Posts Tagged ‘Book Reviews’

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Hollywood Forever is the latest novel by the talented Christopher Herz. Following hot on the heels of Herz’s wonderful book Pharmacology, Hollywood Forever is an ambitious and exciting story of an out-of-work actor in LA, destined to become a 21st century superstar.

As writer Emily Snow explains: ‘Harold Hall’s popularity, bolstered by a nervous breakdown caught on camera at the Hollywood DMV, has suddenly risen sky-high. Now strangers are taking his picture and uploading his every move to Facebook and Twitter. For a struggling actor looking to leave a legacy, it’s a dream come true. But Harold’s love, Eliah, doesn’t even have a cell phone, let alone a hashtag. And when Harold is cast as a revolutionary leader in a groundbreaking new web show, he lands the role that was built to make him a legend…but not without a cost.’

Considering we are deep into the ‘social media age’ by now, there aren’t many authors (or TV and film writers) who successfully integrate contemporary gadgets and platforms into their work. But Herz does this beautifully, showing how film and fame are being transformed into ‘content’, ‘uploads’, ‘likes’ and ‘retweets’. In many ways Howard Hall is an old-fashioned (anti) hero, cursed with traditional novelistic ‘character flaws’ such as ambition, greed and vanity. At times he reminds me of another All-American tragic dreamer, Willy Loman of Death of A Salesman. But unlike Loman, Hall is utterly up to date, adaptable to a changing world and willing to use the very latest technology to get himself on screen, whether that screen be big or small or an iphone.

Howard Hall is also very of his time in that he knows how our 21st century ‘selfie’ culture requires some hard, metrosexual work in preparation for all those big moments in front of the camera. I particularly liked his description early in the book, of going to a typical LA gym:

’24 Hour Fitness in Los Angeles during the middle of the day is a full-throttle blast of energy drinks that give an extra push in the great race towards perfection. Makeup and surgery may be able to take care of you once you’re famous, but getting there – well, nobody has the money to properly cover anything up when you’re struggling, so you’d best get it going at the gym.

Most people watch those futuristic movies where everyone is drinking strange food out of shiny packages, but I’ll tell you that if you’re into dystopian thrillers, move on down to Hollywood and stay in the gym, because everything going on here suggests we are being mutated from the inside out.’

It’s difficult to go further into the story without giving crucial plot details away. Hollywood Forever is fanciful and out-there in many ways, but also crushingly realistic in its study of human hope, disappointment and mournful compromise. It is a great book, and another reminder that Christopher Herz is a brave, imaginative and insightful writer.

You can buy Hollywood Forever in various formats at

This is another version of my review of  Mark McCormack s new book on Declining Homophobia.

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The Declining Significance of Homophobia, by Mark McCormack, is, according to its author, a ‘good news story’. The good news being that homophobia amongst young people is on the wane. His research with mainly young men students in three English sixth forms reaches very different conclusions to that of the more sobering surveys by LGBT organisations such as Stonewall.

The argument McCormack makes is clear:  in line with Eric Anderson (2009)’s theories of ‘softening’ masculinities, McCormack tells us that the young people he studied do not marginalize and discriminate against each other on the basis of sexual orientation, or even perceived orientation. This is because homophobia has declined in our culture, since the ‘homohysteria’ that characterised the 1980s and 1990s. He also looks at language, and argues convincingly that in many contexts, young people’s use of the term ‘gay’ to mean ‘lame’ or ‘rubbish’ is not homophobic, but merely a sign of changing times, and linguistic shifts.

I agree with McCormack that attitudes are changing and expanding, to accommodate a more accepting approach, both towards homosexuality, and towards ‘feminine’ behaviours amongst men, (think David Beckham in a sarong, or Alex Reid in women’s lingerie). However I have a few problems with his reasoning, and with the identity politics he uses to explain and celebrate this change.

One weakness of the book is a lack of depth of understanding on the part of McCormack about the history of homophobia. He relies almost solely on the work of his ‘mentor’ Eric Anderson to explain how homophobic attitudes gripped the (western) world during the 1980s and 1990s, when AIDS was seen by many as a ‘gay plague’. And when the age of consent was higher for homosexual men than for heterosexuals. Other writers who are missing from McCormack’s book who have carefully examined the recent history of homophobia, include Mark Simpson (Anti- Gay 1996), David Halperin (How To Do The History of Homosexuality, 2004), Steven Zeeland (Barrack Buddies 1993) and Keith Boykin (Beyond The Down Low 2005).

Whilst the end of the 20th century was indeed a bleak time in many ways for sexual freedom, in others it was positive. ‘Gay culture’ went mainstream in the 80s and 90s, with bands such as The Smiths, Culture Club, The Pet Shop Boys and Erasure topping the charts. Fashion and advertising began to exploit the ‘pink pound’, with models such as Marky Mark showing off their ‘assets’ to gay consumers. And even the awful reality of AIDS itself led to increasing visibility of LGBT people. When Princess Diana was filmed shaking hands and chatting to people who had the AIDS virus in 1989, for example, her status as a ‘gay icon’ was confirmed. And her high profile role changed some hearts and minds about homosexuality.

I think McCormack  is also wrong to focus as heavily as he does on ‘gay’ identities and ‘gay rights’ politics. One thing I remember most fondly about the 90s was the explosion of debate and activism around the concept of queer. Both in academic circles, with the ground-breaking work of writers such as Butler , Simpson and Paglia, and in everyday life, the politics of ‘gay’ expanded and diversified into the politics of ‘queer’, enabling many people who were marginalised on the grounds of gender and sexuality, to be included in the conversation. But McCormack is very dismissive of this ‘queer turn’, and in particular of writers such as Judith Butler who he describes as ‘elitist’ and ‘obscure’. He  reverts to the use of ‘gay’ identity politics and ‘gay’ terminology to describe and represent all LGBT people. One problem with this is that, as Simpson and colleagues wrote in their controversial book Anti-Gay (1996), the ‘gay’ identity itself has contributed to the erasure of other marginalised sexual identities such as bisexuality.

I have one final criticism of McCormack’s book, which extends to a general criticism of masculinities theory overall – it relates to what could be seen as an unmentioned, unacceptable great big pink ‘elephant in the room’. The elephant’s name? Metrosexuality. I think McCormack’s  thesis and research would be improved immensely by giving serious consideration to this ‘21st century’ phenomenon, of men expressing their ‘desire to be desired’ via consumer and media culture. According to Mark Simpson, originator and key theorist of the concept of metrosexuality,

‘Con­trary to what you have been told, met­ro­sex­u­al­ity is not about flip-flops and facials, man-bags or man­scara. Or about men becom­ing ‘girlie’ or ‘gay’.  It’s about men becom­ing every­thing. To themselves. In much the way that women have been for some time. It’s the end of the sex­ual divi­sion of bath­room and bed­room labour.  It’s the end of sex­u­al­ity as we’ve known it.’ (Simpson 2011)

It does not make sense to me, that a world in which the oppressive and repressive phenomenon of homophobia is declining and even disappearing, would also be a world in which sexual identity categories such as ‘gay’ remain unchanged. The ‘end of sexuality as we’ve known it’ is a difficult concept to grasp, especially for those of us who have been discriminated against because of our sexuality, and who consider it a key aspect of our identities. But I think it is on the horizon. For, to quote one of my favourite homos ever, Christopher Isherwood, ‘we’re all queer in the end’.

The Declining Significance Of Homophobia by Mark McCormack (2012)

 

 

The 52 Seductions manages to take a clever, but simple idea, and turn it into a compelling, moving – and very funny – story. Betty Herbert came up with the premise of the book, when her marriage, though happy in the main, was stagnating sexually. She decided to convince her husband that all they needed was to carry out a different ‘seduction’ every week for a year, taking it in turns to come up with the erotic inspiration.

If this sounds a bit Ann Summers to you, well in a way it is. But Betty’s dry, slightly cynical approach to the ‘spice up your marriage’ industry means that she is able to laugh at herself, and her attempts to, er, spice up her marriage. So after a night of passion on a bed strewn with rose petals, she does not fail to mention that her cleaner leaves a strategically placed petal on her bedroom windowsill the next day. And when, plagued by pain and inexplicable vaginal bleeding, her favourite position ‘the reverse cowgirl’ leads to a Carrie-type scene of carnage, the reader is encouraged to laugh, as well as sympathise.

The 52 Seductions works because it crosses genres, moods and styles. It could be read at face value, as a set of sex tips for struggling couples. It is also an honest account of a relationship that began when the two lovers were very young, and has continued despite – or because of – the obstacles. And, it is a set of reflections about being a woman, ageing, marriage, work, feminism and sex. And, if you like your porn realistic and scattered with humour (and rose petals) it is actually quite horny in places.

The ‘feminism’ that informs the book was the only part I didn’t love. I am happy to read books by and about feminist women, but I felt at times that Betty was assuming all women, like her, are feminist. And occasionally she would make generalisations about ‘women’ and ‘men’ in relation to sexual appetites, and emotions, that did not ring true with me. There was a bit in the book that I found very familiar, where the couple were having a meal in a pub on holiday, and all their sadness and communication difficulties came to the fore. But I related far more to how she described her husband in that situation. In my relationship my partner was the ‘emotional’ ‘talkative’ one and I was prone to silences and sulks.

Overall The 52 Seductions is brilliant, brave, ingenious and at times hilarious. I had trouble putting it down, and am bound to read it again. My favourite bits are the seductions themselves. This is an extract from ‘Call Centres’ where the intrepid duo try phone sex – using a professional phone sex line.

‘ ‘Hello? Oh, hello, Erica. . . My name’s Herbert . . . I’m thirty-eight . . . You’re thirty? What colour hair do you have?’

 What? I think, Why is that relevant? She’ll be blonde, I guarantee it.

‘Erica,’ he says, ‘I’ve got a naughty confession to make.’ I glance up at him, hoping he will catch my eye and smirk, but it appears that he’s saying this with no irony whatsoever. ‘My wife is with me. She’s sucking my cock.’

 Oh yuck, I think. I suppose I couldn’t expect him not to tell her, but now I am wondering what on earth Erica thinks of me. It brings to mind the wife of the vile man in There’s Something About Mary, who merrily fellates her husband while he watches the football.’

If you want to know how that scene climaxes, you will have to read the book. I promise it won’t let you down.

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You can buy The 52 Seductions at Amazon

Check out Betty’s Blog for more seductive words!