Sunday, August 30, 2015
Growing up for me was eventful but challenging. My immigrant parents were tight on cash and journeyed from city to city across the continent looking for work. When we finally landed in small-town Ontario, I was bullied by my mostly Caucasian classmates for my race and sexuality. However, among all of my struggles, the weight of being gay pressed heaviest upon me. After many years of guilt, fear, and uncertainty, I finally came out to my parents at age twenty. I was pleasantly surprised to eventually discover the support and acceptance of my parents and friends. However, it has not always been easy for the LGBT+ community to find acceptance and belonging. Most of us identifying as LGBT+ were born into straight households disconnected from our isolated struggles and unable to pass down generations of events, memories, and solace. Thus, works such as The Gay Revolution are critical in establishing a common sense of identity, history, and remembrance for the LGBT+ community. Lillian Faderman’s groundbreaking new tome is a monumental and important history of gay rights that draws our attention to the struggles of the queer community, past and present.
Clocking in at over 800 pages, The Gay Revolution is a commanding addition to anyone’s bookshelf. Yet Faderman’s love letter to LGBT+ rights is captivating, amusing, and shocking, making it a necessary addition to anyone’s bookshelf. Despite its length, it is inclusive yet focused, centring mainly on the struggle for lesbian and gay rights in the United States beginning in the 1950s. As a Canadian reading the book, I eagerly anticipate an equally well-written version from the Canadian perspective. Yet, with its setting in the United States, The Gay Revolution introduces us to a uniquely divided and complicated country with wildly opposing camps and an incredibly heterogenous population. Faderman embarks upon this ambitious voyage with both meticulously researched detail and cheeky irony.
The Gay Revolution begins with socially charged 1950s America. We witness demeaning and deceptive bar raids where police coerced gay suspects into arrest. Concerned families with misplaced intentions would send homophile youth to mental institutions where electroshocking and drug-induced vomiting routinely took place. We discover early civil rights groups such as Mattachine and Daughters of Bilitis, which created united fronts for gays and lesbians. We are tossed into the days of Stonewall, a surprising riot which caused mayhem as well as opening the eyes of the public to the plight and power of the gay community. In the decades leading to the end of the 20th century, we see gays fired from government positions due to supposed Cold War “Communist spying” as well as military witch hunts. We sift through decades upon decades of legal suits, which crumbled sodomy and marriage laws bit by hard-earned bit. We meet inspiring activists such as Frank Kameny as well impassioned zealots defending “family rights” and the “sanctity of marriage”. Anita Bryant certainly takes the cake (or should we say, pie) as the Queen of unexpectedly strong anti-gay activists, whose efforts at battling her gay enemies ended with a pie to her face and a performing career in ruins. We also encounter moving accounts, such as that of Charlene Strong, barred from sitting in the ambulance and entering the hospital room of her partner Kate Fleming, who drowned in a flash flood at home and was listed at death as “unmarried”.
The US has certainly come a long way since the times when police officers could arrest gays in bars under the pretense of seducing them and firing “homophiles” from the workplace was standard practice. In fact, since I began reading the preview copy of The Gay Revolution, it is already outdated. SCOTUS (The US Supreme Court) has since struck down DOMA (The Defense of Marriage Act), thus paving the way to the legalization of same-sex marriage nationally in the United States. Exciting news indeed, but it is only the beginning of a continued struggle for equality and understanding. Many churches still condemn gays as abominations, trans and bisexual individuals struggle to make their voices heard in a sea of sexual identities, and scores of other countries in the world still arrest, imprison, and even murder those not belonging to the heterosexual norm.
Nevertheless, the incredible progress of queer rights are emblazoned upon the pages of The Gay Revolution. As the US joins Canada in marriage equality at last, it’s a sobering opportunity to appreciate how far we have had to come and how far we have yet to go in order to gain equality and freedom for all sexual identities worldwide. The Gay Revolution is an epic and inspiring crown of LGBT+ literature. I highly recommend it for any human of the homo sapiens persuasion - a reminder of both the cruelty of the human condition as well as its power to motivate and galvanize powerful change for the better.
Mike Fan is a Chinese-Canadian classical baritone. Mike plays five instruments and speaks three languages fluently (with a few in progress). After obtaining degrees in piano performance and biomedical science, it became clear that music would win out. On the literary side, Mike wrote 365 sonnets in his teens and writes for his poetry blog Some Turbid Night. Follow @MikeZFan for Mike's adventures, musical and otherwise.
Sunday, August 23, 2015
After requesting to review this book, I wondered if Jacob Fugger really was the richest man who ever lived. I Googled it and guess what? There are several claimants to that title – Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Bill Gates. Bill Gates? Sorry, you aren’t even top 10, and that was back at your peak.
Most websites show a ruler of Mali in the early 14th century to be number one. Be that as it may, Jacob Fugger was certainly the richest man of his period and his effects on business may be greater than any of his rivals. Until Fugger the Catholic Church prohibited charging interest on debts (or ‘usury’), which makes lending to any but the most solvent and trustworthy rather a risk, and consequently economies remained small. Fugger was almost as much politician as businessman, and through payoffs, favours, and buying of positions of influence for himself and lackeys he was able to persuade Pope Leo to issue a papal bill legitimizing interest.
Another practice that Fugger used to crush his competitors was double-entry bookkeeping. Until his time, businessmen jotted figures down on scraps of paper without any sort of organization. Italians had developed a better method and Fugger brought this knowledge back to Germany and revolutionized accounting in that country. He also had the audacity to ask the king to pay back a loan, something that just wasn’t done. And the king paid!
Greg Steinmetz's book suggests that Fugger was a partial sponsor of Magellan, and details various political intrigues used to acquire a virtual monopoly on European copper and, to a lesser extent, silver. He also established the oldest social housing complex still in existence.
Recommended reading for a glimpse into a fascinating period of history.
- Steve Lidkea
Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about sex, be it about the new sex-ed curriculum in Ontario public schools, or about questions of consent raised by the allegations against Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby, or even about the LGBT actors in such TV shows as Orange Is the New Black and Sense 8. A lot of talk, sure, but how much of that talk brings something original and challenging to the conversation?
In a thoughtful nonfiction book, The Sex Myth, Rachel Hills explores the great significance Western society places on sexuality, and offers a refreshing new perspective on the challenges that have arisen in our age of supposed sexual freedom. “Where once we were condemned for being too sexual,” she writes, “today we are admonished for not being sexual enough.” She goes on to explain that while we’ve done away with many of the old taboos around sex and pleasure, “we have replaced them with new anxieties around performance, desirability, and what it means to be ‘normal.’”
What follows is part social commentary and part pop culture expose, mixing in-depth research with dozens of personal anecdotes from a myriad of voices across the English speaking world. Ranging in topics affecting all groups, be they straight or gay, male or female, conservative or liberal, The Sex Myth considers how our assumptions about sexuality have shaped and continue to shape how we think about sex and how this thinking affects our daily lives.
Wildly accessible and compelling to read, The Sex Myth makes for an important addition to the ongoing discussion of sex and sexuality.
While working as a glass cutter by day, Z. S. Roe spends most of his free time drinking tea and writing. His writings have appeared in various publications, including The Mammoth Book of Quick and Dirty Erotica and the 13th issue of Dark Moon Digest. Most recently, his short story “Off-Script” appeared in Joypuke II. You can visit his website at www.zsroe.com.
Monday, August 10, 2015
Given the scope of ideas that Margaret Heffernan brings to the fore in Beyond Measure:The Big Impact of Small Changes, I was surprised when I was handed the diminutive little booklet (weighing in at less than 200 pages). However, given that Heffernan's guiding light is the idea that it’s the little decisions made by everyone that make certain companies stand above the rest, it's fitting that a book so rich in insight is so deceptively small.
The focus in Beyond Measure is company culture: what factors in the environment, relationships and philosophies provide the most fertile soil for greatness? Heffernan succeeds in taking what is normally a wishy-washy subject – culture – and putting definite parameters around it, giving very practical steps on how leaders can drive engagement and free their teams to create great work rather than trying to wring it from them by force.
Despite the pragmatic nature of her advice, the tone is refreshingly gentle and human. In fact, a large part of her writing is spent confronting the fact that much of the mistreatment of workers, failure to address problems, etc, on the part of leaders stems from the fear of looking anything other than omnipotent and omniscient that often comes with established positions of authority. Appealing to the very human need to be understood and accepted, she repeatedly entreats them to turn to their employees for insights on difficult problems. After all, they hired them (hopefully) largely based on the stuff between their ears.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, she talks about the limiting effects of both rigid hierarchy and rigid office/society boundaries. Creating more flexibility in both scenarios, she argues, can lead to insights that may have otherwise gone unseen, and teams that work harder and better because they WANT to, rather than being afraid of what will happen should they fail to work themselves bloody.
It's an argument made succinctly and persuasively with equal parts compassion and practicality. Heffernan makes no illusions about there being an easy, step-by-step manual for achieving what she calls a "just culture", but Beyond Measure provides a solid philosophical grounding as well as some useful next steps for those looking to build an environment where people can flourish and create works they can be proud of. Easily worth a read for those on either side of the office desk.
Vincent Smith is a taoist, aspiring writer, and dyed-in-the-wool psychology geek at the University of Guelph. You can find his writing on video games, comics, movies, and all things geek at The Rogue's Gallery and One of Us. Check out his FB page, Vincent Smith: Writer, Scholar, Gentleman, for more musings from the dark corners of the internet. Plus the occasional cat photo.
Two-time winner of the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel, and also winner of the British Crime Writers’ Macallan Silver Dagger, the Canadian novelist Giles Blunt is an elite crime writer. In 2000, Forty Words for Sorrow came out and wowed this reviewer with its chilling portrayal of a psychopath’s crimes and icy heart. The book was the first in Blunt’s bestselling John Cardinal series, set in Algonquin Bay, Ontario (a stand-in for North Bay, where Blunt grew up).
The Hesitation Cut continues, in a very different way, Blunt’s focus on – and flair for interpreting – wounded, violent characters. Although it’s a suspense novel, not a whodunit, this novel includes satisfying misdirection and plot twists for mystery lovers.
Ranging from monks living in Upstate New York to a famous (and suicidal) novelist in New York City, the characters are quirky. For example, Lauren Wolfe, the NYC novelist, will only write while she’s wearing an old football jersey with the number twelve on it.
Thematically, the book is a challenging one. From the character arc of protagonist Peter Meehan – a thirty-year-old monk who abruptly leaves his monastery – I see the theme as follows: loss of (or betrayal by) a parent in childhood can lead you to pursue dysfunctional and destructive relationships in adulthood. In the ways that Peter’s and his lover Lauren’s lives play out, the story’s overall message seems to be that some deeply wounded adults can heal and lead healthier lives, but others are just too damaged. I was impressed that Blunt avoided a feel-good platitude in favour of ambiguity, which seems more like real life.
For any reader – suspense fan or not – who wants complex characters and thought-provoking themes, The Hesitation Cut provides a suspenseful treatment of a difficult subject. Let me give fair warning: this novel contains some scenes of extreme violence, and some of extreme sex, but none of these are gratuitous. This is writing that pulls no punches.
Bob Young’s short stories have been published in the literary journals Other Voices, Postscripts to Darkness, and Great Lakes Review. He has completed his first novel, a mystery that partially involves the Grand River land dispute of 2006-07, and he’s currently submitting it to literary agents. Any takers? Visit his website: rbyoung.ca