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COVERING: THE HIDDEN ASSAULT ON OUR CIVIL RIGHTS Except for tenacious Middle American pockets that are expected to crumble as soon as the upcoming generation, raised on “Will and Grace,” MTV and “Brokeback Mountain,” takes over, gays and lesbians are enjoying an unprecedented openness, safety, and acceptance. Kenji Yoshino, a gay, Asian-American law professor at Yale, in his book “Covering,” calls this a dangerous and naive belief. He demonstrates quite ably that there is an assumption among mainstream society, that gays and lesbians—and all other minorities—should cover, meaning mute or hide behavior and characteristics intrinsic to their status as minorities. (Stefen Styrsky)

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FUN HOME: A FAMILY TRAGICOMIC Since the mid-‘80s, Vermont-based lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel has brought the adventures of Mo and her friends to life with “Dykes to Watch Out For,” which is syndicated in more than 50 newspapers.” “It’s about growing up with my closeted gay dad who died right after I came out to my family when I was in college,” Bechdel said of the graphic novel. “His death was very likely suicide, but no one knows for sure. The book is an attempt to sort out that very confusing period of my life. It’s also a portrait of my father, who was a pretty interesting character. One of his many jobs was running the family funeral home—that’s where the title ‘Fun Home’ comes from.” (Winnie McCroy)

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GRIEF After a decade, and “The Beauty of Men,” Andrew Holleran’s return to the literary scene is a reason for celebration. Not since Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Hours” has there been such a universally appealing and moving novel as Holleran’s latest, an autumnal adagietto entitled “Grief;” at a mere 150 pages, the “novellla” packs more emotional freight than many of today’s long-winded books. Holleran employs the tragic widowhood of Mary Todd Lincoln unraveling from inconsolable grief as his own background canvas. The novella is set in today’s Washington, D.C., a city of glaring paradoxes, of “grandeur and shabbiness,” where the nation’s past still resonates in every historical locale; largely occupied by prominent transients or has-beens, and Log Cabin Republicans and politicians banning gay marriage. (Michael Ehrhardt)

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HUNG While we have turned the chapter on lynching, the black dick of destruction and desire still plays in our emotional background. And “Hung: A Meditation on the Measure of Black Men in America,” by Scott Poulson-Bryant, works well when it mines the personal and popular. For example when Details magazine did an article in 2003 of which actor is known for having a big one, no black actors made the list, a rather odd omission considering the persuasiveness of the legend. While such cultural moments are fun, I ended “Hung” wondering what does all of it mean. What does the myth have to do with where we are right now? (James Withers)

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MANLINESS In a period in which the first lady, Laura Bush, is accused of stealing the presidential swagger and “Brokeback Mountain” tests the limits of liberal-sensitive manliness, the recent and highly excitatory attention given Harvey C. Mansfield’s book “Manliness,” comes as no surprise. The anxiety of Mansfield, a Harvard government professor, over what he calls our “gender-neutral” culture recalls those other anxiety-ridden pages scripted by the likes of Henry Adams and Henry McBride during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (David Gerstner)

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MY LIVES For over three decades, Edmund White has proven a master at turning the messy, tragic, and exalted experiences of his life into confidently observed, witty, and transcendent fiction. With “My Lives” we get an intimate glimpse behind the screen of his fiction, and at the dark Eros that is his muse. All this is told with the seductive zeal of a gay male Scheherazade. This sort of uncompromising, confessional non-fiction is more appreciated in Europe—where it is a literary and intellectual tradition—particularly in France, where White, an avowed “Voltairian atheist,” spent a good part of his professional life. In fact, the iconoclastic spirit of Andre Gide and Jean Genet—of whom White has written the definitive biography—runs all through it. (Michael Ehrhardt)

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OUR LIVES ARE THE RIVERS Like most great novelists, Jaime Manrique has two goals—to tell the story of real people whose experience and struggles are timeless and universal, and at the same time to reveal the history and configuration of the world about them in time and place. By both measures, “Our Lives Are the Rivers”—a line from the epic poem by Jorge Manrique (who Jaime speculates may be related) about the death of his father—is a success. (Lawrence D. Mass)

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SEND ME “Send Me” by Patrick Ryan will stay on my shelf for two reasons. First, the book’s simple structure—the slow dissolution of a the Raggazino/Kerrigan family, product of a divorce and remarriage, with four children, two each from different fathers—belies the skill and complexity of Ryan’s prose. Secondly, Ryan’s characters are authentic, realized people; I couldn’t help but be amazed at how much I cared about what happened to them. It’s billed as a novel, but “Send Me” is really more a collection of linked stories each featuring a different member of the Raggazino/Kerrigan clan. (Stefen Styrsky)

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TWEAKED The cover of Patrick Moore’s cinematic new memoir, “Tweaked,” shows a heartland kid in overalls who, having donned a makeshift cape and miner’s goggles, stands transformed in his own estimation into a superhero, ready to take on all comers. The book, subtitled “A Crystal Memoir,” is an attempt to show how the author, and sadly all too many gay men, have tried to use crystal methamphetamine as a magic compound to enact a similar transformation from insecure, socially and sexually inept hayseeds, into libidinal dynamos bursting with confidence and swagger. (Christopher Murray)

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WORDS TO OUR NOW: IMAGINATION AND DISSENT Thomas Glave describes himself as “a Jamerican,” a term reflecting his Jamaican and American backgrounds. As a result, Glave often has difficulty reconciling this dual identity. Traveling back and forth between the two countries, he often“[wonders] which passport to use on this trip or that one, Jamaican or U.S.—which citizen will I be this time (re-) entering ‘my’ country?” The 17 essays in “Words to Our Now” deal with this vexing identity problem from the standpoints of race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Glave offers many disturbing examples of challenges to and attacks on a person’s or a group’s sense of identity—including torture, rape, lynching, and homophobic murder. (Charles Smith)

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Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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