Sunday, January 8, 2012

Two Book Reviews, or Starting the year out right...

I'm starting out the year on a bit of a reading binge, apparently. Since the beginning of the year I've finished two books. Already mentioned in an early post, I finished Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood 1910 - 1969 (2001, Viking; 422 pages), by William J. Mann, on Friday night.

It is an interesting book, well worth reading despite the fact that there are times when it takes a scorecard to distinguish the players. The problem is that Mann, in an admirable attempt to be comprehensive, tends to throw out names one after another, then refers to them sometimes by first name and sometimes by surname, which becomes confusing at times.

But, he is comprehensive and he isn't engaged in gossip-mongering, which is something I was afraid he might be when I first picked up the book. When he identifies someone active in the entertainment industry as gay, he provides evidence, and when there is no evidence that someone who has been presumed to be gay actually was, he says so. Additionally, he spends very little time on top stars who were either admittedly or rumored to be gay, and instead traces the history of movie-making through all aspects of the industry. He does write about actors, both male and female, but he also writes about directors, writers, producers, editors, art directors, agents, publicists, and all the other people it takes to put a movie on the screen. If Mann had been aiming at a sensationalistic account, he would have spent much more time on the Hollywood names everyone knows.

Along the way, Mann also addresses the ups and downs of the acceptance of open gays and lesbians in Hollywood, and the terms under which they were accepted, when they were. He also points out the essentially conservative nature of the top executives and some of the top stars in the industry, something that blocked the complete acceptance of homosexuals and homosexuality in the industry even when the society as a whole really didn't worry so much about what movie makers did in the privacy of their bedrooms.

The most difficult times for gays in Hollywood, according to Mann, were the years when the Hays Code, the production code that severely limited what themes movies could explore, how those themes could be explored, and what could be said and shown on-screen, and what could not even be hinted at, from about 1930 to 1941, and during the McCarthy era of the late 1940s and 1950s (essentially the first years of the Cold War), when life for gays in all segments of society was especially difficult.

I highly recommend Mann's book for anyone interested in film history or gay history.

After I finished reading Behind the Screen on Friday night, I wasn't ready to go to sleep just yet, so I picked up Faye Kellerman's Gun Games (2012, William Morrow; 375 pages). This is the latest entry in Kellerman's series of novels about LAPD detective Peter Decker and his wife Rina Lazarus. In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to admit that this is one of my favorite mystery/police procedural series, by one of my favorite writers in the genre.

In this novel, Decker and Lazarus have taken in a young piano prodigy whose father is a gangster (in the old-fashioned sense of the word) and whose physician mother has gone off to Africa to have a baby with another man. At the same time, Decker and his team are looking at the suicides of two high-school students who may or may not be linked and who may or may not have been helped along in their suicides.

I won't say more, as I don't want to provide any spoilers, but I will say that the book is a fast, good read. If I have any quibbles with it, it is that the teenage characters sometimes don't speak much like any of the teenagers I know, sometimes sounding much too adult. It is a minor quibble, however, overshadowed by a plot that moves right along. It certainly kept me turning pages late into the night.


As an update, I'm now reading The Codex, by Douglas Preston (2004, Tor; 404 pages). I'm only about 60 pages in, and I'm not sure yet that I like it much. I'm going to try to stick with it, however. I started but did not finish way too many books in 2011, and I'm going to try to be better about that in 2012.

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