Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Between covers in the year 2011

Out There

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In looking over the following list of books we most enjoyed this year, Out There is surprised by how dominant nonfiction apparently is in our reading life. Even the most satisfying read we had all year, Alan Hollinghurst's novel The Stranger's Child, a triumphant work of fiction, could be said to be based or at least inspired by the real life of English poet Rupert Brooke . Anyway, we make no claims that these are best of the year, merely the ones that made it into our hot little hands.

And Furthermore by Judi Dench (St. Martin's Press). "There were four of us nominated – the other four were Helena [Bonham Carter], Julie Christie , Kate Winslet and Helen Hunt, who won it for her performance in As Good as It Gets. She was the only American nominee, and somebody said to us afterwards that of course none of the rest of us stood a chance because we had split the British vote four ways. When I went on to the Miramax party an interviewer thrust a microphone at me and said, 'A nation weeps.'

"I said, 'Oh, come on!'"

Double Life – A Love Story from Broadway to Hollywood by Alan Shayne & Norman Sunshine, with a foreword by Mike Nichols (Magnus Books). On casting young Barbra Streisand in director Arthur Laurents' I Can Get It for You Wholesale: "Whoever thought of using her as Miss Marmelstein didn't matter – she was a sensation and history was made. Elliot Gould , unfortunately, didn't fare as well. I have always blamed it on the costume designer who put him in heavy, authentic Depression-era clothes, and the fact that from the moment he appeared at his first entrance, he had to do three numbers in a row, which he sang and danced. He perspired so profusely that people didn't want to look at him. So although he was very good, his performance seemed overwrought and full of effort."

Eleven by Patricia Highsmith, with a foreword by Graham Greene (Grove Press), and The Cry of the Owl are the first two entries in the press' new editions of stories and novels from the late great lesbian modernist crime novelist. We ate them up.

Half Empty by David Rakoff (Anchor Books). "My childhood dream – that I would move to New York and have a creative life filled with many interesting friends who had terrible, terrible problems – came true. New York is for me, at this point, almost shtetl-like in its overlap. I sat at a dinner with a friend and her parents as it slowly dawned upon me that the patriarch was none other than the man who had been habitually sleeping with (and slowly breaking the heart of) a man I knew who had a thing for older married guys who like to wrestle."

How to be Gay in the 21st Century by David Leddick (White Lake Press), subtitled, "There's nothing wrong with being gay, but a lot of people do it wrong," is full of common sense and, you should pardon the expression, straight talk, as reflected in chapter headings "Get Out of the Closet," "Don't Get Married to a Woman" ("You want to live a lie? Please do it on your own. Don't involve innocent women and children,") and "Should You Tell Your Parents?" ("If your parents don't like your being gay, maybe they're not very nice people.") From "How to Dress": "If you must have a female role model, may I recommend Katharine Hepburn or Angelina Jolie: lots of pants, lots of attitude, no jewelry. Please, not Madonna. And certainly not Lady Gaga. No one wants to come home to that."

Humiliation by Wayne Koestenbaum (Picador). "Displaying one's humiliated status might involve pleasure or pride. The spanked receive the subtle reward of exhibiting their shame. At the root of the confessional act – whether in a poem or on a reality TV show – seems to be the pleasure, conscious or not, of publicly avowing one's misery, of showcasing one's lowered status, of turning the 'loss of face' into a new face, a smashed, pulverized face, the face of the smacked, stunned, and vanquished. I may be humiliated, but because I am seen in the process of exhibiting my shame, I therefore gain the pleasure of exemplarity." "To be a placard, an admonitory parable" puts us in mind of the classic Smiths lyric, "I am the living sign."

The Left Coast, photos by Alex L. Fradkin, text by Philip L. Fradkin (University of California Press). Photos and essays of Californian history, natural and otherwise.

My Queer War by James Lord (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). "Of course in the confines of the crowd it would have been difficult to see what he was doing, and he was good-looking enough, ruddy, bright-eyed, brawny in the tight-fitting uniform, and the incursion of his fingers roused me all right, though his breath in my face was brewery, and I knew perfectly well what the gents' meant; it was shocking that I wasn't all that shocked, yet I couldn't let myself go so easily so soon, and I brushed aside his hand, saying – but with a gasp – 'Sorry, some other time.'"

Natural History of San Francisco Bay by Ariel Rubissow Okamoto and Kathleen M. Wong (University of California Press). From "Fieldwork: Netting Underwater Life": "Dragging our bare fingers through the heavy clump of mud and algae, we pull out the largest things first: a baby Dungeness Crab with a distinctive V on its back; a number of Pear Crabs with long, spidery legs; a pregnant goby fish; and a Plainfin Midshipman fish. Upside down in a bucket of water, the Midshipman shows off a row of luminescent photophores, which resemble the gleaming brass buttons of its sailor's uniform namesake." We love a fish in a uniform! A man, too.

The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst (Knopf). "A tiny photo, of course, but clear – C's strong wiry body, bit of black hair on his chest and running down his stomach, one arm raised against the chimney with biceps standing up sharp.

"Me: 'Who took it, I wonder?' GFS : 'I wonder too. Possibly my sister.' – which might help explain GFS' look of confusion, if she'd just caught them at it. It gave me my first real idea of C's body, and because the camera was like an intruder I suddenly felt what it must have been like to come into his presence – my subject! Very odd, and even a bit of a turn-on – as GFS seemed to feel, too: 'I look positively debauched there, don't I?' he said. I said, 'And were you?' and felt his hand, rubbing my back encouragingly, move down not quite absent-mindedly to just above my waist. He said, 'I'm afraid I probably was, you know.'"

Touch by Henri Cole (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), poems straightforward but resonant.

Walking to Hollywood: Memories of Before the Fall by Will Self (Grove Press), for Self completists only.

What's on tap

Need a value-added anecdote to go with this week's capsule reviews of Hollywood musicals screening at the Castro Theatre? Dancer/actress Ann Miller's "Prehistoric Man" delirious tap number in On the Town was filmed in location at Manhattan's famed Museum of Natural History. Miller told our source that during rehearsals, she accidentally hit one of the dinosaur skeletons, knocking it down to pieces on the floor. Reassembling it took over a day, which delayed shooting. Big man on the set Gene Kelly was livid, but there was nothing he could do. That's always so difficult for a control top.

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