“After Byron” by Norman Beim— A Sneak Peek

after byron

Beim, Norman. “After Byron”, The Permanent Press, 2015.

A Sneak Peek

Amos Lassen

One of the greatest pleasures of being a reviewer is a chance to get sneak peeks at books and movies long before the public sees the works. I just received a prepublication copy of Norman Beim’s “After Byron” and it is glorious—especially because I love Byron and have done so since I first red him in high school. It seems like this is a year for Byron—several books about him have come out this year and I actually just finished reading Andrew McConnell Stott’s “The Poet and the Vampyre: The Curse of Byron and the Birth of Literature’s Greatest Monsters” which you will find reviewed here on my website. While “After Byron” is not about Byron himself, it is certainly in the style of romantic novels.

Beim’s book is a gothic novel that is narrated through notes, journals and diaries written my a wonderful cast of characters who take us into a world where passion rules and intrigue challenges.

 In this Gothic novel told through the journals, notes, and intimate diaries of a cast of fascinating characters, we are taken into a bustling world of passion and intrigue. Gerald Marston is a young British man who goes on a tour of Europe before he settles down as a barrister. As can happen, and I can vouch for that because it has happened to me more than once, Marston was running out of money so he takes a job with a detective agency based in London as a way to supplement his finances. He replaces another detective who disappeared mysteriously while he was at work reporting on some of the disreputable activities of the disreputable Lord Ingersoll who fancied himself as a poet and good friend of George Gordon, Lord Byron. Byron, himself, was acknowledged to have a dangerous past that was filled with scandal.

It seems that Lady Ingersoll drowned one night while sailing on her husband’s yacht in the Mediterranean Sea. Ingersoll went into exile afterwards but not alone. With him are Inez Cortina, his mistress and Lady Ingersoll’s former maid and Crankshaw, Ingersoll’s valet and homosexual (or as Beim puts it, catamite). The three of them are suspects in the death of the Lady. When the three of them go to Genoa, Marston follows them and Ingersoll goes off to visit his former mistress, Clarissa Shelton, who incidentally gave birth to their daughter, Diana. Clarissa manages to persuade Ingersoll to take Diana hoping that he will be able to find a suitable husband for her. What was unexpected was for Marston to fall in love with Diana and she to fall in love with him.

Marston’s boss has warned him of Diana but he ignores him and goes to Chillon to have dinner with his love and to meet her father. Chillon has been the legendary home of the Ingersolls and is rumored to be haunted.

So far I have given a lot of details about the plot but I am stopping and simply stating that what happens next is for you to discover by reading the book. There is noting like a good gothic romantic novel on a cold night and this one fills the bill with the added plus of having wonderful character development. I love a dark story and the romantic period is one of the best for those.

 

 

“Show Trans: A Nonfiction Novel” by Elliott DeLine— A “Novel” Autobiography

show trans

DeLine, Elliott. “Show Trans: A Nonfiction Novel”, ADS, 2014.

A “Novel” Autobiography

Amos Lassen

“Show Trans” is nonfiction yet it is a novel and I will try to explain that during this review. It deals with sex addiction, sex work, the MSM scene, a trip West, dissociative identity disorder, and the struggle to find love, connection, and self-actualization as a non-binary trans person. DeLine tells us that “in a lot of ways, this is a nonfiction novel about a broken love story that must be written in order to move away from it”. It is also a cutting and private look at the life of a transgender man who dares to be sexual. Most of the trans literature that we have does not deal with sex or sexuality because gender is the more important to those who have written about being a trans person. We are in the midst of a new kind of gay culture and there is a lot that has not yet been dealt with in our literature and hopefully this novel will open the door for others to follow through.

Here we read of interaction with others and bad feelings that are harbored by some of them. The book is a slice of life and one does not have to be a trans person to read and identify with what DeLine says here. I do not know DeLine but I have a very strong feeling that this book was written with brutal honesty. As I read, I felt I was getting to know the author and that is the beauty of the nonfiction novel. Situations are brilliantly covered here and we get a peek at emotions that seem to be unique to trans people and even though DeLine writes about himself here, I get the feeling that he is addressing all of us.

“Male-Male Intimacy in Early America: Beyond Romantic Friendships” by William E. Benemann— Homosexuality in Early America

male male intimacy

Benemann, William E. “Male-Male Intimacy in Early America: Beyond Romantic Friendships”, Routledge, 2014.

Homosexuality in Early America

Amos Lassen

Information about homosexuality in early America has been very difficult to find but now, thanks to William E. Benemann, we have a great deal in one single volume. His “Male-Male Intimacy in Early America: Beyond Romantic Friendships” gives us the theme of homosexuality in early American history. It is the first book to provide a comprehensive overview of the role of homosexual activity among American men in the early years of American history. The book draws on personal letters, diaries, court records, and contemporary publications to examine the role of homosexual activity in the lives of American men in the Colonial period and in the early years of the new republic. Benemann scoured research that was published in contemporary journals and also conducted his own research in over a dozen US archives, ranging from the Library of Congress to the Huntington Library, from the United Military Academy Archives to the Missouri Historical Society.

“Male-Male Intimacy in Early America explores:

  • the role of the open frontier and the unregulated seas as places of refuge for men who would not enter into heterosexual relationships
  • the sexual lives of American Indians—particularly the berdache tradition—and how the stereotypes associated with American Indian sexuality molded white America’s attitudes toward homosexuality
  • homosexuality in slave narratives—and the homosexual subtexts of racist minstrel show lyrics
  • the formation of European gay communities during American colonial times, with an emphasis on Berlin, Paris, and London—with English translations of material previously available only in German or French!
  • homosexuality as presented in eighteenth-century novels popular with American readers, plus information on homosexuality that was published in medical treatises of the period
  • United States Army and Navy courts-martial that focused on sodomy
  • the sublimation of homosexuality by religious revival movements of the early nineteenth century, particularly among Quakers, Mormons, and Oneida Perfectionists
  • social groups as a perceived cover for homosexual activity, with an emphasis on the Masonic Order
  • non-procreative sexuality as a theme and as a threat during the American revolution
  • the West in American literary tradition—and the role of popular writers such as James Fennimore Cooper and Davy Crockett in creating the myth of individual sexual freedom on the margins of American society.”

The French existential philosopher, Michel Foucault, maintained that homosexuality is an artificial construct created by medico-legal authorities in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Benemann rejects this theory and shows that men have been sexually attracted to other men throughout American history. He examines their historical options for expressing that attraction. Further he also looks at related issues surrounding race and gender expectations, population and migration patterns, vocational choice, and information exchange.

This is all very important information and is written in a straightforward style and language that lay readers can understand.

“If I Die” by Andre Gide— An Autobiographical Statement

if I die

Gide, Andre. “If It Die”, Vintage International, 2010.

An Autobiographical Statement

Amos Lassen

As I was visiting my website the other day, I realized that I had included any reviews of books by one of my literary heroes, Andre Gide. Gide dared to write about gay characters when only a few others did. He then went on to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1947 (a time when the word homosexuality was not mentioned). “If I Die” is a collection of musings in which we find the seeds of the themes that he included in his prose. As he considers who he is, we see that Gide led a life of uncompromising self-scrutiny, and his literary works resembled moments of that life. In this book, Gide determined to relay without sentiment or embellishment the circumstances of his childhood and the birth of his philosophic wanderings, and in doing so to bring it all to light. He gives an unapologetic account of his awakening homosexual desire and of his portrait of Oscar Wilde and Alfred Douglas as they indulged in sexual debauchery in North Africa and these thoughts are thrilling in their frankness.

“If It Die” is an honest look at and an insightful and delving account of Gide’s early life, from childhood till his engagement to be married. Gide used himself as his inspiration for writing and if you have read any of his fiction, you will see in this book exactly where he is coming from and to where he is going. Gide had the ability to describe people candidly and he brings them to life so that they jump off of the page.

Gide honestly wrote about such themes as homosexuality, masturbation and prostitution, and he struggled against society’s constraints upon his very being and essence as given him by God (Gide had a puritanical upbringing). At one point he questions God by asking, “In the name of what God or what ideal, do you forbid me to live according to my nature? Of course we are not sure where these constraints that he mentions come from and whether Gide enjoyed rebelling against God.

Gide was a very close observer of himself and his friends, and his insights are beautiful even when difficult. Gide met Oscar Wilde and Bosy in Algiers; felt that Wilde was often inhabiting a role, even if the role was himself. Gide also did not believe in the innocence of children and he writes about some of the things that he did as a boy. In fact, he almost writes an apology for the idea of original sin.

Gide was concerned with and wrote about the triviality of life and this book seems to be a collection of notes that he wrote to himself using the stream of consciousness. He used a philosopher’s tone but I do not think of him as a philosopher. He held the belief that dramatic plots don’t make honest literature and that is about the extent of his philosophy. He seemed to enjoy writing fictional narratives and convoluting them. One review I read considered this to be a deficit while I consider an asset. To know his characters is to become one with them. It was his goal to become a famous writer and in this he succeeded and we are luckier because of him.

“Gender Transformation in the Academy” edited by Vasilikie Demos, Catherine White Berheide and Marsha Texler Segal— Academically Speaking

gender transformation

Demos, Vasilikie, Catherine White Berheide and Marsha Texler Segal (editors). “Gender Transformation in the Academy”, (Advances in Gender Research), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2014.

Academically Speaking

Amos Lassen

Today women outnumber men in academic life—there are more women seeking degrees from higher institutions of learning than men, yet women remain concentrated in the lower faculty ranks and almost totally absent from administrative positions, particularly in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. This book documents the gender inequality in higher education in the United States as well as in Australia, Austria, Portugal, South Africa, and Sweden. The reasons for it are examined and remedies are suggested here. Several of the essays included are based on projects funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), which seeks to address the issue as it is evidenced in STEM disciplines through ADVANCE (a program developed to increase the participation and advancement of women in these disciplines). The authors look at women’s situation in the context of a variety of types of educational settings including community colleges, primarily undergraduate institutions, and research-intensive universities.

There is a good deal to be learned here and we really get a handle on the way that gender enriches our shapes higher education and inequalities as well as opportunities, especially in fields of science. The chapters identify ways and means for realizing gender equality in the academy through practices and policies that resolve work-family conflicts and patterns of bias as well as promote access to peer networks, awards, and positions of leadership. A distinguishing characteristic is seen in the scope of qualitative and quantitative methods used to collect and analyze data, and by attention to a range of types of academic institutions – larger and smaller, more and less research-orientated – in the United States and throughout the world.

“One of Us: LGBT Voices from New England: Interviews (with updates) from Bay Windows” by Rudy Kikel— Meeting the Community

one of us

Kikel, Rudy. “One of Us: LGBT Voices from New England: Interviews (with updates) from Bay Windows”, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014.

Meeting the Community

Amos Lassen

Even though I am fairly new to Boston and New England, I quickly discovered “Bay Windows, the LGBT newspaper that comes out every Thursday. Unfortunately there is not a great to read it but I did go back and look at past issues and found Rudy Kikel’s column about the members of the LGBT community.

Kikel was the Arts and Entertainment editor of “Bay Windows” when it was a viable news magazine. There days you have to wade through a multitude of ads to find something to red and I, frankly, am surprised that the paper has stayed afloat. Most of the people I know do not bother with it all and then there are those who faithfully read Billy Masters’ gossip column that is little more than Master patting himself on the back for… whatever. But I am not here to write about the paper.

In reading Kikel’s book, I learned that for over ten years, Kikel invited members of the LGBT community into his home and as they came he “sat them in a red chair in his window, offered a glass of water, and pulled from a standard menu of questions for an hour or two”. He was limited in questions but he got unlimited answers. What he saw was that he was getting information from a microcosm of the LGBT community and the larger straight community as well. As they talked, Kikel would type and then take a photo and a week later the interview would be published in “Bay Windows”.

This book is a compilation of about 40 of those interviews. We also get an update from each interviewee on where he/she is. The interviews give us a look at LGBT history as the twentieth century turned into the twenty-first century.

The book is a simply written and we get a look at the Boston community from those in it and it serves as a documentation of times past.

It is almost as if Kikel has given us our memories back and a souvenir of a time before the new technology when people actually met with each other for interviews.

“Snapshots of Dangerous Women” by Peter Cohen— Candid Snapshots

snapshots of dangerous women

Cohen, Peter. “Snapshots of Dangerous Women”, Universe; Gift edition, 2015.

Candid Snapshots

Amos Lassen

Peter Cohen brings us vintage candid snapshots of women enjoying unconventional activities. For over twenty years, “Peter Cohen has been combing estate sales and flea markets collecting vernacular, or “found,” photography taken in the middle part of the twentieth century. In his collection are countless images of women of all ages in various unconventional activities for the time: there are women swigging booze out of a bottle, boxing, playing pick-up football, smoking, or shooting arrows or guns—incongruous and playful behavior, all the while often performed in lovely dresses. Snapshots of Dangerous Women collects many of these period photographs, showcasing women from the thirties, forties, and fifties who are equal parts badass and rebellious, and, above all, clearly having a lot of fun. This charming book makes the ideal gift for the bold and free-spirited women in our lives”.

The book will be available in March, 2015.

“Hollywood Gomorrah” by Skip E. Lowe— Old Hollywood: A Personal Look

hollywood

Lowe, Skip E. “Hollywood Gomorrah”, Create Space, 2014.

Old Hollywood: A Personal Look

Amos Lassen

Skip E. Lowe shares with us his memories of growing up in Hollywood as well as telling us about his world travels as an entertainer and mixing with A-listers. What we get is a lot of sex and a look at the stars when they are not in front of the cameras.

We follow Lowe’s adventures through the glory of early Hollywood, New York, Europe, multiple wars, decades of globetrotting, and non-stop sexual adventures. We read of his friends such as Paul Bowles, Truman Capote, and Tennessee Williams; we are with Lowe when he was buying produce for Marlon Brando, showered with James Dean, crashed with Barbara Hutton in Tangiers and cooked for Troy Donahue (just to give a few examples). Lowe partied, sheltered, and jumped in bed with the best of them. At times what we read is shocking while at times it is sensitive and painful.

This is a personal memoir and it is certainly not a collection of scandalous revelations. Lowe takes us through vaudeville to Viet Nam and back to Hollywood and we feel how he does about his experiences. He finds joy in life and we certainly do as well as we read.

“EASTERN BOYS”—- A Love Story and a Thriller

Eastern-Boys-Quad

“Eastern Boys”

A Love Story and a Thriller  

In Eastern Boys, Daniel cruises the Gare du Nord where Eastern European Boys hang out. One afternoon he plucks up his courage to speak to Marek, one of the boys and invites him to his home. However, next day when the doorbell rings, Daniel hasn’t the faintest idea that he has fallen into a trap. (Just a little teaser)

“IN THEIR ROOM”— Triptych of Intimate and Explicit Films from Travis Mathews

in their room

“In Their Room”

Triptych of Intimate and Explicit Films from Travis Mathews

Travis Mathews has gained a lot of attention for his film “I Want Your Love” and his collaboration with James Franco, Interior Leather Bar. However the first thing that put him on many people’s radar was his In The Room project, which started as a set of individual looks at gay men in San Francisco, filmed in their bedroom, before those were edited together into a single longer documentary.

The success o the film about San Francisco led to follow-ups, with the action moving to Berlin and then London. Although they’ve had plenty of acclaim and have screened at numerous film festivals, they still haven’t been seen by that many people. Now they have been brought together and will be released on DVD in the UK on December 8th and soon afterwards in the United States.

Each of the three films features footage of a variety of gay men in their rooms, talking about their lives, hopes and dreams, and also a lot about their relationship with sex and what they want in guys. It’s incredibly intimate and as Travis has become known for, some of it is extremely explicit.