“Sight Unseen” by Susan MacNicol with Nicholas Downs— Friendship

MacNicol, Susan (based on an idea of Nicholas Downs). “Sight Unseen”, Boroughs Publishing Group, 2017.

Friendship

Amos Lassen

I believe that the most beautiful love exists when two lovers are also best friends. Nate and Cody share a friendship that began when they were children. They always had felt that they belonged together and after a weekend in Florida when they were teens, they understood that they were destined to be together forever. However for whatever reason, Nate stopped that. Nonetheless, their friendship did not suffer as a result, they stayed best friends with each going his own way and each found his own partner. They still lust after each other but secretly and when a tragic event occurs, they feel something is missing. Whatever had stopped the physical love that they once shared, hurt the two in ways only that they could know.

After a tragic automobile accident, Nate becomes blind and he knows that his life will never again be what it once was. Cody, his best friend has always felt great love for Nate but never really knew that Nate felt the same for him. Our story is told through the eyes of blind Nate and let me deviate from my review to add something personal here. I have a very close blind friend who has taught me so much about life as “seen through her eyes”. She feels things that I have always thought I was incapable of doing but I learned as I listened to and watched her.

The lives of the unsighted are very different from our own and I certainly feel so much better because I can experience blindness through her. She has opened me to look at those with physical and mental disabilities differently than I ever have before. Putting myself in Nate’s place was not that difficult for me because of this and I can tell you that author MacNichol has done an incredible job with Nate. I know the frustration that comes along with blindness and the very way that Nate deals with rejecting his sighted boyfriend shows this beautifully. We see that even though he is blind, his artistry remains and he maintains the ability to create beauty with the pottery he makes.

I feel myself wanting to say more about the plot but I am forcing restraint so as not to write any spoilers. This is a beautiful book and I want everyone to share in its beauty without my giving something away. I know that it is sometimes hard to see the forest because of the trees often is a true statement and it certainly is true for Nate and Cody.

 

 

 

“Skyscraper” by Scott Hess— A Game of Sexual Domination

Hess, Scott. “Skyscraper”, Unzipped Books, 2017.

A Game of Sexual Domination

Amos Lassen

Atticus is an unlucky architect who finds himself in a Manhattan S&M bar where he meets a sensual young man who changes the direction of his life. What began as a random pick-up became an intense game of sexual domination as Atticus found him renewed as a man and an architect. He found that as he became more and more involved in a new relationship, his creativity came to life and he was able to get a prime architectural job at his firm designing Mexico City’s boldest new high-rise tower. However as his two worlds collided, the thin line between reality and fantasy, pleasure and pain was ready to explode.

Beautifully written in imaginative and refined prose is a book that will pull you and keep you riveted to the text. As we read we feel the characters’ and the plot’s tension and overt eroticism. Yet this is by no means ordinary smut— it is, what I call, literary porn. Atticus is an everyman character whose tremendous changes surprise himself more than anyone else. Obviously it took his meeting at the bar to reawaken what was within and to make him sexually and artistically a man once again.

We, the readers, become very aware of the boundaries between “art and sex, love and lust, truth and lies, and dominance and submission” and we see those lines fall away for Atticus.

I usually do not read much erotica yet when I find it nestled within literature and it is handled well, then I must praise it and that is exactly what happens here.

 

“Hayim Nahman Bialik: Poet of Hebrew” by Professor Avner Holtzman— Success and Tragedy

Holtzman, Avner. “Hayim Nahman Bialik: Poet of Hebrew”, (Jewish Lives), Yale University Press, 2017.

Success and Tragedy

Amos Lassen

For as long as I can remember, Hayim Nahman Bialik has been a part of my life. As a toddler, my nursery school teacher who was an Israeli taught us some of Bialik’s children’s poems (which were not actually children’s poems, at all), and I would often sing myself to sleep with his words about Israel.

By his twenty-eighth birthday, Bialik was considered to be the national Hebrew poet even though he had only published one collection. It was easy to sense that what we wrote came from the heart and was deeply personal and he shared that with us. He teetered on the edge between secular and traditional ideas and this became the identity of the Jewish people in the twentieth century. Bialik’s unexpected and untimely death in 1934 brought about an outpouring of grief from the entire Jewish that cemented his place as “a father figure for the Zionist movement in Palestine, and around the world”.

Avner Holtzman’s biography looks at how Bialik overcame intense personal struggles and became a “charismatic literary leader at the core of modern Hebrew culture”. Through the poetry and research, we are taken into Bialik’s life, read of his complex personality, his gorgeous poetry and his popularity as a person and as the laureate of Hebrew poetry.

Even though Bialik, himself, was an orphan, he knew that children needed something to sing about and so he provided that. He was a lover who did not have that love reciprocated during his lifetime and he was a poet who was tortured and on the brink of modernity yet made the Hebrew language a language of love and he was a seer who brought prophecy back to the people of Israel with his visions of a Jewish state.

For many, Bialik’s poetry has been enigmatic and here Holtzman tries to solve the puzzlement of some of his poems and at the same time he explains Bialik’s influence not just on those of his age but still today. The details of Bialik that seemed lost to us are presented here in detail.

“There was a man— and see: he is no more;

before his time this man died;

and his life’s song in mid-bar stopped…”

“After My Death”

“CAST OFFS”— Trash or Treasure?

“Cast-Offs”

Trash or Treasure?

Amos Lassen

 Vered Yeruham and Oren Reich’s new documentary is looks at what Israelis throw away. I was so reminded at how some Bostonians furnish their homes by waiting until the school year is over and the students put their furniture out on the streets for whoever wants it. The film follows some of the things that Israelis throw out that then end up in the Palestinian Authority, where they return to life.

The film shows that there is an underworld that exists alongside of our consumer reality – “a transparent existence of transparent people whose livelihood depends on the objects we discard offhand, without even giving a thought to their fate”. We truly see the meaning of “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”.

Every day, thousands of appliances, toys and pieces  of furniture are left on Israel’s streets and they are the debris of an obsessively consumerist society. “Cast Offs” is the story of the junk collectors from both sides of the border, Israelis and Palestinians, who salvage these items and  sell them to the people who can’t afford the “real thing”.

“Yitzhak Rabin: Soldier, Leader, Statesman” by Itamar Rabinovich— An Intriguing and Admired Modern Leader

Rabinovich, Itamar. “Yitzhak Rabin: Soldier, Leader, Statesman”, (Jewish Lives) Yale University Press, 2017.

An Intriguing and Admired Modern Leader

Amos Lassen

It has been more than twenty years since the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin (1995) and he still remains intriguing and admired as a modern leader and as a person. He was the first Prime Minster born in Israel and was an integral part of the history of pre-state Israel and its evolution into a modern nation. Itamar Rabinovich was Israel’s ambassador to the United States from 1992-1996 and was a Rabin insider who now shares an

“insider’s perspective on the life and influence of Israel’s first native-born prime minister, his bold peace initiatives, and his tragic assassination”. We read here about Rabin’s life, contributions and character based on original research and Rabinovich’s own memories and recollections. Perhaps the single memory that describes who Rabin was and what he wanted is how hard he tried to resolve the Israel/Palestine conflict at the Oslo Peace Accords. Politically Rabin was awkward yet he became a statesman. He has been a soldier that defended Israel against her neighbors yet he became a peacemaker.

Rabinovich presents new insights into Rabin’s relationships with leaders including Bill Clinton, Jordan’s King Hussein, and Henry Kissinger and he explains his desire for an Israeli-Syrian peace plan as well as the important political issues that came to identify him. For me, the most interesting part of this book is Rabinovich’s look at the repercussions of Rabin’s murder that resulted in Netanyahu’s election and the rise of Israel’s radical right wing. Rabin dedicated himself to the cause of peace in the Middle East and was determined to find a way to ensure peace with Syria and Rabinovich was at Rabin’s side as talks were underway. I doubt anyone else had been that close to the man and from this closeness comes Rabinovich’s perspective. Without going into all we learn here, it is enough to say that it is the author’s personal relationship with Rabin that makes this such an important and valuable read. It can change the way you see the history of Israel.

“Avowed” by Julie Enszer— Changes

Enszer, Julie. “Avowed”, Sibling Rivalry, 2016.

Changes

Amos Lassen

Most of us can agree that the tremendous progress that the LGBT community has been able top achieve in the last few years is something we would never have thought that we would see in our lifetimes. We soon realized that if we want these freedoms to work for us and for the overall good of America, me must take them seriously as these are very serious changes that usher in an entire new world. Julie Enszer is one of my favorite poets and I anxiously await every new verse she writes. What she does in “Avowed” is react to the new freedoms as she explores her own relationship with her wife, Kim,

Her relationship with the larger LGBT community and her relationship with her country. Enszer is a wise woman who sees things as they are and then shares them with a touch of humor, eroticism and compassion. Every time I meet a guy who then introduces me to his husband or a woman who introduces me to her wife, I find myself a bit shocked to hear this words and about the whole concept of same-sex marriage. But the shock I receive is indeed positive and so very welcomed.

What I so love about Julie Enszer’s poetry is that she never forgets who she is and uses that in her writing. She is at home quoting or paraphrasing Jewish sources and integrates them into her verse and I often sit back and think about the research she has done just to get her idea across to her readers.

Many of her poems allude to her marriage to and partnership with Kim in which she celebrates their union. They have been together for over fifteen years but could not become a legal couple until the Supreme Court decision.

“we sign a ketubah

break a glass, stand

before G-d and our

families, make promises.….

Only we wonder

Why does the state take

so long to catch up”?

I love the playful eroticism of ”Connubial Hour” of the wedding night— a night with “no bloodstain, no mystery, just relaxed intimacy of long-time lovers and a Thai meal afterwards. I doubt that there are many poets that can make “vaginal mucus” sound as poetic as it does here. In “Imperfect”, Enszer tells us that marriage is more than just a piece of paper, “things don’t always fit. Fold, adapt, squeeze into form. Make do”. In a sense, she even takes Judaism to task and changes one word in a prayer that I recite every morning thanking G-d for making me a man; “everyday/I thank God/I was born a woman.” We get a mixture of politics, religion, visibility and love throughout the collection.

In questioning the institution of marriage, we see that the lesbian bride understands and was part of the fight to make our marriages legal and in LGBT society, marriage is so much more than just a piece of paper. For the poet, it has been a hard and long battle and a journey.

I usually do not publicly choose a favorite poem in an anthology but I cannot leave writing about “Avowed” without mentioning “A Lesbian Fantasia on ‘Angels in America’”. I absolutely love this poem as it brings us back to one of the most important dramas in LGBT history while shifting its emphasis to women. Enszer looks at Tony Kushner’s work with the idea of finding hope but instead finds anger…

“and Kushner gives me no model

no hero

just anger at G-d

who has abandoned us”…

we won’t die secret deaths any more

we will be citizens

the time has come

you are fabulous

each and every one

and I bless you

more life

the great work begins”

I remember sitting in the theater and hearing those words and weeping openly. I have not read them for many years but there are still as vibrant as my first encounter with them. The “great work” began and is continuing and as a minority that has suffered so greatly, we need to pat ourselves on our backs but never lose sight of our journey.

I am running out of special places on my desk for certain books that I love but I will a place for “Avowed”. Julie Enszer’s partnership with Kim is personal while our partnerships with each other are now public and have created a very powerful bond and movement. I must thank Julie for reminding us of that.

This is a “bittersweet journey of a lesbian couple’s struggle through the happily ever after with an edgy and humorous perspective that dares to share deep truths about desire, sex, and love”. Those truths are for and about us all.

“NIGHT JOB”— First Night

“Night Job”

First Night

Amos Lassen 

In his first feature film, J. Antonio brings us the story of James (Jason Torres), a temp doorman on his first night at his new job as a temporary doorman. Working the night shift is usually a strange experience for many until they become used to it and this is probably because darkness brings out many who are not seen out in the light. Filling in as a night doorman at a Manhattan high-rise apartment building, James meets not only strange tenants but street people as well.

James figured that a job like this would be less stressful than many others. His boss told him that probably the worse that could happen would be a homeless person trying to enter but unlike many other places, New York lives as much at night as it does during the day.

James gets the impression that the tenants of the building enjoy solving their issues and problems in the lobby and he tries to simply do his job of keeping the building quiet and secure sine he really knows nothing of conflict resolution (and that is job anyway). Of course it was hard not to see how many tenants came home after having had a few drinks. James certainly gets his share of oddballs including an exorcist (Robert Youngren), an old eccentric woman (Bettina Skye) who seems to have advice on everything giving unasked advice, a girl (Stacey Weckstein) who wants to help James by encouraging him and tries to make him feel better by kissing him when he needs it the most. James is not alone on the nightshift; there are others (Lester Greene, Hardy Calderon, Jose Espinal) who at first seem to understand to give him coffee and alcohol. His co-worker, the night porter (Greg Kritikos) never is where he is supposed to be and just as James begins to get a hold of how to work this job, a homeless trespassers (Brignel Camilien) appears.

All of the film is in black and white and it all takes place inside the apartment building. The one color sequence that we see is when James dreams about being invited to a party on the roof where he meets a woman. I wondered if director Antonio was reacting to movies who often show dreams in black and white while the rest is in color. Unfortunately, the acting is uneven but that could be due to budget constraints and it is admirable that a director would have such a large cast for a first film. Yet there were several really fine performances— Stacey Weckstein as the girl born with a golden spoon in her mouth and who has never had to want for anything. Timothy J. Cox never seems to have a bad performance and he is again a stand out as the boyfriend who gave his apartment keys to his girlfriend. I hate to not congratulate an actor on a job well done but Torres as James was just okay but then he, being the central character, had the job of reacting to all of the craziness that took place during his shift. Do not write him off, however, he has a lot going for him and I am sure we will be hearing from him and about him in the years to come.

I was not expecting as much humor as we get here and overall this is quite a funny kind of noir film that brings us quite a collection of characters. It takes a bit to become used to the odd narrative of the film but once you do, you will feel like you are in the building looking on as a series of mini-dramas take place. There were so many actors here that if I were to name them all, this review would be five times as long so please excuse me for not citing everyone.

My Personal Ten Best LGBT-Themed Films Of 2016— The Ten Best

My Personal 10 Best LGBT Films List 2016

The Ten Best

Amos Lassen

 

We can look back at 2016 and see that there have been some great LGBT-films this year. These re my personal favorites and while there were many films I loved this year, I have managed to get the list down to ten but have added a very special 11th film, “Something for Everyone” which finally was released on Blu ray and DVD in November is every bit as much fun as it was when it was released to movie houses in 1970.

10. “You and I” (Breaking Glass)

Summer in Berlin. Jonas is planning a trip through the little known area of the Uckermark in preparation for a photography project. He invites his best friend, Phillip, to come along. They haven’t met since the time they spent together in London. So they pack up their Mercedes camper and take off across uncharted territory, stopping whenever they see something they like, taking pictures and generally enjoying a laid-back road trip. The fact that Phillip is gay has never been an issue for either of them. When they pick up a hitchhiker named Boris, however, who shows Jonas some interesting spots and starts to make moves on Phillip, the friendship of the two starts to fray. Maybe three’s a crowd after all? By the end of the summer, things between Jonas and Phillip won’t ever be the same again.

  1. “Kiss Me, Kill Me” (Embrem)

“Kiss Me, Kill Me” is a murder mystery told at its best. It is a story that sends you in many directions guessing until the end. Just when you think you had it figured out…. It happened again…and then a third time. David Michael Barrett gives us plenty plot that keep you on the edge- of-your-seat and the tension never stops. I love a good thriller, and this film keeps us guessing. Visually the film is stunning and the pacing is excellent. It is edited in such a way that you stayed on your toes as you watched the film towards the end.

  1. “Closet Monster” (Strand)

Oscar is a teenager, just coming into his own in life. Coming from a broken home and living with a difficult father, he’s seeks an escape and hopes to get by being accepted into a makeup school in New York. His father thinks Oscar may be dating his female friend, but actually Oscar is more interested in his male co-worker at his new job. As the weeks go by, the pressure begins to build for Oscar as he increasingly feels trapped. Eventually they reach breaking point, with the memories of a horrific homophobic assault he witnessed as a child always haunting the back of his mind.

The film captures how teen life can sometimes feel both banal and extreme at the same time. We actually feel like we are a part of Oscar’s world.

  1. “Seed Money” (Breaking Glass)

“Seed Money” is the story of Chuck Holmes, a San Francisco pornographer turned philanthropist. Holmes helped create and shape gay identity in the years after Stonewall, and later became a major contributor to gay advocacy groups like the Human Rights Campaign and the LGBT Victory Fund, only to find later in life that while his money was welcome in philanthropic circles, he sometimes wasn’t. BONUS FEATURES (OVER 90 MINUTES OF INCREDIBLE EXTRAS!) – DELETED SCENES – EXTENDED INTERVIEWS WITH JIM BENTLEY, TOM CHASE, CHI CHI LARUE, JEFF STRYKER, JOHN WATERS AND MORE!

  1. Lazy Eye” (Breaking Glass)

When Dean, a graphic designer in Los Angeles, notices a sudden change in his vision, an ex-love from 15 years earlier contacts him unexpectedly in hopes of rekindling their relationship. When the two meet at a vacation house in the desert near Joshua Tree, secrets are revealed and passions rekindled that threaten to upend both of their lives. Forty-eight hours later, neither will ever be the same. Please note – this is the special Extended Director’s Cut that was not shown at festivals. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Deleted Scene, Blooper Reel, Film Festival Q&A

  1. “Holding The Man” (Strand)

Based on Tim Conigrave’s bestselling memoir, the film covers a roughly 15-year period, starting in the mid-70s when Tim (Ryan Corr) is in a Catholic high school and first begins hanging out with his crush, John (Craig Scott). The film follows their relationship, which sees them getting together, splitting up, Tim experiencing the growing gay hedonism of the time, and their difficult reunion. Eventually their story comes face-to-face with the 1980s AIDS crisis, interspersing Tim’s AIDS activism, diagnosis, and the fact John becomes symptomatic before Tim, with the story of their earlier relationship.

“Holding The Man” mixes sadness and happiness, as well as humor. These are gay guys who do gay things and the film brings that to the fore. While at one point Tim’s drama teacher reminds him he is more than just his sexuality, this is a movie that wants to show that statements like that can just be a way to try and get people to hide the breadth of their sexuality, from those who rather wouldn’t see.

4. “London Spy” (BBC)

What begins as a chance romance between two people from opposite walks of life one an antisocial investment banker (Alex Edward Holcroft), the other a slacker romantic (Ben Whishaw) quickly unravels when the reclusive banker disappears under suspicious circumstances, exposing his real identity as a spy and forcing his lover down a dark path to reveal the truth. Created by acclaimed best-selling author Tom Rob Smith and co-starring Academy Award-winner Jim Broadbent as well as Emmy-nominee Charlotte Rampling prepare to enter the exhilarating world of British espionage. But don t let your heart get in the way of the truth.

3. “Theo and Hugo” (Strand)

After meeting in a sex club, Theo and Hugo feel a connection and decide to leave together. However, their flirtation seems to come to a swift end when Theo admits he didn’t use a condom. Unsurprisingly, the HIV+ Hugo is far from impressed. After Hugo arranges for Theo to go to the hospital to arrange tests and post-exposure prophylaxis, it seems like that will be it for them, but over the course of 12 hours they find themselves increasingly drawn to one another.

This is an explicit film, which starts out with on-screen erections, and sex. The first 15 minutes has no dialogue at all, its just men having sex. However, after that, the film evolves into something else. It is a romance, and often a rather sweet, sincere and charming one. The film speaks to modern gay life, for good or bad, in a way few other films have, while retaining a uniquely Gallic sense of romance, which nods at fantasy while never actually going there.

2. “Downriver” (Breaking Glass)

After being locked up in a youth detention centre for his involvement in the death of another child, James (Reef Ireland) heads back to the secluded area where the crime took place, hoping to get some answers, not least what happened after he had an epileptic fit and the body went missing. His return brings him back into the sphere of the unpleasant Anthony, who it appears may also have been involved in the boy’s death but escaped punishment. With James’ mother (Kerry Fox) pretending she’s his aunt, and James’ quest taking ever darker turns, he begins to understand that even more disturbing things may have been going on than solely the drowning of an innocent child.

It’s the sort of film that could have easily seemed nasty and exploitative, but thanks to an excellent central performance from Reef Ireland and a plot that keeps the viewer hooked – even as it takes ever more disturbing turns – it works brilliantly. Sustained by a tense and macabre tone, Downriver is a massive step above most other gay-themed fare – indeed, there aren’t many other dark thrillers like this that have included gay content and didn’t seem to be doing it for shock value or for other negative reasons.

  1. “Moonlight” (Lions Gate)

A timeless story of human connection and self-discovery, “Moonlight” chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami. It is a vital portrait of contemporary African American life and an intensely personal and poetic meditation on identity, family, friendship, and love as well as a groundbreaking piece of cinema that reverberates with deep compassion and universal truths. We get extraordinary performances from a tremendous ensemble cast and the film is profoundly moving in its portrayal of the moments, people, and unknowable forces that shape our lives and make us who we are. This is not only a wonderful gay film

it’s one of the best films of the year and a cultural milestone in many different ways.

Special Mention:

“Something for Everyone” (Kino/ Lorber)

Newly re-mastered in HD!

Seduction and Murder Scandalizes German Nobility!

The great Angela Lansbury and Michael York star in this slick blend of drama and black comedy with a fairy tale setting in a Bavarian castle. In post WWII Germany, the aristocratic Von Ornstein family has fallen on hard times. Countess Von Ornstein (Lansbury) can’t maintain her castle, but things begin to look up with the arrival of a handsome and young footman named Conrad (York) who apparently can do anything asked of him. Determined to become a member of nobility, Conrad one by one, cons, seduces, corrupts and compromises everyone who crosses his path. Set in the authentic 100-year-old castle, this polished mix of humor and suspense with a great twist ending truly offers “Something For Everyone”. Legendary Broadway producer, Harold Prince made his feature film directorial debut with this film written by Hugh Wheeler and based on the celebrated classic novel, The Cook by Harry Kressing. It is every bit as great as it was some almost 50 years ago.

Note: I have been asked thousands of times about which movie is my all time favorite and that is such a rough tough question bit without a second thought I will have to say that my favorite movie has three screen greats, Katherine Hepburn, Peter O’Toole and a very young Anthony Hopkins, “THE LION IN WINTER”. The script is great and the performances are historic.

My Ten Best LGBT Book List 2016— My Personal Choices

My Ten Best LGBT Book List 2016

My Personal Choices

Amos Lassen

These were the ten books I loved this year and I give them to you in no special order. This are purely my personal choices and for those of you who know me and my year-ends lists know that I prefer to have my list be as diverse as possible. There were many more ten books that I loved this year and perhaps later I will do an also loved list. The biggest surprise was that I seemed to have liked non-fiction this year more than fiction. The book descriptions are taken from Amazon.com

“Christodora” by Tim Murphy (Grove)

In this vivid and compelling novel, Tim Murphy follows a diverse set of characters whose fates intertwine in an iconic building in Manhattan’s East Village, the Christodora. The Christodora is home to Milly and Jared, a privileged young couple with artistic ambitions. Their neighbor, Hector, a Puerto Rican gay man who was once a celebrated AIDS activist but is now a lonely addict, becomes connected to Milly and Jared’s lives in ways none of them can anticipate. Meanwhile, Milly and Jared’s adopted son Mateo grows to see the opportunity for both self-realization and oblivion that New York offers. As the junkies and protestors of the 1980s give way to the hipsters of the 2000s and they, in turn, to the wealthy residents of the crowded, glass-towered city of the 2020s, enormous changes rock the personal lives of Milly and Jared and the constellation of people around them. Moving kaleidoscopically from the Tompkins Square Riots and attempts by activists to galvanize a true response to the AIDS epidemic, to the New York City of the future, Christodora recounts the heartbreak wrought by AIDS, illustrates the allure and destructive power of hard drugs, and brings to life the ever-changing city itself.

“One-Man Show” by Michael Schreiber (Bruno Gmunder)

Bernard Perlin (1918-2014) was an extraordinary figure in twentieth century American art and gay cultural history, an acclaimed artist and sexual renegade who reveled in pushing social, political, and artistic boundaries. His work regularly appeared in popular magazines of the 1940s, fifties, and sixties; was collected by Rockefellers, Whitneys, and Astors; and was acquired by major museums, including the Smithsonian, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Tate Modern. His portrait clients included well-known literary, artistic, theatrical, political, and high society figures. As a government propaganda artist and war artist-correspondent, he produced many now-iconic images of World War II. From the 1930s on, he also daringly committed to canvas and paper scenes of underground gay bars and nude studies of street hustlers, among other aspects of his active and dedicated gay life.

Socially, he moved in the upper echelons of New York gay society, a glittering “cufflink crowd” that included George Platt Lynes, Lincoln Kirstein, Glenway Wescott, Monroe Wheeler, Paul Cadmus, Jared French, George Tooker, Pavel Tchelitchew, Truman Capote, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, and Jerome Robbins. He also counted among his most intimate companions such luminaries in the arts as Vincent Price, Clifton Webb, Ben Shahn, Samuel Barber, Gian Carlo Menotti, Aaron Copland, Christopher Isherwood, Don Bachardy, Martha Gellhorn, Betsy Drake, Muriel Rukeyser, Carson McCullers, Philip Johnson, and E.M. Forster. Yet he was equally at home in the gay underworlds of New York and Rome, where his unbridled sexual escapades put him in competition with the likes of Jean Genet and Tennessee Williams.

In “One-Man Show”, Michael Schreiber chronicles the storied life, illustrious friends and lovers, and astounding adventures of Bernard Perlin through no-holds-barred interviews with the artist, candid excerpts from Perlin’s unpublished memoirs, never-before-seen photos, and an extensive selection of Bernard Perlin’s incredible public and private art.

“How to Survive a Plague” by David France (Knopf)

The definitive history of the successful battle to halt the AIDS epidemic—from the creator of, and inspired by, the seminal documentary How to Survive a Plague. A riveting, powerful telling of the story of the grassroots movement of activists, many of them in a life-or-death struggle, who seized upon scientific research to help develop the drugs that turned HIV from a mostly fatal infection to a manageable disease. Ignored by public officials, religious leaders, and the nation at large, and confronted with shame and hatred, this small group of men and women chose to fight for their right to live by educating themselves and demanding to become full partners in the race for effective treatments. Around the globe, 16 million people are alive today thanks to their efforts. Not since the publication of Randy Shilts’ classic And the Band Played On has a book measured the AIDS plague in such brutally human, intimate, and soaring terms. In dramatic fashion, we witness the founding of ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group), and the rise of an underground drug market in opposition to the prohibitively expensive (and sometimes toxic) AZT. We watch as these activists learn to become their own researchers, lobbyists, drug smugglers, and clinicians, establishing their own newspapers, research journals, and laboratories, and as they go on to force reform in the nation’s disease-fighting agencies. With his unparalleled access to this community David France illuminates the lives of extraordinary characters, including the closeted Wall Street trader-turned-activist, the high school dropout who found purpose battling pharmaceutical giants in New York, the South African physician who helped establish the first officially recognized buyers’ club at the height of the epidemic, and the public relations executive fighting to save his own life for the sake of his young daughter. Expansive yet richly detailed, this is an insider’s account of a pivotal moment in the history of American civil rights. Powerful, heart wrenching, and finally exhilarating, How to Survive a Plague is destined to become an essential part of the literature of AIDS.

“When We Rise” by Cleve Jones (Hachette)

The partial inspiration for the forthcoming ABC television mini-series!

“You could read Cleve Jones\\\’s book because you should know about the struggle for gay, lesbian, and transgender rights from one of its key participants–maybe heroes–but really, you should read it for pleasure and joy.”–Rebecca Solnit, author of Men Explain Things to Me

Born in 1954, Cleve Jones was among the last generation of gay Americans who grew up wondering if there were others out there like himself. There were. Like thousands of other young people, Jones, nearly penniless, was drawn in the early 1970s to San Francisco, a city electrified by progressive politics and sexual freedom. Jones found community–in the hotel rooms and ramshackle apartments shared by other young adventurers, in the city\\\’s bathhouses and gay bars like The Stud, and in the burgeoning gay district, the Castro, where a New York transplant named Harvey Milk set up a camera shop, began shouting through his bullhorn, and soon became the nation\\\’s most outspoken gay elected official. With Milk\\\’s encouragement, Jones dove into politics and found his calling in “the movement.” When Milk was killed by an assassin\\\’s bullet in 1978, Jones took up his mentor\\\’s progressive mantle–only to see the arrival of AIDS transform his life once again.

By turns tender and uproarious, When We Rise is Jones’ account of his remarkable life. He chronicles the heartbreak of losing countless friends to AIDS, which very nearly killed him, too; his co-founding of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation during the terrifying early years of the epidemic; his conception of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, the largest community art project in history; the bewitching story of 1970s San Francisco and the magnetic spell it cast for thousands of young gay people and other misfits; and the harrowing, sexy, and sometimes hilarious stories of Cleve’s passionate relationships with friends and lovers during an era defined by both unprecedented freedom and violence alike. When We Rise is not only the story of a hero to the LQBTQ community, but the vibrantly voice memoir of a full and transformative American life.

“What Belongs to You” by Garth Greenwell (Picador)

On an unseasonably warm autumn day, an American teacher enters a public bathroom beneath Sofia’s National Palace of Culture. There he meets Mitko, a charismatic young hustler, and pays him for sex. He returns to Mitko again and again over the next few months, drawn by hunger and loneliness and risk, and finds himself ensnared in a relationship in which lust leads to mutual predation, and tenderness can transform into violence. As he struggles to reconcile his longing with the anguish it creates, he’s forced to grapple with his own fraught history, the world of his southern childhood where to be queer was to be a pariah. There are unnerving similarities between his past and the foreign country he finds himself in, a country whose geography and griefs he discovers as he learns more of Mitko’s own narrative, his private history of illness, exploitation, and want.

What Belongs to You is a stunning debut novel of desire and its consequences. With lyric intensity and startling eroticism, Garth Greenwell has created an indelible story about the ways in which our pasts and cultures, our scars and shames can shape who we are and determine how we love.

The Sea in Quiet Tonight” by Michael Ward (Querelle)

“”In this insightful and inspirational memoir, Michael Ward returns to the early years of the AIDS epidemic, when so little was known and so few who were diagnosed survived. He chronicles in candid detail his partner Mark’s decline and eventual death. By looking back on these devastating events, the author not only honors a generation lost to the illness but also opens a vital window onto the past, before medication helped save lives and when HIV/AIDS was usually a death sentence. “In his heart-wrenching debut memoir, former psychotherapist Ward provides an intimate portrait of the early days of the AIDS epidemic through the lens of his romantic relationship with the sea-loving Mark Halberstadt, the 100th patient in Massachusetts to be diagnosed with the disease. Following their chance encounter on Fire Island, a “combination of Mecca and Oz” for gay men in the 1970s and early ’80s, their infatuation blooms into a long-distance courtship between the East Coast and Florida before the tragic turn in Mark’s health. Ward’s attention to detail proves invaluable in documenting the anxiety of these uncertain years, when mysterious stomach pains and fevers suddenly progressed into fatal conditions that “arrived like lightning bolts.” The book includes important glimpses into the emerging AIDS subculture—such as Louise Hay’s first support groups and the founding of Boston’s AIDS Action Committee by Larry Kessler—but the disease is secondary to how romantic love and commitment are strained when confronted with the unimaginable. “I feel like a leper,” Mark says from his hospital room, which is labeled “Precautionary Isolation”; visitors are required to wear gowns, gloves, surgical caps, and masks. Ward never hesitates when peering into the abyss of this traumatic time, and the result is a courageous and necessary addition to the canon of AIDS literature.” — BookLife. “Ward is a talented storyteller who’s created a compelling, emotionally rich tale out of a difficult, tragic time in American history. Anyone looking for more insight into the AIDS epidemic from a deeply personal perspective will likely benefit from this book. It could have been incredibly difficult to read about someone watching their partner struggle through disease, but Ward handles his and Halberstadt’s story with admirable grace.” –Kirkus

“Radiance” by Emmanuel Xavier (Rebel Satori)

“Emanuel Xavier’s newest book radiates in diverse directions, back into a past of New York club kid glamour and violence, into a family history of lost connections, and into loves forfeited and found-all of which the poet illumines with steady-eyed honesty. Finally, as he confronts a health challenge to the very brain that is the root-place of these sharp and poignant poems, radiation becomes radiance, a hard-won inner light that lets us all see how ‘splendid is our survival.'” –David Groff, author of “Clay”

The beauty of Xavier’s poetry is its honesty which at times can shock but always leaves the reader feeling good. –Reviews by Amos Lassen. Radiance is dedicated to survivors everywhere, bringing urgent attention to the perils of the marginalized in the wake of the Pulse Orlando Massacre and the challenges of the Black Lives Matter movement. –Charlie Vazquez for latinorebels.com.  “Sometimes a crumb falls / from the table of joy,” Langston Hughes wrote, and Emanuel Xavier, in evoking those small pleasures–the taste of mangoes, smell of coffee–is capturing those crumbs … He does so amidst much testament to the horrors of injury, loss and mortality. These poems move and speak: one can imagine their delivery at the microphone, and yet at the same time they so powerfully address the reader as private experience. — Lambda Literary 

“In Xavier’s poetics, identity is radiance (light, energy), and like Keith Haring’s radiant babies, we’re all in the process of becoming.” – Urayoan Noel, The Harriet Blog for The Poetry Foundation. “Taken as a whole, the poems narrate the life, in vignettes, of a flawed but deeply sympathetic man who is rendered raw and vulnerable on the page … The poems are memorable, the feelings they will evoke in you are real and complicated, and the journey they will take you on is surprisingly large in scope.” – readdiversebooks.com 

As in his title poem, Radiance, the tenderness of Emanuel Xavier’s words are in stark contrast to the hard and often painful realities they convey. Yet, the two are masterfully melded to create beautiful stories in poems that are at once sad and encompass a sense of yearning. Radiance is the type of read that calms the nerves until the reality of what it conveys pierces one’s heart and not with cupid’s arrow. –Nancy Mercado, editor of the Nuyorican Women Writers Anthology

Urgency and despair wrestle in the restless poems of Emanuel Xavier’s Radiance. As Sinatra’s singing voice grew richer, more resonant, more heartbreaking after his celebrated breakup with Eva Gardner, Xavier’s poetic voice strikes new notes, new registers, both diving and soaring. –Michael Broder, author of This Life Now and Drug and Disease Free In Radiance, Xavier scours the words of his poetry and the reader is given a keen clear look at reality. I love Emanuel! –Miguel Algarin, founder of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe

“Foucault in Winter, in the Linnaeus Garden” (Starcherone)

Michel Foucault famously wrote, “I am fully aware that I have never written anything other than fictions.” In this polylingual, operatic fantasy comprised of invented letters, most of them unsent, set in Sweden during February 1956 while Foucault was undergoing a Swedish winter, the philosopher finds himself not just researching, but living through, his work to come, Madness and Civilization.

Foucault, in Winter, in the Linnaeus Garden is a masterful work of introspective beauty. Its layers of meaning cascade across its pages in recursive waves of polysemous speech. The text is at once concerned with the emotional truth of its characters’ experiences and with the lived truth of Foucault’s philosophy. Joyce achieves all of this with a deft hand, a multilingual pen, and an ear for what we mean when we speak and how we speak when we mean. —The Public, Buffalo

The novel affords a compelling meditation on what we might call the nexus of madness, philosophy, and literature, one that conveys a productive and troubled time for Foucault with an intensity and artfulness befitting of one of the most artful philosophers of the twentieth century…. Everything about Joyce’s Foucault is alluring, and his characterization will seduce the philosopher’s devotees and doubters alike.–Electronic Book Review

Oscillation is a key component of the novel’s structure and, in a larger sense, is related to states of absence and presence, linguistic or otherwise… [and] absence looms large in Foucault in Winter… [which] manages to interweave intimate details of passionate relationships with kernels of Foucault’s thought… —American Book Review

This is an emotional, transportive novel that recalls a time of literary passion. It is a work that begs to be read aloud, regardless of its challenging polylinguality; to be heard, felt and absorbed…Foucault, in Winter, in the Linnaeus Garden floats between ideas and language, madness and civilization, and, in the process, finds emotional gravity. —New Orleans Review

“Gay Gotham” by Daniel Albrecht (Rizzoli)

Uncovering the lost history of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender artists in New York City. Queer people have always flocked to New York seeking freedom, forging close-knit groups for support and inspiration. Gay Gotham brings to life the countercultural artistic communities that sprang up over the last hundred years, a creative class whose radical ideas would determine much of modern culture. More than 200 images—both works of art, such as paintings and photographs, as well as letters, snapshots, and ephemera—illuminate their personal bonds, scandal-provoking secrets at the time and many largely unknown to the public since. Starting with the bohemian era of the 1910s and 1920s, when the pansy craze drew voyeurs of all types to Greenwich Village and Harlem, the book winds through midcentury Broadway as well as Fire Island as it emerged as a hotbed, turns to the post-Stonewall, decade-long wild party that revolved around clubs like the Mineshaft and Studio 54, and continues all the way through the activist mobilization spurred by the AIDS crisis and the move toward acceptance at the century’s close. Throughout, readers encounter famous figures, from James Baldwin and Mae West to Leonard Bernstein, and discover lesser-known ones, such as Harmony Hammond, Greer Lankton, and Richard Bruce Nugent. Surprising relationships emerge: Andy Warhol and Mercedes de Acosta, Robert Mapplethorpe and Cecil Beaton, George Platt Lynes and Gertrude Stein. By peeling back the overlapping layers of this cultural network that thrived despite its illicitness, this groundbreaking publication reveals a whole new side of the history of New York and celebrates the power of artistic collaboration to transcend oppression.

“Flying Without a Net” by E.M. Ben Shaul (Interlude)

Dani Perez, a secular Israeli working as a software engineer in Boston, has never had trouble balancing his faith and his sexuality–until he meets Avi Levine, a gay Orthodox Jew and sign language interpreter. As they fall in love, Dani finds himself wanting Avi in his life but confused by Avi’s observance. Dani can’t understand how Avi reconciles what his religion demands with what his body desires. And although he wants to deny it, neither can Avi.

“This is a unique and beautiful book, with a story that took me to being a fly-on-the-wall over these wonderful characters’ shoulders. I can imagine that this kind of story will mean a lot to people who come from a similar faith—but even if you, like myself, are not of that faith, it doesn’t lessen the gentle rhythm of this book. A fantastically written debut”.

Despite the risk of losing Avi forever to a religious life that objects to their love, Dani supports him through the struggle to find an answer. Will they be able to start a life together despite religious ideology that conflicts with the relationship they are trying to build?

“Enigma Variations” by Andre Aciman— Desire, Pure and Raw

Aciman, Andre. “Enigma Variations: A Novel”, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016.

Desire, Pure and Raw

Amos Lassen

If you have ever thought about the lines between melodrama and tragedy, this is the book you need to read and if you have not thought about that, you need to read this as well. I have love Andre Aciman’s prose and his ability to depict the emotions in prose and here is proof that he is one of the most interesting novelists writing today. We are introduced to Paul whose life seems to be ruled by love; be it present or past.

As a youngster Paul listed after his parents’ cabinetmaker, as a college student, he had passion for a young coed and his life has been filled with anonymous sexual encounters with men wherever he might have been. His definition of love is the same as his definition of raw desire and while he might feel this for one person, at the same time he feels it for someone else. While these “loves” are often transient and anonymous, there is great passion and it is this passion that propels Paul forward. Aciman takes us into Paul’s mind and thoughts as he examines the roots of his passions and the definitions of desire.

Aciman pulls is into a sensual and sensuous milieu in which his characters deal with moral agony due to having their hearts and not their minds. the choices they make in following their hearts. Paul is a whose life seems ruled by sensitivity and he lives with the memories of both men and women that he has met, bedded and even taught wisdom to. While he is Catholic in what he thinks, he is flexible in his pursuit of feeling and love. His world is one of sympathy and thought; he is man of many identities who finds pleasure where he can and lives with the damage he has caused to himself. He searches for desire and attachment and harbors the regrets that are the result. Paul’s loves are consuming and covetous during his adult years just as they were when he was in his teens. He is unable to move forward without letting go of his past and he constantly dreams of love. He is an enigma to himself just as we are to ourselves.

Wile living in Italy with his parents, Paul’s first crush was a handsome, talented local Italian with whom he had what he calls “my first encounter with time.” As an adult he returns to Italy and learns that he could have the same anywhere. As an adult in New York, he senses that his girlfriend Maud was cheating on him with a handsome visitor and then he becomes drawn to the visitor himself. He becomes romantically involved with a fellow tennis player while also being off and on involved with a college girlfriend.

Aciman brilliantly enters the human psyche and with his usual gorgeous and lyrical prose, he looks at desire and our aches, pains and indecisions. Paul like so many others walks a very thin line between melodrama and tragedy and manages to remain somewhere in between the two.