Queer Book Reviews from QZE #16

These are book reviews that appeared in Queer Zine Explosion #16, published in November, 1998. All reviews by Larry-bob. For more book reviews, see Book Reviews from QZE 15 and book reviews from QZE 17.

Remember, buy your books and CDs from local independent stores, not evil corporate chains or on-line mega-stores. Local stores can do special orders and get your books for you in days. Also request your local public library purchase books and CDs you like.

The Indelible Alison Bechdel: Confessions, Comix, and Miscellaneous Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel. Rather than a collection of newspaper strips, as most of the DTWOF books are (for that see the new collection, Split-Level Dykes to Watch Out For, which also includes a long new comic about moving day), this book includes autobiographical writing, comix from the DTWOF calendars, and other unusual items. There's prose writing about her childhood drawings (surprisingly, she mostly drew men), leading up to her coming out and the beginnings of DTWOF. There are also autobiographical comics reprinted from Gay Comix. And there's an out-of-control comix jam with Alison, Jennifer Camper, Howard Cruse, Diane DiMassa, Rupert Kinnard, and Ivan Velez Jr. appropriating each other's comic characters, leading to a wild comix orgy. Plus there's nutty fan mail, and other rare comics. (Firebrand Books, 141 The Commons, Ithaca, NY 14850, ph. 607-272-0000)

The Letters of Mina Harker by Dodie Bellamy. This book is the culmination of a posession, a spirit that haunted San Francisco a decade ago. Bram Stoker's heroine inhabited the body of Dodie Bellamy and wrote letters to Dodie's friends, who were also writers, some of whom were also posessed. Unlike the book "Real: The Letters of Mina Harker and Sam D'Allesandro," in which the letters of Mina alternated with those written by Sam, this book is solely composed of letters written by Mina Harker. We hear one side of the conversations, but there are echoes on the line. (Hard Press, PO Box 184, West Stockbridge, MA 01266)

200 Beats Per Minute by Eddie Beverage. 200 BPM is a novel set in the Florida rave scene. Danny and his crew of friends hang out at dance parties, getting high, dealing drugs, and having other adventures. Danny begins to realize that his drugging might be a means of not dealing with his sexuality, as he figures out he's attracted to his friend Travis. The music references are so spot-on, it's like when a DJ drops a needle on the perfect piece of vinyl.
Available from http://www.eddiebeverage.com

The Black Book 5th Edition. From the publishers of Black Sheets, a book which lists all sorts of sexuality resources - publishers, sex toys, stores, etc. Plus other useful resources, like listings of gay newspapers, motorcycle clubs, leather bars, etc. (Box 31155, SF CA 94131-0155. phone w/ credit card-415-431-0171.)

Fat and Proud: The Politics of Size by Charlotte Cooper. Fat people experience hatred and discrimination. This can come from strangers, family, doctors, in the workplace, and in other contexts. This book examines this oppression and the responses that fat people have had to it in terms of organizing to fight fatphobia in its many forms. Cooper examines the positions of past books on fat, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of their arguments. While the book is written from the perspective of a fat woman and speaks more of issues for fat women than fat men, I would recommend it for everyone, fat or not. One hurdle the author encountered is that the publisher censored her writing, for instance not allowing her to mention Fat Girl magazine because of its S/M content. For a complete reading experience, I would suggest supplementing the book with the article discussing the censorship from issue 4 of Charlotte's zine, Kink. (The Women's Press, 24 Great Sutton St., London EC1V 0DX UK)

Les folles nuits de Jonathan by Jean-Paul Jennequin. This is a French-language graphic novel about the adventures of Jonathan, a young gay man who is coming out and finding his way in the world. Along the way he's advised by a concience figure, who sort of looks like a little hot dog with arms, legs, and a face. He's attracted to older men, and even sleeps with a couple, but hasn't quite found the right guy. Although he has gay friends, he's struggling with coming out to his mother and straight friends. The story is very sweet and it's easy to identify with Jonathan's journey to integrating his sexuality into his life. It's a pretty long graphic novel, over 200 pages. When the comix were originally published in zine-type format, there were English translations in text form in separate form, and you might enquire about getting those to accompany the book. [web: link to a review in French which also has a sample page from the comic.] (Bulles Gaies, 10 rue de la Petite Pierre, 75011, Paris, France)

Curbside by Robert Kirby. A collection of comics by Robert Kirby. This collection starts with the early days of his syndicated comic "Curbside," when it was autobiographical and largely about Rob and his boyfriend Tony. By the end of the book he's introduced the fictional characters who are the mainstays of the comic currently. These comics manage to both be laugh-out-loud funny and put the characters through dramatic personal states. The book was published thanks to a grant from the Xeric foundation, an award presented out outstanding cartoonists. (Hobnob Press, Box 2368, Times Square Stn, NY, NY 10108)

Girljock: The Book edited by Roxxie. A collection of writing and comics from the lesbian sports zine Girljock. All sorts of sports and the women who do them are covered - boxing, rock climbing, ultimate Frisbee, soccer, bodybuilding, hockey, wrestling, golf, basketball, skateboarding, tennis, and more. And there's humor pieces about lesbian softball wives, being a Girl Sloth, long-haired and bald-headed lesbians, quizzes, and advice columns. There's sections on sports products like jogbras.Plus a whole section on sex. (St. Martin's Press)

Things Invisible To See: Gay and Lesbian Tales of Magic Realism, edited by Lawrence Schimel. A collection of tales that put a surreal twist on everyday existence. A woman is able to step into a painting, an angel becomes tangled in a gay man's clothesline, and so forth. The contributors are Sarah Schulman, Laura Antoniou, Leslea Newman, Kerry Bashford, Lawrence Schimel, Martha Soukup, Nancy Springer, Rand B. Lee, Brian Thomsen, and Michelle Sagara West. (Circlet Press, 1770 Mass Ave. #278, Cambridge, MA 02140 web: www.circlet.com)

Shimmer by Sarah Schulman. Shimmer is set in the McCarthy era. There are three main characters who don't interact much directly with each other, but influence each other through secondary characters. Sylvia Golubowsky is a newspaper secretary who hopes to become a reporter. Austin Van Cleve is a gossip columnist for a different newspaper, and has a rivalry with Sylvia's boss. Cal Byfield, whose parents are Jamaican, is an aspiring playwright, and his wife becomes a friend of Sylvia. Byfield's granddaughter injects a modern voice, as she researches Cal's life. Van Cleve personifies the evil of the era. The lack of support Golubowsky receives from her family echoes one of the themes of Schulman's previous novel, Rat Bohemia. Sylvia learns through the course of the book why she feels a difference from others. Shimmer is a detailed evocation of an era when individuals struggled alone against powerful institutions to reach their goals, much as we do now. Both then and now, collective movements were and are at a low ebb. There are lessons here, parallels that can be seen more clearly through a historical, fictional lens.

I wonder if this book is an experiment in applying the formulas articulated in Schulman's book "StagestruckS about what the rules for fake public homosexuality are. For instance "Straight audiences must not be expected to universalize to a gay or lesbian protagonist unless they have already built a relationship with that character, thinking they were straight." This seems to describe the situation of Sylvia. The (straight or closeted) white male is a major viewpoint character of the book, and while such characters have appeared in Schulman's writing before, this is the first time one has been granted the priviledge of speaking in the first person. Perhaps this is meant as a bribe to the straight reader, though the character is so evil it is doubtful that anyone could identify with him. Cal's frustration with the theatre world parallels Schulman's experiences with "Rent." He, like Schulman is concerned with issues of representation, and turns down the "opportunity" to write for Amos and Andy, a cultural product of the majority culture which reinforces stereotypes rather than breaking them down. (Avon/Bard)

Stagestruck by Sarah Schulman. Sarah Schulman wrote a novel, "People in Trouble" which appeared before the musical "Rent," and which "Rent" shares a number of plot points with. "Rent" is basically a hybrid of "La Boheme" and "People in Trouble." Of course, Schulman didn't receive any credit or money for the theft of her work. "Rent" is from the point of view of a straight white male, and while there is a token diversity in the cast, they exist in support of the status quo, rather than in opposition to it. Thus the material stolen from Schulman was twisted to the opposite of its original intent. In this book, she presents the history of her attempt to get recognition of the wrongs against her. In another section, she examines what the plays which were actually by gays, lesbians, people with AIDS, and women of color were that were presented in New York at the same time as "Rent." After this exposition, she draws conclusions about the marketing of homosexuality and AIDS. Images are created in adversing and products that affirm the liberalism of straight consumers, while duping gay and lesbian consumers into thinking that they are represented. This book is unique in expressing a critique of corporate power's cooption of homosexuality, and having such a critique is vital in organizing resistance to that power. (Duke University Press)

Pedophiles on Parade by David Sonenschein. This book is the product of very thorough research into the depiction of pedophila in the media, and the images of those who are opposed to it. It's in the form of two volumes of 250 and 300 pages each. The first book has sections on the depiction of the pedophile, victims, and heros in fiction and in non-fiction media coverage. The second book delves into the historical roots of the images of the molester and related figures, and pedophilia and popular culture. (D. Sonenschein, PO Box 15744, San Antonio, TX 78212)

Sexing the Groove: Popular Music and Gender edited by Sheila Whiteley. This book is a collection of papers written by various authors about popular music and gender. The writing is academic, but not usually too jargon-laden. While there are several chapters about such boring topics as Jagger and Springsteen, there are also chapters on women guitarists and riot grrrl. Most importantly for our concerns is the article "The Missing Links: Riot grrrl -- feminism -- lesbian culture" by Marion Leonard, which explores connections between riot grrrl and earlier womyn's music, and also points out some of the ways that past writing about riot grrrl has heterosexualized it. (Routledge Books)

Watch out for Michelle Tea's book "The Passionate Mistakes and Intricate Corruption of One Girl in America" from Semiotext(e).