Spring books 2023 round-up, part 3

  • by Jim Piechota
  • Tuesday May 9, 2023
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Spring books 2023 round-up, part 3

Our final installment of Spring books includes some titles you won't want to miss. We have Edmund White's provocative latest novel, a collection debut from a local Bay Area poet, memoirs from a former meth dealer, an outspoken queer female cultural critic, and a queer Black nurse.

Edmund White  

"The Humble Lover" by Edmund White, $27.99 (Bloomsbury)
In White's latest novel — a superb study in the delicious dynamics of an illicit, age-disparate romance — a wealthy, aging New Yorker becomes obsessed with returning the attentions of a much-younger ballet dancer. When octogenarian Aldwych West becomes enamored by handsome 20-year-old French Canadian New York City Ballet dancer August Dupond, it's a given that, especially in White's nimble literary hands, it will be hot, sexual, desirous, and disastrously doomed.

There are plenty of delicious dalliances, social comedy, desperation, melodrama, and more sex, described in intricate and explicit language, to be enjoyed here, even allusions to "spit-roasting." Naturally, there is a cinematic plot, a narrative arc, and a scandalous conclusion driving this showstopper, but White's uniquely freaky unrestrained creativity is the main reason to buy a front row seat.

"Uranians" by Theodore McCombs, $25 (Astra House)
This imaginative debut story collection from McCombs interweaves fantasy, science fiction, and speculative fiction into five stories that create universes of their own populated with gay characters struggling with identity and liberation. The space opera of the title follows a gang of queer scientists, artists, thinkers, and even a lusty trans priest named Father Leo, all embarked on the Ekphrasis expedition to the planet Qaf.

Elsewhere, relationships are factored in terms of quantum mechanics, a Berlin rave club promises a multiverse of identities for a sullen gay man disillusioned by love, and a spectacular re-imagining of a futuristic, flattened San Francisco complete with Wi-Fi eyewear, "no hills," and, of course, a man frustrated with his job and his marriage in "Lacuna Heights." Wildly creative speculative fiction awaits readers who love this wondrously innovative genre.

"Diving at the Lip of the Water" by Karen Poppy, $20 (Beltway Editions)
Non-binary Bay Area poet Karen Poppy's first full-length collection examines themes of gender and queer identity and they convey these ideas through a lush assemblage of words and phrases. Lyrical and relevant, Poppy's poems, divided into five parts, address childhood crushes and cloaked sexuality, their Jewish heritage and family lineage, their appreciation for Walt Whitman, and reflections on the environment as in particularly resonant verses on flowers, roots, pollination, and the shimmery pearlescent nautical life of a "Badass Mermaid."

The titular poem, also the collection's longest work, probes the meanings behind gender borders and restrictive identifiers while rejoicing in the reclamation of oneself as a free spirit unbeholden to monikers or societal "reins" and restraints. Poetry fans have a lot to savor in this debut volume.

"Fat On Fat Off: A Big Bitch Manifesto" by Clarkisha Kent, (The Feminist Press at CUNY)
Nigerian-American cultural critic Clarkisha Kent delivers a raw, unfettered glimpse into her life as a self-described fat, Black, and queer woman of color. As witty as she is on social media, this book sweeps away the big-girl shame, the colorism, and the internalized fat-phobia many marginalized women experience on the daily in favor of embracing a pattern of self-love and an eternal cycle of female bravado that is contagious and liberating for any and every reader.

She takes time to brazenly spill the beans on her upbringing as the child of immigrant parents raised in a dysfunctional, often abusive, tight-lipped Southern family. Once she realized that her use of humor was stunting her emotional growth as a person, she strived toward achieving a balance between the jokes and the road to personal self-confidence. Kent has aspirations to write a Black western one day, but for now, this timely, self-assured journey toward her true self is brilliant enough to garner her even more fans than she already has.

"Tweakerworld" by Jason Yamas, $28 (Unnamed Press)
This memoir, set in the 2010s, chronicles author Jason Yamas's descent into becoming a drug dealer and immersing himself into the San Francisco gay scene where he relocated to from Los Angeles in 2015. It was a life where scoring crystal meth was as easy as opening an app on your smartphone. Frequent Adderall usage morphed into nights overdosing on GHB, then full-on meth dealing, purchasing his stockpile from the dark web and other shadowy sources.

Eventually the mess that becomes his everyday life crumbles and Yamas makes a choice not every drug addict gets to make independently: he works hard at coming clean. His vivid journey toward sobriety in 2017, complete with a departure from the Bay Area, is as remarkable as his dark initial descent into the gay meth circuit. Written with raw honesty and crisp detail, this moving memoir that ultimately finds its place in the Southern California sunshine is well worth the trip.

"Anything That Moves" by Jamie Stewart, $26.95 (Dial Books)
Dynamic openly bisexual member of the alternative rock band Xiu Xiu, Jamie Stewart has penned a debut memoir like no other. Instead of stacking painful family history on top of humorous anecdotes and a handful of liberating epiphanies, Stewart had decided to compile the essence of his life thus far through a series of graphically-depicted sexual experiences and how they defined (and delivered) him as a man.

Voyeuristic readers will find themselves obsessed with the perverse rapture of his dalliances, from one-night stands with both men and women, to rejecting the advances of a perverted priest, to sexual bliss and erotic adventure on every page. Alternatingly enlightening, distressing, thrilling, arousing, and utterly original, Stewart cracks open his little black book to expose a cornucopia of graphically portrayed carnal delights. Be prepared to be engrossed from beginning to end.

"Daddy Boy" by Emerson Whitney, $26 (McSweeney's)
Creative writing professor Whitney exposes his life then and now in this engrossing autobiography that demonstrates how identity shifts can radically alter a life and everyone around it. When the author was 31, they felt life changing and a shift away from the previous decade spent as a sub needing to happen.

They ended up divorcing their wife in 2017, who was also a dominatrix named "Daddy" Jo, then staying in a tent outside of the duplex previously shared with Jo. Whitney further probed their urgent need for liberation and took up storm-chasing first as a one-time hobby with a group for a few weeks, then as a lifestyle which affords plenty of opportunities throughout the book to meditatively reflect on identity, their transgender journey, love, belonging, and embracing the courage to make drastic life changes, even when it's terrifying and painful.

"Journal of a Black Queer Nurse" by Britney Daniels, $16.95 (Common Notions)
As the title plainly states, Daniels is a Black nurse who shares the enlightening and often shocking anecdotes of her livelihood and her life as a queer woman in the pages of this moving memoir. The author spotlights her struggle with her white co-workers who exhibit cloaked biased behavior, her frustration with the state of healthcare in America, and how systemic racism permeates nearly every aspect of her life and career as a nurse.

These issues don't define her, they just shape her everyday perception, and throughout the book, Daniels reiterates what it takes to be a successful nurse in today's frenetic world of medicine. Her important perspective is meaningful, touching, motivating, upsetting, and ultimately inspiring, all at once.

"Park Cruising: What Happens When We Wander Off the Path" by Marcus McCann, $17.99 (House of Anansi Press)
Toronto attorney Marcus McCann thoroughly probes the nature and the allure of public sex in Canada in this thought-provoking collection of provocative essays. He first became interested in the subject after opposing Toronto's "Project Marie," which was a high-profile police sting operation maliciously entrapping and targeting gay men in Marie Curtis Park, a known cruising area, while heterosexual couples can openly engage in sexual activity anywhere and have it hypocritically be considered "a harmless lovers' lane scenario."

He examines the urgent need for legal reform that removes contemporary gay culture as a direct target for scrutinous police raids and explores the connective nuances occurring between gay men beneath the shady canopies of parks and forests. He shares the surprisingly lengthy history of park cruising and indecency laws, personally experiences the awkward and unclear social expectations of park cruising, and references the works of Patrick Califia, John Rechy, and Tony Kushner.

Ultimately, while the author can't say for certain in today's tech-savvy culture whether or not park cruising is gaining or losing popularity, "parks in Toronto continue to be sites of pleasure and exchange." This is a terrific exploration of a classic and mostly forgotten queer male pastime.

"Why Tammy Wynette Matters" by Steacy Easton, $23.95 (University of Texas Press)
Nonbinary Ontario author and journalist Easton debuts with this exemplary deep-dive into the life of Tammy Wynette, the "First Lady of Country Music" who died in 1998. They explore the country music star's poverty-stricken childhood in northeastern Mississippi and move through her young life as a beautician, and onward toward a Nashville record deal with Epic records, and a troubled personal life overstuffed with drugs and abusive spouses. Throughout it all, Easton writes, Wynette persevered while laying her heart bare in songs about heartbreak and the melodrama of challenging relationships. Country fans will be delighted with this short but incisive and fond remembrance.

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