Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Ich bin ein Berliner

It's been a bit of a journey getting through it, but I finished Christopher Isherwood's autobiographical Christopher and His Kind, covering his life from 1929-1939, although technically the book ends in January of 1939 as he and W H Auden sail into New York City. But still, it's a decade spent partly in Germany during the rise of the Nazi party and around Europe and Asia.

We start with Christopher's arrival in Berlin, and his search for someone who can fulfill his fantasy of the "foreign boy". Which I'm not particularly kidding about. In a change from his fiction, here, the author is being honest about his homosexuality and how it propelled him through life. He describes in detail about how finding a boy who could be GERMANY in the avatar of a lover appealed to him, and so he met Bubi at one of the local dives. (There are a few long passages that precede this meeting discussing why the author didn't ever feel particularly comfortable in the UK practicing his homosexuality, and a few glimpses of college encounters ridden with guilt. It's a bit like reading Brideshead Revisited.)

Anyway, his romance with Bubi doesn't last long, particularly when Christopher's German improves, ruining the fantasy. H does move in with Frl. Schroeder, which is much like what''s described in Berlin Stories. Here though, she's a bigger than life character, one who doesn't care what happens under her roof as long as no one gets hurt. He talks of going back to Berlin later in life and visiting with her, hearing what happened to her during and after the war, as she lived in West Berlin.

He, as in the above mentioned book, does move in to the slummish attic with Otto and his family, although here we find out that it was not due to financial difficulties, but because he and Otto were shacking up. His description of his relationship with Otto is a bit odd, since to the author, it revolved around dominance and submission, with both trying to achieve the upper hand with the other. Or as described, Christopher gave Otto money and gifts, or Otto started looking elsewhere for attention.

As life in Berlin proceeds ever downward (Isherwood leaves right about the time Hitler gained the Chancellorship), we see the real people who populated Isherwood's Berlin books. Gerald, the lawyer who in time became Mr. Norris; Joan, who became Sally Bowles; and several students who had their own roles to play, some of whom survive, some of whom don't. We hear of the fighting in the streets between the three major political factions (those behind the current government, those backing the Nazis, and those who thing the Bolsheviks had it right and Germany needed to become a Communist nation), and how most of this is overlooked by the police.

He does meet and fall in love with Heinz, who becomes his constant companion throughout life out of Germany. So about 1933 to 1937ish. This includes stays in Belgium, Portugal, Greece, and France, but never in Christopher's homeland.  This is due to problems with Heinz's passport, which lists his occupation as something akin to domestic help. When Christopher tries to get Heinz into England, he's not allowed in, since Christopher's rather bourgeois family would unlikely need a foriegn houseboy. Christopher and Auden complain that it's likely because the border agent knew Christopher was Heinz's lover because the guard was also homosexual.

That love affair eventually falls apart, as Heinz's attempts to change his citizenship keeps running into issues, and Hitler starts conscription. Eventually, forced to return to Germany for what's supposed to be a night, Heinz is arrested by the Gestapo.

Thankfully, Isherwood passes on that Heinz did indeed survive the war, and even ended up marrying a woman and having kids. Which isn't exactly a happy ending, but it certainly beats the heck out of the fates of others arrested under Paragraph 175.

While this relationship was the focus of much of the book, Heinz's fate is revealed with about a fourth of the book left to go. Which leaves us with Isherwood and Auden going to Asia to cover the Japanese invasion of China, and their eventual immigration to the US. Where Isherwood leaves us with a bonne mot about how his future lover was only 4 years old when Isherwood made it to the States.

This book was not exactly what I expected. Based on what I'd heard from others, I was expecting most of it to be set in Berlin, and Heinz to be more of a focus of the narrative. Neither of which is true. Then again, Isherwood leaves Berlin in 1933 and Heinz is arrested in the late 30's.

Early passages in the book, describing his realizations of his queerness echoed back to my own early coming out, trying to find a personal mythology to explain why the heck I was so different than everyone else around me.

One of the things that becomes quite clear after the Reichstag fire is that those who could, left Germany. Those who couldn't, stayed. And in the case of the landlady, had to perform enough lip service to the Reich to survive, even if she did vote Communist in the prior election. Something that we, here in the modern era, seem to forget when looking back at it. It also makes Max and Elsa a smidgen more sympathetic in The Sound of Music when they sing "No Way to Stop It".

I'm also kind of amazed by his account of Chamberlain's role in the Munich Agreement, or the Munich Diktat, depending on how one feels about appeasement. Isherwood makes it sound like Chamberlain knew he's failed. Then again, he also says the communist leader at the meeting was probably the only one who openly opined the entire thing was farcical.

About the only thing that really got on my nerves through the first part was his tendency to refer to himself in third person when discussing the past, while using first person when recalling various things in what was his present. It took a lot of getting used to, plus the occasional reference to his eventual conversion to Hinduism.

Really though, Isherwood's tale reminded me most of the character of James Whale (himself a real person) as portrayed by Ian McKellan in Gods and Monsters. Then again, both men were of a similar age and similar class backgrounds.

While I enjoyed the book, I doubt this will be one I revisit all that often. If only because a few things in here, particularly when he gets self destructive, made me want to reach into the story and smack some sense into him. (I mean this figuratively.)

Friday, May 5, 2017

Hands Across the Multiverse

So, during the recent library drought , I looked through goodreads recommendations and found that the library had one book out of about 15 that was recommended, looked interesting, and was available to check out. Which would be Mike Resnick's first John Justin Mallory Mystery (How goodreads labels the series, vs. the book itself which labels it "A Fable of Tonight"), Stalking the Unicorn.

The book is centered on a New York City Detective named, unsurprisingly, John Justin Mallory. We meet John on New Year's Eve, as he's behind on the bills, his wife has run off with his partner, and he's busy drinking whiskey out of a Mets coffee mug.

He's startled by the arrival of Mürgenstürm, an elf, who's willing to pay exorbitant cash if Mallory will help him find a unicorn before dawn. (That Mürgenstürm is responsible for the unicorn and going to be killed by his guild if he doesn't have the unicorn back by dawn would be his major motivation is hiring a down on his luck private dick.)

Mallory, like most sane folks, thinks the elf is a pink elephant. Then Mürgenstürm drags him across into HIS Manhattan.

Long story short, the unicorn got kidnapped by a leprechaun who also double crossed a demon who wanted it.

Along the way, we meet Captain Winnifred, the big game hunter; Felina, the cat girl; and Eohippus, a talking horse about the size of a chihuahua. Oh yeah, and Grundy, the demon who wants the unicorn for the ruby on its head that makes travel between this Manhattan and the one Mallory normally is in possible.

While I ended up liking the book, it does come off a bit like what would happen is Dashiell Hammett had written The Phantom Tollbooth.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Bark at the Moon

So, today, I finished Mark Chadbourn's The Hounds of Avalon, and with it, The Dark Age Trilogy. While I kind of regret reading Book 1 of the next trilogy (thanks to a misunderstanding with goodreads.com) before finishing this middle trilogy, it did make reading through this really dark book a slight bit more bearable.

Dark is a bit light. Perhaps pitch would be a better description of the tone throughout. Actually made The Empire Strikes Back look like Pollyanna by the end.

We center mainly on Hal and Hunter, the last two members of the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons of the current pentad following The Age of Misrule. Hal is an inofficious bureaucrat with the remains of the government (currently seated at Oxford) and Hunter is something of a Soldier of Fortune currently employed by the government. Both come to find out about their position around the midpoint of the book. Mallory and Sophie from Book 1 show up when Hunter is sent to capture of of the Brothers of Dragons on behalf of the government. Sophie winds up supposedly dead and in Lugh's court thanks to Cerridwyn's intervention. Where she meets a powerless Caitlin from Book 2, who in turn becomes an avatar of The Morrigan again.

Any rate, we get much more on The Void, the Anti-Life, that noticed the rise of humanity after the defeat of Balor during the Battle of London. We meet street gangs going around with Red V's on their chests who think of Ryan Veitch, the Great Betrayer, as some kind of Messiah. (Which, given his role in the next book...) Mind you, when Shavi, Laura, and Ruth show up about 2/3 of the way through, they still think of Ryan as a good man who had the misfortune of being used by the gods.

I'm getting ahead of myself a bit here. Hunter more or less plays the role of tactician of the new 5, trying very hard to get everyone in the right place. Hal, in the meantime, has a more cerebral task, tracking down  hints of Avalon in a Poussin painting. (And here you though Poussin only painted triangles disguised as historical figures.)

Said painting, complete with Dan Brown style anagrams.
Eventually, several different Lords (Bones, Flesh, Insects) show up with the Lament-Brood and hold Oxford under siege. And the true ugly of the book starts appearing, as Hal is arrested for assassinating the Prime Minister and sentenced to execution during the height of the siege. We watch the last gasps of humanity as the Hounds arrive and their howls become the last cries of humanity. And we find out that the government sold out to the Void.

And then we see how the present of the next trilogy begins.

As I said at the outset, this is a very dark book, with very few and very faint glimmers of hope lighting the last days of humanity. And the last days of the Golden Ones, really. I mean, everything changes at the end.

Yeah. I think I'll return to the final trilogy sooner than later, since I'm kind of curious how this all will turn out.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Exorcizamus te, omnis immunde spiritus.

So, in a moment I've been kind of dreading for a while now, particularly since Abracadaver was published in 2014, and Goldzilla has been announced yet not released, I did finish Laura Resnick's most recent Esther Diamond novel.

Picking up right after the ending of The Misfortune Cookie, we start at the end of Chinese New Year with John Chen, the funeral home worker dragging an exhausted Max, Lucky, and Esther back to the mortuary where a recently prepared corpse has just tried to walk out. While this might have lead into a rehash of the zombies in Unsympathetic Magic, it instead focuses on Lopez's partner Quinn, and his oppression by a very old demon. (How old? It speaks pre-Christ Aramaic.)

Given the indie film Esther was working on previously has folded production, Esther is quite pleased that Crime & Punishment: The Dirty Thirty wants her to reprise her role as Jilly C-Note, the bisexual hooker. Also gives her an excuse to sent the show's star, Nolan, to shadow Lopez and Quinn to figure out what the demon is plotting.

While th ebook features much of the same increasingly bizarre situations that make the series so much fun to read, there's a really large fight between Lopez and Esther that's really hard to make it through.

And eventually, we get resolution, sort of rushed, but satisfying none the less.

Unlike other books in the series, this one is not particularly focused on one Manhattan neighborhood. Instead, we're much more focused on the interpersonal relationships of the characters and how the supernatural tends to affect those relationships.

I hope Goldzilla eventually sees release, since I'd really hate to see the series end here.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome!

Once, again, I find myself tracking down origin materials for a musical I've recently seen. In this case, I saw Cabaret earlier this month, so I started reading Christopher Isherwood's The Berlin Stories, which formed the basis for the play and later movie I Am a Camera, which in turn became Cabaret.  Since I don't run a theater blog, and I leave the movie reviews for my brother Chuck over at The Other Ebert .... (And I'm not sure when or if I'm going to read the source of the musical I saw in New York. Tolstoy might be a bit much.)

The Berlin Stories is actually two novels, The Last of Mr. Norris and Goodbye to Berlin, with the former being written in 1935 and the latter in 1939. Both concern the author narrating a fictionalized account of his life in Weimar Republic Berlin. By the end of Goodbye, Der Furher has taken power and is about to become a dictator.Both portray a wonderful vision of the era, even if the author left out a bunch of personal things going on in his own life at the time that were (according to Armistead Maupin's introduction) later revealed more in depth in Isherwood's Christopher and His Kind, which will likely be reserved in the very near future. As it is, tantalizing hints lie in the prose, but written is such vagaries as to get around the censors of the era.

The Last of Mr. Norris concerns our narrator (William Bradshaw, which would be Mr. Isherwood's middle names) as he crosses into German by train, sharing a compartment with the title character, a rather effeminate business man whom the narrator assumes is smuggling silk from Paris into Berlin.

Mr. Norris and Bradshaw become friends over time, with Bradshaw getting involved with the German Communists by proxy. Mr. Norris has issues with his hired help, and also appears to be paying a woman of negotiable virtue (and a friend when not otherwise employed) to dominate him. Over time, we see Norris, who does works for the Communists, get Bradshaw involved with Herr Kuno Pregnitz for a trip to Switzerland to make monetary arrangements which would benefit Mr. Norris. Pregnitz is an older man with a collection of physique magazines and a love of books written for younger men. (It's rather implied that Kuno's gay and has an interest in Bradshaw, but given the time of the writing, nothing is ever spoken aloud.) In Switzerland, Herr Pregnitz meets with Van Hoorn and son, not knowing they're Norris contacts. Kuno flirts shamelessly with the son, who in turn befriends Bradshaw, eventually unleashing his Nazi sympathies to the young British narrator. (Having the benefit of reading this nearly a century later, I can say it's quite disturbing how much the young Dutchman believes the crap.) As it turns out, what's been going on is that Van Hoorn Sr. is with the French Secret Service and trying to use Herr Pregnitz government contacts to get better information than Norris can provide.

Which leads to a confrontation with Norris, who in turn leaves town before either the Police or the Communists or his former employee can get him.  We hear bits from him over a few moths, as the reichstag burns while he is in South America.

Then we start into Goodbye to Berlin, which is narrated by a man named Christopher Isherwood. (Or Herr Isseyvoo, as his landlady Frl. Schroeder  calls him.) It takes the form of a diary (or journal really; nothing is dated and the stories really don't have a particular narrative order to them), discussing Isherwood's various dealings with people in Berlin. This section is where we meet the now famous Sally Bowles, a singer with rather...um...loose standards of morality. (It's kind of funny, she's only in the book for about 30 pages, but she's one of the most memorable parts.) We meet the tenants sharing his boarding house with him, including the prostitute Frl. Kost (who winds up with a Japanese sugar daddy towards the end) and Frl. Mayr, the singing Nazi. We wend our way through him teaching English to students, some poorer than others, and at one point join him in a small attic where he's living with a 5 person family. We meet the Landaurs, a Jewish family who's fate doesn't seem that pleasant by the end. (The patriarch suffers a "heart attack" under the eyes of the Nazis.) We watch as Weimar falls and the Reich rises.

Honestly, it's the end that gets to be the most memorable, as Isherwood talks about the folks watching the atrocities start and throwing up their hands, but not doing anything to stop them.

One of the more striking bits of all of this is discussions on how everyone wound up where they are in the narrative, While this would have been Depression era, the post War era with its Inflation is almost another character in the narrative. It's hard not to feel like you are there in some sections, whether freezing in Otto's parent's kitchen, or listening as the old maids argue over small things in the living room.

Quite frankly, I kind of wish they'd have used either one or both of these for the German perspective in my high school lit class's WWII section rather than the rather horrid novel we read instead.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Hard Hearted Hannah

So, since there was a gap between my last finished book and the arrival of my reserves at the library, I had to choose something off the shelf to get me through. Wound up choosing John Berendt's 90's potboiler, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, of which I think I've owned 3 copies at different points. (Kind of like Jewel's Pieces of You album.)

It's been several years since I slipped away from things to go walk historic Savannah with John's narration of the eccentric folks within and the murder that eventually engulfs the entire town. We start with the author, a New York Magazine writer/editor, going on a trip south and eventually moving part time to Savannah, GA.

Within the confines of the city, he meets folks ranging from Emma Kelly (nicknamed by Johnny Mercer as "The Lady of 6,000 Songs") to The Lady Chablis, the Grand Empress of Savannah. Eventually, as he starts moving through the rarefied straights Upper Crust Savannah, he meets Jim Williams, an antiques dealer who lives in Mercer House on one of Savannah's historic squares.

Halfway through the book, Williams gets arrested for Murder, having shot the male hustler sort of in his employ.

The second half of the book concerns the four trials of Mr. Williams and the various personalities involved in said trials. One of whom, Minerva, the Vodou priestess from nearby Beaufort, SC, who gives the book its title. (The graveyard being the Garden, and midnight being the meridian between good magic and evil magic.)

Eventually, Williams gets acquitted, after about 8 years of trials and a change of venue. Then dies of pneumonia quite suddenly in about the same position he would have been in had his hustler friends actually succeeded in shooting him. (Minerva swears and the author sort of agrees that Danny, the dead boy, was angry with Williams and this was his final revenge.)

The book is very entertaining, even as is portrays just about every side to every charcater the author encounters. We hear about Mr. Odem, who's convicetd of forging checks, but charms everyone anyway, Chablis's meltdown at the Black Cotillion, Lee Adler, who is not well liked for his restoration projects downtown, although a thread of anti-semitism exists there as well.

If I had to critisize the book for any one thing in particular, it's that it take half the book before it stops being profile pieces on the people of Savannah and moves into the murder phase, which is also about the only time the narrative has any real sense of linear time.

Like I said, it's a fun read, deserving to be read at a leisurely pace while sipping something mildly alcoholic.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

May you live in interesting times.

So, we begin Laura Resnick's The Misfortune Cookie in the week after Christmas, as she's busy cursing herself for consummating her relationship with Connor Lopez, who has yet to call her after the events. So, given her restaurant job is off again at the moment due to the number of art majors home from college for the holidays and her lack of auditions due to the holidays, she's not very happy. Stella, her employer at the restaurant, calls her to ask if she'd like a New Year's Eve shift. Which starts with Esther turning over a new leaf, vowing to forget about Lopez. Who promptly arrives right after midnight to bust Stella for money laundering. One small fight with Lopez during the bust lands Esther in jail for assaulting an officer, as well as letting their secrets out of the bag in front of the Gambello Family and most of the Mafia investigating squad of the NYPD.

Her friend Lucky, the Gambello hit man, manages to escape the bust and goes undercover in Chinatown, living with family friends at a funeral home that serves Italian funerals on one side and Chinese funerals on the other. He contacts Esther and Max after the mysterious death of Benny Yee, a fairly high up member of one of the Tongs.

Seems Benny got a cursed fortune cookie that caused, well misfortune.

While investigating at the funeral, Esther manages to land a role in John Lee's indie movie, which gets her deeper into the Chinatown mystery.

Eventually, towards the climax, Lopez gets a Misfortune cookie, Esther and Max solve the mystery, and the climax comes during the Chinese New Year parade.

It's an enjoyable volume, filled with bits of history about the formation of New York's Chinatown and its gradual expansion across Canal Street into Little Italy. I'm also a bit sad, since after the next volume, there isn't anymore currently in the series.

Good, if quick read, that left me craving dumplings.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

I sense a motif in my reading

Seanan McGuire returned to her InCryptid series with Magic for Nothing. Which I have now finished, sitting in the backyard enjoying 70 degree weather.

Unlike the previous five volumes, this one doesn't center on Alex or Verity, instead we're following around their youngest sister, Antimony Price. You know, the one who build traps for fun.

We pick up not long after the conclusion of Chaos Choreography, with Verity killing a snake god on live TV then declaring war on the Covenant of St. George.

Which winds up causing issues for Antimony, who gets pulled out of Roller Derby practice to be given her marching orders. As the one in the bloodline who looks least like the rest of the family, she gets sent to England to be recruited to join the Covenant and find out what their plans are for the Price-Healey family.

Which she eventually does, giving us probably the clearest picture of another sect of monster hunters since Alex's trip down under. (Given the covenant has been kind of a Boogeyman since the outset, this has been kind of necessary, particularly given their only other antagonistic appearance back in Book 2.)

Antimony goes undercover as Timpani Brown, lately of the Black Family Carnival, who were taken out by Apraxis Wasps. She does eventually get into the Covenant, where we get a better picture of the Covenant and their European ideas on Monsters, regardless of intelligence, needing to die to protect humanity. And Antimony, and we as readers, get to see them as humans instead of cardboard bad guys.

At the end of her training, Antimony gets sent to infiltrate the The Spenser and Smith Family Carnival, currently in Madison, Wisconsin, to figure out whether or not the Carnival is somehow involved in the mysterious disappearances of some of the local boys.

Antimony ends up growing close to the half Monkeyboy Sam, grandson of the owner. All of which comes crashing down in the final few chapters as the Covenant comes in to Purge the Carnival.

It's really well written, and Antimony makes a good character, better than the occasional references thrown out in previous books. While a few of the twists were expected, the way they came around were not only mostly natural, but unexpected in the forms they took, which is an added bonus. That she manages to add in bits of surreal humor in really serious passages helps quite a bit as well. (Case in point, as the action approaches the climax, Antimony drops in on the Carnival's resident Wadjet [males are giant cobras, females are fairly human looking], only to observe one of the males on the bed watching NetFlix on a tablet. The mental pictures she provides of a giant cobra using a stylus between its coils is perfection.)

I'll admit, while I was amused by this series from the start, other than a plot trigger in book 2, I'm happy the series has come this far and look very much forward to book 7, which will evidently also center on Antimony.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Yaaaassss, Queen!

It was with some trepidation that I picked up Mark Chadbourne's The Queen of Sinister (book two of The Dark Age), mainly since I found out that I misread Goodreads' listings, since evidently the third trilogy was written after the second, not mixed the way I thought. (To be fair, they're bibliography of him is all screwed up.)

Anyway, I needn't have worried, since the first book of the 3rd trilogy really doesn't give away much of the plot of the second, focused on the past the way it is. This is not to say a brief passage in this one doesn't play a part in that book, but....

The Queen of Sinister follows around Caitlin Shepherd, who's village is hit by the plague. Being a nurse, Caitlin is in the heart of it, trying to provide palliative care to the dying. Which also means she's ignoring both her husband and child. Who aren't happy about it. Caitlin has a friend, Mary, whom I think showed up in the first trilogy, but I could be wrong. Mary's a retired psychiatric nurse and witch.

Since there wouldn't be much of a plot here without it, Mary does a seeing for Caitlin, and whatever comes through names Caitlin a Sister of Dragons. After Caitlin gets home, she finds her husband and son plague ridden and dying. Understandably upset, she goes slightly mad, waking up on their graves to a crow pecking at her.

In the mean time, Mary gets a visit from Crowther, who bears a mask that once belonged to the Mad God. Who was told to lead Caitlin to the Summerlands to find the cure for the plague. Which he does, eventually, after picking up Mahalia and Carlton and Matt. Mahalia and Carlton are a package deal, although Carlton is mute. Mostly. Matt is looking to cross to find the Grey Lands and his dead family.

They're also being pursued by what they know as the Whisperers, but what the Tuatha de Dannon refer to as the Lament Brood.

Not long before they cross, it comes out that Caitlin is not alone in her head. Four other personalities are in there, including one whom the others fear and keep from surfacing. About the midpoint, we find out about her.

Mary, in the mean time, takes on a quest of her own to help Caitlin from the Fixed Lands, all while being pursued by the Jigsaw Man. Which leads her to the find The God, who in turn asks her to find the missing Goddess.

Caitlin's party winds up first in Lugh's court (Lugh remaining neutral in the current conflicts) where they meet Jack (not church, but Jack), who spent time in the Court of the Final Word. Given the Lament Brood surrounds the court, Lugh threatens to turn the crew over to them, which in turn leads to the escaping.

As the journey to the House of Pain, and as Mary looks to find and return the Goddess, much happens. Carlton dies, which somehow drops Caitlin in Birmingham. Wherein she meets Thackary and Harvey. The former ends up getting kidnapped by the local Negan, who has a captive Formori. Caitlin finds him, find the Formori, and lets out the final personality, whom we find out is actually the Morrigan.

It's a long quest, but eventually everyone winds up at the House of Pain, except Mary, who does indeed find and bring back the goddess after more than a few misadventures. (I will say his recitation of all of the aspects of the Gorgon is amusing.)

There's a heck of a lot of symbology thrown in here, some of which I remember in the book I read out of order, like the Void in the House of Pain. More than a few characters make the "wrong" decision at the wrong time, although all of the external entities keep saying all choices are part of a greater plan.

I will also add in here that, since most of the plot lines center around the feminine, it also centers around what some groups would consider "the Female Mysteries".  Which, I imagine each reader would be inclined to make up their own mind as to whether or not the male author portrayed correctly.

Honestly, it's a good read, even if the timeline is a bit confusing quite often.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Not as it was advertised.

So, after sitting through 8 hours of ABC's When We Rise, which while good, also had a whole host of issues, I decided to take some advice and read the source material, or at least part of it, When We Rise: My Life in the Movement by Cleve Jones.

Which, one would think based on the cover blurbs, had more to do with the history of gay liberation and less of being Cleve's memoir. It's really a bit of both, although some of the problems inherent in the movie version aren't present in the prose. But, since this is a book review, and not a picking at the 80's cereal commercial disguised as a story about gay rights, let's get back to the book. I'll do my best to keep the movie out of this, particularly since of the two other focus people in the movie, one gets one mention in the book, and the other is never mentioned at all.

By far the biggest problem with the book, particularly for those of us coming in expecting a history lesson, is that the first 100+ pages are life in San Francisco and (briefly) Maricopa county, Arizona, prior to much of anything gay rights related. Cleve arrives in 1971, two years after Stonewall, but again, nothing is really happening, beyond him joining a few college groups that really don't do much of anything. We hear about Cleve doing drugs, we hear of Cleve cruising the city (and later Europe) in search of sex. Or searching for sex and drugs. Or generally not doing much of anything but being a gay hippie in 70's San Francisco, Germany, Turkey, etc. I mean, eventually, he sort of ties in some of what I was actually reading this for, discussing a gay rights near riot in Barcelona. Which also seems to be about the only point in the first half when he thinks of being gay as anything that doesn't involve his penis or anus. (I'm not trying to slut shame him here. I'm merely stating that going in looking for stories of the revolution and finding Jackie Collins is not what I was expecting. Not to mention, it gets a bit dull reading about how many men he woke up next to with his face buried in their chest hair.) This doesn't exactly change much in later chapters, as we hear of him skipping a speech in Austin because he met a hot guy in line for a water fountain.

Anyway, things do start to improve after Harvey Milk's election and inauguration (which Cleve skipped because he was in bed with his barista.) It's about this point where Mr. Jones actually starts to get involved in the community. Admittedly, some of the references he throws in are well before my awareness started (he discusses Rev. Jim Jones and the People's Temple a few places, as well as some guy fasting to death in Northern Ireland), but it's fascinating hearing first hand perspective on life in San Francisco during that period. (Mr. Jones goes a bit more in depth than say, Armistead Maupin in Tales of the City.) We hear about the campaign to stop Anita Bryant, and the defeat of the Briggs Initiative. We hear about Milk's plan to try to stop something akin to the Watts riots from happening in San Francisco. (Which basically amounted to keep em marching until they're too tired to riot.) This works out fairly well until Dan White gets convicted on Manslaughter charges, which in turn sets off the White Night riots.

Eventually, we move into GRID and AIDS. While Randy Shilts' ...And the Band Played On is a better book on the subject (and I'll add in here that when I got to college there was a bit of a joke that every gay man got handed a copy as soon as they came out), it also has a larger focus. Cleve here gives us a much more personal view of life when the obits are 3 pages long every day; you make friends, they die, you make new friends, then they die. (On a side note, there's a poster mentioned that a gentleman made with pictures of his KS lesions to warn other gay men what to look for under the heading "Gay Cancer?" (I tried a Google Image Search to find it, but trust and believe me that googling Gay Cancer is not a good idea.)

Soon enough, we get into Mr. Jones's big claim to fame, the NAMES Project AIDS Quilt. And unlike the movie, Mr. Jones goes more in depth about his mildly adversarial relationship with Larry Kramer, who founded ACT UP. (Kramer tells Jones he should burn the quilt. Jones tells Kramer only if Kramer rolls himself up in it first.)

And on and on, we learn of Jones being one of the first to get the new cocktail that lets him survive AIDS.

And we move into the making of Dustin Lance Black and Gus Van Sant's version of Milk. While most of the narrative from this point on tends to get shamelessly name droppy, there are a few funny bits within, like his unsaid comment to Sean Penn about being married to Madonna and not knowing much about gay culture.

Much of Jones' involvement in big developments ends with the repeal of Prop 8 and the striking down of DOMA at the Supreme Court, with the last chapter reflecting on Obergefell vs Hodges.

All things said and done, there are quite a few gems and a good story within the pages. Problem would be the amount of chaff one has to sort through to get to the wheat. I really wish they had been more honest with the advertising on the cover, so I didn't go in expecting things to start off as more than Mr. Jones being everything the Daughters of Bilitis accused gay men of being at the outset.I can also say that after reading this, I can more firmly point the finger of blame at my issues with the movie being due to people other than the author of 1/3 of the source material. Mr. Jones comes off as a bit too self-absorbed to worry about the Boomer vs. Millennial crap that seems to be all the rage.

Also, I'm a bit sad that the best quote in the book is not something the author wrote himself, but rather a line by Harry Hay that better sums up one of the divides in gay culture, about how gay people must decide for ourselves if we're like the rest of society except for what goes on in the bedroom, or if we're different from the rest of society except for what goes on in the bedroom.

It's a readable book, and I'd be inclined to suggest it to folks looking for an introduction to the movement, followed by other sources that cover more or more in depth the topics within. Then again, the author has also sort of avoided something that Harvey Milk suffers from, which is that his memory is really influenced more by the people that knew him than by his own words and deeds.