Book Review: Taking Turns

twitterlogoBRReview by Julia Brown

As a reader who enjoys both narrative medicine and graphic memoirs, I could not put down Taking Turns: Stories from HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371 (Penn State University Press, 2017). MK Czerwiec takes her readers for an emotional journey through the height of the 1994 Chicago AIDS epidemic. Czerwiec, a nurse, artist, author and co-curator of GraphicMedicine.org, writes a raw and honest story on the hardships of care (both for the caretakers and patients) that brought me to the brink of tears several times, but never left me feeling hopeless. Information about the AIDS virus and the history of the epidemic, is intertwined with a narrative of personal growth and coping, allowing Taking Turns to both educate and enrapture its readers.

32509945Using her personal experiences in Unit 371, Czerwiec sets out to humanize those with the stigmatized HIV/AIDS virus and to demonstrate the ways in which the act of creating art can be a device for coping with the unmanageable aspects of working or living with an incurable disease. In Unit 371, Czerwiec describes the art room, where patients were able to partake in art therapy:“The art room can offer all of us an alternative emotional vocabulary” (51). Each page of this graphic memoir succeeds in being part of this art therapy practice, providing an alternative emotional vocabulary to the traditional textual narrative. Most panels contain a mixture of words and images that build upon each other’s meaning; some panels only contain a powerful image where words are unnecessary, and others only contain artfully crafted words that paint their own picture. Continue reading “Book Review: Taking Turns”

Book Review: When We Rise

twitterlogoBRThe story will be a familiar one to many readers. In rural Arizona, a white high school student is flipping through a popular magazine one afternoon while hiding from gym class in the school library and comes across an article about LGBT organizing.  The son of leftist academics he’s spent his childhood marching picket lines and passing out leaflets, but until reading the magazine article this seventeen-year-old had never been given language to speak of his desires. The year was 1971, the article “Homosexuals in Revolt!” and the teenager Cleve Jones. And in his memoir, When We Rise: My Life in the Movement (Hatchette, 2016), Jones tells a story that is historically specific yet also gestures toward an experience that many queer youth across generations have lived through: that of growing into adulthood without the language to describe your sexual desires, of somehow stumbling into queer community, of finding both individual love and a broader sense of solidarity within a self-conscious political movement.  When We Rise is a passionately written and thoughtful addition to the growing body of memoirs from those who came of age during the Gay Liberation years.

27917674While it touches on the plague years — we’ll get to the 1980s below — Jones makes a conscious decision not to focus on the trauma of the AIDS epidemic when a diagnosis came with a life expectancy of six months. While he began the project thinking to focus equally on the two halves of the story — before June 1981 and all that came after — in the end he discovered that “the stories [he] most wanted to tell were of the years before the plague, when we were still young and unaware of the horror” that AIDS would bring (291). As a result, readers are treated to a lovingly-rendered, finely-detailed portrait of Jones’ twentysomething decade of couch-surfing activist life in a unique moment in U.S. history where (white, middle-class) kids could drop out of college without the burden of student loan debt, the cost of housing in major metropolitan areas was relatively cheap, and a young white man could hitchhike through the United States and Europe with relatively low fear (or perhaps simply overweening hubris) of threats to their physical safety.  Continue reading “Book Review: When We Rise”

Book Review: Gay in the 80s

twitterlogoBRReview by Katelyn Smith

In order to fully appreciate Colin Clews’ book Gay in the 80s: From Fighting for Our Rights to Fighting for Our Lives (2016), it seems necessary to supplement the text with his extensive blog of the same name. Clews began his blog in March 2012 and has continued through 2017, writing short summaries of important events in gay history during the 1980s. He claims the 80s are a particularly important decade to educate others about because there was a “major shift towards the emergence of a global gay culture.” Clews further reveals on his blog a major motivation behind his writing: “Maybe it’s a sign of my advancing years but I’m increasingly coming to appreciate the value of knowing our history.” Although written for a general audience, Clews’ book is aimed toward those a part of the LGBT community. Rather than writing his blog chronologically, he instead chooses various topics from the decade, often writing about events on the anniversary of important milestones for gay rights. Gay in the 80s is a culmination and addition to Clews’ blog, which is currently featured on the website. A PDF version is available for purchase on Clews’ website, with a hard copy currently available only in the U.K.  

34208949Clews’ book is broken into five chapters of varying length: Increased Visibility, The Growth of Queer Communities, Mainstream Politics, Under Attack, and HIV/AIDS. Clews claims there is “no scientific rationale” for these groupings and they are entirely based on his opinion, which is both a strength and weakness to the work. The 1980s was a time of personal transformation for Clews, who describes this as a “pivotal decade” for both himself and gay activists. Beginning the decade as a “necessarily closeted” residential childcare worker in Leicester, England, he ended the decade as an active advocate for gay rights, arguing for HIV/AIDS care in Sydney, Australia. Clews uses personal testimony to supplement the wider history of changing attitude toward homosexuality, seen in the media, governments, and activist efforts. Continue reading “Book Review: Gay in the 80s”

Book Review: Hot Milk

twitterlogoBRReview by Sarah E. Parker.

I have more of an ear for the language of symptoms and side effects, because that is my mother’s language. Perhaps it is my mother tongue. (135)

Neither a god nor my father is the major plot in my own life. I am anti the major plots. (143).

Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk (Bloomsbury, 2016), shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize, is a deliciously sensual novel that reads more like a sustained poem than a typical narrative. The protagonist is Sofia Papastergiadis, a 25-year-old woman who has abandoned her PhD in anthropology to take care of her ailing mother, Rose.

[Editor’s note: the following paragraph contains spoilers for plot elements. Some readers may wish to skip to the third paragraph and read to the end.] Continue reading “Book Review: Hot Milk”