gay books

LGBT Book Review: Deeply Superficial by Michael Menzies

When I first started reading Deeply Superficial by Michael Menzies, I wasn’t sure where it was going. From the image on the book cover I expected biographical stories about Marlene Dietrich and Noel Coward. I soon found out the book is more of a combination autobiography/biography, with personal accounts of the fascinating life Michael Menzies has led…mixed in with tidbits about both Dietrich and Coward. Weaving different stories into a book is not an easy thing to do, but it’s done well in this book. And Menzies makes it real without sounding too over the top like a few other bios I’ve read this year. He uses an endearing brand of self-deprecation devoid of all pretense, and you will find yourself cheering him on as he travels through life trying to figure “it” all out.

It’s clear from the beginning of the book Menzies was fascinated with Dietrich and Coward at a very young age. He grew up in an average home in New Zealand, longing for more excitement, glamour, and sophistication. At one point, he became convinced he was adopted and his real parents were, indeed, Dietrich and Coward. He does this in a clever, tongue-in-cheek way, and returns to this adoption reference throughout the book as his own life seems to be constantly mingled with Dietrich and Coward, usually through no fault of his own. (As a side note, I’ve been a fan of a book titled “The Magic of Believing” for many years. And when I read about the deep appreciation Menzies had for Dietrich and Coward I thought it was a good example of how the things we love and appreciate the most often come to us if we think about them hard enough…in a positive way.) In spite of his devotion to these two stars, never once did I think of Menzies as a celebrity stalker. He had too much respect for Dietrich and Coward for that. And he always spoke of his real parents (Clive and Mary) with great respect.


Dietrich understood. Professional commitments always came before personal wishes. This was a law by which she lived her life.


I also like bios where I learn things I didn’t know. And the Dietrich and Coward stories Menzies discusses in the book are abundant, from funny to painful. Especially the one part where Dietrich is leaving on a train. No spoilers. But I never knew that happened. I also didn’t know that Coward was often tormented with demons all his life. And none of this was done in a dishy way. It was all done with respect and I only came away more interested in the lives of Dietrich and Coward, not to mention gaining a new sense of respect for how hard they worked to achieve the things they did in life.

Coward knew the affair was so one-sided that it would inevitably collapse. He knew, too, that Traylor was not attracted to him (or any man for that matter).


Michael Menzies has led a fascinating life in his own right, too. From the time he ran away from home, to the experiences he had with someone dying of AIDS. For a gay man with a limited background and education, living during the closeted time period in which he had to survive, he worked hard and did well in various creative professions. From writing magazine articles to working in production for some of Hollywood’s biggest studios, he managed to finally attain a lot of the excitement and glamour he craved so much growing up. And he did it all on his own.

Eduardo was twenty-seven when I met him, and it was rare to find a man of his age who even knew who Dietrich was. He knew and loved Donna Summer, Grace Jones, Stevie Nicks, and surprise of surprises, he knew and loved Marlene Dietrich, too. He was a prize. I had to add him to my life, where he remains to this day, still a prize.


I’ve been lucky enough in my own life to have known several very successful gay men like Menzies who often acted as mentors when I didn’t know what being gay was all about. It’s a generation of gay men who make dinner an event that never begins a moment earlier than nine at night, with stories of fascinating people they’ve known, stories of exotic places they’ve traveled, and stories of interesting things they’ve done. And while I was reading Deeply Superficial, I felt as if I were listening to a couple of old friends of mine who once lived on Sutton Place in NY and designed homes for people who owned fleets of ships and famous NY restaurants. It’s a generation of gay men who don’t seem to get the appreciation (or respect) they deserve in this new less sophisticated world now where people don’t seem to mind wearing sweat pants in public and driving cars shaped like toy boxes.

But I digress. It was nice to read a book like this, written from such an honest, genuine POV. Menzies also talks about his long term relationship with several funny tips on how to make a relationship last for a long time, one of which is separate bedrooms and bathrooms. (As another side note, those of you writing m/m romance might find it interesting to know that a lot of gay men in long term relationships…especially the gay men I’ve known…don’t share the same bedroom.) The book is also extremely well written (and edited) and I did NOT find one single offensive word, sentence, or paragraph that made me cringe…from a writer’s POV. The story flows with an even pace, moves fast, and I found myself reading much later into the night than I’d planned. In fact, I read this in two sittings mainly because I wanted to see how it ended.

 When people ask me the secret of a long and happy relationship, I always tell them separate bedrooms, and more importantly, separate bathrooms are the answer.

I would recommend this book to anyone without thinking twice. And I think that if there are any younger gay men who are interested in reading about gay men from this generation, it’s the perfect book to grasp what things were like for the gay men who’ve paved the way…without even knowing it in most cases…for the rest of us.

You can purchased the book here.

And here’s a combo author bio and blurb as per Amazon:

In this dazzling memoir that also serves as a dual biography of stage and film legends Noël Coward and Marlene Dietrich, producer Michael Menzies chronicles in hilarious detail his life-long obsession with the theater in general and these two international superstars in particular.

Born in New Zealand, and physically a doppelganger of his father, Menzies was convinced at an early age that he did not belong in the outdoorsy, sports-mad country of his birth, but on the glittering stages of the world’s most glamorous theaters. And a twelfth birthday present from his mother confirmed this,

Allowed to purchase any gift, as long as it was a book, Menzies was drawn immediately to the autobiography of actor/writer/composer Noël Coward, and was soon consumed by it. He identified hugely with Coward, so much so that he came to believe that he must be his love child. But with whom? Menzies worked out that his mother must be Marlene Dietrich, who happened to be among Coward’s inner circle. As Menzies writes, “the dates didn’t really fit but were close enough if one fudged a little”.

The book follows Menzies’s decision to leave New Zealand and takes him on a voyage around the world to confront Coward and Dietrich and announce himself as their son. It’s not long before he realizes that this could not be so, but he continues his search for them – and their pasts, nonetheless. He finds echoes of their lives in London, Paris, New York, Berlin, Switzerland, Jamaica, all of which he recounts in this book.

Deeply Superficial is a tribute to Menzies’s four parents: Clive and Mary Menzies, who guided his early years and allowed him the freedom to indulge his imagination ,and Coward and Dietrich who gave him the inspiration to “above all, behave exquisitely”, which remains potent in him to this day.

My Top Ten Gay Books This Year…

Although I don’t review often, I enjoy talking about great LGBT books I’ve read. Some of the books I’ve listed in the top ten below were recommended to me. One or two were sent to me. I think I even won one of them in a contest. But for the most part they were chosen by me, and if they weren’t the odds are I would have chosen to purchase and read them anyway.

I reviewed some of them and didn’t review others. I rated some on GR, but haven’t had time to rate them all yet. The only reason for that is lack of time. I read a lot more than I thought I did, not even taking the Rainbow Awards into consideration (which was a a lot of reading). None of these were books I read for the Rainbow Awards. I don’t even think any were in the RA, but I could be wrong about that. This was just for pure pleasure reading.

Please take note the books aren’t in any particular order. I enjoyed each one the same, which means I didn’t enjoy number 10 any less than I enjoyed number 3 and 4. I’m also still in the process of writing a full review for one of the non-fiction books on this list (Deeply Superficial) that I’ll publish sometime this weekend or early next week. I think it’s a good read for younger gay men, from an autobiographical POV.

1. Murder Most Deadly 1: False Evidence…by Jon Michaelsen Link

2. Mating Tomeo…by A.J. Llewellyn Link

3. Deeply Superficial…by Michael Menzies Link

4. Dammit…by Michele Montgomery Link

5. The Christmas Bottom…by Keegan Kennedy Link

6. Best Gay Romance 2012…Edited by Richard Labonte Link

7. In One Person…by John Irving (Not listed as LGBT fiction, but the best account of what happened during the height of the AIDS crisis I’ve ever read) Link

8. The Trouble with Hairy…by Hal Bodner Link

9. 4 Stories About Gay Men Getting X&$%#@ in the @#%…by Peter Lockyer (Can’t post the entire title because this is a pg rated blog, but you can figure it out) Link

10. Brad’s Story…by Mary Gresham Link

As you can see I have eclectic taste. I’m still reading The Casual Vacancy (it’s long, I’m loving it, and I keep putting it down to read other things and coming back to it). I read and loved Fifty Shades of Grey. I read a few Debbie Macomber novels this year that I loved, too. That’s right, Debbie Macomber. I love her books. I’m also a growing fan of a lot of self-published fiction and I’ll be posting more about that soon…with regard to the stigma attached to self-publishing that still seems to be going around.

This is why I also added #10 to my list. It’s a short story written and self-pubbed by someone who is a fan of LGBT fiction, supports all things LGBT, and someone who is not a professional author…yet. It’s a product of pure fiction, from the POV of a woman who loves gay fiction and reads it all the time, and something I found both interesting and well written. And when a book or story sticks with you long after you’ve read it, something was done right.

I could go on with this list, and I want to emphasize that if I read your book and you know I read it and I didn’t mention it on this list that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. I almost hate writing lists like this for that reason. But I did want to mention a few books that stood out for me this year. If anyone would like to add any other books to the comment thread, feel free to so do.

Parody of "Why French Women Don’t Get Fat:""Why Gay Men Don’t Get Fat" by Simon Doonan

I’ve been a huge fan of Simon Doonan for a long time, and I don’t think I’ve ever posted anything about him here. I realized this while I was reading the latest issue of Architectural Digest last night, when I spotted a feature with Simon Doonan and Jonathan Adler where he referred to Adler as his “husband.” Not his partner or lover. But his husband.

I thought that was nice. Living in Bucks County, PA, where gay marriage is not legal and probably won’t be legal any time soon, I refer to Tony as my partner…even though in every sense of the word he’s my husband.

But more than that, I’m also a fan of Simon Doonan’s books. My favorite is “Gay Men Don’t Get Fat.” The book parodies the old diet book, “French Women Don’t Get Fat,” with a balance of wit and humor. And at the same time delivers a message.

From dfwstyledaily.com:

As an author, Doonan’s titles now number five. This latest is a parody of Mireille Guiliano’s 2004 hit French Women Don’t Get Fat. As usual, it captures Doonan’s stylishly wacky sense of humor. It’s a fun read, journaling a life filled with fun twists, and teaching us all to have a little more taste!

I don’t think this is an exaggeration. In the AD article I read last night Simon and his husband painted their home on Shelter Island black. The home is the epitome of style. He explains why they painted it black in the article, and I couldn’t agree with him more. I’ve seen it done before and it’s a very nice look if done correctly. Oddly, though Adler and Doonan’s home is modern, black or deep charcoal works well with even older more historic homes.

Based in New York, Doonan wed husband Jonathan Adler in 2008. Adler, of course, is famous in his own right as an interior design expert and potter. The couple are besties with designer and native Texan Todd Oldham, who actually gave Adler his first experiences in the production of fine pottery art.

Though I don’t know Doonan or Adler personally, I know gay couples like them I would never mention by name. I’ve met them in The Hamptons and in other places like South Beach. And I base many of the characters in my novels on them. One of the main characters in “Pretty Man,” Roland, was loosely based on a handsome gay CEO of a huge corporation who lived about a mile down the road from me. It wasn’t unusual to hear his helicopter late on a Friday afternoon.

But I digress. If you’re looking for something fun to read, check out “Why Gay Men Don’t Get Fat.” Like I said, it’s not only funny but also filled with insight about gay culture and humor we tend to miss in the ever so serious world of Internet publishing.