July’s Hot Type reading list is sizzling this Summer. From Italian Lessons and Bad Gays that left a mark on our world —to a glimpse inside the life of super star George Michael who rocked it.

Italian Lessons by Beppe Severgnini
Italian Lessons by Beppe Severgnini

In 2019, our most recent full year of unhampered international travel, a whopping 5.6 million Americans visited Italy. The most popular European destination for travelers from the U.S., Italy’s allure is multi-faceted: The cuisine, the historic sites, the sense of style, the gusto with which Italians embrace la dolce vita. “Is there an Italian way of dealing with life?” asks Beppe Severgnini, a newspaper columnist and correspondent for The Economist in the opening pages of his seductive new book Italian Lessons (Vintage. $17. beppeseverginin.com). Do Lady and the Tramp love a heap of bucatini? Answering himself in the affirmative, Severgnini offers 50 short, sly essays, each dedicated to a Reason for Being Italian from “Because we know how to think with our hands and work with our thoughts” to “Because we’re self-critical, as long as we don’t become self-defeating” to “Because we instinctively know what is good and genuine.” Plumbing the national psyche like Super Mario with a philosophy degree, he is particularly insightful when he considers his connazionali in light of the recent pandemic: Pointing out a carefully balanced measures of vanity and sensibility, he notes that “Sales of lipstick dropped by 70 percent, whereas mascara sales held up well. The explanation: A mask covers your mouth, not your eyes.” And he credits home confinement as rekindling national architectural pride in “balconies, terraces, loggias, verandas.” Without a doubt Severgnini is preaching to an Italophile choir with these musings, but if you’re thus inclined, his book is a hymnal deliziosa!.

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George Michael —A Life
George Michael A Life By James Gavin

Fanboys beware. James Gavin’s meticulously researched George Michael: A Life (Abrams Press. $32.50. jamesgavin.com) could be alternately titled George Michael: A Mess. Often crushingly sad, it’s at once a definitive biography of the Wham! and solo superstar, and a troubling reminder of the self-loathing homophobia that continued to bear a significant weight in American and British gay culture even into the first decade of the 21st Century. Gavin also captures the last gasps of the recording industry’s most corporate, meat-grinding era, in which record labels exerted enormous power over even hugely popular stars. Gavin, whose 2011 Chet Baker biography, Deep in a Dream, beautifully braided chronicles of that legendary jazzman’s artistry and addictions, aims for something similar here, but through no fault of the author, the latter trumps the former in Michael’s story. After his 1987 smash solo album, Faith, Michael began to lose his grip on the public imagination while simultaneously fortifying his own egomania with delusions of musical greatness. While sometimes seeming to bend over backwards to do otherwise, Gavin makes it clear that Michael was no great songwriter, just an occasional alchemist of mighty hooks. And Michael’s navel-gazing later material about love and loss was as just as much about bitterness and axe-grinding. Michael’s struggles with his self-image and sexuality are rooted in a tumultuous childhood under the thumb of a conservative Greek father, but his later failure to seek help and his cavalier attitude toward his drug-induced auto accidents and botched performances are impossible to pin on anyone but the star himself.

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Bad Gays A homosexual History
Bad Gays A homosexual History By Huw Lemmy Ben Miller

While George Michael doesn’t make the cut, he could have well been a runner up for inclusion in Bad Gays: A Homosexual History (Verso Books. $29.95. badgayspod.com), adapted from the podcast of the same name by authors Huw Lemmey and Ben Miller. “Why do we remember our queer heroes better than we remember our queer villains?” is the book’s guiding question. And while the queer community certainly deserves to fortify its self-esteem with tales of strength and positivity, progress also includes acknowledging flaws and foibles. Lowey and Miller dig into the dirt on subjects from J. Edgar Hoover and Roy Cohn to anthropologist Margaret Mead to the Roman Emperor, Hadrian. Here be gangsters. And NAZIs. And many a vicious queen. The volume offers bracing complications to the pink-washed love-thyself queer history that has come to dominate recent LGBTQ+ curricula. The authors are careful to acknowledge the era-specific cultural pressures that may have affected each of their subjects, but that never stops them from calling a monster a monster.

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,i-D: Wink + Smile! The First Forty Year
,i-D: Wink + Smile! The First Forty Year

“Originate, don’t imitate” has been the watchword at i-D Magazine for four decades now, even as what began as a cutting edge, handmade zine evolved into today’s deluxe periodical. With a visually dazzling design, i-D: Wink + Smile! The First Forty Years (Rizzoli. $75. i-d.vice.com ) mixes classic photo spreads and texts with retrospective and forward-looking essays about the fashion and music scenes. Madonna, Naomi Campbell, and Greta Thurnberg, are among the many personalities whose first ever cover stories were published in i-D, which continues to stay on the cutting-edge even as culture continues to accelerate in the internet age. Here’s a veritable museum of fabulousness that will fit on top of your coffee table..

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AIRPLANE READ OF THE MONTH

Why Peacocks? By Sean Flynn
Why Peacocks? By Sean Flynn

With a sweet, subtle charm that belies its subjects’ superficial ostentation, Sean Flynn’s Why Peacocks? (Simon & Schuster. $17.99. simonandschuster.com) is just the sort of book I love to take on vacation. Subtitled “An Unlikely Search for Meaning in the World’s Most Magnificent Bird”, it mixes lighthearted memoir with a trove of fun facts about a topic you might never have delved into otherwise, but will almost certainly find fascinating. Flynn, an award-winning magazine writer, had been somewhat traumatized by years of covering wars, mass shootings and other horrific situations when he stepped back for some quality time with his family and their pets: a dogs, a snake, chickens and, in short-order, three peacocks (two cocks and a hen. Collectively they’re known as peafowl. Let the fun facts commence!). In colorful, meandering prose he uses his own aviary as a gateway to history, exploring peacocks’ roles and symbolism everywhere from the Garden of Eden to the stories of Flannery O’Connor to a Kansas City airport hotel that plays host to a sort of chaotic ComiCon for peafowl fanciers. There are fascination scientific tidbits here too, exploring the construction and operation of the male birds’ fabulous plumage and the challenges they posed to some of Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution. Its all wrapped up in Flynn’s heartwarming reflections on the emotional attachments between humans and animals. Imagine James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small decked out in Mardi Gras drag.

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