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Architecture junkies will love new book on funeral homes

‘Preserved’ explores how death industry evolved after WWII

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(Book cover image courtesy of Johns Hopkins University Press)

‘Preserved: A Cultural History of the Funeral Home in America’
By Dean G. Lampros
c.2024, Johns Hopkins University Press 
$34.95/374 pages

Three bedrooms upstairs. That’s a minimum.

You need a big kitchen, a large back room would be a bonus, you want lots of bathrooms, and if you can get a corner lot, that’d be great. The thing you need most is a gigantic all-purpose room or maybe a ballroom because you’re planning on a lot of people. As you’ll see in the new book “Preserved” by Dean G. Lampros, not all living rooms are for the living.

Not too long ago, shortly after he took a class on historic preservation, Dean Lampros’ husband dragged him on a weekend away to explore a small town in Massachusetts. There, Lampros studied the town’s architecture and it “saddened” him to see Victorian mansions surrounded by commercial buildings. And then he had an epiphany: there was once a time when those old mansions housed funeral homes. Early twentieth-century owners of residential funeral homes were, in a way, he says, preservationists.

Prior to roughly World War II, most funerals were held at home or, if there was a need, at a funeral home, the majority of which were located in a downtown area. That changed in 1923 when a Massachusetts funeral home owner bought a large mansion in a residential area and made a “series of interior renovations” to the building. Within a few years, his idea of putting a funeral home inside a former home had spread across the country and thousands of “stately old mansions in aging residential neighborhoods” soon held death-industry businesses.

This, says, Lampros, often didn’t go over well with the neighbors, and that resulted in thousands of people upset and lawsuits filed. Some towns then passed ordinances to prohibit such a thing from happening to their citizens.

Still, funeral home owners persevered. Moving out of town helped “elevate” the trade, and it allowed Black funeral home operators to get a toehold in formerly white neighborhoods. And by having a nice – and nice-sized – facility, the operators were finally able to wrest the end-of-life process away from individuals and home-funerals.

Here’s a promise: “Preserved” is not gruesome or gore-for-the-sake-of-gore. It’s not going to keep you up all night or give you nightmares. Nope, while it might be a little stiff, it’s more of a look at architecture and history than anything else.

From California to New England, author Dean G. Lampros takes readers on a cruise through time and culture to show how “enterprising” business owners revolutionized a category and reached new customers for a once-in-a-deathtime event. Readers who’ve never considered this hidden-in-plain-sight, surprising subject – or, for that matter, the preservation or re-reclamation of those beautiful old homes – are in for a treat here. Despite that the book can lean toward the academic, a good explanatory timeline and information gleaned from historical archives and museums offer a liveliness that you’ll enjoy.

This book will delight fans of little-know history, and architecture junkies will drool over its many photographs. “Preserved” is the book you want because there are other ways to make a house a “home.”

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Film fans will love ‘Hollywood Pride’

A celebration of queer representation in Hollywood

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(Book cover image courtesy of Running Press)

‘Hollywood Pride: A Celebration of LGBTQ+ Representation and Perseverance in Film
By Alonso Duralde
c.2024, Running Press
$40/322 pages

You plan to buy lots of Jujubes.

They’ll stick to your teeth, but whatever, you’ll be too busy watching to care. You like the director, you know most of the actors as first-rate, and word is that the newcomer couldn’t be more right for the role. Yep, you’ve done your homework. You read Rotten Tomatoes, you’ve looked up IMDB, and you bought your ticket online. Now all you need is “Hollywood Pride” by Alonso Duralde, and your movie night is complete.

William Kennedy Laurie Dickson likely had no idea that what he’d done was monumental.

Sometime in the very late 1800s, he set up a film camera and a wax cylinder to record a short dance between two men, hands around one another’s waists, as Dickson played the violin. It “was one of the very first movies ever shot,” and probably the first film to record men dancing rather intimately alone together.

Back then, and until well into the 20th century, there were laws against most homosexual behavior and cross-dressing, and very rigid standards of activity between men and women. This led to many “intense relationships between people of the same gender.” Still, in World War I-era theaters and though LGBTQ representation “was somewhat slower to get rolling” then, audiences saw films that might include drag (often for comedy’s sake), camp, covert affection, and “bad girls of the era.”

Thankfully, things changed because of people like Marlene Dietrich, Ramon Novarro, Claudette Colbert, George Cukor, Alfred Hitchcock, and others through the years, people who ignored social mores and the Hays Code to give audiences what they wanted. Moviegoers could find LGBTQ actors and themes in most genres by the 1940s; despite politics and a “pink scare” in the 1950s, gay actors and drag (still for comedy’s sake) still appeared on-screen; and by the 1960s, the Hays Code had been dismantled. And the Me Decade of the 1970s, says Duralde, “ended with the promise that something new and exciting was about to happen.”

So have you run out of movies on your TBW list? If so, get ready.

You never want to start a movie at the end, but it’s OK if you do that with “Hollywood Pride.” Flip to the end of the book, and look up your favorite stars or directors. Page to the end of each chapter, and you’ll find “artists of note.” Just before that: “films of note.” Page anywhere, in fact, and you’ll like what you see.

In his introduction, author Alonso Duralde apologizes if he didn’t include your favorites but “Hollywood has been a magnet for LGBTQ+ people” for more than a century, making it hard to capture it completely. That said, movie-loving readers will still be content with what’s inside this well-illustrated, well-curated, highly readable historical overview of LGBTQ films and of the people who made them.

Come to this book with a movie-lover’s sensibility and stay for the wealth of photos and side-bars. If you’re up for binge-reading, binge-watching, or Date Night, dig into “Hollywood Pride.” Popcorn not necessary, but welcome.

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‘On Bette Midler’ is a divine new read

Part charming, part nostalgic, and very affectionate

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(Book cover image courtesy of Oxford University Press)

‘On Bette Midler: An Opinionated Guide’
By Kevin Winkler
c.2024, Oxford University Press 
$29.99 232 pages 

Superb.

That word’s appropriate in this situation. Fantastic, that’s another. Transcendent or celestial, if you’re of that mind, or perhaps anointed. There are many adjectives you can use for a performer who transports you, one who sings to your soul. Sensational, breathtaking, outstanding, or – as in the new book “On Bette Midler” by Kevin Winkler – another, better word may be more suitable.

Born in Hawaii a few months after the end of World War II, Bette Midler was named after film star Bette Davis. It was a perhaps auspicious start: despite a minor disparity (Midler’s mother thought the movie star’s first name was pronounced “Bet”), young Midler seemed at a young age to want to follow in her almost-namesake’s footsteps. By age 11, she’d won accolades and prizes for her performances and she “yearned to be a serious actor.” As soon as she could, she headed for New York to seize her career.

Alas, her “unconventional” looks didn’t help win the roles she wanted but she was undeterred. Unafraid of small venues and smaller gigs, she “just blossomed” in New York City. Eventually, she landed at the Improv on 44th Street; the owner there helped her negotiate some minor work. Another man became her manager and secured a job for her at the Continental, a New York bath house strictly for gay men. She was hired for eight summer nights, Friday and Saturdays only, for $50 a night.

Almost immediately, her authenticity, her raunchy language, and her ability to relate to her audience made her beloved in the gay community. Midler’s tenure at the Continental expanded and, though legend points to a longer time, she worked at the bath house for just over two years before moving on and up, to television, recording studios, movies, and into fans’ hearts. Still, asks Winkler, “Did it really matter what stage she was on? She touched audiences wherever she performed.”

In his earliest words – and, in fact, in his subtitle – author Kevin Winkler reminds readers that “On Bette Midler” is a book that’s “highly opinionated, filled with personal contemplations…” He is, in other words, a super-fan, but that status doesn’t mar this book: Winkler restrains his love of his subject, and he doesn’t gush. Whew.

That will be a relief to readers who wish to relish in their own fervor, although you’ll be glad for Winkler’s comprehensive timeline and his wide look at Midler’s career. Those things come after a long and fascinating biography that starts in 1970, takes us back to 1945, and then pulls us forward through movies, television appearances, stage performances, and songs you might remember – with appearances from Barbara Streisand, Barry Manilow, and Cher. It’s a fun trip, part confidential, part charming, part nostalgic, and very affectionate.

Despite that this is a “personal” book, it’s great for readers who weren’t around during Midler’s earliest career. If you were and you’re a fan, reading it is like communing with someone who appreciates Midler like you do. Find “On Bette Midler.” You’ll find it divine.

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‘Mean Boys’ raises questions of life, death, and belonging

“Mean Boys” can make you squirm. For sure, it’s not a beach read or something you’ll breeze through in a weekend

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(Boom cover image courtesy of Bloomsbury)

‘Mean Boys: A Personal History’
By Geoffrey Mak
c.2024, Bloomsbury 
$28.99/267 pages

It’s how a pleasant conversation is fed, with give and take, back and forth, wandering casually and naturally, a bit of one subject easing into the next with no preamble. It’s communication you can enjoy, like what you’ll find inside “Mean Boys” by Geoffrey Mak.

Sometimes, a conversation ends up exactly where it started.

Take, for instance, Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” which leads Mak to think about his life and his inability to “cull the appropriate narratives out of nonsense.” Part of that problem, he says, was that his living arrangements weren’t consistent. He sometimes “never really knew where I was living,” whether it was Berlin or California, in a studio or high-end accommodations. The parties, the jokes, the internet consumption were as varied as the homes and sometimes, “it didn’t really matter.” Sometimes, you have to accept things and just “move on.”

When he was 12 years old, Mak’s father left his corporate job, saying that he was “called by God” to become a minister. It created a lot of resentment for Mak, for the lack of respect his father got, and because his parents were “passionately anti-gay.” He moved as far away from home as he could, and he blocked all communication with his parents for years, until he realized that “By hating my father, I ended up hating myself, too.”

And then there was club life which, in Mak’s descriptions, doesn’t sound much different in Berghain (Germany) as it is in New York. He says he “threw myself into night life,” in New York Houses, in places that gave “a skinny Chinese kid from the suburbs… rules I still live by,” on random dance floors, and in Pornceptual. Eventually this, drugs, work, politics, pandemic, basically everything and life in general led to a mental crisis, and Mak sought help.

“I don’t know why I’m telling you all this,” Mak says at one point. “Sometimes life was bad, and sometimes it wasn’t, and sometimes it just was.”

Though there are times when this book feels like having a heart-to-heart with an interesting new acquaintance, “Mean Boys” can make you squirm. For sure, it’s not a beach read or something you’ll breeze through in a weekend.

No, author Geoffrey Mak jumps from one random topic to another with enough frequency to make you pay close to attention to his words, lest you miss something. That won’t leave you whiplashed; instead, you’re pulled into the often-dissipated melee just enough to feel almost involved with it – but with a distinct sense that you’re being held at arms’ length, too. That some stories have no definitive timeline or geographical stamp – making it hard to find solid ground – also adds to the slight loss of equilibrium here, like walking on slippery river rocks.

Surprisingly, that’s not entirely unpleasant but readers will want to know that the ending in “Mean Boys” could leave their heads swirling with a dozen thoughts on life, belonging, and death. If you like depth in your memoirs, you’ll like that — and this.

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Rob Anderson knows you think he’s annoying

The Blade sat down with the Instagram comedian and “Gay Science” author about viral fame, cringe comedy, and why gay men can’t sit in chairs

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In an out-of-character moment, Rob Anderson is seated properly on the grand stairs in West Hollywood Park. (Photo by of Rob Salerno)

By Rob Salerno | WEST HOLLYWOOD – Rob Anderson understands why you might’ve blocked him. Over the last four years, Anderson has attracted more than four million followers across Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok.

But as he launches his latest book, Gay Science, collecting and expanding on his viral comedy video series that examines gay stereotypes through the “totally scientific method,” he’s become pretty blasé about the pitfalls of being promoted by the social media algorithms.

Anderson says he understands that despite his enormous success, the various social media platforms often push content at people who aren’t interested.

“I guess it is so annoying,” he says with a laugh. “So when people block me, I’m never like, ‘Ew.’ I’m like, ‘No, it’s annoying. I get it,” 

“When I first started making videos and then my followers were growing, I was blocking people left and right and for the same reason. I don’t hate them. It’s annoying to see this thing on my feed,” he says. “Those Instagay couples that were always taking pictures. I blocked all of them.”

Anderson spoke to The Blade in West Hollywood, where he’s in town to promote Gay Science at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books with a panel discussion on “The Gay Agenda” on April 21 – two days before the book becomes available at bookstores everywhere. 

He says he created the “Gay Science” video series to poke fun at and reclaim stereotypes about gay men.

“I made my first video about why gay men like iced coffee because I wanted to have fun with those sorts of stereotypes I find online. Like why do gay guys run like that? Why do they write like girls, you know, and then all the other fun stereotypes that we’ve kind of like made up about ourselves like why we can’t sit in a chair the right way, because apparently we love having stereotypes,” he says.

For the book, Anderson applies the same skewed scientific take to explain more than 50 different stereotypes across the entire LGBT spectrum. So the book has chapters that ask “Are Pansexual People Living Better Lives?” “Does College Make People Bi?” and “Do Lesbians Hate Electricity?”

“I challenged myself to write about everyone. I think everyone deserves to have something to laugh at because things are so awful politically. So asexual people, intersex, non-binary chapters. There’s a chapter ‘Did trans people invent pronouns?’ And, like everything else, the chapter proves that’s right.” 

Gay Science doesn’t take on the question of why so many gay men find Anderson annoying, but he has some theories.

“I attracted the attention of gay people, and some people choose to take that and give you back love, and then some people choose to take that and hate on you,” he says. “It’s really not even about me. It’s always about them, like something they’re going through.”

“And honestly, I get it. Being gay is hard and we had a lot of tough times growing up, and then once you come out, you struggle to feel accepted in a gay space.”

Maybe he can study this in Gay Science Volume 2.

And sometimes that backlash has just made Anderson even more powerful. 

Two years ago, when he was about to go on his first comedy tour, a Twitter user from Washington, D.C. shared a now-infamous opinion about Anderson’s $100 VIP meet-and-greet tickets.

“ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS TO MEET R*B AND*RSON? When I can see him sucking dick on the dance floor at the after party for free? I’ll pass,” wrote @livefreeordavid.

The tweet generated thousands of likes, retweets and comments – many of them even more hateful. But the upshot is that Anderson sold out his D.C. shows within days and the rest of his tour shortly after. Anderson says he only learned about the tweet months later, when someone tagged him in the thread.

“I just kind of kept it. I screenshot it. I’m like, I just need to remember this. When people hate on you, it’s gonna be good. And I had to bring that back up again recently because I was on [Watch What Happens Live] for Gay Science and someone on Twitter was like, ‘Oh, how embarrassing. He’s the bartender.’ They’re trying to hate on me for like being on TV.” 

Some of Anderson’s zen attitude to toward the haters can also be attributed to a recent successful shift in his content. While he was working on the book Gay Science, he paused making new videos in the series – all that new content is in the book. 

Instead, he started posting video recaps of movies and TV shows from his youth, which has attracted a broader audience. 

“I’d been rewatching Seventh Heaven and I was like, actually this show is ridiculous. I’m just gonna post about these shows. And those took off because it’s more universal. My audience has grown since then, and now it’s mostly not gay people.”

“I really feeling like the content that I’m making is still gay. Like I’m a gay guy and you can tell that I’m not straight, but I get a lot less hate. Isn’t that crazy?” 

“Not just supportive, but fun DMs that were like, ‘you need to do this movie because this is so fucking crazy.’ And it was because women are involved now and they’re just better than men,” he says. 

Maybe that’s another topic for future volumes of Gay Science.

Gay Science will be released in stores April 23.

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

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Out CBS reporter Jon Vigliotti recounts covering a warming planet

“I always loved storytelling,” said Vigliotti who grew up in the village of Mount Kisco in New York & now lives in Southern California

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CBS News national correspondent Jonathan Vigliotti has written a new book about climate change. (Photo Credit: Iván Carrillo)

By Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor | HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – In 2018, Jonathan Vigliotti was working as a foreign correspondent based out of CBS News’ London bureau. To say it was a coveted journalism job would be an understatement.

Yet, as he recounts in his debut book, “Before It’s Gone: Stories From the Front Lines of Climate Change in Small-Town America,” Vigliotti’s life would be upended professionally and personally by a warming planet. During a Cape Cod vacation that August with his family and husband, Iván Carrillo, Vigliotti fielded a call that had him making a hasty exit — leaving his lobster dinner untouched — to catch a flight for Southern California.

He was sent to cover a wildfire encroaching on the city of Lake Elsinore in Riverside County. The impromptu assignment led to him relocating to the national broadcaster’s Los Angeles Bureau the next year and taking on the natural disaster beat.

“In the time between then and now I have covered historic hurricanes, thermometer-shattering heat waves, record-breaking droughts, mega wildfires, back-to-back ‘hundred-year floods,’ unprecedented blizzards, and never-before-seen mudslides,” he writes in the prologue of his book.

Released in April by One Signal Publishers/Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc., the book not only recounts his experiences covering a warming planet these past six years. It also serves as a memoir of his rising through the journalism ranks, from working for the NPR station based on the Bronx campus of his alma mater, Fordham University, to now being a national correspondent for CBS News.

“I always loved storytelling,” said Vigliotti, 41, who grew up in the village of Mount Kisco in New York.

Speaking with the Bay Area Reporter by phone, Vigliotti said he’s been a nature lover his entire life. He spent hours exploring the woods by his childhood home. When his parents joined the fight to stop a housing development that would have bulldozed his forested retreat, Vigliotti learned about the fragility of ecosystems and how collective actions can protect such places.

“It had a lasting impact on me,” he said. “My work as a professional journalist always has gravitated toward environmental stories.”

His book is broken into four parts centered on the elements of fire, water, air, and earth. The tragic events he’s covered are paired with solutions to mitigate the effect rising temperatures are having on communities across the U.S. (Vigliotti writes about reintroducing beavers to ward against wildfires in an excerpt of his book for this week’s Guest Opinion.)

“One of the reasons why I wrote the book is I feel climate change is abstract to people. Even people who may be climate deniers, I think that comes from a lack of understanding,” said Vigliotti. “One of the best ways to understand climate change is radicalizing our weather is to be there on the front lines. Through our reporting, I try to visually connect those dots for people.”

‘No warning’

A theme throughout the book is the oft repeated — and disingenuous — phrase, “There was no warning.” Time and time again local officials have known beforehand the threats their communities face from climate change, said Vigliotti.

“Why this happens is hard to say, but I do believe a lot of people find climate science to be overwhelming,” he said. “The solutions oftentimes seem daunting.”

Rather than dismiss climate change as “some politicized issue,” he hopes his audience sees it as the threat it is to their livelihoods and hometowns. He utilizes the term “habitat changes” in the book when writing about what is occurring due to changing climates.

“If saying climate change is a barrier for some people, maybe you don’t need to say it,” said Vigliotti. “As long as people understand weather is changing and an increased threat to communities on the front lines, the more people are willing to take action. That is my finding at least,” he said.

He believes the planet still has time before it’s gone.

“We are a very intelligent species, us humans. We have proven time and time again we have a unique ability to adapt, unlike some other species,” said Vigliotti. “I think we have an opportunity if we listen to the warning signs and take action to rebuild or upbuild our communities so they are resilient.”

Even more so than in his on air segments, Vigliotti is front and center throughout the book, talking to readers in the first person.

“I wasn’t sure how much of my own experience would be a part of this book. It documents my education and my understanding of the role climate change is having,” he said. “I felt like if I was going to invite readers into my world, I needed to be as honest as possible in those moments where I am sharing my personal experiences.”

Professionally, Vigliotti said he “never actively” hid being gay. But as he explains in the book, he routinely was “straightening out my gay” when sent to report in places like the Middle East.

An assistant news director at the Milwaukee TV station where he once worked advised him to “rein in the fagginess,” he writes. He also disclosed losing a network job “because the main anchor at the time didn’t like the way I ‘tracked.'”

Vigliotti told the B.A.R. he publicly came out in either 2011 or 2012. He credited gay CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, who is also a correspondent for CBS News’ “60 Minutes” newsmagazine, for giving him the courage to do so.

“The role I think he had in giving a voice to other journalists who were also quote-unquote closeted … I don’t know him personally but I am forever grateful for that,” said Vigliotti. “It gave me a way forward and a way to be more authentic as myself and more transparent without having to hide parts of myself.”

Doing so in his book marked a departure from his usual reporting focus.

“I have always believed as a journalist my role is to disappear into the background and to give a platform to the people I am interviewing. I always naturally shied away from sharing too much of myself to begin with,” said Vigliotti.

To not reveal his own story in his book would have been a disservice to his interview subjects, he reasoned.

“I have come to expect so much from people who are often sharing the worst moments of their life with me. I felt it would be a hindrance to not return that favor,” said Vigliotti, who is at work on expanding his nightly news broadcast’s coverage of small-town America.

The book doesn’t mark an end to his coverage of natural disasters. He plans to continue heeding the call when such assignments break.

“I do love California and do find a sense of purpose covering these kinds of stories,” said Vigliotti, who lives in Hollywood. “I will continue covering extreme weather events.”

The book can be purchased online here: (Link)

******************************************************************************************

The preceding article was previously published by the Bay Area Reporter and is republished with permission.

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New book offers observations on race, beauty, love

‘How to Live Free in a Dangerous World’ is a journey of discovery

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(Book cover image courtesy of Tiny Reparations Books)

‘How to Live Free in a Dangerous World: A Decolonial Memoir’
By Shayla Lawson
c.2024, Tiny Reparations Books
$29/320 pages

Do you really need three pairs of shoes?

The answer is probably yes: you can’t dance in hikers, you can’t shop in stilettos, you can’t hike in clogs. So what else do you overpack on this long-awaited trip? Extra shorts, extra tees, you can’t have enough things to wear. And in the new book “How to Live Free in a Dangerous World” by Shayla Lawson, you’ll need to bring your curiosity.

Minneapolis has always been one of their favorite cities, perhaps because Shayla Lawson was at one of Prince’s first concerts. They weren’t born yet; they were there in their mother’s womb and it was the first of many concerts.

In all their travels, Lawson has noticed that “being a Black American” has its benefits. People in other countries seem to hold Black Americans in higher esteem than do people in America. Still, there’s racism – for instance, their husband’s family celebrates Christmas in blackface.

Yes, Lawson was married to a Dutch man they met in Harlem. “Not Haarlem,” Lawson is quick to point out, and after the wedding, they became a housewife, learned the language of their husband, and fell in love with his grandmother. Alas, he cheated on them and the marriage didn’t last. He gave them a dog, which loved them more than the man ever did.

They’ve been to Spain, and saw a tagline in which a dark-skinned Earth Mother was created. Said Lawson, “I find it ironic, to be ordained a deity when it’s been a … journey to be treated like a person.”

They’ve fallen in love with “middle-American drag: it’s the glitteriest because our mothers are the prettiest.” They changed their pronouns after a struggle “to define my identity,” pointing out that in many languages, pronouns are “genderless.” They looked upon Frida Kahlo in Mexico, and thought about their own disability. And they wish you a good trip, wherever you’re going.

“No matter where you are,” says Lawson, “may you always be certain who you are. And when you are, get everything you deserve.”

Crack open the front cover of “How to Live Free in a Dangerous World” and you might wonder what the heck you just got yourself into. The first chapter is artsy, painted with watercolors, and difficult to peg. Stick around, though. It gets better.

Past that opening, author Shayna Lawson takes readers on a not-so-little trip, both world-wide and with observant eyes – although it seems, at times, that the former is secondary to that which Lawson sees. Readers won’t mind that so much; the observations on race, beauty, love, the attitudes of others toward America, and finding one’s best life are really what takes the wheel in this memoir anyhow. Reading this book, therefore, is not so much a vacation as it is a journey of discovery and joy.

Just be willing to keep reading, that’s all you need to know to get the most out of this book. Stick around and “How to Live Free in a Dangerous World” is what to pack.

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Story of paralysis and survival features queer characters

‘Unswerving: A Novel’ opens your eyes and makes you think

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(Book cover image courtesy of University of Wisconsin Press)

‘Unswerving: A Novel’ 
By Barbara Ridley
c.2024, University of Wisconsin Press
$19.95 / 227 pages

It happened in a heartbeat.

A split-second, a half a breath, that’s all it took. It was so quick, so sharp-edged that you can almost draw a line between before and after, between then and now. Will anything ever be the same again? Perhaps, but maybe not. As in the new book “Unswerving” by Barbara Ridley, things change, and so might you.

She could remember lines, hypnotizing yellow ones spaced on a road, and her partner, Les, asleep in the seat beside her. It was all so hazy. Everything Tave Greenwich could recall before she woke up in a hospital bed felt like a dream.

It was as though she’d lost a month of her life.

“Life,” if you even wanted to call it that, which she didn’t. Tave’s hands resembled claws bent at the wrist. Before the accident, she was a talented softball catcher but now she could barely get her arms to raise above her shoulders. She could hear her stomach gurgle, but she couldn’t feel it. Paralyzed from the chest down, Tave had to have help with even the most basic care.

She was told that she could learn some skills again, if she worked hard. She was told that she’d leave rehab some day soon. What nobody told her was how Les, Leslie, her partner, girlfriend, love, was doing after the accident.

Physical therapist Beth Farringdon was reminded time and again not to get over-involved with her patients, but she saw something in Tave that she couldn’t ignore. Beth was on the board of directors of a group that sponsored sporting events for disabled athletes; she knew people who could serve as role models for Tave, and she knew that all this could ease Tave’s adjustment into her new life. It was probably not entirely in her job description, but Beth couldn’t stop thinking of ways to help Tave who, at 23, was practically a baby.

She could, for instance, take Tave on outings or help find Les – even though it made Beth’s own girlfriend, Katy, jealous.

So, here’s a little something to know before you start reading “Unswerving”: author Barbara Ridley is a former nurse-practitioner who used to care for patients with spinal cord injuries. That should give readers a comfortable sense of satisfaction, knowing that her experiences give this novel an authenticity that feels right and rings true, no faking.

But that’s not the only appeal of this book: while there are a few minor things that might have readers shaking their heads (HIPAA, anyone?), Ridley’s characters are mostly lifelike and mostly likable. Even the nasties are well done and the mysterious character that’s there-not-there boosts the appeal. Put everyone together, twist a little bit to the left, give them some plotlines that can’t ruined by early guessing, and you’ve got a quick-read novel that you can enjoy and feel good about sharing.

And share you will because this is a book that may also open a few eyes and make readers think. Start “Unswerving” and you’ll (heart) it.

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Mark S. King chronicles & celebrates 40 years of surviving with HIV

From addiction and recovery, fear to PrEP, stigma to fetish, King has seen it all. He will be in West Hollywood on April 8

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Mark S King (Photo by Darrell Snedeger)

By Rob Salerno | WEST HOLLYWOOD – Nearly forty years ago, Mark King tested positive for HIV in a clinic in West Hollywood. Back in 1985, there was no reliable treatment for HIV and a positive test was understood by many to be a death sentence. Many of the hundreds of thousands of young gay men who received an HIV diagnosis at the time began writing their wills. 

Mark King began writing essays. 

Since the early days of the HIV epidemic, King has been chronicling life with the virus in virus in My Fabulous Disease, a column that was syndicated in gay newspapers and magazines across the country – back when most cities in America had local gay news outlets – before moving to his blog

Now a selection of those essays has been published as My Fabulous Disease: Chronicles of a Gay Survivor, and King will be presenting readings of his essays by other well-known long-term survivors at “A Gathering of Long-Term Survivors” at the West Hollywood Library on April 8.  

“It turns out that if you live long enough and you write long enough you gather a volume of work along the way,” King tells me over Zoom from his home in Atlanta. “I just wanted to tell the story from that time till now because as the years have gone on, the story changed about what it’s like to get up and live again.”

King has also lived long enough to see the social perception of people living with HIV transition from them being tragic angels into a looming threat, a shift he chronicles in his essay “The Sound of Stigma.”

“In the early days, we were innocent tragic victims they didn’t have to think too much about because we were going to be dead soon anyway, so you might as well feel sorry for us. Then as we became healthier, and suddenly we returned to the social scene and to the dance floor and to the bathhouses, that’s when HIV stigma really started to rise again because we wanted to be amongst the rest of you,” he says.

King is quick to name PrEP as one of the most impactful developments in how queer people face HIV. He says the once-a-day pill that can be taken to prevent acquiring HIV shifted the burden of the disease onto people who are HIV-negative. 

“HIV-negative people were being mocked and criticized and shamed for even considering to take PrEP. What’s wrong with you? How big a slut are you? Why don’t you use a condom?” he says. “It was ironic because suddenly HIV-negative men were getting the same shit thrown at them about their worth and their sexual lives as those of us living with HIV had.”

“What was so threatening about prep is that it put prevention into the hands of people who do not have HIV, as opposed to always having the burden on those of us living with HIV.”

King’s writing about HIV is both a significant historical artifact of what life was like under the greatest crisis to afflict our community, and a prescient accounting of who we are today. Through his essays about pornography, sex, fetishes, dating and more, King reveals that the more the community changes, the more it stays the same. 

King says that the speaking tour in support of his book has shown him how relevant his essays remain to newer generations of gay men who haven’t had to come of age with the specter of HIV.

In the unique format of King’s book tour, he’s invited other queer men to read his essays, which he says puts a new spin on things.

“A young man [at a reading] in Chicago read my piece, ‘Probing my Analphobia,’ about when I was just a little twink and one completely disastrous douching,” King says. “Anyway, I ruined his entire bedroom. I mean ruined ruined it. And it’s all very explicit in the essay and I was really just doing it for laughs and to see what I could get away with telling this terrible story. 

“And when he finished reading it, he said, ‘I really want to thank you for writing this because I was so ashamed of the mechanics of gay sex. I didn’t know what I didn’t know and you have lifted the veil in this essay. You make it okay,” he says.

Some of the notable people presenting readings of My Fabulous Disease in West Hollywood include city council member John Heilman, ABC News Broadcaster Karl Schmid, and actor Dean Testerman.

A Gathering of Long-Term Survivors will take place at the West Hollywood Library Meeting Room at 625 N San Vicente Blvd, on April 8 from 7-8:30pm. My Fabulous Disease is available in paperback or ebook.

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

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Books

Examining importance of queer places in history of arts and culture

‘Nothing Ever Just Disappears’ shines with grace and lyrical prose

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‘Nothing Ever Just Disappears: Seven Hidden Queer Histories’ 
By Diarmuid Hester
c.2024, Pegasus Books
$29.95/358 pages

Go to your spot.

Where that is comes to mind immediately: a palatial home with soaring windows, or a humble cabin in a glen, a ramshackle treehouse, a window seat, a coffeehouse table, or just a bed with a special blanket. It’s the place where your mind unspools and creativity surges, where you relax, process, and think. It’s the spot where, as in the new book “Nothing Ever Just Disappears” by Diarmuid Hester, you belong.

Clinging “to a spit of land on the south-east coast of England” is Prospect Cottage, where artist and filmmaker Derek Jarman lived until he died of AIDS in 1994. It’s a simple four-room place, but it was important to him. Not long ago, Hester visited Prospect Cottage to “examine the importance of queer places in the history of arts and culture.”

So many “queer spaces” are disappearing. Still, we can talk about those that aren’t.

In his classic book, “Maurice,” writer E.M. Forster imagined the lives of two men who loved one another but could never be together, and their romantic meeting near a second-floor window. The novel, when finished, “proved too radical even for Forster himself.” He didn’t “allow” its publication until after he was dead.

“Patriarchal power,” says Hester, largely controlled who was able to occupy certain spots in London at the turn of the last century. Still, “queer suffragettes” there managed to leave their mark: women like Vera Holme, chauffeur to suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst; writer Virginia Woolf; newspaperwoman Edith Craig, and others who “made enormous contributions to the cause.”

Josephine Baker grew up in poverty, learning to dance to keep warm, but she had Paris, the city that “made her into a star.” Artist and “transgender icon” Claude Cahun loved Jersey, the place where she worked to “show just how much gender is masquerade.” Writer James Baldwin felt most at home in a small town in France. B-filmmaker Jack Smith embraced New York – and vice versa. And on a personal journey, Hester mourns his friend, artist Kevin Killian, who lived and died in his beloved San Francisco.

Juxtaposing place and person, “Nothing Ever Just Disappears” features an interesting way of presenting the idea that both are intertwined deeper than it may seem at first glance. The point is made with grace and lyrical prose, in a storyteller’s manner that offers back story and history as author Diarmuid Hester bemoans the loss of “queer spaces.” This is really a lovely, meaningful book – though readers may argue the points made as they pass through the places included here. Landscapes change with history all the time; don’t modern “queer spaces” count?

That’s a fair question to ask, one that could bring these “hidden” histories full-circle: We often preserve important monuments from history. In memorializing the actions of the queer artists who’ve worked for the future, the places that inspired them are worth enshrining, too.

Reading this book may be the most relaxing, soothing thing you’ll do this month. Try “Nothing Ever Just Disappears” because it really hits the spot.

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Books

Upcoming books offer something for every reader

From a history of the gay right to a look at queer women’s spaces

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(Book cover images courtesy of the publishers)

Daylight Savings Time has arrived, giving you more sunlight in the evening and more time to read. So why not look for these great books this spring?

If your taste runs to historical novels, you’re in luck. When Yorick spots his name on the list of the missing after the Titanic sinks, he believes this to be an omen: nobody’s looking for him, so maybe this is his opportunity to move to Paris and open that bookstore he’s been dreaming about. In The Titanic Survivors Book Club” by Timothy Schaffert (Doubleday, $29.00) his decision leads to more than a bucolic little business. Out April 2.

If you’re looking for something a little on the lighter side, discover Riley Weaver Needs a Date to the Gaybutante Ball by Jason June (HarperTeen, $19.99). Young adult books are perfect light reading for adults, and this one is full of high-school drama, romance, comedy, and more drama. What fun! Out May 23.

Can’t get enough of graphic novels? Then look for Escape from St. Hell: A Graphic Novel by Lewis Hancox (Graphix, $14.99). It’s the continuing story of Lew, who just wants to live his life as a guy, which he started doing in the last novel (“Welcome to St. Hell”) but you know what they say about one door closing, one door opening. In this new installment, Lew grapples with the changes he’s made and how his friends and family see things, too. This book is fresh and honest and great for someone who’s just transitioned. Out May 7.

For the mystery lover, you can’t go wrong with Clean Kill: A Nicky Sullivan Mystery by Anne Laughlin (Bold Strokes, $18.95). As the manager of a sober living home in Chicago, Nicky Sullivan has her hands full with 10 other residents of the home. But when one of them is murdered, Sullivan reaches back into her past as an investigator to find the killer by calling on her old partner. Fortunately, he’s still working. Also fortunately, he’s got a new partner and she catches Sullivan’s eye. Can love and murder mix? Out May 14.

Can’t get enough of politics? Then you’ll be happy to find Coming out Republican: A History of the Gay Right by Neil J. Young (University of Chicago Press, $30). In the fractious political atmosphere we have now, it’s essential to understand how gay conservatives have influenced politics through the decades. Find this book before November. It may be one of the most eye-opening books you’ll read. Out April 3.

The reader who loves her “space” will want to take A Place of Our Own: Six Spaces That Shaped Queer Women’s Culture by June Thomas (Seal Press, $30) there to read. It’s a book about historically safe places for queer women to be themselves – and some are surprisingly very public. Interviews with iconic feminists and lesbians round out a great look at the locales that queer women have claimed for their own. Out May 28.

And now the housekeeping: Release dates can change and titles can be altered at the last minute, so check with your favorite bookseller or librarian. They’ll also have more recommendations if you need them because there’s a lot of time for reading now.

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