Out There:: Booksplainin'

  • by Roberto Friedman
  • Wednesday November 1, 2017
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Books are always piling up on the arts desk. We mean the old-fashioned kind printed on paper and bound together with book glue. We can't catch up with them all. But that's why we're using our column this week for some brief comments to call attention to a few volumes.

"A Son Called Gabriel" by Damian McNicholl (Pegasus, $14.95). It's the coming-of-age story of young Gabriel Harkin, awakening to his homosexual feelings, set against the backdrop of Northern Ireland in the 1960s, the time of the so-called "Troubles" and violent confrontations between Catholics and Protestants. Unusually, this is a "second coming" of a sort for the book, which was a Lambda Literary Award winner for debut novel when first published in 2004. McNicholl rewrote passages in his novel for this edition, and explains why in a new afterword.

"With the advent of legal same-sex marriage in the US, I knew I had to rewrite a fundamental part of the novel. While no marriage other than heterosexual marriage crosses Gabriel's mind throughout the narrative, I felt compelled to acknowledge the silent gay men and women who grew up in the same era as he did, who understood they had to escape the homophobia and sectarianism of rural Northern Ireland and live their dignified truth in England's cities and beyond."

"50 Queers Who Changed the World - A Celebration of LGBTQ+ Icons" by Dan Jones, illustrated by Michelle Rosenthal (Hardie Grant Books, $14.99) is a sweet collection of tributes to inspiring LGBTQ figures, each of whom gets one page of biography and one illustrative portrait. All the expected historical figures (Allen Ginsberg, Oscar Wilde, Harvey Milk, Gertrude Stein, Billie Holiday, Frida Kahlo) are here, but they share space with more contemporary characters (Dan Savage, George Takei, RuPaul, Camille Paglia, Rachel Maddow, Laverne Cox) in a nifty congregation of souls.

"Vacationland - True Stories from Painful Beaches" by John Hodgman (Viking, $25). Comic author and "The Daily Show" contributor shares his life in locales from rural Western Massachusetts in a "right-to-farm" town, "which means if you smell manure you are not allowed to complain," to the "painful beaches" of Maine and beyond. Hodgman's talent for writing snappy copy is well-exhibited, never more so than when he refers to his daughter and son as "Hodgmina and Hodgmanillo" so they won't be burdened with self-Googling in later life.

"The Floating World" by C. Morgan Babst (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $26.95). This is the Hurricane Katrina novel that literary fiction-lovers have been waiting for, made even more poignant by this year's superstorms, and what we now know to be tragic climate-change weather events to come. Thanks again, global-warming deniers and your GOP-installed enablers!

Meanwhile we're deep into a book we can't tell you about yet. It's the new novel by an acclaimed gay British author who has won the Man Booker Prize. Available in Britain, its American publication date is not until next spring, but an expat friend found a copy in Southeast Asia and sent it our way. Clue: it's perfect for the erstwhile coxswain on your list, i.e., Yours Truly, OT.