Friday, March 30, 2012

Internal News as of 3-30-12

Guys, how have I not really talked about Doctor Who on here? I went to add it to my labels on this post, and it didn't already exist! That said, I'm currently only 2 episodes away from saying goodbye to David Tennant, and even though everyone assures me that I will like Matt Smith just fine, I am a dino who is nervous about change. We know this. ALSO... I talked about Doctor Who over at Persephone with "What I Watched Last Night: Doctor Who, 'The Stolen Earth.'" (Bonus: I also mention the movie Galaxy Quest.)

Also at Persephone, I wrote "Parenting with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (No Oxymoron Jokes, Please)."

Finally, I've started to do a little writing for Word Riot, a lit mag/small press that just passed the 10 year mark. Today, I did a linky-thing I'm calling Notes From Elsewhere: A Word Riot Roundup. I mentioned what former Word Riot authors are doing with themselves these days, but also I talk about anything lit-related that I find interesting. This time you'll want to click because there's a link where David Mitchell compares himself to a platypus.

Annnnd I think that's it for the time being. Thanks for reading!

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean

The Orchid Thief
by Susan Orlean

It's not that I've spent considerable time in Florida, but I feel like it's one of those places on Earth that a person can't really write about unless they've been there. Both of my parents grew up in Miami, and I have an uncle who still lives there. My grandmother moved a few hours north to Port St. Lucie. My uncle is the head of security at a giant flea market. The place is so massive, it has watch towers at its corners. Between the permanent vendors, the people who turn up and sell things out of their truck beds, and the bargain hunters themselves, it's commerce enabling obsession.

Northwest, by about two hours, sits Naples and the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. In 1994, a man named John Laroche and three Seminole men with whom he worked were arrested for poaching orchids from the Fakahatchee. In state parks, it is illegal to remove any plant or animal life, especially the endangered wild orchid. Writer Susan Orlean happened to catch an article about the impending court case.

In the case of the orchid story, I was interested to see the words 'swamp' and 'orchids' and 'Seminoles' and 'cloning' and 'criminal' in one short piece. Sometimes this kind of story turns out to be something more, some glimpse of life that expands like those Japanese paper balls you drop in water and then after a moment they bloom into flowers, and the flower is so marvelous that you can't believe there was a time when all you saw in front of you was a paper ball and a glass of water.

Laroche's plan was to find wild orchids, particularly the ghost orchid, clone it, then sell the clones at the nursery built on the Seminole reservation. Because orchid collectors tend to want one of every variety they can get their hands on, he figured this would be a "million dollar plant."

Since the Seminoles were exempt from any endangered species laws, he believed he would also be exempt because he worked for them. In case he wasn't, he had the Seminoles handle all the plants so that he could just be "along for the hike." Though he believed wildlife poaching to be wrong, in his version of morality, by breaking the law, his clones would destroy the wild orchid black market.

This was Laroche's traditional dash of altruism. Finally the plan would end with a flourish: He would time everything to take place during the Florida legislative session so that as soon as he had gotten what he had wanted out of the woods, he would address the legislators and chide them for leaving laws on the books that were too loose to protect endangered plants from cunning people like him. The legislators, shamed, would then change the laws to Laroche's specifications, and thus the woods would be locked up forever and no more ghost orchids could be spirited away. Environmentalists who had despised him for poaching would be forced to admire him.

Of course, nothing is that easy. Orlean decides to meet the man, and though she finds him somewhat off-putting at times, his way of expounding on the nature of everything, she finds fascinating. They attend an orchid show together, and she visits him at the nursery, and learns that the Seminoles refer to him as "Crazy White Man" and "Troublemaker." Laroche seems aware that he is a bit odd, but he professes not to care what other people think, as he finds his oddness superior to any other way of living. Orchids are not his first obsession. Before them, he had stints studying turtles, Ice Age fossils, and re-silvering old mirrors. "Laroche's passions arrived unannounced and ended explosively," Orlean says, "like car bombs."

What started as an article for The New Yorker ended up providing enough material for an entire book, and soon Orlean found herself spending more time in Florida — a state in which she had spent many summers as a kid — learning about orchids, their history, and the people who collect them. Laroche's obsession, though he has particular style, is not unique. Along the way, Orlean meets enthusiasts who have risked their lives searching for orchids in South American mountains, nursery owners holding longstanding grudges against one another, and people who have to be talked down from spending thousands of dollars on just one flower.

Sometimes I think I've figured out some order in the universe, but then I find myself in Florida, swamped by incongruity and paradox, and I have to start all over again.

The Orchid Thief is of course the book that inspired the movie Adaptation, in which Nicolas Cage loses his shit (again, but in a good way) as screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. Chris Cooper plays Laroche and Meryl Streep is Orlean — which, hey, not bad. The movie ends up being a highly-fictionalized, highly-entertaining version of the events, in which the orchid is going to be cloned for a psychoactive drug, and "Orlean" ends up trying to murder Kaufman and his fictional twin brother. "I was really happy to see that the movie portrayed the real heart of the book, which is about the pursuit of passion and how it shapes our lives," Orlean says in the prologue of the edition I read. But yes, it was very strange and overwhelming to see herself portrayed, even fictionally, onscreen.

The obsessive part of the brain is the same for everyone, I think — It's just that some people's "spots" are a bit overactive. While some people — say, my mother — might have to read every single article in the local paper, even if they have to play catch-up after vacation, another person — say, me — might be able to debate and swoon over the merits of Oasis b-sides. Or discuss the real world implications of Doctor Who on what we perceive as reality. Or might never have enough tiny, oddball notebooks, no matter how many years it takes to fill them up. Or might suddenly develop a compulsion to eat toast with peanut butter every single morning. Or on the days jam is suddenly preferred, wonder what sort of other change is in the air.

I might have a lot of obsessions, is what I'm saying.

So I understood from where these orchid people came. Orchids are fascinating, once you start learning about them, and Orlean explains everything in a very easy, good-humored way. Even if she doesn't personally "get it," she still likes hearing people's excitement. I'd only read her New Yorker articles before, along with following her on Twitter, but this is the first book I've read. I get the feeling that Susan Orlean can make any subject interesting to anyone. I want to read her most recent, Rin Tin Tin (about the dog, of course), before I hear her talk with Steve Almond at this year's Get Lit! Festival. If I don't before then, I do know that I will pick it up sometime soon.

The Orchid Thief is hard to categorize. My library copy was shelved in the gardening section. It's not a memoir, even though Orlean is part of the narrative, but it's not straight reportage either. I suppose the library wasn't really sure either, and they thought, "Well, hell. It has the history of orchids; we'll just stick it with other informational plant books." (I like to think that librarians think with semi-colons. Indulge me.) Mixing passion and the Florida humidity is certainly an experience that would disorient any writer, but in the end, the appreciation this book has received is mightily deserved. I sense another one of my author-binges on the horizon...


Support your local libraries! I do, particularly with my late fees. :\

This review is part of Pajiba's Cannonball Read, in which participants aim to read and review 13, 26 or 52 books within one year. Though I'm taking things easier this year, I expect to surpass the 'Half Cannonball' distinction by the end of 2012.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

All Her Father's Guns by James Warner

All Her Father's Guns
by James Warner

Political satire is hard to do well. One runs the risk of steering too far into silliness, or ends up making the story one big soap-box-monologue for the author's personal beliefs. Luckily, James Warner does a serviceable job of avoiding these traps in his novel, All Her Father's Guns.

In it, British ex-pat Reid Seyton is asked by his girlfriend's father, Cal Lyte, to help derail his ex-wife's 2010 congressional campaign. "Perhaps I could have said no, I didn't want to get involved," Reid says. "But helping keep Tabytha out of Congress felt like my civic duty. Tabytha made Cal look positively left-wing."

The point-of-view switches back and forth between Reid and Cal. Cal is a libertarian venture capitalist who has made barrels of money in the corporate world. Reid is a professor in the "Department of Theory" at a California university. Its function is to "transgress the boundaries" between various humanities, and it focuses on "the theoretical developments rendering those boundaries untenable."

It's intellectual wankery, in other words.

Reid's position isn't looking so solid after a round of budget cuts. Helping Cal seems like a good enough distraction, and he even refers Cal to a "Lacanian" therapist from his department, a Romanian woman named Viorela. Cal would also like to find direction in his life, and Reid theorizes (of course), "the saddest part was that, like many people who claim to defy authority, Cal was really only awaiting an authority that would prove irresistible."

Naturally, Cal finds Viorella's commanding manner transfixing. Meanwhile, Reid finds out his girlfriend, Lyllyan, is pregnant, and Tabytha Lyte is out there being the Arizona version of Sarah Palin with the craziness turned up to eleven. She has to "liberate the Middle East from the A-rabs," dontcha know?

There was an ongoing wave of redistricting going on that favored Republicans. Congress had all the subtlety of toddlers cheating at Candy Land.

If it seems like there is a lot going on, and that there are a lot of ridiculous names, that's because there are. I am not sure why Warner chose so many names spelled with Ys or why there are also women named "Catriona," "Keana" and "Tintinella," while the men are named "Tad," "Bruno," and "Vernon." I don't know if the names serve a function, or are meant to mirror the pulls between left-wing and right, but they were mostly distracting.

What works for this book is that it isn't very long. Yes, that sounds harsh on the surface, but the brisk pace kept the story amusing, rather than inspiring thoughts of "WTF am I reading? And why?" Warner could have gone even further with the political postulating and used all of the narrative as his own mouth piece, but he mostly keeps it to character. In a bit of dramatic irony, we know that the intellectual Reid and the reactionary Cal are meant to meet in the middle, having had their views challenged during all the ensuing chaos.

What I hoped for was something more akin to the film In the Loop, which is political-bungling satire at its best, and also features English characters. I realize that Warner is also an ex-pat, but forgive me for saying that Reid did not feel all that English. Apart from his brother turning up and dropping a few slang words, it's easy to forget that aspect of his character. Perhaps it's a byproduct of being in the country a certain amount of time, but I wanted more Englishness than a reserved disposition.

Overall though, All Her Father's Guns is a quick bit of entertainment, one that might have been stronger with the focus given to just a few ridiculous elements, rather than a hundred. While I would not say it's been one of my recent favorites, I still enjoyed reading it. Knowing what we do about the current election climate, the book's election concerns are somewhat nostalgic relief.

Full Disclosure: This book was sent to me by the author. I thank him for the gesture and will continue to be fair in my reviews.


This review is part of Pajiba's Cannonball Read, in which participants aim to read and review 13, 26 or 52 books within one year. Though I'm taking things easier this year, I expect to surpass the 'Half Cannonball' distinction by the end of 2012.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spin by Catherine McKenzie

My review of Spin by Catherine McKenzie is now appearing over at Persephone Magazine. It went up on Friday, but I didn't do a straight up crosspost this time because of roughly eleventy billion things going on. (Short answer: I forgot.)

From the review: "Spin is cute, yes, and nicely satisfying in a not-totally-insulting romantic comedy way, even though this is a story more about addiction than wanting to make out with someone. It’s about all relationships a person can have, and how a person’s behavior affects those relationships."

Go check it out. Thanks!

(This review is #10/26+ for Cannonball Read, and this book was sent to me by William Morrow.)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
by Cheryl Strayed

Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck once said, "Our life is always all right. There's nothing wrong with it. Even if we have horrendous problems, it's just our life." We are continually battered and redeemed, often by our own hands, and our strength comes when we recognize the broken pieces of our lives. Recognition does not necessarily mean repair, but rather learning how to live amongst the rubble. We cannot go back and keep ourselves from our misfortunes and bad decisions. We can only put one foot in front of the other, carrying our knowledge, and remain open to whatever is next.

Devastated by the death of her mother and the end of her marriage, Cheryl Strayed transformed this idea into a literal journey. During the summer of 1995, she decided to hike the majority of the 2,663 mile Pacific Crest Trail. Despite never having backpacked before and having no real idea what she would do with her life once she finished the trip, the 26 year old Strayed knew that she had to do it. Something had to help her dig out of the hole left in her mother's absence.

It took me years […] To be the woman my mother raised. To remember how she said honey and picture her particular gaze. I would suffer. I would suffer. I would want things to be different than they were. The wanting was a wilderness and I had to find my own way out of the woods. It took me four years, seven months, and three days to do it. I didn't know where I was going until I got there.

It was a place called the Bridge of the Gods.

At age 45, Strayed's "vegetarian-ish, garlic-eating, natural-remedy-using nonsmoker" mother found out she had late-stage lung cancer. Incurable. They gave her a year to live. Instead she lived just forty-nine days. Though she spent much of that time at her mother's bedside, Strayed wasn't there when she passed away — a fact that haunted and tormented her, filled her with guilt. "Nothing could ever bring my mother back or make it okay that she was gone," Strayed writes. "Nothing would put me beside her the moment she died. It broke me up. It cut me off. It tumbled me end over end."

I know from where she comes. My father, not even six months past getting the all-clear from prostate cancer, suddenly died from a heart attack at age 50. It was Christmas Eve 2005, and it happened while he was at work up at the airport. Our conversation that afternoon before he left, about how he didn't feel well, replays in my mind almost every time I think about him. His heart was winding down the entire time and nobody knew. He was there, and then he was gone.

My dad was a backpacker. His ashes are scattered at Logan's Pass in Glacier National Park, and instead of flowers, people donated money to The Glacier Fund in his name. He would have liked this book. He would have known exactly what it was like to see your feet obliterated by that much walking, and also the incredible peace one finds when the wilderness is your only soundtrack. That, and all the songs you make up along the way — the "mental jukebox," as Strayed puts it, the mishmash of every song you've heard combined with your own inventions.

To say that I miss him vastly understates the loss, but I am learning to live within that loss. It is rarely easy.

The four years before Strayed arrived at the Pacific Crest Trail had plenty of difficulty. She found herself kissing men who were not her husband, justifying it in her mind as being okay because she wasn't sleeping with them, but soon she was sleeping with other men too. She tried, however subconsciously, to put as much distance as she could between the person she was while her mother was alive and how she felt after.

It seemed to me the way it must feel to people who cut themselves on purpose. Not pretty, but clean. Not good, but void of regret. I was trying to heal. Trying to get the bad out of my system so I could be good again. To cure me of myself.

Separated from her husband, she moved from Minnesota to Portland, Oregon, and took up with a boyfriend who introduced her to heroin. A friend and eventually her husband intervened, and she briefly returned to Minnesota, needing to be done with this whole crazy period in her life. Drawn to a guidebook she'd seen in REI, The Pacific Crest Trail, Volume I: California, she knew she had to change:

I had to change was the thought that drove me in those months of planning. Not into a different person, but back to the person I used to be — strong and responsible, clear-eyed and driven, ethical and good. And the PCT would make me that way. There, I'd walk and think about my entire life. I'd find my strength again, far from everything that had made my life ridiculous.

But here I was, on the PCT, ridiculous again, though in a different way, hunching in an ever-more-remotely-upright position on the first day of my hike.

Her pack would come to be known as "Monster," so unwieldy at first that she had trouble just putting it on. She would lose toenails, bits of skin, and feel more exhausted than she ever had in her entire life, but she kept walking. Sometimes she would see other hikers, but for the most part, she did it alone.

Wild is not some overly feel-good, spiritual-uplift type of story. Strayed does not gloss over the difficulty of the trail, but she also does not over-dramatize. She is honest, but she is kind. Her voice is very much like that of her other writer-persona, Sugar.

I first read Wild in January, but I postponed reviewing it, in part, to be closer to the book's publication date (March 20), but also to pass the date of Sugar's "coming out" party. Sugar, if you're unaware, is The Rumpus' much-beloved advice columnist, though her column goes far beyond the likes of Dear Abby. She answers tough questions with full-hearted grace, often telling stories from her own life that coincide with her advice. Up until this past Valentine's Day, Sugar's identity remained a secret — Not a particularly well-kept one, as some people in her life were told. Others merely connected the dots. I figured it out when someone landed on my site with the search terms "Sugar Cheryl Strayed." (They found my review of The Rumpus Women, in which I refer to Sugar as "magic.")

The reveal did not minimize the magic — if anything, reading Wild and knowing "Cheryl Strayed = Sugar" lends Sugar's advice another layer: I have been here too. I know what it is to screw up. I know what it is to have no money, to be loved, to love, to cheat, to fall down, to get back up, and on and on and on... One sees even more that Sugar is not an act, but by not using her own name in the column, she makes it about the letter writer's situation and not herself.

I know I have described a lot of Strayed's life independent of the PCT, but Wild truly is about navigating that trail — it makes up the bulk of the book, and to be honest, I don't want to ruin the experience of reading it for the first time.

And you should read it. There has been and likely will be a lot of hype surrounding this book. Reese Witherspoon has already optioned it for film. The more contrary among you might want to resist the hype and not seek out Wild. Resist your contrary nature, just this once. The hype is well-deserved. Cheryl Strayed has written an outstanding book,, one that is now easily counted among my favorites. Get thee to a bookstore or your library and soak it in. And then tell others to do the same.

Full Disclosure: Knopf sent me this book at my request. I thank them for the gesture and will continue to be fair in my reviews.


This review is part of Pajiba's Cannonball Read, in which participants aim to read and review 13, 26 or 52 books within one year. Though I'm taking things easier this year, I expect to surpass the 'Half Cannonball' distinction by the end of 2012.

This review also appeared on Pajiba on March 17, 2012.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Internal News as of 3-10-12

A few notes on where my writing has appeared elsewhere lately:

My review of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas is now also appearing on Persephone Magazine.

Also at Persephone, I rambled a bit about 5 TV Shows I Obsessed Over as a Child/Teenager. General Hospital, ya'll.

In fiction news, my story "Before I Come" is included in Little Fiction's collection Listerature. It's a lovely little PDF publication where all the stories are told in the form of lists. And they've bothered to make it easy to read on a mobile, eReader or a tablet, so I suppose you really have no excuse not to read, now do you? ha.

And of course, Infinite Disposable is still available for purchase. It's been out a little over a week, and the print run is a little over 30% sold. These early orders are also getting custom made bookmarks, but those won't last for all the books. In case you needed added incentive.

Finally, if you haven't caught it yet, there's a new issue of Electric City Creative out, ROCK MONSTER. My writing includes a profile on musician Ryan Johnson, reviews of 2 EPs (one by Dana Jo Forseth, the other by Jonathan Ravenscroft), and various other arty bits and notes. Do check it out.

I believe that is all for now. We'll be back in the business of book reviews here shortly.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Best Sex Writing 2012: The State of Today's Sexual Culture edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel

Best Sex Writing 2012: The State of Today's Sexual Culture
edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel

"This is not a one-handed read," Rachel Kramer Bussel writes in Best Sex Writing 2012's introduction, "but it is a book that will stimulate your largest sex organ: your brain." Knowledge is a wonderful aphrodisiac, after all, and I'm absolutely game for smarty-pants frisky business. Given the current atrocious battles some groups are waging against any sort of sexual and gender-related education, the book comes at a great time. Filled with intimate moments, political movements, and personal revelations, it is a fantastic collection — one I flew through in just one day.

Originally, my interest in the book came from already being a familiar with several of the included authors, such Tracy Clark-Flory, Roxane Gay, Lidia Yuknavitch, and Kevin Sampsell. Roxane Gay's "The Careless Language of Sexual Violence," I'd already read when it originally ran on The Rumpus, and I suggest you read it now as well. Same goes for Kevin Sampsell's "Pottymouth," a reflection on dirty talk with girlfriends, which originally ran on Fanzine.

Much of the book appeared online first, but as I'm one who is perpetually behind with my Google Reader items, I hadn't already seen the majority of the contributions. (Plus, despite appearances, I'm also not one of those people who needs to have read everything, ever, the moment it comes out.)

Right away, I found Marty Klein's "Criminalizing Circumcision: Self-Hatred as Public Policy" quite interesting. Klein is a sex therapist in the Bay Area, and as such, has a more well-rounded perspective on the lives of men and their undercarriage. Considering the 2011 San Francisco ballot initiative that wanted to outlaw the circumcision of infants, he found the whole thing horribly misguided and overly theatrical. He says, "In the 31 years of talking with men about their penises, I have never met a man who felt damaged, mutilated or emasculated by his circumcision who did not have other emotional problems as well." And before anyone gets up in arms over what they might perceive as dismissiveness, he adds, "I am certainly no apologist for circumcision. As we say about abortion, nude beaches and non-monogamy, if you don't believe in it, don't do it."

And that should absolutely be a fair and reasonable statement. Unfortunately, as we know all too well, politics has a tendency to drown out reasonable statements. One would hope that if a parent chose to circumcise their son, that their friend, who chose not to do the same, wouldn't be calling this parent a mutilator. Or in the reverse case, an oversensitive hippie. In short, of course feeling strongly about something can drive us to action, but when those emotions cloud our receptiveness to facts or a broader perspective, there's a problem. Unfortunately, we have a lot of political problems that extend far, far beyond a failed ballot initiative in one city.

Heading onto that national level of governmental what-the-fuckery, Katherine Spillar's "Sex, Lies, and Hush Money," details one specific case of "an illicit sexual relationship between a powerful U.S. Senator and his female campaign treasurer, and of the equally powerful male political figures who allegedly helped cover it up." In 2007, the now-former Republican Senator from Nevada, John Ensign, pursued Cynthia Hampton to the point where a Senate ethic committee found it constituted sexual harassment. Their relationship grew out of a fear for her job, and her husband's job, since he was also employed by the Senator. The entire story is too lengthy and detailed to adequately summarize here (let Google do its thing, if you're so inclined), but essentially, the Senator paid off the woman's husband using his parents' trust fund, the husband then negotiated more money, then somehow Rick Santorum and the Fellowship Foundation got involved. Ensign's career tanked and he faced criminal charges, and the players who assisted him walked away. The people involved in all this are the same people who try to legislate their brand of morality — the ones who, on one hand, cried for the impeachment of Bill Clinton, while on the other, are out "hiking the Appalachian Trail." It's a story it seems like we've heard a zillion times, and yet it seems to make zero difference. It runs through a couple of news cycles, Leno makes his shitty jokes, and then there's another story to talk about. The people screwing over their professional and personal lives do not see themselves in the screw-ups of others. They are somehow "different." Special little hypocritical snowflakes.

Religious upbringing often plays a role in this whole uncomfortable sandwich of guilt, shame, power, and deciding to look the other way. So, independent of politics, how does religion influence a person's sex life? In Greta Christina's article, "Atheists Do It Better: Why Leaving Religion Leads to Better Sex," she examines the results of a 2011 survey conducted by organizational psychologist Darrel Ray Ed. D. called "Sex and Secularism: What Happens When You Leave Religion?"

According to "Sex and Secularism," some religions have a harsher impact on people's sex lives than others. People raised as Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses, for example, ranked much higher on the sexual guilt scale than people raised as Buddhists and Episcopalians. […] Catholicism is pretty much smack in the middle.

Conservative religions have a much more harmful effect on people's sex lives than more moderate or progressive ones — in terms of guilt, sexual education and information, the ability to experience pleasure, the ability to accept one's sexual identity, and more.

But one of the most surprising conclusions of this research is that sexual guilt from religion doesn't wreck people's sex lives forever.

Apparently, if a formerly religious person no longer feels religious, their sexual satisfaction increases. The only exceptions to this, according to the survey, was with Unitarianism and Judaism, both of which experienced overall lower instances of sexual guilt.

It's certainly an interesting survey, and one in which we might have already seen anecdotal evidence. Still, Christina's article points out that the survey designers admit that, of course, this information only illustrates the responses of those who took the survey — a limited slice of life — although the results do support other already existing research. It's also worth pointing out that Greta Christina herself is an atheist, and her article originally appeared on Alternet. It's a bit preaching-to-choir in its writing style, but any person can find the survey online and make their own conclusions.

How information is presented and from what source it arrives is insanely important to what we do with that information. In "Men Who 'Buy Sex' Commit More Crimes: Newsweek, Trafficking, and the Lie of Fabricated Sex Studies," Thomas Roche takes on the highly biased "report" conducted by Melissa Farley, a woman who has claimed that high-priced call girls are no less damaged than street prostitutes, and often equates human trafficking with those $500-an-hour girls. She designed her questions to support those views, Roche observes, and disappointingly, major news outlets ran with her results without question.

A survey, incidentally, is not the same thing as a study. A study is a formalized procedure for obtaining concrete and measurable data, with steps taken to ensure that compared data sets are equivalent.

Good surveys are transparent about what questions are asked and how they are asked. They don't come with foregone conclusions established by the bias of the lead author.

So keep that in mind every time some new "study" is reported on by the news. Consider the source. Make sure your own brain is functioning, in other words.

Perhaps my favorite contribution to the book is Hugo Schwyzer's "I Want You to Want Me." For one, I love that song. Secondly, he won me over completely with the statement, "Count me in the camp of those who believe that sexual fluidity isn't just for women; authentic male bisexuality is far from a myth." Amen, man.

In all seriousness, it's a great essay. Schwyzer talks about how he has struggled with the idea that the male body can be considered beautiful in the same way that a woman's can. That's not to say that male and female bodies have some sort of shared universal attractiveness scale, but rather, that someone could look at a naked man's body, dangly parts and all and say, "That's hot." His insecurity stemmed from a statement that his middle school art teacher made about how, compared to a woman, who really wanted to look at a naked man? Who really desired that? And all around him, he seemed to find further evidence that a man's body was only supposed to be utilitarian and supportive.

Starting in high school, he would pursue girls, but with guys, he was the one pursued. Shortly before he turned 18 and living on the Monterrey Peninsula, he met a man who was on shore leave and they went to a motel room. At first, he felt so nervous over the way the man regarded him, convinced he was nothing special to look at. But then:

Standing there under the heat of his gaze and his touch, I felt a rush of elation and relief so great it made me cry. The sex I had with him was based less on my own desire than on my own colossal gratitude for how he made me feel with his words and his gaze. As we lay on the motel bed, this man ran his fingers across every inch of my body, murmuring flattery of a kind I had never heard on a woman's lips. As I lay beneath him on that lumpy hotel mattress, the dim light of the TV flickering in the corner, he said the words I can still hear nearly 30 years later: You're so hot you make me want to come.

I mean, damn. Who doesn't want to hear something like that? He goes on to talk about how many men, straight or not, don't know what it is like to feel beheld like that. "[T]hey don't know what it is to be found not only aesthetically pleasing to the eye, but worthy of longing. And they want to know."

Ladies and gentleman, tell the person in your life how good they look. Maybe you think it. Maybe you think they know. Still, tell them.

One of the few weak spots in this book is Rachel Rabbit White's "Latina Glitter," about one of the only Spanish-speaking drag shows, and the longest running of its kind, in the United States. What makes the show unusual is that all of the performers are male-to-female transgendered. All of this makes for fascinating subject matter about which one could probably write an entire book, but I felt like White's article barely skimmed the surface. Sure, we learn about the collision of prejudices these women face, but there's not much else.

Still, the book is overall very strong. There are plenty of pieces that would take up even more space here to talk about, but we're nearing a 2k word count as is. I would definitely recommend checking out the book in its entirety.

Full Disclosure: Cleis Press sent me this book at my request. I thank them for the gesture and will continue to be fair in my reviews.


This review is part of Pajiba's Cannonball Read, in which participants aim to read and review 13, 26 or 52 books within one year. Though I'm taking things easier this year, I expect to surpass the 'Half Cannonball' distinction by the end of 2012.