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Book Marks

By Lavender August 28, 2008

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The Letters of Allen Ginsberg
edited by Bill Morgan
Da Capo Press
480 pages
$30 hardcover

A more apt title for this mouth-watering sampling of correspondence across six decades might well be Just a Few Letters of Allen Ginsberg. But what rich and revealing letters they are! Morgan, the famed poet’s literary archivist, culled 165 letters from more than 3,700—and those are just the ones he could find. They span the period between 1941, when the then-15-year-old wrote The New York Times slamming Congress for entering World War II too late, and 1997, when—days before he died—he sent a batch of political poems to President Clinton. Ginsberg’s outrage at social injustice permeates the collection, as does his concern for the legacy of the Beats and his passion for other poets. But the most poignant reading comes in letters to Jack Kerouac—some of them thousands of words long—detailing a bumptious but loving relationship, and to Neal Cassady, in the earliest of which Ginsberg unabashedly begs, “What must I do for you to get you back?” Stamp this meticulously edited collection of letters transcendent.
Relative Stranger
by Stewart Lewis
Alyson Books
292 pages
$14.95 paper

Serial instances of cheerfully improbable happenstance mark—but never mar—the plot of this sweet novel about free-spirited 17-year-old Lucy Walker and the man she encounters when she’s bumped into first-class on a holiday flight to London. That would be 30-something Garrett Millwood, a gay British expatriate working in Manhattan as a Broadway producer. He ought to have everything going for him—a great job, a great bod, a great bank account. But he’s bored by slutty one-nighters, he’s bitterly estranged from his homophobic father back home, and he’s hiding a devastating secret from his best friend that is wracking his soul. Enter irrepressible Lucy, overjoyed about leaving her stultifying high-school years behind and determined to make it in the fashion world—and who, despite her tender years, is the wise one in the friendship. Lewis sketches his characters—including Garrett’s plucky, loving mother and Lucy’s hapless, alcoholic mother—with touching emotional deftness, bringing a light touch to serious moments in this endearing novel about rediscovering family and rekindling love.
Cycler
by Lauren McLaughlin
Random House
256 pages
$17.99 hardcover

Four days a month, high school senior Jill morphs into a boy named Jack—complete with a teenager’s ever-tumescent member. This is a complication for the young woman, who has her sights set on a prom-night date with a shy boy at school—who turns out to be bisexual. Further twisting the inventive novel’s genderqueer knickers: porn-obsessed Jack has a frustrated hard-on for Jill’s best (girl) friend, Raime. And though he’s normally locked in Jill’s bedroom for the few days of his physical emergence, he escapes for a night of torrid necking with Raime—a hormonally heterosexual encounter that nonetheless exudes lesbian overtones. McLaughlin makes no effort to explain the werewolfian transformation, which is fine: why undercut the fantastical with pseudo-facts? The publisher is marketing this odd but artful debut as a young adult novel for ages 14 and up. Given the boldness of the pleasure Jack finds from porn, and the sexual heat among the teen characters, the YA novel is more adult than young–more credit to Random House for its daring.
Dynamic Duos: The Alpha/Beta Key to Unlocking Success in Gay Relationships
by Keith W. Swain
Alyson Books
256 pages
$16.95 paper

So the suggestion here is that if your ring finger is longer than your index finger, you’d be better off falling for a man whose index finger is longer than his ring finger. According to therapist Swain’s approach to finding Mr. Right—which is in fact much more substantial than merely measuring digits—one condition implies an Alpha personality, the other implies a Beta personality, and the best matches are between one of each. The core of this research-rooted self-help study lies in a 100-question, true-false survey (“I have a square jaw”) that reveals definitive personality traits; readers can test themselves (“I wear very little jewelry”) while absorbing Swain’s analysis of data derived from a recent National Survey of Male Relationships. The author isn’t an absolutist about his matchmaking theory—there is a spectrum of compatibility, reassuring for men who might straddle the Alpha/Beta divide. Reducing everlasting love to a scoring chart isn’t particularly romantic, but this book makes a solid case for considering a rational approach to the fundamentally irrational matter of two hearts becoming one.
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 [email protected]

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