Between The Covers

By Terri Schlichenmeyer, May 2020 Issue.

Bodies and Barriers: Queer Activists on Health edited by Adrian Shanker, foreword by Rachel L. Levine, MD, afterword by Kate Kendell c.2020, PM Press $20.00 / higher in Canada 208 pages

You woke up this morning feeling pretty good.

That was quite a relief: in these frightening, uncertain times, every day of wellness is a bonus — especially when you consider that healthcare for a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer patient can be different than what straight people require. Too bad healthcare providers don’t always know that. But read Bodies and Barriers, edited by Adrian Shanker, and you’ll feel more empowered to tell them.

If you were to look for books or articles that address health care issues for LGBTQ patients, you will likely find an abundance of it. The problem is, says Shanker, most of it was written by people who are not lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer.

“Every person providing care for humans is providing care for LGBT humans,” he says, but it’s time that “Our stories about our bodies” be told. And so here they are.

For the youngest LGBTQ patients, physical and mental healthcare may be different than for their heterosexual peers, and it’s different than that which LGBTQ adults may need. Socially, for example, kids struggle with issues that adults are better-equipped to handle. Parents, as one story indicates, can be the best allies of all.

Young adults likewise have issues that seem tied to their age and vulnerability. Homelessness can exacerbate health issues (and vice versa); teens may suffer from depression, suicidal notions, and bullying. Healthcare needs may extend to the dangers of “sex in the digital age” and a lack of maturity. Because of their youth, LGBTQ teens also need help with learning “social service navigation.”

Habits such as alcohol and other addictions may be of issue to LGBTQ adults seeking good healthcare, but doctors sometimes don’t know what tests to ask for. They may be uninformed about caring for someone with bisexual or same-sex preferences, or who’s transitioned. They may have a “stigma” about HIV or be unaware of cancers that particularly plague LGBTQ individuals. As a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender adult, being your own, highly vocal advocate is key.

One thing is for certain: Bodies and Barriers is timely — not because Covid-19 treatment is based on sexuality but because other maladies that may arise are, and since healthcare is on your mind anyhow, this book is invaluable.

Through a series of variously-authored essays, broken into sections based on age, editor Adrian Shanker offers a chorus of voices that display a variety of viewpoints and frustrations that could perhaps ultimately teach healthcare workers a thing or two. Readers shouldn’t be surprised to note resignation in these stories, or the occasional bit of anger and outrage, but there are also plenty of essays that impart a calm but determined tone. It’s in these that an LGBTQ reader will find comfort, camaraderie, and a way to speak up.

Be forearmed with information and beware. Know how to demand from your doctor that which you need, and don’t leave without it. Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, and read Bodies and Barriers. Having this book feels pretty good.

In Praise of Beer by Charles Bamforth
c.2020, Oxford University Press $24.95 / $32.95 Canada 165 pages

Here’s mud in your eye.

Salud! Bottoms up! Here’s to the ones we’ve loved and lost. Cheers, and all those other things you say as you hoist a few with your pals in a pub. Drink up. To friendship. To love. To health. Actually, here’s to you, then let’s raise a glass to In Praise of Beer by Charles Bamforth.

It may not be exactly summer yet. It might not be hot outside, or 5 o’clock somewhere, but imagine a glass in front of you, filled with something “cold, bright, and fizzy …”

Thirsty yet? So, what do you order?

Says Bamforth, who has worked with the brewing industry for over 40 years, the answer often “boils down to,” a preference between craft beer and the big brands. What many beer drinkers don’t understand is that, increasingly, the big brands own many of those so-called craft beers. Still, to be a true “craft” brewery, there are rules …

Another thing beer aficionados don’t generally know is that making beer is much more complicated than making wine. A brewer must first decide on the grain he’ll use (“the main location” for growing barley is Idaho) and how to process it into liquid (Bamforth says dairy cows love “spent grains”). The brewer has to know about local water sources, hops and yeasts, the kind of packaging and caps he’ll use (cans are best; brown bottles are a close second), and then he›ll have to know how to put all this information together.

And that will determine the kind of beer you’ll ultimately get in your frosty glass, whether it’s a “top fermentation” or a “bottom fermentation” beer, or something else, like a shandy or dry beer. On that note, Bamforth is not a fan of odd ingredients in the making of his beer.

Know that it’s essential for you to “pour with vigor.” Please don’t stuff garbage into an empty bottle. Foam is important, so pay the right kind of attention to it. Keep in mind that beer can accompany fine dining. And remember: beer is good – and it’s also “good for you.”

Much like an icy-cold but thoroughly new-to-you brew on a blistering-hot day, “In Praise of Beer” is a truly refreshing surprise. Reading this book, in fact, is like sitting in an adult classroom, and the instructor’s brought a six-pack to share.

Author Charles Bamforth teaches, but his experience also allows him to entertain with facts that only an insider would know; peeks at brews, breweries, and beer-drinking overseas; and sneaky humor of the LOL kind, but not so much that it makes you spit out your beer. This is all packaged in a skinny book that talks the talk plainly in a way that avoids high-brow nonsense by treating average beer drinkers like the connoisseurs they are.

In Praise of Beer isn’t going to make you an expert on your favorite drink, but you’ll learn enough to make you better appreciate what’s in your mug. Get this book, pull up a seat, and take a sip.

Virusphere: From Common Colds to Ebola Epidemics: Why We Need the Viruses that Plague Us by Frank Ryan
c.2020, Prometheus Books $24.00 / higher in Canada 278 pages

Your hands are raw.

But let’s face it, you’ll do anything to avoid getting sick or carrying the coronavirus home or to work. Nobody needs to be ailing when it’s almost spring. From what you can see, nobody needs to be exposed to this virus at all but read Virusphere by Frank Ryan because the virus needs you.

Imagine not having to get a flu shot ever again.

Imagine a world without colds, sniffles, raw noses, coughs, it would be magnificent to the average person, but not to Frank Ryan. He says he knows “that a world without viruses would not be one in which I would care to live.”

To understand what surely seems like an odd thing to say, we should understand a few things about a virus — but first, you’re pretty awesome: your body is made of “roughly 30 to 40 trillion cells,” including microbes that are necessary for you to live and thrive. That might sound like Virus Heaven, but the truth is that viruses are picky about who they inhabit. The rhinovirus, for instance, thrives best in human nasal linings. The polio virus exists exclusively in humans. Bats are the natural hosts for rabies, on the other hand, and if a dog or skunk or human gets the rabies virus, then … oops.

What we must remember, says Ryan, is that viruses don’t target us out of a sense of anger or righteousness. They have no brains and they “are not evil … but they are not free to do as they please.” Their only job, if you will, is to replicate inside their host in order to survive — which is scant comfort when you’re flat on the sofa.

Maybe this helps — there’s evidence that the presence of some viruses found in the human body helps boost the immune system. There’s also reason to think that viruses altered the “genetic landscape … from its very beginnings.” And there’s the keen “importance of the viral contribution to the deep levels of ecological balance …”

Viruses can be good. We just need to remember to take precautions.

Your body aches, your head throbs, and this book isn’t going to do a darn thing to fix any of that. Virusphere doesn’t even have a list of tips for you to use. And yet, if you wonder how in the world this happened, it’s a book you’ll want.

In scientific terms, author Frank Ryan explains where viruses evolved, their contagiousness, and how they work. It’s a complex subject that’s broken into understandable parts, but this is still not a skimmable read that you’ll finish in an evening. No, it demands that you to pay attention.

No problem: Ryan imparts a certain excitement about those things that cause misery, which makes this book like a peek into a hospital laboratory, or a tour of a geneticist’s workspace. Don’t be surprised, therefore, if Virusphere gives you a teensy bit of respect for viruses, bacteria, and microbes. Don’t hesitate to put this book in your hands.

Just be sure to wash them first.

Gone at Midnight: The Mysterious Death of Elisa Lam by Jake Anderson
c.2020, Citadel Press $26.00 / $35.00 Canada 368 pages

Something doesn’t feel right.

Things are off a little bit, or a lot. One point’s out of place, another seems slightly askew, and once you spot a problem, you can’t unsee it. Casual observers, heck, even professionals might think the picture’s perfect, but you know better. As in the new book Gone at Midnight by Jake Anderson, some things just don’t add up.

A sunny southern California vacation always sounds good to a northerner, especially in January. And that’s the reason Chinese-Canadian student Elisa Lam was in Los Angeles that winter, 2013, though her parents worried about her traveling solo.

For the choice of hotel alone, they had reason to fret says Anderson, the Cecil Hotel — Lam’s chosen destination — was in a sketchy area, near Skid Row. It’s possible that Lam didn’t know the area, he suggests, or its history.

Built in 1924 with the intention of bringing luxury and opulence to downtown Los Angeles, the Cecil Hotel was constructed with the wealthy in mind, but it also included several rooms for long-term residents. Almost immediately after its opening, though, problems arrived: a number of arrests occurred in the hotel, crimes were committed in its rooms, and several murders and more than a dozen suicides happened there. By the 1970s, in fact, the Cecil was known as “Suicide Hotel.”

But Elisa Lam didn’t realize that or didn’t care. She checked into the Cecil Hotel with two women that she’d apparently just met, and who ultimately complained to hotel management that Lam was acting weird. Indeed, Lam had only recently realized that she’d suffered from depression for many years. But was she suicidal?

No one knows, and we never will: in mid-February of 2013, Lam’s nude body was discovered floating inside the Cecil Hotel’s water supply tank, under suspicious circumstances; officials said she drowned, and Anderson says they refused to comment further.

But Lam’s friends were outraged. They told Anderson that there was absolutely “no way” Elisa Lam killed herself.

You might have seen the video, shocking as it is. It shows a slight Asian woman, and what looks like fearful behavior. In Gone at Midnight, author Jake Anderson says that body language experts saw things differently, and he explains.

That’s all good, at first. Very good: it’s the stuff horror movies are made of, and Anderson plays into that creepiness by hinting that the Cecil is haunted and that the building seemed to call to him as he was researching this book. Read, check the windows, see if the hairs don’t rise on your arms.

Again, very good — until this book’s breathy prose, esoteric details, and personal information start to feel outsized. There’s also a lot of biography here, and a lot of it is Anderson’s. That’s relevant, to a point, but it shifts the focus too much.

Still, this chilling tale of obsession and gruesomeness is great for murder-mystery fans who also like a bit of paranormal sprinkled in. Turn on the lights, don’t read at night, and Gone at Midnight could be just right.