Foreword Reviews

Book of the Day Roundup: June 14-18, 2021

The Pepperstorm

Tormenta de Pimienta

Book Cover
Rafael Ordoñez
Marisa Morea, illustrator
nubeOCHO
Hardcover $15.95 (44pp)
978-841767380-2
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Crayon-like illustrations and a cool palette with spots of yellow and pink portray this mischievous take on why elephants are afraid of mice, available in English and Spanish editions. The mice have grown tired of the elephants never looking down. They come up with a creative solution: to make the elephants sneeze. With the help of some bats and spicy peppers, the mice ensure the elephants will watch where they step from now on.

DANIELLE BALLANTYNE (June 13, 2021)

Before Stonewall

Book Cover
Edward M. Cohen
Awst Press
Softcover $24.00 (230pp)
978-1-73676-590-6
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

The short stories of Edward M. Cohen’s collection gather electric, humane scenes from New York City’s mid century gay community.

An aspiring playwright basks in the warmth of near success; it’s a moment he’ll always remember, even after its promise evades him. A young actor accepts a night job grifting for a furrier, watching as his boss pantomimes the sexual expressions he avoids. A morning quarrel over insecurities devolves into thrown fists, while snippets from McCarthy’s hunts play in the background.

In these and other tales, and from childhood into old age, gay men are forced to conceal their truths. They publicly act in the ways that others demand; in private, they struggle to shake those shells. Men who have, for their whole lives, skirted open conversations with their families watch as their parents fade and pass; they deal with guilt over halted gestures, and conceal their pain at having not been seen or accepted. Some men choose art over professional artifice, but are still pushed toward confining, stultifying social roles. Time passes; changes come, but true freedom lies out of reach. Some men flail. Some fade. Some wear their costumes well.

While many of its characters face similar circumstances, this is a subtle and diverse collection. It’s set in the neighborhoods and subcultures of New York City, where young artists have to hustle, where appearances must be kept up, and where the police and other officials, across the decades, lie in wait to expose, and punish, men for their deviations from reigning norms.

Cohen’s images are acute, and his insights on people’s behaviors—their cruelties, their yearning, their play acting—are sharp. Before Stonewall is a precise, evocative short story collection that centers the lives of queer men who were otherwise relegated to the shadows.

MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER (April 27, 2021)

Blue

In Search of Nature’s Rarest Color

Book Cover
Kai Kupferschmidt
The Experiment
Hardcover $24.95 (224pp)
978-1-61519-752-1
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Human beings have been obsessed with the color blue for thousands of years, and in Blue, science journalist Kai Kupferschmidt travels the globe to discover why it has always been so special.

Strange as it may seem, science is only beginning to understand blue. The rarest color in nature, its perception is an intricate collaboration between a human being and what is being looked at. Kupferschmidt draws attention to just how special that collaboration is, in the hopes that people will learn to look at the natural world with fresh eyes, appreciating “the beauty, fragility, and sheer improbability of our blue planet and the responsibility we bear toward it.”

Central to the book is chemist Mas Subramanian’s 2009 accidental discovery of the first new blue pigment in two hundred years. Dubbed “YinMin” for its components (yttrium oxide, indium oxide, and manganese oxide (YInMn)), its stunning, pure color thrilled artists, entrepreneurs, and industry people alike.

But this text is not all about happy coincidences. From the earliest cave paintings to the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs to Japanese scientists’ current obsession with creating a blue rose, the book tracks the good, the bad, and the ugly about blue. The same pigment component that allowed Van Gogh to create his star-filled sky is also a cruel poison, hydrogen cyanide, he says. And there are many other surprises along the way: that ancient sculptures and buildings thought to have always been white were once colorful; that birds can see ultraviolet light; and that sea mammals, like whales, cannot see blue light, though they are surrounded by it.

Kupferschmidt’s global quest follows his lifelong obsession with blue, taking him to the core of what it means to be human.

KRISTINE MORRIS (April 27, 2021)

Watkins Glen

Book Cover
Eleanor Lerman
Mayapple Press
Hardcover $22.95 (220pp)
978-1-952781-01-8
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

In Eleanor Lerman’s resonant novel Watkins Glen, an estranged brother and sister reunite to deal with illness, aging, and memories.

Susan and her older brother, Mark, led very different lives. Still a free spirit in her sixties, Susan often thinks of herself as rootless. When she receives a call about Mark’s unusual behavior, she drives to his Brooklyn apartment. Mark, a retired teacher, is now obsessed with painting strange portraits and landscapes. He has Alzheimer’s disease, and his compulsion is attributable to Acquired Savant Syndrome.

Susan lives upstate, near Watkins Glen, a rural tourist town that hosts auto racing events. It’s a town that’s peopled with quirky characters, including Grateful Dead-loving Marlee, who owns a gift shop, and Ted, the “one-man taxi,” who shuttles around in his dilapidated Honda. Susan and Mark spent their childhood vacations there while their father, Dave, took part in the local drag racing subculture. Liberated from the family upholstery business, Dave drove with “animal energy” to escape his urban existence.

The novel’s beautiful arcs of prose include Susan’s recollection of her father’s racing adventures, as of his car rushing into a night that “sparkled with stars and fireflies and cigarette embers.” Susan and Mark’s idyllic summers are also contrasted with their present life, as the region’s fierce winter brings frozen lakes, snow, and “icicle teeth.” Once Susan becomes Mark’s caretaker, she struggles with the responsibility at times, trying to manage her own life as well as Mark’s erratic behavior. However, as “one old runaway daughter and an even older math teacher with a terrible affliction,” they confront an uncertain future with humor, leaning on their unique bond.

With its surety of setting and reflective candor, Watkins Glen is a distinct, intricate novel that avoids sentimentality in favor of a compassionate tone.

MEG NOLA (April 27, 2021)

My Father When Young

Book Cover
Michael Tisserand
Jerry Tisserand, photographer
The Sager Group
Hardcover $25.00 (139pp)
978-1-950154-43-2
Buy: Amazon

Michael Tisserand began a pandemic project: he started going through the boxes he saved after his father, Jerry Tisserand, died in 2008. That’s where he first discovered his father’s penchant for photography. He presents a selection of the elder Tisserand’s photographs in My Father When Young.

All of the images included in this collection date from the 1950s. They are presented in full color, and are divided into three sections, covering Jerry’s weekend leave in Europe while he was in the US Army; shots from his return to Evansville, Indiana; and pictures from New Orleans during Mardi Gras in 1959.

While he was not a professional photographer, Jerry Tisserand had a good sense of composition, took enough shots for his photographs to tell clear stories, and was present for interesting historical moments. His photographs from his European leave include Parisian shots of Yugoslavian President Josip Broz Tito’s visit there in 1956. One photograph shows the motorcade in motion; others focus in on the crowd waiting for Tito. And the Mardi Gras photographs were taken during the second official year of the gay Carnival krewe, and feature memorable, elaborate costumes.

Jerry Tisserand’s Evansville photographs are more family focused, featuring scenes like a New Year’s Eve party and the photographer’s sister’s wedding. They help to make My Father When Young a pleasant collection of 1950s imagery that pays tribute to a father’s hidden talent.

JEFF FLEISCHER (June 14, 2021)

Barbara Hodge

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