Jeremy Atherton Lin’s beautiful, lyrical memoir, Gay Bar: Why We Went Out, cloaks [...] lived history in [...] learned history, examining an objective subject — gay bars — to create a highly subjective object: a book about his life, flensed down to just the bits that made it past the bouncer ... Gay Bar dances on the edge of that third space between fiction and nonfiction, a space often reserved for poetry ... Atherton Lin himself is rendered only in relation to the bars he walks us through; you’ll find yourself hard-pressed at the end to say where he was born or how many siblings he has (and you won’t care). But Atherton Lin has a five-octave, Mariah Carey-esque range for discussing gay sex ... Gay Bar is well crafted [...] with a strong authorial hand that makes the reader feel carefully shepherded through the text, even as Atherton Lin jumps decades and continents. The nonlinear chronology allows him to start in the present moment, cluing us in to a central truth of the book: We are always in the present ... Atherton Lin’s final realization is that it may not matter why he went out (that question may not even be answerable) but the act of going out, of being in that particular 'we' in those particular bars, has made him — gloriously, irreparably — who he is.
The subtitle of Atherton Lin's book is Why We Went Out, and the London-based author offers plenty of reasons in this remarkable debut. Gay Bar combines memoir, history and criticism; it's a difficult book to pin down, but that's what makes it so readable and so endlessly fascinating ... The prospect of losing gay bars leads him to reflect on their presence in his life. He writes beautifully about his college days in Los Angeles, where he went to his first one, though he can't recall the name ... Much of the book details his relationship with Famous Blue Raincoat, whom he met at a London nightclub while traveling through Europe with a college friend. The two fell in love pretty much instantly ... The passages about Famous Blue Raincoat are tender; while it can be difficult to write about romantic relationships in a memoir, Lin does so with real affection that never turns cloying ... Atherton Lin describes the gay bars that he frequented, and his descriptions of the establishments are endlessly evocative ... Atherton Lin explores topics like architecture and urban geography, as they relate to gay bars, beautifully; he writes with a real knowledge that's more than just intellectual dilettantism ... Gay Bar is a book that's beyond impressive, and Atherton Lin's writing is both extremely intelligent and refreshingly unpretentious.
Jeremy Atherton Lin brings a wise, wry voice to his masterful Gay Bar: Why We Went Out . This thoughtful study is part memoir, part research project, part travelogue and a large part classic essay-as-assay, seeking answers on the page ... Lin's writing is consistently intriguing, descriptive and lovely:As narrator he is by turns pensive, funny, self-deprecating, exasperated and reverent; he can be delightfully suggestive.
Jeremy Atherton Lin’s Gay Bar is a restless and intelligent cultural history of queer nightlife ... The book is broken into sections, each devoted to a particular bar and city. Atherton Lin is a skilled reader of the signifiers of clothes and architecture, the fetishization of working-class fashion, for example, and how the rise of AIDS influenced design decisions ... But Atherton Lin is even more talented at seeing what no longer remains, of deciphering places as palimpsests of a kind, with their traces of fragile, fugitive queer history. Sometimes that history is his own ... Gay Bar offers a twist on the conventional memoir; it’s a life seen in snapshots, the bars as the backdrop ... Gay Bar has its share of first-book blues. The prose occasionally stumbles. There are unfortunate attempts at aphorism ... Most jarring, perhaps, are Atherton Lin’s efforts at mimicking the theorists he clearly admires, those sections that come across as parodies of academic writing ... But the treatment of time in the book — the way the present is peeled back to reveal the past — is beautiful, and original. Throughout there is a feeling of simultaneity, of queer lives and histories moving in parallel, of nightlife as a site of pleasure, play and resistance.
A writer’s intimate trans-Atlantic history of gay bars ... In his first book, Lin examines queer history through the lens of what he sees as a vanishing institution: the gay bar, which, in recent years, has been 'under threat not so much by police, but a juncture of economic factors like unchecked property speculation and an upsurge in stay-at-home gays.' With raw, voyeuristically explicit detail, the author escorts readers through the crowded, smoky gay bars of London before turning to erotic adventures in California, where he came of age in the early 1990s. Lin grounds his randy travels with sobering ruminations on the deleterious effects of lingering prejudice, gentrification, cultural assimilation, and homonormativity. Though the narrative occasionally darts around too frenetically—it would have benefitted from a tighter organizational structure—the author remains locked in on his subject, creating a consistently engrossing story.
In this captivating debut, essayist Lin explores the gay bar as a cultural institution whose time may have passed ... Lin’s writing is mostly sharp, though there are some bumps, as with a staid academic reference to Foucault and wordplay that can land with more of a thud than a zing ... Nonetheless, this cogent cultural history sparks more often than not. Readers who want to go beyond Stonewall will find plenty to consider.
As these institutions continue to close at alarming rates, Atherton Lin vividly reflects on his own experiences visiting gay bars from the early 1990s up to today ... It is all at once a celebration of these revolutionary spaces, an ode to the activists who fought for their right to exist out in the light, and a critique of some of the more ignominious aspects of the gay bar’s history ... Atherton Lin’s writing can be dense, but his deep and vivid details also bring his memories to life in a way that will make you feel like you are smack dab in the middle of those bars alongside him.