Gerry B's Book Reviews

Mama’s Boy, Preacher’s Son: A Memoir by Kevin Jennings

One man’s story of hope and inspiration

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Click on ghd cover to order

Click on ghd cover to order

Story blurb: Growing up poor in the South, Kevin Jennings learned a lot of things, especially about how to be a real man. When his father, a fundamentalist preacher, dropped dead at his son’s eighth birthday party, Kevin already knew he wasn’t supposed to cry.

He also knew there was no salvation for homosexuals, who weren’t “real men” – or Christians, for that matter. But Jennings found his salvation in school, inspired by his mother. Self-taught, from Appalachia, her formal education had ended in sixth grade, but she was determined that her son would be the first member of their extended family to go to college, even if it meant going North. Kevin, propelled by her dream, found a world beyond poverty. He earned a scholarship to Harvard and there learned not only about history and literature, but also that it was possible to live openly as a gay man.

But when Jennings discovered his vocation as a teacher and returned to high school to teach, he was forced back into the closet. He saw countless teachers and students struggling with their sexual orientation and desperately trying to hide their identity. For Jennings, coming out the second time was more complicated and much more important than the first–because this time he was leading a movement for justice.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

I’m a bit late tonight, folks. I Had an unexpected but important project pop up earlier in the day, so this review will be brief.

Kevin Jenning’s life, as fascinatingly retold in Mama’s Boy, Preacher’s Son: A Memoir [Beacon Press, May 15, 2007], is a slice everyone’s life who grew up poor – and conscious of it: The clean but threadbare clothes; the avoidance of bringing your friends home; the white lies about how prosperous your father was; and the constant feeling of being ‘second-class’.

Jennings shares all of this for us to share, but throughout there is an ever-present love, and hope, and inspiration. His mother’s love and sacrifice, for example.

The other phenomenon that spoke to me is the drive to succeed that is so often manifested in poorer children: The will to be not only better, but to be the best at whatever they do. This was demonstrated by Jennings drive to win his scholarship to Harvard, and then to become a leader in the gay rights movement.

On the quibble side, I found it just a trifle self-indulgent in places. Not an unusual shortcoming in autobiographies. Four bees.

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March 30, 2015 Posted by | Autobiographical, Gay autobiography, Non-fiction | Leave a comment

Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life, by James Daschuk

A must-read for students, and a should-read for others.

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Click on the cover to purchase.

Story blurb: In arresting, but harrowing, prose, James Daschuk examines the roles that Old World diseases, climate, and, most disturbingly, Canadian politics—the politics of ethnocide—played in the deaths and subjugation of thousands of aboriginal people in the realization of Sir John A. Macdonald’s “National Dream.”

It was a dream that came at great expense: the present disparity in health and economic well-being between First Nations and non-Native populations, and the lingering racism and misunderstanding that permeates the national consciousness to this day.

About the author: My research focus is on the impact of environmental change on the health of indigenous people. My historical work investigates the role of disease, changes to subsistence practices and climate change in the historical development of western Canada. My current research projects include the impact of introduced species, horses and domestic cattle, on the well-being of First Nations.

Recent Publications

James Daschuk, Paul Hackett and Scott D. MacNeil, “Treaties and Tuberculosis: First Nations People in Late 19th Century Western Canada, A Political and Economic Transformation.” Canadian Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 23 (2006): 307-330.

James Daschuk, “An Examination of Common and Contested Ground: A Human and Environmental History of the Northwestern Plains.” In G.P Marchildon, ed., The Early Northwest: History of the Prairie West Series. Volume 1. Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center, 2008. 35-47

James Daschuk, “A Dry Oasis: The Northern Great Plains in Late Prehistory,” Prairie Forum 34(Spring 2009).

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Review by Gerry Burnie

As most everyone knows, my passions are 1) Canada, 2) Canadian history, 3) history, and 4) everything else. When I was going to school, right through my university days, Canadian history was colonial history, i.e., a sub-category of English history, populated by kings and generals and dry as chalk.

Unfortunately, with the exception of people like James Dashuk  and a few others, Pierre Burton comes to mind, very little has changed. However, now the focus is on multicultural history, and once again Canadian heritage history is being brushed aside.

It is not to say Canadian history hasn’t been without its dark side, which James Dashuk so capably points out in Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal life [University of Regina Press, August 1, 2014].

An actual pile of buffalo skulls. Slaughtering the buffalo was part of a plan to starve the Natives off the land.

An actual pile of buffalo skulls. Slaughtering the buffalo was part of a plan to starve the Natives off the land.

In it, Dashuk presents an indictment of meticulously researched evidence to show that the catastrophes visited on many of the Native People were state sanctioned. That is to say that John A. MacDonald, his government, speculators, and lobbyists like the Canadian Pacific Railway, indulged in systematic starvation, as well as the spread of infectious diseases to eradicate ‘the Native problem’ on the western prairies.

I will not take any examples out of context, for they are best read along with the supporting evidence; however, suffice to say that Dashuk presents a very compelling case with scalpel-like precision.

A word must be said for the writing style, as well. This is an academic treatise, to be sure, and yet it is readily readable by the average person with an average vocabulary. Indeed, the author’s prose is as precise as his topics he presents.

However, I will also add a caveat to those who would attempt to apply these ‘atrocities’ to the Canada of today, or to Canadians of the assign blame to future generations – As Stephen Harper did regarding the poll tax of the 1880s (imposed by John A. MacDonald, by the way)

We can justifiably accuse the governments and people who participated, now dead, but the crimes of our ‘forefathers’ do not appropriately apply to the seventh generation.

This is a great book: A must read for students, and a should-read for others. Five bees in the nonfiction category.

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October 6, 2014 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian frontier stories, Canadian historical content, Native history, Non-fiction | Leave a comment

What About Me?: The Struggle for Identity in a Market-Based Society, by Paul Verhaeghe

So, You’re a deviant? Congratulations!

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what about me - coverBlurb: According to current thinking, anyone who fails to succeed must have something wrong with them. The pressure to achieve and be happy is taking a heavy toll, resulting in a warped view of the self, disorientation, and despair. People are lonelier than ever before. Today’s pay-for-performance mentality is turning institutions such as schools, universities, and hospitals into businesses – even individuals are being made to think of themselves as one-person enterprises. Love is increasingly hard to find, and we struggle to lead meaningful lives. In “What about Me?”, Paul Verhaeghe’s main concern is how social change has led to this psychic crisis and altered the way we think about ourselves. He investigates the effects of 30 years of neoliberalism, free-market forces, privatisation, and the relationship between our engineered society and individual identity. It turns out that who we are is, as always, determined by the context in which we live. From his clinical experience as a psychotherapist, Verhaeghe shows the profound impact that social change is having on mental health, even affecting the nature of the disorders from which we suffer. But his book ends on a note of cautious optimism. Can we once again become masters of our fate?

About the author: Paul Verhaeghe (November 5, 1955) is a trained clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst. His first doctorate (1985) dealt with hysteria, his second (1992) on psychological assessment. He works as a professor at the University of Ghent. Since 2000, his main interest lies in the impact of social change on psychological and psychiatric difficulties.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

To be at peace with a troubled world is not feasible unless one disavows almost everything that surrounds us. However, to be at peace with yourself within a troubled world, while not easy, can be achieved through self-reliance. That is the basic analysis put forward by psychologist and psychoanalyst Paul Verhaeghe, in What About Me?: The Struggle for Identity in a Market-Based Society [Scribe Publications, August, 2014].

Being social animals, our personalities are unavoidably shaped by the norms and values of the society to which we subscribe. Moreover, the dominant values of that society are almost always shaped by the leading players – i.e. the resident elites: economic, political, and cultural.

Today, in western societies in particularly, the predominant value is market fundamentalism, a.k.a. ‘neoliberalism.’ The tenets of which teach that the marketplace can solve almost all the ills of society, social, economic and political, so long as it is not burdened by government regulations and taxes. Moreover, anyone who disagrees with this precept risks being labeled a “socialist” (a word that is bantered around even by those who don’t understand the meaning of the term) or “deviant.”

Verhaeghe points out that neoliberalism draws on Ancient Greek – more recently Hobbsian – idea that man is inherently selfish and grasping in nature, but neoliberalists are quite content with these shortcomings. In fact, they encourage them on the basis that unrestricted competition and self-interest foster innovation and economic growth.

The reality, of course, is something different. The playing field is far from even, and more often than not innovation is discouraged, and economic growth is achieved through mergers and acquisitions (takeovers), resulting in the monopolization of available resources.

All this is ignored by the major players in the market economy (including law makers, governments and bureaucrats). These elites continue to ascribe success and failure to the individual; the rich are the paragons, and the poor are the social parasites.

To assure these new deviants don’t get more than they deserve, the neoliberalist workplace has become a centre for assessments, monitoring, surveillance and audits designed to reward the winners and punish the losers.

Likewise, the unemployed contend with a whole new level of monitoring and snooping.

It must be said, as well, that the majority of major political parties either ascribe to these methods, or look the other way from them, and so in the cause of autonomy we have become controlled by a nit-picking, faceless bureaucracy.

To put all this into a psychoanalytic context, Verhaeghe writes that these outcomes have resulted in a significant increase in certain psychiatric conditions, including eating disorders, depression and personality disorders.

Associated with the latter, the most common are performance anxiety, social phobias, depression and loneliness.

Therefore, if you feel at odds with the world, or that you somehow don’t fit in, congratulations: You’re still human!

About the book

Admittedly, this is not a book for everyone, but it is surprisingly easy to read. Verhaegue writes with a journalistic (as apposed to academic) style, and his examples and anecdotes are ones to which the reader can easily relate.

However, the biggest benefit is Verhaegue’s insight and clarity in ‘psychoanalyzing’ an undoubtedly screwed-up world. He may not have all the answers, but he nonetheless prompts us to examine the questions. Five bees.

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August 11, 2014 Posted by | Academic study, non GBLT, Non-fiction | | Leave a comment

The Way of Men, by Jack Donovan

The difference between a ‘good’ man, and good at being a ‘man.’

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Click on thr cover to purchase

Click on thr cover to purchase

Blurb: The so-called experts give the answers that suit their masters. They tell just-so stories to protect their ideology, their religion, their way of life. They look to women for a nod of approval before speaking. They give socially acceptable answers and half-truths.

If what they have to say resonates with men, it is only because they manage to hint at the real answer.

The real answer is that The Way of Men is The Way of The Gang.

Manliness — being good at being a man — isn’t about impressing women. That’s a side effect of manliness.

Manliness isn’t about being a good man. There are plenty of bad guys – real jerks –who are manlier than you are, and you know it.

Manliness is about demonstrating to other men that you have what it takes to survive tough times.

Manliness is about our primal nature. It’s about what men have always needed from each other if they wanted to win struggles against nature, and against other men.

The Way of Men describes the four tactical virtues of the survival gang.

The Way of Men explains what men want, and why they are rapidly disengaging from our child-proofed modern world.

The Way of Men examines the alternatives, and sketches a path out of our “bonobo masturbation society” through a new Dark Age.

About the author: Jack Donovan is an American author known for his writing on masculinity and for his criticisms of feminism and gay culture.

Donovan is currently a contributor to AlternativeRight.com, Counter-Currents, and anti-feminist, men’s rights blog The Spearhead.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

When I first saw the title The Way of Men, by Jack Donovan [Dissonant Hum, April 10, 2012], I thought, “Oh dear … This is a mine field if ever I saw one,” for a topic like this can either be a rehashing of grievances against feminists, or brilliantly insightful, or someplace in between. In this case it’s a bit of all three.

Donovan’s thesis proposes that there is a (gaping) difference between being a ‘man’ and being a ‘masculine man,’ i.e. “A man who is more concerned with being a good man than being good at being a man makes a very well behaved slave.”

As a paradigm he goes back to the roots of masculine culture, whereby men travelled in well-defined cohorts for friendship, protection, and hunting, and although these proclivities have been discouraged in favour of domestication and gender-blurring, some traces still survive.

The bottom line is that innate gender differences do exist, have existed, and in spite of unprecedented and frequently insidious emasculation and feminization, will always exist.

The wider state does not escape Donovan’s looking glass, either. For, apart from times of war, it has a stake in maintaining the “well behaved slave.” Bonobo men are not inclined to fit comfortably into ‘le system’ or to give socially acceptable answers and half-truths, and so they are shunned as renegades and/or shit-disturbers.

If any of this rings a bell with you, you might want to grab a copy of Jack Donovan’s thought-provoking dissertation. Four bees.

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August 4, 2014 Posted by | Academic study, Non-fiction, non-GLBT | | Leave a comment

Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story, by Paul Monette

A fascinating story of one man’s half-a-life, articulately written, and unapologetically candid.

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Click on the cover to purchase. Also available in Kindle format.

Click on the cover to purchase. Also available in Kindle format.

Book description: Paul Monette grew up all-American, Catholic, overachieving . . . and closeted. As a child of the 1950s, a time when a kid suspected of being a “homo” would routinely be beaten up, Monette kept his secret throughout his adolescence. He wrestled with his sexuality for the first thirty years of his life, priding himself on his ability to “pass” for straight. The story of his journey to adulthood and to self-acceptance with grace and honesty, this intimate portrait of a young man’s struggle with his own desires is witty, humorous, and deeply felt.

About the author: In novels, poetry, and a memoir, Paul Monette wrote about gay men striving to fashion personal identities and, later, coping with the loss of a lover to AIDS.

Monette was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1945. He was educated at prestigious schools in New England: Phillips Andover Academy and Yale University, where he received his B.A. in 1967. He began his prolific writing career soon after graduating from Yale. For eight years, he wrote poetry exclusively.

After coming out in his late twenties, he met Roger Horwitz, who was to be his lover for over twenty years. Also during his late twenties, he grew disillusioned with poetry and shifted his interest to the novel, not to return to poetry until the 1980s.

In 1977, Monette and Horwitz moved to Los Angeles. Once in Hollywood, Monette wrote a number of screenplays that, though never produced, provided him the means to be a writer. Monette published four novels between 1978 and 1982. These novels were enormously successful and established his career as a writer of popular fiction. He also wrote several novelizations of films.

Monette’s life changed dramatically when Roger Horwitz was diagnosed with AIDS in the early 1980s. After Horwitz’s death in 1986, Monette wrote extensively about the years of their battles with AIDS (Borrowed Time, 1988) and how he himself coped with losing a lover to AIDS (Love Alone, 1988). These works are two of the most powerful accounts written about AIDS thus far.

Their publication catapulted Monette into the national arena as a spokesperson for AIDS. Along with fellow writer Larry Kramer, he emerged as one of the most familiar and outspoken AIDS activists of our time. Since very few out gay men have had the opportunity to address national issues in mainstream venues at any previous time in U.S. history, Monette’s high-visibility profile was one of his most significant achievements. He went on to write two important novels about AIDS, Afterlife (1990) and Halfway Home (1991). He himself died of AIDS-related complications in 1995.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

I was in the mood for a gay non-fiction story this week, and so I went looking. One would think that with all that is currently happening, there would be a dearth of non-fiction stories, but no. However, I did come across Paul Monette’s perennial Becoming a Man: Half a Life [Open Road Media, March 25, 2014]. It is a re-release of an earlier 1992 version, but since it is set in the 1950s and 60s—and biographical—it is still a relevant read.

Almost all gay men can relate to Monette’s story, as witness the number of reviews (the majority by men) that start out: “I could identify with so much of Monette’s feelings…” or “Coming of age in the fifties, Paul Monette lived a life that, in a sense, paralleled my own as I too am a child of the fifties.”

To these reminiscences I can add my own, for I too came out in the 1950s. Moreover, I too lucked out by having an older, well-established and highly-regarded man take me under his wing, to teach me that if you aim for the chimney pots you will reach the window sills, but if you aim for the stars you will reach the chimney pots.

I must say, however, that my life was not quite so unapologetically dramatic as Monette’s. Yes, like Monette, I instinctively realized that I had an attraction to men before I knew what sex was about, and yes, I quickly learned it was wrong; but only because the Church and my mother said so.

I also learned to keep it to myself at high school, and I was sometimes teased on account of ‘being different,’ but it never got worse than that. In fact, I was more likely to quietly sought out than bullied.

Nonetheless, I do parallel him again as soon as I got out into the working world, where keeping your mouth shut about your sexuality was part of keeping your job. Likewise, ‘playin la game’ (i.e. dating, and living the straight life) was expected—not so much for yourself as others.

Monette is brutally candid when it comes to this aspect, as well as other aspects of his life. Nothing, including an incident of pedophilia, is held back; however, not once did I get the impression he was looking for forgiveness or sensationalism. It was just as it had happened with nothing held back.

One aspect that I could have been happy with a little less of was his self-analysis; particularly of his younger years. Perhaps this is because I try to never analyze myself at any stage, and in this regard I think he should have stuck more to the facts. After all, many of the things he dwelt on carried their own explanation.

This is a fascinating story of one man’s life (half life), articulately written, and unapologetically candid. Recommended, four bees.

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July 14, 2014 Posted by | AIDS, biography, Gay non-fiction, Memoir, Non-fiction, Paul Monette | Leave a comment

The Forgotten Founders: Rethinking The History Of The Old West, by Stewart L. Udall (Author), David Emmons (Foreword)

“ The real story of the settlement of the West was work, not conquest” ~ Stewart Udall.

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forgotten founders - coverStory blurb: This book by distinguished author, Stewart Udall, takes on what he calls “the harmful myths about western U.S. history,” myths that put the wrong people (fur traders and gold miners) and the wrong subjects (“Manifest Destiny” and armed violence) at the center of the history of the Old West. With a lively and sometimes personal take, he wants us to replace old folk tales with “reality”-with the known stories of a greater diversity of men and women, natives and newcomers, who gave the West its distinctive character. Udall is particularly compelling when writing of his own and his wife’s great-grandparents, among whom was the Mormon who led the infamous Mountain Meadow Massacre of 1857. Unfortunately, this only tends to replace one set of “heroes” with another, “the forgotten founders” who take center stage here only as strong, religious, fearless, hard-working folk without shortcomings. The trappers, miners and politicians who did in fact play a role in the West are elbowed almost totally out of the picture. Nevertheless, Udall’s version of the West’s past fits well with recent scholarly views, and many who read this book because of its author’s renown will gain solid knowledge and much pleasure. Maps, photos. ~ Legends of America.

About the author: Stewart Lee Udall (January 31, 1920 – March 20, 2010)[1][2] was an American politician and later, a federal government official. After serving three terms as a congressman from Arizona, he served as Secretary of the Interior from 1961 to 1969, under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

His previous books include: The Quiet Crisis, 1963; 1976: Agenda for Tomorrow, 1968; America’s Natural Treasures: National Nature Monuments and Seashores, 1971; To the Inland Empire: Coronado and our Spanish Legacy, 1987; The Quiet Crisis and the Next Generation, 1988; In Coronado’s Footsteps, 1991; The Myths of August:–A Personal Exploration of Our tragic Cold War Affair with the Atom, 1994; Majestic Journey, 1995.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Although published in 2002, I chose Forgotten Founders: Rethinking the History of the Old West by Stewart Udall [Island Press; 1 edition, September 1, 2002] because it so closely parallels my own thinking regarding the settlement of both U.S.A. and Canada. Indeed, Udall could be speaking for me when he writes:

“A shortcoming of histories that concentrate on broad outlines of events is the absence of human faces and stories of ordinary folk that would reveal what animated individuals and families and indicate the experiences they had. Yet only by considering individual human experience can we begin to develop a sense of what these men and women faced and an idea of the magnitude of their achievements.” p. 37.

And again at page 135 where he quotes Thomas Jefferson, probably one of the great populists of all time, i.e.

“Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country, and wedded to its liberty and interests, by the most lasting bonds.”

He also credits religion as being one of the founding forces, a point on which I have some misgivings, but nonetheless it cannot be denied that in the 19th century it formed the spiritual heart of most communities, and in many cases the vanguard as well.

Most particularly, however, Udall downplays such historical stereotypes as Lewis and Clark and the fur traders, as well as the 49ers as having little enduring impact on frontier development. He also downplays the importance of mining, ranching and other large-scale activities after the needs of the Civil War were met. Moreover, he is critical of the U.S. Military’s campaign to “pacifying” the Indians, pointing repeatedly to their unjust and callous treatment, as well as that of Chinese immigrants in the early history of the West. He also dismisses dime novel and Hollywood-created legends, such as “Butch” Cassidy and Billy the Kid, as “transitive outliers.”

Udall’s point is that we have replaced the true heroes of the West with straw men, the romanticized creations of pulp novels and Saturday-afternoon movies, and that this is what has prevailed to the detriment of those who might have benefited from emulating the pioneer work ethic.

All of this I agree with almost uncategorically. However, Udall’s thesis is not without its overreaching assumptions and journalistic hyperbole. For example, the 49ers may have been an influx of opportunists flocking to the most “hare-brained ventures” in history (132), but of these many stayed to homestead in California and elsewhere. Likewise, miners lured to the prosperous discoveries went on to establish towns and cities that exist today. Therefore, they too form part of the faceless heroes who collectively settled the West.

Nonetheless, it is one of those books that needs to be read to truly understand the ying and yang of North American settlement. Four bees.

*Available from Legends of America Bookstore for $6.47 (basic).

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April 20, 2014 Posted by | Academic study, American History, Non-fiction, non-GLBT | Leave a comment

White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America, by Don Jordan, Michael Walsh

The ‘lost slaves’ of history brought to the fore by two distinguished journalists. A truly fascinating read.

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white cargo - coverStory blurb: White Cargo is the forgotten story of the thousands of Britons who lived and died in bondage in Britain’s American colonies.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, more than 300,000 white people were shipped to America as slaves. Urchins were swept up from London’s streets to labor in the tobacco fields, where life expectancy was no more than two years. Brothels were raided to provide “breeders” for Virginia. Hopeful migrants were duped into signing as indentured servants, unaware they would become personal property who could be bought, sold, and even gambled away. Transported convicts were paraded for sale like livestock.

Drawing on letters crying for help, diaries, and court and government archives, Don Jordan and Michael Walsh demonstrate that the brutalities usually associated with black slavery alone were perpetrated on whites throughout British rule. The trade ended with American independence, but the British still tried to sell convicts in their former colonies, which prompted one of the most audacious plots in Anglo-American history.

This is a saga of exploration and cruelty spanning 170 years that has been submerged under the overwhelming memory of black slavery. White Cargo brings the brutal, uncomfortable story to the surface.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Yes, I know, today is St. Patrick’s Day: a day when we celebrate an Irish saint who was born in Rome, who wore blue (not green), and who didn’t really drive all the snakes out of Ireland because there weren’t any to begin with. However, green beer and silliness aside, the history of Ireland and its people has been (unfortunately) far from celebratory, and Don Jordan and Michael Walsh (two distinguished journalists) have brought yet another dark chapter to light in their  extensively-researched book, White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America [NYU Press, March 8, 2008].

white cargo - prisonersI first became aware of “white slavery” when I was reviewing The Naked Quaker: True Crimes and Controversies from the Courts of Colonial New England, by Diane Rapaport, and in it she cited the case of two Irish lads (11 and perhaps 14) who were kidnapped from their beds and brought to Massachusetts as indentured “servants.”  They were sold to a magistrate to work on his estate, and some years later they appealed to the court (on which their master sat) for relief from their servitude. They lost.

Thereafter, I mentioned this case to several people who were utterly shocked that such a thing could happen.

But happen it did, and in great numbers. It began when James I sold 30,000 prisoners to the American colonies as slaves, and in 1625 he proclaimed that Irish political prisoners were to be transported to the West Indies. Therefore, by the mid 1600s Irish slaves amounted to 70% of the population of Montserrat. Moreover, in the early days of slavery in the New England colonies, the majority of slaves were actually white.

white cargo - slave adIreland was the main source. In the decade following the failed Irish Rebellion of 1641, it is estimated that 300,000 Irish rebels were sold as slaves, and thereafter 100,000 children between the ages of 10 to 14 were taken from their parents, 52,000 (mostly women and children) were sold, and 32,000 men and boys went to the highest bidder in slave market from the West Indies, to Virginia and New England.

The African slave trade was just beginning during this period, and African slaves were therefore more expensive, i.e. £50 sterling (compared to £5 sterling), and so white slaves were often treated more harshly than the other. Moreover, it was quite legal for Blacks and Indians to own white slaves. In fact, the practice became so prevalent that the Virginia Assembly passed a law prohibiting it, i.e. “It is enacted that noe negro or Indian though baptized and enjoyned their owne freedome shall be capable of any such purchase of christians…” ~ Statutes of the Virginia Assembly, Vol. 2, pp. 280-81.

This is a fascinating read with enough research to make it reliable, but written in a journalist’s easy-to-read fashion. Highly recommended. Five bees.

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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 people, facts and events in Canadian history, and includes a bibliography of interesting Canadian books as well. Latest post: Today’s history curriculum is “bound for boredom” ~ Bill Bigelow

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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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March 17, 2014 Posted by | American History, Historical period, Non-fiction, non-GLBT | Leave a comment

The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men, by Christina Hoff Sommers

An absolute must read for every man, woman and parent who wishes to see their children grow into healthy, well adjusted beings.

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the war against boys - coverBlurb: Despite popular belief, American boys tag behind girls in reading and writing ability, and they are less likely to go to college. Our young men are greatly at risk, yet the best-known studies and experts insist that it’s girls who are in need of our attention. The highly publicized “girl crisis” has led to many changes in American schools, politics, and parenting…but at what cost?

In this provocative book, Christina Hoff Sommers argues that our society has continued to overemphasize the troubles of girls while our boys suffer from the same self-esteem and academic problems. Boys need help, but not the sort of help they’ve been getting.

About the author: Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise institute in Washington, D.C. She has a PhD in philosophy from Brandeis University and was formerly a professor of philosophy at Clark University. Sommers has written for numerous publications and is the author of Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women. She is married with two sons and lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

I have been lamenting, of late, that men are being regularly emasculated in most radio and television ads to an extent that would not be tolerated if the same thing were happening to women. In fact, “Advertisers degrade men about 19 times more often than women, and usually to a higher degree,” says the National Coalition for Men. Given the insidious nature of advertising, and the fact that such ads are not only ubiquitous, but are also repeated hundreds of times a day, it amounts to a subtle form of social brainwashing.

To some extent, and perhaps at a more insidious level, this ‘brainwashing’ is what Christina Hoff Sommers is getting at in her book The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men [Simon & Schuster; Reissue edition, August 20, 2013]. In it, she addresses the very real problem of boys failing or dropping out of a school system that is, intentionally or unintentionally, biased toward girls. The rationale is often couched in terms of ‘equal opportunity,’ but as Sommers points out there is a marked difference between ‘feminist equality’ and ‘feminist gender’.

male bashing feministsIn one of the more blatant examples, she describes in some detail how seventh-grade boys are told they will grow up to be abusers, even rapists. It is the sort of thing that men’s rights advocate, Warren Farrell, planned to talk about at the University of Toronto in December 2010, i.e. “the crisis among boys and how they were not doing well educationally,” when he was shouted down by about 100 feminists—as reported by Toronto Sun Newspaper columnist, Michael Coren:

There were around 100 of these fanatics, at the university before he spoke, ripping down posters, threatening and insulting anybody who tried to attend the lecture, and explaining as only heavily funded students can do, “You should be f—ing ashamed of yourself, you f—ing scum” to those with whom they disagreed. There is ample video evidence. ~ “Shrill backlash to men’s rights advocate,” December 8th, 2012.

Specifically, Sommers points out (with statistical verification) that girls tend to receive more academic attention, and go on to higher education in greater numbers than boys—even if feminists claim the opposite. The squeaky wheel gets the oil, after all, and complacency doesn’t grab headlines.

She also posits that boys are being feminized by discouraging traditionally masculine play, like physical competition and rough-housing, etc., for more feminine or unisex games. Moreover, this is being carried into the classroom by the choice of books like Jane Eyre, as apposed to more male oriented stories. Ergo, in terms of literacy, boys are being turned-off reading for lack of interest.

As a possible solution, Sommers suggests that boys would do better in a segregated system with other boys. It is not a new idea, England has had exclusive boys’ school for centuries. Moreover, private schools—such as St. Andrews College in Aurora, Ontario (Est. 1899), and Upper Canada College in Toronto (Est. 1829)—have both operated along this line for over a century with outstanding results.

Some people may feel intimidated by the title, i.e. the ‘war’* against boys, but to me it is quite appropriate. War has been declared, and is being waged against both boys and men, but it is only now that men are beginning to wake up to the fact. It is ironic, therefore, that it took a feminist—albeit an objective one—to sound the alarm.

An absolute must read for every man, woman and parent who wishes to see their children grow into healthy, well adjusted beings. Five bees.

*For those who still feel ‘war’ is too strong a term, see:Men’s rights under fire,” ~ Toronto Sun  Newspaper, February 7, 2014.

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Viewers to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 63,414

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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 post:  Norman Lee (1862 – 1939): The Klondike Cattle Drive.

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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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February 10, 2014 Posted by | Academic study, bias in education, Christina Hoff Sommers, Feminism, Non-fiction | Leave a comment

Fish: A Memoir of a Boy in a Man’s Prison, by T.J. Parsell

A fascinating read…

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fish - coverStory blurb: When seventeen-year-old T.J. Parsell held up the local Photo Mat with a toy gun, he was sentenced to four and a half to fifteen years in prison. The first night of his term, four older inmates drugged Parsell and took turns raping him. When they were through, they flipped a coin to decide who would “own” him. Forced to remain silent about his rape by a convict code among inmates (one in which informers are murdered), Parsell’s experience that first night haunted him throughout the rest of his sentence.

In an effort to silence the guilt and pain of its victims, the issue of prisoner rape is a story that has not been told. For the first time Parsell, one of America’s leading spokespeople for prison reform, shares the story of his coming of age behind bars. He gives voice to countless others who have been exposed to an incarceration system that turns a blind eye to the abuse of the prisoners in its charge. Since life behind bars is so often exploited by television and movie re-enactments, the real story has yet to be told. Fish is the first breakout story to do that.

About the author: T.J. Parsell is a writer and human rights activist dedicated to ending sexual abuse against men, women and children in all forms of detention. He is currently President-elect of Stop Prisoner Rape and serves as a consultant to the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission. Parsell has testified before numerous government bodies and was instrumental in passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, the first ever federal legislation to address this issue. He lives in Amagansett, NY.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Non-fiction books seem popular among the viewers, and so this week I have chosen one that is somewhat different. Fish: A Memoir of a Boy in a Man’s Prison by T.J. Parsell [Da Capo Press, November 2, 2006], is described as a memoir, but for the most part it reads like a coming out story.

It is not a pleasant recollection at times, although here, once again, there is a dichotomy. While prison life is brutal, the rape scenes especially, at times there seems to be a measure of relish involved.

The memoir part describes how the author as a 17 y.o entered the prison system, and what he encountered on the first night and onward. Raped by five men, and then ‘won’ in a lottery by one of them, it is a brutally frank story that pulls no punches. Indeed, the raw sexual activity, graphically described, dominates the first two-thirds of the book. [See my discussion on this point, below.]

The coming out part involves the discovery of his own sexuality, and the evolution of a romantic side to all the sex. It also leads, ultimately, to a happy ending.

Critically speaking, the overall story is both intriguing and revealing; however, the sexual activity in the first part is somewhat overwhelming—almost to the point of being super-saturating. Of course, one can argue that this is the way it happened, and you can’t second guess fact; nevertheless, a little less graphic description might have alleviated the super-saturation.

Which brings us around to editing. Oh, my! One reviewer speculated that an unedited version might have somehow made it to the printer, and if this is the case it would explain the inordinate number of typos, malapropisms, and otherwise obvious faux pas.

Taking all this into consideration, I still think it is a fascinating read. Three and one-half bees.

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Views at Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 61,716

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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 post:  Tom Longboat: A Canadian long distance running sensation.

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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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January 13, 2014 Posted by | by T.J. Parsell, male rape, Non-fiction, prison story | Leave a comment

Some Canadian Christmas Selections

This book is on order but hasn’t arrived as yet. However, I do want to include some Canadian Christmas books while there is still time to order. I will add a review as soon as it arrives.

canadian christmas traditionsa - cover

Canadian Christmas Traditions (Amazing Stories) by DeeAnn Mandryk

Included in this book are 28 traditional recipes by Chef Jeff O’Neill, showcasing Canada’s multicultural heritage, plus a special section of 18 Christmas recipes from across the country, highlighting Canada’s regional diversity. The origin of a Canadian Christmas is a fascinating blend of different traditions and festivities. The stories behind the celebration originate from around the world, and paint a wonderful picture of a season of joy, faith, superstition, and celebration stretching back over thousands of years.

Note: Amazon only carries a hardcover edition of this book for a very expensive price. However it is available in e-book format for $7.95 CAD from the publisher, James Lorimer & Co.

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Here is another Canadian Christmas selection:

christmas in canada - cover

Christmas in Canada: A Collection of Heartwarming Legends, Tales and Traditions (Amazing Stories) by Megan Dumford

“But even as the darkness and chill settle in, there is a glimmer of hope, a feeling of growing excitement. For the start of winter also means the beginning of the Christmas season, a time of celebration that goes back to the earliest days of Canadian settlement and far beyond.” This book contains selections from the following Amazing Stories: Christmas in Atlantic Canada, Christmas in Quebec, Christmas in Ontario, Christmas in the Prairies, and Christmas in British Columbia Christmas is a time for celebrating with friends and family and for sharing stories, memories, and good cheer. This compilation brings to life the very best holiday stories from across Canada. From the early days of exploration to the modern day, and from heartwarming inspirational tales to dangerous escapades, this is a collection to treasure for many years to come.

 

It is only available as a hardcover edition from James Lorimer & Co. as well.

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christmas in Ontario - coverAlso, see my review of Christmas in Ontario: Heartwarming Legends, Tales and Traditions (Amazing Stories) by Cheryl MacDonald

“Every year, he put on the red Santa suit. Every year, there were more sick and needy children to attend to. And every year, as word of his activity spread, Jimmy collected more money and gifts to distribute.” This book will be especially fascinating for all readers interested in: history and human interest stories. Christmas is a time for celebrating with friends and family and for sharing stories, memories, and good cheer. This compilation brings to life the very best holiday stories from across Ontario. From the early days of exploration to the modern day, and from heartwarming inspirational tales to dangerous escapades, this is a collection to treasure for many years to come.

Available in e-pub format, James Lorimer & Co.

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Also see my review of To Every Thing There Is a Season: A Cape Breton Christmas Story

to everything - coverThe story is simple, seen through the eyes of an 11-year-old boy. As an adult he remembers the way things were back home on the farm on the west coast of Cape Breton. The time was the 1940s, but the hens and the cows and the pigs and the sheep and the horse made it seem ancient. The family of six children excitedly waits for Christmas and two-year-old Kenneth, who liked Halloween a lot, asks, “Who are you going to dress up as at Christmas? I think I’ll be a snowman.” They wait especially for their oldest brother, Neil, working on “the Lake boats” in Ontario, who sends intriguing packages of “clothes” back for Christmas. On Christmas Eve he arrives, to the delight of his young siblings, and shoes the horse before taking them by sleigh through the woods to the nearby church. The adults, including the narrator for the first time, sit up late to play the gift-wrapping role of Santa Claus.

The story is simple, short and sweet, but with a foretaste of sorrow. Not a word is out of place. Matching and enhancing the text are black and white illustrations by Peter Rankin, making this book a perfect little gift.

Available in ebook format from McClelland and Steward

Do have a very Merry Christmas!

December 17, 2013 Posted by | Canadian Christmas Stories, non GBLT, Non-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.

christmas promo - TIL - green    christmas promo - NATTchristmas promo - TIL paperback

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

Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two, by Allan Bérubé

 

Edition of Gerry B’s Book Reviews

 

  

Some interesting facts

  • Remembrance Day was originally known as “Armistice Day”
  • In Canada it became Remembrance Day by Act of Parliament in 1931.
  • It is known by our neighbours and allies to the south as “Veteran’s Day”.
  • The poppy is the symbol that individuals use to show that they remember those who fought and died in the service of their country.
  • The idea of the poppy originated with the 1915 poem “In Flanders Field” by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian Medical Officer in the First World War. His poem reflects his first hand account of what he witnessed while working from a dressing station on the bank of the Yser Canal.
  • An American woman, Moina Michael, was the first person known to have worn a poppy in remembrance.

If you never read another historical account of this era, read this one! Outstanding!

  

coming out under fire - coverStory blurb: This major study chronicles the struggle of homosexuals in the U.S. military during WW II who found themselves fighting on two fronts: against the Axis and against their own authorities who took extreme measures to stigmatize them as unfit to serve their country. From 1941 to 1945, more than 9000 gay servicemen and women purportedly were diagnosed as sexual psychopaths and given “undesirable” discharges. Based on documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, augmented by 75 interviews with gay male and female veterans, social historian Berube recounts the purges in the military into the Cold War era when homosexuality was officially equated with sin, crime and sickness. The book reveals that the first public challenge to the military’s policy came not from the gay-rights movement but from military psychiatrists who studied gay servicemen and women during World War II. This evenhanded study brings into sharp focus an important chapter in American social history.

About the author: Allan Ronald Bérubé (December 3, 1946 – December 11, 2007) was an American historian, activist,independent scholar, self-described “community-based” researcher and college drop-out, and award-winning author, best known for his research and writing about homosexual members of the American Armed Forces during World War II He also wrote essays about the intersection of class and race in gay culture, and about growing up in a poor, working class family, his French-Canadian roots, and about his experience of anti-AIDS activism.

Coming Out Under Fire earned Bérubé the Lambda Literary Award for outstanding Gay Men’s Nonfiction book of 1990 and was later adapted as a film in 1994, narrated by Salome Jens and Max Cole, with a screenplay by Bérubé and the film’s director, Arthur Dong. The film received a Peabody Award for excellence in documentary media in 1995. Bérubé received a MacArthur Fellowship (often called the “genius grant”) from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 1996. He received a Rockefeller grant from the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in 1994 to research a book on the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union, and he was working on this book at the time of his death. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Review by Gerry Burnie

If I were asked to design a definitive course on the history of Gays and Lesbians in North America, I would include three books  as required reading: Gay  American History, by  Jonathon Katz; From  the Closet to the Courtroom, by  Carlos Ball; and Coming out Under Fire, by  Allan Bérubé [Free Press, 1990]. Moreover, I think the students would thank me afterward  for choosing books that are authoritative, informative and relatively easy to  read.

For me personally, Allan Bérubé’s seminal work represents an eye-opener like few others I have read. Indeed, I was moved from profound sadness to outright rage when I learned the systematic
persecution that these innocent men and women had to endure in the service of their country. That, perhaps, is the greatest benefit that this retrospective can provide, for those who cannot
remember the past are condemned to repeat it
.

The following is a précis of Bérubé’s thesis, but it is by no means complete or in depth. To really appreciate the full story of coming out under fire I urge you to read the original.

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When the  war clouds started to descend over Europe in the 1930s the United States  military did not exceed two hundred thousand soldiers, and so to overcome this Congress  passed the nation’s first peacetime conscription act. Consequently, conscripts began to fill the Army’s ranks in astonishing numbers (16 million in 1940-41).

With so many men available, the armed forces decided to exclude certain groups, including women, blacks, and—following  the advice of psychiatrists—homosexuals (although this term was not yet widely used).  Traditionally the military had  never officially excluded homosexuals, but in World War II a dramatic change occurred.  Seeing a chance to advance their prestige, influence, and legitimacy of their  profession, psychiatrists promoted screening as a means of reducing psychiatric casualties before they became military responsibilities.

In 1941, therefore, the Army issued a  directive which disqualified “homosexual proclivities” as a “psychopathic personality  disorder.”  This was in keeping with the  prevailing belief that homosexuality was a neurological disorder—i.e. the first  signs of a brain-disease caused by heredity, trauma, or bad habits such as  masturbation, drunkenness and drug addiction.

Moreover, the military encased this  idea in “characteristics that were considered inferior or “degenerative” by  virtue of their deviation from the generally white, middle-class, and
native-born norm.” (Location 536).

“The  framers of the Army’s interwar physical standards listed feminine  characteristics among the “stigmata of degeneration” that made a man unfit for  military service. Males with a “degenerative physique,” the regulation explained,  “may present the general body conformation of the opposite sex, with sloping  narrow shoulders, broad hips, excessive pectoral and public adipose [fat]  deposits, with lack of masculine hirsute [hair] and muscular markings.”” (Location 536).

Bérubé then goes on to explain, “The  reason for excluding these as psychopaths was that, like other men in this “wastebasket”  category, they were considered to be irresponsible troublemakers who were  unable to control their desires or learn from their mistakes and thus  threatened the other men.” (Location 568).

To make matters worse, this sort of quackery  was widely promulgated in training seminars for recruiters and physicians  throughout the United States, and even published in medical journals for wider  distribution.

On the other hand, because of women’s marginal status in the military prior to WWII, neither the Army nor the Navy had developed policies and procedures concerning lesbians. Therefore, women
recruits were never asked the homosexual question, and were therefore able to enter the military undetected.

After Pearl Harbor was bombed, however, the rules were relaxed to accommodate the demands of war, and the military was forced to accept and integrate most gay selectees. In fact, it was privately  acknowledged that gay men had become vital members of the armed forces. Moreover, the gay recruits found ways to fit in and even to form close and lasting relationships with “buddies.”

Sexual activity was at a minimum until the recruits learned the rules, and then discrete opportunities could be found where there was a will.

“Not all trainees who approached other men for sex were gay. Heterosexual recruits who had had the most sexual experience with women or who felt strong sex drives could initiate sex without being afraid that they were queer, especially if their partner was gay and played the “passive” role. Teenage recruits who were just fooling around with each other, especially if they had been drinking, found themselves unexpectedly becoming sexual. Some older soldiers with more sexual experience in the military taught younger men how to have sex without getting caught. On the other hand, recruits who knew they were gay before entering the service were sometimes the most reluctant to have sex.” (Location 1103).

Meanwhile, Army and Navy officials struggled with how to manage the homosexual behaviour, and several approaches were developed. When challenged from the outside, particularly by concerned
parents or clergy, their public stance was to condemn behaviour considered to be immoral in the wider culture, including  profanity, drunkenness, erotic pictures, extramarital sex, lesbianism, homosexuality, and prostitution. Within the organization, however, military officials took a more understanding approach—forced into it by the need to hang onto trained personnel.

Trainees usually learned on their own how to put up with one another’s differences in order to get through basic training. They also received pleas for tolerance from the war propaganda which
portrayed American soldiers as defending the ideals of democracy, equality, and freedom against the totalitarian Axis. But inspired more by necessity than idealism, male trainees responded to the demands of basic training by developing their own pragmatic ethic of tolerance: “I won’t bother you if you don’t bother me.”

One of the areas where blatant effeminacy was tolerated—even applauded—was in the “all-soldier variety show.” These began as a diversion, but soon became a popular form of frontline entertainment even under fire. These were all-male shows to entertain each other that almost always  featured female impersonation, and coincidentally provided a temporary refuge for gay males to let their hair down and entertain their fellows.

“The impulse to put on shows and perform in dresses generally came from the men themselves—soldiers without women, as well as gay men, had long traditions of spontaneously dressing up in women’s clothes. But during World War II, the military officials, pressured by GIs, their own morale personnel, and leaders in the civilian theatre world …found themselves not only tolerating makeshift drag but officially promoting female impersonation.” (Location 1677).

In 1941, strained by the demands of a massive war mobilization that included a large influx of gay soldiers, the military could no longer handle its homosexual discipline problems by sending all offenders to prison as required by the Articles of War.[1] Therefore, based on the belief that homosexuality was a mental illness, there was a concerted effort to discharge homosexuals without trial while retaining those whose services were deemed essential. However, this policy ran contrary to the common law that held homosexuality as “an infamous and unspeakable crime against nature,” and that the military had a responsibility “to prevent such crimes with severe punishment
and to protect the morals of the nation’s young people under their jurisdiction.”

Underlying all this was a sort of political upmanship among various factions of the military bureaucracy. For example, having sodomites released into the care of psychiatrists would greatly enhance the standing of psychiatry as a legitimate science, and for their part the generals resented the  interference of the legals in the Judge Advocate’s office. Therefore, the unfortunate men and women awaiting jusice were helplessly caught somewhere in the middle.

There was also the question of what sort of discharge would apply–i.e. honourable medical discharge or dishonourable? An honourable discharge, it was argued, might lead to homosexual activity or declaration in order to escape compulsory service. Dishonourable discharge (so-called “section eights” or “blue cards”), on the other hand, were generally used only for men who had been convicted of a crime and who had served their sentences. These had been used successfully to eliminate social misfits–alcoholics, chronic liars, drug addicts, men who antagonised everyone—but technically did not include homosexuals. In the end (1943), however, the military issued a directive that steered a compromise inasmuch as sodomy was still deemed a criminal offence, but it allowed for an exception where force or violence had not been used. These individuals would be examined by a board of officers “with the purpose of discharge under the provisions of Section Eight.

It was intended as a more humane way of dealing with “offenders” but, as gay men and women would soon find out, it was fraught with difficulties of its own.

As officers began to discharge homosexuals as undesirables, the gay GIs who were their targets had to learn how to defend themselves in psychiatrists’ offices, discharge hearing rooms, hospital wards, and in “queer stockades.” There they were interrogated about their sex lives, locked up, physically abused, and subjected to systematic humiliations in front of other soldiers.

“The discharge system could drag any GI whose homosexuality became known or even suspected into seemingly endless maze of unexpected humiliations and punishments. Some gay male and lesbian GIs first entered the maze when they voluntarily declared their homosexuality, fully expecting to be hospitalized
and discharged. But others, following the advice in basic training lectures to talk over their problems with a doctor, psychiatrist, or chaplain, were shocked when medical officers betrayed their confidences by reporting them for punitive action ad “self-confessed” homosexuals, or were disappointed and frustrated when more sympathetic psychiatrists could not help them at all. Caught during their processing for discharge in battles between friendly and hostile officers, they found themselves thrown around like footballs in a game over which they had no control.”
(Location 4442).

Nor were things to improve when they were returned home to civilian life. Gay veterans with “blue” or undesirable discharges where stripped of his service medals, rank, and uniform, then given a one-way ticket home where they had to report to their draft board to present their discharge papers. The stigma attached to these discharges was not an accident. Rather, it was intended to punish homosexuals and prevent malingering, and the requirement that the GI report to his draft board ensured that his community would find out the nature of his discharge. Therefore, they were forced to come out to their families and communities. Wherever blue-discharge veterans lived, employers, schools, insurance companies, veterans’ organizations, and other institutions could  use their bad discharge papers to discriminate against them.

One of the most vindictive punishments meted out to these veterans was the denial of GI benefits that included federally subsidized home loans; college loans with allowances for subsistence, tuition, and books; unemployment allowances; job training and placement programs; disability pensions and hospital care. Top officials at the Veterans Administration were responsible for this denial, contrary to Army policy and Congress, but nonetheless the VA refused to drop its anti-homosexual prohibition. Consequently, many blue-discharge veterans found it difficult (impossible) to find employment, and when they applied for unemployment insurance, or small
business loans, or college assistance, they were denied in a Catch-22 situation.

One of the side effects of this discrimination was that having survived fear and death on the battlefield, some gay combat veterans began to cast off the veil of secrecy that so seriously
constrained their lives. For them, “coming out” to family and friends was not nearly as terrifying as facing the enemy in battle. Moreover, the popular press began to take notice of the blue-ticket discharges, and their plight, and started to publish columns on the “Homosexual Minorities,” characterizing them as “anther minority which suffers from its position in society in somewhat the same way as the Jews and Negroes.”

Unfortunately, this period of ‘liberal’ attitude was short-lived, for in the late 1940s a preoccupation with conformity brought a fearful scapegoating of those who deviated from a narrow idea of the
nuclear family and the American way of life. However, you will have to read this most remarkable book to learn the outcome of this.

***

What I have included above only covers a small portion of this fascinating, sometimes heart rending, story. If you never read another history of this period, I urge you to read this one. Five Bees, and if I could give ten I would!


[1]
Under the Articles of War, the maximum penalties for Army enlisted men and
officers convicted of sodomy were five years confinement at hard labour,
forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and dishonourable discharge or dismissal.
Under the Articles for the Navy, the maximum penalties for enlisted men were
same but with ten years of confinement at hard labour.

News

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To order any of my books, click on the cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are now available in Kindle and Nook formats. The publisher’s price is $4.95 exclusive of tax where applicable.

       

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November 11, 2013 Posted by | Coming out, Gay documentary, Gay Literature, Gay non-fiction, Historical period, Military history, Non-fiction | 3 Comments

Older Man Younger Man: A Love Story, by Joseph Dispenza

A break through topic, a mentor’s example, and a good news story rolled into one.

 

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older man younger man - cover“Older Man/Younger Man” is a memoir of the relationship between a middle-aged man and a man thirty years his junior, from their first meeting, through the challenges of living together across a wide age-gap, to a climactic confession of shame and regret, the terror of loss from a life-threatening disease—and, ultimately, the triumph of love. This is a passionate, bittersweet story of a powerful love that transcends gender, bridges generations, defies convention, and brings to the partners the richness of spiritual fulfillment.

The relationship between an older man and a younger man is one of the last taboos left in our culture’s sexual closet. “Older Man/Younger Man” is the first book to address an inter-generational gay male relationship as a path of spiritual redemption.

What makes this book unique and special is its presentation of the pairing between an older man and a much younger man as a healthy, successful relationship and as a spiritual journey.

♣♣♣

Review by Gerry Burnie

I grew up in a rural community of less than one thousand inhabitants, where everyone knew everyone back to their second-great grandfather, and where the first question asked was always, “What will the neighbours think?” Moreover, I too have had lovers who were decades younger than myself, and so I can relate in several ways to Joseph Dispenza’s personal memoirs in Older Man Younger Man [Sept 2011].

A  personal- experience book of this nature is tricky write, for it has to straddle a narrow line between self indulgence and ‘author as example.’ Dispenza does this fairly well, with only a few examples of overworking certain parts with personal detail: such as the bathroom regimen preceding the detection of prostate cancer. Nevertheless, I can well understand how such a traumatic discovery would stand out in one’s mind.

One of the aspects of Older Man Younger Man to which I could particularly relate was the first introduction of the other to parents, relatives, and/or friends. Almost invariably this is an awkward time of ‘double whammy’: Your friend/partner/lover is male, gay, and also young enough to be your son—or father, as the case may be.

After this it is the ‘smirky’ looks of strangers and certain business associate until everyone gets used to it.

All of these Despenza and his partner experienced, but the rather cool part is that he doesn’t dwell on them. Yes, age differentiation is a regrettable part of an older/younger relationship, but Dispenza chose to talk more about the ordinary routines of living together, and the joys and challenges that entails.

While it is a fascinating story, well written, and insightful to read, it is difficult to categorize. It is a break through topic of sorts (inasmuch as there are few older-perspective, gay stories out there); it is a mentor’s example for those faced with a similar situation; and it is a good news saga because love prevails in the end. Take your pick. Four and one-half bees.

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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 post:  Benedict Arnold – A Canadian Connection.

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In spite of worldwide condemnation, GBLT individuals are still suffering mental and physical abuse in Russia. Please do whatever you can to protest the Sochi 2014 Olympics by boycotting the sponsors: Coca Cola, Samsung, MacDonald’s, Visa, etc. Yours may only be one voice, but if you speak out others will join you.

boycott sponsors

 

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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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Notice to all those who have requested a book review

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September 30, 2013 Posted by | Gay romance, Memoir, Non-fiction, Older/younger relationships | Leave a comment

A World Ago: A Navy Man’s Letters Home (1954-1956)

“It’s not often one has the chance to become 20 again…”

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A world ago - coverStory blurb: A World Ago chronicles, through one young man’s journal and vivid letters to his parents, his life, adventures, and experiences at a magical time. It follows him from being a Naval Aviation Cadet to becoming a “regular” sailor aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga on an eight-month tour of duty in the politically tense Mediterranean Sea.

Learn to fly a plane, to soar, alone, through a valley of clouds, experience a narrow escape from death on a night training flight, and receive the continent of Europe as a 21st birthday gift. Climb down into the crater of Mt. Vesuvius, visit Paris, Cannes, Athens, Beirut, Valencia, Istanbul and places in-between; wander the streets of Pompeii, have your picture taken on a fallen column on the Acropolis, ride bicycles on the Island of Rhodes, experience daily life aboard an aircraft carrier during the height of the cold war—all in the company and through the eyes of a young will-be-writer coming of age with the help of the United States Navy.

A World Ago is a rare glimpse into the personal and private world of a young man on the verge of experiencing everything the world has to offer—and discovering a lot about himself in the process.

About Dirien Grey: Born Roger Margason in Rockford, Illinois, far too many years ago, Dorien emerged, like Athena from the sea, full-blown with the first book in the Dick Hardesty Mystery series in 2000. Roger, a lifelong book and magazine editor, is in charge of all the details of day-to-day living, allowing Dorien full freedom to write books and blogs. The Dick Hardesty series was followed by the Elliott Smith Mystery series, which now alternates with the Dick Hardesty series.

Dorien emerged partly because Roger has always resented reality. It is far too capricious and too often unkind and unfair. Roger avoids reflective surfaces whenever possible. Having Dorien as an alter ego allows the “duo” to create their own reality, and worlds over which they have some degree of control.

Both are incurable romantics, believing strongly in things which reality views too often with contempt, such as happy endings, true love, and the baic goodness of people.

As the real-life spokesman for the pair and using “I” for both, the one personal characteristic in which I take great pride, and which has been my rock throughout life is that I never, ever, takes myself too seriously. If one has a choice between positive and negative, why would anyone (though too many people do) opt for the negative? Life is not always kind, but it is a gift beyond measure, and one which must all too soon be given back. I really try to enjoy and be thankful for ever single day allotted to me.

For most people, children are their posterity. For me, as a gay man, it is my words which will, I hope, stand as evidence that I was here (albeit, no matter how long I may live, never long enough to suit me).

And because written words are nothing unless someone reads them, I am heavily reliant on my readers, who I sincerely consider to be partners and traveling companions on every journey my writing embarks on.

☺☺☺

Review by Gerry Burnie

There isn’t a great deal of critical comment one can make about a book like A World Ago: A Navy Man’s Letters Home (1954-1956) by Dorien Grey [Untreed Reads Publishing, April 8, 2013]. It is a charming look into one man’s life at an interesting age and time I would say; although, the older Roger Margason, a.k.a. Dorien Grey has the depth of character I prefer. Therefore, I will limit my remarks to some personal observations.

I am a great advocate of journal keeping for very selfish reasons. They are absolutely invaluable when it comes to recreating someone’s life and times. Therefore, I am utterly amazed that he had the foresight to save these epistles intact. Otherwise the memories they contain might have been lost forever. Moreover, for informal writings, they are remarkably literate and easy to read.

At the time the letters where written, 1954 – 1956, Dorien was between ‘grass and straw’—as the old cowpokes would say, i.e. past puberty but not quite matured. Interestingly the letters show this, for there is a perceptible maturing as they progress in time.

One is also struck by the candid nature as well. They may have been edited for journalistic reasons, but one does not get the impression they have been altered in the process.

His powers of observation regarding the exotic places he visits, i.e. Paris, Cannes, Athens, Beirut, Valencia, Istanbul, etc. is like reading a travelogue of the time, and as an amateur historian I found this intriguing.

Altogether, therefore, this is a fascinating insight into a personality and the times, and not once did I feel it lost my interest on account of self-ndulgence. A truly interesting read. Five bees.

☺☺☺

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Thank you for your interest, and my apologies for not responding to your request individually. I’m getting there, but the numbers have been overwhelming. Please extend your patience just a bit longer.

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

It is a collection of little-known facts and events in Canadian history, and a bibliography of interesting books I have collected to date. Latest post: Superintendent Sam Steele of the North West Mounted Police – Canada’s toughest gentleman police officer.

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Update:

CoA6edit3 - medI thought I would take this opportunity to update the news regarding my work-in-progress novel, Coming of Age on the Trail. The rewrites are coming along well, and it looks like it will be published in time for the Christmas market.

I also plan to publish  it as a two part series. Already the manuscript is up to 140,000 words (387 pages in book form), and that is far too long for a novel of this type. Part One will therefore contain the introduction, while Part Two (scheduled for the spring of 2014) will contain the conclusion.

I will update you again as the work progresses.

☺☺☺

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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July 22, 2013 Posted by | Historical period, Military history, Naval historical fiction, Non-fiction, Semi-autobiographical, Twentieth century historical | | 1 Comment

Billy Bishop: Top Canadian Flying Ace, by Dan McCaffery

Canadian history made interesting…

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billy bishop - coverBilly Bishop was the top Canadian flying ace in the first World War, credited officially with a record breaking 75 victories. He was a highly skilled pilot and an accurate shot. Bishop went from being the most decorated war hero in Canadian history to a crusader for peace, writing the book “Winged Peace,” which supported international control of global air power. While some historians feel that authorities upgraded Bishop’s claims to improve morale, author Dan McCaffery presents the true life and accomplishments of Bishop through information he gathered from interviews and archival sources.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Billy_Bishop_VCAsk any Canadian of a certain age to name an air ace, and they’re likely to name Billy Bishop: Top Canadian Flying Ace, by Dan McCaffery [Lorimer, 2002].

William Avery “Billy” Bishop wasn’t so much destined for glory as he was drawn into it with his idiosyncratic skills; namely a keen eye and adventurous spirit that seemed to be going the same way.

Born in the rural municipality of Owen Sound, Ontario, he retained that rural small town self-sufficiency through most of his life. Not given to team sports, he preferred individual pursuits such as swwimming, horse back riding, and shooting—in which he exceeded rather phenomenally. One story goes that he struck a target so far away that to the others it was just a dot.

billy bishop - planeAnother example of his small town, pragmatic thinking, was his decision to join the air corp in the first place, because “…it’s clean up there! I’ll bet you don’t get any mud or horse shit on you up there.”

His first solo, combat patrol was less than stellar as he had trouble controlling his air plane, was nearly shot down, and got separated from his squadron. Nonetheless, he went on to be the highest scoring Canadian ace in WWI.

About the only way one can rate a biography is on how well it is researched, and how well it is written. To this list I will also add a third: Did I learn something I didn’t know before? To all three I can “Yes.” Although I have never encountered any of McCaffrey’s books previously, I am impressed by the way he has fleshed out a larger-than-life character—both personally and militarily—in a way that is both interesting and readable.

Educators take note. Five bees.

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

It is a collection of little-known facts and events in Canadian history, and a bibliography of interesting books I have collected to date. Latest post: Fire on the water: The burning of the SS Noronic.

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June 24, 2013 Posted by | Billy Bishop, biography, Canadian author, Canadian biography, Canadian content, Canadian historical content, non GBLT, Non-fiction | Leave a comment

In Their Own Words: Canadian stories of valour and bravery from Afghanistan. 2001-2007 (Free download)

Free Download – Pass it on for our troops…

In their own words - cover - sml

In Their Own Words: Canadian stories of valour and bravery from Afghanistan. 2001-2007, edited by Craig Leslie Mantle, CPO2 Paul Pellerin (Ret’d), Tom Douglas, Justin Wright & Mélanie Denis [Canadian Defence Academy Press, 2013], vividly presents the personal accounts of twenty-three Canadian soldiers who have been recognized with some of the nation’s highest honours for their courageous actions in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2007. This groundbreaking book offers profound insight into the daily challenges faced in the field, the hazards of combat, the trials and rewards of military service, and the “mind of the soldier.” By recounting the circumstances under which he earned his decoration, each recipient, in his own voice, provides a positive example of the many values that the Canadian Forces itself cherishes: duty, loyalty, integrity and courage. Whether engaging the enemy, saving the life of a fellow soldier from certain death or preventing civilian casualties, the experiences recounted within these pages are nothing short of inspiring and deserving of the highest possible respect.

FREE. Download a PDF copy for free at: https://workspaces.acrobat.com/?d=Mcr-r0OY-OwXUSK3aSYbAA. [Note: the Workspaces page shows only a preview of 50 pages, but when downloaded the full 419 pages are delivered.]

A Canadian Soldier

Do not cry for me,
For I am a Canadian soldier.
Guardian of “The True, North, strong and free”,
Ambassador of the “Red Maple Leaf”.

I know that, what I had of freedom,
All I used or knew,
Is what our father’s
Fought for us long ago.

I did not give
That freedom away or,
Have someone take it away
By force or law.

You hold in your hands
The most precious of gifts.
Freedom to love and express art.
Freedom to be who you want to be.

Freedom is a package deal.
With it comes responsibilities and consequences.
The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
Do not make our sacrifice, one in vain.

I join God knowing,
I fought for my fellow man’s freedom.
My duty complete,
Yours to carry on in memory.

For now my mother is crying,
And criticism of our mission arises.
Question not, but always remember,
For I am a Canadian soldier.

Sgt. M.J.Watts, November 22, 2010

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Visit my new page, In Praise of Canadian History: A bibliography of interesting Canadian books and authors, and facts you may not know about Canada.. 

June 5, 2013 Posted by | Afghanistan, Canadian content, Canadian soldiers, Free download, Non-fiction | , , , , | Leave a comment

Jimmy Simpson: Legend of the Rockies, by E. J. Hart

This is the way history should be taught … With joie de vivre! Bravo E. J. Hart!!

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jimmy simpson - coverStory blurb: The Stoney Indians called him Nashan-esen meaning “wolverine-go-quick” because of his speed in travelling on snowshoes over the rugged landscape of the Canadian Rockies. This book is the story of Jimmy Simpson’s 80-year epic as one of the most important guides, outfitters, lodge operators, hunters, naturalists and artists in the Canadian Rockies. The story takes him from blazing the trails in the valley bottoms to ascending some of the highest peaks in the range, from leading scientists, mountaineers, big-game hunters and world-famous artists through some of the most unimaginable scenery on earth to entertaining thousands of visitors at his famous lodge at Bow Lake with his tales-both true and tall-of the pioneer days.

jimmy simpson - E. J. HartAbout the author: E.J. “Ted” Hart is the director of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff and the author of numerous popular and bestselling books on the Canadian Rockies.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

A while ago some government official, I can’t remember who, was ruminating over the best way to teach kids about Canadian history. Simple: Make it interesting.

When I was going to school, and from what I’ve seen since, [see: Canadian History Made Boring], it is as if educators have gone out of their way to make history as unpalatable as possible. The fact is that Canada has a history as colourful and entertaining as any in the world, and it only remains for kids and adults alike to discover this.

We have real Sergeant Prestons who patrolled the Yukon, cattle drives undertaken though 1,500 hundred miles of primeval wilderness, pioneers who transported several stallions and breeding cattle 800 miles by canoe, great train robberies and gunfights that would make O.K. Corral look like an afternoon social, and yet very few people know about it. Fortunately, we also have people like E. J. Hart to write marvelous books like Jimmy Simpson: Legend of the Rockies [Rocky Mountain Books, First Edition, October 2009].

jimmy_simpson - portraitNow if this were being taught in school, we would dutifully learn that Jimmy Simpson (1877 – 1972) emigrated from England, arriving in Winnipeg in 1896. There he farmed for a while until he decided to go West [psst, after drinking up all his money]. He therefore pawned his gold watch and chain, and took a train to Calgary. Hearing of work on the railway he stowed away on a westbound train, but when he was discovered and kicked off he walked the 20-or-so-miles to Laggan (just below Lake Louise).

Being adventurous, Simpson signed on as cook with legendary outfitter, Tom Wilson, and began learning the outfitting business from “Wild” Bill Peyto—another legendary Rocky Mountain adventurer.

jimmy simpson - bow lake glaciersIn 1898, while working for Wilson, Simpson happened upon Bow Lake with the ice field and two magnificent glaciers above. He and his companions camped by the northern end of the lake, and it was there the he made his now famous proclamation: “I’ll build a shack here sometime,” he said.

Eventually Simpson left Wilson to strike out on his own, supplementing his guiding and outfitting business with trapping. To get around he took up snow shoeing, becoming so proficient at it that the local Indians gave him the honorary title of “Nashan-esen” (meaning “wolverine-go-quickly”).

jimmy simpson - num ti jahIn 1922 he returned to Bow Lake to build his log shack—as he had vowed to do—and when the Banff-Jasper Highway was built, bringing automobile traffic to the area in 1937, he built a small lodge to accommodate them. He called this lodge “Num-te-jah,” the Indian word for pine marten.

Business grew, and in the 1940s a major expansion to the lodge was undertaken to bring its capacity to sixteen rooms.

The original lodge became Simpson’s personal residence where he died in 1972, at the age of 95.

Interesting enough, I suppose, but as E. J. Hart has so masterfully demonstrated by way of Simpson`s own anecdotes, it says nothing about the man or his remarkable wit. For example:

[Fred Ballard was a partner in the trapping business for a (short) while.]

Ballard had been teasing me about a new suit of underwear that had been in the cabin all winter and as to how nice it was going to feel inside it when he got to it. When we arrived he got to it all right but the cabin had leaked and it was sopping wet inside so we built a bit fire outside and made camp. Fred squeezed the water out of it and spread it out in front of the fire carefully while I cooked up what flour was there and made a small bannock, and it was small. When cooked I halved it and his half past his tonsils as fast as a cable [trans-Atlantic telegraph] going over to the old country for more money while I sat on a log and ate mine slowly. That was too much for Fred. Pretty soon he snapped, “If there is anything I hate it’s to see is a man chawing on a piece of bread that I could swallow in two bites, especially when he has only one good eye to chaw with.” [Simpson had a temporary snow blindness in one eye]. I understood.

We lay down to sleep before the fire but in the middle of the night I was awakened by bad language in time to see Ballard holding up a piece of underwear with five button holes on it. A piece of charcoal had got to it while he was asleep so I thought condolences were due. “That’s not too bad,” I said, “All it needs is new arms and legs and a piece on the back to fold over the chest, those five button holes still look quite good.” The air was blue.

Another example of Simpson’s wit relates to an exploration trip he and “Wild” Bill Peyto took one winter. They had stopped for a smoke beside a huge dead spruce and Jimmy drove his axe into it. From inside came a sound like falling debris, so he hit it again with the back of the axe. He was about to do it again when, to his astonishment, it opened up and the head of a two-year old grizzly poked through. This is how he described what happened next:

Nine foot five is my record standing jump and I made it backwards. turning in mid air, and then I started showing squirrels how to climb a tree. I measured that jump next day with a copy of“Tid-Bits”that sported a foot rule on the cover. When I made the top I looked back. There was Bill cussing a blue streak and kicking that bear’s head back every time it poked its nose through. It had gone into hibernation and was in a semi comatose condition but it was fast in waking up. Bill called to me, I dropped out of the blue like dose of measles and we lit out for the camp. Next day we gathered it in.

This is how history should be taught. With some life in it. Sadly these people have passed on, but their way of life, their wit and humour, should not be buried with them.

For people, like me, who enjoy a history lesson that reads like a novel; that allows the reader to appreciate the times through the eyes of colourful characters like Simpson; and that is valid history at the same time, then I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Thank you E. J. Hart. Five bees.

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Number of visitor’s views to date – 49,917

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May 21, 2013 Posted by | Alberta history, biography, Canadian author, Canadian biography, Canadian content, Canadian frontier stories, Canadian historical content, non GBLT, Non-fiction, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Men in Eden: William Drummond Stewart and Same-Sex Desire in the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade, by William Benemann

An easily-read, meticulously researched, and fascinating story of the not-so-straight-West.

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Benemann_cover.inddStory blurb: The American West of the nineteenth century was a world of freedom and adventure for men of every stripe—not least also those who admired and desired other men. Among these sojourners was William Drummond Stewart, a flamboyant Scottish nobleman who found in American culture of the 1830s and 1840s a cultural milieu of openness in which men could pursue same-sex relationships. This book traces Stewart’s travels from his arrival in America in 1832 to his return to Murthly Castle in Perthshire, Scotland, with his French Canadian–Cree Indian companion, Antoine Clement, one of the most skilled hunters in the Rockies. Benemann chronicles Stewart’s friendships with such notables as Kit Carson, William Sublette, Marcus Whitman, and Jim Bridger. He describes the wild Renaissance-costume party held by Stewart and Clement upon their return to America—a journey that ended in scandal. Through Stewart’s letters and novels, Benemann shows that Stewart was one of many men drawn to the sexual freedom offered by the West. His book provides a tantalizing new perspective on the Rocky Mountain fur trade and the role of homosexuality in shaping the American West.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

 As a history buff I’m always on the lookout for new and heretofore unknown discoveries, and William Benemann has served up a dilly with his intriguing biography, Men in Eden: William Drummond Stewart and Same-Sex Desire in the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade [Bison Books, October 1, 2012].

 
men in eden - stewartWill
iam Stewart was a Scottish nobleman—19th Laird of Grantully and 7th Baronet of Murthly—with an adventurous spirit, and a larger than life personality. Being gay, and at odds with his older brother John (the 18th Laird), he hied himself off to North America where men were men; women were scarce; and not just a few of the men were open to a bit of manly sex.

 Sir William fit into this testosterone-dominated milieu rather well, being an expert rider and a better-than-average marksman, and as proof of this he was both liked and respected by such people as William Clark (of Lewis & Clark fame), and frontiersmen Kit Carson and Jim Bridger. He was also constantly surrounded by a retinue of young men in eden - clementmen, including a rakishly-handsome French Canadian Métis named Antoine Clement—undoubtedly Stewart’s lover—but if anyone noticed they either didn’t connect the possibility, or simply overlooked it.

 Altogether, Stewart spent approximately seven years in America, returning to Scotland only briefly between 1839 – 1841 (with Antoine Clement in tow) when his brother John died—making William the 19th Laird of Grantully. When he returned (with a trunk full of costumes), he arranged for an elaborate, invitation only, huntin g party. It was a modest affair with only thirty-or-so guests, as well as cooks, servants, doctors, lawyers and such, but whether this was a bit beyond what frontier America was willing to accept, or whether times were changing, a fast-running scandal preceded him back to civilization, and from there he hastily returned to Scotland.

 Obviously, this is merely a thumbnail-precis of the 384 pages of easily-read, meticulously researched, and fascinating story of the not-so-straight-West. My humble thanks to William Benemann for keeping this story alive, and for sharing it with us. Five Bees.

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April 1, 2013 Posted by | biography, Gay non-fiction, Non-fiction | 1 Comment

Grass Beyond the Mountains: Discovering the Last Great Cattle Frontier on the North American Continent, by Richmond P. Hobson, Jr.

A true Canadian story that proves once and for all time that Canada has a history  equal to any in the world for colour, drama and interest.

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grass - coverStory blurb: Three cowhands with a dream of owning a cattle ranch make a heroic pioneer trek across uncharted mountain ranges to open up the frontier grasslands in northern British Columbia during the early 1930s.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Considering that my next novel is partially set in the same district of British Columbia as Grass Beyond the Mountains: Discovering the Last Great Cattle Frontier on the North American Continent, by Richmond P. Hobson Jr. [McClelland & Stewart, 1978], I can hardly believe I hadn’t  found it until now.

In my own story (based on an actual cattle drive from Hanceville, B.C. to Teslin, Yukon, in 1898), one of the things I worried about was that people wouldn’t believe 10-foot snowfalls—on the flat—and surviving minus-forty degree temperatures, but those are really rather tame compared to what Hobson and his partner endured in real life.

The first thing to emphasize about this story is that it is true pioneer history–with allowances for the cowboy’s tendency to exaggerate–made at a time when there was still room for a man to shape his destiny with courage, hard work and determination. That is to say, it probably wouldn’t be possible today, given all the emasculating government rules and regulations. For one thing, you’d probably need a building permit to build a simple shelter.

In addition, adventurers like Hobson, Stanley Blum, and ‘Panhandle’ Phillips, are harder to find these days, as is their ability to withstand hardship—the rougher the better. As they say, “They just don’t make them like they used to.”

grass - chilcotin2The basic tale is about Hobson and Panhandle setting out from Wyoming to the wilds of British Columbia to find a goldmine in “Free grass reachin’ north into unknown country. Land— lots of it— untouched— just waitin’ for hungry cows, and some buckaroos that can ride and have guts enough to put her over.”

So with little more than that, they head for Canada in  an obsolete panel delivery Ford, distinguished by large printed letters across its body, “BOLOGNA— BLOATERS— BLOOD SAUSAGES.”

Across the border they followed the “Old Cariboo Trail’ (the ‘ Trail of  ’98’), which:

Wound its way for more than a hundred miles along the face of a cliff, with the Fraser River twisting like a tiny thread through the rocky gorge a thousand feet below. In places small slides blocked the highway, and we shovelled enough rock out of the way to carry on. Once a driver, whom we nearly pushed over the bank, found it necessary to back up a hundred yards to a place in the road where we could squeeze by him. We thanked him.

grass - black wolf2“That’s all right,” he said, “but watch it ahead— the road narrows up.”

That was merely the beginning!

Following that they endured frost bitten feet; warded off giant, killer black wolves circling the camp; survived when the waters under the frozen ice sucked them and their cattle and horses down into the freezing deep hole; stared a Grizzly down; and gambled the horses and cattle could make it across ice encrusted snow 20-feet deep below.

It should also be added that there are no offensive bits to navigate, and so it is appropriate for children—in fact I encourage you to share the history with them. Let them know that Canada has a history equal of any in the world in colour and drama. Five (solid) bees.

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Visitor’s count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 45,653

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February 25, 2013 Posted by | biography, British Columbia history, Canadian biography, Canadian content, Canadian frontier stories, Historical period, Homesteading in Canada, Non-fiction, non-GLBT | 4 Comments

Out of the Blue: Confessions of an Unlikely Porn Star, by Blue Blake

Bookshelf copy

A witty and humorous romp through the gay porn industry –

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out of the blue confessions - coverStory blurb: Out of the Blue is a hilarious autobiographical romp that details the life of porn star turned director/producer Blue Blake and his adventures in the skin trade. Blue has worked with every major star in the industry and won many major awards and honors, including induction into the Gay Porn Legend Hall of Fame.

Available in ebook format – 410 KB (so you can still download it in time for Christmas)

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Review by Gerry Burnie

I was looking around for something light and also inspirational to fit the season, and Out of the Blue: Confessions of an Unlikely Porn Star, the autobiography of Blue Blake [Running Press, 2009] was the surprising answer. I say “surprising” because one would hardly expect the adventures of a porn star to be either light or inspirational, but Blue Bake pulls it off with remarkable wit and humour.

Although he had a fairly rough childhood in Nottingham, England, an abusive father as well, he doesn’t dwell on it. Neither does he dwell on the usual coming to grips with his sexuality or coping with homophobia. Rather, he takes us on an erogenous romp through the commercial porn business, letting us in on the behind-the-scenes goings-on; including seducing self-identifying heterosexual hunks, and the love interests that develop between porn stars.

Blue Blake isn’t just a pretty face and tantalizing body, he is writer of considerable talent and charm. Five bees.

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Visitors count for Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 40,907

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Notice: Due to Amazon’s recent decision to  purge reviews it deems “questionable” from  its pages (without notice), I will no longer be posting  on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca. Instead, I will post on Goodreads and Barnes and Noble. I ask you to patronize these sites as well.

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If you would like to learn more about any of my 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.

      

Merry Christmas to all! May you share it with family and friends, and in good health.

 

December 24, 2012 Posted by | Autobiography, Contemporary biography, Gay documentary, Gay non-fiction, Hollywood, Homoerotic, M/M love and adventure, Male bisexual, Non-fiction | Leave a comment

Cowboys, Armageddon, and The Truth: How a Gay Child was Saved From Religion, by Scott Terry

A raw but optimistic story of human resilience – 

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Cowboys, armaghedon, etc. - coverStory blurb: Cowboys, Armageddon, and The Truth: How a Gay Child Was Saved from Religion offers an illuminating glimpse into a child’s sequestered world of abuse, homophobia, and religious extremism. Scott Terry’s memoir is a compelling, poignant and occasionally humorous look into the Jehovah’s Witness faith — a religion that refers to itself as The Truth — and a brave account of Terry’s successful escape from a troubled past.

At the age of ten, Terry had embraced the Witnesses’ prediction that the world would come to an end in 1975 and was preparing for Armageddon. As an adolescent, he prayed for God to strip away his growing attraction to other young men. But, by adulthood, Terry found himself no longer believing in the promised apocalypse. Through a series of adventures and misadventures, he left the Witness religion behind and became a cowboy, riding bulls in the rodeo. He overcame the hurdles of parental abuse, religious extremism, and homophobia, and learned that Truth is a concept of honesty rather than false righteousness, a means to live a life openly, for Terry as a gay man.

About the author: In 2007, Scott Terry sent an excerpt from his yet-to-be published book, Cowboys, Armageddon, and The Truth, to the San Francisco Chronicle. An hour later, he received a freelance contract and a request for more, leading to many stories for the paper.

In his book, Cowboys, Armageddon, and The Truth, Terry has produced a gritty and poignant autobiography of an innocent boy escaping an abusive and fanatical childhood. Scott Terry was raised as a devout Jehovah’s Witness, and spent his childhood praying for Armageddon to come and asking God to heal him of his homosexual thoughts. By adulthood, he had escaped the Witness religion and no longer believed in an upcoming apocalypse. Indeed, as a gay man and a real cowboy, he was riding bulls in the rodeo, abandoning all faith in religion.

Scott writes for the Huffington Post, and also writes a blog for http://www.Freeminds.org, one of the largest ex-cult and ex-Witness websites. Scott Terry is an urban farmer, a watercolorist, an installation artist and a successful businessman. He lives in Northern California.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

When it comes to eating and reading, I am a compulsive. I generally decide what I want to eat at the last moment, and I choose what I want to read by a mood that overtakes me at the time. Last week, while I was preparing for this review, I decided I was in a biography mood; someone or something interesting with an off-beat story. Consequently, when I came across Cowboys, Armageddon, and The Truth: How a Gay Child was Saved From Religion by Scott Terry [Lethe Press, October 2012] it filled the bill very nicely.

It is the author’s own story of an adolescence dominated by a shrewish stepmother who took perverse satisfaction in psychologically abusing him, telling him he was unloved and unwanted, and at the same time filling his head with thoughts of Armageddon in his own lifetime. It was also a time when Scott began to notice his attraction to other boys, and the conflict this created in light of his parents’ homophobic beliefs and that of their Jehovah’s Witness religion.

To this point there is little unique about this story: An abused lad at the hands of a dominating mother; a semi-cult religion with a homophobic bent; and a conflicted emerging homosexuality. However, what is refreshing is the positive attitude Terry maintains throughout, and the lessons to be gained from it.

Going back to the story, the situation finally came to a head when Scott’s sister insisted on returning to her biological mother, and the stepmother forbade him to have any contact with her. Fortunately, Scott had other relatives who weren’t caught up in the Jehovah’s Witness religion, and who had genuine compassion for him. Using this support as a base, Scott  gained the strength to accept his sexuality and move on–eventually becoming a rodeo performer.

This is a raw story of bad parenting—which debunks the tired old adage that “mother knows best”—and also the destructive nature of some dogmatic religions. However, it is also an inspirational story of resilience, even at a young age, and the ability to overcome adversity. Five bees.

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Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 38,962

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Stop the Bull: Canadian history made boring…

bullpoohI had reason to go looking for a Canadian web site similar to Legends Of America, an excellent history resource with some real ‘meat’ to it—meaning, it is history made interesting. It also features some Canadian characters who have played a significant role in American history, i.e. Pearl HartBat Masterson, etc., for which there is hardly a mention in Canadian-based histories.
A veritable wasteland

 What I found was a depressing collection of thumbnail sketches, afterthoughts  to American frontier history, a roll call of stodgy Canadian/British statesmen (John A. Macdonald, etc.), and lesson plans so dry you could strike a match on them. More

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If you would like to learn more about any of my 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.

      

Thanks for dropping by. Just a little bit more than 1,000 visits to go to reach 40,000 visits–20,000 more than last year. Yay!!

 

 

 

 

December 3, 2012 Posted by | Autobiography, Coming out, Gay non-fiction, Non-fiction | 4 Comments

Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays, by Bernadette Barton

An interesting and informative study

In the Bible Belt, it’s common to see bumper stickers that claim One Man + One Woman = Marriage, church billboards that command one to “Get right with Jesus,” letters to the editor comparing gay marriage to marrying one’s dog, and nightly news about homophobic attacks from the Family Foundation. While some areas of the Unites States have made tremendous progress in securing rights for gay people, Bible Belt states lag behind. Not only do most Bible Belt gays lack domestic partner benefits, lesbians and gay men can still be fired from some places of employment in many regions of the Bible Belt for being a homosexual.

In Pray the Gay Away, Bernadette Barton argues that conventions of small town life, rules which govern Southern manners, and the power wielded by Christian institutions serve as a foundation for both passive and active homophobia in the Bible Belt. She explores how conservative Christian ideology reproduces homophobic attitudes and shares how Bible Belt gays negotiate these attitudes in their daily lives. Drawing on the remarkable stories of Bible Belt gays, Barton brings to the fore their thoughts, experiences and hard-won insights to explore the front lines of our national culture war over marriage, family, hate crimes, and equal rights. Pray the Gay Away illuminates their lives as both foot soldiers and casualties in the battle for gay rights.

Bernadette Barton (Ph.D. University of Kentucky 2000) is Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Morehead State University. Her research and teaching interests include sexuality, gender, popular culture, religion, qualitative methods and the sex industry.

Bernadette’s scholarship explores the experiences of members of marginalized groups. She is most fascinated by issues of transformation and social justice, such as: what makes someone conscious of social inequality? What causes people to change oppressive attitudes and behaviors? How can we really see one another across vast differences of geography, gender, race, class and sexual identity? Over the past fourteen years, Bernadette has worked on two major research projects, each exploring issues of inequality, gender, identity and sexuality. The first is a study of exotic dancers, published by New York University Press titled, Stripped: Inside the Lives of Exotic Dancers, and the second a study on religion and homosexuality in the Bible Belt titled, Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

While Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays, by Bernadette Barton, [NYU Press, 2012] may not be for everyone, it is nonetheless a timely (and scary) read.

We (including us Canadians) have just come through what is arguably the nastiest presidential election campaign ever in U.S history, during which the fundamentalist Christians tried to set GBLT human rights back at least a half-century or more.

It is not to say that all Christians are homophobic, and there are plenty of homophobes who are Non-Christian, but almost invariably the Christian card is dragged out to condemn homosexuality for everything from the Great Flood (itself a myth) to Hurricane Sandy.

Sociologist, Bernadette Barton, is well qualified to tackle this subject, which she does so by going to the source—gays living in the so-called “Bible Belt.” What she finds is not particular new or surprising. Homophobia is a self-perpetuating attitude, generally planted by narrow-minded, uber-religious types, and carried forward from generation to generation by negative reinforcement. This accounts for broad-based consistency sufficient to identify a particular area as being homophobic.

From the recipients point of view, growing up gay in such a repressive atmosphere can be isolating and traumatic (sometimes physically), and it takes a Herculean amount of courage to come out under such hostile circumstances. None of this is particularly new, however, and so a ‘break-through’ study it is not.

Nonetheless, the writing is at a very high level, and Professor Barton’s insights are reliable and informative; therefore, I recommend Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gaysas a really interesting read. Four bees.

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Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 37,793

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If you would like to learn more about any of my 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.

      

Thanks for dropping by. I’m in St. Augustine, Florida, but through the marvel of the internet I can carry on. See you again next Monday.

November 19, 2012 Posted by | Gay non-fiction, Non-fiction | Leave a comment

The Dieppe Raid: The Story of the Disastrous 1942 Expedition (Twentieth-Century Battles), by Robin Neillands

A must read under the heading: “Lest we forget.”

Story blurb: The Dieppe Raid is one of World War II’s most controversial hours. In 1942, a full two years before D-Day, thousands of men, mostly Canadian troops eager for their first taste of battle, were sent across the English Channel in a raid on the French port town of Dieppe. Air supremacy was not secured; the topography—a town hemmed in by tall cliffs and reached by steep beaches—meant any invasion was improbably difficult. The result was carnage: the beaches were turned into killing grounds even as the men came ashore, and whole battalions were cut to pieces.

In this book, Robin Neillands has traced numerous surviving veterans of the Raid, in the United Kingdom and Canada, to tell the harrowing story of what actually took place, hour by hour, as disaster unfolded. He has also exhaustively explored all the archival evidence to establish as far as possible the paper trail of command, of who knew—or should have known—what was happening, and whether the whole debacle could have been prevented. The result is the definitive account of one of the Allies’ darkest hours.

Available in hardcover and paperback only – 292 pages

About the author: Robin Neillands is “one of our most readable military historians” (Birmingham Post [UK]) and author of several acclaimed books on World War II and military history, including The Bomber War; The Conquest of the Reich; The Desert Rats; Eighth Army; The Old Contemptibles; and Battle of Normandy 1944. He lectures on military history worldwide, and is a member of the British Commission for Military History.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Today, August 19, 2012, marks the 70th anniversary of the storming of Puys beach, a small seaside village two kilometres east of Dieppe. The landing parties, including 4,963 men and officers from the 2nd Canadian Division, 1,005 British commandos, 50 US rangers and 15 Frenchmen, were already late as the sun rose, giving the Germans plenty of advance notice. The shore batteries opened up while the landing craft were still 10 metres from shore, and at 5:07 AM the first of the Canadian soldiers dashed forward in the noise of machine-gun and mortar fire that targeted them. They fell, mowed down by bullets and hit by mortar shells. Some tried to reach the seawall bordering the beach, hoping to find shelter. They were to be made prisoner after a few hours of useless resistance.

A few kilometres away, to the left near Berneval and to the right near Dieppe, Pourville and Varengeville, other battalions landed, more men were killed by machine-gun fire and struck by mortar shells. Several platoons managed to break through enemy defence lines and closed in on their targets. Their determination was no match for the formidable might of the German army. Order was given to pull back at 1100; Navy personnel did the utmost to retrieve as many assault troops as possible. The raid was over. As the tide rose, the wounded who remained on the beach were carried away by the waves with the dead.

The objectives of this ill-fated venture weren’t particularly significant. These included seizing and holding a major port for a short period, both to prove it was possible and to gather intelligence from prisoners and captured materials while assessing the German responses. The Allies also wanted to destroy coastal defences, port structures and all strategic buildings. “Dieppe raid was also a “pinch” raid for the Naval Intelligence Division (NID) overseen by Ian Fleming. A group of No. 30 Commandos were sent into Dieppe to steal code books, setting sheets and a German-made Enigma code machine for encryption and decryption of secret messages.” Wikipedia

The cost, however, was significant. A total of 3,623 of the 6,086 men (almost 60%) who made it ashore were either killed, wounded, or captured. The Royal Air Force lost 96 aircraft (at least 32 to flak or accidents). The Royal Navy lost 33 landing craft and one destroyer.

So what went wrong? Almost everything says Robin Neillands in his meticulously researched treatise, “The Dieppe Raid: The Story of the Disastrous 1942 Expedition (Twentieth-Century Battles)” [Indiana University Press, 2005], from the earliest planning stages, to the lack of combat experience by the British and Allied officers to make a proper assessment of the risks of such an operation.

As one reviewer has summarized it:

“In seven bloody, smoke-filled chapters, the author tells the waterlogged tale of men struggling in the ocean and along the seawall — the assault boats of No. 3 Commando blundering into a German convoy — bullet-ridden landing craft loaded with dead and wounded — virtually every radio set destroyed right from the beginning — heroic soldiers charging gun pits with fixed bayonets — Churchill tanks hopelessly stranded on the promenade — bodies rolling about in the waves — hundreds of men cowering behind knocked out tanks and landing craft along the shingle — eventually, abandoned men on the beach swimming for miles to reach withdrawing ships. Mr. Neillands’ remarkable reconstruction of the battle from east to west makes clear the troops had little chance of success.” Michael L. Shakespeare 

When it is all said and done, Robin Neillands’ book may be the best thing that came out of the aftermath; that and the lessons learned when it came to the amphibious raids that ultimately led to VE Day, May 8, 1945.

A must read under the heading “Lest we forget.” Five bees.

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Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 31,651

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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 post:  Barbara Ann Scott: “Canada’s Sweetheart”.

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If you would like to learn more about any of my 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.

       

Thanks for dropping by. I’d love to hear from you so I can express my thanks personally. It’s easy to do. Just send a note to gerrybbooks@yahoo.ca, or add a comment. See you next week. 

August 19, 2012 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Military history, Non-fiction, non-GLBT | Leave a comment

Blazing the Old Cattle Trail, by Grant MacEwan

 

 This being Canada Day, I have chosen one of my favourite books by one of my favourite authors (regrettably deceased). MacEwan’s work emphasises once again the remarkablly colourful history that is Canada’s. Although it has been discontinued by the publisher, it is still available at both Amazon.com and Amazon.ca.

Story blurb: Western Canada has a long history of cattle drives. In Blazing the Old Cattle Trail, historian Grant MacEwan has brought together an entertaining collection of history and tales from these trips. Originally  published in 1962, this classic book recounts many stories starting with the first cow and steer to arrive in Manitoba to the later, more challenging trips through the Rocky Mountains into British Columbia.

Available is paperback & hardcover – 223

About the Author: John Walter Grant MacEwan, OC AOE best known as Grant MacEwan (August 12, 1902 – June 15, 2000) was a farmer, Professor at the University of Saskatchewan, Dean of Agriculture at the University of Manitoba, the 28th Mayor of Calgary and both a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and the ninth Lieutenant Governor of Alberta, Canada. Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta and the MacEwan Student Centre at the University of Calgary as well as the neighbourhoods of MacEwan in Calgary and MacEwan in Edmonton are named after him.

MacEwan produced the large majority of his historical books after his ‘retirement’. His books, mostly biographical, were based on history, but often left out references, a bibliography or even analysis of historical events. For this, critics continually attacked his unprofessional approach to history. He only gave one response to these comments, saying in 1984, “I don’t know what the scholars will think of it. Nor do I care. I’m not writing for them, I’m writing for Canadians.” He also taught numerous courses at the University of Calgary and Olds College. He became an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1974.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Because there are so very few of them available, I get genuinely excited  when I come across a history of Canada that tells the stories of the “average Joe or Sally” pioneer. That is how I felt when I discovered Blazing the Old Cattle Trail, by Grant MacEwan (himself a pioneer) [Fifth House; Revised edition, 2000]. MacEwan certainly hit the nail on the head when he declared, “I’m not writing for them [academics], I’m writing for Canadians,” and thank goodness he did. Otherwise, these delightful anecdotes might have been lost forever.

There are forty anecdotal-vignettes in all, which are told in an easy-to-read, journalistic style. In fact, it is their lack of ‘academic rigidity’ that makes them accessible to a wide range of readers, both young and old.

Adam and Eve of the Cattle Kingdom

Anyone who knows western Canada will immediate think of multi-acre ranches and thousands, if not millions of cattle. The fact is, however, that the first of their numbers started with just two critters, a bull and a cow named “Adam” and “Eve.” In 1811 these two were brought from Oxford House, a remote Hudson Bay Company trading post (about 400 miles north of what is now Winnipeg, Manitoba) in–of all things–a canoe. Proving the pioneer’s motto: Where there is a will, there is a way.

English Stallion for Red River

An even more astounding feat was conducted in 1831, when a Hackney stallion by the name of “Fireaway,” and later an English thoroughbred by the name of “Melbourne,” were both transported from York Factory, on the western shore of Hudson Bay, to Winnipeg; a distance of roughly 700 land and water miles–including 36 portages–by freight canoe. As MacEwan observes:

“Even the most ardent horse lovers will think of adventures more inviting than sharing a canoe or York boat with a frisky stallion, no matter how he might be dignified by a fine pedigree.”

The Hackney Fireaway was to become legendary as a producer of speed and endurance. Indeed, as late as 1877, settlers in Portage la Prairie revived their affection for the memory of that horse which was the first purebred of his race in all Western Canada.

A stranger driving a fast horse blew into town a day or two before the 24th of May and promptly challenged all comers to a matched race. With the honor of the community and the reputation of local horses at stake, townsmen came together for serious discussion. Settlers with swift horses were remembered, and thoughts turned to Farmer Macdonald at High Bluff who had a nimble great-great -granddaughter of Fireaway. A message was dispatched: “Bring your mare to town at once. We need her for a race.” 

“Macdonald was plowing with a two-horse team when the exhausted courier reached him. Reluctantly, he unhitched the good mare and her mate from the walking plow, rehitched them to his democrat and drove to Portage. Farmers and town people couldn’t honestly expect a homesteader’s plowhorse to win a race against a barnstorming flier from St. Paul but they recalled her breeding and nursed a silent hope. It was a great race; every pioneer who saw it agreed, and sure enough, the blood of Fireaway was still virile if not invincible and Macdonald’s mare, drawing a democrat and an exultant Scottish settler, came down the Portage la Prairie street to leave the professional racer from Minnesota a convincing distance behind.”

The Trail from Stowaway to Cattle King

Life for Joseph Blackburn Greaves began in Yorkshire, England, in 1831, and at the tender age of eleven he ran away from home, stepmother and England by stowing away on the sailing ship Patrick Henry, bound for New York.

When he was discovered the angry Captain assigned him to feeding the ship’s pigs (used to eat up food refuse and furnish pork when needed), so when the Patrick Henry docked, young Greaves promoted himself as an “expert” in the art of feeding swine, and was immediately hired by a farmer with a barn full of them.

Three years later he joined a wagon train heading to California, and there he worked as a labourer before embarking on a career as a butcher.

Word of gold on the Fraser river then reached Greaves who decided to pursue it, but with a butcher’s reasoning he took some meat animals with him–sheep! It was 1859 and poor trails and rough water still offered the only means of transportation, but after trailing them for 400 miles, Greaves managed to sell the flock at Fifty Mile House, British Columbia, for prices unheard of in the south.

He then went back to Oregon for more, but this time he brought cattle for sale and profit. However, on his third trip (1863) he found the market failing. Undaunted, he turned the cattle loose and went back to butchering for a while. When at last he rounded up his cattle he found them fat and multiplied, and so he undertook a few drives to Westminster (about 250 miles south east).

By 1880, however, cattle  population in the interior of British Columbia had outgrown demand, and so Greaves rounded up about 4,000 head (some of them seven years old) and started south, crossing the border at Osoyoos through Oregon, and then west to Cheyenne, Wyoming. There, a year later, he loaded them onto Union Pacific boxcars bound for Chicago.

In 1882 Greaves and five others formed a syndicate known as the Douglas Lake Cattle Company, and in the years to follow twenty thousand head were sometimes on the ranch, and the person who had come to the continent as a stowaway, friendless and penniless, continued to direct the huge operations until his 80th birthday.

[Interestingly, although this is the first time I learned the Greave’s story, it parallels almost exactly the story of my cattle baron in Coming of Age on the Trail.]

These are but three (of forty) fascinating anecdotes contained in this rare collection of Canadian folk lore, so if you’re a Canadiana buff like me I highly recommend it. Five hearty bees.

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Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 28,581

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Notice to all those who have requested book reviews

Thank you for your interest, and my apologies for not responding to your request individually. I’m getting there, but the numbers have been overwhelming. Please extend your patience just a bit longer.

Thanks again!

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If you would like to learn more about any of my 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.

      

Thanks for dropping by. Your interest is what I work for.

July 1, 2012 Posted by | Canadian biography, Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Historical period, Non-fiction, non-GLBT | 1 Comment

Real Justice: Guilty of Being Weird: The story of Guy Paul Morin, by Cynthia J. Faryon

A must read for the lessons contained – 

Story blurb: At twenty-four, Guy Paul Morin was a bit of a nerd. He still lived at home, drove his parent’s car, kept bees, and grew flowers to encourage the hives behind his house. He played the saxophone and clarinet in three bands and he loved the swing music of the 1940s.

In the small Ontario town where he lived, his nerdiness stood out. So when the nine-year-old girl next door went missing, the police convinced themselves that Morin was responsible for the little girl’s murder. Over the course of eight years, police manipulated witnesses and tampered with evidence to target and convict an innocent man. It took ten years and the just-developed science of DNA testing to finally clear his name. Without that scientific proof, he would still be in prison today.

This book tells his story, showing how the justice system not only failed to help an innocent young man, but conspired to convict him. It also shows how a determined group of people dug up the evidence and forced the judicial system to give him the justice he deserved.

Available in hardback, paperback (128 pages) and e-pub.

About the author: CYNTHIA J. FARYON has worked as a legal assistant and teen counsellor. She began her writing career in 1999 and is now the author of nine books. She lives in Richer, Manitoba.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Real Justice: Guilty of Being Weird: The story of Guy Paul Morin by Cynthia J. Faryon [Lorimer: Real Justice series – August 2012 (pre-orders are being accepted)]  is one of four such works under the Real Justice label, all of them dealing with tragic, Canadian cases that went terribly awry. The others include: Robert Baltovich; Steven Truscott; and David Milgard.

From a GLBT perspective we could also add John Damien, summarily fired for being homosexual and a “security risk,” and Everett George Klippert, the last person imprisoned in Canada for private, consensual sex with men. After being assessed “incurably homosexual”, he was sentenced to an indefinite “preventive detention” as a dangerous sexual offender.

The story of Guy Paul Morin reads like a ‘how not to’ textbook on bungling, sloppiness, incompetence, prejudice, police and prosecutorial misconduct, and misrepresentation of forensic evidence by so-called “experts.” And yet, Ms Faryon has managed to remain objective throughout, and to put a human face on both the accusers and accused.

When eight-year-old Christine Jessop was first reported missing (October 3, 1984) the police told her mother, Janet Jessop, to call her friends and neighbours to see if anyone had seen or spoken to her. As a result of these calls, people began to gather at the Jessop residence, and,

Soon the place was filled with people. They made coffee, tea, and helped themselves to drinks from the refrigerator. They touched glasses, mugs, counter tops, door handles and used the bathroom. Someone picked up the bike from off the shed floor and leaned it against the wall. Perhaps the same person also took Christine’s pink sweater off the nail and brought it into the house, most likely thinking they were helping. The police didn’t

Police made no attempt to monitor who was coming into the house or what they were doing. They hadn’t taped off Christine’s bedroom or the shed, or treated the house like a crime scene. They treated the situation as if Christine was staying too long at a friend’s house, or maybe she was lost in the woods. The police didn’t even speak to most of them. Why go to all that trouble when it wasn’t necessary?” p.32

Moreover when Christine’s body was finally discovered in a farmer’s field in Sunderland, Ontario, (about 60 miles north-east of Toronto),

“None of the officers were issued gloves, scarves, or protective clothing to prevent hair and fibres from falling on the remains and contaminating the evidence. Michalowsky [Chief Identification Technician with the Durham Regional Police] was in a hurry, racing against the weather. It was going to be tough to get the search done before the storm.” P.50

 “Some of the officers took smoke breaks and no one watched to make sure the cigarette butts were put in the trash bag hanging on the van mirror. A cigarette package, a sales receipt, and a milk carton were found close to the body. Those in charge decided these items didn’t have anything to do with the murder, and they were thrown away. Other items were photographed, tagged, bagged, and sent to the lab for analysis and accepted as evidence, even though they were dropped by the searchers.” P.52

 Guy Paul did not attend the funeral, believing it was not open to the public, and this became a topic of discussion:

“His absence was noted by the police. It seemed Guy Paul couldn’t do anything right. The police and reporters believed the murderer would go to the funeral. If Guy Paul had gone, they would have noticed him, and perhaps thought he was guilty. But he didn’t go, and they thought it was suspicious he stayed away.” p.61

 “Detectives Fitzpatrick and Shephard met with Janet and Kenny Jessop on February 14, 1985. When asked about Guy Paul, they both said he was a musician and a “weird-type guy.” They complained that he had never helped with the search for Christine and didn’t attend the funeral or even give them his sympathies. Inspector John Shephard made an entry in his notebook identifying Guy Paul as “Suspect Morin.””p.61

 Guy Paul’s name kept coming up, along with the epithet “weird,” and so the police decided it was time to talk to this “weird-type guy.” But first they did some digging, starting with Christine’s best friend Leslie, whom they interviewed just beforehand:

“So Leslie,” the detective asked, “tell me about Christine’s neighbour, Guy Paul Morin. You said you were friends with Christine.”

“Yeah, she was my best friend.”

“So, when you were playing over there at Christine’s and you saw Guy Paul, what was he doing?”

“I don’t know,” said Leslie.

“Well,” said the detective, “was he cutting his lawn?”

“No.”

“Was he standing next to his fence?”

“Yes.”

“Could he have been cutting his hedges?”

“Yeah, I think so. He must have been cutting his hedges.”

“Well,” asked the detective, “was he holding the clippers tight?”

“Well,” Leslie said. “I don’t know.”

“Well,” pushed the detective, “were his knuckles white, did they look like this?” and he held out his fist so his knuckles looked white.

“Yeah, sure. Okay. Yes, it did look like that.” p.63

Morin was subsequently arrested, and at his first trial in 1986 he was acquitted. However, the Crown appealed this decision on the grounds that the trial judge made a fundamental error prejudicing the Crown’s right to a fair trial, and in 1987 the Court of Appeal ordered a new trial.

Morin was convicted at his second trial (1992), substantially on the testimony of convicted felons who wanted shortened jail time, and was sentenced to life imprisonment. In 1995, improvements in DNA testing led to a test which excluded Morin as the murderer. Morin’s appeal of his conviction was allowed (i.e., the conviction was reversed), and a directed verdict of acquittal entered in the appeal.

Subsequently, a commission of inquiry was convened under Mr. Justice Fred Kaufman (The Commission on Proceedings Involving Guy Paul Morin), who uncovered evidence of police and prosecutorial misconduct, and of misrepresentation of forensic evidence by forensic experts.

However, I think the main lesson to be learned here is to not to jump to conclusions, as was done in this case. Morin was considered “weird,” and this assumption blossomed to the point where it implicated an entire chain of “experts.” The chain was then held fast through the fact that one link blindly followed another through professional courtesy, or whatever.

In fact the police, forensic experts and Crown prosecutors were so confident — so smug — that they built their case backwards, manipulating and creating evidence to prove the guilt of a suspect who could not possibly be innocent. But he was.… Highly recommended. Five bees.

See also: Mysteries, Legends and Myths of the First World War: Canadian Soldiers in the Trenches and in the Air – by Cynthia J. Faryon

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Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 28,227

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Customized dedications now available, FREE.

If you are considering giving Two Irish Lads or Nor All Thy Tears as a gift, and would like a customized dedication from me, all you need do is ask. Send me an email [gerry@gerryburniebooks.com] with the particulars (name of recipient, occasion, your name as gifter, etc.) and I will design a dedication especially for them. Of course, you are welcome to one for your own copy, too. See the sample.

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If you would like to learn more about any of my 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.

      

Thanks for dropping by! Drop back soon and I’ll have a new book ready for you.

June 24, 2012 Posted by | Canadian autobiography, Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Non-fiction | Leave a comment

Tecumseh: Diplomat and Warrior in the War of 1812, by Irene Gordon

June 2012 marks the bicentennial of the War of 1812 – 1814, an historic event that set the groundwork for Canada’s identity as a nation. Native peoples also played an important part in this process, and none more significantly than Tecumseh, of whom Sir Isaac Brock wrote: “A more sagacious or a more gallant Warrior does not I believe exist.”

Story blurb: This is the biography of Tecumseh, a legendary nineteenth century Shawnee warrior, a hero of the War of 1812 and a man who spent most of his life trying to build a Native confederacy to withstand the pressure on native lands from American settlement.

It also tells the story of his younger brother Lalawethika and of Lalawethika’s transformation from a drunken ne’er-do-well to the charismatic spiritual leader known as The Prophet.

As a diplomat, Tecumseh dealt with the British and American authorities, with settlers and with First Nations peoples on both sides of the border. He fought with the British in the War of 1812, and lost his life at the Battle of Moraviantown.

Available in paperback (128 pages) and in epub formats.

About the author: IRENE GORDON, who lives along the historic Assiniboine River just west of Winnipeg, has had a passion for history, reading and writing since childhood. After a career as a teacher-librarian, she became a freelance writer in 1998.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

In my estimation there are two types of history books: the regretfully ‘dusty’ kind that I was subjected to in my school days, a chalk-dry collection of dates and events that one could only find interesting in passing; and then there are those that have some colour to them–some human interest woven into the fabric. Fortunately, Tecumseh: Diplomat and Warrior in the War of 1812 by Irene Gordon [Lorimer ‘Amazing Stories’ series, 2009] is of the latter variety.

Tecumseh, whose name loosely translates as “Panther passing across (the sky),” was born in Ohio in 1768, to a minor war chief of the Shawnee people (“people of the water”). Shortly after he was born, his father was killed by white frontiersmen who had crossed onto Indian land in violation of a recent treaty, and Tecumseh then resolved to become a warrior like his father and to be “a fire spreading over the hill and valley, consuming the race of dark souls.”

He was one of those people who was born to greatness, whether by design or circumstance, and would probably stand out in any society. In Tecumseh’s case he was visionary who saw a confederacy of Indian peoples as the only salvation in the face of the ever-expanding “white tide.” A confederacy was also the foil against some thoroughly unscrupulous politicians who regarded the Natives as ignorant savages, and a hindrance to their ambitions.

Tecumseh also saw salvation in a peaceful co-existence with the whites, but with the rights of the “Red Man” firmly entrenched in territory they could call their own.

Regretfully, as it often is with great men, those around him, both white and red (with the exception of Isaac Brock), did not—or could not—share his vision, and so Tecumseh was challenged on three sides: The “long knives” (Americans); his own independent-thinking people; and the British, who were as political as the Americans.

Tecumseh and British General Sir Isaac Brock were cut from a similar cloth, and it is said that he and Tecumseh rode into Detroit together after its defeat. However, when Isaac Brock died at the Battle of Queenston Heights, Upper Canada, in October 1812, the command passed to Major General Harry Proctor; a foppish, indecisive man, whom Tecumseh distrusted, and whose indecision eventually led to Tecumseh’s death.

Irene Gordon has written a concise account of Tecumseh’s life, historically accurate and balanced, but what I like most about it is that she has breathed some life into a story that could otherwise be as dry Mr. Ewart’s high school history classes. I also applaud her (and Lorimer’s Amazing Stories series) for keeping Canadian history from going down the gopher hole of obscurity. Five bees.

For more vignettes of history, search “Amazing Stories” on this blog, or go to http://www.lorimer.ca/en/Series/29/Amazing-Stories.html.

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Visitor Count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 27,871

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“Microcrap” and I

I never cease to be amazed by how “Microcrap” (Microsoft) can find new and annoying ways to be a pain-in-the-butt! Last week I related the tale of my $135 purchase of Office: Home and Student Edition 2010, that wouldn’t download on one of my computers (running Microsoft Vista), but this week it outdid itself. It did download properly on another, but after working on and saving my current manuscript (61,000 words), I discovered that it has deleted the spaces between words—not all, but perhaps half-a-dozen per page (102 pages). Therefore, I have prepared this little one-finger salute to its dishonour. Hope Microcrap looks down from its ivory tower to see it!

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If you would like to learn more about any of my 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.

      

Thanks for dropping by. You and the featured authors on this blog are what it is all about!

June 17, 2012 Posted by | biography, Canadian biography, Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Historical period, Non-fiction | Leave a comment

To Wawa With Love, by Tom Douglas

My nomination (if I had one) for the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour –

Story blurb: When Tom Douglas’s father returned home after the Second World War, he was forced to move his family from Sault Ste. Marie north to Wawa, where he was the timekeeper at the Helen Mine. Although his parents were upset by the move, Tom was thrilled. In the forties, Wawa was still a wooden-sidewalked mud wallow of a mining town, and for a city kid, nothing could have been more exciting.

To Wawa with Love is a nostalgic collection of true stories about a time in northern Ontario that still exists only in the author’s imagination. These are light-hearted stories about a town teeming with colourful characters, like Doc MacTavish, Wawa’s veterinarian and part-time dentist; magical places, like the Lions Club Hall, where a quarter could buy a kid an afternoon at the movies; and comical adventures, like the rescue of Rocky Mitchell from the bottom of the school outhouse on a sub-zero January day.

These warm and humorous vignettes about the way life used to be will delight readers of all ages.

Available in paperback only – 156 pages

About the author: Tom Douglas, an award-winning journalist and author, lives in Oakville, Ontario with his wife Gail, also an author in the Amazing Stories series. Tom’s father, Sgt. H.M. (Mel) Douglas, was part of the Invasion Force that stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Tom is a member of the Royal Canadian Legion, worked as a Communications Advisor for Veterans Affairs Canada, and has written speeches for the Minister of National Defence. He has also worked with The Canadian Press and served as the publisher/owner of a weekly newspaper in Australia.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

I have long admired Tom Douglas for his writings on the topic of Canadian military history [see my review of Valour at Vimy Ridge: Canadian Heroes of World War I], but I do believe To Wawa With Love, [Lorimer Press, 2012]—a charming, witty and hilarious collection of intimate tales—has to be my favourite for the following reasons:

Apart from the socio-economic impact of the returning troops, and the sudden demand for post-war housing, etc. (mundane topics devoid of any real colour or humanity) there are very few portraits of the men (and women) themselves, or of their families.[1] In this short memoir, Tom Douglas has done his bit to address the oversight, stating: “I have set down these few memories about that time and place in an effort to prevent it all from slipping away, without a trace down a sinkhole of history.” p.8

And what did the families think? Well, in young Thomas Douglas’ case—pumped on gangster movies etc, and not having seen his father in five years—he was convinced he was a murderer who had somehow beguiled his mother and was about to murder them all—except that young Thomas was ‘on to him,’ and ready to spring into action at any given moment.

Mind you, his younger brother Greg had no problem adjusting, but as the author points out, “My brother Greg sold out for a pair of white boots. He always did come cheap.

There was a slight pause in the pending drama to accommodate the adventure of moving to “Sinterville,” a company dormitory community near Wawa, Ontario. It was little more than a huddle of temporary housing set in close proximity to the mine, where:

The lung-searing sulphur fumes rolled in on the wind. Those who dared venture out of their clapboard shelters tied handkerchiefs over their mouths to prevent a fit of gagging and choking. Tears streaming down their cheeks, the hapless victims of this latest gas attack dashed from one spot to another, hurrying to do whatever had to be done.

“As the sun came up, vaporizing the puddles of overnight rain, the sulphurous air turned steamy and dank, inviting another onslaught of blackflies and mosquitoes that left everyone in their murderous path covered in bleeding sores.

“If the supply train had managed to get through that morning, chances were that the bread was mouldy and the milk sour from sitting in an unrefrigerated boxcar while the crew strained to remove a rock-slide or fallen tree from the railway tracks that provided the lifeline from the civilized south.”

And yet, to young Thomas it was an adventure where he would hone his bargaining skills by talking the local merchant into a 100% increase in his weekly wage (from $1 to $2.00); become a singing sensation at the Christmas concerts; be a white knight for his younger brother (even if he did have to bite the bully’s finger to get the upper “hand,” so to speak); and rescue one of his classmates from the depths of an outhouse hole, e.g.

You’ll never know what being really miserable is until you’ve had to sit in an unheated outhouse in forty-below weather. And I’m talking Fahrenheit, where water freezes at thirty-two degrees about the zero mark.”p.49

I was seated at my desk, staring out my window at the whirling snow and mentally mushing my huskies to the nearest outpost with a bottle of lifesaving medicine in a leather pouch slung over my shoulder. Suddenly, I became aware of Miss Grexton standing there with a slight smile on her face, waiting for my reply.

““I was asking you, my little daydreamer, if you’d mind going to see what’s keeping Rocky,” she repeated. “He’s been gone an awfully long time.”

“After a hazardous five-hour trek, that in reality lasted about thirty seconds, I reached the outpost, having had to shoot and eat all of my sled dogs along the way. Well, okay, I actually polished off the remains of a peanut butter sandwich I’d found in my pocket. I scrabbled the wooden door of the outhouse open with ice-numbed fingers and peered inside the unlit cubical. Where Rocky should have been sitting in frigid misery, there were two empty “thrones.” Too young to realize there was something amiss, I let the spring-loaded door slam back into place and turned to run back to the warmth of the classroom with the news that Rocky wasn’t where he was supposed to be.

“Lucky for him, the perpetually howling wind died down just then, and I heard a faint, eerie call for help from inside the ice palace. Prying  open the door once again, I tentatively called out, “Rocky?” and almost ran for cover when I was answered by a disembodied voice wailing, “Down here!””p.54

“Only in Sinterville,” you say, well there’s even more to read for your amusement and edification in To Wawa With Love.” Do get yourself a copy. You’ll be glad you did. Five bees.

Note: For more colourful Canadian history, go to my reviews at: https://gerrycan.wordpress.com/?s=amazing+stories, or http://www.lorimer.ca/adults/#

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Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 26,188

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An announcement regarding  Coming of Age on the Trail.

I’ve never thought of myself as being particularly ‘verbose’, but the more I work the new novel, Coming of Age on the Trail, it keeps getting longer. It is now up to 115,248 words, and growing, and so I have decided to publish it as a two-part series.

This is in keeping with the advice that a novel–especially in the western genre–should ideally be in the 90,000-word range. Personally, I don’t know how valid this is [perhaps someone could tell me] but it does make sense in this abbreviated world, where everything is in “tweet” size. Therefore, Part One should be out this summer, and Part Two should follow in the fall (ideally for the Christmas Market.

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Introducing a new author and her new Novel.

Altered-Revelations, by Shawnda Falls-Currie is new on the Kindle market.

Story Blurb: Abandoned by her family, Lacey is sent to a juvenile detention center known as Clear Waters. Her teen years don’t look promising until she is befriended by a mysterious stranger named Taylor, a gorgeous guy whose captivating eyes seem to stare into her soul. Convinced she is in danger at Clear Waters, Lacey joins Taylor in a daring escape. As she meets Taylor’s group of friends, she discovers that they’re more than they seem – they’ve been sent from the future to head off an evil corporate plot that will lead to a world war unless averted. With Lacey as their only hope to prevent a grim future, Taylor shows Lacey how to tap into her psychic abilities known in his time as evolved humans. Travelling with her new friends, she discovers the magic of love while she grows into the powerful warrior chosen to make the difference to the world.

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If you would like to learn more about any of my 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.

        

 Thank you for dropping by! Your participation is appreciated.

    

 


[1] I have long complained about this aspect of Canadian recorded history, for it leaves the impression that Canada has no history worth bothering with.

May 20, 2012 Posted by | biography, Canadian biography, Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Non-fiction, non-GLBT | Leave a comment

Dreaming of the Dead: Personal Stories of Comfort and Hope, by Marilou Trask-Curtain

Despite its name, Dreaming of the Dead by Marilou Trask-Curtain [Llewellyn Publications, 2012] is a warm and embracing biography, very nearly a ‘love story’ in nature –

Story blurb: From the age of three, when a near-death experience brought an angel’s healing touch, Marilou Trask-Curtin has been able to communicate with spirits, primarily in unusually vivid and realistic dreams. Over the years she has interacted with the ghostly forms of several spirits and experienced dream visitations from many others such as her first true love, her beloved grandfather, and even British actor Jeremy Brett, with whom she’d grown close through years of correspondence.

Marilou touchingly recounts her visitations with spirits who have come to offer advice, reassurance, or to let her know they have died or are about to pass on. This includes her companion animals who return to show they’re as full of health and joy as their human counterparts in spirit. The author also tells of dream visits from historical “mentor” figures such as Samuel L. Clemens and Harriet Beecher Stowe, as well as many others.

Dreaming of the Dead will take you on a compelling and beautifully comforting journey—with a glimpse of what awaits us on the other side of life’s doorway.

Book design by Donna Burch

Available in e-book format – 1323 KB

About the author: Marilou Trask-Curtin (Oneonta, NY) is an author, playwright and screenwriter. Marilou and her husband still live in her childhood home where many of her spirit encounters occurred—and still do to this day.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

I have had only one time-of-death encounter, when my little dog came to me at the time of her death by a road accident, but I can swear that it was very real. So much so that I could feel her lick my hand as usual when she came to my bed. Beyond that I cannot comment on the phenomenon one way or another. What I can do, however, is to cite Ms Trask-Curtain’s biographical work as an engrossing and even inspirational story.

Conscious that paranormal visitations are not common to most people, she devotes the first couple of chapters to defining the difference between ordinary dreams and visitations.

Perhaps the dead choose to come in dreams because that is when our defenses are at their lowest ebb or do not exist at all. We are more vulnerable when we are deeply sleeping, and that creates a portal through which all manner of dreamtime communications can occur.

This also explains the ability to remember these encounters with remarkable detail—sights, sounds, smells, emotions and touch.

Of equal descriptive detail are the vivid portraits she creates of her beloved grandparents, Edward and Myrtle McNally; her “first true love”, Butch; and of her soul mate, the British actor Jeremy Brett, etc. In fact, using Ms Trask-Curtain’s descriptions I am sure I could pick these individuals out in a crowded room. Moreover, for many of us they evoke memories of our own grandparents, parents and friends.

Another aspect that stood out for me was that, although certainly poignant at times, her various encounters were positive (except for one crone), and the subjects all seemed to be quite content with their lot. I think this should be comforting for anyone thinking about their departed loved ones.

Altogether this is a fascinating read, superbly written and totally engaging. Highly recommended. Five bees.

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Addendum

Dream Journeys: As an aside, I was struck by the similarities between Ms Trask-Curtain’s “dream journey” experiences and the beliefs of the Dene Thaˊ First Nations peoples of the Pacific Northwest. According to anthropologist Jean-Guy Goulet, the Dene Thaˊ all believe (‘know’) that dreams are journeys of the soul in which it communicates with inhabitants of the “other land” and/or sees things unfolding in our land. Indeed, there are many accounts of visits by relatives to their deceased in the other land.

Two Spirit Connection: Following death, individuals seek a woman’s womb to be born again. This view is central to the Dene apprehension of themselves. Although the reborn child is addressed in his/her previous kinship terms and is teased with reminiscences of past lives, (s)he is expected to behave and lead the life of her/his present sex. That means to eventually marry with an opposite-sex partner and have children. In a rare case when a reincarnate wanted to retain his perceived previous (female) sex, social pressure was applied to trigger his transformation into a heterosexual male with a complete personal identity

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Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 25,774

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Introducing the characters, settings etc., from my forthcoming novel, Coming of Age on the Trail.

Yamanhdeya is the traditional Great Spirit of the Dene Thaˊ. They have also adopted the Christian god, whom they call Ndatwotá, but he is a secondary entity in their hierarchy.

Yamanhdeya made it possible for humans to inhabit the earth by killing off the monsters that devoured them, and in my story he rules over both the animals the land—especially in British Columbia—and all other gods (such as Apollo) must acknowledge him if they enter his territory.

He dwells in the “other land” (paradise), which lies on the other side of the “crossing over place,” and when it is time to cross over Yamanhdeya sends a message to that individual via a Sasquatch.

Admittedly, it is a blending of Native beliefs, but otherwise is quite authentic.

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An exciting new, 21-year-old artist from Nova Scotia, Canada, presently studying at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.

Lucas was recently featured on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s “Next” series, part of a high-profile project created by the CBC Radio 2 program In Concert in which promising young classical musicians reveal their artistry.

Click here to listen, and please pass it on.

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If you would like to learn more about any of my 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.

       

Thanks for dropping by! This is the ‘little blog’ that grew with your help. Please drop in often.

May 13, 2012 Posted by | Non-fiction, non-GLBT | Leave a comment

Wild Canadian West, by E.C. (Ted) Meyers

A collection of meticulously researched and entertainingly-written historical vignettes that prove once and for all that Canada has a rich and colourful history equal to any in the word. Superb! –

Story Blurb: The history of the Wild West for too many years, has been considered the exclusive domain of the men and women who inhabited the South-western states of Kansas, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Wyoming. Canada had her share of men and women, good and bad, who opened the west for exploration and exploitation. Many famous gunfighters, outlaws, gamblers and lawmen of the Wild West were Canadian. This book exhibits the differences between Canadian settlers and their American counterparts. It shows how the law was enforced in the west even though lawmen were few in number. It touches on the naivete of some settlers and the lack of judgement shown by some leaders. It also seeks to show the injustice that was done to the native people who neither knew nor understood the white man’s law.

About the author: E.C. “Ted” Meyers, has seven non-fiction books published. Two concern the history of the Royal Canadian Navy. Two others are of the Old West. One, “Wild Canadian West”, concerns lawmen and outlaws who were part of Canada’s Old West. The other takes place in the American Old West. It tells the story of Wyatt Earp’s darkest secret. “Mattie: Wyatt Earp’s Secret Second Wife”, narrates the tragic life of Mattie Blaylock (1850-1888) who, from 1871 was Earp’s second wife and then, from 1882 until Earp’s death in 1928, was his darkest, most closely guarded secret.

E.C. Meyers was born at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 1931. He served several years in the Canadian Armed Forces during which time he visited many parts of the world. He saw action in the Korean War from 1950 to 1952 and served in Canada’s peacekeeping effort in the mid-east following the 1956 Israeli-Egytian War. Following his CAF service he worked for the Ontario Government until retiring in 1991. Since then he has spent his retirement years actively researching his greatest interest – the Old West on both sides of the border and writing on a variety of other subjects.

At present he is busy writing an account of the 1877 Nez Perce War in which less than 200 warriors from five Nez Perce bands humiliated the US Army of the Northwest. Led by Chief Joseph, Chief White Bird and Chief Looking Glass the Nez Perce warriors defeated General Oliver Howard’s forces in a series of battles and skirmishes over a period of five months. Then, within 45 miles of the Canadian border and safety, fate turned against them and they were forced to surrender although some did manage to escape into Canada. For a future work Mr. Meyers is considering a book about little known adventures of the Northwest Mounted Police in the late 1800s.

Available from Hancock House Publishing in paperback – 208 pages.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

As many of you may know, my byline is “Canada has a rich and colourful history that for the most part is waiting to be discovered.” It is meant as both a mission statement and a lament. E.C. “Ted” Meyers also alludes to this in the above blurb for Wild Canadian West [Hancock House Publishing Ltd, 20007], i.e. The history of the Wild West for too many years, has been considered the exclusive domain of the men and women who inhabited the South-western states of Kansas, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Wyoming.”

Ironically, many of the famed gunfighters, outlaws, gamblers and law men of the American west were not American at all. They were Canadian, as Ted Meyers reveals. For example:

  • Bat, Jim and Ed Masterson all hailed from Quebec.
  • George Currie, better known as “Flat Nose George” from Prince Edward Island. He amalgamated his band of rustlers with Butch Cassidy’s “Wild Bunch.”
  • “Canada” Bill Jones, generally acknowledged as the greatest card sharp of the old west, was from Ontario.
  • Pearl Heart, from Ontario, was a stagecoach robber who later joined Buffalo Bill Wild West Show as a—you guessed it–lady stage robber.

There were also several notable American who came to Canada to make their mark, such as Bill Miner, the “Gentleman Bandit” who is said to have originated the term “hands up,” and who made a living robbing trains.

  • Nellie Cashman, known as “The Angel of the Caribou” for her humanitarian work among the miners who fell upon hard times.
  • Armor de Cosmos from California (otherwise known as Jim Smith) who founded the British Colonist Newspaper [which I refer to several times in my forthcoming novel Coming of Age on the Trail].
  • Charlie “One Ear” Brown who was killed by vigilantes; James Barry (gambler) and Frank Spencer (rustler and gunfighter) who both ended up at the end of a rope. Etc.

However, the Canadian West had plenty of its own home-grown heroes and villains, many of which I had never heard of until Ted Meyers presented them here. For example there was the “Two-Fisted Town Tamer,” John Ingram, a no-nonsense lawman who tamed two frontier cities, Winnipeg and Calgary, before turning his attention to Rossland, British Columbia. To leave it there, however, would be to treat Canadian history the way it has generally been taught—i.e. colourless. Fortunately Meyers goes on to tell how Ingram (while still chief of police) was fined $10 for being a “found-in” at a whore house in Winnipeg, and that he later ran the Calgary police department from the backroom of a pool hall. Moreover, he seldom resorted to a gun, but relied instead on a pair of ‘ham-hock-sized’ fists, knocking his suspects senseless with a well placed punch.

Then there was “British Columbia’s Hanging Judge,” Sir Mathew Bailie Begbie. Begbie was an Englishman who, after being released or rejected by every law firm he had ever had contact, was appointed a judge in “The Colonies,” i.e. Vancouver Island. It should also be mentioned that prior to this his love life had been no more successful, for his fiancé eloped with his brother.

Begbie  arrived in Victoria, BC, in 1858, and was immediately assigned the entire area of what is now the Province of British Columbia (364,800 sq.mi. of sparsely-inhabited wilderness). Ironically, he was given the epithet of “The Hanging Judge,” but he actually disapproved of capital punishment. He therefore recommended to the lieutenant governor that most death sentences be commuted in favour of life in prison. He also had his own opinions on the issue of guilt or innocence, and did not hesitate to instruct the jury as to which verdict he deemed appropriate. Moreover, he would become more than a little irate when the jury went against his wishes, and would lecture them unmercifully as a result.

And for those who like a good ole fashioned shoot-em-up, there’s the tale of “The Shootout at Fortier’s Café,” which Meyers describes this way: “Its (Fisherville, B.C.) second claim to notoriety was the 1864 gun fight on the main street that made the gunfight at Tombstone’s OK Corral appear tame.

Ironically, the dispute began between two factions who each wanted to be the law in Fisherville, and after much threatening talk the two agree to meet to talk things over. The players were a group of Americans under the leadership of William “Yeast Powder Bill” Denniston (a.k.a. Bill Burmeister), Robert “Overland Bob” Evans and Neil Dougherty. The opposing side, mostly Canadians and British, was lead by a hot-tempered, vocal Irishman named Thomas Walker. His lieutenants were William “Dancing Bill” Latham, John “Black Jack” Smyth and “Paddy” Skie.

“The talk started peacefully enough but within a few minutes the two [walker and Dinniston] began shouting. Tom Walker, his temper boiling over, pulled his revolver from its holster, levelled it at Yeast Powder Bill and squeezed the trigger.

“The range was point blank when the heavy pistol roared but, unfortunately for Walker, his hand was unsteady. The .45 slug missed Bill’s expansive chest by ripped away the thumb from his right hand. Walker tried to fire a second shot but his gun jammed. Yeast Powder Bill, howling in shock and pain, drew the pistol from his left holster and shot Walker through the heart. Walker died where he stood. It was his great bad luck that Bill was ambidextrous.

“When Walker’s gun fired, Overland Bob Evans commenced shooting. This brought immediate return fire from Walker’s friends. Within seconds the shooting had become general and Evans lay prone in the dust with at least two bullets in his body. Although Evans was down his companions, thinking him dead, continued shooting.

“Walker was dead, there was no doubt about that, and his friends, intent on avenging him, kept up a steady barrage of fire into the ranks of the Americans. For several minutes the scene was one of sheer chaos. The men who were armed with clubs closed and began to beat on each other. When the shooting finally stopped the air was heavy with the acrid smell of gun smoke. Both sides retreated to count casualties.”

My Review

The above abstracts are only a few of the twenty-one stories that make up this remarkable, and in some respects unique anthology, for many of these tales have never before been published. Nevertheless, I believe these examples are sufficient to show that Canada does have a rich and colourful history that has been hidden from view by the apathy of governments and educators. Therefore we owe a great vote of thanks to writers and historians like E.C. “Ted” Meyers for bringing  it to the fore in a readable and entertaining way. Five bees.

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About Hancock House Publishing Ltd: Hancock House has been a wonderful find for me. Located in Surrey, British Columbia, and Blaine, Washington, its focus is on non-fiction regional titles, emphasizing western and far north history and biographies, Native culture, nature and wildlife, cryptozoology and folklore. In 2008 Hancock House launched its first e-books. Check out their many fascinating titles, i.e. “Stagecoaches,” “Dreaming Wolves,” “Outposts and Bushplanes” and “Crooked River Rats.”

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I have entered Gerry B’s Book Reviews in the Independent Book Blogger Awards contestIt is my first contest ever, so I would really appreciate your support. Please take a few minutes to vote. Just click the “vote” link below.

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Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 24,211

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Meet the characters, settings etc., from my forthcoming novel, Coming of Age on the Trail

The Stampede

“Few occupations are more cheerful, lively and pleasant than that of the cow-boy on a fine day or night; but when the storm comes, then is his manhood and often his skill and bravery put to test. When the night is inky dark and the lurid lightning flashes its zig-zag course athwart the heavens, and the coarse thunder jars the earth, the winds moan fresh and lively over the prairie, the electric balls dance from tip to tip of the cattle’s horns then the position of the cow-boy on duty is trying far more than romantic.

“When the storm breaks over his head, the least occurrence unusual, such as the breaking of a dry weed or stick, or a sudden and near flash of lightning, will start the herd, as if by magic, all at an instant, upon a wild rush. and woe to the horse, or man, or camp that may be in their path.” Joseph G. McCoy

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Introducing SCD Goff from Dublin, Ireland, and her new novel Lady Languish.

 After her uncle attacks Evangeline Languish at her sixteenth birthday party, she is sent away to boarding school where she is ostracised and bullied. She has been abandoned.

When she eventually makes it home, her uncle visits again, terrifying her with crazy stories about her father … Evangeline resolves not to believe them, but when she discovers a strange young man, injured and alone, she is forced to change her mind about everything she thought she knew.

Evangeline, gifted but innocent and almost alone, must face Malachy once more before she can be free. But can she kill him before he kills her and those she loves?

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If you would like to learn more about any of my 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.

      

Thanks for dropping by. I look forward to your visit every week!



April 15, 2012 Posted by | Canadian biography, Canadian content, Canadian frontier stories, Canadian historical content, Canadian outlaws, Historical period, Non-fiction, non-GLBT | 2 Comments

Snow: the double life of a world war II spy, by Nigel West and Madoc Roberts

A fascinating story for history buffs and fans of true-life spy stories.

Story blurb: SNOW is the codename assigned to Arthur Owens, one of the most remarkable British spies of the Second World War. This ‘typical Welsh underfed type’ became the first of the great double-cross agents who were to play a major part in Britain’s victory over the Germans. When the stakes could not have been higher, MI5 sought to build a double-cross system based on the shifting loyalties of a duplicitous, philandering and vain anti-hero who was boastful and brave, reckless and calculating, ruthless and mercenary…but patriotic. Or was he? Based on recently declassified files and meticulous research, Snow reveals for the first time the truth about an extraordinary man.

About the Authors: Nigel West is the pen name of Rupert Allason, a military historian and author specialising in intelligence and security issues. He is European Editor of the International Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence. He was awarded the first Lifetime Literature Achievement Award of the US Association of Former Intelligence Officers and was voted ‘the experts’ expert’ by a panel of spy writers selected by The Observer.

Madoc Roberts has worked in television for thirty years. He is managing director of Barkingmad TV and as a producer and director has made history programmes for Channel 4, Channel 5, Discovery and the History Channel. As an editor he has worked on feature films and made award-winning programmes for all the major networks including Timewatch for BBC 2 and Time Team for Channel 4. He was also the main editor on the long-running BBC 2 series Private Life of a Masterpiece. In the 1970s he was lead singer with The Tunnelrunners. He now lives in Cardiff with his wife, the artist Susan Roberts.

Available in e-book format – 1419 KB

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Review by Gerry Burnie

I have long maintained that the most interesting history of any society lies not with its kings and politicians, but with ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Okay, maybe Arthur Owens wasn’t your average person, but his exploits certainly prove the point. Fortunately for us, Nigel West and Madoc Roberts have brought this fascinating story to light in a recently released, non-fiction tale of espionage in WWII; Snow: the double life of a world war II spy [Biteback, October 2011].

To start, Arthur Owens was a Welsh battery salesman who was out to sell his invention that no one in Britain seemed to be interested in. That is when he decided to go farther a-field to offer it to the Germans in 1935. He therefore walked into the German embassy a salesman and walked out a spy.

Inevitably in the world of espionage and counter-espionage Mi5 eventually learned of his activity, and Owens subsequently became the first double agent on record.

One of the key areas Owens able to serve British intelligence was to identify German agents, who were then given the offer of working with Mi5 or facing a firing squad. Needless to say very few refused this ‘charming’ offer, and so Britain was kept quite well informed about Hitler’s activities leading up to the war in 1942.

The end of his spying activity—but not his ballsy luck and attitude—came in 1941 when the Nazis accused him of being a double agent, but mysteriously let him return to England. Thereby he was interned in Dartmoor prison for the remainder of the war.

Following the war, fearing retribution from both sides, he exiled himself to Canada and then to Ireland. In the meantime, however, he threatened the British government he would go public with his story and was paid-off an undisclosed amount of money. That’s what I like about this character; traitor or patriot, Owens had balls!

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A couple of interesting side notes to this story, as well. Apparently, Owens’ son had no idea of his father’s activities until his mother told him, nor was he aware of his half-sister by Owens’ first wife. Indeed, Patricia Owens was a Hollywood movie star appearing opposite Marlon Brando and James Mason.

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A fascinating story for history buffs and fans of true-life spy adventures. Five bees.

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If you would like to learn more about any of my 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.

     

Happy New Year to all, and thanks for dropping by!

January 1, 2012 Posted by | biography, Military history, Non-fiction, non-GLBT | 1 Comment

Park Dwellers, by Mal Tempo and Nathan Scott

An interesting idea, but otherwise it leaves a lot to be desired

Blurb: Public cruising across America remains the least discussed of all gay activities. Meeting in public parks is for many gay men perfect for twenty minutes of fantasy and fun. Interviewing dozens and dozens of men over three years, the authors compiled a series of profiles of park users and cruisers with a focus on sexual habits, strange sights, and their success in pursuing this unique American fantasy. Men have come to public parks, creating a secret society of gay cruisers thriving for centuries. These stories are true. If the tales seem familiar, you must remember that they have been told many times.”

Available in eBook format – 555 KB.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Park Dwellers by Mal Tempo and Nathan Scott [Long Time Ago Press, 2010] is an interesting idea, but otherwise it leaves a lot to be desired. For one thing, the blurb suggests that this is a “series of profiles” based on interviews from “across America”, but it is, in fact, based on one park somewhere in United States, and consists primarily of observations that are neither in-depth, nor particularly unique—except for the idiosyncrasies of the individuals described.

Indeed, as a gay man it comes as no surprise that public parks are used for cruising, and also for furtive, impersonal sexual encounters, but what I would like to have known (from the interviews) is the psychology of park cruisers—i.e. not just the methodology. Is this their only form of socio-sexual activity, or is it merely one segment of it? And why?

Alas, for me Park Dwellersfalls short in just about every category I could have hoped for. It is too superficial to be a study, too shallow to provide any meaningful profiles, and worse, by not making clear that park cruisers are a miniscule part of GLBT society, it perpetuates the myth that gays are a ‘slutty’ lot with only one focus in life.

Journalistically, the syntax and writing are solid enough, but the overuse of clichés, metaphors and campy phrases gives it a gossipy overtone. This is also accentuated by the less-than-complimentary pseudonyms assigned to the various denizens, i.e. “Quasimodo,” “The Frog Prince,” and “Winnie the Poo-Poo.”  Moreover, although it is the responsibility of the publisher, the formatting truncates sentences and runs paragraphs together in a difficult-to-read manner.

As I have said above, Park Dwellersis an interesting idea, but it leaves a lot to be desired. Two Gerry Bees.

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Gerry Burnie-Books
I’m excited–and that doesn’t happen very often at my age. However, my interview with Charlie Cochrane (“Cambridge Fellows Mystery Series”) is published today. Do drop around and share our thoughts. http://charliecochrane.livejournal.com/143455.html

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I have added three, newly discovered vintage photographs to my Coming of Age on the Trail, Related Photos site. These are interesting photos from the 1890s era that illustrate various aspects of the story, along with a description. These photos are of interest in their own right. Check it out.

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To order any of my books, click on the individual cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are both available in Nook and Kindle formats. The publisher’s price is $4.95 (exclusive of taxes where applied).

     

Thanks for dropping by!!

October 23, 2011 Posted by | Gay non-fiction, Non-fiction | Leave a comment

Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. by Johathan Katz

October is GLBT History Month, and in commemoration of this occasion I offer what I consider to be the quintessential history of Gays and Lesbians in North America.

This book should be the Bible of not only the past, but also the present and the future—as in “we’ve prevailed in spite of all.”

Publisher’s blurb: Unique among books about Gay people, this pioneer work brings together for the first time a large group of historical chronicles of American Lesbian and Gay life, coupled with the heterosexual attitudes of the era. Intended for an audience of all sexual persuasions, these selections reflect a new, historical view of this once-silent invisible minority and a dramatic reappraisal of American life, from Alexander Hamilton’s love letters to John Laurens, to the forgotten autobiography and insane asylum records of a feminist transvestite of the 19th century, to lesbianism in the life of blues great Bessie Smith, and to the present in a 1976 report of the Gay liberation organization of American Indians.

About the author: Katz taught as an adjunct at Yale University, Eugene Lang College, and New York University, and was the convener of a faculty seminar at Princeton University. He is a founding member of the Gay Academic Union in 1973 and the National Writers Union in 1980. He was the initiator and is the director of OutHistory.org, a site devoted to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, (LGBTQ) and heterosexual history, that went online in September 2008, and is produced by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, an institute at the City University of New York Graduate Center, under a grant from the Arcus Foundation.

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.

Review by Gerry Burnie

We have been the silent minority, the silenced minority—invisible women, invisible men. Early on, the alleged enormity of our “sin” justified the denial of our existence, even our physical destruction” p1. So begins noted sexual historian, Professor Johnathan Katz, in his seminal “collection of turbulent chronicles,” Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. [Plume; Rev Sub edition (April 1, 1992)].

He then goes on to add to this lamentable observation:

During the four hundred years documented here, American homosexuals were condemned to death by chocking, burning, drowning; they were executed, jailed, pilloried, fined, court-martialed, prostituted, fired, framed, blackmailed, disinherited, declared insane, driven to insanity, to suicide, murder, and self-hate, witch-hunted, entrapped, stereotyped, mocked, insulted, isolated, pities, castigated and despised.(They were also castrated, lobotomized, shock-treated, and psychoanalyzed…) Homosexuals and their behavior were characterized by the terms “abomination,” “crime against nature,” “sin,” “monsters,” “fairies,” “bull dykes,” and “perverts.”p17.

Professor Katz then goes on to document every word of these in a 720-page, annotated thesis, which—quite astoundingly for such a scholarly work—remains immensely readable.

For example, there is the chronicle of the earliest known case of a homosexual being put to death in America, that of Frenchman Gonzalo Solís de Merás, murdered in St. Augustine, Florida [my winter home], in 1566.  Also, The execution of Richard Cornish for sodomy in Colonial America, 1624; and of William Plaine in 1646. There is also a record a Black man, Jan Ceoli, living on Manhattan Island, who was condemned to be “choked to death, and then burned to ashes.” In the same Dutch New Netherland Colony, Jan Quisthout Van Der Linde was sentenced to be “tied in a sack and cast into the river” for a homosexual rape.

An early report, 1824-26, identifies homosexuality in American prisons, and concerns “prostitution” of “juvenile delinquents” with older male prisoners.  Male prostitution is also prominently mentioned in a report, dating 1892, documenting the homosexual underworld in American cities. These reports also include descriptions of Black male homosexual transvestites, homosexual activity at steam baths, newspaper solicitations, and street life.

There are also early reports of a civil servant being discharged: a New York policeman, for making improper advances on other males while on duty (1846), and of a minister separated from the church for homosexual activity (1866). The clergyman was Horatio Alger.

In 1896, the family of a wealthy businessman, Henry Palmer, petitioned the court to have Palmer declared mentally incompetent on account of his homosexuality, and although a prominent doctor testified to his “absolute certainty of Palmer’s sanity,” the court found him “insane,” anyway.

Lesbians didn’t seem to fare any better, for in 1636 John Cotton made a proposal to the Massachusetts Bay Colony that homosexual relations between women be placed on par with male homosexuality as a capital offence. In 1656 the New Haven Colony passed a law prescribing the death penalty for lesbianism, as well as male homosexuality.

Professor Katz has also dedicated a significant portion of his scholarly work to Native Americans. One of the earliest reports, dated 1528-36, states:

During the time that I was thus among these people I saw a devilish thing, and it is that I saw one man married to another, and these are impotent, effeminate men [amarionados]and they go about dressed as women, and do women’s tasks, and shoot with a bow, and carry great burdens,…and they are huskier than the other men, and taller…”p430

Another report, dated 1673-77, reads:

I know not through what superstition some Illinois, as well as Nadouessi, while still young, assume the garb of women, and retain it throughout their lives. There is some mystery in this, for they never marry and glory in demeaning themselves to do everything that the women do. They go to war, however, but can use only clubs, and not bows and arrows, which are the weapons proper to men. They are present at all the juggleries, and at the solemn dances in honor of the Calumet; at these they sing, but not dance. They are summoned to their Councils and nothing can be decided without their advice. Finally, through their profession of leading an extraordinary life, they pass as Manitous,–That is to say, for Spirits,–or persons of consequence.p.433

Moreover, an 1889 report by Dr. A.B. Holder, describes “A Peculiar Sexual Perversion,” i.e.:

The word bō-teˊ I have chosen as being most familiar to me and not likely to convey a wrong impression, since I shall be the first, perhaps, to translate into English and define it. It is the word use by the Absaroke Indians of Montana, and literally mans “not man, no woman.”…

“The practice of the bote among civilized races is not unknown to specialists, but no name is suited to ears of polite, even though professional, has been given it. The practice is to produce the sexual orgasm by taking the male organ of the active party in the lips of the bote, the bote probably experiencing the orgasm at the same time. Of the latter supposition I have been able to satisfy, but I can in no other way account for the infatuation of the act.”

My comments

Among the monumental, literary works of history, Jonathon Katz can rightfully take his place. Or, as another reviewer has already put it, “Jonathan Katz would be sainted if he never wrote another word or produced another bit of research.”[1]

This documentary history is utterly astonishing for the amount of research it implies, the documented stories it tells, the humanity it describes, and for the easy-to-read journalism in which it is presented. Among the GLBT communities, this book should be the Bible of not only the past, but also the present and the future—as in “we’ve prevailed in spite of all.” Five Stars—plus.


[1] B. J. Wilson, Amazon.com.

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Rewrites to Coming of Age on the Trail 129/177 pages.

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To order any of my books, click on the individual covers below. Nor All Thy Tears and Two Irish Lads are now available in Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price $4.95 (tax and exchange not included), but prices may vary from retailer to retailer.

     

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October 2, 2011 Posted by | Gay documentary, Gay non-fiction, Non-fiction, Two spirits | Leave a comment

Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star, by Tab Hunter with Eddie Muller

A fascinating look at a man and an era

Story blurb: Welcome to Hollywood, circa 1950, the end of the Golden Age. A remarkably handsome young boy, still a teenager, gets “discovered by a big-time movie agent. Because when he takes his shirt off young hearts beat faster, because he is the picture of innocence and trust and need, he will become a star. It seems almost preordained. The open smile says, “You will love me,” and soon the whole world does.

The young boy’s name was Tab Hunter—a made-up name, of course, a Hollywood name—and it was his time. Stardom didn’t come overnight, although it seemed that way. In fact, the fame came first, when his face adorned hundreds of magazine covers; the movies, the studio contract, the name in lights—all that came later. For Tab Hunter was a true product of Hollywood, a movie star created from a stable boy, a shy kid made even more so by the way his schoolmates—both girls and boys—reacted to his beauty, by a mother who provided for him in every way except emotionally, and by a secret that both tormented him and propelled him forward.

In Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star, Hunter speaks out for the first time about what it was like to be a movie star at the end of the big studio era, to be treated like a commodity, to be told what to do, how to behave, whom to be seen with, what to wear. He speaks also about what it was like to be gay, at first confused by his own fears and misgivings, then as an actor trapped by an image of boy-next-door innocence. And when he dared to be difficult, to complain to the studio about the string of mostly mediocre movies that were assigned to him, he learned that just like any manufactured product, he was disposable—disposable and replaceable.

Hunter’s career as a bona fide movie star lasted a decade. But he persevered as an actor, working continuously at a profession he had come to love, seeking—and earning—the respect of his peers, and of the Hollywood community.

And so, Tab Hunter Confidential is at heart a story of survival—of the giddy highs of stardom, and the soul-destroying lows when phone calls begin to go unreturned; of the need to be loved, and the fear of being consumed; of the hope of an innocent boy, and the rueful summation of a man who did it all, and who lived to tell it all.

Review by Gerry Burnie

Although I can’t remember being a star struck fan of Tab Hunter (being “star struck” was a condition limited to “bobby soxers” in 1950s’ Pefferlaw), at 74 I am of the right generation to appreciate an autobiography like this one, i.e. “Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Move Star by Tab Hunter with Eddie Muller [Algonquin Books, 2006].

For one thing I much prefer a behind-the-scenes view of things, which is especially justified after reading about some of the unadulterated hype generated by the Hollywood PR mills in Hunter’s case. Admittedly I’ve never understood the type of mass hysteria demonstrated by “fans” of anyone, be it Elvis, The Beatles, or Will and Kate. Therefore, the first good thing I’ll say about Tab Hunter’s biography is that he didn’t start believing his own press releases. Consequently, we do get a pretty fair glimpse of the man behind the image.

Beyond that I would say that this story will be of interest mainly to people of my generation, movie buffs, and modern historians (apologies for the term, Tab). However, for those of us who qualify it is a delightful walk down Memory Lane. For example, remember this:

“The Arlington Theatre, home of all my film-infused fantasies was now the neighbourhood’s big make-out. I figured I should get in on the action, be like the guys, even though I had little in common with them. [My experience as well].

“Four or five guys, cruising in a pack, would surround one of the local girls. They’d guide her to the back of the theatre, the way animals isolated and heard one of their own. They’d take turns nuzzling her and fondling her breasts.

“I did it too—even though I was always afraid the girl would call the police on me, the way Lois had [A false complaint]. As I copped a few sheepish feels, my brain disconnected.  I should be out at the barn, with the horses! That’s where I belong!

“The guys ribbed me, of course, for my lack of enthusiasm. I didn’t care. I didn’t want any part of it.30-31.”

And that first time:

“One of those nights at the Arlington, as I was sitting alone in the dark, a man swooped down into the seat beside me … This guy knew exactly what he was doing.

“I let him do it. Hard to say why—I was scared, stupid, and excited. When he was finished, he gave me a dollar and wrote his phone number on a card. “If you every want to do it again,” he said, “call me.”

 “No chance of that, I told myself, buckling up. But despite the shame already suffocating me, I tucked his card inside my little rawhide-stitched wallet.”32

 And confession:

 “I entered the anonymous confines of the dark confessional, my heart pouding. Because of my acute claustrophobia, confession was already difficult for me. I thought I’d die as I haltingly explained to the priest what had happened. Saying the words was torture, but confessing was the only way I could go on living with myself.

 “I never finished. Through the latticework boomed the priest’s voice, branding me the most despicable creature in the world. I was unfit to receive God’s forgiveness, unfit to set foot in His house, unfit to live. On and on this “man of God” went, mercilessly, until I ran shaking from the confessional. Instead of offering sanctuary, the church I loved now felt hateful and oppressive.”32-33

 I think those passages speak for themselves about how it was to be a gay teenager in the 1950s, so perhaps the reading list should be expanded to include those supporters of DOMA, etc., who want to return to the bad old days.

 For those who have an interest, however, I highly recommend this story as a fascinating look at an era through the eyes of someone who saw if from the mountain. Five stars.

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Visitor count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews: 12,904

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I’m happy to say that after a long struggle, Amazon-Canada is now listing Nor All Thy Tears as both available and in stock–although it’s hard to understand how a ‘print on demand’ book can be “out of stock.” Moreover, it is also displayed with a product description. Hallelujah!

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Nor All thy Tears is now #2 on the Barnes and Noble “Romantic Fiction” List.

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To purchase any of the novels below, click on the individual cover:

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August 28, 2011 Posted by | Autobiography, Historical period, Hollywood, Non-fiction | Leave a comment

The Naked Quaker: True Crimes and Controversies from the Courts of Colonial New England, by Diane Rapaport

An agreeable balance of law and journalism

Publisher’s blurb: Diane Rapaport’s previous book was New England Court Records: A Research Guide for Genealogists and Historians, so it seems only right that she would share her own most exciting archival finds. As its title suggests, The Naked Quaker bares seldom-seen aspects of Colonial New England life. Representative chapter headings include “Witches & Wild Women,” “Coupling,” “Parents & Youth,” “Tavern Tales,” “Slaves & Servants,” and “Neighbor vs. Neighbor.” Glimpses into a vanished world. 

About the author: Diane Rapaport, a former trial lawyer, has made a new career as an author and speaker, bringing history to life with true stories from early New England court records.

 ****

Review by Gerry Burnie

Note: This is not a GLBT book.

Being a former law professor and a rabid history buff, The Naked Quaker: True Crimes and Controversies from the Courts of Colonial New England, by Diane Rapaport [Commonwealth Editions, 2007] was right up my alley. It is a collection of cases gleaned from the archival court records of Puritan New England, c. 1620s to the latter part of that century. 

Although we think of the present as being a litigious time, and in some ways it is, it doesn’t hold a tallow candle to the inhabitants of 17-century Massachusetts. Moreover, many of the causes are remarkably familiar even today—i.e. drunkenness, unlicensed sale of liquor, unpaid debts, unwanted advances, and obstreperous youth, etc. Therefore, as Ms Rapaport points out, “Goin to law” was a common remedy for large and small issues. 

It was also a source of spectator entertainment that came around usually every quarter (Courts of Quarterly Session)—but more often as required—and people would gather from miles around to watch or partake. Lawyers were hardly ever retained, judges were sometimes commissioned from the ranks of the previously convicted, and the courtroom was generally a tavern. All of this Ms Rapaport reveals as part of her meticulous research. 

In fact, going through the pages of The Naked Quaker is like taking a front row seat at some of the sessions. For example we have Mrs. Elizabeth Goodman, a notoriously outspoken widow, who was accused of being a witch on the basis that she had an uncanny knowledge of her neighbours affairs, and that, after Mrs. Goodman admitted “some affection” for a certain gentleman, his new wife suffered “very strange fits” after the wedding. Nonetheless, the judges decided that the evidence was “not sufficient … take away her life,” and so she was set free.

Then we have a “lascivious meeting” of unmarried men and women in the fall of 1660. This group, including Harvard students and their young women friends, drank wine together at a tavern, and then moved on to Harvard Yard where they were witnessed holding hands.  One witness even described a girl sitting on a boy’s lap, and other amorous behaviour that shocked the sensibilities of proper Puritan judges, and so the participants were admonished to “avoid the like loose practices in the future.” 

On the other hand, a husband and wife were severely punished for playing and allowing to be played games of cards at their home. 

Outright religious intolerance was not only rife, particularly between Puritans and Quakers, it was legally sanctioned. For years the Massachusetts authorities had engaged in unrelenting persecution of Quakers—the General Court issued a series of laws penalizing the “accused sect of heretics”—and it was illegal for Quakers to meet together or to teach others about their beliefs.74 It was also unlawful (whether Quaker or not) not to attend church on the Sabbath, and Lydia Wardell and her husband had been fined for missing (Puritan) services on twenty consecutive Sundays. Consequently, Lydia did attend one Sunday in 1663—only she did it naked. 

Slavery was quite acceptable to Puritan society, and it frequently extended beyond people of colour–Africans and Native Americans–to include the Irish and Scots. For example, two boys (11 and perhaps 14) had been kidnapped from their beds and brought to Massachusetts as indentured “servants.”  They were sold to a magistrate to work on his estate, and some years later they appealed to the court (on which their master sat) for relief from their servitude. They lost.

Although this is a chronicle of digested court cases, the reader need have no concerns about it being a dry or dusty read. On the contrary, probably because of her experience as a speaker on the subject, Ms Rapaport has struck an agreeable balance between law and journalism. In addition, given the direct quotes in the arcane language of the day, and the grassroots insight into everyday life, it could also be a valuable resource for writers working on that era.

Highly recommended for his buffs like myself. Five stars. 

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Visitor count to Gerry B’s Book Review: 12,574

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This has been a busy month for me with the publication of an eBook version of Two Irish Lads, The paperback publication of Nor All Thy Tears: Journey to Big Sky,”  and completing the first draft of Coming of Age on the Trail. I am also happy to say that both Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears have received 5-star reviews on Amazon.com. Therefore the count stands this way:

 Click on the individual images (except Coming of Age) to purchase.

August 14, 2011 Posted by | Historical period, Non-fiction, non-GLBT | Leave a comment

Secrets of Lake Simcoe: Fascinating Stories From Ontario’s Past, by Andrew Hind & Maria Da Silva

This is Canadian history that needs to be preserved as part of our culture and heritage. Three stars.

Blurb: A lively book illustrated with archival photos, Secrets of Lake Simcoe is a valuable addition to local history collections and provides a refreshing way for anyone to view what some consider to be Canada’s sixth Great Lake. At the heart of central Ontario, Lake Simcoe has played an important role in the province’s history for hundreds of years. Today a popular destination for pleasure-seekers and cottagers, it helped open up the region to explorers and fur traders, settlers and entrepreneurs. The lake has secrets aplenty and this book offers a selection of stories of dramatic episodes from the lake’s past. There are shipwrecks, stately resorts, vanished industries, forgotten forts and even murder most foul.

About the authors: MARIA DA SILVA has always had a passion for history and ghost stories. ANDREW HIND is a freelance writer who lives in Bradford, Ontario. They are co-authors of several other titles in the Amazing Stories series, most recently Rebels Against Tories in Upper Canada 1837.

 

Review by Gerry Burnie

*This is not a GLBT book.

Having grown up and spent most of my entire seventy-three years around Lake Simcoe, Secrets of Lake Simcoe: Fascinating Stories From Ontario’s Past by Andrew Hind and Maria Da Silva touches a nostalgic part of my heart.

As the authors point out, Lake Simcoe is an ancient lake—being the remnant of a giant inland sea that once covered the area—it has figured into nearly every aspect of eastern Canada’s history; from Pre-European times to the present. It is also known worldwide as a tourist destination for vacationers and anglers—being dubbed the “Ice Fishing Capital of the World.”

In an attempt to make it more palatable for the average reader, Hind a Da Silva have taken an anecdotal approach to the history; an approach I agree with to a certain point [a discussion on this point later]. They have therefore avoided the “great blight of academia” by giving the characters and events some personality and colour. History, after all, isn’t merely the dusty facts, figure and dates that most scholars would have us believe. Moreover, even the all-too-often named players (kings, politicians, generals and such) had some interesting quirks about them.[1] For example, John A. MacDonald had the parliamentary pages all trained to bring him a tumbler full of gin in the House of Commons, because it most resembled water.

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And now to the book: There are fourteen different topics covered, in more-or-less chronological order, from “Fort Willow and the Nine Mile Portage,” c.1812, to “The Briars Resort and Spa, 1977.[2] Fort Willow was a revelation to me. I am well acquainted with the official version of the 1812 war, of course, but not the part that gravitated north to Georgian Bay. So for day-trippers this fort may make an interesting outing—see Secrets of Lake Simcoe for the location.

The Ghost Canal” might also prove interesting for folks visiting the Newmarket-Holland Landing area, where the evidence of this canal is still quite visible. It would be a great way to get the kids interested in history, and Ontario history in particular.

Not all Victorian characters were paragons of virtue (not even the Old Queen herself), and “A Real Rogue: Joseph Anderton” was a prime example of roguery. Moreover, he was also the (now) City of Barrie’s first mayor, and so you can draw your own conclusions on that. Oh, and like modern politicians, he got away with it.

And then, there is “Murder Most Foul in Morning Glory.” As I mentioned above, anecdotal history is fine provided that the facts are more-or-less correct. However, in reference to the so-called “Morning Glory murders,” I take issue with some of the stated facts.

To state my case, my great grandfather, James Burnie, owned and operated the Morning Glory Inn from c.1863 to c.1870. In fact, my grandfather, Alfred Burnie, was born at the Inn in 1869. William Sager acquired it after this, and only operated it until is burned c.1872-73. From childhood discussions with my grandfather, prior to his death in 1949, I was aware of the “murders” well before the discovery of the bones in 1971.[3] Moreover, his version of the couple’s disappearance was very different from the one related here. However, that is perhaps understandable since both versions are based on hearsay.

Apart from the foregoing, to the best of my knowledge there was never a “hamlet” named Morning Glory in the area. Certainly there is none marked on the attached map dated c. 1878[4] [see map]. The property surrounding the Morning Glory Inn was a formidable swamp; the properties to the west and south were all farmlands, and there were no “businesses” per se—in particular no “general store” or “a sawmill situated on the nearby creek.” There was a brick yard near Virginia, but it was operated by A.E. “Ted” Arnold.

Unfortunately this lowers the book’s rating from a four or five-star classification to a three, but I still want to recommend this collection of historical anecdotes for the rest of it. This is Canadian history that needs to be preserved as part of our culture and heritage. Three stars.


[1] See my discussion “Canada has a colourful and interesting history that for the most part is waiting to be discovered,” http://www.gerryburniebooks.com.

[2] The Briars estate was originally built in 1840, but the resort and spa dates from 1970s.

[3] I was privileged to see the bones before they were sent to Toronto, and what I recall is that the man’s femur bone came well above my knee. Ergo he must have been an exceptionally tall man.

[4] Illustrated Historical Atlas of York County, Toronto: Miles and Co., 1878.

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The manuscript for Nor All Thy Tears: Journey to Big Sky goes to the publisher Monday. It has been three years in the making, and so it is a very satisfying time indeed. It has also taken me about ten years to learn how to create a composite photo using Photoshop. The cover design to the left is the result. The publisher was originally scheduled to design the cover, but I was concerned that their image of the main characters might not be the same as mine. These two lads are as close as I could come using stock photos. They were acquired from CanStock, which has the best collection I have found to date. The book should be ready for lat July, 2011.

Two Irish Lads is also scheduled to be released in e-book format in July. Amazon has quoted me a price of $350 – $375 to convert the ms to Kindle format. Why, I don`t know. It`s their exclusive format, and so it means more sales for them. However, Maple Creek Media has a price of $149 which includes a Nook formating as well. It also includes sumitting the finished product to both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. They also have a very good publishing offer, so you might be interested in checking them out.

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Visitor count to Gerry B`s Book Reviews: 11,459

June 26, 2011 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Historical period, Military history, Non-fiction | Leave a comment

Secret Historian:The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade, by Justin Spring

Will the real Samuel Steward please stand up…

 

 

 

Blurb: Drawn from the secret, never-before-seen diaries, journals, and sexual records of the novelist, poet, and university professor Samuel M. Steward, Secret Historian is a sensational reconstruction of one of the more extraordinary hidden lives of the twentieth century. An intimate friend of Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and Thornton Wilder, Steward maintained a secret sex life from childhood on, and documented these experiences in brilliantly vivid (and often very funny) detail.

After leaving the world of academe to become Phil Sparrow, a tattoo artist on Chicago’s notorious South State Street, Steward worked closely with Alfred Kinsey on his landmark sex research. During the early 1960s, Steward changed his name and identity once again, this time to write exceptionally literate, upbeat pro-homosexual pornography under the pseudonym Phil Andros.

Until today Steward’s many identities have been known to only a few—but an extraordinary archive of his papers, lost since his death in 1993, has provided Justin Spring with the material for an exceptionally compassionate and brilliantly illuminating life-and-times biography. More than merely the story of one remarkable man, Secret Historian is a moving portrait of homosexual life in the years before gay liberation.  

Hardcover – 496 pages; also available in Kindle format – 898 KB

 

Review by Gerry Burnie

It’s difficult to know what to say about Secret Historian by Justin Spring [Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2010]. It is the type of story that overwhelms while you’re reading it, and stays with you long after you set it down. Moreover, while I liked and admired Justin Spring’s writing, and the nostalgic look at the twentieth century, I disliked the principal character, Samuel Steward, as being disturbingly egocentric and self-serving.

Having said that, I will start by saying that even though Spring was the beneficiary of nearly thirty boxes of Steward’s journals, papers, photographs, etc. (a horde that most writers—especially me—would give their souls to find), he still had to sort and categorize these into a meaningful order for the rest of us. Not an easy task, given Steward’s will-of-the-wisp nature. In this regard, I believe has done a masterful job of tracing Steward’s development from a displaced youngster in a stiflingly, religious-bound backwater, to the avant-garde salons of Paris; overseen by such literary giants as Gertrude Stein and Alice B Tolkas.

On a personal note I identified most sympathetically with Steward’s small town beginnings, whereby he learned very quickly how to be deceptive because it was what others wanted, i.e.

[The situation was that Steward had written a ‘love’ note to a salesman who had unethically made it public. Thereby, Steward’s father (a drunken, drug-using Sunday school teacher) found out about it and confronted his son.] “I want to know what the hell a son of mine is doing writing love letters to another man.” Steward recalled him saying in his journal, and then went on: ““I think,” I said, drawing on my new vocabulary from Havelock Ellis, “that I am homosexual.”

“…Don’t give me any of your smartaleck high school rhetoric!” He [his father] bellowed…[And] that was the way the conversation went on for about an hour. When I saw that he wanted to believe that I had not actually sinned, the game became fairly easy…I pretended to be chastened, to be horror-struck at the enormity of [what I had proposed to the salesman]…I worked it to the hilt, falling in easily with his suggestion that perhaps I should go to see a professional whore—that such an experience might start me on a heterosexual (he said “normal”) path.””

It was the first lesson that he, and we, learned about being homosexual in pre-Stonewall days—pre-bathhouse-raid days in Canada (1981). Deception and compartmentalization were the prices paid for pursuing an alternative lifestyle; not because one wanted to live a lie, but because others were uncomfortable with the truth. Oh, and the understood cure for deviance was the “Royal Fuck,” as a friend of mine once coined it.

It is not at all surprising that Steward could juggle multiple lives; including, incidentally, a (alcoholic) professor of graduate studies. Moreover, his students apparently loved him, and he loved them; one in particular, for whom he traded “As” for blow jobs.

One of the things I found quite interesting was the absence of the term “gay” when referring to himself or others as homosexual. Rather, he used the more clinical descriptor “invert,” “deviant” or, occasionally, the pejorative “queer.” This is no doubt due to the fact that “gay,” referring to a homosexual, dates from after WWII (1945). It, too, was used as a pejorative until it was adopted by the gay community.

Another aspect that fascinated me was the treatment for syphilis in the pre-penicillin era, i.e.

“The best treatment then available was ‘a three year ordeal—[including] weekly shots of Neosalvarsan from a doctor…’”

“The painful weekly shots gave Steward both purpura and a skin ulcer. After the course of neosalvarsan came a mercury ointment that he had to rub into his armpits and groin, and then a course of saturated solution of potassium iodide ‘which caused the skin to erupt all over [my] back in what looked like Job’s boils.’”

The fact that Steward contracted syphilis is not at all surprising, for he was a twentieth-century Satyr with an insatiable sexual appetite, and who kept his own ‘scoreboard’ on 3” x 5” file cards that he referred to as his “Stud File.” These included sailors, thugs, underage hustlers, Rudolph Valentino, Thorton Wilder (“Our Town”), students, policemen, ex-cons, priests, Hells Angels, scripted orgies, and brutal S/M sessions (both scripted and otherwise). Indeed, so prodigious was he that it surprising he found the time to do anything else.

Nevertheless, Justin Spring, like a good biographer, never judges; rather, he leaves it to the readers to draw their own conclusions. In this respect, while Secret Historian is a valuable look at gay history throughout much of the twentieth century, it is seen through the slightly distorted prism of one man’s exploits. Enthusiastically recommended for biography fans, and students of the twentieth century. Four stars.

Last week 310 visitors viewed Bashed, by Rick Reed. Thank you for your insterest. Gerry B.

February 20, 2011 Posted by | biography, Historical period, Homoerotic, Non-fiction | Leave a comment

Here’s What We’ll say: Growing Up, Coming Out, and the U.S. Air Force Academy, Reichen Lehmkuhl

A timely look at the anachronistic  ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy.

 

 

 

Blurb: Reichen Lehmkuhl is perhaps best known for the ambition, intelligence, and athleticism that won him the grand prize on CBS’s Amazing Race. Since winning the million-dollar prize, Lehmkuhl has gone on to find success acting in film and television. However, he played the biggest role of his life long before his professional acting debut, when he was forced to hide his sexuality to comply with the Air Force’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Here’s What We’ll Say tells the harrowing inside story of what happens when cadets who are committed to serving their nation’s military figure out that they are in fact gay. With no way out and no place to turn for protection, a new code of conduct emerged among gay and lesbian cadets that helped ensure their safety. Gathering secretly in various locations, cadets formed a hidden network. To guarantee the privacy of individuals in attendance, however, each meeting opened with, “Here’s what we’ll say…” — a pledge so sacred that the group had it inscribed on the inside of their class rings.

About the author: Reichen Lehmkuhl is a graduate of the Air Force Academy, a former captain in the Air Force, an actor, an international model, a flight instructor, winner of CBS’s Amazing Race, and a gay rights advocate. He lives in Los Angeles.

Review by Gerry Burnie

Given the current debate regarding the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy, Here’s What We’ll Say: Growing Up, Coming Out, and the U.S. Air Force Academy” by Reichen Lehmkuhl [Da Capo Press, 2007] is a timely topic. Regretfully those that need to read it most—the religious fundamentalists and dogmatic, small-c conservatives–will probably never see it.

Lehmkuhl’s story relates his troubled childhood; the breakup of his parents’ marriage, the feeling of not being wanted, and the psychological impact of all this. His feelings of inadequacy are also exacerbated by the stigma of living in a trailer park—i.e. the perception of being “trailer trash.” However, apart from being Lehmkuhl’s own story there is nothing unique about this. Nor is there anything about it that would necessarily be deleterious to a person’s later life. Therefore, I question the author’s choice of devoting 50% of the book to the telling of it when a quarter of the 368 pages would have said it all quite nicely.

Fortunately the second 50% somewhat redeems the prosaic first part, and finally gets down to the business of his coming out and the U.S. Air Force Academy, as stated in the title.

Although I was vaguely familiar with the discipline of a military academy, the pseudo-sadistic hazing rituals, etc., Lehmkuhl’s intimate knowledge of such has revealed much I didn’t know. For example, I knew nothing about the demeaning practice of running the “strip” [see photo to the left], which Basic Recruits are required to do between classes, or the memorizing of meaningless passages for the sake of being able to spout them on demand. It all seems rather mindless, but it is something that has worked to develop men for decades, and in the case of Westpoint Military Academy has worked since the time of Thomas Jefferson.

More odious is the systematic scourging of homosexuals at the official level; a point that ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ doesn’t address. This umbrella approach does not preclude being investigated or ‘outed’ by someone else. It also doesn’t preclude significant numbers of raunchy, virile young lads from indulging in ‘extra-curricular activities’ in spite of the risk.

To counteract this ever-present risk, Lemhkuhl describes how he founded an ad hoc brother and sisterhood, referred to as the “family,” which operated on the pragmatic basis of you lie and we’ll all swear to it, in order to protect one anothers’ asses. While one might argue the ethics of such a principle, Lemhkuhl makes a compelling argument for its validation on the basis of counteracting an even greater injustice.

Overall I found this story to be a worthwhile read on account of its look behind the anachronism of  ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy. Three and one-half stars.

January 31, 2011 – A new threshold for viewership has been achieved! Thanks to you, January was the best month ever with 1,104 viewers. I am humbled by your interest, and sincere in my thanks. Gerry B.

January 29, 2011 Posted by | Autobiography, Military history, Non-fiction | 4 Comments

Sal Mineo: A Biography, by Michael Gregg Michaud

A life story, an adventure, and a romance – highly recommended

 

 

 

Blurb: Sal Mineo is probably most well-known for his unforgettable, Academy Award–nominated turn opposite James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause and his tragic murder at the age of thirty-seven. Finally, in this riveting new biography filled with exclusive, candid interviews with both Mineo’s closest female and male lovers and never-before-published photographs, Michael Gregg Michaud tells the full story of this remarkable young actor’s life, charting his meteoric rise to fame and turbulent career and private life.

About the author: MICHAEL GREGG MICHAUD’s work has appeared in numerous magazines and publications, including the Los Angeles Times. He is also a playwright, editor, artist, and award-winning photographer. An animal-rights defender, he is a founding director of the Linda Blair WorldHeart Foundation. He lives in Los Angeles.

*Available in e-book format – 2137KB

Review by Gerry Burnie 

When I first came upon the title “Sal Mineo: A Biography by Michael Gregg Michaud [Crown Archetype, 2010], I knew it was something I had to read. You see, in 1965 I spent an intimate evening with Sal Mineo in Toronto, and although this time was brief I can attest to some of the characteristics Michaud writes about; certainly Mineo’s disarming charm, his impetuousness, and his passion for life at whatever he happened to be doing at the time.

Sal Mineo’s impoverished childhood in the Bronx is a testament to several things: i.e. if you stay true to your dreams they will come true (in some measure), and anything worthwhile is worth working for. Mineo did against formidable odds. Along the way luck also played a role when he was cast with Yul Brenner in “The King and I,” and Brenner became his inspiration as well as his mentor.

Eventually Hollywood beckoned, and on the basis of his accomplishments, youthful good looks and luck, at the tender age of fifteen he was cast in a supporting role opposite the (now) legendary James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause.” The female lead in this cinematic classic was Natalie Wood, and it is particularly interesting to note that all three of these individuals met an untimely and tragic end.[1]

Mineo idolized Dean, who was known to be bi-sexual, and for the first time Sal began to realize how love between men could arise. Nothing ever transpired between these two, however, and eventually Dean’s brilliant career and unorthodox lifestyle was cut short by a tragic car accident—September 30, 1955.

In the Halcyon days of his career, Mineo was managed by his well-intentioned but domineering mother—the quintessential stage mother—who spent his considerable income faster than he could earn it.  Moreover, lacking the business acumen to realize this, and being a bit of a spendthrift himself, the plot was set for a financial crises.

Also contributing to this downturn was Mineo’s inability to make the transition from a teen idol to more mature roles. Ironically, it was his baby face and stereotype casting as a juvenile delinquent—the very characteristics that had made him a famous—that worked against him in the eyes of the public. Consequently, he joined the ranks of childhood stars whose careers were short lived.

Until this stage his sexual orientation had been strictly heterosexual, particularly with a British starlet by the name of Jill Haworth.[2] That was until he met Bobby Sherman; a virtual unknown until Mineo used his influence to launch Sherman’s singing career in the 1960s. Following his fling with Sherman, the floodgates seemed to open to a variety of attractive, young men who ended up in Mineo’s bed—some with familiar names from the era, i.e. Jay North (Dennis the Menace), David Cassidy, and Jon Provost (Timmy of Lassie fame). Nevertheless, when he met a handsome actor by the name of Courtney Burr, he finally formed a love that lasted until Mineo’s death in 1976.

Not surprisingly rumours of this began to circulate, and since Hollywood’s attitude about sex was oddly (and not just a little hypocritically) guarded, Sal lived his private life under the radar for fear and professional recriminations.

“Sal knew that outing himself, declaring his sexuality, would destroy what little was left of his career. Though Sal never publicly came out in a conventional manner, there was a subliminal coming-out that began years before. He wanted his lifestyle and his choices to be accepted. He wanted a normalcy and legitimacy in his life.”

Not an unreasonable wish in a town where almost anything goes, sexually, and sensuality is a packaged product.

***

This exhaustive biography is not only a tribute to Sal Mineo, a talented and misunderstood individual who lived life to the fullest—no matter what he did—it is also a tribute to the author’s unrelenting dedication. For example, the writing of “Sal Mineo: A biography” took ten years and three-years of research to complete. Moreover, numerous interviews were conducted, most particularly with Jill Haworth and Courtney Burr, to give it a personal insight beyond the written record. Bravo!

Full of details and previously undisclosed anecdotes, the biography captures a career of ups and downs and a private life of sexual impulses. Highly recommended. Five stars.


[2] With deep regret, Jill Haworth passed away January 03, 2011.

January 23, 2011 Posted by | biography, Contemporary biography, Gay romance, Hollywood, Non-fiction, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Inside Out: Straight Talk from a Gay Jock, Mark Tewksbury

An inspiration for gay, aspiring athletes, and a challenge for similarly-oriented, marquee athletes to do the same

 

 

 

 Synopsis: In public, Mark Tewksbury has always credited the 1976 Olympics as a major inspiration for his becoming an Olympic champion swimmer, but in fact, it was wearing a towel-turban in imitation of his grandmother and swimming in her condo pool that first sparked his love of swimming. Intimate and endearing details such as these are what provide Tewksbury’s story with relevance beyond the famous-athlete-fights-and-overcomes-his-personal-demons story. Granted, Tewksbury covers all the usual challenges faced by performance athletes-the sacrifices, the post-Olympic depression, the intense glare of the media spotlight-but it is his private sojourn as a gay man, from coming out of the closet to visiting his first gay bar (“it was like being in another world with fashionably dressed people drinking cocktails from martini glasses”) to entering his first sexual relationship (an ongoing, three-way relationship with a male couple) that will resonate with the reader. Despite the “Gay Jock” subtitle, the book is accessible; Tewksbury comes with all the tics and quirks of your everyday gay man wrestling with his sexuality, and later, with the complexities of finding a partner and dating. A thoughtful, moving narrative that inspires as much as it entertains.

*Available in e-book format

 

Review by Gerry Burnie

I doubt there is a gay person out there who can not relate to Mark Tewksbury’s autobiography, “Inside out: Straight Talk from a Gay Jock [Wiley, 1 edition, 2007]. That is, until he was propelled into international prominence with his 1992, Olympic gold medal performance in Barcelona, Spain; one of only seven gold medals awarded to a Canadian that year.

Until then his story is almost pro forma. Included are his family and his generally unhappy childhood, his early same-sex infatuations, the prevailing fear of exposure—yet being centred-out as gay, anyway; proving, I suppose, that the ‘closet’ has see-through walls at  times—and the mindless abuse he suffered on account of it. Through it all, however, his will to achieve never faltered, and it is this that makes his story truly inspirational.

Another inspirational aspect is his steadfast ability to remain true to himself, i.e.

“I gazed around the room slowly. The best swimmers from Russia, Cuba, the United States, Spain, Germany and France were in front of me. And I was different. I was the fag. And in that moment I owned my truth completely. I thought, `If these guys knew how hard it was for me to get here, they wouldn’t believe it. They have no bloody clue what I have been through. Or how strong I am.'”

Having said that, however, the second half of the story is both informative and redundant respecting the International Olympic Committee and its politics; given what was known even at the time when the story was first published in 2007. Likewise, the discord with the Gay Olympics, GayGames & OutGames came as no surprise. Sexual orientation does not preclude ideological differences, personal agendas, pecuniary influence, and rabid infighting. In this respect it conforms quite congruently with the wider community.

Albeit, that is the reality of Mark Tewksbury’s experience, and for his part he can only be faulted for trying to crowd all of this into one story. Nonetheless, I can enthusiastically recommend this story as an inspiration for aspiring, gay athletes, and a challenge to similarly oriented, marquee athletes to do the same. Four and one half stars.

See the story behind the story of my in-progress novel, The Brit, Kid Cupid, and Petunias

 

January 15, 2011 Posted by | Canadian autobiography, Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Non-fiction | 3 Comments

Christmas in Ontario: Heartwarming Legends, Tales, and Traditions, by Cheryl MacDonald

It’s sure to get you into the Christmas spirit

 

 

 

Story blurb: “Every year, he put on the red Santa suit. Every year, there were more sick and needy children to attend to. And every year, as word of his activity spread, Jimmy [Lomax] collected more money and gifts to distribute.” This book will be especially fascinating for all readers interested in history and human interest stories. Christmas is a time for celebrating with friends and family and for sharing stories, memories, and good cheer. This compilation brings to life the very best holiday stories from across Ontario. From the early days of exploration to the modern day, and from heartwarming inspirational tales to dangerous escapades, this is a collection to treasure for many years to come.

About the author: Cheryl MacDonald has been writing on historical topics for nearly 30 years. Her work has appeared in numerous magazines, including The Beaver and Maclean’s, and she has written a number of books, mostly relating various aspects of southern Ontario history.

Cheryl holds history degrees from the University of Waterloo and McMaster University and is currently pursuing graduate studies. A grandmother of two, she lives on a large rural property close to Lake Erie and about 90 minutes west of Niagara Falls.

 

 Review by Gerry Burnie

Christmas is about cherished memories and traditions, and while Canada has no unique Christmas traditions, per se, it does have a long history of events and experiences that are unique in their own way. “Christmas in Ontario by Cheryl MacDonald [Altitude Press: Amazing Stories Series, 2004] is a collection of these heart-warming stories which can be shared by the whole family. For example:

“On Christmas Eve 1668, a 14-year-old girl lay fighting for her life at La Jeune Lorette, near Quebec City. Théresèse was a member of the Huron, a nation that had been pushed out of their traditional homelands near eastern Georgian Bay by the Iroquois. To comfort herself, as well as to mark the approaching holiday, she sang Jesous Ahatonhia, a carol which described the birth of Christ in a setting that closely resembled the Ontario wilderness.

“While there is no definite proof, traditional accounts claim the carol was written by Father Jean de Brébeuf (1593-1649). A French missionary, Brébeuf was a skilled linguist who eventually wrote a Huron grammar and dictionary, so it is highly plausible that he translated the Christmas story into the Huron language.”

Jean de Brébeuf was martyred at Ste.Marie Among the Hurons, a Jesuit mission on the shores of Georgian Bay on March 16, 1649, making Jesous Ahatonhia, or “The Huron Carol” the oldest carol written in North America.

Another early recollection comes from Catharine Parr Trail who, reluctant to part with her sister at the end of Christmas Day, she accompanied her home through the woods around Peterborough, Ontario, (c. 1830s) and recorded the event as follows:

”Just as we were issuing forth for our moonlight drive through the woods, our ears were saluted by a merry peal of sleigh bells, and a loud hurrah greeted our homely turn-out, as a party of lively boys and girls, crammed into a smart painted cutter, rushed past at full speed. They were returning from a Christmas merry-making at a neighbour’s house, where they too had been enjoying a happy Christmas, and long the still woods echoed with the gay tones of their voices, and the clear jingle of their merry bells, as a bend in the river-road, brought back on the breeze to our ears.”

One of my favourites took place at a German prisoner of war camp, in 1917. Shortly before Christmas, the prisoners received an invitation to a Christmas party.

“At the time they were skeptical—after three years surrounded by barbed wire and bayonets, they had little reason to trust their captors. But more fromcuriosity then anything else, they accepted the invitation.

When they awoke on Christmas morning, two surprises greeted them. First, all the guards were unarmed. And secondly, right in front of the guardhouse was a huge Christmas tree, dripping with tinsel and dozens of presents.The prisoners were asked to gather round the tree Then the camp commandant spoke, telling the men how much he regretted that war had taken them so far away from home and family at Christmas, and how he hoped that the gulf between the two warring nations would eventually disappear after peace.”

Then a small gramophone began playing “Silent Night” and the commandant commenced to remove small presents from the tree, passing them out to each man.

If you are looking to get into the Christmas spirit this year, this collection of “heartwarming legends, tales, and traditions” has the right ingredients.

Anyone remember the “Cabbage-Patch Kid” craze?

December 19, 2010 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Historical period, Non-fiction | 1 Comment

Convoys of World War II: Dangerous Missions on the North Atlantic, by Dorothy Pedersen

Canada’s almost forgotten navy

Non-fiction works of this nature are not star-rated.

Book blurb: Nine men tell their personal stories of life at sea during World War II. In extreme danger, they battled seasickness, injury, and less than comfortable living conditions while avoiding floating mines and torpedoes in their efforts to guide ships safely across the Atlantic Ocean.

About the author: When she was six years old, Dorothy Pedersen obtained a copy of Charlotte’s Web from the Clydebank Public Library, in Clydebank, Scotland. By the time she was finished the book she knew she wanted to be a writer. She came to Canada in 1964 where, alas, school teachers discouraged her from pursuing writing as a career. After an assortment of jobs she trained in equine studies and horsemanship, worked for the horse industry for a period of time, and continues to this day to write about it. Dorothy enjoys designing and creating handknits and crocheted garments, and is an animal rights supporter, and boxing fan.

 

Review by Gerry Burnie

Within hours of Canada’s declaration of war on September 10, 1939, the Canadian government passed laws to create the Canadian Merchant Navy to provide a workforce for wartime shipping. The Canadian Merchant Navy played a major role in the Battle of the Atlantic bolstering the allies merchant fleet due to high losses in the British Merchant Navy. Eventually thousands of Canadians served aboard hundreds of Canadian Merchant Navy ships.

That is what most history books have to say about it, but what was it like aboard one of these ships? In her prologue to Convoys of World War II: Dangerous Missions on the North Atlantic[Amazing Stories series, Altitude Press, 2007], Dorothy Pedersen gives us a glimpse us a glimpse as follows:

“’Torpedo ahead,’ the lookout yelled.

With thudding hearts, a pair of Canadian sailors watched the torpedo skim the water in front of their corvette. It was racing straight for the tanker—one of the 35 ships in their convoy and only a hundred metres away. With a deafening impact, the shock of the explosion almost blew the sailors off their ship.

“The tanker’s cargo of fuel, destined for the Allies’ war efforts in Europe, spewed into the ocean and ignited into a hissing, spitting, roaring fireball. As the tanker burned, the horrified witnesses heard only weak cries. After a short time, these too were drowned out by the thunder of the angry fire. The sailors knew there was no point in the convoy’s rescue ship sticking around.

“Escorted by armed navy vessels, the convoy of Canadian and British merchant ships raced onward, trying to put distance between them and the visible and invisible dangers of the North Atlantic. Despite the reputed safety of the pack, another of their ships was stricken quickly. Lifeboats had been lowered but some sailors barely had time to grab a life ring before hitting the frigid water. The rescue ship was ordered to stay for them as the rest of the convoy again sailed on.

“Choppy seas made the rescue agonizingly slow and difficult. Scramble nets were thrown over the side of the rescue ship for the desperate men to haul themselves aboard. Half an hour later, only a few men and boys had been saved. Many more were losing the fight with the frigid water.

“Then the order came that was even more chilling; “Abandon the rescue.” Once again under attack, the convoy had signaled for help. The rescue ship revved up its engines.

“In the ocean, the weakening hearts of the remaining sailors sank alongside their ship.”

Nature itself could also be unforgiving, as one young sailor recorded in his diary:

“What a miserable, rotten hopeless life . . . an Atlantic so rough it seems impossible that we can continue to take this unending pounding and still remain in one piece . . . hanging onto a convoy is a full-time job . . . the crew in almost a stupor from the nightmarishness of it all . . . and still we go on hour after hour.”–Frank Curry, Royal Canadian Navy, 1941 during the Battle of the Atlantic, a battle that would be called the longest in history.

Although Canada’s Merchant Navy is grouped in with the British Commonwealth’s, it is estimated that the Commonwealth merchant navies suffered 30,000 casualties from 1939 – 1945—most of those in the Battle of the Atlantic. Even so, it wasn’t until the 1990s that the merchant navy finally got recognition for their contribution to the war effort. “We really were the forgotten veterans of the unknown navy,” Earl Wagner is quoted as saying (p.68).

*September 3rd is “Merchant Navy Remembranch Day.”

Dorothy Pedersen has done as masterful job of bringing this history to our attention, and I highly recommend “Convoys of World War II” as an interesting and informative read.

This is part of my Remembrance Day tribute. A new memorywill be added each day until November 11th. Lest we forget!

November 10, 2010 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Historical period, Military history, Non-fiction | Leave a comment

Valour At Vimy Ridge: Canadian Heroes of World War I, by Tom Douglas

They said that it couldn’t be done…

Non-fiction works of this kind are not star-rated

A defining moment in Canadian military history. A much-needed Allied victory. A show of valour and heroism. The battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917 saw Canadian troops storm a strategic 14-kilometre long escarpment that was believed to be impregnable. This was the first time in the nation’s history that a corps-sized formation fought together as a unit under its own meticulous planning. Canadian troops persevered under heavy fire to take the ridge, demonstrating incredible discipline and bravery. The battle became a symbol of sacrifice for the young nation and a turning point in its role in the global theatre of war.

Amazing Stories Series–Altitude Press, 2007

Tom Douglas, an award-winning journalist and author, lives in Oakville, Ontario with his wife Gail, also an author in the Amazing Stories series. Tom’s father, Sgt. H.M. (Mel) Douglas, was part of the Invasion Force that stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Tom is a member of the Royal Canadian Legion, worked as a Communications Advisor for Veterans Affairs Canada, and has written speeches for the Minister of National Defence. Recently, he self-published a book, Some Sunny Day about his family’s experiences in Northern Ontario following his father’s return from World War II.

Review by Gerry Burnie

They said it couldn’t be done, and thousands of French and English had tried it, but four battalions of Canadians succeeded; not without 10,602 Canadian casualties, including 3,598 fatalities, however.

It was known as the “Great War,” and “The war to end all wars,” but history has proven that World War I was not the war that ended all wars. What it was, was a bitter, bloody conflict with over 15 million (combatants and civilians) killed, and 22 million wounded between July 28, 1914 and November 11, 1918.

This conflagration started with the assassination of an obscure prince, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, which led to posturing between two, now forgotten states—Austro-Hungary and Serbia. Serbia’s ally, Russia, then began to assemble troops, which brought in Germany as ally to Austro-Hungary. England and France then came to the aid of Russia, and this automatically brought Canada—as a dominion of England—into the fray.

Nevertheless, a nationalist fervour gripped Canada to aid the “Mother Land,” even though the militia numbered just over 3,000—and volunteers poured into recruiting stations so that by September of 1914, more than 30,000 set sail for England; making it the largest convoy to cross the Atlantic.

However, these patriotic young men who had dreamed of glory in a far off land soon learned that they had been sold a bill of goods, and that there was nothing glorious about existing like an animal in filthy, disease-ridden trenches that scarred the landscape, or seeing your friend—or lover—blown to bits by an enemy mortar shell.

Indeed, the recruiting posters showing clean-cut lads in freshly pressed uniforms sipping wine at outdoor cafés in Paris didn’t contain any scenes of a corpse-strewn no-man’s land—that stretch of barren ground that separated the trenches between the two opposing sides. “Nor were there any close-ups of a diseased rat crawling over your face as you tried to grab a few hours’ sleep before having to go “over the top” to raid the enemy trench just a few metres away from yours.”

“No mention of German snipers waiting for you to emerge from the relative safety of a muddy shell hole so that he could blow your head off. No depiction of life in the trenches, where foot rot, lice, and the stench of death were your constant companions,”

Vimy Ridge was a promontory near the River Aisne where, after a failed attempt to take Paris, the Germans were ordered to dig in to protect themselves. When the allies realized that the German trenches were a formidable obstacle, they dug in as well.

“After a few months the opposing trenches stretched from the North Sea to the Swiss frontier. For the next three years, neither side was able to advance more than a few kilometres along the line that came to be known as the Western Front. But living conditions in what amounted to little more than deep ditches wasn’t anything like the cozy bungalows or college dorms or rural family homesteads the young Canadians had left behind.”

Life in the Trenches

As part of this introduction to the battle, Author Tom Douglas describes the conditions:

“[N]o story about World War I—and in particular the magnificent achievement of the Canadians at Vimy Ridge—would be complete without a basic understanding of these inhuman and seemingly insurmountable obstacles that had to be overcome on the road to victory.

“The excavations along the Western Front were built in threes—the front line, support, and reserve trenches. This trio of long, snake-like ditches covered between 220 and 550 metres of ground from front to back and could wind for several kilometres across the terrain parallel to the enemy fortifications.”

“Running perpendicular to these channels were communication trenches for fresh troops, equipment, and supplies to move up the line and wounded soldiers to be taken to the rear.”

The trench was too deep to allow its occupants to be seen over the top, so a small ledge called a fire-step was added. The soldiers would crouch down on this protrusion, then pop up to take potshots at the enemy before ducking down quickly to avoid having their heads blown off by a camouflaged sniper who’d been lying motionless for hours in no man’s land.”

“The front-line trenches were protected by gigantic bales of barbed wire placed far enough forward to prevent the enemy from getting within grenade-lobbing distance. So impenetrable and tangled were these obstacles that they acted like the steel web of a monstrous spider, impaling any hapless soldier who came close enough to get tangled in the trap. Before a battle troops would be sent out with wire cutters to chop a path through the razor-sharp wire. It was one of the more hazardous duties to perform because of those ever-present snipers.”

 To make matters more difficult the Germans occupied the high ground, forcing the attacking allies to charge uphill while loaded down with weapons and equipment. Moreover, the allies—French, British and Canadians—were only a few feet above sea level, and would frequently find themselves standing ankle deep in water.

“Waterlogged trenches meant wet feet for days and weeks on end—and wet feet led to frostbite or the dreaded trench foot that, if left untreated, could result in amputation.”

“Dysentery was another killer that accounted for thousands of death in the trenches. Needless to say, sanitary conditions in these waterlogged ditches were appalling. Latrines were dug behind the lines, but these soon filled up and spilled into the trenches. In addition, many of those excavations had been dug in areas were corpses from earlier battles had been hastily buried, and the decaying bodies were another source of deadly germs.”

“A steady diet of canned beef, mouldy biscuits, boiled sweets, and coffee made from ground turnips left the men susceptible to boils, scabies, and other skin eruptions.”

As the author points out, a great number of soldiers suffered from mental illness after weeks and months of living under such conditions. The term “shell shock” was coined to describe this condition, but many officers and even doctors refused this as a reason to remove the victims from the battle front.

“The rallying cry “for king and country” soon took on a cynical overtone.”

The Author then goes on to document the charge up Vimy Ridge from the personal perspective of the soldiers and officers who took part; many of them being awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery—some posthumously.

At this time of remembrance, this is Canadian history that should not—cannot be forgotten. If a country’s history forms its heritage, then this is what we are all about.

This is my Remembrance Day tribute. A new memorywill be added every day until November 11th. Lest we forget!

November 9, 2010 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Historical period, Military history, Non-fiction | 5 Comments

A Vigil for Joe Rose, by Michael Whatling

A compelling read

 

 

Publisher’s blurb: What is it like to be “out” in high school today? Is homophobia still rampant, or have things changed? How do the reactions of students, teachers, administrators, and families affect the out gay student?

A Vigil for Joe Rose is a collection of stories told with empathy and humour about the experience of being out in high school. As a unified collection, these eight short stories and a novella chart the journey of the main characters from first coming out to their growth into confident young gay men, and the challenges, triumphs, and losses along the way.

About the author: MICHAEL WHATLING grew up outside of Montreal, Canada. For a time he escaped and lived in London, Paris, and Tokyo. He holds a Ph.D. in education, and has taught at the elementary, secondary, and university levels. His writing includes short stories, novels, and screenplays. He now lives in the town where he grew up, tormented by intolerance, the need to write, and wild rabbits in his yard.

About Joe Rose: Montreal – Early Sunday morning a local man was stabbed to death on a city bus by a gang of youths. Joe Rose, 23, was attacked by 15 or more assailants who jeered at him and shouted, “Faggot.” The incident occurred at about 4:30 a.m. outside the Frontenac métro.

Witnesses to the attack say the youths beat him and stabbed him because his hair was dyed pink. The youths pulled off Rose’s hat and started punching him, then pulled out hunting and kitchen knives and scissors and stabbed him repeatedly before fleeing the bus. A female bus driver who tried to intervene was struck but not seriously injured.

“I’m convinced it was because he’s gay,” said one witness who asked not to be identified. “There were a lot of people they could have singled out. Why him? He had pink hair and looked gay. They  chose him.”

A family spokesperson said Rose was returning home from a friend’s house on the last bus. In college, Rose was the president of the gay and lesbian student group.

A 19-year-old and a 15-year-old will be charged later today with second-degree murder. Two juveniles, 14 and 15, who cannot be named under youth protection laws, will be charged as accessories after the fact.

 

Review by Gerry Burnie

I first encountered Michael Whatling’s writing on Authonomy. It was with regard to the novella, The Last Coming Out Story, now published as part of a collection called, A Vigil for Joe Rose [iUniverse, 2008]. At the time I was impressed by his skill, but finding Authonomy too much of a popularity contest cum paper chase, I didn’t revisit it until recently. That’s when I learned of Michael’s published work.

To appreciate the nature of this work the reader should first take note of the introduction, wherein Whatling explains that the genesis is found in his doctoral research, and that, although it is a fictionalized account, it is based on interviews with actual gay students, i.e. a “non-fiction novel,” á-la-Truman Capote’s ”In Cold Blood.”

In this regard, Whatling has done a superb job of shining the spotlight on the thinking of sixteen to eighteen-year-olds, who happen to be gay, out, and attending high school. Sometimes the ‘coming out’ is intentional and planned, and sometimes it is not. “Losing control of the process,” it is called in “Elton John, Uncle Dave, and Me,” and that is a frightening process. “The Holy Ghost” explores teacher homophobia, and “A Lesson on Being Inseparable” tells the tale of a boy who is dedicated to teaching younger students about sexual orientation. Therefore, a wide range of perspectives are explored with the same sort of insight.

Best developed, in my opinion, is “The Last Coming Out Story,” which probably best fulfills the “non-fiction novel” function as well. It is a postmodern take on the ubiquitous coming out story. How does the president of the school’s “Rainbow Club” go from being the most popular student to the most hated? Though not for being gay.

So far. so good. The writing is very strong throughout, and one cannot be overly critical regarding the facts. After all, non-fiction is its own defense.  However, when this is combined with the requisites of a novel (per se), the ordinary rules of entertainment apply. In this regard there was a sameness among the various short stories, and a lack of any real conflict.  “Episodes in Fear: Mathews Story,” comes fairly close, but otherwise there is no real ‘high drama’ On the other hand, the factual account of Joe Rose’s murder is high drama enough. (See above)

A compelling read. Four-and-one-half stars.

Gerry B’s Book Reviews has been awarded a LOVELY BLOG AWARD!

From M. Kei, author of Pirates of the Narrow Seas 1: Sallee Rovers

Congratulations! You’re the recipient of a Lovely Blog Award. This
community generated blog honors blogs in the field of historical
fiction. Some of you are not exactly ‘historical fiction,’ but as a
writer of historical fiction I find you useful and interesting, and I
think other readers of historical will, too.


 

September 17, 2010 Posted by | Canadian content, Gay fiction, Non-fiction | 3 Comments

Barrack Buddies and Soldier Lovers, by Steven Zeeland

An insightful, informative and interesting read

***

*** 

Publisher’s blurb: Steven Zeeland’s Barrack Buddies and Soldier Lovers is a raw, unsanitized personal record of conversations he had with young soldiers and airmen stationed in Germany shortly before the outbreak of the Gulf War. These interviews document the far-ranging and pervasive gay networks with the U.S. Army and Air Force. While a few of Zeeland’s buddies were targeted for discharge, most portray an atmosphere of sexually tense tolerance — and reveal a surprising degree of interaction with straight servicemen. Some of these soldiers even found that, ironically, the U.S. military actually helped them become gay. It did this by taking them away from hometown constraints, stationing them overseas in cities where they found greater opportunity to explore their sexuality, and thrusting them into the sexually charged atmosphere of all-male barracks life.

 

Review by Gerry Burnie

 I suppose that nearly every gay male—myself included—has fantasized at one time or another about a uniform bulging with raw masculine virility. Of course, according to the politicians and military brass, homosexuality is not supposed to exist. Gays in the military? Unheard of! Steven Zeeland’s Barrack Buddies and Soldier Lovers [Routledge, 1993] puts a lie to that proposition by introducing us to sixteen very active gays in the military.

Although the timeline is dated some things are timeless, and human sexuality is one of these. So is the myopia of policy makers who, in the face of indisputable proof, continue to pretend that the issue simply does not exist.

The book is a collection of transcribed interviews with sixteen, gay servicemen, who describe their personal experiences while stationed in Germany. Critically speaking, the experiences are not that different or unique from any other group of sexually active men this age, but what is remarkable is the network of social connections that are inadvertently revealed; red light districts, gay bars and bath houses that soon become known and frequented.

Another aspect that comes to the light in these interviews is the lack of danger or fear as a result of their sexual orientation. Some spoke of minor discrimination, and others of frustration at having to hide their orientation, but most claimed that life was not unpleasant, overall. Moreover, the overwhelming majority thought that gays represented no particular problems in military service.

The shortcomings of this study are there as well. The first is the limited scope of the sample. Virtually all the interviewees came from the same branch of the military, located in the same base. Moreover, none of the interviewees were actively engaged in combat at the time. Would their responses have been any different if that were not so? It is hard to say. Nevertheless it is a question that is still open with this reader.

With that caveat, I recommend this study as being both interesting and informative. Four stars.

September 12, 2010 Posted by | Non-fiction | Leave a comment

From the Closet to the Courtroom: Five LGBT Rights Lawsuits that have Changed Our Nation, by Carlos A. Ball

It is a truly fascinating study, superbly researched, and remarkably readable in spite of being a complex topic.

 *Non-fiction books of this nature do not fit the star-rating system.

Publisher’s Blurb: The advancement of LGBT rights has occurred through struggles large and small-on the streets, around kitchen tables, and on the Web. Lawsuits have also played a vital role in propelling the movement forward, and behind every case is a human story: a landlord in New York seeks to evict a gay man from his home after his partner of ten years dies of AIDS; school officials in Wisconsin look the other way as a gay teenager is repeatedly and viciously harassed by other students; a lesbian couple appears unexpectedly at a clerk’s office in Hawaii seeking a marriage license.
Engaging and largely untold, From the Closet to the Courtroom explores how five pivotal lawsuits have altered LGBT history. Beginning each case narrative at the center-with the litigants and their lawyers-law professor Carlos Ball follows the stories behind each crucial lawsuit. He traces the parties from their communities to the courtroom, while deftly weaving in rich sociohistorical context and analyzing the lasting legal and political impact of each judicial outcome.
Over the last twenty years, no group of attorneys has helped to transform this country more than LGBT rights lawyers, and surprisingly, their collective accomplishments have received relatively little attention. Ball remedies that by exploring how a band of largely unheralded civil rights lawyers have attained remarkable legal victories through skill, creativity, and perseverance.
In this richly layered and multifaceted account, Ball vividly documents how these judicial victories have significantly altered LGBT lives today in ways that were unimaginable only a generation ago.

About the Author: Professor Ball received his B.A. summa cum laude from Tufts University, his J.D. from Columbia Law School, where he was a Kent Scholar and the book reviews editor of the Columbia Law Review, and his LL.M. from Cambridge University, where he was awarded a “First.” He clerked for Chief Justice Paul Liacos of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and worked as a lawyer for the Legal Aid Society in New York City in the early 1990s. He joined the law school in 2008 after teaching at the University of Illinois College of Law for eight years and at the Penn State University School of Law for five. 
Professor Ball is also the author of The Morality of Gay Rights: An Exploration in Political Philosophy (Routledge, 2003), and co-author of Cases and Materials on Sexual Orientation and the Law (West, 2008).

 

Review by Gerry Burnie

If I were putting together a mini-course on the social history of GLBT discrimination in North America, I would definitely include Gay American History: Lesbian and gay men in U.S.A.- Johathan Katz , and Carlos A Ball’s, From the Closet to the Courtroom: Five LGBT Rights Lawsuits That Have Changed Our Nation [Beacon Press, 2010]. Moreover, at the risk of coming across as a ‘missionary’ for the cause, these two seminal works should be put on every GLBT individual’s ‘must-read’ list.

When reviewing a book of this nature it is necessary to say from the outset that one cannot possibly do justice to the amount of research and detail contained therein, in a few words. This is particularly so when dealing with a topic like constitutional law—probably one of the most complex but fascinating of all the areas of law. Nor should a review like this be read as authoritative in any way—i.e. the opinions expressed are not legal opinions.

Having said that, however, Professor Ball writes in a very readable style for legals as well as those with no legal training whatsoever. Therefore, the fact that it deals with law and judicial interpretation should not deter the average reader from reading and enjoying—and learning from—this important work.

To accommodate the space available, what follows is a sample of some of the cases covered, and a more detailed summary of one of them. You may want to take note of the dates to appreciate the fact that these legal break-throughs have been relatively recent in coming.

Harassment

Jamie Nabozny was a seventh-grader (age 11, 1988) when the harassment started with some of his school peers taunting him with words like “faggot” and “queer.” The harassment grew progressively worse over a four-year period—including one instance where he was knocked into the urinal in the boys’ washroom, and then peed on—and culminated in finding himself lying on the floor of his school’s library as a boy repeatedly kicked him in the stomach while other kids cheered. During these intervening years Jamie and his parents complained on countless occasions to the school administrators. However, the officials refused to get involved; in fact, no student was ever disciplined for verbally or physically harassing Jamie.

In 1993 (now a university student)  Jamie contacted a lawyer who filed a complaint again the school district, the two principals involved, and the assistant principal, on the basis that school officials had refused to take the necessary steps to protect Jamie from harassment because he was gay. It also alleged sex discrimination by contending that school officials would have responded differently to the harassment had Jamie been a girl (records showed that one of the boys who had tormented Jamie had been suspended for calling his girlfriend a bad name). 

The Federal Court, however, ruled that there was no evidence suggesting that Jamie had been treated differently because of his sex.

It was then that Jamie contact Lambda lawyer Patricia Logue, and although no student had ever succeeded in suing school officials for failing to protect him or her from anti-gay harassment, the facts in Jamie’s case were so compelling that the lawsuit might serve as a test case for the benefit of other GLBT youth across the country.

Logue therefore argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals that government officials (i.e. the school district, school principals and vice-principal), for discriminatory reasons, had failed to provide him with the protection from violence and harassment to which he was entitled under law. She also told the court that the defendants had discriminated against Jamie both because he was gay, and because he was a boy.

Jamie had offered evidence of such discrimination, including his contention that school officials had told him on several occasions that he was to blame for the harassment because he insisted on being openly gay in school.

Logue also pointed out that it was difficult to imagine that the school officials would have ignored the level of abuse and harassment to which Jamie was subjected if he had have been a girl.

The outcome of the U.S. Court of Appeals appeal was that the three-judge panel agreed with the appellants (Logue and Nabozny) and ordered a new trial.

Now that the case was going to trial (before a jury) it was decided to add an experienced litigation lawyer to the team, and David Springer (an HIV positive individual) signed on to represent Jamie in the fall of 1996.

At the trial the lawyer for the school board’s insurance company argued that the officials were all basically good people, and that these experienced professionals had no recollection of Jamie Nabozny or of his complaints; therefore, the alleged complaints were a “pack of lies.” However the issue was not whether the defendants were good or bad people. Instead, the case was about whether the defendants had failed to address antigay harassment against a gay boy in the same way that they had in the past treated harassment against heterosexual girls. Moreover, the apparent inability of the defendants to recall anything related to Jamie Nabozny whil he attended their schools, including incidents of serious physical assaults was just not credible.

After deliberating for just under four hours the jury returned a unanimous verdict that the school officials had intentionally discriminated against Jamie because he was a gay boy.

The impact: To emphasize the impact of the Nabozny decision, the author quotes several studies that attempted to bring attention to the prevalence of antigay harassment in American public schools. For example, a 1993 survey of Massachusetts high school students reported that 98 percent had heard homophobic remarks at school and that more than half had heard school staff were five time more likely to have missed school on account of safety concerns, and four times more likely to have attempted suicide than straight students.

Professor Ball points out that it is not an exaggeration to say that the Nabozny lawsuit changed much of that when the news media reported the almost $1 million settlement, and school officials across the country scrambled to prevent what happened to Jamie from being repeated. In addition, insurance companies were now insisting that their policy-holding schools implement programs to prevent multi-million dollar, antigay lawsuits.

Family

When Leslie Blanchard died of AIDS (September, 1986) at Newark, New Jersey, he did so in the arms of his partner of ten years, Miguel Braschi. As loving partners the two men had lived together in a rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan, with only Blanchard’s name on the lease. sHowever, three months after Blanchard died the landlord threatened Braschi with eviction because he was not a “surviving spouse of the deceased tenant or some other member of the deceased tenant’s family who has been living with the tenant.

As far as the landlord was concerned, Braschi was not Blanchard’s spouse nor a member of his family. He was therefore not legally entitled to remain in the apartment after Blanchard died. However, although none of the precedent cases had gone to appellate courts, the cases nonetheless showed a tendency to recognize committed same-sex relationships with deceased tenants were entitled to anti-eviction protection.

The job of ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] lawyer, Bill Rubenstein, was to show he appellate court that it was appropriate and necessary to define the meaning of family functionally by focussing on the extent of the emotional and financial interdependence of the parties rather than formalistically by focussing on whether the parties were linked through ties of marriage, blood, or adoption.

In the end the court did what Rubenstein had asked it to do by rejecting a definition of family that only looked to whether the individuals have “formalized their relationship by obtaining, for instance, a marriage certificate or an adoption order.”  Furthermore, it went on to say:

[T]he intended protection against sudden eviction should not rest on fictitious legal distinctions or genetic history, but instead should find its foundation in the reality of family life.

The impact: One of the beneficial things that the Braschi case achieved was that the highest court in New York provided considerable legitimacy to the claim the GLBT were as capable of forming loving and lasting familial ties as were straight people.

Marriage

Glenora Dancel and Nina Baehr were born in Honolulu in 1960. Some years later (1990), after discovering their sexual orientation as lesbians, they met, fell in love, and made a decision to get married. At almost the same time Baehr had to be rushed to the hospital regarding a serious infection, and because she had no health insurance Dancel later tried to add Baehr to her employer’s health insurance. That is when she learned that such a benefit was available only to the spouse and children of employee. She also tried to buy life insurance and name Baehr as beneficiary but was told the beneficiary could only be someone related to her be blood, marriage, or adoption. Nor was it possible for same-sex partners to register as domestic partners because domestic partners were not recognized under Hawaiian law. This meant, basically, that a serious illness could mean bankruptcy, and if either one of them was hospitalized the other could be denied the right to visit or to help make decisions about their treatment.

American laws criminalizing same-sex conduct goes back to colonial times, but it was only in the 1990s that some states started to prohibit the recognition of same-sex relationships as marital. Up until this time the courts had taken the position that thee plaintiffs were denied the opportunity to marry not because of their sex, but “because of the recognized definition of that relationship as one entered into only by persons who are members of the opposite sex.”

At issue:  Lawyers Evan Wolfson of Lambda, and Daniel Foley—a non-gay, ACLU advocate—saw the pursuit of marriage equality as the most effective way of changing the terms of debate over GLBT issues—i.e. putting the relationships and families of GLBT people front and centre, show there was just as much love and devotion there as with straight relationships.

The outcome: After the state court had rejected the initial lawsuit, the case was then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals (1992) by Wolfson and Foley, and as part of its reasoning the Court held that the plaintiff’s legal challenge had nothing to do with sexual orientation. In its opinion  that “homosexuality and same-sex marriages are not synonymous” because under the law of Hawaii a gay person could marry someone of thee opposite sex while a straight person could not marry someone of the same sex. This showed that they Hawaii’s marriage law classified individuals according to their sex and not their sexual orientation—something that was clearly wrong.

As mentioned above, these are just a sampling of the important milestones that have been achieved by courageous individuals willing to ‘stand-up and be seen’ for the good of the movement, and the very fine lawyers who gave of their talents in the pursuit of justice for all. It is a truly fascinating study, superbly researched, and remarkably readable in spite of being a complex topic.

 

See Journey to Big Sky by Gerry Burnie

July 11, 2010 Posted by | Gay Literature, Non-fiction | Leave a comment

The Book of War Letters: 100 Years of Private Canadian Correspondence by Audrey and Paul Grescoe

Those who do not heed the lessons of history are doomed to repeat its mistakes…

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book of war lettersPublisher’s blurb: Duress – the extreme experience war produces – brings out the most remarkable human qualities, and letters written in wartime contain some of the most intense emotion imaginable. This anthology includes letters that date as far back as the Boer War (which began in 1899) and extend up to 2002, when Canadian peacekeepers served in Afghanistan. Between are letters from the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War, and a number of peacekeeping missions. It contains some of the most powerful writing that Canadians – whether reassuring loved ones, recounting the bitter reality of battle, or describing the appalling conditions of combat–have ever committed to the page.
The letters Canadians have written during wartime are proud and self-deprecating, stoic and complaining, brave and fearful, tender and violent, funny and poignant. The Book of War Letters tells us something about what it means to be Canadian, and what it means to be alive.

About the Authors

Paul Grescoe has been chronicling Western Canadian entrepreneurs for decades–from the legendary Vancouver billionaire Jim Pattison (“Jimmy”) to the Winnipeg couple who founded the Harlequin romance empire (“The Merchants of Venus”). With his wife, Audrey, he is also a compiler of three recent volumes of private correspondence that illuminate Canadian history. The Grescoes live on Bowen Island, a world away from the rest of British Columbia.

Audrey Grescoe has been a freelance journalist and a newspaper and magazine editor; more recently she has written books on travel and nature.
Paul Grescoe has contributed to most of the major Canadian magazines and has also written books, including detective novels and “The Merchants of Venus, about the Harlequin publishing empire. They live on Bowen Island, near Vancouver, B.C.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

The Book of War Letters: 100 Years of Private Canadian Correspondence [McClelland & Stewart, 2005] is the second of a three-part series by the husband and wife team of Paul and Audrey Grescoe; the other parts being: The Book of Letters and The Book of Love Letters.

As I have oft stated in the past, it is a real cause for celebration when I come across personal journals, first hand observations, or in this case letters that tell us things about our ancestors and our past that history books can only hint at. Moreover, the several generations covered in this collection may be the last to speak in such a manner, for telephone calls cannot be bundled and e-mails can’t take us back to our ancestors’ ways of behaving and thinking and viewing the world.

This is a monumental work (442 pages of letter) from the Boer War, 1899-1902, The Great War, 1914-1918, The Second World War, 1939-1945, Korea. 1950-1953, The various “Peacekeeping” missions, 1954—, and the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, 2003—. However, these should not be viewed as just “war” correspondence, for they cover the gamut of emotions from patriotism to disillusionment; from protestations of love to “dear John letters; from “fear” lurking between the lines to reassurance for the folks back home. They are also happy-go-lucky, sad, resigned, and condoling when written by an officer or chaplain regarding a casualty.

Of course they all contain the admonition that “war is hell,” but the difference here is that this was written by individuals, boys, men, women, who were there, i.e.

About 1:30 the bombardment increased to an indescribable intensity, and shrapnel began bursting overhead. Through the din we could hear bullets whistling over the trench with a sound like the strings of a violin touched sharply and the beating of a gigantic bass drum. Word came down that the Germans were coming over, and we all got up and went back up the trench. The colonel was ahead up on the parapet waving on his men—a hero to the last. The bombardment stopped as suddenly as it begun. Instead the air was cleft and cut and sawed by millions of machine gun bullets. What they saw going on up the trench seemed to madden the fellows. We passed a man with a hole through both ankles, walking toward us. Another with both legs shot off at the hips, fast bleeding to death looking at us in mute appeal as we stepped over his mangled body. An then—but what’s the use—there were hundreds, one as bad as the other … I say we were maddened. It was not bravery nor bravado, nor patriotism, nor fear of being shot that drove us on … I think it was animal instinct and vengeance that prodded us on…

Barlow [Whiteside], July 1916

Having read this message written nearly 100 years ago, the question it has to raise is: Why do so-called ‘civilized’ nations, leaders, men and women continue this barbarous way of settling disagreements? Perhaps it might be of some good to send them all a copy of this outstanding look at the human side of war–with but one word emblazoned on the dust cover, i.e. “Why?”

The Book of War Letters is highly recommended for history buffs, writer and scholars specializing in military history, and for all those who have an interest and fascination in human nature.

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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 post:  Springhill Nova Scotia Mine Disaster – Oct. 23, 1958“The Springhill Bump”

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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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Get an autographed copy of my e-books, Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears throughAuthorgraph. Click on the link below to learn how.

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Notice to all those who have requested a book review

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Thanks again!

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June 20, 2010 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Military history, non GBLT, Non-fiction, War correspondence | Leave a comment

Amazing Stories – WWI, WWII and the Canadian Navy

This year marks some very significant, historical anniversaries that should be remembered by all of us with gratitude. For example, it was 65 years ago on May 8, 1945, that V-E Day (Victory in Europe) was declared. Thus ending the second of two horrendously bloody conflicts in Europe to occur during the 20th century—the first being WWI, which ended on November 11th, 1918.

Similarly, on August 14th, 1945, V-J Day (Victory in Japan) was declared in United States. This conflict saw the first—and mercifully the only use of atomic weapons in warfare.

This year is also the centenary of the Canadian Navy (1910 – 2010).

I have therefore selected three books; one each on the First and Second world wars, and one commemorating the Canadian navy. All three are part of the “Amazing Stories” series published by Altitude Publishing Company.

About Amazing Stories: Amazing Stories™ features a variety of titles to entertain, delight, and fascinate. Dedicated to great storytelling, these true Canadian stories range from funny to daring to purely inspirational. The books are identified by genre – History, Biography, Women, Animal, Human Interest, Mystery, Romance, Business, etc.,– to help you identify the books that you are interested in, either for yourself or as a gift for others.
Each book tells the story of a fascinating Canadian or an event that has happened somewhere in Canada, from the earliest days up to the present. Taken as a whole, the series presents a portrait of the entire country, raising issues – such as regional differences, historical precedent, and cultural uniqueness – that contribute to the wider definition of Canadian identity.
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Mysteries, Legends and Myths of the First World War: Canadian Soldiers in the Trenches and in the Air – by Cynthia J. Faryon

Publisher’s blurb: This book offers a fresh, close-up look at the First World War as it was experienced by ordinary Canadian soldiers. This is the war as it was experienced by the tens of thousands of young Canadians. Reading their accounts offers a no-holds-barred picture of fighting, life in the trenches, the human cost in lives lost, and the physical and emotional aftermath for survivors.
About the Author: Cynthia J. Faryon is an internationally published author and freelance writer. Originally from Victoria, B.C., she now resides in Richer, Manitoba with her husband and their two dogs. Faryon focuses her writing on Canadian content, covering topics such as travel, family issues, biography and history.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

I don’t think I could possibly do greater justice to this collection of vignettes than Cynthia Faryon’s superb prologue (quoted below in part). In it she puts herself in the mind of Edgar Simpson fighting in the trenches of WWI just before he is killed by enemy fire:

“I’ve got a feeling in the pit of my stomach that I’m not going to survive the day. I hope it’s only the usual fear and the strain of the inhuman conditions getting to me: the mud, exploding shells, human body parts flying through the air—and always, always being wet.”

“Oh my God, the shelling has started and look—smoke is covering no-man’s land, and I can see the enemy cutting through the rolls of barbed wire between us and them!

There are more German’s coming at us than I can count. They look like apparitions with bayonets. I’m shooting, and all down the line machine guns are chattering and men are falling. The water in the bottom of the trench is turning red with blood. There are bodies everywhere and wounded men are falling.

I sense the bullet before feeling it.

In stunned disbelief I look at my chest, at the hole and the blood. I look around for help, but my buddies are busy fighting for their own survival.

Darkness. I feel my body hitting the ground.

What next? Death is coming quickly and I’m engulfed in painless warmth. Then with a flickering consciousness, I’m leaving my body. The fear is gone and I’m strangely emotionless.”

In this imagined episode she has captured the fear, the sense of duty, the poignancy and the sacrifice of one ordinary soldier, in this case Edgar Simpson of Winnipeg, for all the others in the so-called “war to end all wars.”

Other stories included are similarly poignant, or heart-touching, such as “A Bear Named Winnipeg” (the true story of “Winnie the Pooh”), “In Flanders Fields,” and “The Hero of the Halifax Battle.”

Highly recommend, and a “Must Read.”

Unbelievable Canadian War Stories: Well Beyond the Call of Duty – Pat MacAdam 

Publisher’s blurb: Often little-known but extraordinary, the quiet heroes of one of the most destructive wars in his-tory left indelible impressions among those whose lives were touched by their actions. Up against firing squads, torpedoes, rogue waves, P.O.W. camps, and all the living hells of warfare, they persevered, they saved lives, and they valiantly served their country. Distinguished and decorated, these men used unconventional methods and quick-thinking tactics to excel on the front lines.

About the Author: Patrick (Pat) MacAdam is a native Cape Bretoner who has made Ottawa his home since 1959. He holds bachelor’s degrees in arts and education from St. Francis Xavier University. He paid his way through university by writing for the Sydney Post-Record, Halifax Chronicle-Herald and Fredericton Daily Gleaner. He spent three summers in the Canadian Officers Training Corps in Camp Borden, Ontario, and Halifax, Nova Scotia, and was commissioned a lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps. His entire professional life has been in public relations and politics. He was a researcher, speechwriter, and aide to Prime Minister John Diefenbaker from 1959 to 1963. In 1983, he joined his university friend, Brian Mulroney, as his first employee and most senior aide.

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The design of the new Canadian War Museum used the theme “ordinary Canadians doing extraordinary things. This book contains vignettes of some of them from the heroic to the outrageous, but always getting the job done in the service of their country and the rest of us. Therefore, it is important that these—representative—deeds of courage and valour be remembered on behalf of those who have gone before.

Indeed, many of them have already been forgotten. For example, “Canada’s Most Decorated Hero of WWII,” Johnnie Fauquier, who was buried in Ottawa’s Beechwood Cemetery with full military honours and then forgotten.

“Had Johnnie Fauquier been an American,” observes Pat MacAdam, “Hollywood might have passed over Audie Murphy, Congressional Medal of Honour winner and United States’ most decorated soldier, for star treatment. The movie “To Hell and Back,” which starred Audie Murphy himself, told the story of his heroism.

“Johnnie Fauquier went to hell and back 100 times on bombing raids over Berlin, other key German targets, and the Peenamunde V2 rocket bases on the Baltic Sea. The normal tour for a bomber piolet was 30 raids. He did three tours and then some. He was the first Canadian to comman a bomber squadron in battle, commanding both the crack RCAF 495 Pathfinder Squadron and later the RAF’s legendary Dambusters, Johnnie Fauquier was awarded the Dstinguished Service Order Medal (second only to the Victoria Cross) three times—more than any other Canadian warrior. He also wore the distinctive ribbon of the Distinguished Flying Cross on his tunic.”

Yet, his plain grey granite grave marker simply records that Air Commodore John Emilius Fauquier is at rest there.

Highly recommended for those of us who want to remember.

 

Unsung Heroes of the Royal Canadian Navy: Incredible Tales of Courage and Daring During World War II – Cynthia J. Faryon

Publisher’s blurb: At the outbreak of World War II, the Royal Canadian Navy consisted of just 13 warships and about 3000 permanent and reserve members. By the war’s end, however, it had grown into the third largest navy in the world, with 365 warships and more than 100,000 personnel. The men and women of the Royal Canadian Navy came from all corners of Canada to fight in the sea war against the enemy. Together, they exceeded even the highest expectations of their allies.

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These are the stories of the men who go down to the sea in ships, and those ships they sail in. Like all war stories these are filled with acts of courage—both individually and collectively—pathos, skill and daring. Even the mascots are remembered as a dog named “Bunker B”—a listed casualty when the Athabaskan  sank under fire—and a cat named “Ginger” on her sister ship, the HMCS Haida.  

In a chapter named “Abandoned Ship, Abandoned Survivors” it tells the heart-breaking and hear-warming story of what happened when duty clashes with the natural instincts of loyalty and compassion. In war, duty wins.

“The Haida trembled and vibrates as the turbines throb. Petty Officer HP Murray and Telegraphist SA Turner are still on one of the scramble nets trying to rescue survivors as the ship starts to move. They look at the hands reaching out to them and grab for one more. The ocean current around their legs gets stronger and, handing off the last of the survivors, they both struggle to unhook themselves from the nets. The waves are now waist high, and the force is making it impossible to climb up. Hands from above reacdch down, gripping … pulling … tugging, but it is no use. The Haida picks up speed and suddenly the rope breaks. The wake surges over the two men and washed them straight into the turning screws.”

On the other hand.

“Far out in the Channel, the Haida’s cutter is slowly making its way home. The men are wet and cold. But with hard tack, water, and malted milk tablets, they are better off than those left at the site of the sinking. Suddenly, on the horizon looms a German mine sweeper thqt changes course and heads directly for the small boat. Darting into a mine field, the men pray the Germans will give up. For a moment it looks as though the vessel is planning to fire on them. It hesitates, then swings around, leaving the survivors to their fate. Every man on that little boat knows their situation is desperate and that the odds are against them.

“The Haida’s cutter is finally spotted by a squadron of RAF planes and the exhausted survivors are picked up by an Air/Sea Rescue launch and taken to Penzance. By midnight they are resting, warm, and comfortable. But a disquieting thought stays with them all. “What about the rest of the gang?””

Like the others, this comes highly recommended for truly inspirational reading that will leave you with goose-bumps and a warm feeling in your heart!

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In memory of my sister Beverley Hill, 1934 – 2010.

See a preview of my up-coming novel, Coming of Age on the Trail, read an excerpt.

See an alphabetic list of titles and authors reviewed.

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May 7, 2010 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Non-fiction | 2 Comments

Gay Male Fiction Since Stonewall by Les Brookes

Where is gay culture going?

 [Note: Non-fiction studies of this nature do not fit well into the ‘star-rating’ criterion. Therefore I have not assigned stars.]

Forward: The conflict between assimilation and radicalism that has riven gay culture since Stonewall became highly visible in the 1990s with the emergence and challenge of queer theory and politics. The conflict predates Stonewall, however—indeed Johathan Dollimore describes it as “one of the most fundamental antagonisms with sexual dissidence over the past century.” How does gay male fiction since Stonewall engage with this conflict? Focusing on fiction by Edmund White, Andrew Holleran, David Leavitt, Michael Cunningham, Alan Hollinghurst, Dennis Cooper, Adam Mars-Jones and others, Brookes argues that gay fiction is torn between assimilation and radical impulses. He posits the existence of an internal one, a struggle in which opposing impulses. He aims to show the conflict as an internal one, a struggle in which opposing impulses are at work.

 About the author: Les Brookes is an Associate Lecturer at The Open University, tutoring in twentieth-century literature. Previously Brookes taught at Anglia Ruskin University, where he also gained his doctorate.  Brookes has written for Overhere: A European Journal of American culture and given papers at Warwick University and the Cambridge Centre for Gender Studies.

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 Review by Gerry Burnie

 To answer those questions regarding why I would read and review such a work as this, let me say that I have an abiding interest in what it means to be gay; where it has emerged from; and where it is going from here—or, in this case, from Stonewall (1969).

 I should also point out that Gay Male Fiction Since Stonewall [Routlidge, 2009] was originally written as a PhD thesis, so it is necessarily academic in nature, and not for everyone’s taste. Nevertheless, it raises some interesting and thought-provoking issues from a rational perspective. Mainly, whether gay culture has achieved what it wants (wanted), which is to be accepted, and should abandon radical, pre-Stonewall politics to melt back into the crowd. Or whether there remain sufficiently threatening, revisionist elements that require the need to be political in new and post-modern ways.

 Having said all that, I’m not certain Brookes has answered these issues directly. By that I mean that I literally don’t know if, in 200-plus pages of academic debate, there is an opinion offered one way or the other. The problem (for me) was the arcane language which, I suppose, is to be expected from an academic paper of this nature. Nonetheless, it seemed somewhat obscure even after that was taken into consideration. Viz:

“Genet’s [Jean Genet, “Our Lady”] concern with authentic selfhood, with identity as disguise, emerges in his attitude to the masculine-feminine binary structures and treatment of sexual stereotypes.” And,

 “To reduce this alternative to “decadent hedonism” is to ignore the wider implications of Wilde’s [Oscar Wilde] aestheticism, which … subsumes many different kinds of subversive impulse within its metaphoric allusiveness.”

 For sociologists and English majors, however, this has to be a seminal work. Brookes has chosen a formidable list of writers to sample, and has then delved deeply into their various approaches to gayness. Indeed, it is almost an anthology of their writings. This is what he set out to do, and in that regard he has achieved his purpose.

 To me, however, the most interesting section of the book comes near the end in an interview between Brookes and Edmund White (1996), author of Hotel de Dream (2007); The Married Man (2000); The Farewell Symphony (1997), etc. In it White makes some observations that are particularly worthy of note.

 For example, when asked why all his works were about “initiation,” he had this to say: “So much gay fiction is really about initiation, whether it be into gay society or into gay sex or into the adult world or into the recognition of oppression or prejudice.”

 On egalitarianism (quoting De Toqueville): “Since all human beings are naturally snobbish, in a democracy the signs of rank will be much more sinister and complicated than they are in a straight forward aristocracy.”

 When asked to answer one of his critics who complained that White’s novel A Boy’s Own Story contained no discussion of “the usual difficulties of gay youth.” He states:  “I think the last objection comes from an earlier period when gay critics tended to feel that gay fiction should be in some way representative of the tribe. There was a feeling that you were always a spokesperson for your people.”

 Finally, and for me once again, White’s most interesting observation came when he was discussing American “consumerism” in which everything is quantified, “In terms of number of inches of penis, number of years of your age, number of dollars of your income. You were just a kind of sum total of all these figures and obviously, on some scales, you were inevitably sinking.”

 Plus ca change.

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March 27, 2010 Posted by | Non-fiction | Leave a comment

Sam Steele: The Wild Adventures of Canada’s Most Famous Mountie by Holly Quan

It should be made mandatory reading in every elementary school history course taught, and for every person who is preparing to become a citizen of this country

 

 

Once or twice in our lives, some of us are lucky enough to witness or even to participate in an event of historical importance. Sam Steele made a career of it. During the pioneering years of the Canadian West, Sam Steele was not only present but took an active role in virtually every significant historical event. Sam Steele was an adventurer and a heroic figure who commanded awe and respect. He just did the right thing. At the right time. In the right place.

About the Author: Holly Quan lives in the foothills of southwestern Alberta among the poplars and coyotes. She’s the author of two guide books, in addition to writing magazine articles on travel, food, horses, marketing, and whatever else piques her interest. When she’s not working on her novel manuscript – a work now many years in the making – she loves to ski, ride, hike, swim, drink wine with her friends, and howl at the moon.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

The adventures of (Sir) Sam Steele should definitely put to rest any notion that Canada lacks a colourful history, or, indeed, real life adventurers the equal to Pat Garrett and Davy Crockett. Moreover, Holly Quan’s brief biography, Sam Steele: The Wild West Adventures of Canada’s Most Famous Mountie (Altitude Publishing Canada Ltd., 2003) makes a good appetizer for larger and more detailed biographies, including Sam Steele’s own autobiography: Forty years in Canada: reminiscences of the great north-west (sadly not listed for sale on Amazon.ca).

Samuel Benfield Steele was born on the family farm in 1851 in Simcoe County, Upper Canada (now Ontario), and spent much of his youth in the nearby Town of Orillia learning to ride and other useful skills that would serve him well in his later life. At age 14-years he enlisted in the militia formed to guard against Fenian cross-border raids, and from there he volunteered for the federal militia called together to restore order with the Métis in what is now Manitoba.

“The journey was an exercise in endurance,” writes Quan: “The troops marched across southern Ontario to Sault Ste. Marie, where they boarded ships bound across Lake Superior to what is now Thunder Bay. That was the easy part. From the lakehead, 965 kilometres (600 miles) of rock, rivers, muskeg, and heavy forest lay between the troops and their destination, Fort Garry on the Red River (now Winnipeg). There was no railway yet, and the road was nothing more than a trail blazed through the bogs and bush. In fact, for the most part the “road” was a water route of interconnected lakes and streams with numerous difficult portages through mud, swamps, and dense forest.”

Unfortunately, for Sam, the uprising was over by the time they arrived so the troops turned around and marched back to Ontario again. However, Sam stayed with the militia—now promoted to corporal at age nineteen—but when the new provincial government was in place the militia was disbanded as well. Nevertheless, the new Canadian government decided it wanted its own army to replace the British troops, traditional peacekeepers, and Sam quickly joined the recently established Canadian army—being the 23rd person to do so.

Two years later however, in 1873, the federal government established a mounted police force for the West, the North West Mounted Police, and Sam saw his chance to get back to his beloved frontier. Therefore, in 1874 the now Sergeant Major Steele (age 23) began one of the most rugged marches that have ever taken place in Canada, across the vast, uncharted territory of the West.

“The going was tough for the already beleaguered group. Grasshoppers razed the grass, and rain turned the wagon track to deep mud. Quicksand was another hazard many men had never experienced. Sam, among the strongest in the troop, was continually called on to help wrestle horses, oxen, and cattle of boggy deathtraps.”

That was only part of the adventure. Having little grass to eat the horses became so weak that they frequently collapsed in their tracks. Therefore the men had to lift them and encourage them to walk a bit further before collapsing again. This prompted one of them to quip. “I thought I’d have an easy ride to the Rockies with a good horse to carry me. Instead I’m having a tough walk to Edmonton, with me carrying the horse.”

The march to Edmonton, 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles), ended on October 31, 1874, but not without one last struggle with nature.

“Sam was preparing for sleep when someone shouted that a horse was in trouble in a nearby creek. Grabbing a rope, he waded into the ice-cold stream and deftly passed the rope around the struggling horse, tossing the other end to men on the bank. But before Sam could get out of the water, the horse slipped, dragging Sam and several men down. In the dark, with only moments before men and horse succumbed to the freezing current, the quick-thinking man made it out of the water, then he hauled the next man out, and so on, until troops and horse were all free of the ice and water.”

This, then, was the stuff Sam Steele was made of, and only the beginning of his remarkable career that included chasing criminals, defying native leaders, upholding the law—and having the time of his life. Indeed, he saw the establishment of a nation, the signing of treaties, the resolution of a rebellion, the building of a railway, war in South Africa, and action in WWI.

In my opinion this bit of Canadian history should be made mandatory reading in every elementary school history course taught, and for every person who is preparing to become a citizen of this country, for therein is the essence of Canadian pioneer culture: Dedication, adherence to standards and perseverance.

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For a complete list of  Lorimer’s “Amazing Stories” series, go to http://www.lorimer.ca/adults/.

March 14, 2010 Posted by | biography, Canadian biography, Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Military history, Non-fiction | 1 Comment

We Pointed Them North: Recollections of a cowpuncher by E.C. “Teddy Blue” Abbott and Helena Huntington Smith

A rollicking tale of true adventure, and perhaps the first admission (ever) of male love in a cowboy’s own story

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we pointed them north - coverE.C. Abbott was a cowboy in the great days of the 1870s and 1880s. He came up the trail to Montana from Texas with the long-horned herds that were to stock the northern ranges; he punched cows in Montana when there wasn’t a fence in the territory; and he married a daughter of Granville Stuart, the famous early-day stockman and Montana pioneer. For more than fifty years he was known to cowmen from Texas to Alberta as “Teddy Blue.”

This is history, as told by Helena Huntington Smith, who says, “My part was to keep out of the way and not mess it up by being literary.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

When I come across personal reminiscences of this nature (“We Pointed Them North: Recollections of a cowpuncher” by E.C. “Teddy Blue” Abbott and Helena Huntington Smith, drawings by Nick Eggenhofer, University of Oklahoma Press, 1955) I am immediately envious of my cousins south of the border because they have yet another window into their past.

Unfortunately, apart from Norman Lee’s journal [see: Norman Lee Klondike Cattle Drive,” Touchwood Editions, 2005] I am unaware of any other first-hand account(s) of Canadian history that is/are currently: a) published, and b) still in print. I would be happy if someone were to correct me on that statement, but alas I doubt it will happen. Therefore, with each generation that passes our Canadian pioneer experience becomes more and more obscure. Therefore, I have the greatest admiration for Abbott and his patriotic notion to leave a legacy behind for our appreciation.

The early years 

We Pointed Them North is without a doubt the most candid, and thereby the most ‘credible’ of any similar accounts I have read thus far. However, this is a personal observation to be taken for what it is worth. Nevertheless, by his own admission young Eddie Abbott was a bit of a free spirit—even a ‘renegade’ in his formative and teenage years. He attributes this, in part, to having an overbearing father:

“I never got on with my father and never pretended to. He was overbearing and tyrannical—and worse with me than with the others … And I resented it. But I got back at him. I remember one time the butcher wanted to buy some beef, and my father was going to cut them out of the herd for him, and he asked me to give him a horse. So I caught up little Pete, my cutting horse, for him … Father had rode all his life on one of these flat English saddles, and he thought he was a rider … And when he rode into the herd and started to cut out a steer, and the steer dodged … of course Pete turned right out from under him and left him on the ground.” 

The other part was from growing up around the rugged Texans who came north with the very first cattle drives. As Abbott points out in clarifying the record, the cattle drives as we know them only lasted from about 1870-1886, and were almost completely gone by the 1890s. He also points out that the cowboy packin’ a gun on each hip was mostly a Hollywood embellishment.

“I punched cows from ’71 on, and I never yet saw a cowboy with two guns. I mean two six-shooters. Wild Bill carried two guns and so did some of the other city marshals, like Bat Masterson, but they were professional gunmen themselves, not cowpunchers.” 

Nevertheless, Abbott carried a gun from the time he was fourteen, and even shot a man in a mêlée of drunken cowboys shooting out gas lamps. However, it was his contention that a gun was a necessary tool in frontier country. It enabled a man to protect himself against all manner of threats; to shoot food and signal if lost; and to avoid a robbery, etc.

The adventurous years 

If Teddy Blue’s ‘hellion’ years had any benefit at all, apart from sewing his wild oats and gaining a reputation as a ‘wild one’—which he was immenselyproud of—it enabled him (at age nineteen) to take his place among some of the toughest crews on the trail. Among these were the Olive Brothers:

“The Olives were noted as a tough outfit—a gun outfit—which was one reason I wanted in with them. It would show I was tough as they were … They were violent and overbearing men, and it taken a hard man to work for them, and believe me they had several of those all the time. 

Men had to be tough considering the life they led. Abbott describes one situation where they were camped near a large prairie dog ‘town’ when a big storm came up that resulted in a stampede. In the morning it was discovered that one of the men was missing, and a search was made.

“We found him among the prairie dog holes, beside his horse. The horse’s ribs was scraped bare of hide, and all the rest of horse and man was smashed into the ground as flat as a pancake … [T]he awful part of it was that we had milled [the cattle] over him all night … And after that, orders were given to sing when you were running with a stampede … After a while this grew to be a custom on the range, but you know this was still a new business in the seventies [1870s] and they was learning all the time.” 

That was not an untypical circumstance for a teenager in the 1870s. Imagine, if you will, asking today’s counterpart to give up the BMW for a horse, or his TV remote for an evening of chasing a stampede! Yet, for the most part—and almost entirely in Canada—the rugged contributions of these pioneers are all but forgotten.

Life was not all hardship, however, for the average cowpoke played almost as hard as he worked. One episode that Teddy Blue relates took place at a ‘parlor house’ owned by a Mag Burns:

“Three of us was in the parlor of Maggie Burns’ house giving a song number called “The Texas Ranger.” John Bowen was playing the piano and he couldn’t play the piano, and Johnny Stringfellow was there sawing on a fiddle, and I was singing, and between the three of us we was raising the roof. And Maggie—the redheaded, fighting son of a gun—got hopping mad says: ‘If you leather-legged sons of bitches want to give a concert, why don’t you hire a hall? You’re ruinin’ my piano.’ 

“So I got mad, too, and I says: ‘If I had little Billy [his horse] here’—well, I told her what I’d do to her piano. And John Bowen said: ‘Go and get him, Teddy, go get him.’ … I went across the street and got Billy … and rode him through the hall and into the parlor … And as soon as I got in the parlor, Maggie slammed the door … and called the police. 

“But there was a big window in the room, that was low enough to the ground , and Billy and me got through it and got away. We headed for the ferry on the dead run, and that is the origin of the story that Charlie Russell [noted artist and writer] tells in ‘Rawhide Rawlins,’ about me telling that jack rabbit to ‘get out of the way, brother, and let a fellow run that can run.’ I got to the ferry just as it was pulling out, and jumped Billy a little piece onto the apron. The sheriff got there right after me and he was hollering at the ferryman to stop. And the ferryman hollered back at him: ‘This fellow has got a gun the size of a stovepipe stuck to my ribs, and I ain’t agoing to stop.’” 

In his time Teddy Blue also socialized with some legendary characters synonymous with the Old West. These included Charles Russell—already mentioned—who ranks with Frederick Remington as one of the West’s most outstanding artists; “Wild Bill” Hickock, for whom Teddy Blue worked for a while; also Teddy Roosevelt, later President of the United States; and Martha “Calamity Jane” Canary-Burke. Perhaps not as well known was Granville Stuart whose DHS spread was one of the largest such operations in Montana. He was also known for leading a pack of vigilantes that brought swift justice to a number of cattle rustlers and horse thieves in that frontier country.

Teddy Blue was a great admirer of Granville Stuart’s, and even more so of his pretty, young daughter Mary, whom Abbott married in 1889.

Another side of Teddy Blue … A male lover, perhaps?

One of the characteristics I particularly admire about Teddy Abbott is his candour. Not once does he back off, or back down from ‘telling it like it was.’ For example, he describes himself in his younger days as “A damn fool kid.” And with regard to his first girl, “I was a fool on a list of fools.” Therefore, I believe he truly meant to convey the fact that he had a male lover at one point in his career, i.e.:

“And there I claimed this young Indian, Pine … He was one of the best looking Indians I ever saw, six feet, one or two inches tall and as straight as a string. And he was brave—he fought for his knife—and I was sure stuck on him. 

“We all ate there [Rose station on the Northern Pacific], while we was waiting for the train I handed Pine the grub and water first, but he always handed them to the chief. And after they had eaten they all wrapped up in blankets and laid down on their stomachs and went to sleep. And so did I—right beside Pine. [166] 

“While they [the Indians] were all in jail, I went to see Pine ever day, and took him presents of tailor-made cigarettes and candy and stuff. And I told him I’d get him out of it, and luckily he did get out of it, and he was my friend for life. The last day he took a silver ring from his finger and gave it to me.” [167] 

Moreover, he casually relates that he and some of his girlfriends exchanged clothes and paraded around Miles City for a lark. Such an example can be seen in the above photo of him–wearing a woman’s bonnet–with Calamity Jane in the background.

In conclusion

Considering that Teddy Blue was relating all this to Helena Huntington Smith in 1938-39, including the ‘Pine episode,’ it speaks volumes about this truly delightful character; one of the last of a kind, and for that reason I highly recommend it as a rollicking read and a slice of endangered history.

Visit: Gerry B’s Books – News on current & future publications.

 

February 26, 2010 Posted by | Contemporary biography, Non-fiction | 5 Comments

The Cabin: A search for personal sanctuary by “Hap” Wilson

This growing-up account is one of the most inspirational stories I have read, perhaps in all time 

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Click on the above cover to purchase.

Click on the above cover to purchase.

Story outline: One hundred years ago, a young doctor from Cleveland by the name of Robert Newcomb, travelled north to a place called Temagami. It was as far north as one could travel by any modern means. Beautiful beyond any simple expletive, the Temagami wilderness was a land rich in timber, clear-water lakes, fast flowing rivers, mystery and adventure. Newcomb befriended the local Aboriginals – the Deep Water People – and quickly discovered the best way to explore was by canoe.Bewitched by the spirit of an interior river named after the elusive brook trout, Majamagosibi, Newcomb had a remote cabin built overlooking one of her precipitous cataracts. The cabin remained unused for decades, save for a few passing canoeists; it changed ownership twice and slowly began to show its age. The author discovered the cabin while on a canoe trip in 1970. Like Newcomb, Hap Wilson was lured to Temagami in pursuit of adventure and personal sanctuary. That search for sanctuary took the author incredible distances by canoe and snowshoe, through near death experiences and Herculean challenges. Secretly building cabins, homesteading and working as a park ranger, Wilson finally became owner of The Cabin in 2000.

About the author: Hap Wilson has been a wilderness adventurer and guide for over 30 years. A self-taught writer, artist and photographer, he is also one of Canada’s best-known canoeists and the author of several books, including “Canoeing, Kayaking and Hiking Tamagami, Rivers of the Upper Ottawa Valley,” etc. His hand-drawn maps and illustrations were featured in “Voyageur: Canada’s Heritage Rivers,” which won the Natural Resources of America Award for Best Environmental Book. Wilson has also worked as actor Pierce Brosnan’s personal skills trainer in the Attenborough movie, “Grey Owl.” He lives with his wife and two children in the Muskoka and Tamagami lakes district of Ontario.

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 Review by Gerry Burnie

In 1931 two buildings of significance were constructed, so David “Hap” Wilson tells us [The Cabin: A search for personal sanctuary,Natural Heritage Press, 2005]: One was the Empire State Building in New York City; the other, located one thousand miles away in Northern Ontario, was a small log cabin deep in the Temagami wilderness; two disparately different buildings.

“The Empire State Building, pretentious in its almost obscene dimension, the Mammon built on the back of a nation in economic and social ruin, was a crude attempt by politicians to rekindle the faith in a capitalist democracy. The Cabin, on the other hand, was constructed primarily for its owner to escape the nations and tedium represented by such overt and politically motivated initiatives.” 

Thus, from the very beginning of its existence The Cabin was a ‘sanctuary’ of sorts.

In many respects this is a love story. I don’t believe the author intended it as a love story, per se, nor is it written in that style, but nonetheless it is. The ‘lover’ in this case is not a woman, although Lady Evelyn Lake is beautiful, and can be precocious and unpredictable; nor is it a man, although the towering white and red pines and granite-faced cliffs are certainly rugged enough. Rather, it is a whole district called ‘Temagami;’ a primal wilderness-sanctuary approximately 1,906 km2 (733 sq.mi.). In fact, Hap Wilson readily admits that he was “… lured to and seduced by the landscape.”

Inextricably linked with the landscape is the poignant and whimsical Aboriginal account of the creation of ‘The Temagami.’ An account that goes back to a time before time when Nenebuc, the trickster, shot and killed the great snake that turned into ish-pud-in-ong—or Ishpatina Ridge, the highest point in Ontario. Or when he shot and killed the queen of Mishipeshu, the giant underwater lynx, causing a flood similar to that experienced by Noah in the Book of Genesis.

“Metaphorically, I suppose,” says Wilson in his introduction, “this provocative tale of rebirth attempts to substantiate and reconceptualize my own wanderings as a purely abstract approach to life experiences and expectations.” Chaos leads to order—sometimes, if desired.

A more intimate ‘love’ in his life is ‘The Cabin,’ and although its history is more recent, it nonetheless has a heritage that is poignant in its own right.

He first encountered both The Temagami and The Cabin on a canoe trip in 1971, for which he by-passed a permanent illustrating job in Toronto to do so. To those who considered such impulsive behaviour irrational, his parents in particular, he simply chalked it up to the Zen of free-living, and a state of consciousness that allowed whatever to happen, happen. Somewhat turned-off by his father’s workaholic drive to succeed at all cost, which included the family’s spiritual needs, young Hap Wilson rebelled by developing a passion for the wilderness trail and a lack of respect for the material things in life. However, noteworthy is the fact that once he embarked on this unconventional path he stood true to his course against all entreaties to return to the ‘beaten path.’

At the same time he was pursuing his passion to explore the natural world, even if it was out his backdoor, sneaking out his bedroom window to sleep in a woodlot tepee. Mischievous child’s play, you may think, but in retrospect there was a pattern to young Hap’s precociousness. Moreover, there was an unseen purpose that had everything to do with eventually wooing his wilderness ‘love.’

At age twelve he and a childhood friend undertook to build a fort, but not just any fort. His had to be “impregnable,” which meant keeping everyone out, and “… certainly adults.” Therefore, it required a vertical-log palisade with a perimeter of about 200 feet (sixty metres), which, in turn, required dragging upwards of a thousand logs (about 10-feet, 3-metres long) over a distance of a kilometre away. Altogether, it took them over a year to complete it and the accompanying wigwam—complete with fire-pit, bunks and adjustable smoke vent—but complete it they did!

The other challenge that confronted him was ‘the pine tree’—a towering megalithic specimen over one hundred feet tall, and with the remnants of a ladder leading up to the bottom branches, fifty-feet above the ground.

“[T]he behemoth stood there in stark relief, taunting, demanding to be climbed—the view from the top would be nothing short of spectacular. I would put my hand on the first rung of the decrepit ladder trying to build up enough courage to go up, but there was always something holding me back. Always. 

The year they completed the fort he climbed twenty feet up that pine tree.

In the meantime world events were unfolding on TV when the United States government invaded North Korea, and to keep pace with Soviet Russia it had stepped up its A-bomb testing in the Nevada desert. Nuclear snow was falling along the shores of Lake Ontario, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Haight-Ashbury exploded in racial conflict and the Beatles conquered the world with music. It was a world gone mad, and for a now teenage Hap the faith that things would change anytime soon was tenuous at best. His reality therefore was in his drawing and in long walks with his boyhood friend, and in looking wistfully up at the yet-unconquered pine tree.

Now, clearly, a pattern of life was emerging. It included a quest for freedom—away from a dysfunctional family and a political agenda gone awry—as well as a determination strong enough to achieve it. It also included the building of a hide-a-way retreat that was both inclusive and exclusive. However, there remained one last, preliminary hurdle before he could move on. This he achieved when he was fifteen.

“I was strong and determined, but most of all afraid that if I didn’t climb the tree soon I would not have the courage to stand true to my beliefs and aspirations. As to what these were, was not clearly defined for me except that I knew what I didn’t want out of life. And so, one day after much deliberation, while my parents fought, I marched out of the house and climbed the steep hillside to the back of the property, to a place I knew well by this time. Without thinking at all about anything but the tope of the tree and how beautiful life must look from there, I climbed. And I climbed without looking down, without hesitation, tears streaming from my cheeks and with a will of purpose so strong that I must have frightened the demons that sat on every rung of that aged ladder until finally, with uninhibited joy, I reached the first branch of that mother pine and pulled myself into her embrace. 

Thereby, he had an epiphany that saw him rising above his self-doubts and inhibitions to see the path that lay ahead.

Meanwhile, The Cabin was going through a life cycle as well. The original builder, R. B. Newcomb, a doctor from Cleveland, Ohio, had one day quietly murdered his wife and committed suicide, himself. The ownership then passed to his brother, Adrian Newcomb, but by the time Hap Wilson was born in 1951, this Newcomb was then too old to endure the trip to The Temagami, and The Cabin had passed hands several times with each succeeding owner aging like the cabin itself. Therefore, two very different entities were on a collision course; one animate and the other inanimate; one growing in strength while the other aged in need of restoration. Ergo, Hap Wilson’s search for personal sanctuary was coming home.

Very simply stated this growing-up account is one of the most inspirational stories I have read, perhaps in all time. What makes it so is the apparent dedication to principle described therein, even at a very tender age, and the commitment to a set of values in spite of an almost coercive pressure to change. Nevertheless, this might readily be dismissed as shear stubbornness had the author not undertaken to live by these principles as well; tenaciously, sometimes at risk of life and limb, but always moving forward without recrimination or regret.

It made me wonder, as well, how many present-day youngsters would have the same a) ingenuity; b) stamina; c) commitment, or d) tenacity to reach the same level of achievement. Regretfully, I doubt there would be too many, if any at all. Moreover, without hydro or a television set The Cabin would probably be just a pile of decaying rubble overlooking the Trout Pool.

Another aspect of this story that inspires is the fact that it is a first-hand account of a life and times that will never come this way again. As such it is a slice of Canadian history that would otherwise pass into oblivion like virtually countless others have done already. Therefore, there is widely held misimpression that Canada doesn’t have a history beyond John A. Macdonald and Confederation.

For all these reasons, therefore, I urge that “The Cabin: A search for personal sanctuary,” be made part of your reading list, and that of your children.

February 12, 2010 Posted by | Canadian autobiography, Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Non-fiction | Leave a comment

Klondike Cattle Drive – Norman Lee

An absolute-must addition to your bookshelf. It would make a great gift for the kids as well!

 

 

Story outline: The latest addition to TouchWood Editions’ “Classics West Collection”, this is the colourful tale of a formidable trek undertaken by legendary Cariboo rancher Norman Lee. In 1898, Lee set out to drive 200 head of cattle from his home in the Chilcotin area of BC to the Klondike goldfields – a distance of 1,500 miles. He was gambling both his cattle and his life. This is his story, derived from the journal he kept, his letters and the loyal men who accompanied him. Throughout the daunting weeks of coping with mud, cold and sheer bad luck, Lee kept his sense of humour. When he returned from his Yukon trek, he rewrote the notes from his journal, illustrating his story with his own cartoons and sketches. He completed his manuscript around the turn of the century, but it sat untouched until 1960, when it was published by Howard Mitchell of Mitchell Press, Vancouver.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

In terms of “Canadiana,” it just doesn’t get any more so than “Klondike Cattle Drive,” Norman Lee (Touchwood Editions. 2005). In fact, this sixty-four- page, absolute nugget of a story virtually epitomizes the Canadian pioneering spirit as it once was. That is why it should be made required reading for every history course taught in this country.

In 1898 Norman Lee, a dapper five-foot-eight rancher from the Cariboo District, British Columbia, undertook a 1500-mile cattle drive ‘north’ to Dawson City, Yukon Territory. This in itself was unusual, for most cattle drives at the time were headed south. Moreover, the route north passed through some of the most formidable wilderness imaginable; from pastureless forests to muskeg and belly-scraping swamps.

Just about every type of weather condition was encountered, as well; riding night watches in discomforting drizzle, getting lost in disorienting fog, and braving minus-forty-degree (Fahrenheit) temperatures on the way home.

Remembering that there was no how-to book on how this should be done, and that Norman Lee’s background was as an architect in England, he had to constantly improvise as the trail presented challenge after challenge. Mud, charlatans, lack of supplies, spent animals, all had to be overcome to achieve his goal. Nevertheless, he took it all in stride with humour and stoicism. That is another quintessential characteristic of the pioneer spirit that built this country and nation, and is now in real danger of being forgotten.

As a writer of Canadian, historical fiction I can say with authority that there are precious few published journals to be found. Therefore, it was with considerable rejoicing that I came across Norman Lee’s journal in connection with a Canadian western I was considering. I can also add that when I did find it, it became the inspiration for my forthcoming novel, “Coming of Age on the Trail,” scheduled for release in March 2010. A M/M romance built around a closely similar cattle drive.

In closing I will add that “Klondike Cattle Drive” is an intrinsically enjoyable read for any reason. However, for those who appreciate the rarity of a find like this, and the unquestionable authenticity it adds to the 19th-century pioneer experience, it is an absolute-must addition to your bookshelf. It would make a great gift for the kids as well!

January 26, 2010 Posted by | Canadian author, Canadian autobiography, Canadian content, Canadian frontier stories, Canadian historical content, Homesteading in Canada, Non-fiction | 1 Comment

Gay American History: Lesbian and gay men in U.S.A. – Jonathan Katz

Publisher: Plume; Rev Sub edition (April 1, 1992)

Five stars

Outline: This unique and pioneering work is a comprehensive collection of documents on American gay life from the early days of European settlement to the emergence of modern American gay culture. Hailed by reviewers, it offers a new historical perspective on this once invisible minority and its 400-year battle. Photographs and illustra

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A must read for every GBLT at least once

Review by Gerry Burnie

I have just completed “Gay American History: Lesbian and gay men in the U.S.A.” by Jonathan Katz, and I highly recommend it for every GBLT person in the world! For centuries GBLT individuals were denied an existence as literally “unmentionable,” and such history as was recorded said more about the biases of the writers than the lifestyle recorded. Jonathan Katz, a respected academic and activist, has therefore performed a great service by compiling a definitive, readable anthology dating from the 16th-century onward.  

It is by nature a dark period of history, and a serious indictment against virtually all holier-than-thou religious dogmatists, their bible-quoting political counterparts, and a host of so-called “professionals” in the persons of psychiatrists, psychologists and doctors. It is also a celebration of those resilient individuals, both male and female, who endured five centuries of unspeakable abuse—physical and mental—to emerge into enlightenment. However, the past should not be forgotten so that it will never repeat itself happen again.

January 23, 2010 Posted by | Non-fiction | 2 Comments

   

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