iRead: Winter Books
Arts and Entertainment
Described as “a century of portraits from the photographers of the Chicago Tribune, the coffee-table book Chicago Portraits (Midway, 2014), with a foreword by Rick Kogan and an introduction by Chicago Tribune Picture Editor Michael Zajakowski, begins on a queer note with a 2012 Alex Garcia photo of Brian Bannon, the openly gay head of the Chicago Public Library. Other LGBT portraits include Gerald Arpino, Rudolph Valentini, queer couples Stan Shellbarger and Dutes Miller and Sarah Stigler and Missy Davellis, as well as LGBT supporters such as Barack Obama, Richard M. Daley, Studs Terkel, Lady Gaga and others.
Oscar-winning actress Dame Judi Dench has worked with some of the great gay actors of our time, including Ian McKellan, Simon Callow, Antony Sher, Ben Wishaw, Rupert Everett and the late John Gielgud and Denholm Elliott, as well as gay writer John Logan and gay filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli. Dench also portrayed obsessive lesbian stalker Barbara Covett in Notes From a Scandal and the mother of a gay son in Philomena and J. Edgar. These actors, movies and more can be found in the pages of Behind the Scenes (St. Martin’s, 2014).
Viv Albertine, who played guitar in the influential, all-female, feminist UK punk band The Slits, has her say in Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s, 2014), in which she details her personal adventures involving Sid Vicious (and Nancy Spungen!), Johnny Thunders (of the New York Dolls), The Clash (specifically Mick Jones) and other musicians, as well as the birth of punk, the men (and women) in her life and the role of fashion, to mention a few of the subjects upon which she touches.
Journalist and biographer James Gavin, who has written about Lena Horne, Chet Baker and “the golden age of cabaret,” turns his attention to legendary singer and songwriter Peggy Lee in Is That All There Is?: The Strange Life of Peggy Lee (Atria, 2014), detailing the rise and fall of the woman whose hits included “Fever” and songs from Disney’s Lady and the Tramp, among many others.
Musician and writer Daniel Rachel, the author of The Art of Noise: Conversations with Great Songwriters (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2014), compiled 27 interviews with “British songwriting giants,” including queer artists such as Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe (of Pet Shop Boys) and Joan Armatrading, as well as talented allies including Annie Lennox, and Lily Allen, among others.
The title almost says it all when it comes to Justin Luke Zirilli’s The Gay Gospel: A Survival Guide for Gay 20Somethings in America Today (justinlukenyc.com). With a foreword by Michael Musto, the book is separated into sections addressing “Looking,” “Dating,” “Loving,” and “Breaking Up,” among others.
There are readers who also want to be writers. Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century (Viking, 2014) applies cognitive science and other tools to get to the heart of language and writing, to not only make us better writers, but also better readers.
Fact and Fiction
Sophie Tucker was a real person, but in I Am Sophie Tucker (Prospecta Press, 2014) by Susan & Lloyd Ecker (producers of the doc The Outrageous Sophie Tucker), the authors have come up with the first in a three-part series of fictional memoirs about Tucker, who is also known as the “Last of the Red Hot Mamas.”
Coming Out To Play (Penguin, 2014) by Robbie Rogers, with Eric Marcus, is openly gay soccer superstar Rogers’ effort to clarify the “shorthand versions” of his life that have made it to print (and other media) since he came out publicly in early 2013. The book includes 16 pages of photos and three “trading cards.”
Alone: The Triumph and Tragedy of John Curry (Bloomsbury, 2014) by Bill Jones follows openly gay British figure skater John Curry from public Olympic glory to the privacy of “a tortured, lonely man of labyrinthine complexity.”
Coffee Table Books
Drag goddess Jeza Belle’s coffee table cookbook The Harlot’s Guide to Messy Classy Cocktails (Outskirts Press, 2014), with an introduction by none other than Lady Bunny, features drink recipes – separated into categories such as “Aperitif,” “Power Lunch,” “Party” and “Passed Out Drunk In the Alley” – by more than two dozen of her “fabulous drag queen friends from around the world,” including Latrice Royale, Yara Sofia, Kevin Aviance, Sister Roma, and Sherry Vine.
“The most trusted stranger in America,” Frank Warren, creator of the PostSecret project in which people share their most intimate secrets on postcards and send them to him, has compiled hundreds of these creative confessions, on topics ranging from sex, infidelity, weight, sexual and domestic abuse, love, hate, insecurity, lies and more, into the book The World of PostSecret (William Morrow, 2014).
If you or anyone on your holiday gift list has been patiently waiting for a collaboration between acclaimed songwriter Stephin Merritt (The Magnetic Fields) and cartoonist Roz Chast (The New Yorker), the wait is over. Merritt applies his love of word games, specifically Scrabble and Words With Friends, to the queer and quippy four-line poems in 101 Two-Letter Words (Norton, 2014), each with an accompanying illustration by Chast. This book is an entertaining and educational gift for lovers of language and word play.
By Gregg Shapiro