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Chasten Buttigieg’s new book a comforting read for teens

Coming out tale told with an upbeat, fatherly calm tone



(Book cover image courtesy of Simon & Schuster)

‘I Have Something to Tell You’
By Chasten Buttigieg
c.2023, Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing
$18.99/209 pages

Experience, they say, is the best teacher.

Once you’ve done something, you can say you like it and you’ll do it again or not. The subject comes with a different viewpoint, once you’ve gotten a little experience with it. You’re wiser, more confident. As in the new book “I Have Something to Tell You” by Chasten Buttigieg, you’ll have the chops to offer valid advice.

If you’d have asked 8-year-old Chasten Buttigieg what life was like, he probably would’ve told you about his big brothers and how wild and daring they were. He would’ve said he didn’t have many friends and that he loved his parents. He wouldn’t have told you about being gay, though, because he had no frame of reference, no experience, or role models. He just knew then that he was “different.”

A year later, he watched “Will & Grace” on TV for the first time, and it was hilarious but he had to be careful. Already, he understood that being “someone ‘like that” had to be hidden. He watched Ellen and he was sure that “gay people weren’t found in places” like his Northern Michigan home town.

For much of his childhood, Buttigieg says he was bullied, but being lonely was worse. He was awkward, but he found his happy place in theater. “In school,” he says, “I felt a constant tug-of-war between where I was and where I wanted to be,” between authenticity and pretending. A year as a high school senior exchange student in gay-friendly Germany, then a “safe space” in college in Wisconsin clarified many things and helped him gain confidence and “broaden [his] perspective.”

By the time he met the man he calls Peter, “I felt at ease to present myself in ways I hadn’t felt comfortable doing.”

Still, he says, things may be better or they may be worse, “We’ve got a long way to go, but you, the reader, get to be a part of that promising future.”

Filled with an abundance of dad jokes and a casual, chatty tone that never once feels pushy or overbearing, “I Have Something to Tell You” may seem like deja vu for good reason. This gently altered version of a 2020 memoir, meant for kids ages 12 and up, says all the right things in a surprisingly paternal way.

And yet, none of it’s preachy, or even stern.

Though there are brief peeks at his adult life on the campaign trail with his husband, now-Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, the heart of author Chasten Buttigieg’s book is all memoir, set in a loving household in a small town. It’s lightly humorous but not trite; to this, Buttigieg adds a layer of subtle advice, and genuineness to a tale that’s familiar to adults and will appeal to young, still-figuring-it-out teens.

You can expect a “you are not alone” message in a book like this, but it comes with an upbeat, fatherly calm. For a teen who needs that, reading “I Have Something to Tell You” will be a good experience.

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Zachary Zane is on a mission to destroy sexual shame

The bisexual influencer, sex columnist, & author of the memoir Boyslut opens up about his career, his anxiety, and his upcoming vasectomy



Zachary Zane’s Boyslut: A Memoir and Manifesto calls for embracing sex without judgment or shame, but with responsibility. (Photo Credit: Rob Salerno)

By Rob Salerno | WEST HOLLYWOOD – Zachary Zane isn’t having fun this weekend in Los Angeles. 

While normally the Brooklyn-based sex columnist and bisexual influencer would have a string of sex parties lined up for a trip to his hometown, Zane says he’s had to restrain himself because he’s freezing his sperm in advance of an upcoming vasectomy. 

“This weekend is particularly boring,” he says with a broad laugh over coffees in Studio City. “There are a lot of fun sex clubs and parties here. It’s a lot of house parties that turn into orgies. That’s one of my favorite things.”

It’s the sort of frank, guileless admission that’s become the 33-year-old’s trademark through his “Sexplain It” column at Men’s Health and substack newsletter, which has made him an icon of the bisexual community and led to his book Boyslut: A Memoir and Manifesto.

Zane says he was motivated to get the snip after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling last year gutted abortion rights in the United States. 

“After Roe v. Wade got overturned, I kind of wanted to take control, and no longer have it be that the impetus has to be on the woman,” he says. “I do not want to have kids. I like having unprotected raw sex. I like being able to cum in my partners. Over the years, you have close calls, and the science is here, you don’t have to worry about it.”

And this too is surprising, given that Zane’s online presence seems to embody the “chaotic bisexual” character type. 

“My editors say I’m cautious and take calculated risks. I’ve never turned in a story late. In many ways I’m a sexually chaotic bisexual, but I’m also very on top of everything,” Zane says.

Reading Boyslut, Zane’s tendency for over-preparing, cautious planning, and protecting the feelings of others is evident and oddly refreshing, whether he’s writing about his struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxieties about his remaining sexual hangups, juggling polyamorous relationships, or broaching a truly shocking fetish with his partners (I’ll leave that for you to read about in the book).

If you were picking up Boyslut expecting it to be a polemic about sexual libertinism, you might walk come out surprised by the degree to which the book advocates for caution, comfort, and compassion as much as it’s an endorsement of reckless, uninhibited sexual pleasure.

Indeed, Zane says an early title for the book was “Cautious Slut.” And, lest you think the actual title is exclusionary, Zane defines a “boyslut” as “a person of any gender or sexual orientation who approaches sex without a lick of judgement or shame.”

“I’m trying to help people live unabashedly in whatever their relationship is with sex. It’s not just about being slutty and having sex with as many people as possible. If you are asexual I want you to own that,” Zane says.

Zane also makes a compelling argument for the importance of having a community of people you trust to overcome sexual shame. 

“Of course, I experience shame. I’m not superhuman. I live in society,” he says. “When I do experience shame, I try to differentiate between feeling shame or feeling guilt. When I’m feeling overwhelmed by it, I think a lot of the answer is having this community and friend group that I can call instead of going home and crying alone.”

It’s hard to imagine that the guy who regularly writes about his prodigious sexual escapades could suffer from shame, but Zane insists there’s plenty he still holds back. 

“I’m vaccilating between the things that cause me shame and things I don’t need to share with everyone,” he says.  “I feel very comfortable writing about very raunchy sexual experiences – me getting DP’d and my hairy asshole. But I don’t talk about my breakups online, my relationship with my family. Even when I talk about my OCD and anxiety, it’s usually from a humorous place and not like, ‘oh, this was crippling.’”

Though he insists that he’s very sexually open, it was in fact his anxiety over sexual shame that led him to his current career. 

“I chose a career where, if my nudes leaked, that would be the best thing that happened to me. I wouldn’t get fired – I would get great articles from it,” he says. “I did that purposely because I didn’t want to have that fear and anxiety.”

So is that the answer? Share everything that causes you anxiety? 

“I think all of us have different levels of risk tolerance,” he says. “Engage with the amount of sharing you want to do. I’m talking about cultivating a friend group or community where you feel loved and embraced by people who really cherish you and know you. I’m not encouraging people to just overshare online and seek validation from headless torsos and strangers. It’s about having these more meaningful connections that matter more.”

Of course, not everyone has the luxury of a column in a national magazine to exorcise their anxieties into. 

But over the three years that Zane has written Sexplain It for Men’s Health, he believes he’s contributed to a culture shift both at the magazine and in the broader culture.

“Men’s Health has always been slightly gay, just by being a men’s fitness magazine with half-naked men on the cover,” he says. “A lot of closeted bi guys who’ve been married for twenty years, they don’t feel comfortable to read Out or, but they do feel comfortable to go to Men’s Health and if they’re on the site and they see something, they’re going to click. So I’m reaching an audience who arguably needs it the most.”

“I was really part of this new generation at Men’s Health. They have a lot of queer men on staff, a lot of women on staff, and they’re making it more feminist and queer and intersectional.”

And what even qualifies Zane to be a sex advice columnist anyway? 

“First and foremost, I was a journalist. In the first Sexplain Its, I always reached out to an expert in the field.” Zane begins to explain how he reads every relationship book out there and sifts his reader submissions to only answer the questions he feels comfortable with. 

Then he gets wistful as he begins to tell a story that led him to believe he could write authoritatively on sex.

“It’s a weird thing about being a sex expert. I had a date with this woman when I was 22. She was like 50 and a sex expert/therapist. A funny thing was I was the same age as her kids. So, I was at the beginning of my career, trying to break into this, and I asked, ‘What constitutes a sex expert?’ And she goes, ‘For anything, being an expert is when you say you’re an expert and people believe you.’”

Boyslut: A Memoir and Manifesto is available in stores now.


Rob Salerno is a writer, journalist and actor based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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When artists we love behave badly

New book ‘Monsters’ explores this common fan dilemma



('Monsters' book cover image courtesy of Alfred A. Knopf)

‘Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma’
By Claire Dederer
c.2023, Alfred A. Knopf
$28/288 pages

Recently, I listened to an audio version of “The Sorcerer’s Stone,” the first of J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series. I cheered when Rowling said Dumbledore is gay.

Yet, I wondered, should I read the Potter books (no matter how much I love them) when Rowling has made hurtful remarks about trans people?

That is the question many fans ask today: What do we do when artists make art we love, but behave badly? 

“Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma,” by memoirist and critic Claire Dederer delves into this  vexing question.

This perplexing query has no “right” answer that works for everyone. Yet, if you enjoy art, you’re likely to keep wrestling with it. 

A book delving into this conundrum could be as outdated as the last news cycle. The  cancel culture debate has engulfed social media for eons.

Yet, Dederer’s meditation on the relationship between art and its fans is provocative and entertaining. Reading “Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma” is like downing two, three, maybe four espressos after a couple of cups of strong coffee.

One minute, you may feel that Dederer has it exactly right. The next moment, you might wonder what planet she’s on.

I applauded Dederer when she wrote, “There is not some correct answer…The way you consume art doesn’t make you a bad person, or a good one.” 

But I wanted to throw the book across the room as I read that Dederer preferred Monty Python over queer comedian, writer, and actor Hannah Gadsby. “Listen, I’d rather watch the Pythons than Gadsby any day of the week,” Dederer writes.

To be fair, Dederer opines about Monty Python to make a point about the “monster” of exclusion. “None of these guys has the bandwidth,” she writes about Monty Python, “to even entertain the idea that a woman’s or person of color’s point of view might be just as ‘normal’ as theirs, just as central.”

Dederer, the author of two critically acclaimed memoirs “Love and Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning” and “Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses,” struggles, as a fan and critic, with many types of monsters.

Dederer, who started out as a movie critic, began grappling with monsters in 2014. Then, “I found myself locked in a lonely–okay, imaginary–battle with an appalling genius,” she writes.

The “appalling genius” was filmmaker Roman Polanski, who, Dederer reports, raped a 13-year-old. Despite her knowledge of Polanski’s crime, “I was still able to consume his work,” Dederer writes, “[though] he was the object of boycotts and lawsuits and outrage.”

Her gallery of monsters contains the usual hetero male suspects from Bill Cosby to Woody Allen. Dederer deplores Allen’s behavior, but considers “Annie Hall” to be the greatest 20th century film comedy. She finds “Manhattan” unwatchable because Allen’s character dates a high school girl, but considers “Annie Hall” to be better than “Bringing Up Baby.” (Mea culpa: I love “Annie Hall.” But, better than “Baby?)

For Dederer, monsters aren’t only male or hetero. She wonders, for instance, if the brilliant poet Sylvia Plath, was a monster because she abandoned her children for her art.

Dederer muses about the actor Kevin Spacey (who will be on trial in June for alleged sexual assault in the United Kingdom), Michael Jackson, and J. K. Rowling.

“One of the great problems faced by audiences is named the Past,” Dederer writes, “The past is a vast terrible place where they didn’t know better.”

‘But, Dederer reminds us: sometimes they did.Queer writer Virginia Woolf (author of the luminous “Mrs. Dalloway” and the gender-bending “Orlando”) is a god to many queers. Yet, Dederer reports, Woolf, though married to Leonard Woolf, who was Jewish, made flippant anti-Semitic remarks in her diaries. You could say Woolf was just “joking” as people in her time did. Yet, Dederer reminds us, gay author E.M. Forster wrote in a 1939 essay, “…antisemitism is now the most shocking of all things.”

I wish Dederer, who writes of racism and sexism in art, had written about the homophobia in art (in the past and present). I’d have loved it if she’d mused on the brilliant queer, anti-Semitic, racist writer Patricia Highsmith who gave us the “Talented Mr. Ripley.”

I’d liked to have seen some mention of Islamophobia, ableism and racism against Asian-Americans and indigenous people in art in “Monsters.”

Despite these quibbles, “Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma” is a fascinating book. There’s no calculator (as Dederer wishes there was) to tell us whether we should go with the art we love or renounce the work of the artist whose behavior we deplore. But, Dederer turns this dilemma into an exhilarating adventure.

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Nonbinary poet unmasks society’s gender expectations in new collection

Karen Poppy’s ‘Diving At The Lip Of The Water’ debuts next week



'Diving At The Lip Of The Water' by Karen Poppy will be out from Beltway Editions on May 1.

“I started to compose poetry around the age of three – before I could even write,” poet Karen Poppy, 47, told the Blade in a telephone interview. “My Mom would write my poems down.”

“I had the good fortune,” added Poppy, whose first, full-length poetry collection “Diving At The Lip Of The Water” will be out from Beltway Editions, a Washington, D.C. area press, on May 1, “My Mom read poetry to me. The first poem was about a nightingale. Maybe she read Keats to me.” (John Keats was the 19th century Romantic poet who wrote “Ode to a Nightingale.”)

Poppy has written a book “that will rough a reader up and then wrap their scraps in silk,” poet Francesca Bell has said of “Diving At The Lip of The Water.” For Poppy, who identifies as queer, nonbinary, lesbian and an artist, coming out has been a lifelong process. “I’ve come out many times in many ways,” Poppy, who grew up in Foster City, Calif., and now lives in the San Francisco Bay area, said.

April is National Poetry Month. In every month, Poppy thinks often of Walt Whitman, one of the United States’ greatest poets. Thought by many to be queer, Whitman, a nurse in Washington, D.C. during the Civil War, is best known for his groundbreaking work “Leaves of Grass.”

Whitman comes to mind to Poppy when she talks about her identity. “As an artist,” Poppy said in reference to how she identifies, “I’m everyone and everything.”

When Whitman talks about the self containing “multitudes,” “He’s not just speaking of individuals,” Poppy said, “he’s saying that poets-artists enter into everything.”

“As an artist – a poet,” Poppy said, “I don’t like to be put into boxes.”

Poppy celebrates Whitman’s creative spirit, refusal to have limitations placed on him and, what she called, “his joyous experience of limitlessness and connectivity with everything.”

As a young child, Poppy sensed that she was different. “I knew very early on,” she said, “I wanted to be like my mother and my father.”

She wanted to be glam like her mom. “My Mom’s family’s nickname for Mom was Miss America,” Poppy said.

She wore her Dad’s leather jacket, cowboy hat and cowboy boots. “Early on, I got in trouble for trying to smoke a cigarette,” Poppy said, “I put it in the wrong way. I was lucky I didn’t burn my mouth!”

“I cut my mouth, trying to shave as a toddler,” she added, “I was already creating my own gender identity.”

At a time, when people were far less out and proud than now, Poppy crushed on her girl babysitters. “In kindergarten, I got in trouble with my best friend at the time,” she said, “because I told her that I was interested in her physically.”

“I think she was very kind about it,” Poppy added.

That same year, Poppy was reprimanded by her teacher for kissing a boy. “The boy and I were in line waiting to go back to the classroom,” she said, “he kissed me back.”

During that era, Poppy didn’t have the words to name or describe her feelings. “I have a gay cousin who’s older than me,” she said, “and a lesbian aunt. But because they weren’t exactly the way I am, I didn’t realize I was queer, too.”

In Foster City, when she was growing up, people didn’t talk openly about being queer. “We talked about it in euphemisms and negatively,” Poppy said.

A poem is never just the story of what happened or the recitation of fact, poet Sheila Black, a 2012 Witter Bynner Fellow, said in an email to the Blade.

Poppy’s poetry, like that of many poets, at times, channels her life. Though, it’s not autobiographical in a literal or linear way. Like Whitman’s work, it contains multitudes from individual and collective experience.

Her searing, moving collection “Diving At The Lip Of The Water,” unmasks society’s gender expectations and family systems. Poppy’s poem, “No One was Gay Back Then,” draws us into what it’s like to have to hide your sexuality. “We used to make fun of you/You, making out with Michael/in the grass. 5th grade recess,” the poem begins.

“Michael liked Matt. So in 5th grade,” Poppy writes in the poem, “already seeking cover-ups/Trying to convince everyone and ourselves./Our small town. No one was gay back then.”

As a tween, Poppy not only realized she was queer (though she didn’t have the word for it); she knew where she wanted to go to college. Poppy was determined to go to Smith College because Sylvia Plath went there.

 “When I was 12, I started to read Sylvia Plath,” Poppy said. “Plath has been a profound influence on me throughout my life.”

“Because of her fearlessness in speaking her truth,” Poppy added, “and her high level of poetic virtuosity.”

Poppy’s dream came true. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Smith College in Comparative Literature and Spanish in 1998.

At Smith, Poppy began to come out about her identity. But, there were pressures. “I was pressured into cutting my hair short,” she said, “the feeling was if I kept my hair long, I wasn’t a dyke.”

Poppy cut her hair. “I did cry,” she said, “there was a pressure to conform to a certain aesthetic. You had to be super femme or butch.”

It was another box that she had a hard time escaping from. “I realized boxes are not for me,” Poppy said.

She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do after she graduated from Smith. After a short stint as a chef apprentice, Poppy could tell that being a chef for the long term wasn’t for her.

Like most poets, Poppy knew being a bard rarely brings financial stability. “I wanted to have security and I wanted to help people,” Poppy said.

“I went to law school and studied international law,” she said, “A lot of my early focus was on immigration and helping refugees.”

Poppy graduated from UC Hastings College of the Law (now known as UC College of the Law, San Francisco) in 2003 with a J.D. degree in international law.

Today, Poppy works for The Hartford in the area of workers’ compensation.

Poppy kept writing from her childhood into her 20s. “But then, somebody said something really cruel about my writing,” she said. “The ridicule chilled my creativity.”

For 17 years, because of this cruelty, she didn’t write. “I was in a creative silence,” Poppy said.

A traumatic event compelled her to go back to writing. 

Since 2017, when her creativity was restarted, Poppy’s poetry has been published in literary journals, anthologies as well as the chapbooks “Crack Open/Emergency,” “Our Own Beautiful Brutality” and “Every Possible Thing.” She’s written three unpublished novels and short stories. 

One of her writing projects is Whitmanesque in its intersections of identities.

Poppy is working on an opera libretto. “It takes place when Handel [the German-British Baroque composer] was alive,” she said.

It’s about a merboy who’s washed to shore. He’s young, Black and queer.

“A family takes him in,” Poppy said, “they want to make him a form of income.”

The family forces the merboy to become a castrato, Poppy said, “they make him wear a mask to hide his dark skin. When he’s older and has a relationship with a man, he has to be closeted.”

Poppy is looking for a composer to work with her on her libretto. If you’re interested, contact her through her website

Poppy’s interest in immigrants is personal as well as professional. Poppy is Jewish. Some of her family were murdered in the Holocaust. “Others in my family left Europe before the Holocaust because of pogroms and poverty,” she said.

When her family came to the United States in the early 1900s, they were “very poor,” Poppy said.

Her paternal grandmother, Poppy said, told her to make sure her son always had food, “because hunger would make his stomach hurt.”

We’ve come to see that the American dream is in many ways an illusion, Poppy said. It’s not accessible to all, and it’s slipping away.

“Elizabeth/The fifth of ten children/Who crossed the border, then/Still a child/,” Poppy writes in her poem “Elizabeth,” “Only sixteen and wanting to stay alive/To be the breath that survived.”

Poppy worries about the rise of anti-Semitism. “It comes in waves,” she said. “We have to remind each other to make sure it never happens again.”

It’s important for artists to take care of themselves, Poppy said. To get enough rest between creative projects. To be an athlete. So their minds and spirits can be in top form.

Poppy does yoga and loves to run. “A poem is a short lap,” she said, “writing a novel is like long distance open water swimming.”

“We write out of our humanity,” Poppy added.

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Infidelity becomes an art form in ‘Love, Honor, Betray’

New book’s final act feels disrespectful to gay readers



(Book cover image courtesy of Dafina)

‘Love, Honor, Betray’ 
By Mary Monroe
c.2023, Dafina $26/320 pages

The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Those are words you hear when someone is about to testify in a court of law. They put the “sworn” into sworn testimony, and you’ll also find the phrase in courtroom dramas, legal thrillers, and Perry Mason. You don’t hear those words in a marriage ceremony, but in the new book “Love, Honor, Betray” by Mary Monroe, maybe you should.

He could’ve looked all over Lexington, Ala., for the rest of his life and Hubert Wiggins wouldn’t have found a more fitting wife than his Maggie had been.

Before he met her, she’d been sexually assaulted and though she wanted to repeat her vows with someone special, she vowed that she’d never have relations again, which was fine with Hubert. He preferred to sleep with men anyhow, so their marriage was perfect.

Alas, Maggie died just over a year ago and Hubert needed a new wife.

Jessie, Maggie’s best friend, had her sights set on Hubert the day he put Maggie in the ground. In order to land him, she lied to him, said that he’d raped her when he was drunk and now she was pregnant, even though Hubert swore that he was traumatized by loss and couldn’t perform in bed because of it.

Jessie was sure she could cure Hubert’s problem. In the meantime, she wasn’t above having a fling when a fine man made it possible.

It was 1941, and sneaking around to see his boyfriend, Leroy, was a challenge for Hubert, especially when the police were doubly rough on a Black man in a nicer car at night. They didn’t care that Hubert was a respected businessman in Lexington’s Black community. They didn’t care that he was a funeral director, that his business had buried almost all the murder victims of a serial killer loose in the area.

The police might have had something to say, though, if they knew that Hubert and Jessie had murdered a woman named Blondeen.

Love a wild romp between the pages? Then you’ll be overjoyed with the opening two-thirds of “Love, Honor, Betray,” where infidelity becomes an art form.

It’s rowdy and fun, in fact, until the book’s pinnacle, at a point where author Mary Monroe might seem to be wrapping things up. But look: there’s a chunk of book left, and that’s where everything falls apart.

It’s as if someone took a hammer to the plot here and busted it to pieces. Characters act contrary to the personalities that were built up for them for 200 solid pages, and they do things that feel disrespectful to gay readers. This destroys the sense of fun that accompanied the everybody-sleeps-around chaos early in the book. Is it merciful or irritating, then, that the story doesn’t tie up loose threads, but it just ends?

Readers who are comfortable not finishing a book will enjoy this one, if they put it aside before it’s done. Go too far into “Love, Honor, Betray,” though, and you’ll be sorry you finished the whole thing.

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New book traces an icon’s journey into clothes, clubs, couture

‘Pat in the City’ tells story of SATC costumer Patricia Field



(Book cover image courtesy Dey Street Books)

‘Pat in the City: My Life of Fashion, Style, and Breaking All the Rules’ 
By Patricia Field
c.2023, Dey Street Books
$35/272 pages

The shirt’s just a little too big.

But that’s no problem; you’d rather your shirts be looser anyhow. Pants, they’re another matter; they need to be snug all over. You have your own sense of style, and you wear it fabulously. In the new book “Pat in the City” by Patricia Field, read about an icon’s journey into clothes, clubs, and couture.

Almost from the time she was born, little Patricia Haig (later, Field) knew that clothing made a statement. She knew it while wearing her cowgirl outfit to play, when she clothes-shopped with her aunts, and when recalling her father, who was “handsome, sweet, and mild” and who died when she was small. Adoption later changed her surname, but not her love of clothing.

Working in her mother’s dry-cleaning “shop” as a kid, Field learned all about fabrics; her aunts’ forays into fashion taught her even more. She “always had beautiful clothes,” although a pair of men’s-style pants discovered in a small boutique in the mid-1950s was life-changing.

Field entered college and landed dual degrees in philosophy and political science, though she says “style came easy to me.” By then, she’d turned away from ’50s femininity, preferring an androgynous look. She also learned that she preferred women as partners.

One of them was a partner in Field’s first business, a small shop near NYU in Manhattan that opened in 1966. In 1971, they opened a larger store, calling it “Patricia Field.” Partly due to her contacts with designers, Field sold inventive, trendy, “nouveau glamour” outfits to clubbers who made Studio 54 the “high-octane” place it was then. Field dressed a lot of celebrity clubbers, too, which led her to the ballroom scene, where she became a House “Father” and a part of vogueing history. And then someone suggested to someone else that Field would make a great costumer for an upcoming movie.

If you could somehow take two books by a good author and smash them together to make one, that’s what you’d have with “Pat in the City.” This book is divided almost clean in two, and almost with separate reader-audiences.

In the first part, author Patricia Field shares her biography, her childhood, her formative years, and the awakening of her personal sense of style. Fashionistas won’t be able to put those pages aside, nor will anyone who attended any New York City club with any regularity back in the day. This half of Field’s book drips with disco lights and ballroom “reads.”

Celebrities stretch into the second half, as Field writes about being the costumer for “Sex And the City,” the friendships she struck up with its cast, and how the iconic opening scene came to be. This part of the book – likewise glittering with big names and big productions – is for younger readers and Hollywood watchers.

Reading this book is like time-travel to the ’70s, and a backstage peek at your favorite show. If you love clothes and people who love fashion, then get “Pat in the City.” It fits.

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Ari Shapiro’s new book reveals true tales that even a novelist couldn’t imagine

‘The Best Strangers in the World’ recounts NPR star’s multi-faceted life



(Book cover image courtesy HarperOne)

‘The Best Strangers in the World: Stories from a Life Spent Listening’ 
By Ari Shapiro
c.2023, HarperOne
$28.99/256 pages

Maybe in your dreams, you’ve been to an underwear party with Alan Cumming on Fire Island or, from a seat on Air Force One, noticed the razor bumps on Barack Obama’s neck.

These dreams are part of everyday life for Ari Shapiro, host of NPR’s “All Things Considered.” In his memoir “The Best Strangers in the World: Stories from a Life Spent Listening,” he tells true tales that even a novelist couldn’t imagine.

From early on, Shapiro, who sings with the band Pink Martini and performs in the stage show “Och and Oy” with Cumming, has been both an outsider and someone who loves the spotlight.

Shapiro, 44, began speaking in public when he was a first-grader in Fargo, N.D. He and his older brother were the only Jewish kids at their elementary school. At Christmastime, “he and I would go from classroom to classroom with a menorah and a dreidel, explaining to children descended form Scandinavian immigrants what Hanukkah was,” he writes.

This was his first experience of explaining the unfamiliar — of, as Shapiro writes, “making the foreign seem a bit less strange.”

Shapiro’s parents were professors at North Dakota State University. They encouraged Shapiro to be curious about the world.

When he was eight, Shapiro and his family moved from Fargo to Portland, Ore. At 16, Shapiro came out as gay. His parents were supportive.

Though he hadn’t even kissed a boy, Shapiro writes, there were rumors among his peers about his sexuality. “I decided that the best approach was to drown out the whisper campaign with a bullhorn,” he writes.

He plastered his locker with postcards of Tom of Finland drawings and photographs by Herb Ritts and Tom Bianchi. “On Halloween, I came to school in drag,” Shapiro writes, “After that, my calculus teacher stopped calling on me when I raised my hand in class.”

His hair, he recalls, was parted in the center, and fell to his chin in a “sort of Nirvana-meets-Prince Valiant bob.”

Shapiro, refreshingly, is not too self-serious about his coming out. Yet, when he notes that he carried Mace because “not everybody was excited about having a gay classmate,” you remember how homophobic it was then.

Shapiro, after graduating from Yale with a bachelor’s degree in English, came to NPR through an internship with Nina Totenberg. “Grow a pair,” Shapiro writes, Totenberg told him when he hemmed and hawed while asking a source for an interview.

Most journalists are known primarily for their reporting. But journalism is just one facet of Shapiro’s life.

In “The Best Strangers in the World,” Shapiro lets readers in on what it’s like to have a multi-faceted life. Where one moment, he’s reporting from Washington, D.C., and the next day he’s singing with Pink Martini at the Hollywood Bowl.

Reporters, usually, don’t want to become part of the news. In 2004, Shapiro worried about that when he and his boyfriend Mike Gottlieb got married in San Francisco. “I thought I should ask permission from my employer, NPR,” Shapiro writes, “I was about to step into the middle of the culture wars at a time when the country was undecided on whether gay couples should be allowed to legally commit to a life together.”

“As a journalist,” he added, “I would be …becoming a participant in a major news story.”

At times, Shapiro almost comes off as being unbearably privileged – as someone’s who’s had everything go their way from love to their career.

This impression is erased when Shapiro reveals that he sweats as much as Aaron, the anxious reporter in “Broadcast News.” Or, when he writes movingly about covering the Pulse massacre in 2016. As a gay man, Shapiro writes, he brought “lived experience” to his coverage of Pulse. “I had been bar hopping in Orlando more than a decade earlier,” Shapiro writes.

Then, he’d made friends with bartenders at a bar. Twelve years later, while in Orlando, Shapiro realized that that bar was Pulse.

“The Best Strangers in the World” is the best read this spring. 

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Reading ‘Blue Hunger’ is like watching a Stanley Kubrick film

Lush, dreamlike, and you won’t be able to stop thinking about it



(Book cover image courtesy of Bloomsbury)

‘Blue Hunger’ 
By Viola Di Grado, translated by Jamie Richards
c.2023, Bloomsbury
$27/ 216 pages

You can’t stop thinking about it.

It’s been rolling around in your mind since it happened and you can’t stop. You replay it over and over, how it started, how it progressed, why it ended. You wonder if it’ll happen again and in the new novel “Blue Hunger” by Viola Di Grado, you wonder if you truly want it to.

Shanghai was not her first choice for a place to live. Sometimes, she wasn’t really even sure why she came there, except that it was Ruben’s dream.

For months and months, he spoke of Shanghai, showed her maps, talked of a life as a chef living in a high-rise apartment, and he taught her a little bit of the language. She never fully understood why Ruben loved China and she never thought to ask before her other half, her twin brother, her only sibling died.

She was brushing her teeth when it happened. Now, weeks later, she was in his favorite city, a teacher of Italian languages in a Chinese culture, alone, friendless. Then she met Xu.

It happened at the nightclub called Poxx and she later wondered, with a thrill, if Xu had been stalking her. Xu claimed that she was a student in the Italian class, but though she was usually good with faces, she didn’t remember the slender, “glorious” woman with milk-white skin and luminous eyes.

She did remember the first place she and Xu had sex.

It was a hotel, but Xu liked it outside, too; in public, on sidewalks, in abandoned buildings, and in crowded nightclubs. They took yellow pills together, slept together in Xu’s squalid apartment; she told Xu she loved her but never got a reply except that Xu starting biting.

Xu had used her teeth all along but she started biting harder.

Soon, she was bleeding, bruising from Xu’s bites, and seeing people in the shadows, and she began to understand that Ruben wouldn’t have liked Xu at all.

You know what you want. You’re someone with determination. And you may want this book, but there are a few things you’ll need to know first.

Reading “Blue Hunger” is like watching a Stanley Kubrick movie. It’s surreal, kind of gauzy, and loaded with meanings that are somewhat fuzzy until you’ve read a paragraph several times – and even then, you’re not quite sure about it. Author Viola Di Grado writes of sharp, unfinished mourning with a grief-distracting obsession layered thickly on top, of control and submission, and while the chapters are each brief, they feel too long but not long enough. There are so many questions left dangling within the plot of this story, so many small bits unsaid, but also too much information of the mundane sort. You’ll feel somewhat voyeuristic with this book in your hands, until you notice that the sex scenes here are humidly uber-fiery but not very detailed.

Overall, then, “Blue Hunger” is different but compelling, short enough to read twice, quickly. It’s lush, dreamlike, and once started, you won’t be able to stop thinking about it.

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A timely biography of drag queen Doris Fish

An eye-opener to queer life in Sydney and San Francisco



(Book cover image courtesy Amazon)

‘Who Does That Bitch Think She Is? Doris Fish and the Rise of Drag’
By Craig Seligman
c.2023, PublicAffairs
$29/352 pages

Tennessee, home of Dollywood, just passed legislation banning “adult-oriented performances that are harmful to minors.”

“If I hadn’t been a girl, I’d have been a drag queen,” Dolly Parton has said. (Make of that what you will, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee.)

Nothing is more timely than cultural critic and writer Craig Seligman’s new work of queer history “Who Does That Bitch Think She Is? Doris Fish and the Rise of Drag.”

One day in the 1980s, Doris Fish, a San Francisco drag queen, sat for a shoot in a beauty salon. Sitting under a dryer, “curlers in his yellow fright wig, wearing a fuchsia top, turquoise pedal pushers, white peep-toe pumps and (too much) matching makeup, wide-eyed in what looks like despair,” Fish modeled for West Graphics, a local greeting card company, Seligman writes.

These greeting cards featured queer humor. “BOTH YOUR DOCTOR & HAIRDRESSER AGREE! THIS TIME IT’S GOING TO TAKE MORE THAN A COMB-OUT,” the caption to the card with Fish’s stunning beauty parlor photo, read.

Then, most gay people weren’t proud or irritated by these greeting cards, reports Seligman in his captivating history of drag told through the life of Fish, who was legendary in San Francisco from the 1970s until he died from AIDS in 1991.

The greeting cards were just funny to queer people at that moment, Seligman writes, “which was how the rest of the country saw them, too.”

“Yet it’s hard to envision their taking off the way they did a decade earlier,” he adds, “The very people who might once have been appalled to learn they had a queer family member were snapping up these artifacts of gay humor.”

This is one of the many insights into cultural changes in attitudes toward queer people and drag to be found in Seligman’s illuminating bio of Fish.

Fish was born into a middle-class, Catholic family in 1952 as Philip Clargo Mills in Manly Vale, a suburb of Sydney, Australia. (Even the most ironic novelist wouldn’t have come up with that name!)

Doris considered himself to be what we, today, would call cisgender, Seligman reports. 

Fish’s Australian friends and family referred to Fish as “he” and “him,” Seligman writes.  When Fish’s queer male friends called him “she,” it was “Mary camp banter,” not “gender confusion,” he adds. For these reasons, Seligman refers to Fish with masculine pronouns.

After a childhood spent quietly drawing, Fish became a star of the Sydney drag queen scene. He performed with, what Seligman calls a “psyche troupe” of drag queens, Sylvia and the Synthetics.

After moving to San Francisco in the 1970s, Fish performed in the beloved drag shows “Sluts a Go-Go” and “Nightclub of the Living Dead” as well as the outrageous sci-fi drag film “Vegas in Space.”

Fish, Seligman makes clear, was complex, talented, and creative. Along with being a drag queen, he was a sex worker and artist. Fish was disciplined in all these areas of his life, Seligman writes.

“All three of those personas centered on his gayness,” Seligman adds, “at a time when homosexuality was just beginning to make its way toward the center of the conversation in both of the countries [Australia and the U.S.] he called home.”

Fish’s life and work were entwined with queer history – from Club 181 to Anita Bryant’s vicious anti-queer “Save Our Children Campaign” to the heroic role that Dianne Feinstein (as mayor of San Francisco) played during the AIDS crisis. Many queer histories, especially of the AIDS crisis, focus on New York. Seligman’s work is an eye-opener to queer life in Sydney and San Francisco. 

Seligman’s husband,  Silvana Nova, was part of “Vegas in Space.” A hat tip to Seligman for working his spouse seamlessly into this thoughtful history.

Drag shows aren’t just entertainment. They accomplish “satire’s deepest dream: not just to rail against society, but to change it,” Seligman writes.

If only Gov. Bill Lee and his ilk could be changed by “Who Does That Bitch Think She Is? Doris Fish and the Rise of Drag.” 

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‘Oscar Wars’ an exhilarating read for film critics and fans alike

Awards a conflict zone for issues of race, gender, representation



(Book cover image courtesy of Harper)

‘Oscar Wars: A History of Hollywood in Gold, Sweat, and Tears’
By Michael Schulman
c.2023, Harper
$40/589 pages

Get out the guacamole! The game, beloved by millions — especially queers — is being played. This Sunday, the 95th Academy Awards ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles will be seen worldwide.

Few have written more compellingly about the ego, campiness, politics, and intrigue of the Academy Awards than Michael Schulman in his new book “Oscar Wars: A History of Hollywood in Gold, Sweat, and Tears.”

The Oscars are “the closest thing America has to royalty,” writes Schulman, a staff writer at The New Yorker. “They’re the only thing forcing Hollywood to factor art into commerce.”

Schulman likens the Oscars to a horse race and a relic. The Academy Awards prop up Hollywood, a multibillion-dollar business, canonize movies and showcase fashion, he notes.

“They’re an orgy of self-congratulation by rich and famous people who think too highly of themselves.” Schulman adds, “They’re the Gay Super Bowl.” 

You can bet that every year, something will throw the Oscars off their game. Last year, it was the Slap (when Will Smith, upset by Chris Rock’s joke about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith, hit the comedian).

There are the insipid production numbers and lackluster hosts. More seriously, there is the continuing racism and sexism in Hollywood.

You have to keep the Academy Awards in perspective, Schulman wryly notes. “The Oscars … are always getting it wrong,” he writes, “Twenty-four centuries after Euripides came in third place at the Athenian dramatic festival, Brokeback Mountain lost Best Picture to Crash, and the outcry will probably last another twenty-four centuries.” 

It’s tempting to view the Academy Awards annual bash as enjoyable froth. To lap up the glam, glitz, and camp. But in “Oscar Wars,” Schulman persuasively argues that the Oscars should, also, be taken seriously.

“The Oscars are a battlefield,” Schulman writes, “where cultural forces collide and where the victors aren’t always as clear as the names drawn from the envelopes.”

“In recent years,” he adds, “the Oscars have become a conflict zone for issues of race, gender, and representation, high profile signifiers of whose stories get told and whose don’t.”

Thankfully, Schulman’s nearly 600-page book isn’t an Oscars encyclopedia. Volumes of Oscar facts and trivia already exist. Even if you’re a movie buff, these books will make your eyes glaze over. “Oscar Wars” is filled with Schulman’s painstaking research and in-depth reporting. It’s not surprising that he’s said in interviews that he worked on the book for four years.

Schulman, author of “”Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep,” is a powerhouse. While writing “Oscar Wars,” Schulman produced numerous hard-to-put-down profiles at his New Yorker day job. Tongues are still wagging over his profile of actor Jeremy Strong (Kendall Roy in “Succession”).

In 11 intriguing installments, Schulman illuminates how, from the first Academy Awards in 1929 to our present #OscarsSoWhite and #MeToo era, conflict has been embedded in the Oscars.

The Academy Awards was started in an effort to squelch labor unions in Hollywood. Spoiler alert: the effort of Louis B. Mayer and other Hollywood moguls to stop the unions flopped as the awards caught on.

There’s much in “Oscar Wars” to engage Old Hollywood aficionados. There’s the sad tale of Peg Entwistle, a 24-year-old actress, who, in 1932, played Hazel in “Thirteen Women, a movie about a group of former sorority sisters. Hazel stabs her husband. Entwistle’s 16 minutes in the movie were cut to four, Schulman writes, because the Hays office felt “that her scenes with another actress had unacceptable lesbian undertones.” After a series of horrible events, the actress killed herself.

There is the story of how one of Bette Davis’s husbands divorced her because she read too much.

It’s well-known among cinephiles that Bette Davis (for “All About Eve”) and Gloria Swanson (for “Sunset Boulevard”) were up against each other in 1951 for the Oscar and lost to Judy Holliday (for “Born Yesterday”). But Schulman brings new depth and insight into this saga.

The Academy Awards are steeped in Hollywood and entertainment. But Schulman makes it clear that the Oscars, from the Black List of the 1940s-1950s to the racism of “Gone with the Wind” to sexism to homophobia, are entwined with cultural attitudes and politics.

“Citizen Kane” was one of the greatest films ever made. Yet, there was no way it could have won an Oscar because the newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst was furious that “Kane’s” protagonist was based on him.

One of the most campy, but poignant, accounts in the book is that of Allan Carr, who produced the 1989 Oscars. Carr, who was gay, dreamed up a tasteless, unintentionally campy production number. It featured Rob Lowe and Snow White (Google it.) Yet, he created, Schulman reports, some innovations that are still part of the Oscars (such as the red carpet).

“Oscar Wars” is an exhilarating read for everyone from film critics to fans.

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Spring break books for every taste

From young adult to engaging histories, check out these reads



(Book cover images via Amazon)

Spring break is coming, and who says young adults get all the fun? There’s plenty of enjoyment for readers this spring, so why not spend your pre-summer months enjoying a few great books?

Start your spring reading with “Confidence: A Novel” by Rafael Frumkin (Simon & Schuster, out now). It’s the tale of two friends-sometimes-lovers, Ezra and Orson, who meet at Last Chance Camp, which is where bad boys go before they’re placed in Juvenile Detention. But rehabilitation isn’t on Ezra and Orson’s minds; pulling off the con of the century is. This book is a clever tale, a suspense novel, and the perfect caper all rolled into one.

For something more tangled, catch “The Humble Lover” by Edmund White (Bloomsbury, May 2). Eighty-year-old artist Aldych West could afford to have exactly whatever he desires – and when he sees ballet star August Dupond, well, West wants him. But West is not the only one who falls for Dupond; a wealthy woman West knows becomes smitten with the dancer, too. Imagine the situation, and then read this book.

Coming-of-age-novel fans will want to find “The Adult” by Bronwyn Fischer (Algonquin, May 23). When 18-year-old Natalie moves to Toronto to start college, she’s lonely and quite unsure of herself. Everyone else seems so at ease; why isn’t she? Natalie is relieved when Nora, an older woman, takes an interest in her and enfolds Natalie into her life – but Natalie can’t help but feel that Nora’s not telling her the truth about something. How’s that for a book you can’t stop reading?

If lighter fare is more to your liking, why not try a Young Adult book?

Getting stuck in a time-loop is nobody’s idea of a good time and that’s the case for a boy named Clark. But in “If I See You Again Tomorrow” by Robbie Couch (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, April 18), the loop ends on a surprising Monday and he meets a new boy named Beau. They’re able to spend the whole day together – is the time-loop broken? – but Clark must be careful. You can’t have a future with someone you might never see again. Meant for kids ages 12-and-up, a book like this can be fun for a grown-up who craves something easy-breezy.

If history is your thing, but uncovering a path to explore sounds good, too, then look for “Lesbian Love Story: A Memoir in Archives” by Amelia Possanza (Catapult, May 30). After Possanza moved to Brooklyn, she began noticing queer stories everywhere. She was alone in her new neighborhood; could the tales of lesbians in Brooklyn steer her to love, friendship, and happiness? Try this absorbing book; even if novels are your “thing,” you won’t be sorry.
And finally, for something totally fun, reach for “A Very Gay Book: An Inaccurate Resource for Gay Scholars” by Jenson Titus (Andrews McMeel Publishing). Who – and what – is gay? The answers will surprise and delight you.

For more must-have books to celebrate spring, check with your favorite bookseller or librarian. Then settle in; Spring Break Reading is for everybody.

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