Hide/Seek: A Book Review Sunday, Oct 30 2011 

PJ and I missed the Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery earlier this year, so PJ ordered a copy of the catalogue. We’re going to have a chance to see the exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in December, so I started reading the catalogue, which was edited by Jonathan D. Katz and David C. Ward.

This is the first time that I’ve read a book about an exhibit before seeing the exhibit. The book version of Hide/Seek is a great read, whether one ever sees the actual exhibit or not. In particular, Katz’s opening essay describing the exhibit and providing historical context for the works in it is a particularly fine essay.

For a couple of decades now, scholars have argued that before modern notions of sexuality became prevalent, “homosexuality” was coded as being effeminate and the penetrated partner in any sexual activity. Thus, a “heterosexual” man could have sex with a “homosexual” one without impugning his reputation as a straight man, provided he performed the masculine role of penetrating the gay man. Katz’s explanation of this theory is one of the best I’ve ever read.

Katz explains this concept in order to interpret George Bellows’s The Shower-Bath (1917):

He reads this image to explain why, even though it depicts an “obvious” homosexual in the foreground, it was an extremely popular. His reading is convincing, and it made me think about this period of American cultural history differently. This print is nearly contemporaneous with one of my favorite novels, Henry Blake Fuller’s 1919 Bertram Cope’s Year. Thinking about this novel in terms of Katz’s argument would be a very interesting way to approach the book.

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Eating Out: Drama Camp: A Review Saturday, Oct 29 2011 

Last night PJ and I watched Eating Out: Drama Camp, the latest in the farcical series of gay movies that specialize in the sexual hi-jinks of young gay men and their lady friends.

In this fourth installment of the franchise, Zack and Casey, the leading men introduced in the third movie, Eating Out: All You Can Eat, are still together but having some problems in the bedroom: Zack, played by Chris Salvatore, no longer seems interested in Casey, played by Daniel Skelton. These problems are compounded by their heading off to a drama camp, where temptations to stray abound.

Eating Out: Drama Camp is hilariously sexy and loads of fun! This is queer, bawdy humor at its best.

The third installment of this franchise seemingly sent the series in a new, much more interesting direction: the main characters were all played by gay men, the plot revolved around Casey’s efforts to seduce Zack, another gay guy, and it all added up to a lot of heart. While maybe it shouldn’t matter whether the actors are gay, I really liked that Skelton and Salvatore were out during their promotion of the movie. I was tired of some of he earlier movies’ stars efforts to distance themselves from the plots’ gay content. Likewise, I liked that All You Can Eat was about one gay guy chasing another openly gay guy. The is-he-or-isn’t he plot of the second movie wore thin for me. And I liked the combination of sexual humor, romance, and sentiment in the third movie. It all added up to a queer comedy made for and by queers, something I both admire and enjoyed.

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SotW: Animal by Jenny & Johnny Wednesday, Oct 26 2011 

PJ recently recommended that I listen to Jenny & Johnny’s “Animal,” which he thought that I would like. He was right!

It’s a great song, one that we jokingly have deemed our older, female cat’s theme song. Now I can’t get it out of my head!

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Bridesmaids: A Review Monday, Oct 24 2011 

Over the weekend, PJ and I finally watched Bridesmaids, starring Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph. We’ve been looking forward to seeing this movie since we missed it at the theater.

Wiig plays Annie, a down-on-her-luck woman who’s dating a jerk and recently lost her bakery due to the bad economy. When her best friend Lillian, played by Rudolph, announces her engagement, Annie accepts her role as maid of honor with mixed feelings: while happy for her friend, she’s also jealous of how everything in her life is so perfect. As Annie copes with these feelings and ineptly takes up her wedding duties, she also has to tangle with Helen, played by Rose Byrne, who seems wedding planning as a competitive sport.

Surprisingly, I didn’t really care much for this movie. Everyone has talked up its gross out humor, with the big twist being that its women being gross this time rather than men. But I didn’t think the movie was all that funny. I love Wiig and Rudolph, and I was ready to laugh and enjoy the jokes, but Bridesmaids just doesn’t add up to much. It’s entirely predictable, and I don’t think it really has much to say today’s woman, weddings, relationships, or anything else.

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Sweet Like Sugar: A Review Sunday, Oct 23 2011 

Five years ago, I read and loved Wayne Hoffman’s first novel, Hard. So, I was naturally excited to learn that he had a new novel out, Sweet Like Sugar. It’s a really interesting novel, one that made me think. I really enjoyed it.

Sweet Like Sugar centers on Benji Steiner, a gay advertising executive who has started his own small company in the same shopping center as a rabbi’s Jewish bookstore. Benji is Jewish but has lost touch with his faith. He still practices a handful of Jewish observances, but in general he doesn’t really connect to his Jewishness any longer.

When his former Hebrew school teacher, who now works in the rabbi’s bookstore, brings the aged and ill rabbi, Jacob Zuckerman, to rest in Benji’s office, it sets of a series of events that transforms both men’s lives.

Like many gay people who were raised in religious households, Benji’s coming out coincided with his rejection of his religious heritage. As conservative religious figures teach against same-sex desire, those of us who experience those desires as a real and immutable part of our lived experience question the value of religion more broadly as we reject the specific teachings we find homophobic.

My own experience was very much like this. My parents are very religious, and I was raised to share their conservative views. Once I began to accept my sexual desires rather than fear them, it called into question everything they had tried to teach me–if they’re wrong about homosexuality, are they wrong about everything else too? I think it’s a natural progression from one issue to the next (to the next and so on) that ultimately led me to reject the whole kit and caboodle.

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SotW: The World as I See It by Jason Mraz Wednesday, Oct 19 2011 

Jason Mraz is one of my favorite singer songwriters. He has a new album coming out in 2012, and clips of him performing new songs have hit YouTube.

One of these has become one of my recent favorites: “The World as I See It.” Here’s a clip of Mraz singing it live:

I like its positive message, and Mraz is always dreamy. He’s one of my favorite straight men — and like so many gays, I agree that, if there was any justice in the world, he, Brandon Flowers, and Adam Levine would all be gay. Such a shame that they’re not! Regardless, I can’t wait for his new album to come out.

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My Life as Laura: A Review Sunday, Oct 16 2011 

While recuperating from (very) minor surgery last week, I read Kelly Kathleen Ferguson’s My Life as Laura: How I Searched for Laura Ingalls Wilder and Found Myself, which was just published by Press 53. Hilariously realistic and sincere, it was a great book to read while stuck at home and feeling kind of miserable. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Part of that enjoyment was no doubt due to the fact that I know Kelly and really like her. She took my graduate seminar on Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy two springs ago. Throughout that class, which wasn’t anything near the quality I would have liked due to the commitments of my day job (being an administrator doesn’t really leave one a lot of time to prep a grad course!), I was grateful for Kelly’s contributions and insights. Her easy, self-deprecating humor was a pleasant mask for her genuine insights into Sterne’s masterpiece. Whatever my students got out of that class was entirely due to their own efforts and participation in the seminar’s discussion. Kelly was a key part of that.

I should, perhaps, also note that PJ and I had recently heard Kelly give a reading from this memoir before I started reading it. That taste let me know that a) I was going to enjoy it and b) I could draw on my memory of Kelly’s delivery so that reading it felt like she was reading it to me. I always find that hearing the author’s voice in my head augments my pleasure as a reader. (I often “hear” Jane Austen’s voice when I read her books too!)

My Life as Laura is Kelly’s memoir of physically retracing the pioneer journey of her favorite writer as a child, Laura Ingalls Wilder. As she visits LIW sites throughout the Plains states, she examines her own life and tries to come to terms with the way things have turned out: she’s a 38-year-old woman who hasn’t “achieved” the usual milestones that 38-year-old women are supposed to “achieve”: she’s not married, she doesn’t have kids, and she’s not a doctor. Reflecting on the life and times of her idol, Kelly finds her own sense of purpose and achieves a different kind of goal: she becomes a professional writer. (Though the book is not an optimistic homage to Kelly’s successful achievement of that goal — it’s far more complex than that.)

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