“Southernmost” by Silas House— Judgment, Courage, Heartbreak and Change

House, Silas. “Southernmost”, Algonquin Books, 2018.

Judgment, Courage, Heartbreak and Change

Amos Lassen

After a flood washes away a lot of a small Tennessee town, evangelical preacher Asher Sharp offers shelter to two gay men. The two words that should make you sit up and take notice are “Tennessee” and “evangelical”. This action lets Sharp begin to see his life in a different way but it also puts all that he holds dear at risk. His wife is locked into her religious prejudices and his congregation shuns him after he gives a very passionate sermon in defense of tolerance. Justin, his young son, Justin, is caught in the middle of a bitter custody battle. Sharp now has to struggle with the limits of belief and the infinite ways to love.

Seeing no way out of the situation, Sharp takes Justin and runs away to Key West in hopes that his brother, Luke, a gay man who he turned against years earlier, will help him. It is in Key West that Sharp finds a new way of thinking about the world as well as a new way to understand love.

This, of course, is not a new topic. Religion and homosexuality have filled books for years but what makes this a special red is the tenderness and affection with which it has been written. In it, we gain the opportunity o meditate on love between men and I do not necessarily mean sexual love. Here is love between fathers, sons, brothers, and lovers. We are very aware of a sense of the past here as it relates to love and judgment. Warmth, empathy, tragedy and hope come together here as a pastor deals with “a crisis not just of faith, but of all the apparent certainties of his life: a crisis of marriage, of community, of fatherhood.” Author Silas House shows us the ways we can mess up and go wrong, and only later figure out how we can win our own redemption.

The story and characters are very real and if you have lived in the South, you have lived at least part of the story. A father and son flee one life in search of another and estranged brothers separated by time and their judgment of one another search for redemption. Here is a story of “faith lost and love found” and the journey to them both.

Religion, and the churches treatment of homosexuals has been an ongoing debate in what seems like forever. Here we have a loving preacher who cannot hold steadfastly to the beliefs he has learned and preached his entire life. His son Justin has been raised with love but is now caught it an unenviable situation. Will they find acceptance from two women, with their own past ghosts? Asher will find what he seeks and the strength to do what is right. The characters, full of love and hurt and struggle with many of the things we struggle with. Letting go of what one is taught, the beliefs held by one’s community is difficult and we do not know the mind of God.

“The Astronaut’s Son” by Tom Seigel— Going Back to Move Forward

Seigel, Tom. “The Astronaut’s Son””, Woodhall Press, 2018.

Going Back to Move Forward

Amos Lassen

We never know what we are going to get when we first open a book and many times, it can take a couple of chapters to find our way into what is going on the pages. This is not the case with “The Astronaut’s Son” since it grabbed me the first sentence. I knew I would not be going anywhere for a while and that I was going to sit and read this book from cover to cover. What I discovered is one of the best literary thrillers that I have read in quite a while.

We meet Jonathan Stein who is determined to get to the moon. He feels that the only thing that could possibly stop him is a bad heart but his determination seems to rule that out. But then he learns something that rocks his very being. It seems that his father, Avi Stein, was murdered so that a NASA secret would not be exposed to the world Now Jonathan faces a difficult decision— whether he still wants to visit the moon. What Jonathan and everyone else knew was that just days before the Apollo 18 launch in 1974, Jonathan’s father, an Israeli astronaut at NASA, died of an apparent heart attack. We move forward to 2005 as Jonathan is preparing for his own ride in space and is captivated by a conspiracy theory that appeared online. By nature, Jonathan is a devout skeptic yet this theory has pulled him in as has the online theorist who has released this story. Jonathan cannot forget (now buried) childhood suspicions and they are reappearing , reopening the case. Jonathan cannot help but see that the more he digs into the past, the more compelling the story becomes. As he searches for the truth, he finds new information and revelations about the former Nazis who worked for NASA. Now Jonathan, himself, is going to have to answer some very difficult questions. I found that the more I read, the more answers I wanted and I even did a new sneak peeks ahead of where I was with the book.

As he searches for the truth, he learns about the Nazis who went to work for NASA and who had a motive for the murder of his father. the hardest questions for Jonathan to answer are the ones he must ask himself. I can say nothing more about the plot. Like Jonathan Stein, we want to know what he wants to now. Was there indeed a military government conspiracy or was Jonathan just seeing things. You may not get the answers you want but you do get a fascinating read.

“Disbanded Kingdom” by Poli Loizou— Disconnected

Loizou, Poli. “Disbanded Kingdom”, Cloud Lodge, 2018.

Disconnected

Amos Lassen

Oscar is 22-years-old and just cannot get it together. He spends his days wandering around central London in the hope of finding love, at best and distraction as a substitute. Even though he is gay, he feels disconnected from the gay scene because of his naiveté and his feelings of not belonging anywhere. His life should not be so bad as he lives with his foster mother, the novelist Charlotte Fontaine, in Kensington, an upscale neighborhood. Then suddenly, everything changes when Oscar meets Tim, Charlotte’s thirty-something literary agent. He is immediately smitten and totally infatuated. Oscar needs to struggle to understand Tim’s politics and his rejection of religion yet his developing friendship with Tim brings about a tremendous change him and his eyes and his mind are opened to his desire to in the young man, making him want to understand the world and where he fits in it. I must say that I was reminded of the reaction of young gay boys in rural America who see an urban gay scene for the first time and realize that there are many who are happy with who they are and live free lifestyles.

Before you begin reading make sure that you allow yourself plenty of time because once you begin, you will not want to stop. The story and the writing style pull you in right away and do not let go even after you close the covers. I sometimes feel that Oscar is sitting on my shoulder taking in how I live. There were so many times as I read that I wanted to reach out to him but then I realized that he was only a character in a novel (but, indeed, there are many like him out there). While this is also a social commentary about English gay youth. In effect, Oscar is privileged but cannot seem to find his way— we have all been there. Likewise, like Oscar, we have all experienced unrequited romantic feelings.

Oscar narrates the story and so we see things the way that he does and we feel his depression. It is difficult not to take on he feels and I found myself rooting for him. Even with all the benefits (financial and otherwise), he needs to find a better place.

There are times when it seems that all he cares about is sex but I believe he uses that as a defensive mechanism so that he does not have to deal with his world as it is. Thinking about sex is a way to escape. I hope that this is not the end of Oscar and that we will learn more about him in a sequel. On the other hand, there may not be a sequel and we have to finish Oscar’s story by how we see what is best for him.

“Alone Against Gravity: Einstein in Berlin: The Turbulent Birth of the Theory of Relativity, 1914-1918″ by Thomas DePadova— Einstein, By Himself

DePadova, Thomas. “Alone Against Gravity: Einstein in Berlin: The Turbulent Birth of the Theory of Relativity, 1914-1918″, translated by Michal Schwartz, Bunim & Bannigan Ltd, 2018.

Einstein, By Himself

Amos Lassen

It seems that the more we know about Albert Einstein reflects on how much we do not know about him. Thomas DePadova shows us just how Einstein

transformed from being a ‘pure’ scientist and an apolitical man into a politically engaged person and a pacifist by conviction. We go back to Berlin, home to the study of physics during the early twentieth century. In 1914, Einstein received an invitation to the prestigious Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences. The invitation was the result of pressuring from

Max Planck, Walther Nernst and Fritz Haber who were the elite of Berlin’s scientists. At that time Einstein was 35-years-old and he wanted to take advantage of the academic freedom and the exchange of ideas in Berlin. His personal life at the time had to deal with his marriage was falling apart and his recently falling in love with his cousin, Elsa Lowenthal who lived in Berlin. By coming to the Academy he would be able to enjoy both of these.

But four months later saw the outbreak of World War and everything suddenly changed including the minds and relationships of German scientists and of Einstein’s relationships to his colleagues, many of whom joined the war frenzy with strong nationalism. Some changed the focus of their work and worked on the creation mass destruction. As the war began Einstein said that he felt ”alone, like a drop of oil on water, isolated by attitude and cast of mind.” Yet he did not move. 

The book, “Alone Against Gravity” looks at the reasons that Einstein became a pacifist and a devotee of political issues. He certainly could have returned to Switzerland since he was a Swiss citizen but he preferred to reinvent time and space and finish his revolutionary theory about general relativity as the world around him collapsed.

DePadova  brings together Einstein’s private life, his theoretical knowledge and the events of the First World War together and what we get is an exciting story and quite a different look at Albert Einstein. I found that mixing war-fever with Einstein’s persistence to be riveting just as were the two opposing ideas of war-logic and clear thinking.

We see how Einstein was able to draw a new image of the universe in the midst of the First World War when the fate of the world hung in the balance.

“O FANTASMA”— A Re-release by Strand Releasing

“O Fantasma”

A Re-release

Amos Lassen

“O Fantasma”, the debut film of João Pedro Rodrigues was hailed as one of the top 10 films of the year (2003) when first released and was praised as an ‘audacious and compelling, dark and erotic cautionary tale about Sergio, a marginalized young man (Ricardo Meneses) a trash collector living and working in the seedy north of Lisbon, exploring his sexuality. The film follows the young man’s odyssey, with its potential for self-discovery as well as self-obliteration with psychological insight and visual power. The story is bold, aesthetic, sexual and deeply and rightly disturbing.

Sergio is a young garbage collector with a gay fetish that includes masturbation with a shower head/hose in the shower, sex with a male policeman, nude frolicking in a public pool and a graphic oral sex which places this in my list of explicit mainstream films. This is a very strange movie and is something different. Sergio can’t force himself to connect with his pretty female co-worker Fatima, who displays an avid interest in him. Instead he roams the city with the trash company’s pet dog. He eventually becomes fascinated with a sleek motorcycle, and its owner, João, a young man who is totally indifferent to him. Sergio’s surfacing sexual desires unleash his darkest impulses, sending him down a dangerous path of violence, depravity and degradation.

Director Rodrigues follows Sergio’s bestial responses and his raw carnal urges. Whether cruising in toilets or wearing full-body latex, he is hungry for sex and never stops looking for it. In between hardcore action Sergio sinks further into a dreamlike abyss as porn meets existentialism.

The film has been described as a sexual peep show as it follows a walking sexually transmitted disease as he searches for sexual pleasure. Most of the film is set at night and to see it more clearly would have no overall affect on the movie and its lack of structure. Sergio also lacks structure and takes us into obscurity.

“COACH JAKE”— Passion and Imperfection

“Coach Jake”

Passion and Imperfection

Amos Lassen

Martin “Coach Jake” Jacobson is in his 70s and he is the most winning high school coach in New York City history. However, this coming year might be the toughest one he has to face, both on the soccer field and off. Coach Jake is dealing with a rapidly advancing liver disease and he is no longer young. Documentary filmmaker Ian Phillips shows us that Jake’s legacy as a winner is on the line as the clock on his life and career begin to come to an end.

Coach Jake is a passionate and imperfect coach. He is at New York City’s Martin Luther King High School where he a guidance counselor and coaches the soccer team. He is a former heroin addict now living with hepatitis C virus (HCV and he now shares his story of redemption, recovery and championship.

When he took over the school’s down-and-out soccer team (which is made up of immigrants from West Africa, the Caribbean and South America as well as Americans), he helped to win 16 citywide championship teams. The film shows Jacobson’s redemption and fulfillment through his team, and how he overcame drug addiction and became the great soccer coach that he is.

Coach Jake is also admired in his community for his commitment to social justice and serving underprivileged youth. He has helped several players get housing in city group home, green cards, college scholarships and professional league positions and what makes this so interesting is that the school has no soccer field. 

What a beautiful and inspiring story this is. It plays to the emotions and wins over its audience from the moment that it begins.

30th Annual Lambda Literary Award Winners (2018)

30th Annual Lambda Literary Award Winners (2018)

Lesbian Fiction

Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado, Graywolf Press

Gay Fiction

After the Blue Hour, John Rechy, Grove Press

Bisexual Fiction

The Gift, Barbara Browning, Coffee House Press

Bisexual Nonfiction

Hunger, Roxane Gay, HarperCollins

Transgender Fiction

Transcendent 2: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction, Bogi Takács (ed), Lethe Press

LGBTQ Nonfiction

How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Haymarket Books

Transgender Nonfiction

Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity, C. Riley Snorton, University of Minnesota Press

Lesbian Poetry

Rock | Salt | Stone, Rosamond S. King, Nightboat Books

Gay Poetry

While Standing in Line for Death, CA Conrad, Wave Books

Transgender Poetry

recombinant, Ching-In Chen, Kelsey Street Press

Lesbian Mystery

Huntress, A.E. Radley, Heartsome Publishing

Gay Mystery

Night Drop, Marshall Thornton, Kenmore Books

Lesbian Memoir/Biography

The Fact of a Body, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, Flatiron Books

Gay Memoir/Biography

Lives of Great Men: Living and Loving as an African Gay Man, Chike Frankie Edozien, Team Angelica Publishing

Lesbian Romance

Tailor-Made, Yolanda Wallace, Bold Strokes Books

Gay Romance

Love and Other Hot Beverages, Laurie Loft, Riptide Publishing

LGBTQ Erotica

His Seed, Steve Berman, Unzipped Books

LGBTQ Anthology

¡Cuéntamelo! Oral Histories by LGBT Latino Immigrants, Juliana Delgado Lopera, Aunt Lute Books

LGBTQ Children’s/Young Adult

Like Water, Rebecca Podos, Balzer + Bray

LGBTQ Drama

The Gulf, Audrey Cefaly, Samuel French

LGBTQ Graphic Novels

My Favorite Thing is Monsters, Emil Ferris, Fantagraphics Books

LGBTQ SF/F/Horror

Autonomous, Annalee Newitz, Tor Books

LGBTQ Studies

Punishing Disease: HIV and the Criminalization of Sickness, Trevor Hoppe, University of California Press

 “The Assassination”— A New Documentary

 

 “The Assassination”

A New Documentary

Amos Lassen

A new documentary by Avi Weissblei investigates the unsolved case of the murder of a Zionist leader in 1933.

On Saturday, June 16th 1933, at 23:00 while vacationing with his ‬ wife Sima near the shores of Tel Aviv, Haim Arlosoroff was shot ‬ dead at the age of 34, by two unknown assailants. Arlosoroff was ‬a promising leader and a rising star in the Zionist movement. The assassins quickly fled through the side streets of the city, taking ‬‪with them the answer to a question which is unresolved to this very day: Who killed Arlosoroff? ‬‬

After all these years the movie reveals what happened during those minutes, what caused the fatal shot and how it affects us until today.

“Jewish Radical Feminism: Voices from the Women’s Liberation Movement” by Joyce Antler— Influencing Each Other

Antler, Joyce. “Jewish Radical Feminism: Voices from the Women’s Liberation Movement”, NYU Press, 2018.

Influencing Each Other

Amos Lassen

We are all aware of the influence of the women’s movement on the way we live and now we learn of the influence on how we believe. It has been some fifty years since the beginning of the women’s liberation movement and we can now finally read how the women’s movement and Judaism have influenced and impacted each other. We certainly can see that Jewish women were undeniably instrumental in shaping the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. What makes this interesting is that their contributions have been overlooked The natural reaction is to ask “why?”. Joyce Antler wrote this book to answer just that question. She has done amazing research and conducted many interviews with the pioneers of the movement to bring Jewish and feminist together, openly and proudly. She brings us biographical narratives that show both the struggles and achievements of Jewish radical feminists in Chicago, New York and Boston, as well as those who participated in the later— “the self-consciously identified Jewish feminist movement that fought gender inequities in Jewish religious and secular life.” Jewish women’s liberationists helped to provide theories and models for radical action that were used throughout the United States and abroad yet we may hear of the work but not of the women. Their articles and books became classics of the movement and brought about new initiatives in academia, politics, and grassroots organizing. There were also other Jewish-identified feminists who were able to bring the women’s movement to the Jewish mainstream and Jewish feminism to the Left. Antler tells us, and this is important, that for many of these women, feminism in fact served as a “portal” into Judaism.

It comes as no surprise that the role of women was regarded as a deeply hidden history since traditionally this has been the place of women (except in the more liberal congregations). Having grown up in an Orthodox congregation myself, women were severely separated from men during prayer and for many that remains true today. Antler reminds us that Jewish women’s activism at the center of feminist and Jewish narratives. She shares the stories of over forty women’s liberationists and identified Jewish feminists–from Shulamith Firestone and Susan Brownmiller to Rabbis Laura Geller and Rebecca Alpert and these show us how women’s liberation and Jewish feminism came together over the course of the lives of extraordinary women who had profound influence on the social, political, and religious revolutions of our era.

Now Second Wave Feminism is certainly one of the most important social movement of the last century and when we look at the stat of Judaism in the world today, we certainly see that this is true. Antler brings us revisionist history in which she measures how over-represented Jewish feminists were exactly and she groups together theologians, lesbians, secular liberals, Communists, and others, defining “radical” broadly. If these groups had not struggled, there would be no Second Wave.

Antler looks specifically at two groups: the mostly secular Jewish radical feminists of the late 1960s who did not share or speak about their Jewish pasts and those Jewish radical feminists in the 1970s and 1980s for whom “feminism enabled” their Jewish identity. These woman wanted to reshape their Jewish identities through feminism.

What I really found in this book is that Antler puts many current disputes about gender and Jewish identity into perspective. Looking back at the 1960s, many Jewish leftist founders redefined themselves as Jewish universalist feminists who were dedicated to getting rid of racism and anti-Semitism. In the 1970s, Jewish feminists looked to either update Judaism or their private lives.

Antler states that to become a Jewish feminist cost—there would be opposition from the Jewish establishment who would think that this would bring about the destruction of the family and many of the men of the left refused to support these women who were tried to change Jewish ritual, change the family and challenge stereotypes. It is never easy to be radical.

Antler looks at Orthodox women like Blu Greenberg, the founder of Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, who challenged the patriarchy while still preserving some tradition and Arlene Agus, who was responsible a number of reforms to Judaism including some that helped women trapped by Orthodox divorce. Antler also examines Rabbi Laura Geller, the third reform female rabbi ordained, and the theologian Judith Plaskow. These are indeed JEWISH feminists as are others and we see that the unifying factor is “the struggle against anti-Semitism, the trauma of the Holocaust, and the feeling that no matter what Betty Friedan had written about housewives in 1963, it didn’t speak to their generation.” So these women founded their own organizations.

This is a provocative exploration of being Jewish and Feminist in the 1960s and 70s.  We read personal stories of leading activists and see how intertwined identities produced powerful political consequences.  This is a critical volume for feminist Jews to be able to understand the past as well as an excellent primary source for historians of feminism and Judaism. It is quite academic but with a little effort everyone can read and understand what Joyce Antler has to say.

“Love Me Tomorrow” by Ethan Day— Audiobook

Day, Ethan. “Love Me Tomorrow”, Ethan Day Audiobook, 2018, print, 2015.

Finding that Someone (Another Look)

Amos Lassen

About three years ago I reviewed Ethan Day’s “Love Me Tomorrow” and I am not sure why but I was not impressed. Then I got a notice that the audio version had had been released so I got a second chance. Jason Frazier dynamically shares the story of event

Planner Levi Goode who is in line to become the in-demand event planner for the elite of Wilde City. He has worked long and hard and has always wanted to land the account of socialite, Julia Freeman-Kingsley (socialites always seem to have hyphenated names). What had stopped him in the past was that his mother, a very headstrong ex-Vegas-showgirl has been dealing with serious having health problems leaving him little time for himself. Yet he had just managed to land Julia as a client.

Then, by chance, he meets Jake, a paramedic, who comes to take care of his mother and Levi is immediately attracted to him and thanks to his mother, the two go out on a date. What he does not know is that Jake is the brother (albeit estranged) of his new client, Julia. But then he learns that Jake already has a boyfriend and that his hopes will unfortunately remain hopes and all he can do is wish things were different. He knows that he has the change the way he feels if he wants to be friends with Jake and work with Julia and soon finds that handling Julia is an all-time job so everything will simply have to be placed on hold. Now this novel won the Rainbow Award for Best Gay Romantic Comedy so we do not have to hope that things will turn out happy.

I originally wrote that I would have liked a little more information as to why Levi was so excited about meeting and going out with Jake they did have a movie date before Levi learned that Jake was not single). Hearing the story aloud changed that—we can hear in the reading how badly Levi wants to have someone by the intonation of the reader’s voice and we also can sense his disappointment when he finds out that Jake had a boyfriend. Levi was obviously smitten with Jake and later came the surprise that was a surprise Jake’s suddenly becoming single opened the door for Levi to enter.

Day created two very likeable characters in Levi and Jake and because we sense the instant feelings they feel, we want them to come together.

So I now sand corrected on my earlier review. I did state back then that in the past I have enjoyed Day’s books and that he is a fine writer. I don’t know what happened when I originally read “Love Me Tomorrow” but the beauty of being human is that we can change our minds.