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18 August 2014 @ 02:56 am
Mark Simpson's New/Old Book: a Steal at $3  
It's a Queer World: Deviant Adventures in Pop CultureIt's a Queer World: Deviant Adventures in Pop Culture by Mark Simpson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As an American woman, I sometimes feel as if I'm the only person on this side of the Atlantic who knows how brilliant Mark Simpson is--or who he is. In his own country, of course, he's recognized as "funny, clever, honest, irreverent" (Laurence Phelan, in the Independent, reviewing Simpson's Saint Morrissey). Even our own Good Gray Times (New York) celebrated Simpson's coinage of "sporno" (my absolute favorite Simpsonism) back in 2006 in its 6th annual "Year in Ideas."

Simpson doesn't just write consistently hilarious material (which in itself would be worth the price): he's also saying something. Something original, or true or interesting, or thought-provoking. Usually all of the above. And, to add the third layer of implausibility, he's writing about men and masculinity, about the concepts of "gay" and "straight" and everything in between. To say something meaningful and new and funny on these subjects, all at once, all the time--that requires an expert, and that's what Simpson is: a gay Brit. To put it another way, about another British superstar: Nobody does it better.

If you haven't read Mark Simpson before, It's a Queer World, a collection of columns he wrote back in 1994 and 95, mostly for Attitude magazine, is a great place to start. And if you have read other Simpson works, don't miss this. *Every* one of these pieces is worth the three dollars of the entire collection. Some of them are so brilliant that I want to quote the whole thing, but that would be stealing.

I'll restrain myself to one example, a stag night performance "lesbian" act between the two female performers ("no simulation"): "The men are so rapt that they forget to laugh and crack jokes. This is serious. They look like stray dogs at a butcher's shop window. If it weren't for the backing track, the only sound would be the swallowing of Adam's apples." ("Shag Night: Stag Parties")

Simpson is the real deal: a man's man. He knows men from the inside out (sorry) and he's not merely funny and insightful, he's sympathetic. There's no BS, no sentimentality, and there's a refreshing lack of faux feminism. Simpson knows we're not all on the same side, that gay men and women are not necessarily natural allies. In a dazzling essay on the "Ideal Home" exhibition ("Home Truths," a dissection of British class distinctions), Simpson jokes that the "traditional purpose of [the exhibition] is to remind men who's boss." He refers in passing to "that other sixties, female-dominated male, Bill Clinton." ("Boxed into a Corner: Daytime TV") And he ends the first essay ("The Cost of Loving: Soho Sex"), a screamingly funny description of London's "hetero sleaze" (peep shows, hard-core porn video stores, etc.) with a disarmingly honest encounter with a prostitute. After enduring one scam after another, Simpson has agreed to a "thirty quid" hour-long session with a real woman. "I'm so fed up with the rip-off voyeurism SEX that I want to try some of the hands-on stuff." Expecting the worst, he meets Julie: "She's gorgeous. She looks like the girl that might have made me straight. Suddenly I'm frightened. It's been a long time."

After Simpson decides to "chicken out," Julie looks "genuinely disappointed. But how can you tell?"

Believe me, Mark: if you appear in person anything the way you do in print (or on the screen reader), she was heartbroken.

And for the rest of us: you won't get a better deal than this for three bucks. You don't even have to turn straight.

View all my reviews
Gaedhal: GaelSmile (Gaedhal)gaedhal on August 18th, 2014 07:11 am (UTC)
I have "Male Impersonators" and "The Queen Is Dead"!

He should have gone for it with Julie. What could be more kinky?

ann_amalieann_amalie on August 18th, 2014 05:19 pm (UTC)
Oh, I agree: felt real bad for her!

The Queen is dead sounds like a good read--did you like?
Gaedhal: GaelSmile (Gaedhal)gaedhal on August 18th, 2014 07:35 pm (UTC)
It's interesting. Not as good as "Male Impersonators."