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Sunday, June 25, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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PAPERBACKS

There's lots to celebrate with gay, lesbian themes

Seattle Times book critic

June is Gay & Lesbian Pride Month - and in Seattle we have plenty of award-winning gay and lesbian authors to celebrate. Not only that: Most of their books are out in paperback.

Matthew Stadler's "Allan Stein" (Grove, $12) recently won both a Lambda Literary Award for Gay Men's Fiction and the Richard and Hilda Rosenthal Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Port Townsend's Copper Canyon Press picked up a Lambda Literary Award in Lesbian Poetry for Olga Broumas' "Rave" ($16). Dan Savage won a PEN Center West award for best creative nonfiction with "The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided To Go Get Pregnant" (Plume, $12.95).

Seattle authors Barbara Wilson and Jason Cromwell were Lambda nominees: Wilson for her "Salt Water and Other Stories" (Alyson, $12.95), Cromwell for his "`Transmen and FTMs: Identities, Bodies, Genders, and Sexualities (University of Illinois Press, $19.95). Seattle's Seal Press was nominated in Lambda's Science Fiction / Fantasy category, for Victoria A. Brownworth and Judith Redding's anthology, "Night Shade: Gothic Tales by Women." ($14.95).

That's the local angle. Below is a selection of paperbacks that should appeal to gay and lesbian readers, and everyone else who likes a good book:

Paperback pick of the month

"The Temple of Iconoclasts," by J. Rodolfo Wilcock, translated from the Italian by Lawrence Venuti (Mercury House, $14.95). If you're a fan of Jorge Luis Borges or Italo Calvino, San Francisco's adventurous Mercury House has a treat in store for you: the first English translation, done with fine flourish, of a 1972 title by literary eccentric J. Rodolfo Wilcock. What we have here is a surreal compendium of crackpot theorists and experimenters, most of them the author's own inventions, with a few taken from the historical record just to keep readers on their toes.

Raised in Buenos Aires by an English father and Italian mother, and resident in Italy from 1957 until his death in 1978, Wilcock associated with Borges during his Argentine years and Alberto Moravia and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini during his Italian exile. He also served as a BBC commentator and translated prolifically from English into Italian. Although he later disowned the homoerotic poetry of his Buenos Aires youth, he does deliver one hilarious outburst of gay desire in "Temple," in an all-male rewrite of "Tristan and Isolde."

Mostly, however, Wilcock takes his cue from a book he translated: John Aubrey's "Brief Lives." Striking a tone of sober absurdity, he profiles such characters as the French author of a "dictionary-novel" that weds "the utilitarian to the adventurous," a German geologist who extols the virtues of living on active volcanoes and an Armenian exile whose soul inhabits many bodies simultaneously but who avoids meeting his fellow incarnations because "he wouldn't know what to say to himself."

Occasionally one wonders if "Temple" is a hoax. Its mentions of "on-line surveillance," a "chunnel that currently joins England and France," and a "Koresh" (p.136) cult are, if written in 1972, a little uncanny. But who cares? The book is so extravagantly preposterous that, hoax or not, it serves as classic testimony to the outlandish fertility of the human imagination. Wilcock himself reportedly met a hoaxlike end, suffering a fatal coronary while reading a book on heart ailments.

Fiction

"Tipping the Velvet," by Sarah Waters (Riverhead, $13.95). The British novelist puts a lesbian twist on the picaresque novel in this delightful fiction debut about an "oyster girl" trying her luck on Victorian London's music-hall circuit. Winner of Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction.

"In September, the Light Changes," by Andrew Holleran (Plume, $12.95). Short stories about gay life, from the 1970s to the present, by author of "Dancer from the Dance." Times reviewer Judy Doenges praised Holleran's "ability to capture character in only a few silky sentences."

"The Spell," by Alan Holling hurst (Penguin, $12.95). A wayward comedy of sexual manners by the author of "The Swimming-Pool Library," with action divided between London's rave scene and a country cottage where a cozy circle of friends tries to strike a balance between emotional coherence and errant desire. Intricately wrought, beautifully written, tartly funny.

"Loose Lips," by Rita Mae Brown (Bantam, $13.95). Brown ("Rubyfruit Jungle") brings back the Hunsenmeir sisters, introduced in "Six of One" and "Bingo," in a small-town Maryland tale. Judy Doenges admired Brown's "comic timing and her affection for eccentrics," but felt the book needed a stronger story.

"The World and Other Places," by Jeanette Winterson (Vintage, $12). Seventeen stories by author of "Written on the Body." Judy Doenges found these "flawless in their composition, witty and learned," but "too emotionally distant to engage many readers."

"Abide with Me," by E. Lynn Harris (Anchor, $13). The African-American writer ("Just as I Am") concludes his "Invisible Life" trilogy with a tale set in New York and Seattle, depicting a range of gay and straight characters.

Nonfiction

"To Believe in Women: What Lesbians Have Done for America - A History," by Lillian Faderman (Mariner, $15). Lesbian historian ("Surpassing the Love of Men") on Susan B. Anthony, Jane Addams and other educators / activists who altered the shape of American society. Winner of Lambda Literary Award in Lesbian Studies.

"Eleanor Roosevelt: The Defining Years, 1933-1938," by Blanche Wiesen Cook (Penguin, $17.95). Second volume in lesbian historian's projected three-volume biography of America's most famous First Lady, uncovering details about her relationship with journalist Lorena Hickok. Times reviewer Kimberly B. Marlowe wrote of the book, "Even a well-read Roosevelt scholar can learn from it."

"The Velveteen Father," by Jesse Green (Ballantine, $14). The other "gay dad" memoir of the last year: humorous, informative, eloquent. Lambda Literary Award winner for best Gay Men's Biography / Autobiography.

"Lea's Book of Rules for the World," by Lea DeLaria with Maggie Casssella (Dell, $12.95) and "Love, Ellen: A Mother / Daughter Journey," by Betty DeGeneres (Quill, $14). In our lesbian celebrity category: stage-and-screen actress DeLaria ("Edge of Seventeen") offers some tongue-in-cheek advice and Ellen DeGeneres' mother ponders her relationship with her movie / TV star daughter.

"Early Auden" and "Later Auden," by Edward Mendelson (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $16 and $17 respectively), "The Broken Tower: The Life of Hart Crane," by Paul Mariani (Norton, $15.95), "Lorca: A Dream of Life," by Leslie Stainton (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $17), "Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame," by Benita Eisler (Vintage, $18) and "Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man," by Howard Pollack (University of Illinois Press, $24.95). A deluge of biographies, chronicling the lives of three gay poets (W.H. Auden, Hart Crane, Federico Garcia Lorca), one bisexual (Byron) and one gay composer (Aaron Copland).

"The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World," by Thomas Disch (Touchstone, $13). The gay science-fiction writer ponders the evolution of his genre.

"Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History," by Maureen Orth (Dell, $7.50). True crime in a gay milieu.

Audiobooks

"Tales of the City," by Armistead Maupin (HarperAudio, $44.95). Gay novelist reads his chronicle of 1970s San Francisco: 12 cassettes, 18 hours, six books (author-approved abridgment).

Also new in paperback:

Fiction

"Juneteenth," by Ralph Ellison (Vintage, $14). From the author of the African-American classic, "Invisible Man": a long-awaited posthumous second novel (winnowed down from 2,000-page manuscript by Portland humanities professor John F. Callahan) about the entwined destinies of a black preacher and a lighter-skinned orphan who transforms himself into a "white" racist senator. Judy Doenges found Ellison's prose "as intricate and cadenced as jazz riffs," but said the story felt "incomplete."

"Hannibal," by Thomas Harris (Dell, $7.99). "Silence of the Lambs" sequel, described by Times classical music critic Melinda Bargreen as "one of the creepiest, most intriguingly gruesome novels of our time."

"Buxton Spice," by Oonya Kempadoo (Plume, $11.95). Raunchy-lyrical first novel about coming of age amid the ethnic and political tensions of 1970s Guyana. Evocative, if overly vague in its focus.

"The Messenger," by Mayra Montero, translated by Edith Grossman (Perennial, $13). Novel set in 1920s Cuba, about famed tenor Enrico Caruso and the young mulatto / Chinese widow he falls for after disappearing from Havana's Teatro Nacional following bomb explosion there. Times reviewer Deloris Tarzan Ament enthused, "Each chapter is a spoken aria of insight and revelation."

"The Freshour Cylinders," by Speer Morgan (MacMurray & Beck, $13). Depression-era tale set on Arkansas-Oklahoma border, about murder of an art collector specializing in Native American art. Times reviewer Irene Wanner called this a "complex new thriller," with setting and characters "richly portrayed."

"A Certain Age," by Tama Janowitz (Anchor, $13). Novel about shallow but lively 32-year-old gold-digger, by author of "Slaves of New York." Times reviewer Mark Lindquist found this "an impressive artistic success."

"More Bread or I'll Appear," by Emer Martin (Anchor, $12). Irish novel about young woman's search for her globe-hopping sister who's been gone from Dublin for 15 years. Times reviewer Richard Wallace praised Martin's ability to "create complex, screwed-up characters in half a paragraph."

"Who's Irish?" by Gish Jen (Vintage, $12). Short stories by author of "Typical American." Irene Wanner called this a "wonderful collection," with the best entries showcasing Jen's "keen eye for detail as well as skilled crafting of plot and character."

Nonfiction

"A Clearing in the Distance: Frederick Law Olmstead and America in the 19th Century," by Witold Rybczynski (Touchstone, $15). Biography of man who invented American urban-park design. Former Times art critic Robin Updike, in a profile of Rybczynski, said his book "skillfully weaves together history, popular culture and dollops of easily digestible scholarly material."

"I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America after Twenty Years Away," by Bill Bryson (Broadway, $14). Former expatriate on all-American culture shock he suffered after 20 years in Britain. Irene Wanner enjoyed Bryson's "eye-opening, often goofy observations on repatriate life" and his "marvelous sense of humor."

"Climbing High: A Woman's Account of Surviving the Everest Tragedy," by Lene Gammelgaard (Perennial, $13). Another angle on the lethal 1996 Everest climb that killed Seattle mountaineer Scott Fischer and others. Times reviewer S.A. Stolnack observed that Gammelgaard, a friend of Fischer, "does add a personal, humanizing element to the mass of details surrounding one of the most talked-about disasters of the late 20th century."

"Indivisible by Four: A String Quartet in Pursuit of Harmony," by Arnold Steinhardt (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, $14). The first violinist of the Guarneri String Quartet delivers a witty page-turner with his account of a career that's rich in backstage anecdotes about the classical-music world. Even if you have only a passing interest in string quartets, this may prove irresistible.

"A Border Passage: From Cairo to America - A Woman's Journey," by Leila Ahmed (Penguin, $13.95). Memoir about growing up in 1940s / 1950s Cairo that examines issues of language, race, nationality and feminism. Ahmed is a professor at Harvard Divinity School.

Michael Upchurch's paperbacks column appears the last Sunday of each month in the Seattle Times.

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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