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GenreQueer / Contemporary / Nonfiction
Reviewed byParisDude on 10-October-2022

Besides romances, space operas, murder mysteries, fantasy novels or the odd short story collection, I also love to read nonfiction books, mostly of the historical “persuasion”, as long as they are interesting, well researched, and well written. The topics may range from Spain in the 19th century to the Plantagenets or a fun take on the longstanding love-hate relationship between France and England through the centuries. When the ARC of this book, ‘Queers and Civilization’, was proposed, I therefore raised my hand almost unthinkingly.

Thank God I did. At first, I was a bit wary that the book might turn out to be a long-winded, theoretical and dry essay about queers in history, but it was anything but. A first glance at the section and chapter titles, and I already chuckled, thinking, “Byron, I think you and I will get along just fine!” Sneak peek? Part one is titled “If You Don’t Like Diversity, Drop Dead”, and its first subsection is “On Bugs & Buggery”. I therefore opened the book rather gleefully, and I didn’t stop smiling all through my read.

The book started out like any self-respecting nonfiction book by a definition of the terms used in the title, namely of how and why the word “queer” was used in this context by the author (no worries, this part was succinct). And then came a string of almost anecdotal, easily readable bits of information, biographies, and sometimes very personal interpretations of historical personae, that kept me hooked. When I closed the book, I mused what a pity it was that it was so short. Only then did I realize it contained in fact over 240 pages, which had felt like barely 50. That means two things: for one, I would have loved twice, even thrice as many pages; and secondly, I had found the read so enthralling (and, I admit, entertaining) that I hadn’t seen the time fly by.

Of course, if you expect erudite scholarship with countless references, cross-references, and a body of footnotes as thick as the main thread, if you cherish dispassionate, purposely objective history-gazing, this book might disappoint you. Byron Kennard is not a writer who wears erudition on a jacket lapel like a badge of honor and delivers high-brow ivory-tower history that feels detached from reality. Kennard is a witty and highly passionate writer, and that passion shines through in every passage of this book. The author cares about the subject, which makes for a vibrating, lively – and I already mentioned it – entertaining style.

But behind that easy-going façade of “I’m gonna tell you a story”, the author tells history. Queer history. Told the way history is best told because that way it becomes relatable: in short bits, with anecdotes and side-remarks that make links easier to be detected and understood. This is therefore not an exhaustive and detailed compendium of all the queer characters of human history but a handy vade-mecum of some of the most notable ones (and in some cases also some of the most disputed ones).

You may have guessed it—a book that both entertains and enlightens me can only please me. Highly recommended read!