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« June, 2004 »
Stranger Than Fiction

Sex, drugs, wrestling and messiness all grace this book of essays by Palahniuk. Fascinating stuff. People who like the things he writes won’t be disappointed. There’s interesting interviews like the one with Marilyn Manson, dull ones like the one with Juliette Lewis, and a lot of stories about Palahniuk being places or talking to people and being like a fish out of water. Exactly like you would expect him to be. He paints himself into his stories the same way he writes a lot of his characters: slightly out of step with odd desires or concerns that are his alone. It’s great reading and the pieces are shorter than the ones I’m used, so you get a great overview of the way his mind works. Lots of anecdotes about Fight Club, and meeting famous people, and doing dorky things. Not a lot of hubris, or bragadoccio. He discusses his Dad’s murder but doesn’t dwell on it. He makes himself seem like you or I. Only famous, now anyways.

The most capitavting part of this book is about what isn’t in it. The intro and all other supporting material scream “these are true stories, this is how it IS” and yet never once in the entire book does Palahniuk mention that he’s gay. Has been for years. Lives with a guy. He makes an offhanded mention about pals of his that work out and use steroids, but also talks about ogling women and has a few frank discussions about sex. This, of course, makes a lot of his straight-talking seem like so much artifice. On the other hand, that just makes it all the more brilliant, to me. You’re so sure he’s being straight with you, and he is, mostly, but really he’s just telling you another story, only this time it’s “true.”


A group of people I know from online were listing books they had enjoyed that involved time travel. Many people recommended this one, but almost all of them added “the first part is great, the second part really sucks” That was not my impression, overall, I liked it.

The first part is the part where you learn all about the quantum physics that makes time travel possible, and the driven-and-high-paid company in New Mexico that is actually making time travel a reality. Cut to England where a team of decicated historians and anthropologists [yes, everyone is in some way “dedicated” in this book] are digging up the ruins of a castle... It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess that they will be going back to the time when that castle was still standing [1300’s or so] and get involved in joustings, battles and all manner of Middle Ages intrigue. The book is a fun quick read, the science is over myhead but, as with all time travel books, made just accessible enough so that you’re not saying “Hey wait a second!” and, of course, there’s a big fight in it. Think Jurassic park with time travel and jousting instead of dinosaurs.

Complete & Utter Failure: A Celebration of Also-Rans, Runners-Up, Never-Weres and Total Flops

I have no idea where this book came from. It’s a fun, not-super-heavy reflection on the nature of failure with some careful inspections of some specific failures: all the kids that lose the spelling bee, the guy who also invented the telephone but got his patent in later than Bell, Scott getting to the Pole second, products that bombed and bombed badly. The book waffles between really analyzing some specific failure examples, and discussing failure in a more general sense. The author never fails to come up with an anecdote where he dwells on his own personal failures [the girl that got away, the job he didn’t get] and doesn’t just play them for laughs but actually tries to understand what makes them abject failures instead of just another thing going wrong. He concludes more or less that it’s our raw naked desire for success that paints failure in such a bad light. The more we want it, the more wretched we feel when we didn’t get it, especially when whatever “it” is is also something desired by many other people. Not a terribly challenging read but well-researched and well-intentioned and worth picking up.

My Husband Betty

The great thing about being a somewhat butch woman is that society doesn’t really give you a hard time. I can wear jeans, fix my car, lift heavy objects and swear in public and while it’s not always the most acceptable behavior, it generally won’t get me beat up. Crossdressers have a harder time of it. Not only do many people not even really understand what crossdressing is or what crossdressers do, but the community itself is fractured on many of these questions. This book is written by the wife of a crossdresser discussing not only the CD community, but also the community of partners of crossdressers.

Boyd [a pseudonym, maybe so she could go next to Jennfier Boylan on the shelves?] not trying to make friends here, she’s trying to tell it like it is. While she’s not hostile to her husband’s crossdressing, it’s also not the easiest thing in the world for her. She has interacted with other support groups for partners of straight crossdressers and has had difficulty finding simpatico with other CD’s wives. She discusses many of the problems couples can have when one of them is a crossdresser [odd sex lives, telling the family, deciding “who is the woman” in many situations] and maintains that there is no “normal” crossdressing scenario, that they are all different. One of the more interesting observations she has, about her husband and the CD community in general, is how she feels that crossdressers [similar to drag queens] often do not want to be women, they want to embody some sort of Platonic womanness they see in society. Instead of doing this --as the author wryly suggests -- by taking a pay cut and helping her clean the kitchen -- they prefer to act out stereotypical gender roles [hair, makeup, shoes, femininity] which can be aggravating to a real female who has to take the whole package and parcel every day.

Boyd clearly loves her husband and loves the CD community. Even so, many of her words have an edge to them. She has been frustrated trying to express her opinions that go against the normative CD ideals that are represented by national support groups like Tri-Ess who believe that all, or mostly all, crossdressers are straight. If this is true, counters Boyd, then what is with the prevalence of “forced feminization” porn among CDs, and why does my stright monogamous husband flirt with me? This book will ask as many questions as it answers, but it’s a rollicking good read and worthwhile for anyone even remotely interested in gender issues.

The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability

This is actually an excellent ultimate guide to sex in general, with particular emphasis on people with disabilities or other temporary or permanent infirmaries. Written by a sex-shop owner, a therapist, and a disability activist, this book really approaches sex from all sort of different angles, but all of them positive. The basic assumption is that disabled people have sex and are curious about sex just like everyone else. However, the sex information that is available to “everyone else” may not apply to them... at all. This book fills in the blanks.

Unlike other books about sex and disability that can be more for caregivers [how to explain sex to your developmentally disabled kid, for example, or as a side note in other books about disabilities in general] this one is for the disabled themselves. It covers tricky topics like how to talk to your personal care attendant about putting on your condom, how to use flagellation devices if you have very little upper body strength, and what sexual positions are best for people with lower body spasms. The authors are straightforward when it’s needed but also have a light tone. Their basic perspective is that sex is fun, and it’s more fun if you sort of know what you’re doing, and so they aim to help. The authors did many many interviews with disabled people and their partners and these narratives are interwoven with the text of the book itself. As a result, you don’t have to take their word for it about orgasms and quadraplegia, you can read about it from an actual quad. Interviewees don’t pull punches and some of the stories they tell about the ups and downs of their sex lives can be inspiring, poigant, and sometimes just hilarious. The authors also don’t assume that the reader has much prior knowledge of sex or even how their own body works [or how others' bodies work] and there are some early chapter devoted to that. As you might expect, it’s not at all hetero-centric and while the authors present sex as a positive thing, they also respect a person’s choice not to have sex, so it’s not all “Rah rah you must have sex!” all the time.

This book is mainly geared towards people with physical handicaps -- which will apply to anyone who is disabled, aging, tired or just temporarily out of commission in some way or another. It does talk somewhat about people with emotional and metal disabilities as well, though not in as much depth. The text itself has many accompanying photos, is well footnoted, and has some cheerful illustrations of sex positions with people of all body types, genders and races.

The Bookman’s Promise

John Dunning is a reporter turned bookstore owner/author who has written a series of myseries about Cliff Janeway, a cop turned bookstore owner. Like many other retired-cop novels, the protagonist gets dragged back into the game again when his knowledge of books and bookstores and publishing comes to bear. I have loved this entire series which also includes The Bookman’s Wake and Booked to Die. The book titles are cheesy but the books are not. Each mystery is about some aspect of rare book collecting and Dunning is as informative as he is interesting. This latest novel concerns a lost notebook of Richard Burton’s and a larger mystery concerning what happened to an old collection of rare books. Janeway travels from his native Denver to the East Coast in order to track down the answer.

Had Enough?: A Handbook for Fighting Back

If you know my political leanings than you probably know that I enjoyed this book. Carville is an admitted smartass, but he’s not afraid to make fun of himself as well as all the truly horrible people that make up the uber-right in American politics today. He has a sense of political history and doesn’t just spread his disdain along party lines. He’ll tell you who on the Republican team is worth a damn, and why, as well as which Democrats haven’t really been holding up their end of the deal. This book is short but packed full of political analysis that basically points out that George W Bush isn’t just not “our” kind of president, he’s actually one of the worst presidents in recent memory. Carville cites stats such as job creation, the deficit and health care and education figures to outline how the Bush administration has been systematically talking up social programs while essentially implementing policies that benefit only the rich and the super rich and give the finger to the poor and middle class. While he’s telling you all this he’s also making a lot of wisecracks, tossing in a bayou recipe or two, and giving you tips for how to win an argument with an ultraconsrvative as well as how to channel all the anger you probably feel into doing something constructive. Worthwhile reading for the election season.

Yossel : April 19, 1943 : a story of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

This graphic novel really hit home after my tour through the American Holocaust Memorial Museum and library. It’s a first person account of not just the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto, but also some of the politics and policies that led to the ghetto situation in the first place. The history is shown through the eyes of a teenaged boy -- sort of an alternative universe version of Kubert whose parents emigrated to the US in the 30’s -- who has a skill with drawing that makes him a favorite of the Nazi guards in the ghetto. Kubert is a wonderful artist and his decision to leave his illustrations in pencil sketch format rather than inked in gives the drawings a rawness and immediacy that really helps move the story along. Not an easy story to read, but a very well done one.

Wild, Weird, and Wonderful : The American circus 1901-1927

Big book of circus photos. F.W. Glasier was a photographer who took pictures of the circuses as they came through town in Brockton MA. This was back in the days of the big top and freak shows and the pictures are interesting from a purely historical perspective as well as because they have a lot of candid shots of circus life. Glasier took pictures to run in advertising and promotions but some of the photos are shown here in their uncropped format. Sloan’s commentary is good reading but some of his captions appear thin if you already have a pretty solid background in circus performers and history.