Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Remembrance of Literary Hoaxes Past

London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival - Foyles Bookstore, Charing Cross Road. [Photography]. Retrieved from Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. 

The documentary, Author: The JT Leroy Story, written, directed and produced by Jeff Feuerzeig, revisits a decade-long literary hoax perpetrated by writer Laura Albert. Albert, who has avoided the media, is the focus of the documentary, giving her a generous opportunity to share the story of her life and the evolution of her literary avatar: Jeremiah Terminator (J.T.) Leroy.

J.T. Leroy was a blond, blue-eyed, transsexual hustler HIV-positive boy, who was addicted to heroin and hailed from West Virginia. He was the son of an abusive teenage mother who worked as a truck stop prostitute or "lot lizard". J.T. Leroy embarked on a Kerouac-ian On the Road odyssey with his monstrous mother, only to be abandoned in San Francisco among the other discarded gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered (GLBTQ) runaways with substance abuse problems who relied on prostitution and homeless shelters to survive.

J.T. first surfaced through a suicide hotline in the 1990's. He was treated by psychologist Dr. Terrence Owens through phone calls, but never in person. Dr. Owens encouraged his transient patient to write his life story in order to heal from abuse and trauma. J.T. claimed that because he wanted to write more than he wanted heroin, he was able to kick his addiction. Despite a complete lack of education, J.T. produced novels in the Southern Gothic tradition that were lyrically entrancing and violently salacious. J.T. reached out to his literary heroes: Sharon Olds, Mary Karr, Brucer Benderson, Joel Rose, Laurie Stone, and  Dennis Cooper. Publishers were eager to give him book deals and publicity that most writers spend lifetimes to acquire. Hollywood followed suit with movie offers.  J.T. Leroy's novels The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, Sarah and Harold's End became bestsellers that were translated into over twenty languages.

Celebrities adored J.T. and agreed to read his books at readings since he was too emotionally fragile and would only rarely appear in public concealed behind Andy Warholian wigs, massive sunglasses, and elaborate costumes. J.T. spoke in feminine whispers with an unconvincing Southern accent. His lack of Adam's apple was explained by his being a preoperative transsexual on massive amounts of hormones whose growth was stunted by horrific abuse. J.T. was always accompanied by his grating British publicist Speedy and her musician husband Astor, his adoptive family who had formed a band they called Thistle, which opened every reading event.

Leroy branched out into publishing articles and posing for fashionable magazines. His imminent death due to HIV was no longer spoken of, and inconsistencies regarding his upcoming gender reassignment surgery also baffled supporters. Writers and journalists connected to the San Francisco arts and the literary community began to compare notes and tallied their doubts and concerns. Journalist and writer Stephen Beachy wrote an outstanding article for New York Magazine that dared to ask the question, Who Is J.T. Leroy?

New York Times journalist Warren St. John was also following his own leads and produced an article:  The Unmasking of J.T. Leroy: In Public, He's a She. J.T. Leroy was revealed to be Laura Albert's partner musician Geoffrey Knoop's half-sister Savannah Knoop, an aspiring clothing designer. Laura Albert never apologized to anyone then, and continues to not acknowledge that she harmed or deceived anyone. Albert insists that her avatar J.T. Leroy merely surfaced and did everything for her creatively, that she was unable to do for herself.

Laura Albert's confessions in Author reveal her insecurities and mental illness which was compounded by an abusive childhood and time spent in a group home, where she developed a habit of calling crisis hotlines. Albert attended the New School in New York, but was discouraged by her professor to write in a male voice. Albert's education was disrupted by another nervous breakdown and she abandoned writing. For several years, she worked as a phone sex operator, had a child with her partner Geoff Knoop, and underwent a gastric bypass surgery after a lifetime of compulsive overeating left her at 325 pounds.

Albert denies that she has multiple personality disorder, but the emergence of J.T. Leroy produced what Albert called a "psychic limb" that propelled her back into the literary world and fulfilled her wish to be a blond, blue-eyed boy that gay men would desire and love. Albert's protestations that she was merely using a pen name ring false, especially since J.T. Leroy and his entourage traveled the world and signed lucrative contracts under false pretenses, sheltered by a fake corporation put in Laura Albert's mother's name. Albert was sued by a movie company for $350,000.The chaos left in Albert's wake prompted debates over the literary merits of her novels.  Whether Albert would have been published without her avatar J.T. Leroy, who titillated the publishing industry and tugged at the heart strings of his supporter and readers is doubtful.

Author is a fascinating documentary that also gives the viewers moments of schadenfreude in witnessing self-indulgent celebrities gush over an imposter, especially through the phone calls Albert illegally taped, including Courtney Love, Gus Van Sant,, and Asia Argento.  Author is one-sided and fails to account for the emotional devastation experienced by ordinary people who considered themselves to be friends of J.T. Leroy. Many friends were subjected to Laura Albert's terrifying dissociative episodes and suicide threats and found themselves emotionally drained by the experience. The Cult of J.T. Leroy by Marjorie Strum tells their stories much more sympathetically.  I made a staff suggestion for the library to acquire Strum's superior documentary, which includes the deposition of Dr. Terrance Owens, who appears to be the most compassionate and thoughtful psychologist on the planet. Dr. Owens is still working with homeless runaways and Laura Albert continues to be his patient, even after her fraud came to light. 

An interview with Ira Silverberg, Leroy's former agent discussed the predatory cultural appropriation of a straight, middle-class woman impersonating a HIV positive, marginalized transsexual during a period in the 1990's when a generation of gay artists and writers perished. Albert's hoax preyed on a community that was receptive to helping anyone struggling with AIDS, especially since sufferers were frequently abandoned by their families and the disease at that time was in and of itself, an automatic death sentence, before the advent of the AIDS cocktail and scientific breakthroughs that increased the chances of survival.

One of the fatal flaws in Albert's scheme was having J.T. Leroy be HIV positive. Albert was lazy when she decided to use the blueprint of another woman named  Joanne Victoria Fraginals, a middle-aged woman who claimed to be a social worker who had saved and adopted a young AIDS-stricken, sexually abused boy named Anthony Godby Johnson, who had escaped a ravenous pedophile ring lead by his parents in New York City. The fourteen-year-old "Tony" released a treacly memoir entitled "Between a Rock and a Hard Place" that went through six printings and had a forward by poet, AIDS activist, and author Paul Monette and an afterward by the beloved Mister Fred Rogers. In the midst of this hoax, acclaimed novelist Armistead Maupin, who is famous for his Tales of the City series,  was befriended by Tony over the phone. However, no one had ever met Tony in person. Newsweek journalist Michele Ingrassia started to ask simple questions about Tony and also attempted to locate Tony's felonious parents, but the district attorney had no record of ever trying such a notorious case. The pathetic hoax quickly collapsed despite Fraginals strenuous efforts to keep the hoax going and Armistead Maupin channeled his experience into his extraordinary novel The Night Listener which was turned into a less than spectacular movie, but one that delivers on the hair-raising creepy suspense of dealing with the unraveling of a fraud's mental and imaginary construct.

Literary frauds are nothing new, but in the course of visiting Laura Albert's world, I learned about other icky phenomenon's, like misery lit and grief porn, which even a connoisseur of true crime books, documentaries, and TV shows (like myself) find distasteful. Perhaps we could go outside and get some fresh air and find healthier ways to cope with our dark sides, or you could check out some of the following books and movies. 

The Oxford Book of Parodies edited by John Gross 

Catfish [DVD]

Fraud [eBook] : essays by David Rakoff

The Family Romance of the Impostor-Poet Thomas Chatterton by Louise J. Kaplan 

Geronimo's Bones: A Memoir of My Brother and Me by Nasdijj. 

The Man In the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Imposter by Mark Seal

The Hoax by Clifford Irving  

Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way by Jon Krakauer 

A Million Little Pieces [eBook] by James Frey


Saturday, January 28, 2017

Book Cover Love: Jewelry and Keys

Over the past few months, I've showcased book cover trends in young adult fiction. First, I focused on amusement parks, and then I focused on crowns. Today, I'm highlighting book covers with jewelry and keys on them. It's a small selection this time, but these covers are beautiful. I especially love the covers for The Keeper of the Mist and Burning Glass.

Love, Lies, and Spies by Cindy Anstey
Becoming Jinn and Circle of Jinn by Lori Goldstein
Empire of Dust by Eleanor Herman
The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier
Rise of the Wolf by Jennifer Nielsen
Burning Glass by Kathryn Purdie

Which cover is your favorite? Is there a cover you love that I didn't include? Let us know in the comments!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

New & Novel: Fashion & Style

We sat down to write about fashion, and two songs immediately started running through our heads - "Fashion" by the late, great David Bowie, and "Supermodel (You Better Work)" by reality show star RuPaul. But there's more to style than working the catwalk! We've assembled a list of books that focus on a variety of aspects of fashion and style, from memoirs and biographies to fashion history, from costume design to street style, from the little black dress to the human and environmental costs of the fashion industry, from Paris to the Republic of the Congo, famous designers and beyond.

Wear and Tear: The Threads of My Life by Tracy Tynan

Focus: The Secret, Sexy, Sometimes Sordid World of Fashion Photographers by Michael Gross

Dressing the Decades: Twentieth-Century Vintage Style by Emmanuelle Dirix

Entanglement: The Secret Lives of Hair by Emma Tarlo

In the Name of Gucci: A Memoir by Patricia Gucci ; with Wendy Holden

American Dreamer: My Life in Fashion & Business by Tommy Hilfiger with Peter Knobler 

Denim: Fashion's Frontier by Emma McClendon 

9 1/2 Narrow: My Life in Shoes by Patricia Morrisroe

Love x Style x Life by Garance Doré

The Sartorialist: X by Scott Schuman

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Read Harder Challenge: Southern Asia

Last year some library staff participated in Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge. This is a fun way to get yourself to read books out of your comfort zone! It's also a fun challenge to participate in with friends - you can plan to read the same books, or compare the books you chose to read. But no pressure! The folks at Book Riot, who have been featuring this challenge for the past couple of years, want to reassure you that
We encourage you to push yourself, to take advantage of this challenge as a way to explore topics or formats or genres that you otherwise wouldn’t try. But this isn’t a test. No one is keeping score and there are no points to post. We like books because they allow us to see the world from a new perspective, and sometimes we all need help to even know which perspectives to try out. That’s what this is – a perspective shift – but one for which you’ll only be accountable to yourself.
There are 24 "tasks" for the year, but you can use one book to fulfill a couple of tasks or aim to read 24 books total. Tasks for 2017 include "Read a book about sports," "read a travel memoir," and "read a book you've read before." The task list for 2016 included "Read a book that is by an author from Southeast Asia," and in the spirit of better late than never, we'd like to suggest a few titles of note. Check out these books set in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and by members of the Southern Asia diaspora which were suggested by Book Riot - they will even work for a couple tasks from this year's challenge!

Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia [YA]

Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy 

The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad 

A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam 

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders: Connected Stories by Daniyal Mueenuddin 

Odysseus Abroad by by Amit Chaudhuri 

The Hope Factory by Lavanya Sankaran 

This Divided Island: Life, Death, and the Sri Lankan War by Samanth Subramanian  

The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota 

She Weeps Each Time You're Born by Quan Barry

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Sarong Party Girls by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng 

Here's staff member Alysa's 2016 challenge form - completed!

Download the PDF of this year's challenge from Book Riot! Take it to the next level - join the Read Harder group on Goodreads! Share your challenge on social media with the the hashtag #ReadHarder! Are you going to try to read harder in 2017? Let us know in the comments!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

New & Novel: Wellness

We're already most of the way through January - how are those New Year's resolutions going? We're on the fence about resolutions. If they help you, great; if they make you feel bad for not being able to fulfill your goals, that's not so great. So, we'd like to gently open up a discussion about new wellness books. Not diet and exercise, not even health and fitness, but wellness. There are some books on our list that include diet and exercise, but we've tried not to make them the be-all and end-all of the discussion, because we want you to be healthy, not (necessarily) skinny; we want you to feel like a life change is within reach, but can include baby steps to get there, and should involve your mind as much as your body. How'd we do? Let us know in the comments!

Eat Fat, Get Thin: Why the Fat We Eat Is the Key to Sustained Weight Loss and Vibrant Health by  Mark Hyman, MD

Forever Painless: End Chronic Pain and Reclaim Your Life in 30 Minutes a Day by Miranda Esmonde-White 

Change Your Brain, Change Your life: The Breakthrough Program For Conquering Anxiety, Depression, Obsessiveness, Lack of Focus, Anger, and Memory Problems by Daniel G. Amen, M.D. 

But I Could Never Go Vegan!: 125 Recipes That Prove You Can Live Without Cheese, It's Not All Rabbit Food, and Your Friends Will Still Come Over For Dinner by Kristy Turner 

Wellth: How I Learned to Build a Life, Not a Résumé by Jason Wachob, founder and CEO of mindbodygreen 


Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Multi-Faceted Nick Cave

"At the end of the 20th Century, I ceased to be a human being. I wake, I write, I eat, I watch TV...I'm a cannibal - looking for someone to cook in a pot."
~Nick Cave, 20,000 Days on Earth 

We'd like to put forth the claim that Australian musician Nick Cave is a polymath (he's been called "the renaissance man of the “postpunk” generation"); if not that, you have to admit, he's one of the harder-working men in show biz. He writes and plays music (with more than one band - 16 albums with the Bad Seeds, movie soundtracks with Warren Ellis, and is part of Grinderman), writes novels and screenplays, and has acted (as himself, sort of) in movies. "Commited Cave divers" (his fans have some wacky names) will not be disappointed by his prodigious output.

Cave's work is not for everyone - he's been called "too dark, too alternately demonic or densely romantic; too literate, strange and grandiose" as he writes about some of his favorite themes, "[l]ove, violence, death and America." We ourselves are latecomers to his oeuvre - he started out in The Boys Next Door in 1977 (later to morph into the Birthday Party in 1980), and started up the Bad Seeds in 1984 - but, apart from brief exposure to the song "Into My Arms" in the 1990s when Cave was dating PJ Harvey, we have to confess our interest was piqued first by the film 20,000 Days On Earth. Here's one of our favorite quotes from the film:

All of our days are numbered. We can not afford to be idle. To act on a bad idea is better than to not act at all because the worth of the idea never becomes apparent until you do it. Sometimes this idea can be the smallest thing in the world; a little flame that you hunch over and cup with your hand and pray will not be extinguished by all the storm that howls about it. If you can hold on to that flame, great things can be constructed around it; things that are massive and powerful and world changing. All held up by the tiniest of ideas.

The library catalog has a good sampling of Nick Cave's work, if you choose to give it a try. Whatever you do, don't miss "End Crawl" on the Lawless soundtrack! A lovely piece of instrumental music.


Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!

Murder Ballads

The Boatman's Call

Push The Sky Away

Skeleton Tree 



The Proposition


Lawless [CD + DVD]

West of Memphis [DVD]

Hell or High Water [hoopla eMusic]

The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford  [CD + DVD]


The Death of Bunny Munro

The Sick Bag Song


cameo (with the Bad Seeds) in Wings of Desire

Johnny Suede [hoopla eVideo]

20,000 Days on Earth

For Children

one song, "Sweet Rosyanne," with Dan Zanes on Catch That Train!

Nick Cave is also participating in the "grown-up children's tales" charity book Stories for Ways and Means, and you can listen to The Wire's Andre Royo perform Cave's story "The Lonely Giant" online.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Top Circulating Graphic Novels

The Yellow Books, 1887 . Fine Art. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 18 May 2016.
“Knowledge is like money: To be of value it must circulate, and in circulating it can increase in quantity and, hopefully, in value.”
― Louis L'Amour, Education of a Wandering Man  

In the library, "circulation" means a lot of things.  What's sometimes called the "library card desk" is also known as "circulation".  When we look at a book's record, we count how many times it has checked out as its "circs". The library's collection floats (items checked out at one branch and returned at another stay at the branch at which they are returned), but its items circulate.

For this month's top circulating chart, we have chosen to spotlight graphic novels! This proved to be a little bit more challenging than we originally anticipated. The list of the top circulating graphic novels would be almost entirely series and almost entirely superhero oriented,  so we opted to split up graphic novels into a couple of different categories.

Top Circulating Graphic Novel Series

1.  The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman
2. Deadpool by Gerry Duggan
3. Star Wars by Aaron Jason
4. Justice League by Geoff Johns
5. The Sandman by Neil Gaiman
6. March by John Lewis
7. Wonder Woman by Brian Azzarello
8. Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction
9. Batman by Scott Snyder
10. Injustice by Tom Taylor
11. Suicide Squad by Adam Glass
12. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan
13. She-Hulk by Charles Soule
14. Indestructible Hulk by Mark Waid
15. Scalped by Jason Aaron

By "standalone," we just mean "not part of any series." Which, sadly, precluded us adding one of our favorites, Hark!: A Vagrant by Kate Beaton, which actually is circulating quite briskly for a non-superhero comic.

Top Circulating Standalone Graphic Novels

1.  Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
2. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
3. Flying Couch by Amy Kurzweil
4. Blue Is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh
5. The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg
6. Bodies by Si Spencer
7. Patience by Daniel Clowes
8. Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann
9. Everything Is Teeth by Evie Wyld
10. Aya by Marguerite Abouet

There were very few high circulation numbers for the very few manga we have catalogued as adult, so we decided to share the top circulating young adult manga instead.

Top Circulating  Young Adult Manga

1.  Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto
2. Bleach by Tite Kubo
3. Black Butler by Yana Toboso
4. Tokyo Ghoul by Sui Ishida
5. Dragon Ball Z by Akira Toriyama
6. Yu-Gi-Oh! by Kazuki Takahashi
7. Psyren  by Tokiashi Iwashiro
8. Soul Eater by Atsushi Okubo
9. Otomen by Aya Kanno
10. The Seven Deadly Sins by Nakaba Suzuki    
11. Kamisama Kiss by Julietta Suzuki
12. Ouran High School Host Club by Bisco Hatori
13. Vampire Knight by Matsuri Hino
14. Nura by Hiroshi Shiibashi
15. Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya

If there's a particular subject you'd like to know which are the top circulating books in (in our library system), let us know in the comments!