June Thomas of Slate reports for NY1 on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in "The Book Reader."
Writers can be difficult people, especially when they challenge conventional wisdom. Two new books show that the difficult ones are also sometimes the most interesting.
In "Dreadful: The Short Life And Gay Times Of John Horne Burns," out now from Other Press, David Margolick tells the story of a forgotten writer. Burns, a hard-drinking snob who died in mysterious circumstances in 1953, at the age of just 36, wrote one great novel, "The Gallery," an evocation of life in Naples, Italy during World War II. Unusually for that period, it described the city's gay subculture and the behavior of gay American soldiers stationed in Italy.
Margolick quotes extensively from Burns' writings, including his letters, and the style is arch and unfashionably florid, the content often cruel. Burns was a man of his times, and those times were hard on gay men like him who refused to hide their true selves.
"The End Of San Francisco," published by City Lights, is activist Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore's denunciation of assimilation. It's an unconventional memoir, heavy on sensation and light on explanation. Readers won't learn why the author decided to adopt female pronouns and change her name, but they will get a glimpse at the life of a proud troublemaker and rabble-rouser.
This book is a useful reminder that the gay community is far from monolithic and that it is especially important to listen to the voices of resistance.
Look for reviews of the best new releases on the Slate Book Review at slate.com/books.