiographies, poems, and photographs that chronicle the lives of 21st-century young people, between the ages of 13 and 23.

We have “real-life stories about coming out, falling in and out of love, mistaken identities, families and friends, misplaced affection, confronting homophobia, and more”. A selection by a female-to-male transsexual teen describes his first trip into the men’s restroom and we read about the relationship of a young man and his “trash-talking, pot-smoking, horror-movie-loving burnout” that shows us the borders between romance and friendship. There are stories of young gay men, lesbians, and transgender youth.

As could be expected, there are many stories about isolation but there are also those that are about becoming aware of and involved in a LGBT community. The anthology is made up of forty non fiction selections of which all are written by people who are under the age of twenty-three. The diversity that we see here is a reflection of the diversity of the LGBT community. By sharing the truths that we read here (the writers use their real names) change can indeed occur. This is who we are and the young writers bring hope and heartache together and show us the commonalities of the desire to feel accepted and loved and definite hope comes through. Ten years ago this book would probably never have been possible.



“Looking for The Stranger: Albert Camus and the Life of a Literary Classic” by Albert Camus— A Masterpiece of a Novel, A Masterpiece of a Study of It


Kaplan, Alice. “Looking for The Stranger: Albert Camus and the Life of a Literary Classic”, The University of Chicago Press, ,2016.

A Masterpiece of a Novel, A Masterpiece of a Study of It

Amos Lassen

When I was in college reading Albert Camus’s “The Stranger” was a rite of passage. First published in France in 1942, it has been translated into sixty languages and sold more than six million copies. “The Stranger” is one of those novels that is read across societies and by teenagers and graduate philosophy students, housewives and bankers alike.

When Camus wrote it he was a young man in his twenties who had never written a novel and we want to know how is it that the book he wrote at such a young age became a masterpiece that it is and still has a large following today some seventy years after its publication. This is what author Alice Kaplan tells us here and as she does she shares that Camus’s achievement was more unlikely than even his most devoted readers actually knew.

Camus was born into a poor family in colonial Algeria. His early writing was as a journalist covering the criminal courts. It was the murder trials that he attended that became a major influence on the development and themes in “The Stranger”. Through his letters and diaries, Kaplan shares his lonely struggle with the novel in Montmartre and it was there that he found the unforgettable first-person voice that allowed him to complete “The Stranger”. Chances of publication seemed thin back then as France was occupied by Germany and the merit of Camus’s book was far from being sure and at the same time he was battling tuberculosis that nearly took his life. It was also a time of great anti-Semitism and Camus was Jewish. The book was published thanks to Gaston Gallimard, who paid no mind to paper shortages and Nazi censorship.  

At first the book was received with mixed opinions and it was not until the liberation of France from the Nazi yoke that it became popular. With war behind us and with an aggressive marketing campaign by Knopf for their 1946 publication of the first English translation, the book became both a critical and commercial success, and Camus suddenly became one of the most famous writers in the world. His somewhat simple story of alienation was understood to be “a powerful parable of the absurd, an existentialist masterpiece”. “The Stranger” caused both devotion and excitement.

Kaplan looks for the identity of the Arab involved in the real-life altercation that inspired the novel’s pivotal scene. She found some fascinating facts that she shares with us and shows that Camus is “a lovely example of her own imaginative powers and stylish prose”. Kaplan does not share her interpretation of the book with us—that is for each reader to do for him/herself yet she shows us how to achieve a greater understanding of the power of the book and shows that the power is as much in what Camus does not state and in what he does.

Kaplan preserves the mystery of the books creation and elusiveness of meaning and we become very aware of the tremendous research she has done to write this. Camus built “The Stranger” upon narrative truths and now we know just who that Arab that was shot by Meursault is. We also see how “The Stranger” became such an important part of modern literature and one of the most influential novels of the twentieth century as well as the best selling mass-market paperback in French publishing history.


“The Fall of the House of Wilde: Oscar Wilde and His Family” by Emer Sullivan— Looking Back


Sullivan, Emer. “The Fall of the House of Wilde: Oscar Wilde and His Family”, Bloomsbury, 2016.

Looking Back

Amos Lassen

We have all read or heard that “Oscar Wilde was precociously intellectual, flamboyant, and hedonistic” but many of us are unaware that he owed these characteristics to his parents. Lady Jane Wilde, Oscar’s mother, was a political journalist, who was an advocate of rebelling against colonialism in 1848. She was a proud woman who was very involved in what was going on around her. She opened a salon and was known as a hostess with grace and style. Oscar inherited this and used it to the best that he could.

Sir William Wilde, Oscar’s father, was very aware of the injustices of the social order. He put down the foundations for the Celtic cultural renaissance, believing that culture would establish a common ground between the privileged and the poor, Protestant and Catholic. Sir William was also a philanderer, and when he was accused of sexually assaulting a young female patient, the scandal and ensuing trial shocked the society of Dublin. It was after the death of his father that Oscar and his wife, Constance, and mother moved to London and this was where Wilde first became known. He and Constance were quick to see that Victorian London was not for them and as Oscar’s ego grew so began to feel self-destructive and as he tried to bring attention to himself, he did not see that the party that he considered him a part of was over. His trial for indecency sealed the death of decadence—and, in effect, his own life.

Writer Emer Sullivan brings us Oscar Wilde as a member of one of the most dazzling Irish American families of Victorian times, and she places him in the broader social, political, and religious context. He was most certainly one of the most prominent characters of the late nineteenth century. Sullivan takes us back to the beginning of Oscar’s life and shows us the influences that made him the man that he began and those influences were, in part,

Wilde’s father, mother and brother are who were every bit as fascinating as was he. We see his vanity in thinking that he knew something about everything and we see from where that came. Oscar was the child of his parents and he used that to his advantage. This is a comprehensive biography that also includes the political history, literary criticism, and tragedy of the times. We also see that Wilde’s self-promotion opened the door for others to follow and we are surely aware of that continuing today. We only need look at the Kardashian clan to prove that.

‘THE BALLAD OF FRED HERSCH”— Jazz Pianist and Gay Male


“The Ballad of Fred Hersch”

Jazz Pianist and Gay Male

Amos Lassen

Fred Hersch is widely regarded as one of the finest jazz pianists and composers alive today and what makes that so special is that he is openly gay and HIV positive. Openly gay people are relatively rare in jazz today and when Hersch came in the early nineties, he rocked the jazz world. Directors Charlotte Lagarde and Carrie Lozano give us an intimate portrait of Hersch’s remarkable life and as we watch, we see that acceptance can be seamed with prejudice. Hersch’s mother shares that he began picking out songs on the piano at a very young age and she also speaks about the shame she felt when he came out and she calls that her son’s “dirty laundry.”


We learn of Hersch’s medically induced coma and recovery in the late 2000s. This is also a touching love story Hersch and his longtime partner, Scott Morgan. Hersch has significantly influenced jazz and a generation of musicians and through his story as an AIDS and coma survivor, we see an unlikely musical journey and an American master. He has recorded more than 30 albums and has had 8 Grammy nominations. Hersch is thought of, in jazz circles, as a master improviser. He has been a maverick in music and in life being the first jazz musician to come out as gay and HIV-positive in the early 1990s, and he survived a two-month AIDS-related coma in 2008. We sense the love that the filmmakers have for their subject as we watch his creative process as both a jazzman and first-time theater producer and as a man who has turned his tragedies into art.


The New York Times, in a featured Sunday Magazine piece, referred to him as “singular among the trailblazers of their art, a largely unsung innovator of this borderless, individualistic jazz – a jazz for the 21st century.” He was awarded a 2003 Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship, was named Jazz Pianist of the Year 2011 by The Jazz Journalists Association and is the first artist in the 75-year history of New York’s legendary Village Vanguard to play weeklong engagements as a solo pianist.  Today, Hersch is among the most admired of contemporary jazz musicians, having collaborated with an astonishing range of instrumentalists and vocalists throughout worlds of jazz (Joe Henderson, Charlie Haden, Art Farmer, Stan Getz and Bill Frisell); classical (Renée Fleming, Dawn Upshaw, Christopher O’Riley); and Broadway (Audra McDonald).

“DO YOU TAKE THIS MAN?”— Before the Wedding


“Do You Take This Man?”

Before the Wedding

Amos Lassen

On the eve of their wedding day and as plans for a rehearsal dinner for family and a few close friends are about to begin,  Daniel (Anthony Rapp) and Christopher (Jonathan Bennett) begin to show the first signs of frayed nerves. Daniel, a real control freak, begins to stress over the smallest details and we quickly realize that before the night is over, there will most likely be some sort of drama. This is the first feature film written and directed by Joshua Tunick.


We see almost immediately that the two grooms have totally opposite characters so when Christopher suddenly brings his old best friend from high school home for the rehearsal, Daniel is very upset that his seating plan will now be ruined. He becomes even more annoyed by the fact that Christopher has never even mentioned Emma (Alona Tal) before now. As the evening progresses and the tension between the two men heightens and becomes a full-scale argument, we learn that neither of them have been totally forthcoming about their pasts.  We think that we are going to hear some dramatic revelations but instead what the two ‘confess’ too is totally inconsequential. Then there is a very real problem when their actress friend who had become ordained online just to conduct their wedding calls at the last minute to tell them she cannot do the ceremony because she has accepted a part in a Scorsese movie that requires her to leave town first thing in the morning. On the other hand Christopher’s friends Summer (Hutchi Hancock) and Bradley (Thomas Dekker) have been making a big thing about the age gap between him and Daniel which is in fact just 7 years, and by the end of the evening Bradley has hooked up with Daniel’s ex boyfriend Jacob (Mackenzie Astin)  who is much older than him.


Then there is an impassioned speech about marriage by Steven, Daniel’s father (Sam Anderson) and a rather tender one by Rachel (Alyson Hannigan), Daniel’s sister about regretting her own recent divorce.


The talented, and very good-looking cast members do their best with the story but not much seems to work here and that is a pity.