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

Meredith Baxter to narrate Camina doc about Rainbow Lounge raid

Robert L. Camina, the North Texas filmmaker who has been putting together a documentary about the June 2009 raid on Fort Worth’s Rainbow Lounge for two years, has scored a coup: He has tapped TV icon Meredith Baxter to narrate.

Raid of the Rainbow Lounge has been in the works since almost as soon as the raid — which took place, ironically, on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City that sparked the modern gay rights movement. The raid galvanized the gay community in Fort Worth and beyond. The completed film runs 102 minutes and will receive its premiere in Cowtown in March.

Baxter, who came out as lesbian in 2009, has been an Emmy-nominated TV star for 35 years, best known for playing the mom on Family Ties. She released a memoir this fall and was recently in Dallas for the Out & Equal conference.

You can view a teaser trailer of the film here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

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

Broken Mould

Queer punk pioneer Bob Mould turned an abusive childhood into a musical movement, but memoir targets hardcore fans

2.5 out of 5 stars
SEE A LITTLE LIGHT: THE TRAIL OF RAGE AND MELODY
By Bob Mould (with Michael
Azerrad). 2001 (Little, Brown)
$25; 404 pp.

………………………….
It all starts with “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” It continues with the itsy-bitsy spider, the ABCs and being a little teapot. From there, you embrace whatever your older siblings are listening to until you develop your own musical tastes. Maybe you started with records, moved on to the cassette tapes, CD and now, your iPod is full.

The point is, you’ve never been without your tunes.

But what about the people who make the music you love?

When Mould was born in 1960 in the northernmost end of New York, he entered a family wracked with grief: Just before he was born, Mould’s elder brother died of kidney cancer. He surmises that the timing of his birth resulted in his being a “golden child,” the family peacekeeper who sidestepped his father’s physical and psychological abuse.

“As a child,” he writes, “music was my escape.”

Mould’s father, surprisingly indulgent, bought his son guitars and young Bob taught himself to play chords and create songs. By the time he entered high school, Mould knew that he had to get out of New York and away from his family. He also knew he was gay, which would be a problem in his small hometown.

He applied for and entered college in Minnesota, where he started taking serious guitar lessons and drinking heavily. His frustrations led him to launch a punk rock band that made a notable impact on American indie music.

Named after a children’s game, Hüsker Dü performed nationally and internationally, but Mould muses that perhaps youth was against them. He seemed to have a love-hate relationship with his bandmates, and though he had become the band’s leader, there were resentments and accusations until the band finally split.

HUSKER DON’T | Bob Mould turned his youthful rage and homosexuality into a music career. (Photo by Noah Kalina)

But there were other bands and there were other loves than music, as Mould grew and learned to channel the rage inside him and the anger that volcanoed from it.

“I spent two years rebuilding and reinventing myself,” writes Mould. “Now that I’ve integrated who I am and what I do, I finally feel whole.”

If you remember with fondness the ‘80s, with its angry lyrics and mosh pits, then you’ll love this book. For most readers, though, See a Little Light is going to be a struggle. Mould spends a lot of time on a litany of clubs, recording studios, and locales he played some 30 years ago — which is fine if you were a fellow musician or a rabid, hardcore fan. This part of the book goes on… and on… and on, relentlessness and relatively esoteric in nature.

Admittedly, Mould shines when writing about his personal life but even so, he’s strangely dismissive and abrupt with former loves, bandmates, and even family. I enjoyed the occasional private tale; unfortunately there were not enough.

Overall, See a Little Light is great for Mould fanboys and those were heavy into the punk scene. For most readers, though, this book is way out of tune.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Starvoice • 06.17.11

By Jack Fertig

CELEBRITY BIRTHDAY

Meredith Baxter turns 64 on Tuesday. For most of the ’80s, Baxter played Elyse Keaton on Family Ties. She’s mostly been seen in TV films and guest-starring roles. In an interview with Matt Lauer on Today back in 2009, she came out of the closet as lesbian. Her memoir Untied was released this past March.

THIS WEEK

For the next few months we get a taste of the Uranus-Pluto square that will dominate the next five years. Recent political turmoil has just been the set-up for major crises and changes ahead. Astrologically it looks a lot like 1848, 1939 and the ‘60s. Buckle your seatbelts; it’s gonna get bumpy.

………………….

GEMINI  May 21-Jun 20
As dystopian as the future looks, you’ll find a way to thrive. Trust your instincts and reconsider the most important lessons you learned from your mother. Talking with siblings can clarify that.

CANCER  Jun 21-Jul 22
Frustrations in love and career are too big to solve by yourself. Fortunately you have some very wise and resourceful friends. As odd as their ideas may seem, they will likely help.

LEO  Jul 23-Aug 22
It’s easy to worry yourself sick. Arguments make it worse. Focus on your career. Working through sexual issues is healing. Quiet time alone gives you space to think about what you need to do.

VIRGO  Aug 23-Sep 22
Sharing your innermost thoughts will open up ideas for creative fun. On the way, you open up some difficult childhood memories. Resolving an ugly past can clear the way for a better future.

LIBRA  Sep 23-Oct 22
Your home and partnership are heading for big changes. Be generous and comforting in bed. Family commitments need to change. Be clear on what those are. Be adaptive at work.

SCORPIO  Oct 23-Nov 21
Obsessing on details leads to accidents and misunderstandings. Don’t neglect the important details; just keep it all in perspective. Your partner’s advice and practical support will prove helpful.

SAGITTARIUS  Nov 22-Dec 20
Now’s the time to find a job you enjoy. Channeling your sexual charisma into the job search is helpful, but if you already like your work that charisma can go back to what it does best.

CAPRICORN  Dec 21-Jan 19
Trying to manage your family or community will backfire. Focus on having fun. If you’re looking for love, play at being moody, broody and intense; but remember, you’re playing.

AQUARIUS  Jan 20-Feb 18
Conversations open up deep psychological insights. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your family, no matter how odd. Releasing old tensions could have surprising health benefits.

PISCES  Feb 19-Mar 19
Reality is challenging your values and your plans, but that’s life. Adaptability and a sense of humor will help you stay true to your core while everything else goes crazy.

ARIES  Mar 20-Apr 19
Be very sure that your career is in line with your ambitions. Being unhappy on your job track will get you derailed. Contempt for authority is well-deserved but pick your battles strategically.

TAURUS  Apr 20-May 20
“Bad religion” is a subjective experience. Focus on your own personal beliefs; know where you find clarity, support and reassurance. Respect others’ paths while finding your own.

Jack Fertig can be reached at 415-864-8302 or Starjack.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 17, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Celebrity apprentice: Gay assistant-to-the-stars Michael Fazio dishes in ‘Concierge Confidential’

NICE WORK IF YOU GET IT  |  Michael Fazio wrote the tell-all memoir ‘Concierge Confidential.’

Some people you’d do anything for: The sweet older lady next door calls for a favor and you go running. Your nephew bats those baby blues and you’d buy out the toy store for him. If she asked, you’d dig ditches for a beloved former boss, and all your mom has to do is crook her finger for you to be at her service.

Is serving what you do best? Could you do it for a living?

Read Concierge Confidential and you’ll think twice before answering.

When Charlie Sheen called and asked if the boss was in, Michael Fazio was barely fazed. Fazio figured it would be a small step from agency assistant to “the next big Hollywood movie mogul,” and a good mogul isn’t impressed with fame. But Fazio’s job at The Liberty Agency didn’t so much include hob-nobbing with the stars as it did taking care of his boss, Glennis. He soon learned that keeping her happy meant plugging in her curlers and making coffee before she got to work. Caring for her was, oddly, something Fazio enjoyed.

After another brief assistant’s job and a gig playing piano on a cruise ship, Fazio and his partner, Jeffrey, moved to Manhattan. Though Fazio was initially unemployed, he quickly found a job at the InterContinental Hotel on 48th Street, where he learned that his unique strengths would best be put to use as a concierge.

A good concierge, like a good business person, has lots of contacts to call upon for favors. He excels at making the impossible possible. Though celebrities and millionaires are the concierge’s typical clients, anyone staying at a hotel with a concierge can use the service.

Fazio writes about finding tickets to sold-out concerts, reservations to jam-packed restaurants and night clubs, and yes, even the unconventional, like yachts for his clients. He writes about good tippers, bad eateries, ugly situations and how he survived them all.

Going on vacation this summer? Check this book out before you leave.

Concierge Confidential includes the dishiest stories of wealth and celebrity, as well as a wealth of tips on star treatment and getting the best results from your hotel stay. But Fazio doesn’t stop there. He explains what a concierge does, where you’ll find one and how to get what you need (hint: being a jerk won’t impress anybody). In between lessons, you’ll be regaled by tales of Hollywood and Broadway, challenges and chefs, businessmen and bubbleheads, hissy-fitting stars and hustling scammers, and the rich and famous. And then, if your hotel doesn’t have a devoted concierge, you’ll learn how to schmooze tickets, reservations and admission on your own.

It’s hard not to love something that so effortlessly entertains, and Concierge Confidential does just that. If you’re heading for holiday, or if you’re just up for a light, fun, privy look at leisure and luxury, you should do anything to get this book.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 1, 2011.

—  John Wright

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain,’ by Portia de Rossi

Atria Books (2010), $26, 308 pp.

There’s a fine line between “want” and “need.” When you were a kid, you didn’t need another cookie, or that creamy glass with holiday garnish. And definitely, you didn’t need the calories. But oh, you wanted them.

So imagine denying yourself those and almost all other foods. Imagine living on 300 calories a day. Then read Unbearable Lightness, Portia de Rossi’s remarkable memoir.

Amanda Rogers was a smart kid who aspired to become a lawyer in her native Australia, until the modeling bug bit her and she quickly decided that the runway was the way to run. She convinced her mother to drive her to an interview, and she convinced executives that, at age 12, she could handle the world of high fashion. Though she felt uncomfortable and self-conscious about perceived body flaws, she persevered, changing her name to Portia de Rossi.

Later, when given the chance to be in a movie, de Rossi was surprised that she loved acting, though she wasn’t confident about her beauty. She thought her face was too round, her cheeks too fat, her thighs too chubby. Her weight yo-yoed. Wardrobe tailors on the Ally McBeal set were kept busy with alterations. De Rossi was mortified.

But that wasn’t her only source of personal loathing. She had always known that she was gay, but it wasn’t discussed. She married, but the union ended when he learned the truth at couple’s therapy. Co-workers weren’t told because de Rossi feared for her job. She denied her feelings and lived in terror of being outed.

Embarking on a nutritionist-recommended low-calorie diet didn’t quell the diet demon in de Rossi’s mind, so she went on a program all her own.

She meticulously weighed each ounce of food, fretted over “hidden calories,” and obsessively avoided anything that might add to her daily intake.

On the day she hit 82 pounds, she said that celebration was in order but, “first I had to silence the drill sergeant that reminded me of that extra inch of fat. First I had to get rid of that.”

As with many memoirs like Unbearable Lightness, I had two very dissimilar feelings while reading it. First, this book reeks with pain. De Rossi is very clear about the bruising thoughts and negativity that she felt in hiding so many personal aspects of her life, and though this book has a make-you-grin, wonderfully happy ending, getting there hurts.

Second, it hurts to read not just because of the pain de Rossi relays, but because it can be slow. In the end, de Rossi’s pantry held a paltry handful of items, for instance, and that fact was hammered home in many ways, many times.

Still, if you’ve ever lived too long with a secret that ate you alive, read this. You won’t just want Unbearable Lightness, you need it.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

‘Today Show’ features really dumb author

Meredith Viera

So maybe I’m not the best one to offer relationship advice, but in this case, I think I can help.

On the Today Show Thursday morning, Kiri Blakeley promoted her new book, Can’t Think Straight. Here’s NBC’s promo for the segment:

Kiri Blakeley, whose memoir “Can’t Think Straight” describes the shock she experienced when she learned her fiance of 10 years was secretly pursuing relationships with men, tells Meredith Vieira that she “couldn’t get as angry” as she would have if he’d been having an affair with a woman.

Let’s start with “fiance of 10 years.” Really? After 10 years, she thought they were getting married soon?

In the video, she said her fiance didn’t fit any of the stereotypes of what a gay man should be, so she didn’t know. Really? In this day and age you think gay men only fit stereotypes?

But what clues might she have picked up on? They weren’t having much sex anymore. They weren’t seeing each other as much anymore (because he’s spending time with his boyfriend). They weren’t having much sex anymore. And the biggest clue? They weren’t having much sex anymore.

—  David Taffet

George W. Bush is so stupid he thinks Dick Cheney was gauging his ‘tolerance’ for gays

In his new memoir Decision Points, President George W. Bush says that when he approached Dick Cheney about being his running mate in 2000, Cheney reminded him that he had a gay daughter, Mary. Here’s the passage from the book:

By the time Dick came to the ranch to deliver his final report, I had decided to make another run at him. As he finished his briefing, I said, “Dick, you are the perfect running mate.”

While I had dropped hints before, he could tell I was serious this time. Finally, he said, “I need to talk to Lynne.” I took that as a promising sign. He told me that he had had three heart attacks and that he and Lynne were happy with their life in Dallas. Then he said, “Mary is gay.” I could tell what he meant by the way he said it. Dick clearly loved his daughter. I felt he was gauging my tolerance. “If you have a problem with this, I’m not your man,” he was essentially saying.

I smiled at him and said, “Dick, take your time. Please talk to Lynne. And I could not care less about Mary’s orientation.”

If Cheney really said this, clearly it was because he was worried how the Republican Party’s right-wing base would react to having a vice presidential candidate with a gay daughter. But this obvious fact seems completely lost on Bush. When Matt Lauer asked Bush about the passage last night (video above), he insisted that Cheney was testing his own personal tolerance for gay people. WTF? Here’s the exchange:

LAUER: Wasn’t he gauging the tolerance of the base of the Republican party?

BUSH: No.

LAUER: Wasn’t he saying, “Isn’t this– will this be an issue?”

BUSH: No.  He was gauging my tolerance.

As Salon.com notes, after selecting Cheney as his running mate Bush proceeded to repeatedly use his opposition to gay rights to galvanize the Republican base. But we suppose this was nothing more than a sign of Bush’s own personal intolerance, as opposed to some carefully orchestrated political strategy. Whatever.

—  John Wright

Deadly vices

Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, by Bill Clegg (Little, Brown and Company, 2010), $23.99

Portrait of an Addicat as a Young ManIn the new book Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, author Bill Clegg’s addiction was far from harmless. In the end, in fact, it almost killed him. And it all started out so innocently.

Like many college students, Clegg and his roommates enjoyed a good time. They smoked a little pot, drank and serial-dated women, pulled pranks, did cocaine, and got high again.

His introduction to crack came from the first man he ever had more-than-fleeting sex with. A hometown lawyer, a man he had known forever, invited Clegg to his apartment for a drink. They talked about the man’s kids and his wife, made out a little, and then the man disappeared into the bedroom. He came back with “milk-colored crystals” and a clear glass tube.

After his first gulp of crack, Clegg says of himself, “He misses the feeling even before it’s left him and not only does he want more, he needs it.” And from then on, he needed it all the time.

But that (the night of firsts) was all before Clegg repeatedly lied to his friends and family. It was before he left his boyfriend, Noah, at an important film festival in order to fly home to get high. It was before he slept with other men in seedy hotels. His first hit from the clear vial was before his business partner changed the locks.

And it was before Clegg nearly died from the drug that had ruined his life.

Reading Portrait is a different kind of experience. This book makes you squirm, and you’ll want to get through each page quickly, not because the story is good (which it is), but because reading about what Clegg lived is hard to endure.

Starting with a major binge, then moving back and forth between childhood memories and fuzzy recollections of being high, Clegg walks a tightrope between wry humor and wrung-out horror. Early memories are written in third-person, giving them a remote feeling and adding more tenseness to this already-raw memoir.

If you relish a tough-to-read story with edge, you’ll want this one. Like any craving, Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man will be impossible to let go of.

— Gregg Shapiro

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 3, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas