By Richard Labonte
“The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln,” by C.A. Tripp. Free Press, 380 pages, $27 hardcover.
Despite screeches of outrage flying around the conservative corners of the Internet, Tripp’s pedantic speculation on the man-loving proclivities of America’s Great Emancipator can’t be denied. Poet Carl Sandburg touched obliquely on the topic in “The Prairie Years” (1926), part of his redoubtable six-volume biography; gay scholars Jonathan Ned Katz and Charles Shively have written extensively about Lincoln’s relationship with young friend Joshua Speed; and writers as incendiary as Gore Vidal and Larry Kramer have claimed Abe as one of our own. To these earlier assertions, Tripp adds scads of exhaustive scholarship – suppressed or denied by previous biographers – about presidential trysts with Civil War soldiers; about Lincoln s unrequited lust for one Elmer Ellsworth, who was “definitely and explicitly heterosexual”; and, most notably, about a dalliance with bodyguard David Dickerson, seen wandering the summer White House in Lincoln’s nightshirt. Tripp died before completing the book, leaving revisions and loose ends for others to wrap up: this may explain the book’s argumentative drift and dull prose. Still, where there’s smoke, there’s fire – and Tripp’s knowing psychological excavation of Lincoln’s sexuality certainly fans the flames.
“Mondo Homo: Your Essential Guide to Queer Pop Culture,” ed. by Richard Andreoli. Alyson Books, 208 pages, $17.95 paper.
“Mondo Homo,” intelligently bipolar and hilariously schizophrenic, is really two irresistible books in one. The first half focuses on queer creativity – film, TV, music, literature, theater and art, fashion, the media; the second half is more about queer lifestyle (and, frankly, hedonism) – fitness, liquor, club culture, travel, gay gatherings, skin flicks, and sex. Both halves feature idiosyncratic yet serious essays by Andreoli and seven other tuned-in contributors – Dave White, for example, laments that queer boys aren’t reading books the way they used to. These are augmented by dozens of sassy, snappy (and often actually savvy) lists and how-to tips – Christopher Rice’s “Top 10 Books That Every Gay Man Should Read,” “Top 15 Gay Fashions We Regret Ever Having Worn,” “Rules for Displaying Gay Pride in a Gay Ghetto,” and “How to Host a Home Orgy!” This brassy embrace of a tone both unrelentingly irreverent and studiously relevant is a welcome makeover of a previous Alyson title, “The New Gay Book of Lists.” That 1999 book was so very then; this one is quintessentially now.
“The Actor’s Guide to Adultery,” by Rick Copp. Kensington Books, 279 pages, $23 hardcover.
This is a silly book. But silly sometimes charms. So: abandon all devotion to logic, ye fans of hip and manic queer mysteries, as you giggle your way through Copp’s smart-alecky synthesis of Hollywood satire and witty – if meandering – mystery. It starts with a grownup Jarrod Jarvis (first seen in Copp’s “The Actor s Guide to Murder”) being stalked by an obsessive fan, paroled 20 years after first trying to kidnap the one-time child star. Jarrod’s gal pal, Laurette, then marries Juan Carlos, a devilishly handsome bottom feeder of an actor. Shortly thereafter, Jarrod and Juan Carlos are cast in the same low-rent horror flick in Florida. Soon enough, Jarrod’s stalker pops up, Juan Carlos cheats on Laurette – with the wife, the daughter, “and” the son of a Miami Beach mob boss – and Jarrod becomes entangled with a hunky former Navy SEAL who is investigating the mob boss. Which of course raises the hackles of Jarrod’s equally hunky LAPD boyfriend, Charlie, who hates it when Jarrod dodges auditions to play sleuth – which, in this oddly engaging mystery, he does with flair.
“The Life of Helen Stephens: The Fulton Flash,” by Sharon Kinney Hanson. Southern Illinois University Press, 262 pages, $29.50 hardcover.
Helen Stephens was a cocky teenager when she emerged from Missouri-farm-girl obscurity to set a world record in the 100-meter dash at the 1936 Olympics, an accomplishment that stood for 24 years. Her startling feat – she also won gold in the 4×100-meter relay – is the centerpiece of this adoring biography of a lesbian athlete who, though fiercely closeted in her professional life, consented to a series of revealing interviews before her death in 1994. The bulk of the bio is given over to Stephens’ entertainingly self-assured reflections on the Berlin Olympics; her diaries don’t dwell on the political import of the Nazi-era Games, but Hanson relates how Hitler invited Stephens back to his headquarters and how the 18-year-old was propositioned by Gestapo commander Hermann Goering – two liaisons she declined. Stephens retired from amateur competition in 1937, played professional softball and baseball, managed and coached her own basketball team from 1938 to 1952, and late into her life championed the rights of women in athletics – a devotion to sports ably documented in this definitive account.
I will tell you a Joke about Jewel and Mary
It is neither a Joke nor a Story
For Rubin and Charles has married two girls
But Billy has married a boy
The girlies he had tried on every Side
But none could he get to agree
All was in vain he went home again
And since that is married to Natty
So Billy and Natty agreed very well
And mama’s well pleased at the match
-poem by a teenage Lincoln, from “The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln,” by C.A. Tripp
BOOKS TO WATCH OUT FOR: Fans of Joe Keenan’s classic comic novels, “Blue Heaven” and “Putting on the Ritz,” have long clamored for another book from him; now that he’s no longer working on the TV sitcom “Frasier,” their decade-plus wait has been rewarded: sometime this fall, look for “My Lucky Star,” a Hollywood farce about over-clever young writers who sign a deal to write a screenplay for a married gay star, only to find themselves enmeshed in blackmail, betrayal, indiscreet call boys, a bloodthirsty DA , and, according to publisher Little, Brown, “the single most ill-judged sex act a married megastar has ever committed.”.. PATRICK MOORE, author of “Beyond Shame,” calling for a radical gay sexual reawakening, has signed with Kensington Books to write “Tweaked,” a memoir of his addiction to crystal meth and of his family’s addictive past… A DIFFERENT KIND of book to watch out for: Lawrence Schimel, a prolific editor of gay anthologies (“PomoSexuals,” “Kosher Meat”), and author of gay-themed fantasy and science fiction stories (“The Drag Queens of Elfland”), has carved out a parallel career – while living in Spain – as co-author of a popular series of children’s picture books; his 10th, with illustrator Sara Rojo Perez, is “Andres and the Copyists,” due this spring in English and Spanish from Ediciones Aldeasa. He’s also editor of ” Symmetries/Simetrais: Contemporary Gay Poetry from Spain,” coming from U.S. publisher Sherman Asher in April.
Richard Labonte has been reading, editing, selling, and writing about queer literature since the mid-’70s. He can be reached in care of this publication or at BookMarks@qsyndicate.com.