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The Alaska town that inspired ‘Northern Exposure’ is in a battle over legal pot

TALKEETNA, Alaska — The presence of a marijuana retail store has caused a deep divide in this quirky tourist town, where hundreds of visitors roam the streets daily browsing in art galleries and souvenir shops housed in historic cabins.

Most of Talkeetna’s stores line the two long blocks that make up its Main Street, where tourists – many who arrive in Alaska on cruise ships and are bused about two hours north from Anchorage – wander into storefronts like Nagley’s General Store for ice cream or slip through its back door for a cold one at the West Rib Bar and Grill.

At Main Street’s opposite end, near a river park where visitors snap photos of the continent’s tallest mountain, is Talkeetna’s newest venture into the tourism trade. The High Expedition Co. is a nod to the rich mountain climbing history of the eclectic community purported to be the inspiration for the 1990s television series “Northern Exposure.”

Talkeetna’s first marijuana retail store is causing a rift not seen in other tourist-dependent towns in this Libertarian-leaning state, where marijuana had a casual acceptance long before it became legal. But even here, like in many pot-legal states, some towns have opted out of sales, fearful it might invite crime and other evils.

In Talkeetna, some shop owners – the ones who built a multimillion-dollar business from the steady stream of mountain climbers who use Talkeetna as a staging point for treks up Denali – say this one shop could ruin the tiny town’s historic atmosphere and harm business like the eight or so stores that serve alcohol along Main Street could never do.

“I don’t think he belongs in downtown Talkeetna,” Meandering Moose B&B owner Mike Stoltz said.

Joe McAneney co-owns the High Expedition Co., which opened in mid-May. “The sky hasn’t fallen on Talkeetna, the sun is shining, and this is now the most photographed shop in town,” he said.

Grabbing the attention of amateur shutterbugs is a small “Cannabis Purveyors” wooden sign on the store’s deck.

McAneney has been working to open the shop nearly since the day in 2014 that Alaska residents voted to legalize recreational marijuana. He and a partner bought the cabin that was originally built for Ray Genet, an early Talkeetna climber and guide who died in 1979 on Mount Everest. McAneney worked with Genet’s family and has incorporated a small museum dedicated to Genet and Talkeetna’s climbing history. But even that association led to some disdain.

“Small towns in Alaska are harder than anywhere to break into and sort of become accepted,” McAneney said.

His store got its approval from the borough on a technicality when the assembly was writing regulations for marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas, like Talkeetna, and inadvertently omitted special land use districts – like the town’s Main Street. Talkeetna has no local governing body, only a nonvoting community council whose sole power is sending recommendations to borough officials roughly 75 miles (120 kilometers) away.

State regulators approved the store’s permit on a 3-2 vote last spring.

“There’s people that are upset about it, but it’s legal,” said Sue Deyoe, the Talkeetna Historical Society and Museum’s executive director.

Opposition mounted as the issue went before state regulators, where a stream of residents unsuccessfully called in to the Anchorage meeting to oppose the store’s license.

Among the biggest issue for critics is the lack of places for tourists to puff the marijuana they buy – smoking pot in public is illegal, and that led to fears the nearby river park would become the place to partake.

Alaska State Troopers say there were no citations issued for anyone consuming marijuana in public in Talkeetna from April 1 to July 1, the same as last year.

But opponents argue Talkeetna is lawless, with the closest trooper an hour away. “What are we supposed to do?” asked Stoltz, the bed and breakfast owner. “Are we going to take the law into our own hands? Duct-tape him?”

Stoltz said the very presence of a pot store will harm business in the historic town, where residents make a year’s living between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

“If we lose our tourism, we lose what Talkeetna is,” he said. “We’re not catering to stoner tourists. To me, that’s the conflict with Joe.”

Seeing a pot shop on Talkeetna’s main drag didn’t bother 65-year-old Jeff White, visiting from the Louisville, Kentucky, area.

Talkeetna has the artsy feel of a tourist town in Colorado, which also has legal marijuana, he said. “This goes with that vibe, and I think that’s fine.”

One resident dismisses the idea that the pot store is giving Talkeetna a black eye. But it is dividing the town, Christie Stoltz said, noting the chasm has reached her home. She’s the daughter of Mike Stoltz, the B&B owner.

“I feel like it’s generations — the older generation versus the younger generation,” she said.

For some, marijuana was never an issue, Deyoe said, and it pales in comparison to a controversy last spring when the borough proposed leveling trees over an area about the size of eight football fields for an expanded parking lot for summer use.

“I think the community council got way more letters on that than they did in reaction to the marijuana shop,” she said.

kerry-washington-confirmationPanelist who came to TCA to talk about HBO’s original movie Confirmation dodged the question as to whether they believed Clarence Thomas or Anita Hill was telling the truth during the 1991 confirmation hearings for now Supreme Court justice Thomas.

“The assumption is the movie is ‘who’s telling the truth and we lean into that,” Kerry Washington, who plays Anita Hill, said while leaning away from an actual answer to the simple question. “Who did you believe” she said, is a “provocative question.”

Which she chose not to answer, explaining instead, “When you start to tell the story and pull back the curtain, the story is way more complicated than ‘he said/she said’,” because of  the “layers of politics” that came into play.

The film details how Vice President Joe Biden, then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, presided over the Thomas hearings and the speculation that he was cowed into cutting them short and declining to call additional witnesses while letting other senators brutally attack Hill, who had come forward to testify she’d allegedly been sexually harassed by Thomas. Biden is played by Greg Kinnear.

One of those additional witnesses was Angela Wright, played by Jennifer Hudson. Wright was prepared to testify that she too had been sexually harassed by Thomas; but she never was called. Washington this afternoon credited the hearings with forever changing the way this country thinks about sexual harassment, victims’ rights, and modern race relations –some of which is a pretty tough sell if you did not come away from the hearings believing Hill.

“It’s much richer than what you would expect,” Kinnear said, seconding Washington’s non-answer to that who-do-you-believe question.  Kinnear also insisted it’s “not as simple as he said/she said” which he called “a real testament to great film making.”

A guide to the allegations of Bill Clinton’s womanizing

On Twitter, Donald Trump, the GOP presidential front-runner, lashed out at Hillary Clinton, directly attacking her husband, the former president, for what Trump called “his terrible record of women abuse.”

Trump is obviously referring to the sexual allegations that have long swirled around Clinton, even before he became president. We’d earlier explored this question in 2014 when Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) wrongly claimed that a half dozen women had called Clinton a “sexual predator.” But for younger voters who may be wondering what the fuss is about, here again is a guide to the various claims made about Clinton’s sex life.

We will divide the stories into two parts: consensual liaisons admitted by the women in question and allegations of an unwanted sexual encounter.

Consensual affairs

Gennifer Flowers — a model and actress whose claims of a long-term affair nearly wrecked Clinton’s first run for the presidency in 1992. (Clinton denied her claims at the time, but under oath in 1998 he acknowledged a sexual encounter with her.)

Monica Lewinsky — intern at the White House, whose affair with Clinton fueled impeachment charges. This was a consensual affair, in which Lewinsky was an eager participant; she was 22 when the affair started and Clinton was her boss.

Dolly Kyle Browning — A high school friend who said in a sworn declaration that she had had a 22-year off-and-on sexual relationship with Clinton.

Elizabeth Ward Gracen — a former Miss America who said she had a one-night stand with Clinton while he was governor — and she was married. She went public to specifically deny reports he had forced himself on her.

Myra Belle “Sally” Miller — the 1958 Miss Arkansas who said in 1992 that she had had an affair with Clinton in 1983. She claimed that she had been warned not to go public by a Democratic Party official: “They knew that I went jogging by myself and he couldn’t guarantee what would happen to my pretty little legs.”

 Some might argue that because Lewinsky and Gracen had relations when Clinton was in a position of executive authority, Clinton engaged in sexual harassment.

Allegations of an unwanted sexual encounter

Paula Jones — A former Arkansas state employee who alleged that in 1991 Clinton, while governor, propositioned her and exposed himself. She later filed a sexual harassment suit, and it was during a deposition in that suit that Clinton initially denied having sexual relations with Lewinsky. Clinton in 1998 settled the suit for $850,000, with no apology or admission of guilt. All but $200,000 was directed to pay legal fees.

Juanita Broaddrick — The nursing home administrator emerged after the impeachment trial to allege that 21 years earlier Clinton had raped her. Clinton flatly denied the claim, and there were inconsistencies in her story. No charges were ever brought.

Kathleen Willey — The former White House aide claimed Clinton groped her in his office in 1993, on the same day when her husband, facing embezzlement charges, died in an apparent suicide. (Her story changed over time. During a deposition in the Paula Jones matter, she initially said she had no recollection about whether Clinton kissed her and insisted he did not fondle her.) Clinton denied her account, and the independent prosecutor concluded “there is insufficient evidence to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that President Clinton’s testimony regarding Kathleen Willey was false.” Willey later began to claim Clinton had a hand in her husband’s death, even though her husband left behind a suicide note.

Note that no court of law ever found Clinton guilty of the accusations.

Peter Baker, in “The Breach,” the definitive account of the impeachment saga, reported that House investigators later found in the files of the independent prosecutor that Jones’s lawyers had collected the names of 21 different women they suspected had had a sexual relationship with Clinton. Baker described the files as “wild allegations, sometimes based on nothing more than hearsay claims of third-party witnesses.” But there were some allegations (page 138) that suggested unwelcome advances:

“One woman was alleged to have been asked by Clinton to give him oral sex in a car while he was the state attorney general (a claim she denied). A former Arkansas state employee said that during a presentation, then-Governor Clinton walked behind her and rubbed his pelvis up against her repeatedly. A woman identified as a third cousin of Clinton’s supposedly told her drug counselor during treatment in Arkansas that she was abused by Clinton when she was baby-sitting at the Governor’s Mansion in Little Rock.”

Update: We were focused on stories that emerged during Clinton’s presidency. But many readers have also urged us to include a reference to Clinton’s post-presidential travels on aircraft owned by convicted pedophile Jeffery Epstein. Gawker reported that flight logs show that Clinton, among others, traveled through Africa in 2002 on a jet with “an actress in softcore porn movies whose name appears in Epstein’s address book under an entry for ‘massages.’”  Chauntae Davies, the actress, declined to discuss why she was on the flight. Clinton has not commented.

The Bottom Line

Trump’s claim is a bit too vague for a fact check. In any case, we imagine readers will have widely divergent reactions to this list of admitted affairs and unproven allegations of unwanted sexual encounters. But at least you now know the specific cases that Trump is referencing.

Trump is right: Bill Clinton’s sordid sexual history is fair game

Trump is right: Bill Clinton’s sordid sexual history is fair game

How to balance a startup with family life




Gay Leather Scene Tones Down From Hard-Core to Dress-Up

The leather scene once occupied a very visible part of gay culture. A group of men at the Lesbian and Gay Pride March in New York City in 1984On a warm Saturday night in November, about 800 gay men wearing harnesses and other items made of leather gathered at Brut, a party held at Santos Party House in Lower Manhattan.

Mostly in their 20s and 30s, the men danced to pounding house music, flirted in an intimate lounge below the dance floor and ogled two beefy go-go men gyrating on boxes. Shirts came off, but leather harnesses stayed on all night, as Brut bills itself as New York’s only monthly leather party.

But if the party was introducing the leather scene to younger gay men who had never heard of the Village People, it also underscored a social shift: The leather scene has lost much of its overt sadomasochistic edge, and is now more about dressing up.

“I’m wearing a harness from Nasty Pig” — a sex-oriented clothing store in Chelsea — “but I’m not a part of the leather community,” said Joseph Alexiou, 31, a writer in New York, who was taking a break from the dance floor. “This party is introducing leather in a fun way that doesn’t seem so serious.”

Stalwarts of the leather scene agree that there has been a shift from lifestyle to sexy dress-up.

David Lauterstein, who opened Nasty Pig in 1994 with his husband, Frederick Kearney, said that his store has undergone a transformation of its own. While the store still carries leather harnesses and chaps, they have become seasonal items tied to specific parties; most racks these days display flannel shirts, hoodies and nylon bomber jackets.

“Leather has been integrated into the larger downtown culture, as gay sexuality has become more accepted,” Mr. Lauterstein said. “Being into kinky stuff doesn’t mean you have to wear certain clothing to let the world know.”

The leather scene used to occupy a very visible part of gay culture. In the 1960s through the early ’80s, men in leather caps and chaps could be seen strutting about Christopher Street, looking as if they had emerged from a Tom of Finland illustration by way of a Marlon Brando movie still.

“Leather became metaphoric for claiming masculinity,” said Michael Bronski, a gender and sexuality studies professor at Harvard University and author of “A Queer History of the United States.” “These guys were baby boomers who’d been told that being gay meant being a sweater queen or being fluffy or effeminate.”

Gay leather bars dotted Manhattan, with names like the Spike, Rawhide, the Ramrod and Badlands. And during the city’s annual gay pride parade, wearers of leather played a prominent role. Indeed, the annual Leather Pride Night party was one of the parade’s main sources of funding.

But “progress” in the name of same-sex marriage, social acceptance and civil rights seemed to have taken its toll on the leather scene.

“Many factors, like gentrification and the fight for marriage equality, have contributed to the rise in homonormality,” said Jeremiah Moss, who chronicles the city’s evolution on the site Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York. “This is a very American melting pot phenomenon: If you assimilate, if you give up what makes you different, you can have rights.”

The Internet has also impacted the leather scene. “The fact that the bulk of most people’s kinky lives are being lived out online or on their phone has diminished the prominence of what I would call classic leather,” said Matt Johnson, the chairman of Folsom Street East, an annual street fair in Manhattan that celebrates all things leather. “However, the growth of the virtual world has democratized kink to a greater extent, and has led to a proliferation of kinky styles.”

AIDS also had a dramatic effect, according to Mr. Bronski. “Leather shifted and became less aggressively sexual,” he said. “You see the emergence of bear communities, which is about being supportive and huggy.”

In Hell’s Kitchen, which has become Manhattan’s leading gay neighborhood, leather isn’t nearly as visible as button-down shirts, tank tops and cargo pants.

Earlier this year, the organizers of Leather Pride Night announced that after 31 years they were ending its annual fund-raiser. “Leather Pride Night has run its course as a broad-based community event,” the group said in a statement.


The Eagle Bar NYC, is one of the last stalwarts, which continues to host kinky nights like Foot Fetish Mondays and Hanky Tuesdays. CreditChristian Hansen for The New York Times 

And while some leather-themed events remain (most notably the Black Party and Folsom Street East), most of the city’s leather bars have closed. Rawhide, a perennially dark bar on Eighth Avenue and 21st Street, closed in 2013, after 34 years, because of a rent hike.

The Eagle Bar NYC, a long-running club at 554 West 28th Street, is the last stalwart. A smoldering, multilevel place with a pool table, a motorcycle and dim lighting, the Eagle continues to host kinky nights like Foot Fetish Mondays and Hanky Tuesdays.

To survive, it has had to evolve. Derek Danton, 57, a co-owner, said the median age of patrons is now about a decade younger, about 25 to 35, than before. He said they wear less leather than the old guard (sometimes just one item) and generally don’t identity as full-time leather men.

“Now there’s so much assimilation,” Mr. Danton said. “In the ’90s, leather evolved into something else. It became absorbed by the larger fetish community.”

Brut, which started two years ago, has given leather a boost among gay men raised in the age of hookup apps like Grindr and Scruff. The party has grown in popularity, branching out to Los Angeles and San Francisco, with Chicago and Atlanta in the works.

Dan Darlington, 39, a former pharmacist from Chicago, who started Brut with Peter Napoli, 31, also sees a generational divide. “The old guard are the die-hards, very intense, feeling you have to wear your leather all the time,” he said. “The new guard are saying: ‘We’re not going to wear it all the time. We’re going to incorporate other elements into it.’”

Still, he added, the party is a way for the old and new guard to get together.

Correction: December 24, 2015
The picture caption accompanying an earlier version of this article misidentified the year the photograph was taken. It was 1984 not 1980. It also referred incorrectly to the official name of the event at which the photograph was taken. It is the annual Lesbian and Gay Pride March, not the Gay Pride parade.

Barnes and Noble has just applied for a Liquor License

Barnes and Noble has just applied for a Liquor License


Barnes and Noble has been looking for alternative ways to leverage their 600 bookstores to be a little more profitable. The company has recently started selling Vinyl Records and it looks like they might be selling wine and craft beers.

The Nations largest bookseller has just applied for a beer and wine license from the New York State Liquor Authority. Keven Danow, a New York City-based attorney who consulted with Barnes & Noble on the license application said that select locations will try-out selling beer and wine from the stores cafes to see how customers like the concept. It is very likely that food menu offerings would be tweaked to offer items better paired with beer or wine.

The first bookstore to serve as a test location will be the New Hartford location at 4811 Commercial Drive. I have heard the store operating hours will not change, so it is unlikely that will will offer beverages during author signings or do random after-hours events.

I remember one of the coolest bookstore experiences I ever had was in New York for Book Expo America and there was a small party in an indie bookstore. There were about two hundred people in attendance and everyone was drinking wine and beer, talking and listening to live music. If Barnes and Noble can somehow leverage some kind of after hours social gathering that is exclusively populated by bookworms, they could be onto something special. It remains to be seen if they would ever do something like this, but at least they are trying different things.

Seattle Times’ critics best books of 2015

The Seattle Times list of the best books we reviewed and read in 2015 includes 16 works of fiction and 16 nonfiction

Our Seattle Times picks for the best books we reviewed and read in 2015 includes 16 works of fiction, 16 nonfiction, 32 in all. There’s a breathtaking range here, from Don Winslow’s “The Cartel,” a novel of the Mexican drug wars, to Neal Stephenson’s “Seveneves,” a highly imaginative story of how humanity grapples with an impending doomsday. Nonfiction? Take your pick, from the story of seeds to the story of Detroit.

I compiled this list with the aid of my dedicated Seattle Times reviewers. Thanks to them, and thanks to you, our readers, for your enduring enthusiasm for books. I can’t think of a better town to be a book editor in.


“A God in Ruins” by Kate Atkinson (Little, Brown). Not so much a sequel (to her brilliant “Life After Life”) as a dazzling overlay, Atkinson’s novel is the story of a man whose life spans the 20th century, told in time-bending bursts of lyrical prose. — Moira Macdonald

“Sorcerer to the Crown” by Zen Cho (Ace). Like the best-selling “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell,” Zen Cho’s novel sparkles with Jane Austen-ish wit and thrilling clashes between feuding magicians. But she adds a biracial governess, a Malaysian witch and a British noble’s emancipated African ward to the mix, which ups this debut novel’s fun quotient as well as its diversity. — Nisi Shawl

Most Read Stories

“Last Bus to Wisdom” by Ivan Doig (Riverhead). The late Seattle storyteller Ivan Doig’s final novel, “Last Bus to Wisdom,” is a tender coming-of-age tale recounted by a precocious 11-year-old. It ranges boisterously across the American West while deftly exploring the vastness and vulnerability of the human heart. — Tim McNulty

“The Gilded Hour” by Sara Donati (Berkley). The Bellingham author brings her vast historical-novel experience to bear in a riveting saga of two women doctors in an 1890s New York City teeming with immigrants, orphans, vast wealth, oppression, romance and optimism — and there’s even an autobiographical twist. — Melinda Bargreen

“Purity” by Jonathan Franzen(Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Franzen’s fifth novel finds parallels between Internet invasiveness and totalitarianism as it takes on toxic marriages, WikiLeaks-style whistle-blowing and more. Result: an antsy, globe-hopping existential screwball comedy. — Michael Upchurch 

“Fates and Furies” by Lauren Groff (Riverhead). This absorbing, intimate account of a modern marriage moves back and forth in time and perspective, as it explores the coupling of two complex, seemingly charmed people. — Misha Berson

“Funny Girl” by Nick Hornby(Riverhead). Smart, beautiful, strong young woman hits the big city, triumphs and falters, and finally, gratefully accepts the good in life; Hornby, a ridiculously gifted British novelist, uses his trademark unpretentious style to mold this familiar plot into a fresh, flavorful, moving, and hilarious love letter to early ’60s popular entertainment, London style. — Adam Woog

“Black River” by S.M. Hulse(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). This Montana-based story, about a prison guard who returns to his hometown after decades away, is an intricate work that layers faith with broken promises, broken bones, and broken hearts. This is a story of people shaped irrevocably by place and circumstance. — Barbara Lloyd McMichael

“Finders Keepers” by Stephen King (Scribner). The second novel in King’s proposed “Bill Hodges” trilogy is a fast-paced detective story involving the unpublished works of a respected, famous (and dead) author and a duffel bag full of cash. It closes with a single word that leaves readers clamoring for the finale. — Doug Knoop

“Thirteen Ways of Looking” by Colum McCann(Random House). Violence hangs over McCann’s collection of short stories, each eloquent and haunting. The title story (taking up more than half the book), about an old man’s final day, echoes Joyce, but finds its own wondrously meandering stream of consciousness. — Moira Macdonald

“The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Press). In this audacious debut novel, the unnamed narrator is a double agent for the fallen South Vietnamese regime and the communist victors, and his depiction of the Vietnam War and its aftermath in America reads like a frenzied, feverish dream. — David Takami

“Grant Park” by Leonard Pitts Jr. This fast-paced novel by the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist delivers as much rich plot development as it does a thought-provoking meditation on race and history that is pertinent to understanding today’s brand of discrimination and hate crimes. — Blanca Torres

“Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral” by Mary Doria Russell(Ecco). This novel tells the story of Wyatt and Sadie Earp from beginning to end, not stopping at the famous gunfight and its aftermath but following the couple to the end of their lives, inevitably shaped by that 1881 blaze of gunfire in Tombstone, Arizona Territory. — John B. Saul.

“Seveneves” by Neal Stephenson(Morrow).This novel by Stephenson, a Seattle-based speculative fiction author, had me thinking hard for weeks. The premise — something makes the moon blow up, creating an asteroid rain that will eventually kill everyone on Earth. Earth’s leaders have two years to figure out how to preserve the human race. Stephenson has thought out every angle — psychological, political, environmental, and has an expert’s grasp of the science involved. — Mary Ann Gwinn

“Landfalls” by Naomi J. Williams(Farrar, Straus & Giroux).fictional account of a real 18th-century French maritime expedition exploring the Pacific Ocean before meeting its doom. Sly writing and startlingly different points of view make this a shape-shifting revelation of a book. — Michael Upchurch 

“The Cartel” by Don Winslow (Knopf). This moving story about the havoc wrought by the War on Drugs in the country of Mexico is brutal, bloody and horrifying, as well as inspirational in its story of people who resist the cartels’ takeover. By the end of it you will get Winslow’s point — America is complicit in the carnage. — Mary Ann Gwinn


“The Oregon Trail: an American Journey” by Rinker Buck (Simon & Schuster). Although it feels a bit like an overstuffed mattress, this first-person account retracing the route of the pioneers via covered wagon is so exuberant that you forgive the lumps and enjoy the ride. — Ellen Emry Heltzel

“Leaving Before the Rains Come” by Alexandra Fuller(Penguin Press). In her third memoir, Fuller’s prose is as lyrical and electric as ever. Telling the story of the making and undoing of her 19-year marriage, the book also reaches back into the history of Fuller’s eccentric, half-mad and fully maddening family. It is a charming, anxious and touching work. — Brian Thomas Gallagher

“Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence” by Bryan Burrough (Penguin Press). Burrough provides a fascinating look at an almost forgotten era of homegrown terrorism, when “revolutionary violence” was waged by left-wing radicals in a wildly naive effort to lead the “oppressed” American working class to revolt. — Kevin J. Hamilton

“Going Into The City” by Robert Christgau(Dey Street). Christgau is the self-described dean of American rock critics, and his memoir is a love letter both to a basically lost profession, and a lost era when rock ’n’ roll truly shifted culture. — Charles R. Cross

“Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates(Spiegel & Grau). This slim book by journalist Coates, winner of this year’s National Book Award for nonfiction, is an autobiographical letter from an anguished father to his teen son about what it means for them to be African American in the “Black Lives Matter” era. Coates has crafted a furious yet poetic call to action, imploring all of us to speak more honestly about the roots of racism and the concept of race itself. — Tyrone Beason

“Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and her Daughter Mary Shelley ” by Charlotte Gordon(Random House). This dual biography tells the extraordinary story of Mary Wollstonecraft, English pioneer for women’s rights, and that of her daughter Mary Shelley, who ran away with the married poet Percy Shelley, was shunned by English society and then wrote “Frankenstein.” Gordon interweaves the story of two extraordinary women with skill and sympathy. — Mary Ann Gwinn

“Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition” by Nisid Hajari(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Dramatic and suspenseful, this political nonfiction work, which deals with the 1947 partition of British India, delves deeply into the political and ideological rivalry between the leaders of the Hindu and Muslim factions, thereby providing a basis for understanding the subcontinental schism. — Bharti Kirchner

“The Triumph of Seeds” by Thor Hanson(Basic Books). San Juan Island conservation biologist Hanson explores the easily-overlooked but fascinating key to much of life on Earth, from coffee beans and the nut in Almond Joys to ancient grasses and sticky burdock seeds, which inspired Velcro. — Irene Wanner

“H is for Hawk” by Helen Macdonald(Grove Press). In her stunning, award-winning memoir, British writer Macdonald recounts how she emerged from a deep grief-based depression by acquiring and training a goshawk: the writing sings on every page and the twining of narrative strands (natural history, heavy emotional weather, love for a wild animal) is masterfully done. — David Laskin

“Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story” by David Maraniss (Simon & Schuster). Maraniss’ well-written and researched book well remembers the city of Detroit in the early 1960s as a place where factories hummed, Motown rocked and the present gave little warning that Detroit would become a “city of decay.” – John B. Saul

“Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back” by Janice P. Nimura(W.W. Norton). Nimura has written a superb and riveting history, the true story of three Japanese girls who were sent to America in the 1870s to be educated. She includes the fascinating context of their samurai origins, their journey by steamboat from nearly feudal Japan to San Francisco and beyond, their immersion in the Gilded Age and Christian life in America — and then their return to Japan, a shift in culture that is impossible to overdramatize. — Wingate Packard

“Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic” by Sam Quinones(Bloomsbury Press). This masterpiece of nonfiction narrative reporting tells two stories. The first chronicles the epidemic of addiction to OxyContin and other prescription opiates in Americans. The second — how a Mexican drug distribution network turned those same addicts into heroin users. Nary a word is wasted in Quinones’ telling, and the cumulative effect is devastating — Mary Ann Gwinn

“A List of Things That Didn’t Kill Me” by Jason Schmidt(Farrar, Straus and Giroux). This unusual coming-of-age memoir treads the line between social commentary and Young Adult literature through the pleasantly mordant voice of a youth being raised in 1980s Seattle by his drug-dealing single dad, who develops AIDS. — Claudia Rowe

“M Train” by Patti Smith (Knopf). This book, masquerading as a travel memoir by a famous rock star, is really a fluid, dreamlike meditation on loss, art, mortality and the sacred by a poet with a very sharp pen. — Paul de Barros

“Lafayette in the Somewhat United States” by Sarah Vowell (Riverhead). The author’s retracing of the Marquis de Lafayette’s long-forgotten devotion and aid to the colonists of our country-to-be brings its readers to guffaws in some places and “awwwws” in others. — Melissa Davis

“Island on Fire: The Extraordinary Story of a Forgotten Volcano” by Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe(Pegasus Books). Not as spectacular as recent eruptions in Iceland but with far greater repercussions, Laki is the most devastating eruption you’ve never heard of. Husband and wife team Witze and Kanipe use primary source documents and on-the-ground reporting to tell an amazing story about this world changing volcano explosion in 1783. — David B. Williams

‘The Legend of Georgia McBride’ Theater Review: Or, Queer Eye for the Straight Elvis Impersonator



Playwright Matthew Lopez channels Tennessee Williams in a drama about drag queens including one who could be straight out of “Sweet Bird of Youth”

If Tennessee Williams were alive and writing today, he might come up with a character like Miss Tracy, who isn’t but should be the title character in Matthew Lopez’s new play, “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” which opened Wednesday at Off Broadway’s Lucille Lortel Theatre.

If Tennessee Williams were alive and writing a character like Miss Tracy, he would, of course, be repeating himself since he already wrote this character when he created Alexandra Del Lago, the lead female in “Sweet Bird of Youth.”

The big difference is that Miss Tracy is a drag queen and Alexandra Del Lago is a woman, not that anyone let Geraldine Page in on that secret. In the film version of “Sweet Bird of Youth,” Page plays the faded movie star as if she were a transvestite, and a very flamboyant and demanding transvestite at that.

I’ve always wondered if Page replicated her stage portrayal or brought it down a notch for the camera. Whatever, Matt McGrath as Miss Tracy takes Page’s Alexandra and matches her twitch for twitch, roll for roll of the eye balls. He’s even better at batting an errant strand of hair off his forehead.

Williams never did tell us much about the movie that caused Alexandra to flee Hollywood and travel incognito as the Princess Kosmonopolis. (Lopez, among other things, can’t compete with Williams when it comes to drag names.) In Robert Zemeckis‘ “Death Becomes Her,” a character played by Meryl Streep offers us a glimpse of a Broadway musical, “Sweet Bird,” that’s supposed to be the musical version of the Williams melodrama. Meryl dances on a circular banquette in the middle of a hotel lobby, surrounded by bellboys. It’s a funny send-up.

In “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” McGrath and Lopez offer something better: Miss Tracy lip syncs to a pastiche of Broadway lyrics that run the gamut from “West Side Story” to “Follies” and several shows not written by Stephen Sondheim to comprise a theater version of “No More Wire Hangers!” one-liners.

“George McBride” doesn’t have much more up its many prosthetics than a desire to entertain. But Lopez does try to put transvestism at the heart of the gay rights movement. Unfortunately, he puts that questionable rewriting of history — yes, there was a vital gay-rights movement before Stonewall — into the mouth of Miss Tracy’s sidekick, Miss Rexy (Keith Nobbs), who probably shouldn’t be given that job since he’s a serious substance abuser and, for a drag queen, rather heavy-footed.

The other problem is that the title character isn’t Miss Tracy but Dave Thomas Brown’s Georgia McBride, who isn’t a flamboyant drag queen. Unlike Miss Tracy or Miss Rexy, Brown actually looks and acts like a real woman on stage, and never more so than when the actor eschews the lip-syncing to do his own vocals.

Brown begins as a lackluster Elvis impersonator named Casey with a pregnant wife (Afton Williamson). When he’s demoted to bartender and his club plans to bring in drag acts to pump up the business, it’s obvious from Brown’s finely chiseled porcelain features and lithe dancer’s body (much exposed) that he’s going to look absolutely fab in heels and a mini.

“Georgia McBride” requires a big leap from masculine to feminine that Brown, going from Casey to Georgia, doesn’t quite make under the direction of Mike Donahue.

It’s a transformation, like Eliza Doolittle’s, that shouldn’t be so obvious from the get-go. Nor should we cringe when Miss Rexy overdoses and Miss Tracy turns into Mama Rose in “Gypsy” to push the reluctant Casey/Georgia into the spotlight.

Lopez knows how to borrow from Tennessee Williams. Now he needs to learn how to borrow better from Arthur Laurents.

“The Legend of Georgia McBride” is presented by MCC, and runs through Oct. 4.

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Half-hour dramas prove less is more

Half-hour shows include (clockwise from left): Pivot’s “Please Like Me,” HBO’s “Togetherness,” FX’s “Louie,” and Amazon’s “Transparent.”

Until recently, it was as if a decree requiring all TV dramas to last an hour had been handed down from on high. “And it was said, that in order to evoke sadness, tenderness, tears, pathos, or anything that doesn’t involve laughter, man must taketh up 60 minutes (44 minutes on thy broadcast networks)” – something like that.

But while plenty of customs — two-year presidential campaigns anyone? — continue despite their inefficacy, irrelevance, or inappropriateness, let us be glad that more and more TV outlets are breaking rules, and the length rule in particular. They’re recognizing the value of the half-hour drama, the power of brevity that short-story writers have always known about. Unlike the Emmys, which still mostly categorize shows according to length, they’re giving audiences enough credit to understand that drama can come in many shapes and sizes.

The current batch of half-hour dramas includes some of the best series that TV has to offer. Amazon’s “Transparent,” which returns on Dec. 4, HBO’s “Togetherness” and “Girls,” both of which return on Feb. 21, and Pivot’s now-airing “Please Like Me” all refuse binary genre definitions. They include moments of humor, of course — so did “The Sopranos” and “The Wire” — but most often they’re steeped in the more problematic aspects of life and relationships, with searching characters who embody a lot more than one or two qualities.

The phenomenon took form in the 2000s, and Showtime was the pioneer. With “Nurse Jackie,” “United States of Tara,’’ “Secret Diary of a Call Girl,’’ “Weeds,’’ and “Californication,” the cable channel ushered the format into acceptance. In 2009, I wrote a story about the then-new phenomenon and chose, for reasons that I can no longer recall or that I am blocking because they were so very wrong, to employ the label “grimedy.” No, not a particularly catchy word, and anyway these shows aren’t always grim, even if they’re grounded in serious themes.

The popularity of the shorter Showtime dramas, driven by auteur-ish talents such as Jenji Kohan and Diablo Cody, meant we could no longer assume half-hour TV shows were automatically less prestigious or emotionally affecting than the list of Golden Era regulars. The shows were filmed very much like those groundbreaking dramas, with the same kinds of cinematic virtues, season-long plot arcs, and dimensional performances. “Nurse Jackie” was the most dramatic of the bunch, with Edie Falco’s central character locked into a relentless downward spiral of pill addiction. The show was consistently nominated in the Emmy and Golden Globe comedy categories, but anyone who watched it knew better.

“I always thought I was signed on for a drama,’’ Falco told the Globe when the show premiered. “And then I found out that Showtime bought a comedy. So there were times when I had no idea what the hell we were making!’’

The half-hour length added an intensity to “Nurse Jackie” that suited the subject matter. The writers did devise some amusing subplots for the side characters, but they were able to keep their focus trained on the subject of their character drama, to dig into the crannies of her problem, to consider ideas about substance abuse and our health system. They didn’t have to fill up the time juggling other plots; Jackie and her ups and downs were the point.

HBO’s two-season wonder “Enlightened” also benefited from the same kind of undiluted close focus. The show, created by Mike White, was a dark and intimate portrait of a woman — played with great passion by Laura Dern — negotiating her way from victimhood to empowerment in spite of the pressures to remain a dupe. Dern’s Amy, like the leads in most of these half-hour dramas, was neither strictly a heroine or an anti-heroine; she was something in between, like most people who walk this earth.The most creative show in the half-hour drama format may be “Louie,” Louis C.K.’s celebrated FX series. With “Louie,” C.K. has rid the half-hour format of any last vestiges of sitcom conventions, most notably the requisite ensemble of friends. He has shown that having only a half-hour can liberate a TV auteur, enable him or her to turn on a dime, to be thoroughly unpredictable from week to week. He has shown how — as with a short story — enigmatic and quiet material works most effectively in a shorter format. “Louie” has been influential — the wonderful new Aziz Ansari show on Netflix, “Master of None,” is a “Louie” baby, as is IFC’s “Maron” — but it remains unequaled.

It has proven once again that less can do a lot more than we ever knew.