TBR shelf AugustSorry for the lull in reviewing here – it’s all feast or famine and I really should space my reviews out a bit more when I have them … although expect some crowding this month as I try to get my remaining 20 Books of Summer read and reviewed! I’ve been reading some big review books for Shiny New Books – the Oxford Illustrated History of the Book took up a chunk of the start of the month, and I’m now into the marvellous Trespass, as well as having read Rose Macaulay’s Dangerous Ages, the review for which I’m holding over until publication date later this week. Anyway, with all the serious non-fiction, and working with my plan to read and showcase books by people of colour as I go along, I picked the memoir by Tan France (of Queer Eye) fame off my shelf to read (you can see it there at the end of the Virago, Dean Street Press and Persephone books so it’s not a huge jump forward in the TBR order!).

Tan France (with Caroline Donofrio) – “Naturally Tan”

(20 June 2019 – at his book signing / event)

Tan France with Liz at book signing

Not awkward at all. Nope.

And I’m contractually obliged to share this not at all awkward photo of me and Tan at his book signing. Reading about how he doesn’t like getting too close to people, well done to him for hugging that huge line of people!

Caroline Donofrio does an excellent job of capturing Tan’s voice, so it’s an almost breathless rush of confiding details, sweary bits and style and manners instructions, running headlong and taking a little while to settle into. It’s warm and full of detail, satisfyingly taking us right up to the Queer Eye days (apart from the excellent recent book on Madness, where it works, I prefer my celeb autobiographies to not be divided into before fame and after fame volumes. Maybe you know some others where it does; I suspect Brett Anderson’s two are creative and literary enough to do it well).

Anyway, this has a great description of intersectionality as it applies in people’s lives very early on – let’s have a quick definition from Oxford Dictionaries of intersectionality

the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.

and Tan puts it thus:

Over the years, I learned to hide away any trait that might give away my sexuality, because I was too busy trying not to make my ethnicity such a big issue. I didn’t need a fucking double whammy in my life. I was too busy being brown to be bothered about who I’d eventually end up wanting to marry. (p. 9)

So ironically in someone who now spends his life encouraging people to “do you” he had to suppress one part of his identity just to cope with another part of it. This education on life as a gay person of colour is introduced almost by stealth throughout the book, using humour to the most part but with a serious message, for example when he’s just started his first business, has found out about a big order while on a trip and needs to get through the airport quickly, he mentions casually that one of the things a brown person can’t really do is run through an airport with a backpack.

I loved all the detail about building his businesses while working a succession of day jobs and his advice on building a business (work in the area at first to learn it, only hire people when you’re making real money) as well as his advice on what to do when you’ve suddenly got more money than before (don’t waste it). This plus a lot of style tips in the book add depth and value. I also have to say I love that his first fan interaction was with Jon Bon Jovi, who’d just seen QE a couple of days previously when they were on a chat show together! The snarky remarks he wishes he could make in reply to frequently asked questions are a hoot, and there’s a lot of interesting stuff on how QE works behind the scenes and also differences between US and UK culture (although I was bemused by his claim that we don’t use the term pawn shop in the UK, which he uses in a joke but just isn’t true!).

A good read with a solid underpinning and a great writer who is acknowledged on the title page and in the acknowledgements. Plenty about QE for the fan, too.