Sunday, April 15, 2007

A Reading Rainbow For A Stormy Sunday

As anyone in the Greater Philadelphia region - strike that - the mid-Atlantic region ... ah, screw it. As anyone east of the Mississippi knows - today was a washout as a late-season Nor'easter barreled its way through the area dumping a flood of water in its path. I went to bed last night with the thought that I would spend this day trapped inside productively, by cleaning my room and reorganizing my closets which is long overdue.

Besides a sea of t-shirts and unworn items from years past, my little room also plays host to a 30 pound box of Dum-Dum pops, 100 feet of hot pink plastic wrap and 10 pounds of pink beaded necklaces (all for this Friday's pink party) among other unique items. So, I needed to get a hold of the room as it has totally gotten a hold of me over the winter.

However, that was not to be - I woke with pelts of rain hitting the windows - the roof overflowing the drain spout above me (I'm on the top floor) and a waterfall cascading down the back of the house, but not before bouncing off my aluminum siding windowsill outside. Talk about water torture!

I got up - used the bathroom and crawled back into bed, allowing the sensations of the storm around me to take control of my environment - - i even cracked open my bedroom window a bit, to better hear the rain and smell the wetness in the air. Then I decided to pick up a book that was on top of a stack of recent review copies that I brought home from work.

That was 8am. I read all day and into the night, never leaving my room except for short bathroom breaks. No morning coffee - no breakfast or lunch or what have you. Just some water and millions of words on thousands of pages. I read 6 books today and I'm into my 7th - but it was 9pm - thirteen hours later - and I decided to take a break and go get something to eat - I called in a 'pick-up' order at my local Chinese restaurant, because I felt like I needed to step outside at least once today. So, now I'm enjoying some brown rice and lemon chicken and afterward, I'll hop back into my personal Reading Rainbow until it is time to sleep.

But I also wanted to post quick reviews of what I read today - mostly for myself, but perhaps for you as well.

Mississippi Sissy
by Kevin Sessums

Author Sessums is best known for his celebrity profiles in the pages of Vanity Fair and Allure. He was also executive editor of Interview magazine back in the day. This book is a memoir of his childhood — growing up gay in the deep south in the 60's in an America struggling with civil rights strife and the assassinations of a president, a cultural leader and a would-be president. Kevin Sessums was orphaned at the age of 8 with the sudden deaths of his father (accident) and a year later mother (cancer). This book chronicles that loss, along with the awkward journey of a young gay adolescent, yet Sessums' experience is framed by a disarming wit and the lush and racially-charged backdrop of rural Mississippi, that in turn provide the route for a young gay man searching for a way out. A wonderful read that was truly hard to put down!

Men Who Love Men
by William J. Mann

This book picks up from Mann's previous novel The Men From The Boys (although you don't have to read the others to read this) - it follows the story of Henry Weiner, who is facing the 'shoulder season' of gay life by slowly leaving the young years and entering that dreaded middle age bracket. His best friends Jeff and Lloyd have been together for years and are planning to finally marry outside the guesthouse that they own (and that Henry manages) in P-town. Twists and turns happen in this fast-paced tale of love, understanding and friendship. With Men Who Love Men, Mann tackles the big questions of contemporary gay life, delivering a beautiful, thoughtful book about love, sex, commitment, friendship, and fantasy, about the lives we engineer and the joyful surprises that happen when we least expect them. I really enjoyed this book and stared at the ending page for a few minutes once done, just basking in a good story.

Still Life With June
by Darren Greer

I've had this book for some time and just got to reading it - in online research I see it won a few awards in 2004, the year it was published. And well deserved, I'm sure. Still Life with June is the fictional story of a struggling author, Cameron Dodds, and the unraveling mysteries surrounding his life and the people he encounters. Included are: Dagina, a woman from his writers' group; Darrel, a deceased drug addict from the treatment center Cameron works at; and Darrel's estranged sister, June, a woman with Down syndrome now living at the Sisters of Good Hope care facility. This is one of the best novels I have read in years. It is utterly original, with something unexpected happening on practically every page. The author has written it in a fully unusual style, with short chapters, sometimes only a sentence or two, stories within stories, and lists. And the ending is terrific.

The Suburbanization Of New York
edited by Jerilou and Kingsley Hammett

As a lifelong Philadelphian, I cringe when I see some of the history of our city wiped away for the shining promise of the future. As many of you who read this know, I have a torch for South Street as it used to be - but realize that everything changes. This collection of essays was a charming yet frustrating read for me - since it explores the slow erasing of New York City. Anyone who has protested things like the Casinos coming to Philadelphia - or perhaps the rise and fall of mega-chains in our city would appreciate this book, which features some of NYC's smartest (and wittiest) analysts and activists and gives a spotlight on the city that never sleeps, before it began its current suburban nap.

Lipshitz 6 Or The Angry Blondes
by T Cooper

This book is unlike any turn-of-the-century immigrant novel I have ever encountered and T Cooper is unlike any author I have every read. The first part is simple enough. in 1907, Esther Lipshitz and her family arrive on Ellis Island from Russia, ready to start a new life. Unfortunately, things get off to a bad start when their blond, non-Jewish looking son Reuven is lost getting off the boat. Years go by and Esther comes to believe that the man who just accomplished the first trans-Atlantic flight, Charles Lindbergh, is her son. Esther's life becomes so consumed with this belief that she spirals more and more into her fantasy world and leaves her family behind.

We then fast forward more than half a century and we meet T Cooper, the great-grandson of Esther Lipshitz. Much like Esther, T idolizes another blond, the rapper Eminem. T is putting off writing a book by instead hosting bar and bat mitzvahs impersonating the famous rapper when a letter arrives in the mail that his parents were killed in a car accident. While in Texas for the funeral, T does some growing-up however, once back in New York, T is again the entertainer Slim Lindy, until an accident brings to life an even more confusing identify issue.The two parts of this book are so completely different that it's hard to imagine they were written by the same person. However, as written elsewhere in an online review, 'while Esther's story makes for a good book club discussion, T's part of the book is what will keep the reader remembering'. How true indeed!

Waiting For Snow In Havana
by Carlos Eire

Another book I've had around but never read - this tells the personal journey of Carlos Eire who was part of Operation Peter Pan. Shortly after the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1962, 14,000 children were airlifted out of Cuba to start new lives in the United States. This forgotten episode of American history was called Operation Pedro Pan. It was an appropriate codename. Whisked away from parents and home, forced to negotiate immigration procedures and foster care in a strange new land, these children must have felt like the lost boys of J. M. Barrie’s classic tale. One of these children was Carlos Eire and this award winning book is his memoir of loss and redemption. What a powerful read that personalizes a forgotten chapter of 20th century American history.

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