Book Marks: Sal Mineao, Caesar's Fall, and more

by Richard Labonte

"Sal Mineo," by Michael Gregg Michaud. Crown Archetype, 424 pages, $25.99 hardcover.

He debuted on Broadway at age 11, burst onto the Hollywood scene as James Dean's sloe-eyed buddy in "Rebel Without a Cause," garnered two Academy Awards by age 22, and drew hordes of screaming girls, and a few boys, to his early movie premieres. But life was mostly downhill for Sal Mineo after that - before his death, he was reduced to performing in dinner theater. Michaud's meticulously researched (and first definitive) biography of a boy actor unable to move beyond adolescent typecasting is peppered with anecdotes about and insight from some of the stars who knew him, among them Yul Brynner, Natalie Wood, the late Dennis Hopper, Janet Leigh and even teenybopper faves David Cassidy and Bobby Sherman (with whom Mineo had a fling). But for much of the story, particularly those detailing the last decade of the young star's life, Michaud relies on the memories of actor Courtney Burr, the man Mineo left Jill Haworth for. Burr's candor about their ups and down, both personally and creatively, invests this riveting biography with unusual intimacy.

"Caesar's Fall," by Dorien Grey. Zumaya Boundless, 242 pages, $14.99 paper.

A cat (and more recently, a dog) is the sleuthing sidekick in Rita Mae Brown's many mysteries. For Dorien Grey, detecting direction comes from a ghost - and it's a rather more elegant gimmick. The ethereal presence, John, cropped up as a victim in the first of Grey's Elliott Smith series; in this third book, he hovers on the edge of Elliott's consciousness, providing a bridge between the worlds of the living and the dead - in this case, of Elliott's condo neighbor Bruno Caesar, made suddenly wealthy by lottery winnings and then tossed off his fortieth-floor balcony by person or persons unknown. Elliott - by day a socially conscious developer of dilapidated Chicago buildings - narrows the cast of potential killers down while developing his relationship with boyfriend Steve, a subplot to the main story that makes this novel as much sweet romance as well-plotted mystery. The several suspects include Caesar's sleazy business partner, his greedy ne'er-do-well nephew and his money manager - and Grey keeps the reader guessing almost to the end.

"Farewell My Concubine," by Helen Hok-Sze Leung, 132 pages; "Fire" by Shohini Ghosh, 178 pages; "Montreal Main" by Thomas Waugh and Jason Garrison, 272 pages. Arsenal Pulp Press, $14.95 each, paper.

With books scheduled into 2015 (studies of "Scorpio Rising," "Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives" and "Manila by Night") Arsenal Pulp Press's Queer Film Classic series has established itself as the premiere source of critical acumen about queer film. This year's titles - three inaugurated the series in 2009 - combine scholarship with cultural context, assessing the films sometimes almost scene-by-scene and always with an eye as to what makes the movies relevant both historically and contemporaneously. The studies all begin with a synopsis and cast and crew credits and include a generous sprinkling of movie stills; after that, series editors Waugh and Matthew Hays allow the authors to set their own course, flexibility that nimbly sidesteps a cookie-cutter approach. Of the three films considered, the one that would be most controversial today is Frank Vitale's 1974 Canadian low-budget feature, "Montreal Main," "about a love relationship between a 12-year-old boy and a 25-year-old man in which the kid gradually appropriates the entire narrative" - a theme which, though understated in the film, the authors conclude is probably taboo today.

"Let's Get This Straight: The Ultimate Handbook for Youth with LGBT Parents," by Tina Fakhrid-Deen with COLAGE. Seal Press, $15 paper.

It's not just queer kids who are bullied at school. Kids with queer parents are often targeted by verbal and physical abuse too, a truth addressed with teen-level eloquence and a powerful mix of wisdom and wit in this invaluable resource. Fakhrid-Deen, daughter of a lesbian mom, collaborated with COLAGE (Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere) to develop a combination of question-and-answer sections ("Is homosexuality a sin?"); offer the voices of teens themselves ("Stay strong and try not to care what others think," says 13-year-old Keith); suggest strategies for disarming abusers ("Clueless question: Are your parents really lesbians? Clever response: No, they just like the attention"); and even quizzes - depending on answers about having LGBTQ parents, kids are "in the closet peeking out," with "one foot in, one foot out," or, for the best score, rewarded with, "honey, closets are for clothes." The topic of coping with the senseless stigma of queer parents is a serious one; this handbook, aimed at children ages 10 to 18, handles it with stylish good sense.

Featured Excerpt

Sal had an insatiable sex appetite. "We were physically opposite," Courtney explained, "but we were completely compatible sexually. We'd go at it for the longest time, take a 20-minute break, and do it again. When we had the chance, we'd do it all day. I discovered his fetish for navels. He loved mine. And he had a strange recurring dream that he was being chased and then stabbed in the navel. (He) was attracted to young blond guys, especially in white jockey shorts. That's all it took to really get him going."

-from "Sal Mineo," by Michael Gregg Michaud

Footnotes

ASP Wholesale, which for several years has distributed the books of about three dozen small gay and lesbian publishers to LGBT bookstores, has a new lease on life. Owner Bert Hermann, in ill health, announced in October that he was closing the business, a move that would have made it more difficult for the presses to reach readers who still buy books in the real world rather than online. But the company is instead being taken over by Bob Cassidy and his partner in business and life, Lloyd Meeker, owners of Hot Note Books in Miami Beach, with a target of making the transition on Jan. 3. Among the publishers now distributed by ASP Wholesale are STARBooks, Cheyenne Publishers, Lethe Press, JMS Books, Chelsea Street Editions, Dreamspinner Press, A&M Books, AuthorHouse and P.D. Publishing. The new owners plan to add titles by at least one new publisher to the list of almost 1,000 books, both new and backlist, handled by the wholesaler. Meanwhile, Hermann's Alamo Square Press - out of which first Alamo Square Distribution and then ASP Wholesale grew - remains in business, with an extensive backlist that includes a perennial bestseller since it was published in 1994: "What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality," by Daniel A. Helminiak.

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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