Books I have read

‘Godfather Of Modern Popular Gay Fiction’ Graduated From My Local, Rural High School

If you walk into Eaton High School in Preble County you will not find any quotes from our most prolific author. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who has heard of Victor J. Banis — a 1955 EHS graduate.

I stumbled across his name on the Preble County Wikipedia page — and then I read his 2008, 400+ page memoir, Spine Intact, Some Creases.

I found him to be a very interesting individual.

His book should appeal to at least three categories of readers:

  • those interested in First Amendment rights,
  • the gay community, and
  • locals interested in Preble County’s 1940s-1950s history.

First Amendments Battles

Victor is listed as a juvenile living at home in his father’s 1954 obituary. In the book, Banis details his last conversation with his father.

Banis moved out of Preble County after high school and within a decade found himself indicted in Sioux City, Iowa for ‘conspiracy to distribute obscene material’. Banis was indicted for his novel The Affairs of Gloria. As Banis writes in the foreword of the re-release of The Why Not Gloria,

…had one ‘damn’ in it and one ‘go to hell.’ It did, however, significantly have some — again tepid — lesbian scenes.

The federal government and the U.S. Postal Service found the lesbian scenes morally offensive.

Banis would eventually be dropped from the case (the other defendants were not), but he still spent the first decade of his writing career with a suitcase packed and an open offer to move overseas should another indictment be handed down.

A conviction in these obscenity cases could yield a 20-year or longer prison sentence.

But, instead of prison, for more than a decade Banis was at the forefront of the popular gay fiction scene. And, in true capitalism form, it proved quite profitable because he had found an unmet need. In the early 1970s, Banis was earning about $200,000 a year — the equivalent of $1.2 million today.

Not bad for a former Preble County resident.

Eventually, Banis would write in several genres, including straight romance, but it is his 1960s gay C.A.M.P. series that collectors seek out. Those interested in his work will find a bibliography of about 150 titles in Spine Intact.

Being Gay In Small Town America

Although I found his First Amendment battles intriguing, and his personal life interesting, another appeal was the local history. Included in the 27-chapter book are roughly four chapters worth of local history. Some of it is a little salacious for this region — his cross-dressing Halloween adventure at the Armory at the age of 12, the first time a male classmate expressed a romantic interest in him, and his romantic liaison at 17 with his 26-year-old Boy Scout leader. He writes,

When I began a relationship with my friend I was lonely to a suicidal degree. I knew only one other gay youth in Eaton, Ohio. There were gay adult males in town but, mindful of their own safety, they avoided involvement with someone so young…In retrospect I suppose that the folks in Eaton, Ohio, who guessed what was going on with my friend and me thought it none of their business.

Banis’ parents are buried in Preble County.

The relationship would lead to a nonfiction work, Men and their Boys: the homosexual relationship between adult and adolescent (1966), in which Banis interviews homosexuals males that had relationships with older men.

Crimes Against Humanity

Early in this memoir, Banis states that Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio is about Preble County (Anderson was born here, but moved by age two to Clyde, Ohio). If Banis’ assertion is accurate, Anderson’s work paints our dark side.

And when you read some of the incidents in Banis’ life, his assertion may be true.

In his book, Banis describes how his family ‘saw’ his oldest brother on a back country road in Preble County the night he was killed in Italy. Banis’ brother died in WWII shortly after his 23rd birthday.

As a Preble County resident, Banis grew up poor in the 1940s and 1950s. It was an era where being gay was a crime and it was a region, then as now, where homosexuality, by and large, is not accepted as natural. But, indirectly, this book challenges what we say we believe by showing us who we are. Banis mentions the gay local politicians, the homosexual book he found at a Preble County drug store in his youth, and the regional gay bars and hangouts that he frequented in his late teens/early 20s.

And he also exposes the crimes committed against gays by those in authority. Banis admits being gang raped by three officers (he does not offer location) and reports how, in Indianapolis, police officers abused gays at a party he attended. As you read the story of his youth and early 20s, the man has a right to be bitter, but he is not. Instead what flows through his words is a kind man filled with understanding, forgiveness and humor. He is witty. He occasionally ‘name drops’ (Hugh Hefner comes to mind). He jokes about his sexual liaisons with military personnel and, in general, he upholds his journey as one he was blessed to have travelled.

He also acknowledges the challenge his mother faced — being a Christian with a gay son. But, I feel his mother may have had a mischievous side when it came to the whispers that she almost certainly heard from the righteous.

While visiting him in California, Banis’ mom asked for a copy of some of his work (probably C.A.M.P., the gay male series, based on the vignette). And, as Banis notes, he presumed the books would go into a drawer somewhere so she could say she had a copy of them. Instead, mom decides to let her minister (Church of the Brethren), an aspiring writer who had expressed interested in her son’s writing career, read one. Banis writes,

The Reverend never expressed to her or to me any opinion on the books’ literary merits. Indeed, he never mentioned them to me at all, but he did look at me rather differently on my subsequent visits.

He never asked again about my writing either, and the next time I visited church with my mother the sermon was on ‘the Unintentional Sinner.’ I kept my gaze straight forward and sang the hymns with gusto, although I got through ‘He knows me as I am’ with some difficulty.

A Little Long

My only criticism of the book is it could have ended a little sooner. By his own admission, he meanders. By the end of the book, you will read several chapters offering would-be writers advice and some self-esteem tips. It’s all solid writing, it just feels somewhat out of place for this book.

Rated: 4 stars out of 5.


Local Trivia

Residents of Eaton, Ohio should know at least one of Banis’ sisters, Fanny. She was mayor of Eaton from 1993-1998.

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Categories: Americans Who Got It Right, Books I have read, My America, Preble County, Understanding Trump Counties

‘Giant of the Senate’ Infuses Hope, Humor Into Our Collective Political Nightmare

Al Franken, author of Al Franken, Giant of the Senate, is currently serving his second term as U.S. Senator from Minnesota. He is a multi-talented man who entered politics in 2008 after more than 30 years as a satirical writer and comedian.

This is his seventh book.

In Giant, Franken does the impossible — he turns our current political mess into an enjoyable story — one that even offers some glimmers of hope. This is especially true in the way he ends the book — written after Trump’s inauguration and Trump’s slew of race-baiting and immigrant-hating comments. Franken tells the story of some of the Somali refugees that reside in Minnesota — showing how they easily assimilated into the various communities, bringing with them a strong desire to thrive.

But, before the Somali stories of hope (and others sprinkled throughout the book), Franken offers a very realistic view of what its like to be a U.S. Senator. He details his recount in 2008, the money-grubbing members of Congress do to remain in office, and the various tactics he used on the campaign trail to throw off the GOP tracker.

The book, though, also shows the difficulty legislators face if they truly want to do their job and legislate. One telling example was his desire, after meeting with a vet suffering from PTSD, to get more service dogs paired with veterans. Franken, after researching the concept (or as he will readily admit, reading the research provided by his staff) sponsors a bill to fund broader research. Although the bill was passed relatively quickly in his political career, the research is just now being conducted because of all the various agencies involved and some false starts when the project launched.

All Those Liars

Franken, who made a name for himself before entering politics by taking on GOP politicians, writing books making fun of Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and George W. Bush, had to put his humor on hold when he entered the Senate. And, his approach in politics, for the most part, is considerably different than his comedy. It’s more workhorse and less showboat. But, that does not mean he shies away from calling out the worst of the political bunch — like Ted Cruz and other members of the Tea Party.

He reserves some very good one-liners for them.

Big Ideas

Franken, a very well read Harvard graduate, is a deep thinker and strategist. Although Giant is an easy read, Franken does explain, in depth, some of the complicated programs — like the Affordable Care Act — with enough detail that a lay person can understand the logic of the legislation.

But one of the concepts that resonated with me was not Franken’s — but rather a writer he quotes, Jonathon Rauch.

Writing about our current political mess, Rauch states that many Americans just do not get politics and, in an effort to understand it, lump all politicians into the same class — presuming that the fault in Washington is spread out evenly between parties. Rauch calls these people ‘politiphobes.’ And, Franken, quoting Rauch writes,

They see the contentious give-and-take of politics as distasteful. Specifically they believe that obvious, commonsense solutions to the country’s problems are out there for the plucking. The reason these obvious solutions are not enacted is that politicians are corrupt, or self-interested or addicted to unnecessary partisan feuding.

But as Franken explains, folks did not come to this position without assistance — and he is more than willing to explain who created the perception.

Rated: 5 out of 5. This is a very readable — and fun to read — book. It could serve as an entry-level book to those wanting to better understand our political system.

Categories: Books I have read, Politics

Southern Boys Trying To Pull South Into 21st (Or At Least The 20th) Century

 

God takes a moment out of his busy schedule to remind everyone in Southern Kentucky that Hell is really, really hot.

After reading Hillbilly Elegy with its Horatio Alger slant on problem solving (just work hard and it will all work out), I started reading more books dealing with Southern, and mostly Appalachian, people to better understand my heritage. As stories posted on this site indicate, my family tree runs mostly through Appalachian America. I normally read books like Albion’s Seed and have preordered What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia by Elizabeth Catte since I follow her blog and respect her opinion.

So when I stumbled upon The Liberal Redneck Manifesto: Draggin’ Dixie Outta the Dark by Trae Crowder, Drew Morgan, Corey Ryan Forrester, I wasn’t sure I would like it.

I was pleasantly surprised.

Funny, With A Message

Although I’ve never heard the trio, they do comedy and are successful at it. But fairly deep into the book, I knew they were bona fide southern when one of them mentioned chocolate gravy. The (mostly) Appalachian treat was a staple in my childhood home — it is a sweet chocolate sauce with the consistency of gravy that is poured over biscuits for breakfast.

As the trio would say — it hits.

They set the tone early in the book proudly stating their love of their heritage while at the same time expressing extreme dissatisfaction — and at times hate — for the archaic thinking that has hindered Southern progress. They touch all the subjects one would expect — from religion to WIC payments. The strength of the book is it does, albeit with humor and at time ‘rough’ language, give an outsider a glimpse of the southern mindset.

Rewriting The Constitution

An early section of the book deals with the Bill of Rights, which they flip on its head, calling it the Bill of Wrongs. One amendment deals with the anti-government sentiment which runs deep and strong through the South. This sentiment was so strong during last fall’s election that I finally exited Facebook because in the virtual world, just like real life, most of my Friends were family or community members and I grew very tired of the mindset.

But in the book, I found a common spirit with the trio, who had this to say about the hypocrisy of the anti-government movement.

“If you’re gonna be antigovernment, be consistent. The police are the government. Stop pretending like government overreach is a problem everywhere but in the criminal-justice world. Also, Black Lives Matter.”

For students of American history, especially those wanting to understand how we ended up with the Orange Menace, it’s a book that provides insight from an insider — and as a bonus the reader can enjoy some dry, Southern wit.

Rated 4 out of 5. My only complaint with the book is it’s a bit shallow, but I think that’s the intent of the authors. Despite only hitting the surface on some issues, they still make their point: It’s time to grow up South and be part of a diverse society.

Favorite Anti-Trump Comment Of The Week

Colonel Morris Davis, born in North Carolina, is a retired Air Force Officer and Lawyer — and a huge Trump critic on Twitter. Since he is a critic, thin-skinned 45* blocked him. This has not stopped Davis from going after Trump with a vengeance. This week, when 45* engaged in a distraction tactic by arbitrarily Tweeting that transgenders were banned from the military, Davis called him out saying,

“I served for 25 years and never served with a Trump…pathetic for 5-Deferment @realDonaldTrump to ban anyone with patriotism he lacked.”

And commenting on Trump’s campaign stop at the Boys Scouts a day earlier, Davis said,

Aren’t vanity, narcissism, cruelty, vulgarity, bullying and self-aggrandizement @boyscouts core values? @realDonaldTrump.

Spoken like a true patriot.

Categories: American History, Appalachia, Books I have read, Understanding Trump Counties | Tags: