Get Lit: Fall Arts Books, Part 2

by Jim Piechota

Bay Area Reporter

Tuesday September 6, 2022

Get Lit: Fall Arts Books, Part 2

The second part of our Fall books roundup will give you an idea of what is coming to bookstores in the next several months. Highlights include memoirs from drag celeb Courtney Act and trans author River Halen; a queer opinion anthology on all things horror; a gay New Yorker assessing the Big Apple at the beginnings of the pandemic; and a triumphant and hotly anticipated return to the literary world for a local San Francisco author.

Fiction
"Army of Lovers," by K.M. Soehnlein, $20.95 (Amble Press)
After more than a decade-long hiatus, Soehnlein returns with this nostalgic, immersive, unforgettable coming-of-age novel about a young queer man who becomes entrenched in the unique AIDS activist community of ACT UP, a defiant world of passion and anger that swallows him whole and forces him to choose between his boyfriend and his allegiance to the cause. Vividly drawing from his own experiences in the 1980s and '90s as a social justice activist, Soehnlein weaves a brilliant tapestry of love, pain, honor, illness, healing, and the fight to stay alive in the face of homophobia, a decimating epidemic, and rampant inequality. This is a must-read.
www.bywaterbooks.com

"Luda," by Grant Morrison, $28 (Del Rey Books)
Imagine an aging drag queen named Luci LaBang, a sequin-studded "Narcissus in middle age" who found stardom on the television screen, but now that star is tarnished in her 50s, and you've got the bawdy premise of comics writer Grant Morrison's raucous debut novel. Luci begins her crawl back to the top by way of a silly stage production called "The Phantom of the Pantomime," but along the way, readers will learn that Luci is a master of the dark arts, and when a former rent boy named Luda swoops in to replace her ailing co-star, the backstabbing and black magic shenanigans know no bounds. Morrison's skills as a wordsmith are on fiery display here, even while the plot, the dialogue, and the book's nearly 500 pages can become overly melodramatic. That being said, this is a novel about a drag queen with ulterior motives, so high drama and theatrics are perhaps a requirement.
www.penguinrandomhouse.com

"Sacrificio," by Ernesto Mestre-Reed, $27 (Soho Press)
An authentically rendered 1990's Castro's Cuba lies at the heart of Ernesto Mestre-Reed's epic historical fiction which, through a succession of its character's entanglements, explores the underground aspects of the country's gay and HIV-positive population. In his first fiction in several decades, the author presents the life of Rafa, an orphan in Havana who finds a boyfriend in Nicolas after he offers him a job at his mother's restaurant. But Nicolas is HIV-positive and is sent to the "sidatorio," a sanitarium for infected individuals, where he begins an activist group bent on infecting as many people as possible. Combining Cuban history and queer survival all wrapped in a compelling mystery, this enigmatic novel is a spellbinding success.
www.sohopress.com

"The Last Chairlift," by John Irving, $38 (Simon & Schuster)
Fan favorite John Irving incorporates several queer women into his latest offering, though the result is arguably mixed. The novel chronicles the life of an illegitimate New England boy named Adam Brewster and his lesbian mother, Ray, who, despite having a female partner, Molly, marries Elliot, an English teacher, but goes on to eventually transition into a woman. There's also Nora, his cousin, who is also a lesbian and is overcoming a sexual abuse ordeal. The main thrust of the story is of Adam finding out who his father is, but along the way Irving fills the pages with history, insight, opinion, and themes of family love and tolerance. Be warned, clocking in at nearly 1,000 pages, Irving's latest is an investment in time and patience, but die-hard fans of the author's trademark homespun prose and delicate way with words will find much to savor here.
www.simonandschuster.com

Memoir
"Dream Rooms," by River Halen, $20 (Book*hug Press)
This deeply felt memoir from National Magazine Award-nominated Catalan and Danish descent trans author River Halen mines the emotional terrain of personal reinvention and rebellion. An amalgam of essay, poetry, and internal conversation, the book is set in the years prior to the author embarking on their transgender journey, and utilizes everyday objects to capture extraordinary moments and feelings. Unique and mesmerizing, this memoir enchants as much as it educates and illuminates.
www.bookhugpress.ca

"Caught in the Act," by Shane Jenek (a.k.a. Courtney Act); $26.95 (Pantera Press)
Australian entertainer Shane Jenek's alter ego is Courtney Act, best known as a contestant on the sixth season of "RuPaul's Drag Race," and for his ascent to stardom ever since with sold-out performances and stints on "Australian Idol" and "Big Brother UK." Written with the star's effervescent wit and personality, Jenek, 40, depicts his idyllic early years in a Brisbane suburb and how the electric sparks from his first same-sex kiss would change the trajectory of his life forever. Jenek covers his career, personal relationships, and life as a drag queen with style and humor, while never skimping on the gossipy party scenes or the insider backstage details of his life on the stage or ensconced in Sydney's queer scene, which he remarks is slowly dwindling as gentrification marches on. Fans of this outspoken queen will revel in this impressive debut memoir.
www.panterapress.com.au

"Feral City," by Jeremiah Moss, $27.95 (W.W. Norton & Co.)
Moss, a psychoanalyst and Pushcart Prize-winning author, vividly shares his experiences living in Manhattan during the tumultuous and uncertain months during the initial onset of the COVID pandemic. The essays contained in this anthology reflect the author's passion for the urban jungle and how the "New People" with their arrogant entitlement and self-serving perspectives have eroded the gritty edge of New York City. These folks fled once the lockdown occurred, but Moss reflects on feelings of fear and uncertainty which took their places. Readers who love New York, warts and all, will adore and devour this exemplary chronicle of raw urban life, queer theory, the "weird magic" of the pandemic days, and the ways the quirky, unconventional people who live there make the city bloom.
www.norton.com

Non-Fiction
"This Arab is Queer: Anthology," by Elias Jahshan, $19.95 (Saqi Press)
Daringly titled, the stories contained in this collection reflect the unique reality of being queer and Arab. Told through a diverse assortment of personalities and perspectives, the taboo is shattered through the gorgeously liberated experiences of writers who have found their place in the world as a queer individual unafraid of the cultural chains that previously silenced their voices. Eighteen in all, the stories include a Saudi Arabian man describing his first same-sex kiss and the bittersweet feelings that followed, alongside many coming out stories of men and women who risked familial alienation in favor of living an authentic life. This is a powerful, relevant, and necessary collection of urgent stories.
www.saqibooks.com

"It Came from the Closet: Queer Writers on Horror," edited by Joe Vallese; $25.95 (Feminist Press)
An impressively diverse array of queer voices contributes their opinions on how and why particular horror movies made a personal and indelible impression on them. Participants like author Carmen Maria Machado, Vietnamese novelist Viet Dinh, poet Ryan Dzelzkalns, "queer ghost nerd" Bruce Owens Grimm, and Jamaican American writer Prince Shakur, among many others, reflect on horror films with queer impact like "Jennifer's Body," "Jaws," "Hereditary," "Godzilla," "The Blair Witch Project," "Friday the 13th," and "Dead Ringers." This book also makes a perfectly grave companion piece to the Shudder network's new four-part documentary series "Queer for Fear: A History of Queer Horror." Fans of the dark and the deliciously sinister will quiver in anticipation for this upcoming book, which readers will recognize right away from the awesome cover art (a pink tilted wrist popping out of a gravesite).
www.feministpress.org

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