Summer Books Roundup, Part 1

by Jim Piechota

Bay Area Reporter

Tuesday June 7, 2022

Summer Books Roundup, Part 1

Summer is alive with new books on or about queerness from a kaleidoscopically-diverse array of subjects and authors, and from a variety of literary angles. Here's Part One of a three-part sampling of what's already published or is coming up in the next month to LGBTQ bookstore shelves and digital catalogs.

Fiction

"So Happy For You," by Celia Laskey, $26.99 (Hanover Square)

Laskey explores the dynamics of friendship in this tale of devilish obsession as Robin Hawkins, a queer Ph.D. student writing her dissertation, decides to feature her best friend Ellie's wedding in the paper for dramatic, real-life effect. Once Robin agrees to be Ellie's maid of honor, the novel unravels at full force to become a psychological game of chess with "Handmaid's Tale" references and just enough sinister plot twists to keep the tension taut. The ending's a shocker as well.

www.harpercollins.com

"The Dove in the Belly," by Jim Grimsley, $19.99 (Levine Querido)

Set in the late 1970s in North Carolina, southern author Grimsley's latest depicts the passions of a gay college student as he navigates abandonment, loss, and a search for true love. Dumped by his meandering mother, Ronny must fend for himself in Chapel Hill, making his own money and finally finding a boyfriend to call his own. His friend Ben, a hunky, questioning football player, isn't a prospective suitor by any means, yet Ronny finds himself drawn into his sphere of nonchalant interest and callous treatment of him emotionally. Though their relationship ebbs and flows, the dynamics are interesting and may strike a chord with readers who courted tumultuous, unrequited loves throughout their own youths. A seasoned novelist, Grimsley is, of course, best at eloquent prose and here, while the story may be unfulfilling, the writing is exquisite and well worth a look.

www.levinequerido.com

"Dot & Ralfie," by Amy Hoffman, $16.95 (Univ. of Wisconsin Press)

Endearing and humorously crisp, memoirist and novelist Hoffman's latest focuses on the longstanding relationship between two lesbians in those sunset years when bodies begin to creak with age and memory fades. Both women must endure frustrating new physical restrictions: Ralfie, a DPW worker, has had knee replacement surgery, and Dot, a librarian, has a heart condition. These maladies create issues around living in their third-floor Boston apartment, and prompt Dot's sister Susan to encourage a living facility for elders. Character-driven and effortlessly enjoyable, Hoffman sheds sweet light on the often-dismissed population of LGBT seniors with this very realistic and beautifully-written story of lesbian elders living and loving in contemporary Boston.

uwpress.wisc.edu

"99 Miles from L.A.," by P. David Ebersole, $21.95 (Pelekinesis Publishing)

Ebersole, a queer Palm Springs-based independent filmmaker and documentarian, crafts a serpentine tale of mystery and interpersonal melodrama with this new debut crime novel. Frank is a "self-described bisexual" music professor who dips his toes into the disgruntled life of an unhappily married woman named Shelley. Eager to inject some spice back into his "demoralizing" placid existence "helping other people become what you never were able to do," he becomes embroiled in a cash-skimming operation with Shelley and local bartender Ramon to steal from Shelley's husband's cannabis empire. Naturally, Frank falls for Ramon and his "grey-green eyes against that caramel brown skin," and when jealousy, duplicity, and deadly games intermingle with gunfire and lots of blood, it amounts to an impressively paced novel brisk enough to be read in a single sitting (I did!).

www.pelekinesis.com

Biography

"George Michael: A Life," by James Gavin, $32.50 (Abrams Press)
Though much has been written (and rewritten) about our fallen hero, a.k.a. Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, this revealing (and often shocking) portrait by music biographer Gavin draws on scores of published media features and hundreds of interviews with friends, colleagues, and insiders. Exposing Michael's past battles with the media and his rampant sexual proclivities, and probing the later years as his personal life unraveled, this biography is moving, eye-opening, and essential, even for readers with just a casual interest in pop culture.
www.abramsbooks.com

Poetry

"Glory Hole," by Kim Hyun, $24.50 (Seagull Books)
In this new queer poetry collection, celebrated Korean poet and wordsmith Kim Hyun provocatively defies the borders of traditional poetry to explore sexuality, gender, desire, and death. The thematic variations Hyun plays on are wonderfully diverse. From a porn star's final ejaculation on camera to the robot-human hybrid bedmates struggling to express intimate "emotions that have been banned since the 22nd century" in a sci-fi dystopian, totalitarian universe, this titillating collection of prose and verse is uniquely sublime.
www.seagullbooks.org

Memoir

"Miss Memory Lane, by Colton Haynes, $28 (Atria)
Best known for his role in MTV's "Teen Wolf" in 2010, Haynes gets real in this book where he describes openly struggling to conceal his homosexuality after being told by Hollywood casting agents that he presented as "too gay to play the lead" in the features he auditioned for. The author isn't shy about discussing his fractured adolescence, either, and writes about sexual abuse at the hands of an uncle, as well as his beloved mother's addiction issues. While he continued to struggle with a dependency to Adderall while on the hit CW series "Arrow," getting sober and coming out publicly did wonders for his self-esteem and became integrally cathartic for his recovery process and his well-being. Bravery and vulnerability are both valiantly on display in this memorable self-portrait.
www.simonandschuster.com

"Playing With Myself," by Randy Rainbow, $28.99 (St. Martin's Press/MacMillan)
In his debut, comedian, actor, and writer Randy Rainbow (yep, it's his real name) lavishly elaborates on a life in the spotlight after a flamboyant childhood spent sharing celebrity gossip with his grandmother. An obsession with Barbra Streisand drove him to New York seeking fame and fortune, but Rainbow only wound up as the glittery glossy "gay boy at the host stand" at Hooters. He's come a long way since, and this memoir leaves no detail in the dust as the outspoken celebrity reveals the secrets to his pithy political sketches and parodies that have put his colorful name on the comedic map.
us.macmillan.com

"Boys and Oil: Growing Up Gay in a Fractured Land," by Taylor Brorby, $27.95 (Norton/Penguin)
In this revealing and intensively introspective autobiography, poet, essayist, and environmental activist Brorby describes his early years growing up in Center, North Dakota, a farming town with not much else to do besides, well, farm and grow old. Unless you happen to be gay, like the author, which meant he'd had a lot more to ponder and a future outside of Center to contemplate, as well. Once out to his family, though his father and mother struggled with the reveal, naturally, Brorby embarked on the often-long road toward self-acceptance and the shedding of internalized shame and stigma. Boosting this memoir is the author's natural talent for nuanced prose in chapters that are so eloquent they can be read as standalone essays. This is brilliant, personal queer insight from the rural gritty Dakota landscape.
www.penguinrandomhouse.ca

Non-Fiction

"Fire Island: A Century in the Life of an American Paradise," by Jack Parlett, $28.99 (Harlequin)
Etching out its own place in queer history is Fire Island. This historical chronicle of the people and the places that made the place so iconic is a must-read. Author Jack Parlett published another fantastic volume this year on the intersection of urban cruising, photography, and poetry called "The Poetics of Cruising" and is a literary theorist as well as a poet. Here, his prose illuminates and educates as well as lovingly shimmers across chapters depicting the 20th-century history of Cherry Grove and the Fire Island Pines regions as it morphed into a clandestine haven for sexual liberation, queer expression, and, well, sex and parties galore. Additional perspectives on the island from a variety of cultural queer icons like Patricia Highsmith, Frank O'Hara, James Baldwin, and Walt Whitman embellish an already memorable tribute to an unforgettable queer vacation destination.
www.harpercollins.com

"Kinky in the Digital Age: Gay Men's Subcultures and Social Identities," by Liam Wignall, $45 (Oxford University Press)
From the dynamic press that published the marvelously comprehensive probe into the Bay Area's indelible disco years ("Menergy: San Francisco's Gay Disco Sound") earlier this year comes another stunner examining the psychology and the relevance of gay male kink culture. Written by Wignall, a sexologist and an academic psychology lecturer in the UK, the book features material from 74 interviews conducted with gay men about the impact online communication has had on the success of these kink groups to form and proliferate, as well as how many of them participate in activities without belonging to the community itself. The social and sexual impact these groups have on individual gay men is also debated. Among the many aspects of kink culture the book addresses is a focused case study on the "pup play" phenomenon. Aficionados and advocates of gay kink subcultures will learn and discover how these activities have become less stigmatized in recent decades, the ways in which they function from a psychological perspective, and the beneficial camaraderie and fraternal bonding blooming from within these sacred spaces.
Oxford University Press

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