A thoughtful appreciation of a central figure in the story of American food culture.



The author of the groundbreaking article, “America, Your Food Is So Gay,” turns a sharp but sympathetic eye on the carefully closeted food writer who celebrated the glories of homegrown ingredients and down-home cooking decades before they were fashionable.

Born in Portland, Oregon, James Beard (1903-1985) told friends later in life that he’d known he was gay since he was 7. During his freshman year at Reed College, he was quietly expelled after being “caught in an act of oral indecency with a professor.” He spent a desultory decade or so trying to make it as an actor and finally hit his stride in New York, where he started a cocktail catering business with an acquaintance made through his prodigious socializing. In 1940, his first book, Hors D’Oeuvre and Canapés, With a Key to the Cocktail Party, began a lifelong tradition of not acknowledging collaborators or the sources of recipes that were sometimes lifted from others and, later in his career, reprinted from his earlier books. What sold even the most mediocre of his books was his larger-than-life personality: “playful and unabashedly queer,” Birdsall notes, but only to those in the know. For average Americans, Beard was simply someone who demystified cooking and invited them to enjoy food as he did. The author’s well-written and knowledgeable text doesn’t scant Beard’s cooking and eating—indeed, luscious descriptions of memorable meals make this an appetite-arousing read—but its major secondary theme is the nature of gay life in midcentury America, where discretion was essential and discovery meant professional ruin and very likely jail. Birdsall’s analysis of Beard’s ambivalent reaction to the Stonewall Inn riot of 1969 is one of the book’s many intelligent passages decoding a worldview built on shame and secrecy, one that made Beard frequently unhappy and lonely despite his fame and success.

A thoughtful appreciation of a central figure in the story of American food culture.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-393-63571-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 13

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller


A former New York City dancer reflects on her zesty heyday in the 1970s.

Discovered on a Manhattan street in 2020 and introduced on Stanton’s Humans of New York Instagram page, Johnson, then 76, shares her dynamic history as a “fiercely independent” Black burlesque dancer who used the stage name Tanqueray and became a celebrated fixture in midtown adult theaters. “I was the only black girl making white girl money,” she boasts, telling a vibrant story about sex and struggle in a bygone era. Frank and unapologetic, Johnson vividly captures aspects of her former life as a stage seductress shimmying to blues tracks during 18-minute sets or sewing lingerie for plus-sized dancers. Though her work was far from the Broadway shows she dreamed about, it eventually became all about the nightly hustle to simply survive. Her anecdotes are humorous, heartfelt, and supremely captivating, recounted with the passion of a true survivor and the acerbic wit of a weathered, street-wise New Yorker. She shares stories of growing up in an abusive household in Albany in the 1940s, a teenage pregnancy, and prison time for robbery as nonchalantly as she recalls selling rhinestone G-strings to prostitutes to make them sparkle in the headlights of passing cars. Complemented by an array of revealing personal photographs, the narrative alternates between heartfelt nostalgia about the seedier side of Manhattan’s go-go scene and funny quips about her unconventional stage performances. Encounters with a variety of hardworking dancers, drag queens, and pimps, plus an account of the complexities of a first love with a drug-addled hustler, fill out the memoir with personality and candor. With a narrative assist from Stanton, the result is a consistently titillating and often moving story of human struggle as well as an insider glimpse into the days when Times Square was considered the Big Apple’s gloriously unpolished underbelly. The book also includes Yee’s lush watercolor illustrations.

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

Pub Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-27827-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2022

Did you like this book?

A juicy story with some truly crazy moments, yet Anderson's good heart shines through.


The iconic model tells the story of her eventful life.

According to the acknowledgments, this memoir started as "a fifty-page poem and then grew into hundreds of pages of…more poetry." Readers will be glad that Anderson eventually turned to writing prose, since the well-told anecdotes and memorable character sketches are what make it a page-turner. The poetry (more accurately described as italicized notes-to-self with line breaks) remains strewn liberally through the pages, often summarizing the takeaway or the emotional impact of the events described: "I was / and still am / an exceptionally / easy target. / And, / I'm proud of that." This way of expressing herself is part of who she is, formed partly by her passion for Anaïs Nin and other writers; she is a serious maven of literature and the arts. The narrative gets off to a good start with Anderson’s nostalgic memories of her childhood in coastal Vancouver, raised by very young, very wild, and not very competent parents. Here and throughout the book, the author displays a remarkable lack of anger. She has faced abuse and mistreatment of many kinds over the decades, but she touches on the most appalling passages lightly—though not so lightly you don't feel the torment of the media attention on the events leading up to her divorce from Tommy Lee. Her trip to the pages of Playboy, which involved an escape from a violent fiance and sneaking across the border, is one of many jaw-dropping stories. In one interesting passage, Julian Assange's mother counsels Anderson to desexualize her image in order to be taken more seriously as an activist. She decided that “it was too late to turn back now”—that sexy is an inalienable part of who she is. Throughout her account of this kooky, messed-up, enviable, and often thrilling life, her humility (her sons "are true miracles, considering the gene pool") never fails her.

A juicy story with some truly crazy moments, yet Anderson's good heart shines through.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2023

ISBN: 9780063226562

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2023

Did you like this book?