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Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade
Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade
by Justin Spring
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.88

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Biography Of A Secret Life, 19 Mar 2012
Secret Historian, The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, professor, tattoo artist and sexual renegade, is one of the best biographies I've ever read. Largely the allure of the book owns, of course, to the extraordinary life of its subject. But the author's effort is also out of the ordinary. Dealing with a rich documental collection, Justin Spring makes a very close reading and a careful and complete examination of what was Steward's life, and how Steward lived it.

In other words, we know not only the events and episodes that constituted his life, but also his reflections, his desires, how he rationalized what happened to him, and his opinions and reactions to either aspects of his personal life or related to what was happening around him. The analysis of Steward's papers was complemented with numerous interviews, and with analysis of the papers of other protagonists in his life.

Samuel Steward lived so intensely and even wildly, his sexuality and his homosexuality. Especially at a time when moral repression was strong, and homosexuals were illegal and underground. From these experiences, it's registering and it's context, Justin Spring wrote a history of homosexuality in America (but not only, as it follows the adventures of Steward in Europe, particularly in Paris and in Rome), that is particularly relevant in regard of the years before Stonewall, i.e. before the gay liberation movement that grows from 1969 on.

The quality of the writing is notable, and the text is never heavy or monotonous. On the contrary, there is a successful balance between narrative and other more reflective snippets, between the comment and the testimony, between the more historic analysis and the hottest episodes from Stewards' life. But what definitely marks the text is how Spring constantly refers to Stewards' own writings, giving the book an almost autobiographical tone. The volume is complete with extensive notes to reference the text, and with the indispensable name and bio-bibliographic indexes.

The book was a finalist for the National Book Award, which not only says well of its interest beyond the restricted gay universe, but also does some justice to Samuel Steward, getting him back from the anonymous obscurity in which he lived his life and in which history was preparing to forget him.

Justin Spring has a website that is largely dedicated to the book and a Facebook page.


City Boy: My Life in New York During the 1960s and 1970s
City Boy: My Life in New York During the 1960s and 1970s
by Edmund White
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars writing and sexuality, 3 Aug 2011
City Boy is another autobiographical work by Edmund White, one of my favourite authors. As the previous book My Lives, it is a memoir, this time focused on New York experiences of the author during the 60's and the 70's. The book is organized around meetings between White and the people who were influential in his life. In general they are writers, but not all (Robert Mapplethorpe, just to give an example, it was not), and if there is a thread in this volume is the path of White himself to become a published writer.

The other major aspect of the book is sexuality, or more accurately male homosexual sexuality, either as an individual experience (White assumed, without remorse or contrition, as a promiscuous), or in how homosexuality was lived in those two decades or, finally, on the strengthening of the right to gay sexuality, especially in the post-Stonewall era.

Edmund White was a protagonist of the main events that marked the beginning of the movement for gay rights (he was on Christopher Street in the Stonewall at the time of the clashes with the police), and the book is also an account on his own process of identity awareness. White, incidentally, does connect the discovery of his voice as a writer with the fact that he discovered that the part of human experience that made sense to tell as a writer was directly linked to his sexuality.

The book is filled with stories of gossip, even some mean deeds, but what always surprises with Edmund White is his candour, the way he exposes himself, and how he always submits to the judgment whether of himself or by others. The author's writing is, as always, very simple and direct. And by the way he comes with an interesting theory: while most of the contemporary heterosexual writers, whose experience were shared by most people, needed to retreat to style as a way to discover the uniqueness of their authorial voices, the homosexual writers, to be original, only needed to tell their own experiences, thus justifying the fact that their writing is slimmer and simpler.


El Sueno del Celta
El Sueno del Celta
by Mario Vargas Llosa (Premio Novel de Literatura 2010)
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.40

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars dreams and nightmares, 24 Feb 2011
This review is from: El Sueno del Celta (Paperback)
Li com bastante interesse o mais recente livro de Mário Vargas Llosa, o prémio Nobel da literatura deste ano. Não só porque sou admirador de Vargas Llosa, mas também porque O Sonho do Celta, é esse o título, aborda a vida de Roger Casement, um dos heróis do nacionalismo irlandês e da independência do Eire. Sou, desde há anos, muito interessado pela biografia de Casement. O que primeiro me chamou a atenção na sua biografia foi o facto de ter sido cônsul de Inglaterra em Lourenço Marques, ainda no século XIX, mas o que me fez realmente interessar foi a sua vida extraordinária: pioneiro dos direitos humanos, denunciou, consecutivamente, as condições esclavagistas com que eram tratados os indígenas empregados pelas grandes companhias exploradoras da borracha, primeiro no Congo, onde teve de afrontar o poder e a popularidade de Leopoldo II, e depois na Amazónia peruana. Estes trabalhos valeram-lhe um título outorgado pela coroa britânica, que chegou numa fase em que Casement estava muito envolvido com o nacionalismo irlandês, cuja submissão colonial a Inglaterra não era, na sua opinião, diferente das outras formas cruéis de colonialismo que conheceu em África e na América do Sul. Durante a I Grande Guerra Roger Casement envolveu-se com a Alemanha no sentido de coordenar um ataque simultâneo a Inglaterra, o que lhe valeu uma acusação de traição. Foi preso quando desembarcava de um submarino alemão nas costas da Irlanda, julgado, e executado através de enforcamento na cadeia londrina de Pentonville. A sua condição de homossexual, e o facto de anotar todos os seus encontros sexuais num diário que foi encontrado, e usado, pelos ingleses, acrescentou infâmia à injúria, e Roger Casement, apesar de ter morrido em 1916, na sequência da revolta da Páscoa, em Dublin, apenas nos anos 60 viu o seu nome reabilitado como herói do nacionalismo irlandês.

Quanto à obra de Vargas Llosa, trata-se de uma biografia romanceada, mais do que de um romance biográfico. Ou seja, o livro é sobretudo fruto de uma investigação sobre Roger Casement, e sobre as causas e campanhas em que esteve envolvido. Percebe-se que, mais do que a biografia do irlandês, o que interessou ao escritor peruano foi a reflexão que a sua biografia possibilitou sobre o colonialismo europeu de finais do século XIX princípios de XX, e o facto de as elites europeias se suportarem sobre o horror da exploração das riquezas mas sobretudo das populações dos territórios colonizados. O que não admira, sabendo-se que Llosa é um peruano (e parte substancial do livro tem, como já referi, por cenário a Amazónia peruana) que vive na Europa, e para mais é um escritor que nunca deixou de ter uma forte intervenção política, seja através do discurso seja mesmo da acção.

Mas o facto de isto ser assim não impede Llosa de tratar com generosidade, dignidade e respeito a personagem de Roger Casement, traçando dele um perfil feito de gosto de aventura, de vocação de mundo, e de um profundo humanismo. Além disso trata com sentido e bom gosto a questão da homossexualidade, sem a escamotear e sem a diabolizar. A propósito deste aspecto vale a pena referir que um dos pontos mais controvertidos acerca da biografia de Casement tem a ver com a autenticidade dos chamados 'black diaries', precisamente o conjunto de diários em que Roger Casement apontava os seus encontros sexuais, com a mesma secura de linguagem que usava nos 'white diaries', os seus apontamentos sobre as campanhas humanitárias em que participou. A forma como as autoridades inglesas utilizaram o diário para denegrir o carácter de Casement e desencorajar as campanhas que foram feitas a favor da comutação da pena capital, levaram a que muitos defendessem que se tratava de um documento forjado. Apenas recentemente foi estabelecida a sua autenticidade, que Vargas Llosa aceita, mas defendendo que a maior parte dos relatos não passavam de fantasias: Casement escrevia, não sobre o que de facto tinha acontecido, mas sobre o que ele gostava que tivesse acontecido. É interessante, porque esta teoria de Llosa transformaria os diários numa espécie de literatura erótica avant la lettre.

Não sendo defraudadas as expectativas quanto à aproximação à biografia de Roger Casement, o livro de Vargas Llosa está, todavia, sempre mais perto do ensaio do que do romance. Mesmo nas partes em que o escritor mais descola da verdade factual, como as reconstruções dos encontros na prisão, enquanto aguarda a execução, e que são capítulos mais curtos que o livro vai entremeando com aqueles em que se reconstrói o biografia de Casement, mesmo nessas partes a escrita está longe do fulgor literário que, por exemplo, transforma As Travessuras da Menina Má num romance inolvidável.


Chaos
Chaos
by Edmund White
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars on growing old, 28 Jan 2011
This review is from: Chaos (Paperback)
This is a collection of texts: a novel, that gives it's title to the volume, and five stories, two of them fairly short. Common to all or nearly all the texts, the theme of old age, in addition to the usual White's topics.

The novel, Chaos, is where we find the usual characteristics of EW's writing, including his autobiographical tone. I mean, I do not know if what is there exactly matches the author's biography, but one of his talents is precisely this, to write with a voice so likely that we are led to believe or accept that in fact it corresponds to the writer's life. There is this kind of tone that is usual in White, an almost total identification between author and narrator. As I said, I do not know if it is pure fiction masquerading as biography, but this is not important, what matters is that the quality of the literary artifice, and, of course, what it provides to readers.

Chaos is sometimes a poignant story about the aging process, on how we will gradually adapt to the limitations of old age, but especially the way one resists (or not) psychologically to all changes that come with age and the fact that we have to deal with the physical decline and with the prospect of death. All this done with a kind of honesty and rawness that is usual with White, particularly in what regards to sex.

The remaining texts in this edition are there to prove that EW is an author of many and diverse talents. I particularly liked the story The Good Sports, which tells the story of a couple of friends, an English woman and an American man, who decide to spend their retirement in a Greek island. Much of the story focuses on a visit to Turkey when all sorts of misunderstandings did happen. This is a beautiful story about friendship, or rather the love without sex, and its limits.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 9, 2011 12:32 AM BST


The Twin
The Twin
by Gerbrand Bakker
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredibly moving, 27 Jan 2011
This review is from: The Twin (Paperback)
There may be some spoilers ahead!

The book addresses several themes: aging and loneliness, heartache and complexity of relationships within families, especially that thing so special that is the relationship between brothers, who in this case are twins, and one of them died young. In addition, the book is set in a rural environment, and dedicates an almost obsessive attention to tasks and their timing, and the rhythm of the work of a cattle farm, and is unsparing in remarks on bikes, ice skating, canoeing, and fauna and flora in general.

Helmer, the surviving twin, is in his fifties, lives a difficult relationship, made of a lot of remorse and revenge, with his dying father. Many moments of this relationship disturbed me a lot, either by the situation of a child having to take care of his father who is in the process of accelerated degradation, or because it has a very large dose of cruelty and I could never stop relating to what I am currently living in terms of family status.

The only company Helmer has are a neighbor and her two sons, still infants, who help him in some of the farm work, namely in taking care of the pair of donkeys that Helmer, against the will of his father, bought to the farm.

One day Helmer got the visit of Riet, the ex-girlfriend of his dead twin brother, that had been expelled from home by the brothers' father, who blamed her of this untimely death. As a result of her visit, the son of Riet, a troubled 17 year old that has the same name of his dead brother, spend a few months to live with Helmer on the farm as an assistant, and the relationship between them is anything but simple.

On his father's death, Helmer is visited by a former worker of the farm, from the time when the twin was still alive, and that was the only person who valued and paid attention, and even affection, to Helmer.

Basically, this is what happens throughout the pages of the book. But this set of complicated relationships, all full of anguish, is served by a very dry language, with very few adjectives, written in first person, and loaded with an amazing humour, sometimes ironic sometimes tender.

The book moved me greatly, but it amused me even more. It made me love the main character, and I was fascinated by the person who was able to write a book so full of emotion and humour, and especially as able to grasp feelings and emotions, particularly the more complex and subtle. It was no doubt about it, my favourite book of the year.


Clouds and Eclipses: The Collected Short Stories
Clouds and Eclipses: The Collected Short Stories
by Gore Vidal
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a language so beautiful, 11 Jun 2010
Please read this:

"The fools were in possession of the beach today. They sat watchfully beneath umbrellas, admiring the cold and radiant angels who could, they believed, exorcise the graceless shadow of the years and with firm flesh recreate youth and the sense of permanency, or its illusion. I suppose by now I know the hearts of the fools almost as well as I know my own and sometimes I am frightened when I watch their sad courtship of the treacherous angels for I see in them my own eventual fall from beloved angel to deluded monster. I too shall be old. I shuddered as I stepped over the ruined towers of a sand castle: yes, the beach was changed; I wonder, will it change again one day?"

It is impossible to write with a more elegant and concise way, and describe with a precision that it's cruel the anguish of aging and this pathetic need to find the bodies of young people as an antidote to the poison of our own death. This is an excerpt from a story, Three stratagems, which integrates this collection of short stories all written by Gore Vidal, written in the literary youth of the writer, who, in addition to his famous non-fiction, was primarily a novel writer, and not a short stories one.

Seven of these stories had been published before, but Vidal has decided to republish them when a researcher from a U.S. university, working in the archives of the writer, discovered an unknown story, precisely that which gives title to this volume. This is a story written at the same phase of the others, during a time when Vidal lived and travelled with Tennessee Williams, and is based on a childhood story of the author of A Streetcar Named Desire, spent with his grandfather. Williams has asked Vidal not to publish the story because it could be recognized by his mother, and Vidal responded to the request and ended up losing track of the tale.

There are eight notable short-stories, written in a language so beautiful that can make you cry (as in the above excerpt), capable of in half a dozen sentences to create characters and storylines and environments. The topics are diverse, some have a homosexual context, explicit or merely suggested, and it seemed to me that there may be one or other with biographical traits of the writer himself. At least in one of the stories, composed of pages from an abandoned journal, there is a very brief reference to the love of a teenager, Jimmy, whose name and the circumstances of his death in a battle of the Pacific during World War II, are coincident with memories that Gore Vidal told about his first love, in Palimpsest, the first part of his memoirs.

My favourite story is The Zenner Trophy, which tells the story of a student, about to win an award for being an extraordinary athlete, and that is expelled from a private college, for going on homosexual acts with another student. What is admirable in the tale is not so much the story itself, but rather it's very structure and how the language will reveal another truth implied. It is divided into two parts, each corresponding to a conversation. In the first one the dean discusses the case with the tutor of the student, and in the second the tutor communicates to the student his expulsion and accompanies him while he tidies up his things and prepares to leave school and go to meet with the colleague with whom he has an affair. The most extraordinary thing is that the story makes a total reversion of feelings: the student is a little indifferent to his own situation and eager to meet his classmate, while the teacher who is secretly in love with his student, is truly torn with the situation.


Brooklyn
Brooklyn
by Colm Tóibín
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a masterpiece of narrative and language, 26 May 2010
This review is from: Brooklyn (Paperback)
This is my fourth Tóibín book, and my favourite so far. A masterpiece of narrative and language, it's perfectly crafted phrases take the reader on a voyage of self discovery and maturing. Eilis Lacey is a wonderful character, and her emotions and hesitations are the ones we all have to face in our day-to-day lives: family, love, work and survival, emotionaly and otherwise. Reading can't be much more obsessive, funny and pleasurable than this.


Gore Vidal: Snapshots in History's Glare
Gore Vidal: Snapshots in History's Glare
by Gore Vidal
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.44

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars picturing a life, 22 Feb 2010
This is a beautiful photo-biography, a great-value album for all the Vidal fans. Covering much of his life, the pictures are accompanied by captions and commentary by the man himself, with his usual mixture of sarcasm, wit and even some candor. I particulary liked all the La Rondinaia pictures and all the pictures with the Newman-Woodward couple. But what I found most delicious about this book is that the photographs, or at least the majority of them, are just private snapshots (hence the title) intended not as a pose, an exercise of vanity, but real intimate pictures, of something to be remembered later.


Shelter [2007] [DVD]
Shelter [2007] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Brad Rowe
Offered by Gayfilmlover
Price: £6.89

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars taking shelter, 23 April 2009
This review is from: Shelter [2007] [DVD] (DVD)
There's something about gay romantic movies: when they're bad, they're bad; and when they're good, they're still pretty bad. Mellow, naive, cliched and very very basic in plot and narrative. Not to speak about poor cinematography and less than amateur acting. Ok, for once there's a romantic gay movie that is not any of that. So, don't let it escape and enjoy.


Dancer
Dancer
by Colum McCann
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars dancing super-hero, 23 April 2009
This review is from: Dancer (Paperback)
This is a great book. I've read it quite a while ago but the impression still remains and I keep thinking of getting back to re-read it.
It is a fictionalised biography of first dancer Rudolf Nureyev, one of the worlds greatest dancers of all time and 20th century icon. The book may seem a bit scattered, but this is just because the author tried to create a distinctive narrative voice for each of its characters phases and moments in life. I specially liked the epic tone, treating a classic dancer like he was some kind of super-hero.
Reading Dancer is impossible not to fall in love with Rudy, what with all his contradictions and darker sides. As I said before, I read the book some time ago, but it always stays vivid in my mind.


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