Read A Book! Don't Be Afraid!

by Tim Murphy


ed. Linda Howard - Anything That Moves #18, 2261 Market Street, #496, San Francisco, CA, 94114-1600, USA, , Fall 1998, $9.50 CAN

This is the first issue edited by Linda Howard, after Mark Silver stepped down. Like previous issues, it is heavily in favour of female content (I don't know if this reflects the reality of bisexual representation, or that queer women do an awful lot of the work, yet don't get credit, or, worse, get blamed for being creative and hard-working, despite the fact that the men weren't putting out equal energy...but I rant...).

There is, not surprisingly, a good deal of material on Matthew Shepard and hate crimes, pointing out the simple fact that most of the laws ignore the rights of trans people (ATM is to be commended for its considerable efforts to bring forth trans voices in the queer community - it could be argued that 'outsiders' have a vested interest in helping to expand boundaries - of course, bisexuals aren't outsiders to me - some of my best friends are bisexual (no, really) - while many in the queer community have developed the cliquishness and snobbery that they suffered through growing up).

Continuing on that theme, there is poetry by Corey Tax, a bi drag queen; an ad for drag king porn (inevitable, and welcome); and more trans content.

Of course, there are other items. There is an interview with a bisexual filmmaker, Sayer Frey, about her work; a vast array of poetry and prose; significant coverage of bi news items that are never mentioned in gay rags; and a cartoon about the dubious benefits of 'inclusion' by Rachael House of Red Hanky Panky comic.

There is always something interesting to read in this magazine (this issue is for the free-range bisexual, which is the humane way to treat those naughty fence-sitters...*grin*), and I get a kick out of it, even if I'm mostly a cursed monosexual (I only seem to get crushes on lesbians when it comes to women - I'm sure there's irony in this somewhere).

ed. Celina Hex - Bust 'zine #11, P.O. Box 319, Ansonia Station, NYC, 10023, USA, Summer/Fall 1998, $3.50 US,

This magazine is trying to step into the space that Sassy occupied, before it decided to be like everyone else, or was forced to by market pressures. This would be the Girlfriends issue.

It has such innovative features as a fashion section featuring 'real' girls in 'real' clothes; porn written for and by girls (this issue contained het stuff - I don't know if the magazine has included dyke smut, though having Susie Bright as a sex advice columnist suggests the topic is not neglected); and 'zine reviews (haven't seen that in Cosmopolitan, or even Tigerbeat or Seventeen). There are informative interviews with Donnas, Missy Elliot, Kim Gordon and Julia Cafritz, among others. The stories cover a wide range of material, with some having queer or gender-bending potential, such as 'My Life As A Boy' (about learning to be a 'girl' and the horrible compromises involved); 'Guide To Your Hot-Ass Girly Love Affair'; and 'Bosom Buddies' (some of the women listed as a girl's best friend are women's women, such as Lili Tomlin and Xena).

It's a light-hearted, yet serious magazine (to me, it's not a contradiction) and, though I am not presently a girl, I found a lot interesting and insightful. Like Sassy, it's not just for the females...

Neville Farmer and XTC - XTC Song Stories, Hyperion, NYC, 1998, $19.95 CAN

As the title suggests, this is a potted history of XTC, exploring the songs on its albums, the events and politics (record company woes - won't release records, won't release band...) behind the scenes and the personalities of the members of this most quintessential British cult band (as Miss Pete Townshend once said: 'I'm a cult figure. That means everyone knows who I am and nobody buys my records.').

Since it's authorized, and, indeed, co-authored, you might think this would make it a whitewash or an insufferable lovefest. Actually, neither happens to be the case. Nobody pulls any punches (you might think, for example, that the fact that the group now only consists of two members, Dave Gregory having left in the final mixing stages of its latest record in a bit of a huff, would be downplayed or perhaps given a polite explanation. No - it's blunt - he felt useless and he left...), or tries to put a good face on difficult behaviour (well, perhaps Andy Partridge does a touch, but not very convincingly).

All told, an insightful and fascinating book, particularly the track-by-track, album-by-album synopses of motivations, approaches, etc. Am now eagerly awaiting the new album, so I can be one of the four people who will purchase it.

Richard Grant - The Land of Winter , Avon/Bard Books , NYC, 1998, $8.99 CAN

This is a fantasy novel, like its predecessor, Molly and Tex in the Afterlife.   It is a tribute to the author that it is such a smooth a convincing one that the gradually increasing magic in its seems par for the course.

It is the story of Pippa Rede, her daughter Winterbelle and the forces of intolerance and jealousy that separate them due to the former's being Wiccan.

The interesting thing about Grant's style is that one gets the impression that, though he doesn't believe in magic or the supernatural, he recognizes that his characters do.  Therefore, he resolves the conflict by having characters who are so absorbed in their mystical world that they cannot function in the real one, counterbalanced with practical, grounded ones (including the townie/'real' witch who helps Pippa, with the aid of a werewolf) for the purposes of illuminating a sensible middle path, though that choice is rarely a flawless or Zen Buddhist state of balance.

Giving away more would ruin the story - but there is a happy ending that flows organically and is not sickly sweet.  A heartwarming, skillful work...


Brian Howald - Sawdust and Spangles, Bookworm Literary Productions, P.O. Box 2095, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, K7L 5J8, 1998, $24.95 CAN

I suppose I should out my bias right away and point out that I know Brian.   Despite this, I still like the book (oh, I'm kidding...about the 'despite this' part).

I wouldn't have thought anyone could get me to read a book about war.  In fact, in Grade 11, I would rather have thrown myself on a hand grenade than read Guns of Navarone (but this was before alternate reading assignments, and I doubt my high school had spare books).  Nevertheless, Howald has achieved this miraculous task.

Like his previous book, The Chopper of Lucy Electra (which is best described as a murder/family/politics/motorcycle mystery), it is by no means a purist tome or only about the Civil War - the fact that it was inspired by the Band's live version of 'The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie Down' has a lot to say about its origins in myth, irony and Romanticism.

In particular, the novel follows the adventures and misadventures of the seemingly immortal Thomas Cinder (Confederate Army leader) and Pepper Grinder (Union Army leader), who are linked by the nice touch that Grinder helped the younger Cinder get through the military academy, as they battle each other, incidentally fighting a War.  Brian's fondness for ironic, telling names is not lost here...

It is a great big book - 795 pages - and like most such volumes, it could have done with trimming, and a closer proofread for errors that creep in - but I found it compulsively readable, funny, wrenching and brutal (Brian has a deft touch for describing violence so that both the bloodthirsty fan and the pacifist skeptic (like me?) can appreciate the writing).  It is a sweeping historical romance - like a readable Gone With The Wind (though, despite Brian's assertions that his publishing company is devoted to mainstream material, it is off-kilter, in a good way).  Light years ahead of his first novel - and worthy of attention...

Gary Schmidgall - Walt Whitman: A Gay Life, Plume, Toronto, 1998, $20.99 CAN

Somewhere recently, I speculated that Leaves of Grass was the first gay book I'd read.  I'm not sure about that - it certainly was one of the first books I read where I went 'Hmmm...'.  I would have been eleven or twelve, and remember thinking that this stuff about boys clinging together and camerados with their head in your lap sounded suspicious and cool at the same time...

This book exhaustively examines the records of both the poems and Whitman's journals (some of which has only come to light in the past six years, due to a hundred-years-after-death clause) to make a strong case for Whitman's being a G(r)ay Eminence.

One would have thought that, like Wilde, there could be no question of this claim, from examination of the Calamus poems.  However, it was 1904, twelve years after his death, before anyone would venture that Whitman wasn't just snoring next to all those men his journal records that he 'slept with' (well, advance it in a way that was not dismissive or the book reveals, it was known by 1841 that Whitman was so inclined...the school he taught at and left under scandal was referred to by contemporaries as 'Walt Whitman's School of Sodomy').  Even today, people still try to create the picture of a sweet, asexual man.

This book, as I said, compiles enormous quantities of references and evidence, and provides one of the clearest pictures that will ever be possible of Whitman the queer, not to mention documenting the wrenching agony of losing the man he loved, Peter Doyle, to his problematic sense of respectability (i.e. 'internalized homophobia').  Given the degree of circumspection that was necessary, and his tendency to avoid personal scrutiny, little more can be expected than informed speculation and reasonable conclusions, but they ring true and are put forward in a witty, campy and knowing style (this is the point at which the critic will point out that the author is gay himself - well, most critics would - of course, so am I, so the bias I'm operating under must be extreme...unlike the entirely unencumbered hetero, anti-gay scholar...).

As these journals are perused in the years ahead, I'm sure other works on a similar theme shall appear - but let the record show that this volume was there first...

Patti Smith - Patti Smith Complete, Doubleday, NYC, 1998, $48.95 CAN

Well - I mean, it's the complete lyrics of Patti Smith, the goddess of punk.  If you know who she is and, like me, you've hunched over your turntable trying to figure out what the heck she's saying on some of the early songs, this will let you know, along with a few rare poems and some autobiographical insight.

A handful of photographs here and there - some glimpses into work in progress - and there you go.  The perfect gift for the Patti Smith freak.  Of course, the average person won't care, and certainly wouldn't pay this much, but what can I say? 'Outside of society - if you're looking, that's where you'll find me...'