Not to imply that movie adaptations are the ultimate yardstick of artistic merit but of Peter Cameron's five novels, three have been made into feature films. The stories he tells resonate deeply with other types of storytellers. And with readers. And with critics. The New York Times Book Review said, "The Weekend [[Kindle]] echoes Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, D.H. Lawrence, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose brilliant narrative critiques of material culture open, again and again, to the metaphysical, to that dimension where the known world cedes to mystery." The London Times wrote, "If The City of Your Final Destination were eligible for the Man Booker Prize I would be pressing for it to be on the shortlist. It has all the qualities currently undervalued on the literary scene: understatement, humour, and a dispensing with pedestrian naturalism... it has the dream-like mistiness of somewhere in one of Shakespeare's late plays." The Philadelphia Inquirer hailed Andorra [[Kindle]] as "a nearly perfect book . . . a work of remarkable and sustained invention and imagination." The Toronto Star said Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You [[Kindle]] is "considerably more sophisticated, subtle, and rewarding" than Catcher in the Rye. Peter has also written a play, two marvelous collections of short stories, and in his spare time he publishes extremely elegant handmade books in very limited editions at his Wallflower Press. His disquieting, engrossing, and beautiful sixth novel, Coral Glynn, will be published next March. I read it in October and am still enslaved to its understated power.
Jazz genius Billy Strayhorn spent his life in a jam: professionally, he couldn’t live with or without Duke Ellington. Gay in an intolerant time and homophobic musical subculture, he was lucky to be able to live and work openly behind the protective band leader. Yet Ellington took credit for Strayhorn’s music and made him work without a contract. Duke’s highest earning number, his signature tune, the holy grail of the era, Take the A Train, was, unknown to everyone at the time, written by Strayhorn, who never received any royalties. Ellington got rich. Strayhorn worked mainly to be able to work, without recognition or reward. But what work it is: Lush Life, Day Dream, Rain Check, Satin Doll, Chelsea Bridge, Lotus Blossom, Clementine, Johnny Come Lately, and many songs recorded by his dear friend Lena Horne, including Maybe, Something To Live For, and the double-edged Love Like This Can’t Last. As for his own “love like this,” within his first year in New York he and his boyfriend Aaron Bridgers moved in together and lived openly as a couple in Harlem, brave for 1940, when he was twenty-four. And, after a life of heavy drinking and constant smoking, when he died of cancer of the esophagus at fifty-one, he died not in Lena Horne’s arms as an oft-repeated story has it [she was in Europe], but with his partner Bill Grove. Although that was two years before Stonewall, Strayhorn worked in the early gay rights movement. Proving the depth of the prejudice he struggled against, even now the official Billy Strayhorn website completely de-gays him. We've had the prestigious biography for fifteen years; where is the Hollywood biopic?
Do you think Simon Amstell knew he was gay before or after he knew he was funny? At fourteen he appeared on a British morning chat show impersonating Dame Edna. The sweetness and malice stuck. Now 32, Simon's humor is sometimes branded "mean" or "horrible." (He prefers "cheeky.") True, he teased Amy Winehouse about her drinking, but as the host of Popworld from 2000 to 2006 he was often criticized for asking famous singers exactly what viewers wanted to know. One "notorious" incident was when Britney Spears appeared on the show long after rehab, court hearings to determine her stability, and public displays of erratic behavior, like shaving her head. Simon asked if she thought she'd "gone a bit nuts?" Britney cried, and people attacked Simon. To closeted Savage Garden singer Darren Hayes, Simon asked, "So, when are you going to come out, then?" Hayes said, "Excuse me?" Simon said, "You're obviously gay. Why won't you come out?" This was cut from the aired version. Hayes calls the incident pivotal in his finally coming out two years later and still refers to Simon as a "total prick." From October 2006 to January 2009, he hosted the comedy quiz show Never Mind the Buzzcocks, winning top category prizes from the Royal Television Society, the British Comedy Awards, and the Broadcast Awards. The Times named the show (during Simon's era) one of the best forty programs of the decade. In 2010 he co-created, co-wrote and co-starred in Grandma's House, an award-winning sitcom in which his hapless, neurotic, adorable character, a former quiz show host named Simon, returns to live with his cheerful, middle class family. It's now filming its second season.