Home » Hot Type for Savvy Travelers — The Best Books For February 2023

Hot Type for Savvy Travelers — The Best Books For February 2023

by Jim Gladstone
Hot Type February 2023

Our Best Winter Books explore a most welcome reissue of writer/illustrator Ludwig Bemelmans’ long out-of-print memoir (Hotel Splendide) to an inquisitive exploration of present-day New York (The Intimate City); a tough, bruised beauty of a book, not easy to read, but never to be forgotten (All Down Darkness Wide) to an unsparing, impressionistic memoir (Blue Movie) by former gay porn star Stephan Ferris and more.

Hotel Splendide by Ludwig Bemelmans

Hotel Splendide by Ludwig Bemelmans

Splendid indeed is Hotel Splendide (Pushkin Press. $15.95. bemelmans.com), a most welcome reissue of writer/illustrator Ludwig Bemelmans’ long out-of-print memoir, in which he recalls working in New York’s Ritz Hotel (thinly disguised as the Splendide) in the Roaring 1920s. Bemelmans, whose famous mural painting can still be seen at the Carlyle, immigrated to the U.S. as a teenager and took on hospitality jobs while building his career as a cartoonist. Beginning in the late 1930s, he found his greatest success with the Madeline children’s book series, tales of mischievous tots in posh surroundings that have long been a favorite of proto-queer kids. Hotel Splendide captures the verve and vibrance of grand hotel life, with dining rooms a clang with silver cloches and lobbies bustling with uniformed bellhops. Bemelmans deftly sketches an imperious maître d’, waiters who wager on the stock market during their breaks, a conman mentalist who bilks gullible guests, and millionaire philanderers who use the Splendide as a secret love nest. Anyone with an affection for the grand hotels of yesteryear will welcome an escape into these charming, nostalgic pages.

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The intimate city by Michael Kimmelman

The intimate city by Michael Kimmelman

Inquisitive exploration of present-day New York is both encouraged and assisted by New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman in The Intimate City (Penguin Press. $30. penguinrandomhouse.com). Each of 20 quick-reading chapters is structured around a walk through a different section of the city (among them Harlem, Jackson Heights, Forest Hills, Broadway, and Chinatown) that Kimmelman took accompanied by a knowledgeable local. Reconstructing their conversations and presenting photographs of the sites that spiked their curiousity, Kimmelman invites readers on a casual, curiousity-driven stroll that reveals the influences of economics, immigration, social movements, and even climate change on the evolution of buildings, parks, and the city’s overall urban plan. The collection is keenly attuned to the pandemic, during which it was written: “The walks,” Kimmelman notes, “were intended not only to capture a precarious, historic moment…they were also supposed to show that the city was not going anywhere.” Reflecting on the city’s prior great crisis, he writes: “After 9/11, ‘experts’ had forecast the end of the skyscraper because, they said, no one would want to live or work in a tall building. What followed was the biggest construction boom in skyscraper history.” Of particular note for queer readers is the Greenwich Village walk, which focuses on the neighborhood’s LGBTQ history.

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All Down Darkness Wide by Sean Hewitt

All Down Darkness Wide by Sean Hewitt

Irish writer Sean Hewitt’s All Down Darkness Wide (Penguin Press. $26. seanehewitt.com), is the most stirring queer memoir since Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. Like Vuong, Hewitt first came to attention as a poet and his love of language’s slippery rhythms pulses throughout this sometimes heartbreaking book. At the center of Hewitt’s narrative is his years-long love affair with Elias, a charming Swede, who suffers from profound depression, as did the author’s first love, an eventual suicide. Hewitt excruciatingly examines why he’s attracted to these men, unsure of the extent to which he sees them as reflections of himself. Thinking back on his coming out, Hewitt offers a painfully insightful interpretation of the so-called acceptance offered by his family: “They did not want me to be happy by making happiness possible, but by asking me to live in a world that they knew was set against me. Their critique was of me, not of themselves.” This is a tough, bruised beauty of a book, not easy to read, but never to be forgotten..

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Blue Movie by Stephen Ferris

Blue Movie by Stephen Ferris

Stephan Ferris is a legal scholar and activist attorney. He’s also a former gay porn star who, under the pseudonym Blue Bailey, starred in one of the most notorious films of all time: Viral Loads, which includes footage of him being anally injected with semen collected from a squad of HIV-positive men. In his unsparing, impressionistic memoir Blue Movie (Unbound Edition Press. $29.95. unboundedition.com), Ferris flashes through 77 often brutal reminiscences, focusing largely on his sex work, his meth addiction and, fascinatingly, the steadfast love and emotional support of family members that has helped him through some of his life’s most harrowing periods. This audacious book doesn’t end with a reformation, homily, or happy ending. Instead, it challenges readers to honestly probe their opinions on bodily autonomy.

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AIRPLANE READ OF THE MONTH

Now is not the time to Panic by Kevin Wilson

Now is not the time to Panic by Kevin Wilson

While he continues to fly just under the radar of mass market success, Kevin Wilson (Nothing to See Here, Perfect Little World) continues to tickle in-the-know readers with a prolific stream of quirky, compassionate gems. His new book, Now Is Not the Time To Panic (Ecco Press. $22.99. wilsonkevin.com) returns to the joys and hazards of art making, themes Wilson first explored in his brilliant debut The Family Fang, in which the children of performance artist parents find themselves unwittingly incorporated into Mom and Dad’s avant garde experiments. In Wilson’s latest, it’s the kids who are the artists: 16-year-old Frankie befriends lonely newcomer Zeke when he arrives to spend the summer with his grandmother in her remote hometown of Coalfield, Tennessee. There, in the sticks, in the kinda blissful, kinda boring pre-Internet 1990s the two awkward teens collaborate on simple art projects to pass the time. But when they anonymously slip Xeroxed copies of a nonsensical poster they’ve drawn into homeowners’ mailboxes and post them on local walls, the townsfolks’ imaginations run wild, projecting all manner of meanings, some quite ominous, onto the pair’s work. The kids’ art goes viral in a world that’s still analog but, as Wilson makes clear, can nonetheless support the spread of fake news. Anyone who’s ever lost themself in hours of focused writing, drawing, or other creative pursuits will relate to the sense of artistic power that swells up in the hearts and minds of Frankie and Zeke. Sweet, funny and slightly unhinged, this is a romance and a fantasy that explores the relationship between artists and their work.

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