Autobiography – Penguin Books

I remember having a crush on Rupert Everett in my teenage years when I first saw him in the film Another Country. Little did I know then that Everett wasn’t just playing gay, but would one day publicly come out himself; he remains one of the few high-profile openly gay movie stars in the world today. I became aware that he had also embarked on a tentative literary career, penning a couple of novels, but I never bothered to read them thanks to pretty dreadful reviews. Now, Everett has combined his writing ambitions with his other apparently favourite past-time, exposing himself, in this autobiography. Actually, biography might be a slightly incorrect description because ultimately the book turns out to be more about the sights, sounds and smells of his travels through the elite of the world of celebrity than Everett himself. Admittedly, Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins is billed as an expose of the Hollywood set by an insider, but we do often lose out on knowing more about the man himself. For the most part, it is when describing the antics of Julia Roberts, Madonna, Sharon Stone and Donatella Versace that his prose really comes to life. He writes in the role of the sharp, witty, fey observer of extravagant behaviour with much skill and enjoyment and we, in turn, thrill at every tidbit. There’s nothing truly scandalous on offer here – one has the sense that there’s much that’s been left out; after all would you really want to piss off Madge? – but, thanks to Everett’s engaging accounts, we really do get a sense of what’s it’s like to be in the same room as Elizabeth Taylor for example. While Everett awkwardly spends some time reflecting on his early formative years in school, once he hits the big-time as an actor, he seems rather reticent to really open up about his feelings: He introduces us to Martin, a boyfriend of a number of years, but forgets to let us in to the breakup and how he felt about it. Interestingly, the most moving moment in the book is not the pain of romantic heartbreak or failures in his career, but the death of his dog Mo. We do squeeze out a sense that Everett the man is somewhat jaded, that he believes that his sexuality has limited his career, that acting is just a job and not a great passion and that he seems rather unsure about how he landed up becoming who he is in the first place. Red Carpets is an odd creation – part biography, part celebrity travelogue of sorts – but it ultimately turns out to be a worthwhile and entertaining account of quite an extraordinary journey into a world that few of us will ever experience.

I AM NOT MYSELF THESE DAYS – Josh Kilmer-Purcell

Autobiography – Random House

In contrast to Rupert Everett’s book, I Am Not Myself These Days is a much more personal account – this time from a club-culture survivor. It’s not about an entire life – there’s no recounting of childhood here – but rather a memoir about seven remarkable months in the life of Josh Kilmer-Purcell, vividly illustrating, as William Blake wrote, that “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom”. In the 90’s, Kilmer-Purcell lived life in New York as an advertising executive by day and a drag queen – by the name of Aquadisiac; “Aqua for short” – at night. (Aqua was known most famously for her transparent ‘breasts’ filled with water boasting a live goldfish in each.) Just two months into living in the city he met a man who appeared to have everything any gay boy would ‘platz’ for: intelligence, charm, money and stunning good looks. The only minor possible problem? He’s a high-class rent-boy. They nevertheless threw themselves into a tempestuous love affair that struggled to survive the madness of New York nightlife, visits from mother, crack-fueled-orgies in their up-town apartment and the downward spiral of drug addiction. Although a true story (I’m not sure what to make of the recommendation by James Frey – the discredited author of A Million Little pieces – on the jacket though), I Am is written so captivatingly that it reads as fiction. That’s a compliment by the way. If you have ever immersed yourself in gay club culture you’ll recognise the archetypes and situations depicted in the book. Mark my words, this will be a made into a movie. Beautifully written, funny, moving and brutally honest I Am Not Myself These Days is a memorable and remarkable book I’ll probably find myself reading again in a couple of years. I sincerely hope that this won’t be Kilmer-Purcell’s one and only book.

BUTT BOOK– Various

Non-Fiction – Taschen

I was introduced to Butt magazine by an American friend a couple of years ago and became a devoted fan. True, it’s not glossy (it’s printed on cheap pink paper), it’s not very big, and it rarely has anyone famous on the cover, but it’s possibly one of the most important international gay publications out there. Butt is not about selling you branded underwear, Christina Aguilera CDs or Diesel watches – instead it explores and celebrates the less mainstream aspects of gay culture in a way few others do. Some might classify it as subversive and alternative – and perhaps it is – but thankfully, as culturally “relevant” as Butt may be, it’s also really fun, because it’s mostly concerned with sex. Each issue consists largely of explicit interviews with an array of interesting characters from all walks of life most of whom – barring a few exceptions like Michael Stipe and Gus Van Sant – would be considered rather obscure. Consider the titles of a couple of the interviews: “Edmund White Astonishing Writer Who Wants To Have Sex With Anyone” or “Julian Ganio The Gerontile Poster Boy of The London Gay Scene”. Started in 2001, Butt is unashamedly gay – and not in the middle-class-guppie-couple-with-two-adopted-kids sort of way – so expect questions like “What part of your body do you look at when masturbating?”. The magazine also includes a smattering of black and white x-rated photos – often of the interviewees themselves – but don’t expect porn-shaved twinks. Now, Butt Book – released by leading art publishing house Taschen – celebrates the first five years of the magazine by collating some of its best material in all it’s tawdry glory. It’s cleverly presented just like the magazine – the same pink paper – but just considerably thicker. It’ll give you hours of thoughtful, insightful and titillating reading. When asked why he created the magazine, one of the Dutch founders, Jop Van Bennekom, replied that “We wanted to create something shameless”. Thankfully they succeeded and the gay world is much richer for it.

All three books are available at Exclusive Books stores.

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