Tag Archives: United States

“Freak Show” [A Review]

Cover of "Freak Show"

Cover of Freak Show

When Perez Hilton gives a book a rave review (or at least a rave blurb on the back cover) my neck-hairs go up. It’s not that I don’t like Perez Hilton, it’s that I don’t see us having many similar interests (besides men). As it turns out, it wasn’t a bad thing that I didn’t put down James St. JamesFreak Show but if I had, I wouldn’t have missed anything big.

I’ve always felt that the GBLTQ* community has been underrepresented in books, particularly the TQ portion and specifically in the young adult genre. As books about gays, lesbians, bisexuals have increased books about gender diversity have stayed fairly marginal. There was Julia Anne Peters’ lovely 2004 trans-focused Luna and there was of course… er, none else spring to mind. So what I’m saying is that we need more gender-diversity centered books for teenagers.

Freak Show bravely steps into where few other books go and it does it with feather boas, glitter and deliciously campy references. The story it tells is of Billy Bloom a, well, he’s not a cross-dresser or a transvestite (as Billy makes very clear on page 212) so we’ll use one of my favorite descriptions he uses: GLITTEROID! As a young male who sews his own costumes that screw with gender Billy really doesn’t fit into his Floridian high-school into which he was recently replanted after an episode with his mother. The plot meanders around during the first two-thirds of the novel but in the final bit it turns into an empowering story that skews the traditional school outcasts rebelling against the status-quo.

While the story is endearing I found Billy Bloom to be… I wanted to throttle him. I’m a fairly no nonsense sort of Lady and so dealing with Bloom’s hyperbolic narration (it was like being shouted at) was something that I personally found grating. Now I will say that Bloom is written to have mood swings which Mr. St. James pulls off wonderfully, though it will sometimes result in a brain cramp as you try to keep up with his highs and lows. My slightly homicidal feelings for Bloom did wear off during the climatic student rebellion during which point I was cheering him and his posse on.

There were some delightful scenes that made me chortle happily, particularly the ones full of references to various dramatic woman that have inspired homosexual America (Liza Minnelli, Martha Stewart, Zelda Fitzgerald, etc.) And when you come across lines such as:

I LIKE THE WAY THIS DAME THINKS! (201)

Really! How indelicate! In front of Flossie! And giving Flip an eyeful, I’m sure! (108)

He’s got that white-hot blond hair, with those killer bangs…a nose like a ski slope…those blazing, dragon green eyes…and  smile so white and so bright, it guides Santa’s sleigh in dense fog! (119)

you can’t help but chuckle.

Despite having a frantic pace and an off-the-wall narrator that’s hard to pin down the story is sweet with moments of  charm that are pulled off in a sometimes vulgar manner. Not one of the decade’s great books (though it was among this year’s Green Mountain Book Awards finalist) Freak Show is a fun read if you’ve a few hours to kill or if you feel the need to get in touch with your inner fabulous, fierce, flaming Queen.

3.5/5 stars.


*Gay, Bisexual, Lesbian, Transgender/Transsexual, Queer/Questioning. I’m aware that there are many variations on this acronym but for simplicity’s sake I’m afraid I’ll be brief, explaining all the various pairings of letters can go on for years.

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Sunday Steals (3/27/2011)

Last panel of the xkcd webcomic "Philosop...

Image via Wikipedia

Well it’s been a really hectic past few weeks up here on the mountain so I had to let my blog slip to the side and for that I’m truly sorry. To make it up to you here are some great things I’ve come across online over the past week.

TRANSform Me

–This has quickly become one of my top television shows and one of the only reality shows I’ve ever come across that I honestly enjoyed. Fashion? Check. Hosts that are a pleasure to watch? Check. Empowerment? Check. Transsexuality? Check.–

Geraldine Ferraro and Her ‘Moment In History’

–This is a lovely remembrance of a woman who became the face of the hopes and dreams of women and men who wanted a more equitable society. Told through a conversation between Liane Hansen and Cokie Roberts, the latter of whom was present for Ms. Ferraro’s acceptance speech.–

xkcd: Beauty

–Friday’s xkcd expressed something that I’ve had a hard time enunciating, that science is beautiful.–

Famous Trannies in Early Modern Times

–So I’m on a bit of a gender kick and came across this when I put into Google “Abbe de Choisy”, who wrote “I thought myself really and truly a woman.”–

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“Unfamiliar Fishes” [A Review]

”]New book

My first brush with Sarah Vowell occurred on This American Life where she is a somewhat frequent commentator. When I first heard her I thought she was amusing, well spoken and quite intelligent. The first book of her’s that I read, Assignation Vacation, reinforced my opinions of her (only change well spoken to kick ass writer) and reading The Wordy Shipmates really reinforced this. Unfamiliar Fishes has only really, really reinforced this.

Unfamiliar Fishes will be Ms. Vowell’s third history book (her other three were about her own life) when it’s published on March 11th. It’s story is one that I think is far too often brushed over: The story of how Hawaii lost its independence and was brought into the U.S. of A. My advanced reader’s copy is only 233 pages but it manages to convey a good hundred years worth of history with ease, starting with arrival of Captain Cook, the social changes that his arrival brought, the arrival of New England based missionaries, the social changes they brought, then the various meddlings of the American business interests (side note: sometimes I have trouble eating Dole bananas) and finally Hawaii’s annexation into America.

Weaving in her own history with the history of her subject is something that I’ve come to think of as a trademark of Ms. Vowell and she repeats this once again, and once again I find that it makes her writing all the more engaging.

Think of that really awesome teacher who’ve had. The really awesome teacher who managed to take History/Chemistry/Shop and turn it into a fascinating class where you didn’t even realize you were learning. The one who’s lectures were hard to stop paying attention to because you found yourself strangely committed to. That’s how I think of Ms. Vowell’s writing. She never becomes more complex then the situation requires, something that I think makes her easily accessed by most. And unlike some non-fiction writers who seem to view themselves as mini-gods with perfect facts Ms. Vowell acknowledges her own opinions and that sometimes the observer effects the results (or so I feel.)

Unfamiliar Fishes is another well written and highly informative text from Sarah Vowell and since she’s still young I think we can hope for plenty more to come.

4.5 stars out of 5.

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Joe the Plumber In Madison, Wis.

Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher (Joe the Plumber) h...

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I’ve been trying to post once at the beginning of the week and once towards the end but right now I’m going to just post twice right off the bat. On her Friday show Rachel Maddow talked about how Joe the Plumber would be appearing to speak to pro-Walker supporters in Madison, Wis. Now I’ve not always agreed with Mr. Wurzelbacher but I was curious as to what he said last Saturday and so I looked it up on the internet (video here). To little surprise to me, I didn’t really agree with anything he said but there were two quotes of his that I felt myself really really disagreeing with him over. I’ve taken the liberty of taking dictation and writing down the two quotes and then responding to them below (let’s make this clear, these are my own copies of his quotes and while I carefully listened to the speech over and over while I copied over and over just to get it right I might have misplaced a word or two, but I really don’t think I have.)

“One of the things we need to do we got to take out of our vocabulary is the word deserve. You know, I don’t know about you-  I’ll tell you what, we’ll use it just once: Our veterans. Our military veterans, those are about the only people in our society that deserve anything from their federal government. They deserve to be treated with respect and honor. That’s the only people in our society that deserve anything.” First of all, I agree that our military veterans need to be treated with respect and honor but I don’t agree with the rest of Mr. Wurzelbacher’s comments regarding this. The thing is that military veterans do not simply “deserve anything from the federal government”.It’s not like you sign up for the military and get a free Respect and Honor card but our veterans earn their respect and honor by serving our country. And the teachers that educate the next generation serve our country, the volunteers who spend their afternoons with the elderly serve our country, the bureaucrats who make sure that our capitol continues to function serve their country and the nation’s custodial staff that keep our public places and offices clean  serve our country. And their service entitles them to our respect and honor. And their service entitles them to “anything from the federal government.” We can quable over how much they get from the feds but their hard work for our nation entitles them to at least a little somethin’.

“They’re [the pro-union protesters] chanting little chants, not really getting anything done. But you guys have made it happen for this country, you’ve made it happen for Wisconsin.” This raised a question in me that might be petty but this is my blog so here’s my potentially petty question: If the union supporters who have rallied in Madison are not really getting anything done then what are the Walker supporters who have rallied in Madison getting done? What is the separation between the two groups? Aren’t both of them simply gathering to express their opinion on a legal issue and exercising their right to peacefully assemble?

And that’s all. Actually, that’s not all. I just want to take this time to express my support for the “Wisconsin 14” (Goodness, as a nation is there nothing we like better than slapping a catchy name on something?) but perhaps that’s going to be another post…

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As Always, Julia [A Review]

Joseph Raymond McCarthy.

"Communist food." --Joe McCarthy Image via Wikipedia

When I think of what makes a novel enjoyable I decide that a good novel should be so believable that you could take it for non-fiction. The author must create the world so exactly that you loose yourself in it and find yourself hours later wondering if it really was fiction. This, I believe, is the sign of a good novel.

But what about non-fiction? I find that the non-fiction books I enjoy are enjoyable because their stories are so incredible that I find myself hours later wondering it it really was non-fiction.

Which is why I was so delighted by As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto (Selected and Edited by Joan Reardon. Spanning over 400 pages and almost a decade these are the collected letters exchanged between Julia Child (who needs no introduction) and Avis DeVoto (wife of Bernard DeVoto and impressive woman in her own right) starting from Julia’s letter to Bernard. That first letter was received by Avis, who acted as her husband’s secretary, and was responded to warmly. Julia wrote back. Then Avis. Then Julia. Soon they were dear friends (dear friends who did not meet in person for over two years) and Avis became a sort of shepard for Julia and Simca’s manuscript in America.

The story contained in this gorgeous book is not just the tale of the manuscript that Julia would refer to as “Gargantua”. Throughout these letters my heart was truly warmed by the love and friendship that grew between these two women. But it is not just a story of friendship either. Their friendship begins as McCarthyism is sweeping the nation and as two liberals with friends and family both supporting McCarthy and being hunted by McCarthy their letters contain riveting tales of the time.

I do have a few minor quibbles though. For starters there are times where I felt the book was unfairly slanted towards Julia (a woman who I love greatly for what it’s worth). The cover bears a photo featuring just the well-known woman and the title As Always, Julia (emphasis added) feels as though the book is from her eyes, after reading the book I feel confident that there are many other quotes that could have been selected. Of course, I am no expert on book printing (though I could understand that sales might be helped by more prominently showing the more famous of the two) so take that complaint with a grain of salt. However (I’m going to complain just a wee bit more), the photos on the inside and the little vignettes about the important events happening around them (vignettes I found to be indispensable) also seem to be tilted towards Julia though I found Avis’ life to be equally absorbing.

One last little bit of kvetching. The layout of the photos among the letters I found to be slightly awkward. Often times the photos (though they were quite lovely) depicted people and events referred to in past (and sometimes future) letters and there were times where I found myself momentarily loosing myself as I tried to place the scenes. Also, Ms. Reardon’s footnotes I often felt to be useful and with just the right amount of detail without distracting from the flow of the letters but there were times where there would be pages without a footnote when I felt at least one could have been needed. But these are petty.

On the note of the book’s appearance. Beautiful! The cover is bright and cheerful and makes me think of the 1950s while the inside is similarly well laid out. It might be more economical to purchase this as an e-book but I would be more than willing to plonk down the extra bucks for this in hardcover.

As Always, Julia is a book that only for Julia Child fanatics but one I’d recommend for casual food lovers, those interested in the 1950s and anyone who likes a good tale of friendship.

4.5 stars out of 5.

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Hooplah!

The Department of Justice building in Washingt...

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Why am I ecstatic? Just ask U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips. She’s the darling who just issued an injunction on that little ol’ law known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” According to this article from the A.P. the current ruling ends “the U.S. military’s 17-year-old ban on openly gay troops.”

Seventeen years… That is my exact age, meaning that for my entire life my minority has been specifically targeted by law to limit our rights. Now, I may be a (almost always) pacifist but if my same-sex loving brethren want to sign up without wanting to hide part of who they are then all the power to them!

One thing in the article gave me pause. The President’s Department of Justice can appeal this ruling within 60 days “but Department of Justice attorneys are not likely to stay mum since Obama has made it clear he wants Congress to repeal the policy.”  Now I’m no political strategist but I really want Obama to let this stand. This doesn’t seem to be the time to be making a political statement by forcing Congress to take action. Of course I might just be saying that because the Mid-Term Elections are coming up and I don’t see Congress repealing DADT before the Democratic hold on Congress really sways.

In the meantime I am going to something a little celebratory and forget politics. Maybe I’ll update my Facebook status.

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