2011 Year in Review: Books

C-Friend-and-BG

THANK EWE FOR BEING CATHERINE FRIEND | In ‘Sheepish,’ an urbanite lesbian becomes an unwilling shepherdess at the behest of her partner, making for a charming memoir of rural life.

So the year has wound down and you’re ready to grab a hot cuppa and curl up somewhere with your Snuggie and a book. Or you’re heading to the beach and can’t stand to go empty-handed. Whatever your destination, you can’t go wrong if you take these books with you — for our money, the best gay-interest reads of 2011.

it's-all-relativeNow that the holidays are over and you can look back with a grin (or a growl), you can also safely read It’s All Relative by Wade Rouse. This funny, sad, makes-you-cry book is about holidays: Those you spend alone, those you wish you’d spent alone, and those you’d never in a million years be caught dead spending alone. I loved this book for its humor but the best part is that love — between parent and child, friends or partners — shines through every laugh.

Even though “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is history, this book can’t be dismissed like gay soldiers once were: The Last Deployment by Bronson Lemer, a funny, wry, all-around great story of one gay man’s reluctant service in the North Dakota National Guard.

Lemer signed up for the education benefits and never thought he’d serve overseas — but overseas he went, and not just once. While he was a soldier, he listened to buddies tease and talk trash about gay men but Lemer never came out to fellow soldiers, friends, or family… until this book hit stands. Even though you can now be loud and proud in uniform, it’s definitely worth reading.

If a weekend in the country sounds good to you about now, first read the memoir Sheepish by Catherine Friend. Friend’s partner, Melissa, always wanted to be a farmer. Friend grew up in the city, but she compromised … and hated it. But who can resist a sweet lamb?  Who doesn’t love baby animals?

Then again, who could foresee the backbreaking work and heartbreaking loss that comes from falling in love with a farmer and her flock?  Not you, so if you love a good yarn, you’ll want this book ba-a-a-a-d.

And if you’re looking forward to some sun, sand, and pampering this year, then you’ll want to take Concierge Confidential by Michael Fazio (with Michael Malice) along. This memoir is an intimate look at what goes on at those high-priced hotels and how the concierges will do anything to make their clients happy. I loved the gossipiness of this book, mostly because it packs sneaky-peeks but lacks snark.

Emily-&-EinsteinDo. Not. Miss. Emily and Einstein by Linda Francis Lee. It’s the story of a spoiled man who is killed on his way to tell his wife that he wants a divorce. When a scruffy angel greets him, he begs for another chance and is given it, though he’s warned that he won’t like what’s about to happen. This is a charmer, a book for dog lovers and anybody who wants a book that will make them say “Awwwww” when the last page is turned.

That’s our top 5, but these bonus books deserve a mention, too:

Beautiful Unbroke by Mary Jane Nealon is the true story of a nurse who spends her life running away from the one thing she always wanted to do, until she finds the very patients who heal the healer. Also, don’t miss The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstein, a fantasy set in a magical circus where love, distaste and danger are on the same merry-go-round.

There you are, a passel of pages you simply can’t miss, for your vacation, your evening alone, your weekend away — or just because you love a good book.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

How ’bout DADT?

Memoir about being gay in the Army resonates with timeliness, vivid prose

booksThey’ve become familiar sights: Auditoriums filled with uniformed, spine-straight soldiers on their way to deployment, or smiling men and women, arms full of family, on their way home. No matter what auditorium they’re in, no matter which small town or big city, you can bet that the first group is wondering what the second group has seen.

They may never know, though, because much is buried and more is classified. But military secrets aren’t the only secrets kept in times of war. In The Last Deployment, you’ll learn one of them.

Bronson Lemer was “probably the last person anyone expected to join the military,” he writes. But as the oldest of six children, he wanted to get away from North Dakota, and the Army “happened to be at the right place at the right time.”

Lemer was still in high school when he joined the National Guard; five years later, on Jan. 20, 2003, his cell phone rang. Though he was months away from getting out of his Guard obligation and was “tired” of service, Lemer learned that he was being deployed. What he calls his “horrible decision” to join the National Guard was turning into something he never thought he’d have to worry about: Lemer was a gay soldier under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

In going to Iraq, he knew he had to learn to rely on his fellow soldiers, and vice versa. He tried to relax as he traveled with them to Colorado and, later that spring, to Kosovo, then to Iraq. Lemer went along with the jokes, the girlfriend talk and the adolescent behavior. He participated in anything that banished the boredom of guard duty, cleaning duty, outhouse duty. He emailed a former love and longed for home.

As a few months’ tour of duty stretched into a year, Lemer began to notice something: Deployment was taking its toll on everybody. The men and women who left the States were not the same people who came home from Iraq. And neither was Lemer.

Over the past decade, you’ve undoubtedly seen lots of TV and read many words about the war in Iraq. But just wait until you get your hands on The Last Deployment. Lemer’s memoir of being a gay man in the military is half-sassy, half sad with a few heart-pounding moments though no blood and guts. His story moves between idyllic memories of his growing-up and warm feelings for his bunkmates and co-soldiers, while readers are also placed in the center of the boredom of waiting, the frustration of not knowing and the dismay of hiding in order to be accepted. Lemer’s is a wonderfully descriptive, wryly humorous, heart-crushing story, and I couldn’t put it down.

With the repeal of DADT effective this month, this is timely and definitely worth a read. If you love a soldier, your country, or both, The Last Deployment is a book you’ll want to tell everybody about.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas