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Life's Like That

"The past is a foreign country," wrote L.P. Hartley. "They do things differently there." So why should your loved ones travel when they can read biographies? The past makes an eminently convenient destination: It's cheap to visit; vaccinations aren't required; and it's closer than we might think. Just fifty years ago, Americans had never seen the Victoria's Secret catalogue, let alone Internet porn. Pictures of ladies in lingerie still carried an illicit thrill, and shots of black-banged fetish queen Bettie Page, especially, had the dizzying effect of erotic stun grenades. In The Real Bettie Page (Citadel, $14.95), Richard Foster presents plenty of testimony to Page's allure. His sources agree: In addition to a leggy, curvaceous bod, she had an irresistible way of making sex look fun, never dirty. Harlan Ellison confesses in the introduction, "I cannot to this day see a photo of Bettie Page without getting an erection." ... Men had more ambivalent feelings about mountain climber Arlene Blum. It wasn't her fault; she just couldn't help proving them wrong. First they told her that women couldn't climb on equal terms with men. She did it anyway. Then they told her that women couldn't climb Mount McKinley. In 1970, she led the first female expedition to the top. In between, they told her MIT would never grant a woman a Ph.D in physical chemistry. They had her there: She got it from Berkeley instead. Among her other achievements, Blum's wonderfully unpretentious autobiography, Breaking Trail (Scribner, $27.50), chronicles ascents of Annapurna, Everest, and several previously unclimbed peaks. Not bad, for an impossible career. ... If only Medgar Evers' story had turned out as happily. In some better universe, the Mississippi field secretary for the NAACP lived to write his memoirs in peace. In this one, on June 12, 1963, a racist killer put a bullet into him. Editors Manning Marable and Evers' widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams, have assembled The Autobiography of Medgar Evers (Basic Civitas, $26) from letters, memos, speeches, and articles that bring to life his determined struggle against Jim Crow. Poll taxes, lynchings -- did all this happen in America? Yes, it did, not a half-century ago. A foreign country, indeed. -- Chris Ulbrich

Don We Now Our Gay Apparel

Pick a sure thing with Alan Hollinghurst's novel The Line of Beauty (Bloomsbury, $14.95) -- it won the 2004 Booker Prize and it's a best-seller -- in which class, gender, and cash are the context for explicit scenery, e.g. "his middle finger pushed into the deep divide, as smooth as a boy's, his fingertip even pressed a little way into the dry pucker so that Leo let out a happy grunt." ... It's never too early to get the picture, perhaps with a new coloring book created by Jacinta Bunnell and Irit Reinheimer, Girls Will Be Boys Will Be Girls Will Be ... (Soft Skull, $9.95), whose captions include "Sometimes the princess is saved by the girl next door" and "Stanley spends Super Bowl Sunday sewing slacks." ... Jenni Olson's The Queer Movie Poster Book (Chronicle, $19.95) is a lustrous compendium -- from Adam & Yves to Chained Girls and beyond. ... Daniel Gawthrop is a rice queen, and that doesn't mean he likes to cook Uncle Ben's. The Rice Queen Diaries (Arsenal Pulp, $16.95) is his memoir about the politics and pleasures of being a gay man attracted to Asians. Thai ladyboys, snake wine -- he goes around the world in more ways than one. -- A.R.

Yuk It Up


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