Category Archives: Book Review

I Want to Tell You Something: Read This Book

A few days ago, I finished Chasten Buttigieg’s autobiography, I Have Something to Tell You. I loved it, and I think you will too. 

Chasten James Glezman was born on June 23, 1989. He shares his birthday with legendary bisexual sexologist Alfred Kinsey upon whose research the modern gay rights movement was built, and math-computer genius and gay martyr Alan Turing. During Pete Buttigieg’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, Pete’s husband Chasten quickly became the campaign’s “not so secret weapon.” I followed Chasten on social media throughout Pete’s campaign and saw a few interviews with him especially those after his brother attacked him on Fox News. I found him charming, sweet, and funny, and I wanted to know more about this middle school drama teacher. That’s why I wanted to read his recently released autobiography, I Have Something to Tell You.

His story verifies much of what I thought I knew about Chasten. From his public appearances, social media, and broadcast interviews, he appears to be intelligent and funny, given to emotion, and passionate about kids especially LGBTQ+ kids, and his love for Pete. I think you too will find the book reinforces these impressions. I listened to it as an audio book; reading a physical book is often difficult because they tend to exacerbate my headaches, and it becomes difficult to focus my eyes to the words on page. Chasten narrated his biography. I think listening to him gave the book a richer meaning. You may remember I originally came to Vermont from Alabama for a position as an oral historian. Oral histories allow you to hear the person’s emotions, and that is precisely what you get with the audio version of I Have Something to Tell You.

Throughout the campaign, Chasten and Pete were criticized by groups like “Queers Against Pete” who trolled Pete and Chasten around the country from one campaign event to another always trying to shout them down. They gave various excuses for not liking Pete, but #1 among them was that the couple was not “gay enough.” What a crock of shit! They are two men married to each other. How much gayer can you get? Just as sexuality is on a spectrum so are gay men. Chasten and Pete are identified with a gay sophistication often derided by some in our community; however, Chasten’s roots are surprisingly middle America. He was reared in Chums Corner, Michigan (population 946), “a hop, skip, and a jump from rural farmland.” Both his parents had to work hard to make ends meet. He recalls simple meals like meatloaf, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, canned tomato soup, peaches, and pears—and his mom Sherri, “in a bathrobe, her hair still wet from the shower getting her purse and writing us a check for school lunches in the mornings saying that it might not be enough.”

Growing up in rural Alabama, there are a lot of things I felt a connection to with Chasten’s story. He writes, “When fair time came around, I always felt so nervous and conspicuous. As you might suspect, the typical 4Her is a tough guy or wants to be. They present as very masculine, and I never did.” My parents forced me to play sports, but I was not the typical athlete. I was never very masculine, and like so many young sensitive boys who grew up as Chasten and I did, other boys noticed and pounced.

Also, like Chasten, I don’t remember “seeing” any gay people in person growing up. Just as Chasten relates in his book, I remember vividly the words fag, faggot, and sissy, and all the many other descriptors for boys who were different, feminine, and soft. I remember being pushed around in the halls and treated differently from other guys. Chasten says in the book, “The classic move was to push me into a locker while calling me a “freak,” but the comments about my sexuality were much more hurtful than this general term. Something in those insults told me other kids knew more about me than I did myself, and I didn’t like it….” I remember feeling the same way.

The combination of terror in the hallways and the locker room, the dogma of Catholicism (for me it was the Church of Christ), our Republican communities (Alabama began to be more Republican as I got older), the country, and the world in general were all things with which many of us can identify. The constant message of what we were expected to be, but knowing we were different led to deep emotional scarring of our sense of self that negatively impacted our lives in multiple ways.  Much of the first chapters can be summed up in this passage: “Fighting the waves of exclusion, I often felt like an undertow was pulling me away from everyone and everything.”

Chasten also struggled with student debt something he and Pete talked about on the campaign trail. I understood completely. After nine years of graduate school, I racked up massive student debt and couldn’t pay them when I got a job as a teacher which paid barely minimum wage. Chasten has also struggled with medical debt, something I too know very well as I have searched for treatments for my migraines. Before the Affordable Care Act, most insurance wouldn’t cover migraine medicine because it was a preexisting condition. And let me tell you, migraine medicines are expensive.

As painful as these struggles are to read and identify with, there were many funny moments. Chasten can throw shade. From his Tales of a Starbucks Barista: “Caramel Frappuccino perfectionists are a whole breed of human being [but they were] preferable to the Foam People….” There were fewer laughs regarding his doubts and fears from all the dead-end dates; like many of us, he was initially surprised to discover most men he met through apps had no interest in a committed relationship and family. We all know what most guys on apps really want even if they start out by saying they are looking for more.

The story of meeting Pete and their relationship was so sweet. You got a sense of just how laid-back Pete really is, but also of just how much they love each other. The two are quite different, but they seem a perfect match. They both had struggled with coming to terms with their sexuality, something many of us have experienced.

One of the remarkable things about the book is the campaign. You get to read about Chasten’s experiences trying to help LGBTQ+ kids accept themselves something still difficult for many in 2020. The Internet is full of pictures of young kids on the campaign trail locking eyes with Pete (who leaned over or knelt to their eye level as Chasten taught him to do). During the campaign, Chasten visited over 100 LGBTQ+ centers across America. Some of the campaign stories are extremely emotional; I was teary by the end of the book.

While I don’t see Chasten getting into politics for himself as he seems to prefer teaching, I do hope one day we see Pete serving this country in a greater capacity perhaps even as president. If you have any interest in Chasten or Pete Buttigieg, I urge you to get this book. It is beautifully written with an appealing and witty approach that comes across easily. It’s the story of a life that wasn’t always charmed or humorous, but instead a life with which I think many of us can identify. It’s just a damn good book, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Pete Buttigieg kisses his husband Chasten after Chasten introduced him before a speech where he announced he was ending his campaign to be the Democratic nominee for president on March 01, 2020, in South Bend, Indiana.

Bosom Friends

I don’t often write book reviews on this blog. I used to write them with more frequency years ago, but now I only review one or two books a year at most. However, when I do post a book review, it’s because there is something significant I want to relay to my readers. Such is the case with the following book. I finished reading Bosom Friends: The Intimate World of James Buchanan and William Rufus King by Thomas J. Balcerski a few days ago. It is a fascinating account of the perceptions of masculinity in the early 1800s, and how those perceptions have evolved over time. Here is the book’s description from Amazon.com:

The friendship of the bachelor politicians James Buchanan (1791-1868) of Pennsylvania and William Rufus King (1786-1853) of Alabama has excited much speculation through the years. Why did neither marry? Might they have been gay? Or was their relationship a nineteenth-century version of the modern-day “bromance”? 

In Bosom Friends: The Intimate World of James Buchanan and William Rufus King, Thomas J. Balcerski explores the lives of these two politicians and discovers one of the most significant collaborations in American political history. He traces the parallels in the men’s personal and professional lives before elected office, including their failed romantic courtships and the stories they told about them. Unlikely companions from the start, they lived together as congressional messmates in a Washington, DC, boardinghouse and became close confidantes. Around the nation’s capital, the men were mocked for their effeminacy and perhaps their sexuality, and they were likened to Siamese twins. Over time, their intimate friendship blossomed into a significant cross-sectional political partnership. Balcerski examines Buchanan’s and King’s contributions to the Jacksonian political agenda, manifest destiny, and the increasingly divisive debates over slavery, while contesting interpretations that the men lacked political principles and deserved blame for the breakdown of the union. He closely narrates each man’s rise to national prominence, as William Rufus King was elected vice-president in 1852 and James Buchanan the nation’s fifteenth president in 1856, despite the political gossip that circulated about them.

While exploring a same-sex relationship that powerfully shaped national events in the antebellum era, Bosom Friendsdemonstrates that intimate male friendships among politicians were–and continue to be–an important part of success in American politics.

In the American Historical Review, the leading peer reviewed journal for books on American History, Andrew L. Slap, Professor of History at East Tennessee State University, wrote: 

“Balcerski impressively balances the personal and the worldly to produce an original and engaging study both of two men and of the wider antebellum world which they lived in and helped shape….This is certainly the definitive account of the intimate friendship between Buchanan and King. In addition, Balcerski makes important original contributions to our understanding of male friendships and politics in the antebellum United States. This is an excellent first book from a promising young scholar.”

Thomas J. Balcerski is an Associate Professor of History at East Connecticut State University who specializes in Early American History, Manhood and Gender, and U.S. Presidents and First Ladies. Bosom Friends shows his expertise in the study of Manhood and Gender as the book spends a considerable amount of time discussing intimate male friendships in the antebellum period, how those friendships were used by early American politicians, and how such a close friendship could be used against them.  From the outset, Balcerski tells the reader he is not going to make a case for the sexuality of Buchanan or King. Instead, he aims to use the historical record to tell about the “bosom friendship” of these two men. The Cambridge Dictionary describes a bosom friend as a friend that you like a lot and have a very close relationship with; someone you can be very close with and confide everything in. It seems this is what Buchanan and King had for a number of years while they lived in the same boardinghouses.

The two men were so close they were referred to as the Siamese Twins. Political opponents often attacked their manhood and suggested they were romantically involved. But were they? In my opinion, they most likely were not sexual partners. I suspect King may have been romantically invested in Buchanan, but it doesn’t appear Buchanan felt the same way. King was described as handsome and fashionably dressed. Some even compared him to Lord Byron. He was said to have been the epitome of manners, and a perfect example of Southern male chivalry right down to his involvement in several near duels. Buchanan, on the other hand, was always flirting with younger women. Furthermore, Buchanan appeared to hold friendships in high esteem when it would help him politically. His friendship with King seems to have been strongest when King was most powerful politically. When the tables were turned with Buchanan’s appointment as Secretary of State, and King’s appointment as Minister to France, King became Buchanan’s subordinate and their relationship began to deteriorate.

By the mid-1840s and early-1850s, King and Buchanan both vied for the offices of Vice President or President on the Democratic ticket. Instead of their tight friendship, their political ambitions seemed to get in the way. King supported Buchanan’s aspirations to higher office, but when King was nominated for Vice President, Buchanan largely kept silent. King was the first to hold one of the two top elected positions, but he never really served after he was elected. He died just six weeks after being sworn in as Vice President. Buchanan received the 1856 nomination for President, which proved disastrous for the nation as he saw the break-up of the country under his watch.

The book brought up two questions for me: 1) Was there a romantic relationship between King and Buchanan? and 2) What would have happened if King had lived to see the Civil War? The first is left up to the reader to decide, and the second isn’t addressed at all as this is not a “what if” type of book. Unlike some historians of Buchanan, Balcerski keeps to the facts and leaves conjecture to the reader. Little archival information on King still exists. There is one box of King Family Papers at the Alabama Department of Archives and History, but little else except in the Papers of James Buchanan. Both men had nieces who tried to preserve their uncles’ legacies. Buchanan’s niece was far more successful at preserving his documents, but not at rehabilitating his reputation. King’s plantation, Chestnut Hill, just outside of Selma in what was King’s Bend, was burned and ransacked during the Civil War as Union troops advanced through Alabama from Selma to Montgomery. King’s niece wrote to Buchanan’s niece stating there was a box of letters her uncle had received from Buchanan, but they were at the old plantation home. She had recently relocated to Camden, Alabama, and whatever happened to those letters is lost to history. They could have burned or perished in one of the frequent area floods of the plantation. Some have speculated the nieces burned the letters containing the most intimate details, but that is supposition. There is no proof.

The fact is King’s personal life has mostly been lost to history. One thing that remains, Buchanan is the only one of the two who seemed to show any regular interest in a woman. King supposedly fell instantly in love when he met the future Czarina of Russia, Maria Feodorovna. He repeated throughout his life he had loved once but could not love again when retelling the story of the meeting. So, to answer the question whether Buchanan and King were a romantic couple, you’ll have to read the book and decide. It does seem to be the definitive book on the relationship and is free of any bias.

Now comes my own speculation. If King had lived through the Civil War, would he have been chosen as the Confederate President instead of Jefferson Davis? He was certainly the most powerful and influential Southern politician of his time. If he had been chosen, I think it is unlikely he would have moved the capital from Montgomery to Richmond. Could the Confederate capital having a more central location changed the course of the war? Would it have influenced Virginia’s decision to secede? There is no doubt King was pro-slavery, but he was also an ardent unionist. So, would he have had enough influence to calm the tempers of the day? With his intimate friend Buchanan as President, could he have even helped prevent the war? One thing is certain, had King lived through the Civil War, he would have been at the heart of the secession crisis. The question is, what side would he have been on and what role would he have played?

If you have an interest in American political history in the years preceding the Civil War, I think you would enjoy this book. Also, if you want a better understanding of early American male bonding and masculinity, you will also enjoy this book. There are still questions about King and Buchanan, but those questions are ultimately unanswerable due to the lack of historical resources. We have no idea what went on in the bedrooms of these two politicians, but I suspect it is unlikely anything happened as they always lived with other people in their various boardinghouses. My ultimate suggestion, then, is to just read the book and enjoy it.

Here’s a piece of trivia for you: the land where King’s plantation, Chestnut Hill, once occupied is now owned by Buchanan Lumber Mobile Inc. of Mobile, Alabama.

For short biographies of the two men, click “Continue reading” to see the rest of the post.

Continue reading


Boystown

Marshal Thornton is a novelist, playwright, and screenwriter living in Long Beach, California. He is best known for writing the Boystown detective series. I just finished reading the two Boystown novella prequels: Little Boy Dead and Little Boy Afraid. The books revolve around former Chicago policeman turned private investigator Nick Nowak.

Little Boy Dead takes place during the 1979 Film Fest Chicago where Nick has gotten a job as a driver and as head of security. In a very short time, Nick deals with stalking fans, a crowd of protesters, and a critic’s stolen wallet that leads to murder. The novella is fast paced and an easy read. Oh and Nick is a bit of a slut since the breakup with his boyfriend, so there are plenty of steamy sex scenes.

As soon as I finished reading the first prequel, I immediately started on Little Boy Afraid. It’s now the winter of 1980 and Nick has one of his first jobs working for an openly-gay state senate candidate. The candidate has been receiving death threats, a lot of them, and it’s Nick’s job to keep him alive until the election.

I really enjoyed both novellas. I love how he adds a little bit of history in the novellas such as the peanut farmer running for president. I have one question though: who ran for president in 1980 who became famous selling 20 Mule Team Borax? The choices seem to be Ted Kennedy, U.S. senator from Massachusetts, Jerry Brown, governor of California, and Cliff Finch, former governor of Mississippi. None seem to fit the bill.

I highly recommend the Boystown prequels. I can’t wait to delve into Thornton’s other Boystown detective books.


Third Hill North of Town

I just finished The Third Hill North Of Town by Noah Bly, aka Bart Yates. Overall, I enjoyed the book and wasn’t even upset with the ending. The book is quite a journey.

Set against the turbulent backdrop of the 1960s, Noah Bly’s evocative The Third Hill North Of Town explores prejudice, loss, and redeeming courage through the prism of an unlikely friendship.

When fifty-four-year-old Julianna Dapper slips out of a mental hospital in Bangor, Maine, on a June day in 1962, it’s with one purpose in mind. Julianna knows she must go back to the tiny farming community in northern Missouri where she was born and raised. It’s the place where she and her best friend, Ben Taylor, roamed as children, and where her life’s course shifted irrevocably one night long ago.

Embarking on her journey, Julianna meets Elijah Hunter, a shy teenaged African-American boy, and Jon Tate, a young hitchhiker on the run from the law. The three become traveling companions, bound together by quirks of happenstance. And even as the emerging truth about Julianna’s past steers them inexorably toward tragedy, their surprising bond may be the means to transform fear and heartache into the strength that finally guides Julianna home.

The Third Hill North of Town is a haunting, imaginative story of human connection and coincidence–a poignant and powerful novel that ripples with wit and heart.


White Creek

Yesterday, I finished a book, White Creek: A Fable, that I want to tell you about. It’s a witty, haunting tale of family and friendship, regret and redemption, set on a remote Wyoming cattle ranch in the dead of winter.

The White Creek Ranch has been in Hap Cobb’s family for over a century and a half, but Hap is now eighty-two, and the last surviving member of his family. Tart-tongued, moody, and all too often “a miserable old fart” (in the words of his long-suffering ranch hand and closest friend, Aaron Littlefield), Hap has no rival as a home cook, owns the best-stocked private library in the state, and prides himself on his “God-given ability” to exasperate everyone he meets. He is also a world classed foul mouthed old man. My favorite expletive statement he makes in the book is the hilarious “He’s happier than a two twatted whore in a room full of Siamese twins.” The enormous ranch house he inherited long ago from his grandfather stands mostly empty these days, save for Hap and Aaron, and while their life together is both busy and comfortable, Hap often loses himself in his past, knowing he has little future left.

When a sudden blizzard hits one January evening, however, and Aaron opens the door to a young woman and a teenaged boy seeking shelter from the storm, everything Hap thought he knew about the world begins to shift. With these two unlooked-for houseguests, the White Creek Ranch soon becomes a wellspring of mystery and possibility, and will never be the same again.

A story of magical realism in the tradition of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and John Crowley. It’s a book with magic or the supernatural, however you want to think of it, presented in an otherwise real-world setting. The supernatural only begins at the end though you realize that it’s been going on throughout the book.

White Creek: A Fable is by Bart Yates, who lives in Iowa City, Iowa, and is the author of four previous novels: Leave Myself Behind (winner of the 2004 Alex Award), The Brothers Bishop, The Distance Between Us, and (writing as Noah Bly) The Third Hill North Of Town. When I first read Leave Myself Behind I loved it so much that I read it again. I never read a book twice, but this one I loved. I’ve devoured each of his books since. I have yet to read The Third Hill North Of Town, but it is on its way from Amazon. Yates has a way with words like few authors I’ve ever read. You will care about and fall in love with the characters. While White Creek is the latest of his books I’ve loved and read, I urge you to pick up any of these books and give them a read. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Yates books Leave Myself Behind, The Brothers Bishop, and The Distance Between Us represent gay fiction at its zenith. White Creek isn’t gay fiction but it is a damn good book, and I expect no less of The Third Hill North Of Town.


Pump Jockey, Part II

On Saturday, I wrote about the short story “Pump Jockey.” While I enjoyed the short story, I’m afraid some may have thought that I was recommending the longer book The Winter of My Discotheque. The truth is, I wouldn’t particularly recommend the book that expanded on the short story. The book wasn’t terrible, but from what I remember of it, it’s not one I’d highly recommend either. However, Rebel Yell: Stories by Contemporary Southern Gay Authors from which the short story came, is highly recommended. I also recommend Rebel Yell 2: More Stories by Contemporary Southern Gay Authors. The two short story collections have everything from gay southern gothic to just good old storytelling.


Cajun Country 

I’m down in the bayou as they say. I’m visiting my best friend in Louisiana for a couple of days. I’ll head back to Alabama on Thursday. It’s a long drive down but the traffic was mostly good.

On my way down I listened to Heidi Cullinan’s Short Stay. It’s part of the Love Lessons series and was pretty good. If you’ve read and liked the rest of the series, you’ll like this one too.


Reading 

I spent the evening reading and time got away from me. Before I knew it, it was time for bed and I had not written a blog post. Since I didn’t have time to ponder what to write, and I didn’t have anything specific in mind, I thought I’d just confess to reading and losing track of time. By the way, I am reading Tal Bauer’s book Enemy of My Enemy, which is the second book in her Executive Office Series. It continues the story of Pressient Jack Spiers and his lover Ethan Reichenbach. It’s a great political thriller and I hated to have to put it down and go to bed.


Busy Week

Yesterday, I gave a presentation on Pearl Harbor, which went exceedingly well. I was happy to have a World War II veteran there to view the presentation. Tonight, I have another event; I will be serving as host to a book discussion. The book to be discussed is Doris Kearns Goodwin’s No Ordinary Time. An incredibly detailed book, No Ordinary Time tells the story of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt and the American Homefront during World War II.

A compelling chronicle of a nation and its leaders during the period when modern America was created. With an uncanny feel for detail and a novelist’s grasp of drama and depth, Doris Kearns Goodwin brilliantly narrates the interrelationship between the inner workings of the Roosevelt White House and the destiny of the United States. Goodwin paints a comprehensive, intimate portrait that fills in a historical gap in the story of our nation under the Roosevelts.


Balance

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I wasn’t up last night to writing a lengthy blog post. I was reading a book: LIfe Lessons by Kaje Harper. Sometimes you need balance in your life and last night I felt more like reading than writing. It was a good book, and I am glad I finished it. It’s book one in a series of four, and I think I’ll be beginning book two today if I have some free time at work.