What I’ve Read: Winter 2016
Now that we’ve moved to beautiful and peaceful Colorado, I find I have much more time to enjoy one of my favorite pastimes–reading! In this day and age, and given my social media-deformed short attention span, it’s been challenging to find the time to linger over a good book. This Christmas, determined to change this pattern, I asked Russ for three books: And Then I Danced: Traveling the Road to LGBT Equality (Mark Segal), Immaculate Blue (Paul Russell), and Based on a True Story (Jameson Currier.) Being the excellent husband that Russ is, he did exactly as instructed, in turn providing me with hours of literary pleasure. Each, in its own way, is worth reading. While I had issues which prevented me from viewing them as truly great reads, you might love them, and that’s part of the fun of reading!
Mark Segal is a legendary LGBT activist. Not only was he at Stonewall–yes, THE Stonewall–but he famously interrupted CBS News with Walter Cronkite, as well as countless other moments of activism, each of which seem to be recounted here. (He must’ve kept one hell of a diary.) And Then I Danced: Traveling the Road to LGBT Equality (Mark Segal) documents his many efforts and, as a history book alone, is a fascinating read. However, I really wanted more Mark. Who is he, at his core, besides an activist? What drives him? Does he have a personal life? Including such details might’ve helped to flesh out what is, at its core, a recitation of events. “I did this, then this, then this.” He takes pains to acknowledge other activists, but every time it seems that he is getting close to an emotional or revealing personal moment, as a writer he pulls back. This might be due to his job in newspaper publishing, thinking only the factual is important, but as a reader, I closed the book wanting more insight into him. His chapter on the toll of AIDS gives a hint as to the emotion he holds under the surface, and the memoir could have used more telling moments.
Immaculate Blue, by Paul Russell, was just named a finalist for Best Gay Fiction in the 2016 Lambda Literary awards. Russell is a wonderful storyteller and writer, and I’ve enjoyed many of his other books, but I personally didn’t connect with this one. It builds on characters introduced in his earlier The Salt Point, which I didn’t read. Perhaps that would’ve helped in enjoying this, as the story circles around four friends, reuniting after 20 years apart, and insight into who they were earlier might have shaped my view. But my problem was that regardless of who they might have been back then, I didn’t enjoy who they are now. In particular, one lead is so unlikeable and his story so dark and improbable that it left a bad taste in my mouth. I actually found myself more interested in some of the secondary characters, in particular a deaf boy, but as the story focuses on the four, it is with them that we are stuck. I’m a bit surprised to find it named a Lammy finalist, but Russell clearly has great skill, as past works have proven.
Another 2016 Lammy finalist is Jameson Currier for his collection of essays Until My Heart Stops, which I look forward to reading. In his novella, Based on a True Story, four men gather at a mountain cabin over Thanksgiving, and slowly reveal the tale of an off-screen couple. In many respects, this reads as an extended monologue, interrupted by attempts at fleshing out the four “main” characters. While the tale is impactful, it is also not surprising, with the outcome easy to guess early on. Still, I liked these characters and wanted to spend more time with them, and that’s always a sign to me of a tale well-told.
Now, I need some new books. What should I read next?