“Close to Home” by Rachel Spangler— Opening the Closet Door

Spangler, Rachel. “Close to Home”, (A Darlington Romance), Bywater Books, 2017.

Opening the Closet Door

Amos Lassen

Kelly Rolen is a smart and focused CPA who has worked hard to build her career and her life in Darlington, Illinois, her hometown. When her father suffered a debilitating stroke during the busiest time of her year—tax season, everything changed and way off schedule. She had to hire an intern to meet her deadlines and so she hired young Elliot Garza, a talented accounting student who has personality plus and focused on finishing her internship so she can move onto a dream job in the nation’s capitol. After all, there is not a lot going on in Darlington. She is very complete in her job but she is less sure about her dealings with Kelly who comes across as demanding.

It is only natural that Kelly is so demanding. Darlington is her home town and it is one of those places where everyone knows everyone else and she has always worked with her dad so when he is hospitalized just as tax season is beginning, Kelly is left with a lot to do. That plus visiting her dead puts her under heavy stress. Just at the same time, we meet Elliott who needs to do an internship to become qualified as a CPA. She dreams of working with the underprivileged and fighting for them.

Elliot needs a CPA internship to get her qualification, then she will be off to follow her dream of fighting for the unprivileged that suffer from the complexity of tax laws. When Elliot is placed with Kelly, we see the differences between the two women. Kelly is in the closet and determined to stay there which also means that she has no intention of getting close to Elliott. On the opposite side, Elliott is determined to be great worker (and to explore her boss a bit).

This is the third of the Darlington romances and the first that I have read. I understand that they all share the same location and cast of characters. I had no idea what to expect as often happens as a gay male reading lesbian literature and I find that I have to be a little more certain about what I have to say. When I was a graduate student, I took a course in feminist literary criticism and was taught how to read as a woman. Before I had never considered there was a difference in the way we read but now I consciously try to read as a woman but it does always work. Here I think it did because of the way author Rachel Spangler used emotions. I also think that the setting of small-town Darlington with its close-knit community dared me to try to find my way in and so I had a challenge.

This is not a novel of action since nothing much really happens at first. Both Elliott and Kelly have what to learn and Kelly’s not coming-out casts her as an incomplete character. What is really wonderful here is the both of the main characters here are not particular likeable (to say the least) yet the author manages to have us both caring about and liking them as the plot progresses. It is also an interesting study of two people who seem to be mismatched in the beginning but who later find ways to understand and ultimately love one another. We quickly understand the redemptive power of love as well as why it was so difficult for Kelly to be out and we surely see some aspects in our own lives as we struggled with coming-out. Because of tongues wagging and the useless properties of gossip, Kelly would not come out. She really only had her father and Beth, her ex-girlfriend to count as friends and she lives in a town where everyone knew who she was. When we consider that her dad’s days might be numbered, we realize just what she has to deal with.

 

 

 

“Mr. Darkness” by Douglas Clegg— The House of Grigsby

Clegg, Douglas. “Mr. Darkness”, Alkemara Press , 2017.

The House of Grigsby

Amos Lassen

Just as the title, “Mr. Darkness” suggests, this is a dark novel that includes gothic fable and dark reality, mythology and magical realism. Mina is the chronicler of the demise of House Grigsby and she and her brother live high over the streets of Manhattan in the dysfunctional world of her eccentric parents. They are an extraordinarily ordinary family and when Mina commits a terrible crime and a dangerous downstairs neighbor named Leelah Castle enters their lives, there will be some surprises.

The Grigsby family harbors a curse and this is what pushes them over the edge and into the darkness below the streets to a place inhabited by both humans and the not-so human. It is a world of train tunnels and subterranean waterfalls that you will have to discover for yourselves when you read this book.

 

 

“The Israeli Republic: An Iranian Revolutionary’s Journey to the Jewish State” by Jalal Al-e Ahmad— A Future that Might Have Been

Al-e Ahmad, Jalal. “The Israeli Republic: An Iranian Revolutionary’s Journey to the Jewish State”, Restless Books, 2017.

A Future That Might Have Been

Amos Lassen

Jalal Al-e Ahmad was an influential Iranian writer (he died in 1967) who spent his life teaching and as an social critic, activist and writer. He helped lay the groundwork for the Iranian Revolution. In 1963, he made a two-week trip to Israel and upon his return, he penned his article “Journey to the Land of Israel” in which he looked at the history and current political landscape of the Middle East and is a documentation of his visit to Israel. It caused an uproar after being published in Iran. The anti-Western clerics whom he had taught were very upset about what he had to say, especially because he saw a future model for Iran derived from what he saw and learned on that trip.

That article is the basis for “The Israeli Republic” and we see that Al-e Ahmad claimed that Israel and Iran actually mirror one another in various attitudes but especially in attitudes toward religious authority, politics and economic populism. As we might imagine, the fact that he liked these aspects of the country upon Iran’s status quo did not sit well with the leaders of his country. We now have his writing in English for the first time and we see Al-e Ahmad as an idealist and what he has to say can very well change the way we look at the Middle East. We see this once Iranian leader as a polemic and modernist, both qualities that we do not often find in others in Iran.

His “Journey to the Land of Israel” was basically a justification for his trip there as well as an account of what he saw especially and it greatly upset Ayatollah Khomeini, the cleric who held the title of founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

We must look back a bit in history and realize that in the 1950s and 1960s relations between Iran and Israel were growing even though the Shah never formally recognized the Jewish state. Nonetheless there existed military, intelligence and economic ties between the two countries. Iranians were often treated in Israeli hospitals and there existed Israeli advisers and contractors living in Tehran. However, the Muslim powers that were rising like Khomeini saw this as examples of the Shah’s perfidiousness as if to say, he was pandering to the West.

Undoubtedly, Khomeini and Ali Khamenei (a young seminary student who later became the supreme leader of Iran) were upset that Al-e Ahmad praised Israel and even more upsetting was that he dared to do so in print. This was a radical move especially since he did so in language that is traditionally reserved for Muslim religious clerics. Al-e Ahmad said that Israel was a religious state that was led by clerical leaders who were not quite prophets but more than politicians. He dismissed Arab nations as puppets of the West and saw Israel as provocatively posited as the ideal Muslim government.

By what we read here, we are reminded that before the Iranian revolution there was a relationship between Iran and Israel and this is something that is easy to forget when we think about where Iran is now in terms of Israel. Because Al-e Ahmad was a canonical writer who other leaders of the Islamic Republic admired, his feelings toward Israel seems uncanny and very titillating. Today his writings are considered to be curiosities and even a memorial to what might have been. Can we now think about the similarities between Zionism and the Islamic Republic? Al-e Ahmad stressed the characteristics of Israel as an “Islamic utopia” . This, still today, is unsolved. His interest in Israel came from presenting Israel as an alternative model and a mixture of Western industry and native culture but we must also consider that Al-e Ahmad’s view is ambiguous. On one side he sees Israel as the aforementioned utopia and a place where the division between East and West does not exist. On the other side Israel is seen as “the sure bridgehead of Western capitalism” that has a “coarsely realized indemnity for the Holocaust”. The West has sinned and the East pays the price. It is not necessary to agree or disagree with any of this yet it is food for thought on many different levels and the ideas here are great for playing “what if”. What is written here is very modern and for many it may change the way we think about the Middle East. The article by Al-e Ahmad is a record of his idealism, insight, and ultimate disillusionment toward Israel.

 

“4 3 2 1: A Novel” by Paul Auster— Growing Up Times Four

Auster, Paul. “4 3 2 1: A Novel”, Henry Holt and Co., 2017.

Growing Up Times Four

Amos Lassen

Archibald Isaac Ferguson was born two weeks early at Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, New Jersey. The only child of Rose and Stanley Ferguson, his life will take four simultaneous and independent fictional paths. We meet four identical Fergusons made of the same DNA, four boys who are the same boy, go on to lead four parallel and entirely different lives. We have four different lives in four different social classes and four different athletic skills, sex lives, friendships and intellectual passions. Each Ferguson falls under the spell of Amy Schneiderman, yet each Amy and each Ferguson have a relationship like no other. We read of each Ferguson’s pleasures and pains.

We also read about growing up in Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Dodgers, Laurel and Hardy, summer camp—are laid out with the earnest intensity of a writer looking back on his life and then telling us the story of Archie Ferguson, four different times. There are some consistencies in the four stories— Archie’s father starts out with the same career, Archie falls in love with the same girl, and his personality seems more nature than nurture. But those are just starting off points and we understand that our lives are affected by our choices and other people’s choices as well. Circumstances matter and the convergence of time and circumstance within each of Archie’s different lives are important to the total person as is his past. This is quite a long book— 880 pages but each page fascinates even when we have to plod through the dense writing.

Auster has taken on an ambitious story and he experiments wit the way he tells it. He challenges literary conventions and sometimes just ignores them. Quite basically, Auster imagines the four possible lives of a single man. We follow him each time from boyhood all the way to death. This is a fascinating idea and reminded me of the what if game. Leaving nothing unexplored, Auster answers those what ifs with four different storylines.

There is a lot of sex in this book including “straight sex, gay sex, committed sex, casual sex, oral sex, anal sex” but this is part of one’s growing up and to me it did seem important to the plot and I know there will be those who disagree on this.

 

Archie Ferguson is a Jewish boy born in Newark (I know, how many Jews named Ferguson do we know) and Auster presents him and the other three Archies in chronological order from childhood to his early 20s, looking at the regular coming-of-age topics— family, friends, school, sports, sex and politics. The complexity of the novel is that Auster sets all four of his stories on parallel tracks and tells them more or less simultaneously, giving us four versions of each chapter. In all four versions, he’s the only child of Rose Adler whose daily life differs from photographer to stay-at-home wife and mother and Stanley, a store or chain of stores owner. In each version of the story, the family lives in a different New Jersey suburb (Montclair, West Orange, Millburn or Maplewood). The four versions of Ferguson’s early life are so similar and we must read carefully to keep one separate from the next.

However, in each of the variations, some terrible event at Stanley’s business (a burglary, a fire, a tragic death or a buyout) changes everything and beginning with Chapter 2, the families are easier to tell apart. The basic core of Archie in all four cases is fixed early on and stays who he is regardless of circumstances that enter their lives. The people that Ferguson comes into contact and their influence is what changes our main character and the most important of these is Amy Schneiderman, whose effect on him is instantaneous and powerful.

The multiple love stories of Ferguson and Amy are the heart of the novel and bring the strengths of Auster’s narrative structure sharp focus.

In every scenario, Amy falls out of his life during their college years and he must face adulthood without her at his side. Ferguson does okay without her sexually and he goes to bed with numerous women and a couple of men but Amy is the one who got away. (in one story line, he happens to be bisexual), but none of these partners can compare with the girl who got away.

Even with the length of the novel and its flaws, this is quite a read and quite an ambitious undertaking for both author and reader.

“PROTEUS”— An Animated Documentary

“PROTEUS”

An Animated Documentary

Amos Lassen

“Proteus” is an animated documentary that was written and directed by David Lebrun in 2004. It looks at a 19th century understanding of the sea with emphasis on the life and work of German biologist and researcher Ernest Haeckel who was fascinated with one-celled microorganisms known as radiolarians and these are featured prominently here. To the thinkers of the 19th century, the single-celled marine organisms known as radiolaria (that are as dissimilar as snowflakes and just as beautiful) came to be the infinite variety of undersea mysteries waiting to be explored. But to Ernst Haeckel, the biologist and artist who discovered, drew and eventually classified 4,000 species, these ancient creatures were proof that nature itself was God.

In “Proteus”, director David Lebrun draws on science, art, myth and poetry to express that period’s fascination with all things oceanic. Central to his narrative is Haeckel, who while struggling to reconcile this newfound and creative passion with his desire for order and rationality, finds his answer in the fantastical geometric shapes of the radiolaria. To him, they are a perfect communion of the systemic and the aesthetic: nature’s own art forms. As he looked into his microscope, he drew, in detail, the intricate forms that eventually appear in his 1862 monograph, “Die Radiolarien.”

“Proteus” is about the historical context of the matter. We see the significance of the radiolaria as explained by earnest narrators that remind us what it was like to study at the time of Charles Dickens and every once in a while, we hear a stanza from Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. Background music by Yuval Ron is heard as the organisms pulse and we are both dazzled and disoriented by what we see. Director Lebrun credits Haeckel’s with his influence on many movements and thinkers, but he ignores his theories of evolutionary biology. It has been generally accepted that Haeckel committed scientific fraud in his 1868 drawings of embryos and his endorsement of eugenics is believed to have been a major influence on the political philosophy of the Nazi Party. The exclusion of these disputes leaves us with an incomplete portrait of a complicated man.

In the 19th century, the world beneath the sea was both the ultimate scientific frontier and the home of imagination and the fantastic and the documentary explores the century’s engagement with the undersea world through science, technology, painting, poetry and myth.

Regardless of theory the film is a gorgeous visual feast. You only see cinematography like this once or twice in a lifetime.

“SHALLOW WATERS”— A Deconstruction of a Life and a Death

“SHALLOW WATERS”

A Deconstruction of a Life and a Death

Amos Lassen

I am always amazed by filmmakers who can show us in a short film what many others cannot do in epic length movies, In just 32 minutes, Jaime Longhi looks at how a mentally ill person can drown himself in a few feet of water on a crowded Memorial Day beach. We see a tall, middle-aged, fully dressed man walks up to his shoulders into the cold shallow waters of San Francisco Bay; and then waits. Soon many police and fire units arrive at the scene in response and they wait. A crowd watches and waits as the man succumbs to the tide and within an hour loses consciousness. His body slowly washes back to shore and still, they wait. “Shallow Waters” deconstructs the events of that hour as a way to understand what happened and why as what everyone was waiting for. It also asks important questions about the value of life and the social contract and it truly gives us a lot to think about.

The man was Raymond Zack and the incident of his public drowning is a deeply disturbing event. As we look at that day that was to be his last, we have real questions about what being human means. I find the entire business hard to believe. No one, not one person tried to help and I am just not sure what this says about morality. The documentary says nothing about it either and like the people who were there that day, it just waits. However, it waits it gives us some serious and ethical questions to think about. It always says something about how we feel about the mentally ill and those less fortunate than we are. In watching this compelling film, we ask ourselves about the ethical responsibility we have for each other and why bureaucracies today do not work as they should. I try to imagine what was going on in the minds of those that waited and did nothing. Where was the quality of trust here and what about the funded community services that have been created to protect us. Even more important is that I am sure that everyone who sees this brilliant film will ask him/herself when he/she would have done if they had been there.

“DEAD OR ALIVE TRILOGY”— Outrageous and Dramatic

“DEAD OR ALIVE TRILOGY”

Outrageous and Dramatic

Amos Lassen

“Dead or Alive” trilogy is made up of three of Takashi Miike”s most outrageous moments and some of his most dramatically moving scenes.  The films were made between 1999 and 2002 and essentially gave Miike’s reputation overseas a boost and we see him as one of Japan’s most talented and innovative filmmakers.  The trilogy begins with six minutes ofsex, drugs and violence, and end with a phallus-headed battle robot taking flight.

Takashi Miike ignores the taboos diligently observed in mainstream Japanese and totally freaks out his audiences with his taste for perversity. We see such things as a woman’s body plunging off a roof onto the street; cocaine being snorted down the length of a bar; a stripper grinding through her gyrations; two men having sex in a restroom soon covered with blood; and gunmen pulling machine guns out of a supermarket’s vegetable crisper before a slaughter.

 

Jojima (Show Aikawa), our protagonist, a taciturn detective investigating a case that involves Japanese and Chinese drug dealers. His home life is a mess with his daughter needing an operation he can’t afford, and his wife receiving late-night phone calls that require whispered responses.

”Evil, in itself, is not bad, as long as we keep the balance,” Jojima says, and he ends up corrupted and in the midst of thugs. His nemesis, Ryuichi (Riki Takeuchi) has to deal with his treacherous Chinese partners and guilt for financing his younger brother’s American education with blood money.

”Dead or Alive” is about bombast and firepower. Miike is a skillful director who can rouse an audience and dazzles with his quick reflexes. Miike’s films contain explicit “portrayals of violence; sex; violent sex; sexual violence; clowns and violent scenes of violent excess, which are definitely not suitable for all audiences”. We see murder, bestiality, sodomy and homosexuality (or as a friend of mine says, there is something for everyone). Beyond giving us creatively shocking films, Miike is a good filmmaker.

This film is very tough to follow with its many characters all speaking Japanese. This is made up of stories in which a bunch of characters together. Several factions of similar-looking criminals and a Kitano clone cop kill each other. I am unable to give more detail than that as each viewer will understand the films differently. There is a lack of clarity even though I was completely entertained by what I saw here.

Miike seems to have a bottomless reserve of negative energy and an urge to constantly top himself with the amount of gore in his films. My summary reads something like this—In Tokyo’s crime-ridden Shinjuko quarter, scores of Chinese Mafia members, Japanese yakuza, and corrupt cops constantly fight for power and settle old scores.

Bonus Materials include:

– High Definition digital transfers of all three films

– Original stereo audio

– Optional English subtitles for all three films

– New interview with actor Riki Takeuchi

– New interview with actor Show Aikawa

– New interview with producer and screenwriter Toshiki Kimura

– New audio commentary for Dead or Alive by Miike biographer Tom Mes

– Archive interviews with cast and crew

– Archive making-of featurettes for DOA2: Birds and DOA: Final

– Original theatrical trailers for all three films

– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Orlando Arocena

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the films by Kat Ellinger.

“HOUSE”— Two Stories Limited Edition

“HOUSE”

Two Stories Limited Edition

Amos Lassen

“House” is an ’80s mishmash of gothic horror, goofy comedy, and rubbery monsters. Though the films are hardly remarkable, they are endearing and off-kilter enough to grab one’s attention.

Recovering from the trauma of a separation from his wife (Kay Lenz), struggling writer Roger Cobb (William Katt) moves into the spooky house owned by his aunt, who recently took her life by hanging. Roger attempts to turn his disturbing memories of Vietnam into a gripping memoir, but his creative efforts are stymied by an eager neighbor named Harold (George Wendt) and by inconvenient monsters like the unforgettable Sandy Witch and a decrepit old Army buddy, Big Ben (Richard Moll).

“House” works well as it brings together some strange ideas such as happy union of elements ranging from a surprising screenplay to a playful, diverse score. from Harry Manfredini. Cinematographer Mac Ahlberg captures every little shiny, menacing wooden detail in the house itself. The film has dated fairly gracefully, and as a Reagen era meditation on the aftermath of Vietnam, it’s a sensitive look at war. It was such a success that it was followed by “House II” although each film stands alone.

In “House”, Roger decides that he’s found the ideal place in which to get some writing done but the house’s monstrous supernatural residents have other ideas…  In “House II” we see young Jesse (Arye Gross) moving into an old family mansion where his parents were mysteriously murdered years before. Plans for turning the place into a party house are soon changed when Jesse’s mummified great-great-grandfather, his mystical crystal skull and the zombie cowboy stop at nothing to lay his hands on the house.

Both “House” and “House II” are era-defining horror classics and have been newly restored and loaded with brand new extras. The films are entertaining, campy treats. These are fun films that reminds us why we love the cheesy 1980s horror films as much today as we did then. These films aren’t great they are sheer entertainment.

Limited edition contents include:

– Brand new 2K restorations of House and House II: The Second Story

– High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

– Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

– “The House Companion” limited edition 60-page book featuring new writing on the entire – – House franchise by researcher Simon Barber, alongside a wealth of archive material

HOUSE

– Audio commentary with director Steve Miner, producer Sean S. Cunningham, actor William Katt and screenwriter Ethan Wiley

Ding Dong, You’re Dead! The Making of House – brand new documentary featuring interviews with Steve Miner, Sean S. Cunningham, Ethan Wiley, story creator Fred Dekker, stars William Katt, Kay Lenz, and George Wendt, composer Harry Manfredini, special make-up and creature effects artists Barney Burman, Brian Wade, James Belohovek, Shannon Shea, Kirk Thatcher, and Bill Sturgeon, special paintings artists Richard Hescox and William Stout, and stunt coordinator Kane Hodder

– Stills Gallery

– Theatrical Trailers

 

“HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY”

– Audio commentary with writer-director Ethan Wiley and producer Sean S. Cunningham

It’s Getting Weirder! The Making of House II: The Second Story – Brand new documentary featuring interviews with Ethan Wiley, Sean S. Cunningham, stars Arye Gross, Jonathan Stark, Lar Park Lincoln, and Devin DeVasquez, composer Harry Manfredini, special make-up and creature effects artists Chris Walas, Mike Smithson, visual effects supervisor Hoyt Yeatman, and stunt coordinator Kane Hodder

– Stills Gallery

– Theatrical Trailer

“High Cotton” by Darryl Pinckney— Discovering Himself

Pinckney, Daryl. “High Cotton: A Novel”, Picador Reprint, 2017.

Discovering Himself

Amos Lassen

Our unnamed narrator tells us that he discovered that he was “a Negro” by himself. It was something explained—“No one sat me down and told me I was a Negro. That was something I figured out on the sly…” Daryl Pinckney’s first novel is a look at what W. E. B. Du Bois called “the talented tenth.” The talented tenth lived in the world of upper-middle-class black elite. We are with our narrator as he moves from his safe childhood in conservative Indianapolis to briefly becoming minister of information for a local radical organization and his becoming an expatriate in Paris. We see that his life is dominated by his elderly relations and what they learned from their experiences in the “Old Country” of the South.

We notice as soon as we start reading that there is nothing traditional about “High Cotton” as it mixes fiction with autobiography and having been born and raised in the “Old Country” of the South, there was so much that I recognized here. The very idea that someone would write a book about growing up as a

“nice Negro” in conservative Indianapolis, Indiana lets us know that this is not going to be an ordinary read. I love Pinckney’s writing and how he writes with such brave wit and passion about race. By the time he wrote this, Pinckney had already established himself as journalist and critic. Now this book will establish him as a major new literary voice and we should be watching carefully since great things will come from him.

Pinckney shares the dedication, pride and hypocrisy that came together to form the society of “upper shadies” in the 1950s and ’60s. Writing this in the style of a memoir allows Pinckney to be both a participant and an observer. Our narrator is both heroic and defiant as we follow his life from childhood until the present, and many of us will see a new kind of Black person that exists between new worlds. The characters that we meet here are unforgettable. As he grows and matures, our narrator wants to be away from them, first as a student activism and then as an expatriate. However his grandfather Eustace and those first experiences of being a Negro shaped, the answers to the difficult question of identity and blackness.

Darryl Pinckney voice is distinct and he has a vision that he shares with his readers. He is not representative of others and while he does come to terms with his color, he seems to have already found peace in his sexuality. Our narrator is special in many ways and he is a member of the fourth generation of his family to earn a college degree. However, even with this elite status, he feels empty, inauthentic, and chameleon-like. We understand that he does not want to deal with color in any way. He was one of a few black students in the 1960’s to attend a suburban white school and refuses to feel grateful for the “advantages” he has had ands enjoys now. He will not admit, even to himself, that there is anything new or startling, much less enviable, in his initiation into a new world. He clearly says, “I couldn’t allow myself to look back, having presented myself to myself as one who had never been anywhere but where I was. . . . My appreciation was like the relief of someone who has crashed a party but isn’t asked to leave, in gratitude for which, and also from misplaced pride, he doesn’t touch a bite.”

In effect, he is acts this out even when he daydreams. He is filled with affectations, reads constantly is an Anglophile and is fascinated by the lives of his forebears in small towns of the South Or “The Old Country” as he calls it). His Aunt Clara who is “high yellow” is obsessed with blood mixture. According to the family memoirs, her grandfather was “seven-eighths Caucasian and possibly one-eighth Negro.” She is also obsessed with the life of Marian Anderson, the great opera singer who ironed her own dresses. One of my first teaching jobs in New Orleans was at a school that was made up of 75% “high yellow” students and of 25% of students who were much darker. I doubt that I will ever forget the racism among the students (and they included me, a descendant of lily-white Russian Jews as, like they said, “high yellar”).

From the old country we meet his Uncle Castor, a jazz musician who once worked in Paris but has now fallen on such hard times that is forced to accept the long-term hospitality of the narrator’s parents yet he still retained his flamboyant ways and spoke only proper English.

The most intense character aside from the narrator is his grandfather. He graduated from Brown and Harvard and became a Congregational minister who sermonized on “the vanity of piety” while standing totally erect. Like his grandson, he is obsessed with racial scenarios but does not want to conform to them. Now we understand that this is a novel about “the talented tenth.”

The narrator realizes that in liberal political circles in New York and London he is able to use the prestige of his skin color. He can “act black” with whites his own age, although with other blacks he invariably shuts down. He experimented with black militancy, black separatism and even chic black escapism in Paris — but none of these really fit him as he was , bookish and an observer with no ambition. He cons everyone else, but he is the loser.

“He has acquaintances rather than friends, observations rather than passions, few resentments, guarded enthusiasms and no sex life”. It, therefore, is easy to understand why he’s drawn back again and again to the old-timers that he meets in Harlem bars or at family funerals.

Through the narrator’s eyed, we get a much more claustrophobic worldview. He says that this is his story but not his entire story. Pinckney’s writing is provocative, exceedingly original and often very, very funny. This new voice has new things to say. He is ironic, politically incorrect and irreverent. He refuses to give up his much-cultivated individuality for a ready-made racial identity and why should he?

“The Bloomsbury Reader in Religion, Sexuality, and Gender” edited by Donald L. Boisvert and Carly Daniel-Hughes—The Interaction and Influence of Religion, Sexuality and Gender

Boisvert, Donald L. and Carly Daniel-Hughes, editors. “The Bloomsbury Reader in Religion, Sexuality, and Gender”, Bloomsbury, 2017.

The Interaction and Influence of Religion, Sexuality and Gender

Amos Lassen

I have hoped to see a book on religion, sexuality and gender for a long time now and here it is, totally living up to all of my hopes and expectations. It is made up of the key texts in the field and looks at how religion, gender and sexuality interact and how they have impacted, and continue to impact, human culture. It was designed as a textbook for use in a classroom setting but that does not mean that individuals cannot gain a lot from it— it offers thought-provoking selections of some of the most compelling and timely readings available today.

Three are three parts to this volume— Bodies, Desires and Performances and each part thematically looks at the ways in which people have made sense of their religious and sexual experiences, the ways they imagine and talk about gender, sex and the sacred, and the multiple meanings they ascribe to them. Those traditions represented here include indigenous spiritualities, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Asian traditions and new religious movements. There are readings that are more theoretical or historical in nature and these give us wide-ranging contexts for reflection and discussion. Isn’t that what reading is all about?

There are extensive introductions to the book as a whole and to each of the three parts, as well as short paragraphs that contextualize each of the readings. These introductions are extremely helpful in providing context and orientating the reader to some of the broader questions and relevant issues. Each section includes discussion questions for classroom or discussion use; additional readings and resources and there is a glossary of key terms. It is the ideal book about religion and sexuality, religion and gender, or religion and contemporary culture.

The readings come from feminist, gender, and queer studies and we get an introduction to historical and contemporary conversations in these key areas within the study of religion. Dealing with the attitudes of different religious traditions toward sexuality and gender, we have a wonderful introduction and place to start off from. “Bodies” looks at the ambivalent ways in which they have been and are viewed; “Desires” looks at how they are expressed, repressed, and normalized in religious discourse; and “Performances,” which underscores the performative nature of gender and its inherent instability. The readings are all considered “classics”.