Book Marks

By Richard Labonte

"Visible Lives: Three Stories in Tribute to E. Lynn Harris," by Terrance Dean, James Earl Hardy, and Stanley Bennett Clay. Dafina/Kensington Books, 352 pages, $15 paper.

Fans of the many steamy novels about sometimes semi-closeted and sometimes sexually celebratory same-gender-loving black men by the late E. Lynn Harris will savor this tribute anthology. The collection's three sexy novellas certainly pay homage to Harris' ballsy storytelling - and, truly a tribute, Harris appears as a character in each of them, albeit in passing. That said, these tales aren't mere mimicry: each is written in a signature style by three expressively queer black literary voices. In Dean's "The Intern," a workaholic falls hard for a basketball player (very Harris!) working as a summer intern - only to find the lad's dad is the man he lost his heart and hard-on to a generation earlier. In Bennett's "House of John," race and class mix with lust and romance when a broken-hearted photographer encounters a local on a Dominican Republic sex retreat. In "Is It Still Jood to Ya?," Hardy revisits Raheim Rivers and Mitchell Crawford, first introduced in the 1994 novel "B-Boy Blues." Each story is prefaced by a personal remembrance of Harris the writer - and the friend.

"Father Knows Best ," by Lynda Sandoval. Soliloquy/Bold Strokes Books, 238 pages, $13.95 paper.

Bold Strokes launches its new young adult imprint, Soliloquy, with this zippy sequel to Sandoval's 2004 novel about three carefree teen girls, "Who's Your Daddy?." In that novel, the desperately dateless girls' fathers scared off potential boys - one was chief of police, one was the school's dean of discipline, and one was a famous musician. The action queers up here - and two of the girls have found beaus - when the three befriend a former snooty high school archenemy after they learn that, pregnant, she's been abandoned by her circle of shallow, fair-weather companions. The outcast finds refuge where one of the trio works, a spirituality shop owned by two supportive lesbians who have long wanted to adopt a child. In classic YA style, Sandoval works potent messages into her plot: gay is good, marriage ought to be for everyone and eschewing sex can be cool. Sound advice - and Sandoval delivers it without a scintilla of preachiness in this snappy, cheerfully snarky novel about girl power and powerful friendships.

"My Queer War," by James Lord. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 344 pages, $27.

As Congress and the military dawdle over the inevitability of repealing the ill-reasoned edict "Don't Act, Don't Tell," art historian Lord's posthumous wartime memoir arrives at an opportune time. His cheeky recounting of WWII service as a practicing homosexual - and he was good at it, once he eased out of the closet - makes clear that queers were everywhere in the military back when. Early encounters were cautious, including an ambiguously romantic interlude with an aesthetic (and apparently well-hung) lad named Hanno before Lord was posted to Europe after basic training. Of sexual encounters, there are plenty, recalled with jaunty reverence for the thrill of action in "the incautious dark." Sex aside, Lord also laid the groundwork for his artistic and intellectual future by, once in France, seeking out the likes of Pablo Picasso and Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. And, always, there is the reality that this is as much a memoir of wartime as it is a queer memoir: particularly harrowing are passages in which Lord, who landed in military intelligence, tells of Americans torturing prisoners of war.

"50 Years of Queer Cinema: 500 of the Best GLBTQ Films Ever Made," by Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince. Blood Moon Productions, 522 pages, $25.95 paper.

In the Internet age, where every movie - queer or otherwise - is blogged about somewhere, a hefty print compendium of film facts and pointed opinion might seem anachronistic. But flipping through well-reasoned pages of commentary is "so" satisfying. Add to that physical thrill the charm of analysis that is sometimes sassy and always smart, and this filtered survey of short reviews is a must for queer-film fans. In part one, Porter and Prince provide a succinct "A to Z romp" through 500 films, with quick plot summaries and on-point critical assessments, each film summed up with a pithy headline: "Yossi & Jagger" is "Macho Israeli Soldiers Make Love, not War." The films surveyed in part two are quirkier fare, 160 "less publicized" efforts, including - no lie - "Karl Rove, I Love You," in which gay actor Dan Butler falls for "George W. Bush's Turd Blossom." Essays on Derek Jarman, Tennessee Williams, Andy Warhol, Jack Wrangler, Joe Gage and others - and on how "The Front Runner" never got made - round out this indispensable survey of gay-interest cinema.

Featured Excerpt

"Are you gay?" "Funny thing," I said. "That lady I mentioned, she said I was a gay blade. She meant somebody without a care in the world, I guess." "Come on" - he cut in brusquely - "that's not what I'm talking about. I spotted you from the beginning. Takes one to know one. So fess up. I'm not the police. Wouldn't come on to you if I wasn't gay myself. Relax." He put his hand on my shoulder while I was numbed by surprise, and moved his fingertips gently to the nape of my neck, tickling my hair till I shivered and my legs were like danger in deep water. "You like to make love to boys, don't you?" he said...

-from "My Queer War," by James Lord

Footnotes

Two veteran writers have assumed new roles in the queer literary world - starting LGBT-interest presses. Jameson Currier launched Chelsea Station Editions earlier this year with his novel, "The Wolf at the Door"; is actively reading other submissions; and plans to publish a second of his own books later this year - "The Man That Got Away," an "illustrated confessional" about a college student in 1970s Atlanta "who becomes the unlikely pupil of a coterie of drag queens." And writer and journalist Victoria Brownworth, an acquisitions editor for young adult books for a mainstream publisher for five years, has established Tiny Satchel Press, for YA books "committed to exploring issues of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation" for a 'tween and teen audience ages 8 through 18. The debut title is "The Secrets of Loon Lake" by mystery writer J.D. Shaw, followed this year by Greg Herren's supernatural thriller "Sorceress "; Diane DeKelb-Rittenhouse's "Immortal Souls," featuring two high school girls and an infamous lesbian vampire from centuries past; and Brownworth's own "Everyday Monsters," a novel about incest, child abuse, and alcoholism. In 2011, Tiny Satchel plans to debut a series of YA novels from writers of color, including Fiona Zedde, Lisa Nelson and Lowell Boston. For info: http://www.chelseastationeditions.com and http://www.tinysatchelpress.com.

Richard Labonte has been reading, editing, selling, and writing about queer literature since the mid-'70s. He can be reached in care of this publication or at BookMarks@qsyndicate.com.

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