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Books to Pack

Books to Pack


Tapas on the Ramblas


Insomniac, $16.95

There's a bloodthirsty passenger lurking aboard the luxury liner “The Friend of Dorothy.” Can gay gumshoe Russell Quant solve the case before it's too late? Tapas on the Ramblas, the third installment of Anthony Bidulka's mystery series, follows Quant aboard the seafaring vessel as he protects Charity Wiser, a rich, powerful matriarch who narrowly escaped being poisoned. Convinced the culprit is a family member hungry for an early inheritance, Wiser plans a family outing in the Mediterranean Sea. Quant must sleuth out the criminal on the gay cruise as it saunters from Barcelona to Rome, making stops in Tunisia, Palermo, and Pompeii. Each exotic port brings with it the potential for murderous mayhem. The intriguing detective story is the perfect companion for gay travelers reveling on their own cruises-just be wary of that shifty-looking passenger off in the corner.


Twilight of Love: Travels With Turgenev


Shoemaker & Hoard, $24

Following in the footsteps of the great Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev, out Australian author Robert Dessaix takes us to Germany, France, and Russia in search of what exactly Turgenev meant by the word at the core of his life and work, love. Though his only direct queer reference is a personal aside about a memorable sexual peccadillo in Paris, Dessaix constructs this literary travelogue with observations and anecdotes that will resonate with any curious queer traveler. Like Edmund White’s The Flaneur (an homage to loitering through Paris, aimless yet attuned to history and chance adventure), Twilight of Love revels in the thrill of allowing whim and obsession to unseat the rigid travel agent as arbiter of itinerary. —Darren Frei


Crashing America


Alyson Books, $14.95

In literature the typical American road trip—à la Jack Kerouac’s On the Road—begins in a red state and ends in a blue. Girl, the queer street punk in Katia Noyes’s debut novel, on the other hand, approaches this intrinsic search for home in the reverse, traveling from her frantic life in San Francisco to the lonely heartland of the United States. Just off each interstate highway exit, from Utah to Nebraska to Tennessee, is another chance at belonging. Girl’s serendipitous human interactions, with characters ranging from a Salt Lake City housewife to a born-again Christian rocker, remind us that traveling isn’t about geography or gas prices—it’s about finding strangers, becoming friends, and then leaving them behind. —D.F.



OTHER BOOKS TO PACK

The Ellis Island Snow Globe



Duke University, $22.95
 
Self-proclaimed “dyke activist” and academic Erica Rand day-tripped to Ellis Island on a “hot date” and grabbed some shiny souvenirs, including a golf ball emblazoned with an immigrant nuclear family and an American-flag snow globe. Her travel tome offers a whirlwind tour of the queer history the monument’s exhibits and keepsakes obscure. From photos of handsome Frank Woodhull, a middle-aged transgender man detained and released in 1908, to Liberty as a racially contested hot butch, to genealogical celebrations of “breeder ties,” Rand explores Ellis Island’s history as a breeding ground for American sexual and racial fantasy. In spite of a couple of tedious rhetorical habits, the good professor makes a seductive and knowledgeable travel companion.


The latest in the indie powerhouse’s noir lit series crawls along the creepy underbelly of a city usually associated with light, bright pride. While mid-century L.A. noir reflected the paranoia of the upper classes, these sleuths, perps, and victims are Bernal Heights hookers, Mission building inspectors, and Chinatown militants. Marred by the sickening, sexualized violence that also attended its Brooklyn predecessor, this anthology nevertheless features strong literary voices. Michelle Tea punches perfect holes in San Francisco as paradise but pays creepy tribute to the city’s beauty: “My back door opened up to a lush backyard…horribly overgrown and almost entirely weeds… Getting to my front door is like rappelling down the side of a cliff… The hill hates the houses.” And in a story sure to warm sightseers’ hearts, a chillingly cool and maybe queer schoolgirl amusedly swindles gay Castro tourists—“soft and unaware, with pink faces…eyes so wide they might have been exploring the far side of the moon”—before using her body as bait for a bigger kill.


Turkish Wrestling


Apollon, $50
 

There’s a surprising amount of cultural information scattered amid the flesh- and olive oil–filled pages of Turkish Wrestling, the striking result of photographer Lawrence Grecco’s three pilgrimages to Kirkpinar, Turkey’s centuries-old outdoor oil-wrestling tournament. From the initial journey to the contest’s home in Edirne, a small town a few hours northwest of Istanbul, to the homoerotic oiling process (“makes the kispet [leather trousers] more pliable, and presents a huge challenge to the participants.”), to verbal and visual descriptions of the three-day tournament’s rousing climax, Grecco provides a portal to the past, and makes a compelling case for a Turkish vacation.


Babyji

Anchor, $13

In the novel her publicists are hailing as "the Indian Lolita," Abha Dawesar, through the eyes of a spunky 16-year-old suburbanite named Anamika, describes Delhi as "a city with no romance but a lot of passion." Keeping up appearances in a culture famous for demanding strict social conformity, Anamika leads a hot-blooded investigation into her sexuality, crossing lines of gender, age, and even class (she falls in love with her low-caste servant). The way urban Americans divined existential meaning from the suburbs of American Beauty, this novel provides a window into the dark yet illuminating corners of contemporary suburban India.

Solo: On Her Own Adventure


Seal, $12.95 

The daring women in this lively collection of 22 female adventures fly, hike, bike, climb, ski, and kayak their way around the world without fear (well, for the most part). While Lucy Jane Bledsoe (who wrote about her Antarctica love affair in our January/February issue) climbs Northern California's Trinity Alps, her biggest fear is that she won't find absolute solitude. Edited by Susan Fox Rogers, who also collected stories for Sportsdykes: Stories From On and Off the Field, these adventure travel tales rarely venture into the overtly lesbian, yet Alison Watt's "We Are Not Alone," basically a campfire coming-out story, is particularly adept at exploring the intimate bonds of female companionship, terrain far more complex than the untamed wilderness.

Isherwood: A Life Revealed


Random House, $39.95 

Weighing in at 2 pounds 12 ounces, you may want to wait for this definitive 832-page biography of queer literary giant Christopher Isherwood to debut in downloadable form before attempting to pack it. Better yet, read it at home just before a romp in perennially decadent gay Berlin. Isherwood rolled into town on March 15, 1929, enticed by W.H. Auden’s accounts of the city’s “comparative sexual freedom.” Exhaustive descriptions of the gay scene there (which served as fodder later for Cabaret), as well as tantalizing peeks at queer communes in Greece and Portugal, provoke immediate and extended wanderlust. In 1949, Isherwood completed his South American travel diary, The Condor and the Cows (the former symbolizing the Andean highlands and the latter representing flat Argentina). “You make your readers smell South America,” wrote one of his editors. “One can’t give a travel book higher praise than that.” Parker does a great job fleshing out some of the more colorful details that Isher-wood, who was accompanied on the six-month sojourn by his lover, Bill Caskey, could not include in the book. “Porky [i.e. Caskey] bears up boldly, and is very sweet,” he tells a friend. “One or other of us is usually sick.” Isherwood ushered in the modern idea of traveling openly with one’s longterm partner, contrasting with the solitary ways of previous queer travel writers.

The Dyke and the Dybbuk


Seal, $12.95

Journey inside the mind of Rainbow, a modern-day London lesbian taxi driver who happens to be haunted by an ancient Jewish spirit intent on turning her into a "nice Jewish girl" in this absurdly hilarious tale that traces the cerebral corridors of its protagonist as deftly as it maps the physical geography of London. "From the parapets at Alexandra Palace we contemplate the distant ridge where London finally ends, and descend to watch a flotilla of ducks looking lost on the New River," narrates the dybbuk Kokos, the spirit taking up residence in Rainbow's soul. Chock-full of chutzpah, this 257-page treat is fully digestible on any grueling transatlantic flight.

Foreign Affairs


Cleis, $14.95

Homoerotic escapades are surprisingly well-represented in this collection of mostly heteroerotic travel tales. In one story, a gay man and his lesbian sidekick pick up a strange hitchhiker on a road trip to Roswell, N.M. In another, a gay man’s return to Manchester, England, conjures up intense memories of a former lover. Along the way, editor Mitzi Szereto steers us toward a Louisiana B&B haunted by gay literary spirits and a Brussels bathhouse where “youthful men in thin terry-cloth towels pose, almost motionless, like perfectly arranged mannequins.” Who knows? After reading these token titillations, you may want to peruse the straight (but not narrow) ones.

As I Lay Frying

A&M Books, $15

Serving up a healthy balance of small-town charm and big-city tolerance, queer resort areas like Provincetown, Palm Springs, and the Russian River region can seem positively utopian, even to the most jaded gay and lesbian urbanites. But the fear that idle behavior lurks behind the rainbow-clad facade of idyll living keeps many running back to the rat race. When Washington, D.C., journalist Fay Jacobs and her partner, Bonnie Quesenberry, cruised in to Rehoboth Beach, Del., on their 27-foot motorboat, they never imagined they'd eventually transition from regular visitors to seasoned locals. In 1999, four years after Fay began chronicling her life as a Rehoboth weekender in a celebrated column that appeared in the magazine Letters From CAMP Rehoboth, she and Bonnie quit their D.C. jobs and bought a condo near the beach. Collected in this breezy-to-read paperback, Fay's unvarnished essays resonate with warmth, candid humor, and the unabashed joy of finding one's place in "a huge slice of lesbiandom." Fay and Bon have become so entrenched in the Rehoboth scene that if they miss Sunday brunch on Wilmington Avenue, the locals "file missing persons reports!" For those of us who shudder to think how we'd spend those cold Rehoboth winters, Fay assures us that we can "see 12 independent films, do a breast cancer benefit, read names on World AIDS Day, buy holiday crafts at the Art League, sing karaoke, have 50-cent tacos, and still have time for the laundry." Hail the conquering weekender!

The World: Travels 1950-2000

W.W. Norton and Company, $27.95

James Morris's professional life began in 1953 when he was assigned by The Times of London to cover the first successful ascent of Mount Everest. Over the next 50 years, James--who became Jan after gender-reassignment surgery in 1972--continued to reach new heights in travel reporting, churning out lucid observations everywhere he/she went, from Kashmir ("a family argument never finally resolved") to Alice Springs ("a happy whiff of that dusty, tangy, seat-and-leather flavor...informs the whole Australian myth"). The goal of any great travel writer is immediacy: Want to know what the Middle East was like in the '50s? Morris takes you there. About her life-changing operation in Casablanca, she writes, "It really was like a visit to a wizard. I saw myself, as I walked through those garish streets, as a figure of fairy tale, about to be transformed.... This is the last city I would ever see as a male." Indeed, the one constant in this book of collected essays is change. "Fifty years of a writing and wandering life would make most people a little quieter in the end," she observes, noting how her youthful exuberance gave way to cautious wisdom. Most of all, Morris captures the changing spirit of the post-1950 world--the most mobile period in history--reminding us that just as the unexamined life is not worth living, the unexamined world, without its transcendent beauty marks and its discouraging scars laid bare, is not worth living in.

Telling Moments: Autobiographical Lesbian Short Stories

Terrace/University of Wisconsin Press, $26.95

"After a messy ending, the thing to do is to get away," declares the unnamed "mademoiselle" in Emma Donoghue's haunting story "The Sanctuary of Hands." On a driving trip through the French Pyrenees, the narrator visits a troglodytic cave where, hand in hand with a retarded stranger who takes a fancy to her, she comes upon a wall of prehistoric handprints left behind by the original dwellers. Donoghue and the other 23 writers who contributed to this volume (Karla Jay, Leslea Newman, Ruthann Robson, and Sarah Schulman among them) take hold of the reader's hand as they elaborate in epilogues on the "real truths in the fictional retelling of lesbian lives."

My Three Husbands

Kensington, $12.95

Twenty-five-year-old Venus Gilroy is about to marry husband number 3 (this after a couple of years as a lesbian, when she was happiest) and embark on her honeymoon in the company of her two fathers--John, her biological one, and Whitman, his partner. Faced with bankruptcy, Venus and her environmentalist-vegetarian-anarchist sexually ambiguous husband-to-be, Tremaynne, reluctantly agree to the "honeymoon en famille," as Whitman calls it. Whitman, a professional travel writer, has been assigned a magazine feature story about a fancy resort in the Oregon Cascades, but the trip is not all mud treatments and foie gras. Moments after the honeymoon is consummated, sex takes a backseat to the many plot intrigues as the foursome confront everything from redneck bashers to a kidnapping.

Frommer's Gay & Lesbian Europe

Frommer's, $24.99

Had it with gay guides that steer you to long deserted bathhouses and oh-so-over bars? Pack this guide, which covers our scene with the same scrupulous attention to detail as all the Frommer's travel guides. Best of all, this isn't just a list of clubs and cruising venues, but a comprehensive--and yes, witty--guide that is as much fun for armchair travelers as for now voyagers.

Hollywood Splash Photographs

powerHouse Books; $45

In Ray Bradbury's famous novel Fahrenheit 451, printed words are forbidden and so the "reading" public derives entertainment from newspapers composed solely of images. In this wordless volume of photographs of famous Hollywood types at play in their swimming pools, even the page numbers seem to have been washed away--making it nearly impossible to key names from a glossary of images. Nonetheless, pictures of the likes of a wet Angie Everhart, Greg Louganis, and other stars tell thousands of words.

Wonderlands: Good Gay Travel Writing

University of Wisconsin Press, $19.95

Ever wondered what traveling and returning home have in common? In his introduction to Wonderlands, Raphael Kadushin writes, "We're always leaving home because we're partly looking for something else. And usually what we find, in the end, is a gift, a small wonderland that we may only recognize years later, when we're back at home, safe again." Wonderlands is indeed a gift--and one that delivers delights of excursion after excursion. Slip into the pages of these exotic travel essays and let this crew of talented gay writers lead you astray as they introduce you to attractive native sons along their various paths. The 19 writers represented in this globe-trotting collection include Philip Gambone (with memories of China and Vietnam), Michael Lowenthal (recalling Scotland's Outer Hebrides), and Edmund White (sharing a fictionalized journey set in northern Africa). In addition to other gay jaunts, you'll find yourself experiencing life and love in an Alaska fishing village, sipping tea with Paul Bowles in Morocco, and taking a totally romantic tour of Japan. --Roger Harris

Name All the Animals

Scribner, $24

"I had never wanted to wander from the Sisters of Mercy's placid blue walls, but something in Colette's face, something in her eyes, in the curve of her elegant nose and trim mouth caused me to long for the world." Alison, an upstate New York teenager kept under the watchful eyes of the nuns at her Catholic high school in the early 1980s, is falling in love with slightly older (and slightly femme fatale) Terry--a young woman already conversant in the ambiguous language of love spoken so fluently by sexually provocative Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette and the dance-hall girls of turn-of-the-century Paris. The wandering that Alison does in this fine memoir is not unlike the wandering that many young lesbians have done--with or without a longing for the world sparked by a certain woman's nose and mouth. Her ultimate longing for the world, however, is a longing to travel to a "fourth dimension," where she will meet her dead brother and escape the fractured life that she and her parents must live in the wake of Roy's death. Smith's prose is revealed in such a way that women and men will be touched by her poetic references to the endless (and often perilous) journeys undertaken by the human heart. --Roger Harris

A Passion to Preserve: Gay Men as Keepers of Culture

University of Wisconsin Press, $30

When traveling around the country, one can't help but notice that most particularly gorgeous neighborhoods owe their fame to us homos. It's an article of faith among urban real estate agents that when the gays start moving in, prices start moving up. How else did San Francisco's "painted ladies" become so pricey? But for most gay men--including those profiled in this engaging look at historic preservation through lavender-colored lenses--rescuing America's architectural heritage is more than a money game. "The human heart desires the past which is, in the end, the anchor of man's dreams and his remembering," wrote James Van Trump, a preservationist who in 1953 rallied to save Pittsburgh's soon-to-be-demolished City Hall. With richly detailed case studies that span the United States from New England to New Orleans and California to the Carolinas, Will Fellows asserts that this passion to preserve grows not out of income level, childlessness, social oppression, or cultural marginality but out of a homo inherent romanticism, aestheticism, and "continuity-mindedness." And let's face it--gleaming old buildings evoke a visceral pleasure shared by all gay men--the orgasmic delight of time travel.

Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora

Duke University Press, $21.95

As with other groups that have scattered across the globe, Filipinos have been leaving their poor homeland to get an economic leg up in foreign lands for decades, creating large "Pinoy" sub-societies from Dubai to Hong Kong to California. Zeroing in on the Filipino gay scene in New York City, this book nearly feels like a travel guide, since author Martin Manalansan spent five years personally visiting bars, circuit parties, beauty pageants, restaurants, and Philippine Independence Day parades. He observes, "The lives of Filipino gay men are not merely about...social participation in the 'gay lifestyle,' but rather are about struggles that go beyond the strictures of a white gay mode of living." Nothing is as transforming as viewing the world through another pair of eyes. By illuminating such a specific fragment of multicultural New York, Manalansan sheds light on the universal notion that migration, and travel in general, can be the ultimate reality check. As Salman Rushdie wrote in Imaginary Homelands, "To see things plainly, you have to cross a frontier." So if you're ready to infiltrate New York's Filipino scene, it may help that the back of the book contains a glossary of swardspeak, the queer vernacular spoken by Filipino gay men. Sey, sey mo? (What do you say?)

The Girl With the Golden Bouffant: An Original Jane Bond Parody

Harper Entertainment, $14.95

What would you do if you turned up in glittering Sin City circa 1966? Here's a conceivable itinerary: Play a hand of craps, catch a tasteless Liberace show, flirt with a few scantily clad showgirls, and then top it all off by throwing an FBI agent off the Hoover Dam! It's just another day in the life of Bond...Jane Bond. The second installment in Mabel Maney's 007-and-a-half series has Jane masquerading as twin brother James, whose career of "boozing, bullets, and broads" has finally caught up with him, to infiltrate a men-only spy convention in Las Vegas. Maney has a gift for serving up queer sensibility cloaked as snappy '60s idiom and for propelling plot with a narrative style reminiscent of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. The delicious twists she throws into the mix (for example, Jane's true allegiance lies with G.E.O.R.G.I.E., an elite organization of she-spies) will make you sit up in your deck chair faster than it takes that first martini (shaken, not stirred) to materialize from the hand of your poolside waiter.

The View From Stalin's Head

Random House, $12.95

Post-Cold War Prague of the early '90s was a discombobulated haven for North American intellectual imperialists (read: lost souls who didn't know what to do with their BA degrees) seeking art, ideas, and escape via communion with the lingering ghosts of Communism. In his debut collection of 10 short stories, Aaron Hamburger draws on his own self-imposed exile in the Czech capital, as a Jewish gay English teacher, to render the stark emotional realities of expatriate living against Prague's densely layered streets, squares, synagogues, and subway cars. The gay tales in particular are refreshingly atypical: A former waiter from Wisconsin negotiates intimacy with an awkward Czech giant who wears yellow underwear, and a gay Canadian discovers that conversation with a straight Czech woman is more appealing than transient sex with a male trick. The ensuing culture clashes are often alienating, confusing, even painful--but, like the most rewarding travel experiences, they're always invigorating.

The Seals on the Icepack: And More Gay Travel Adventures

Professional Press, $25

Whether chugging through central Europe on the Orient Express, marching around the ruins at Machu Picchu, or witnessing the birth of baby seals on a Canadian ice floe, Hanns Ebensten--the man who virtually invented the gay travel industry when he formed his "for men only" tour company in 1972--is more than a travel reporter. At 81, Ebensten is a quixotic adventurer--planning, living, then fastidiously recording each of his sublime, spirited, and often salty expeditions. Though fleshed out with attention to history and culture, the marrow of these delightfully unstructured tales is formed by the curious peccadilloes and sexual high jinks of Ebensten's tour guests.

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