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Book Marks

By Lavender January 30, 2009

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Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, Susan Sontag, 1947-1963
Edited by David Rieff. Farrar, Straus and Giroux
336 pages
$25 hardcover

Even the lists of books to buy and movies seen—the ephemera of a mind seeking more knowledge—fascinate in this first of a projected three volumes, redacted with scalpel-like precision (many excerpts are only lines long) by Sontag’s son from a lifetime of her private writing. The first entry is by a defiant 14-year-old, avowing “no personal god.” Not yet 16, she writes: “I feel that I have lesbian tendencies (how reluctantly I write this).” By 18, however, she has married her professor and is already a mother. What follows, up to her 30th year, is the cacophony of a publicly philosophical mind (and a more privately sexual body) maturing from self-aware teen into one of America’s most ferocious intellects. The scraps of jotted fiction, notebook scribbling, and journal musings shaped by Rieff for public consumption reveal a woman of voracious curiosity, surprising vulnerability, and an obsession with physical beauty—and, among other quirks, at least in her younger years, a fixation on bathing. A formidably icy public persona is revealed, by the son she adored, as human after all.

Spider Season
By John Morgan Wilson
St. Martin’s Minotaur
304 pages
$24.95 hardcover

Eight books into the Benjamin Justice series, the disgraced former Los Angeles journalist continues to confront assorted demons: coping with his years-old AIDS diagnosis; with memories of his lover, dead now for 18 years; with guilt over fabricating facts for a Pulitzer Prize-winning story; and with his alcoholism. Newcomers to Wilson’s mysteries will be brought nimbly up to speed with Justice’s ongoing self-destructive tropes, laid bare in the fictional memoir central to the story (Deep Background), in which Justice tells all. Or almost all—an unscrupulous one-time rival is convinced the facts of Justice’s life are even more sordid. If having a mean-spirited reporter on his tail isn’t enough, both a mysterious, muscled ex-Marine and a spooky middle-aged man with an obsession for spiders are stalking Justice. There’s a mystery to be solved, of course, and it has something to do with the stalkers—but what’s most enthralling about this multilayered novel is how Wilson’s eternally conflicted sleuth is edging closer to wrestling those demons to the ground.

Hit the Road, Manny
By Christian Burch
Atheneum
236 pages
$16.99 hardcover

Manny: a male nanny. That’s Matthew, the Elton John-loving Mary Poppins for the quirky kids of the adorably liberal Dalinger family. There’s baby sister Belly, whose conversational tic is to TALK IN CAPS. There’s Lulu, the often-overbearing older sister. And there’s spelling-bee champion Keats, the arch narrator of the first book in this young adult series, The Manny Files. In this installment, the family is on a road trip to celebrate Keats’ birthday—an RV odyssey winding across roadside America to Wyoming, where the flamboyant manny reveals a tougher cowboy side, reconciling his lifestyle with that of his rancher parents. Then it’s on to Las Vegas—and a gay wedding—for manny Matthew and the children’s Uncle Max. The series is aimed at ages 9 to 12, though Keats comes across more as a pint-sized teenage comic than a real kid. Burch’s books are charmers that ‘tween readers with a queer sense of humor—and grownups with a fondness for queeny references to TV and music of the ‘80s—can savor.

Best Gay Poetry 2008
Edited by Lawrence Schimel
A Midsummer Night’s Press/Lethe Press
148 pages
$16.95 paper

Fifty queer poets, from veteran Antler and newcomer Rane Arroyo to the late Reginald Shepherd and slam breakout star Emanuel Xavier, are represented in the debut of this labor-of-love series. In his introduction, Schimel laments that he first tried to interest publishers in the project a decade ago. Now his one-man publishing venture, A Midsummer Night’s Press, has collaborated with up-and-coming queer publisher Lethe Press to produce a savvy, well-edited snapshot of gay poems published in 2007. The quality of the work is reason enough to relish this collection, but Schimel adds bibliographic value to creative excellence by including generous contributor bios pointing to other work by the poets in the book, and—a real treat for hardcore fans of queer poetry—an extensive listing of recent anthologies and single-author titles for further reference. This addition to the range of “best of” queer titles promises to become a stellar showcase for the genre; Best Lesbian Poetry 2008 is coming soon.

Richard Labonte has been reading, editing, selling, and writing about queer literature since the mid-’70s. He can be reached in care of this publication or at BookMarks@qsyndicate.com.

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