Winter 2016: Book Report

by Gregg Shapiro

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Notes on a Past Life (BlazeVOX, 2016) by David Trinidad, as dishy and revealing as the best literary memoirs, picks at old scabs, slashes new wounds, spills the beans on contemporary poetry-world wars, ignites new feud fuses and drops names like F-bombs. This book is so hot; it should come with its own flame retardant gloves and fire extinguisher.

Selected by Denise Duhamel as winner of the Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry, The Book of Hulga (University of Wisconsin Press, 2016) by Rita Mae Reese, with illustration by Julie Franki, “speculates on a character that Flannery O’Connor envisioned but didn’t live long enough to write,” brought forth with a combination of “humor, tenderness, and a brutal precision.”

Matters of the Sea/Cosas del mar (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015) by Richard Blanco, son of Cuban exiles and Barack Obama’s inaugural poet, written for U.S. embassy in Havana’s ceremonial reopening, is a bilingual chapbook-length poem.

Like Blanco, United States Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera is the son of immigrants, and his poetry collection Notes on the Assemblage (City Lights, 2015), touches on the migrant experience and politics, subjects that take on considerable weight particularly during an election year.

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Jed, a gay, black expat “earning a living” in Europe in the 1980s is the gripping main character in Black Deutschland (FSG, 2016), the highly anticipated second novel by award-winning writer Darryl Pinckney.

One of the most celebrated debut novels of the year, What Belongs To You (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2016) by Garth Greenwell, evolving from the author’s novella Mitko, is a stunning achievement in the way that it tells the story of a teacher living in Bulgaria who begins an unusual and intimate relationship with a young hustler named Mitko.

Hide (Bloomsbury, 2016), the debut novel by Matthew Griffin, is relevant and timely, in the way it relates the tale of Wendell and Frank, a gay male couple who have been together since after World War II and addresses the couple’s history in alternating past and present chapters, including the way gay men face every aspect of the aging process.

Alexander Chee’s epic and long-awaited second novel The Queen of the Night (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) takes readers back to the Second French Empire in which Lilliet takes the Paris opera by storm while also trying to discover the mysterious person threatening to lift the veil on her true identity.

Winner of two Lambda Literary Awards when it was first published, the expanded 25th anniversary edition of The Gilda Stories (City Lights, 2016/1991) by Jewelle Gomez with a new foreword by the author and an afterword by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, tells the tale of the titular vampire Gilda, beginning in 1850 Louisiana.

Counternarratives (New Directions, 2015), John Keene’s well-received collection of novellas and short fiction, features a varied array of pieces spanning in time from the 17th century to the present day and “crossing multiple continents.”

The Scarlet Letter (Penguin Classics, 2016/1850) by Nathaniel Hawthorne, newly reissued with an insightful foreword by Tom Perrotta, and featuring notorious adulteress (see the red A) Hester Prynne, is as timely as ever, given the rise of public shaming.

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Set in a college town in 1979, and centering on friends Kyle, Craig and Justin, Dale Boyer’s debut novel The Dandelion Cloud (, 2016), described by the writer as “a labor of love for a long time,” asks and answers a question many have asked at one time or another, “What is the difference between friendship and love?”

Mystery novelist Susan Wittig Albert delves into one of the greatest love stories of the 20th century in Loving Eleanor (Persevero Press, 2016) in which she “recreates” the enduring narrative of the relationship between First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and journalist Lorena Hickok, told in “Hick”’s distinctive voice.

Now in paperback, Bettyville: A Memoir (Penguin, 2016/2015), “the last place in America with shag carpet,” is where gay writer and book and magazine editor George Hodgman has returned (from Manhattan) for his role as “care inflictor” for his 90-year-old mother, the Betty of the title, in this breathtaking memoir about mother/son relationships, identity and so much more.

Timothy Stewart-Winter’s academically-inclined tome Queer Clout: Chicago and the Rise of Gay Politics (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016) serves to cement the Second City’s place in queer history and culture, putting it in perspective for readers and followers of the trajectory of the LGBT community’s impact on the world at large.

Based on Lindsay King-Miller’s online column on The Hairpin, Ask A Queer Chick: A Guide to Sex, Love, and Life for Girls Who Dig Girls (Plume, 2016) promises to “help readers through major life milestones, from coming out to breaking up, from your first really gay haircut to walking down the aisle.”

In his eighth book, The Fate of Gender: Nature, Nurture and the Human Future (Bloomsbury), gay writer Frank Browning, a former science reporter for NPR, takes an in depth look at “human gender geographies around the world,” in this book that foretells “a wave of gender variance and sexual fluidity…just visible on the horizon.”

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