Engaging subject matter and sympathetic protagonists do not entirely compensate for Barton's ponderous prose, but the book...

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PRAY THE GAY AWAY

THE EXTRAORDINARY LIVES OF BIBLE BELT GAYS

Barton (Sociology and Women’s Studies/Morehead State Univ.; Stripped: Inside the Lives of Exotic Dancers, 2006) examines the experiences of gay people living in the Bible Belt.

The author’s tales of gay life in this area of the country, where anti-gay evangelical Protestantism holds sway, range from the harrowing to the mundane. This is not a book about random anti-gay violence; the majority of Barton's subjects were treated more brutally by their own families than by strangers. The author opens by stating that although she has “lived in Kentucky for 20 years, 17 of these in lesbian relationships,” she “had not personally experienced…much homophobia until a spring day in 2003” when, after she told someone that she was a lesbian, he characterized homosexuality as an “abomination.” It is unclear what conclusions readers are meant to draw from this episode, which sounds far less traumatic than much of what her subjects experienced at the hands of their own parents. One thing is clear: Being gay is difficult anywhere, and it's especially difficult in a place dominated by conservative Christian ideology. Barton's subjects' painful stories of rejection by their families and communities, as well as the earnest desire of most to reconcile their personal identities with the faith in which they were raised, are eloquent enough to arouse the sympathy of even avowed opponents of gay rights. The most compelling parts of the book are the lengthy quotes from Barton's intelligent subjects. The author's own voice is less commanding and too littered with academic jargon.

Engaging subject matter and sympathetic protagonists do not entirely compensate for Barton's ponderous prose, but the book is still worthwhile reading for anyone interested in what it means to be gay in an overtly hostile environment.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8147-8637-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: New York Univ.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 10, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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