Gerry B's Book Reviews

Full Circle by Michael Thomas Ford

A thoroughly engaging story…

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Click on cover to order

Click on cover to order

Story blurb: History professor Ned Brummel is living happily with his partner of twelve years in small-town Maine when he receives a phone call from his estranged friend–Jack–telling him that another friend–Andy–is very ill and possibly near death. It is news that shatters the peace of his world for many reasons. And as Ned boards a plane to Chicago on his way to his friend’s bedside, he embarks on a another journey into memory, examining the major events and small moments that have shaped his world and his relationships with two very different, very important men.

About the author: Michael Thomas Ford is the author of more than fifty books, for both young readers and adults, in genres ranging from humor to horror, literary fiction to nonfiction. As a writer for young adults he is the author of the popular “Circle of Three” series (writing as Isobel Bird); nonfiction books about spirituality (Paths of Faith), the AIDS crisis (Voices of AIDS), and the gay community (The World Out There and Speaking Out); and the novels Suicide Notes and Z (forthcoming in 2010).

His work for adult readers includes the best-selling novels Last Summer, Looking for It, Full Circle, Changing Tides, and What We Remember, and Jane Bites Back. His work has been nominated for 12 Lambda Literary Awards, twice winning for Best Humor Book, twice for Best Romance Novel, and most recently for Gay Men’s Mystery. He was also nominated for a Horror Writers Association Bram Stoker Award (for his novel The Dollhouse That Time Forgot) and a Gaylactic Spectrum Award (for his short story “Night of the Werepuss”).

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Review by Gerry Burnie

I hadn’t read any previous novels by Michael Thomas Ford until I came across Full Circle [Kensington, August 1, 2007]. His credentials are certainly impressive, but what appealed to me is the era – the liberation movement of the sixties, to the AIDS epidemic of the 80s and 90s. My era exactly, so it was like a walk down memory lane.

It is told from the perspective of two men, involving a third, and through their eyes we experience the assassination of JFK; protests surrounding the Vietnam War, the Stonewall Riots, and the identification of the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Probably one of the most eventful chapters in gay-American life in the 20th century.

The writing is professional through-and-through, as one would expect from a 50-time published author, but what impressed me most was his seemingly effortless ability to balance the viewpoints (memories) of the three main characters – like a Troika – while remaining focussed on the events surrounding them.

It is truly a textbook example of in-control writing.

For those of you who were born in a later time, you are bound to find Ned and Jack’s reminiscences engaging, as are their personalities, and if you are students of history (as we all are, whether we like it or not) this is a history lesson I think you will enjoy. Five bees.

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April 6, 2015 Posted by | a love story, AIDS, Gay American History, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction | Leave a comment

Love Stories: Sex between Men before Homosexuality, by Jonathan Ned Katz

Another milestone from the dean of gay history in North America.

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love stories - coverStory blurb: In Love Stories, Jonathan Ned Katz presents stories of men’s intimacies with men during the nineteenth century—including those of Abraham Lincoln—drawing flesh-and-blood portraits of intimate friendships and the ways in which men struggled to name, define, and defend their sexual feelings for one another. In a world before “gay” and “straight” referred to sexuality, men like Walt Whitman and John Addington Symonds created new ways to name and conceive of their erotic relationships with other men. Katz, diving into history through diaries, letters, newspapers, and poems, offers us a clearer picture than ever before of how men navigated the uncharted territory of male-male desire.

Available in print format, only – 440 pgs.

love stories - katzAbout the author: Jonathan Ned Katz (born 1938) is an American historian of human sexuality who has focused on same-sex attraction and changes in the social organization of sexuality over time. His works focus on the idea, rooted in social constructionism, that the categories with which we describe and define human sexuality are historically and culturally specific, along with the social organization of sexual activity, desire, relationships, and sexual identities.

Katz received the Magnus Hirschfeld Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Sex Research from the German Society for Social-Scientific Sexuality Research in 1997. In 2003, he was given Yale University’s Brudner Prize, an annual honor recognizing scholarly contributions in the field of lesbian and gay studies. His papers are collected by the manuscript division of The Research Libraries of The New York Public Library. He received the Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement from Publishing Triangle in 1995.

[See also my review of Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. by Johathan Katz.]

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Over the centuries, Erotic love between men has had its ups and downs (no pun intended): From the socially-acceptable, Greco-Roman periods, to the reviled years under the predominantly Catholic-dominated-states of Europe; and from the relatively tolerated years following the Stonewall Raids in New York, and the Bathhouse Raids in Toronto, to the same-sex-marriage debates of today. We’ve come a long way, baby, but we’re not there yet.

In his superbly researched thesis, Love Stories: Sex between Men before Homosexuality, [University Of Chicago Press, June 15, 2003], Jonathan Ned Katz takes a look at one of these eras—the ultra-conservative, tradition-bound, 19th century.

The one constant throughout, of course, is that certain men are romantically drawn to one another in spite of all. Today, we call it being “gay” or “homosexual,” but having been around for less than a century these are relatively modern terms; therefore, what did the men of the 1800s call it, and how did this affect their attitudes towards themselves and others?

Katz attempts to answer these questions by delving into the letters, diaries, writings, etc. some 19th-century men left behind, and extracting such kernels of evidence as may be found.

Portrait of Joshua Fry Steed as a young man

Portrait of Joshua Fry Steed as a young man

He begins with the now famous (infamous?) friendship, and sleeping arrangements, of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Fry Speed.  The story goes that Lincoln rode into town with two saddlebags, and inquired at Speed’s store where he might purchase a “single beadstead.” Speed replied that he had a large room and bed, and that Lincoln was quite welcome to share it with him. Thus, began a twenty-eight-year friendship that Speed later described as, “No two men were ever more intimate.”

The term he used was “intimate,” which was quite acceptable because love was considered separate from sex. Platonic love between men was seen as idyllic (and still is by many) while erotic sex was labelled “sodomy,” “mutual masturbation,” and/or “a crime against nature.” In fact, it wasn’t until Freud (1856 – 1939) that the a-sexual relationships and erotic sex were thought to be connected. Having been reconstructed, therefore, even Platonic love became suspect.

Not surprisingly, however, men went on loving one another regardless of what society thought, so how did they choose to call themselves? Walt Whitman and others tried to transform an illicit sex story into a romantic sex-love story, and adopted terms like “associate” and “partner” to describe the players.

The point being that labels do matter, both to the individual and to society.

Besides Lincoln and Walt Whitman, other personalities are: John Stafford Fiske, the U.S. consul to Scotland in 1870; famous British cross-dresser Ernest Boulton; noted Harvard mathematician James Millis Peirce, writer Charles Warren Stoddard, and English philosopher Edward Carpeter Katz. All of these men have one thing in common: they all indulged in a deeply loving and erotic relationship during the 19th century.

This is such a fascinating and educational book on many levels, and Katz is the undisputed dean of gay, historical studies in North America; therefore, it comes with my highest recommendation. Five bees.

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Viewers to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 60,145 (A new milestone!)

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Don’t just give a book this year. Now, you can give one with a personal dedication from the author.

… That is, if you choose one of mine and let me know the details—i.e. Who it is going to (name); your name; and any personal message you wish to include (15 words or less). I’ll create a PDF file that can be printed and placed between the pages, -or- if the book is in PDF format already, I can insert it as a title page. Please allow a week to ten days for processing, and this latter service is not available to Kindle formatted books.

Here’s a sample of what a finished dedication will look like:

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Interested in Canadian history? Want to know more? Then visit my new page:  In Praise of Canadian History.

It is a collection of little-known people, facts and events in Canadian history, and includes a bibliography of interesting Canadian books as well. Latest postCharles William “C.W.” JefferysCanada’s chronicler of the pioneer past.

 


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If you would like to learn more about my other books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

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December 16, 2013 Posted by | a love story, Gay American History, Historical period, Johathan Ned Katz, Non-fiction | 1 Comment

   

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