Review: Nights at Rizzoli by Felice Picano

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Also on this website:

Toby Johnson's books:

GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness

GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe

SECRET MATTER: updated, revised & expanded edition from Lethe Press with Afterword by Mark Jordan

GETTING LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE: A romance novel set in the 1980s and the 1890s.

THE FOURTH QUILL, a novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil

TWO SPIRITS: A Story of Life with the Navajo, a collaboration with Walter L. Williams

CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: Reclaiming Our Queer Spirituality Through Story


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White Crane Gay Spirituality Series

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Read Toby's review of Samuel Avery's The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness

Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"

The Simple Answer to the Gay Marriage Debate

Why gay people should NOT Marry

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What's ironic

Shame on the American People

The "highest form of love"

Second March on Washington

A Bifurcation of Gay Spirituality

 The cause of homosexuality

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What is homosexuality?

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What Jesus said about Gay Rights

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Common Experiences Unique to Gay Men

Is there a "uniquely gay perspective"?

The purpose of homosexuality

The Reincarnation of Edward Carpenter

The Gay Succession

Interview on the Nature of Homosexuality

What the Bible Says about Homosexuality

Mesosexual Ideal for Straight Men

Varieties of Gay Spirituality

Waves of Gay Liberation Activity

Why Gay Spirituality: Spirituality as Artistic Medium

Easton Mountain Retreat Center

Andrew Harvey & Spiritual Activism

The Gay Spirituality Summit in May 2004 and the  "Statement of Spirituality"

"It's Always About You"

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the Dark Night of the Soul."

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Historicity as Myth


No Stealing

Next Step in Evolution

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Gaia is a Bodhisattva

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Marian Doctrines: Immaculate Conception & Assumption

Teenage Prostitution and the Nature of Evil

Allah Hu: "God is present here"
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The Life is in the Blood

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Seeing with Different Eyes

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The Great Dance according to C.S.Lewis

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Part 1: Brer Rabbit and the Tar-Baby
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Jesus and the Resurrection
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How Gay Souls Get Reincarnated

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Book Reviews

Be Done on Earth by Howard E. Cook

Pay Me What I'm Worth by Souldancer

The Way Out by Christopher L  Nutter
The Gay Disciple by John Henson

Art That Dares by Kittredge Cherry

Coming Out, Coming Home by Kennth A. Burr

Extinguishing the Light by B. Alan Bourgeois

Over Coffee: A conversation For Gay Partnership & Conservative Faith by D.a. Thompson

Dark Knowledge by Kenneth Low

Janet Planet by Eleanor Lerman

The Kairos by Paul E. Hartman

Wrestling with Jesus by D.K.Maylor

Kali Rising by Rudolph Ballentine

The Missing Myth by Gilles Herrada

The Secret of the Second Coming by Howard E. Cook

The Scar Letters: A Novel by Richard Alther

The Future is Queer by Labonte & Schimel

Missing Mary by Charlene Spretnak

Gay Spirituality 101 by Joe Perez

Cut Hand: A Nineteeth Century Love Story on the American Frontier by Mark Wildyr

Radiomen by Eleanor Lerman

Nights at Rizzoli by Felice Picano

The Key to Unlocking the Closet Door by Chelsea Griffo

The Door of the Heart by Diana Finfrock Farrar

Occam’s Razor by David Duncan

Grace and Demion by Mel White

Gay Men and The New Way Forward by Raymond L. Rigoglioso

The Dimensional Stucture of Consciousness by Samuel Avery

The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love by Perry Brass

Memories Through Other Eyes

Nights at Rizzoli

Nights at Rizzoli

a memoir

by Felice Picano

OR Books
212 pages, ISBN 978-1-939293-67-1

reviewed by Toby Johnson

5 stars

G ay men live charmed lives. We get amazing experiences and have wonderful—if sometimes painful, tragic and poignant—adventures in this life. Felice Picano serves as a kind of Gay Everyman because so many of us have spent so much time living inside his mind, or at least in the mind of his literary characters. As a novelist and writer—as well as editor and publisher—Picano is a stalwart and foundational pillar of the gay literary genre.
Picano is author of some nineteen works of fiction and eight of memoir. Many readers have learned about and experienced gay life through his eyes. We’ve shared his life and perspective through the great work of storytelling.

Felice Picano has lived a charmed life. We get to share in that charm by attending to his storytelling. Nights at Rizzoli is packed full with interesting and neat tales of the author’s life in New York City, especially during the hey-day years of the 1970s, a major part of which time he worked the night shift at the upscale Fifth Avenue bookstore Rizzoli. Rizzoli’s customers included some of the richest people and biggest names in the world: Kennedies and Rockefellers, Great Garbo and Elton John, Janet Flanner and Erté. In that job as sales clerk, for which he was grossly overqualified and overeducated, Picano waited on, was asked to consult with and give opinions to and sometimes befriended some of these famous and historic characters. His memoir shares a few sweet and a few naughty stories about names we know as people in history: John Lennon, Abba Eban, Senator Eugene McCarthy, Greogry Peck and Anthony Quinn (and they are all on the same page).

Woven through the vignettes about famous customers and recounts of the evolution of the store and day-to-day work as a bookseller are historical reporting on events and changes of New York City life and particularly gay life. There are mentions of Mayor Lindsay’s revival of the city, the transformation of the East Village, the start of Shakespeare in the Park along with the rise in the popularity of the trucks in the meat packing district for late-night sexual escapades and the opening of the The Mineshaft.

Picano is an accomplished memoirist. The stories in this book are not in chronological order; this is not an autobiography in the sense of a Curriculum Vitae. This book succeeds in reading more like a novel. One of the problems with biographies and especially autobiographies is that real people’s lifestories do not have plots and don’t follow the plot-skeleton of call-to-adventure, rising action, ordeal, climax and denoument. Most biographies just report history.

Nights at Rizzoli does have a plot. The stories are told through loose association in such a way as to introduce the hero, recount his adventures so that the reader comes to like him and be interested and intrigued by his hoped-for, but slightly detoured, career as a writer, follow him through sex and romance, then introduce the literary agent who opens the door to the publishing business and finally the publication of his first book. The memoir is beautifully constructed.

It’s a wonderful little book, and nicely formatted in a 5 x 6.25 inch size that feels in the hand like a handsome greeting card. There’s a photo section in the middle with an image of a hauntingly young and sexy Felice looking down on New York. (The story of how the photo came to be taken after quite a night of adventure is told in the book.)

For those contemporaries of Picano, now all in our 60s and 70s, who lived through this time, the memoir is a sweet reminder of the charm and adventure we’ve had in our lives. For others, it’s an appealing and entertaining glimpse into a world of the mid-twentieth century that, though now gone for good, has changed the world forever—for good.

I thoroughly enjoyed experiencing that world through Felice Picano’s eyes. And I was charmed by it.

Toby Johnson is former publisher of White Crane Journal, author of several books on gay spirituality, and editor of Charmed Lives: Gay Spirit in Storytelling. He was also a gay bookseller in Austin for seven years himself.

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Toby Johnson, PhD is author of eight books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, three gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality. In addition to the novels featured elsewhere in this web site, Johnson is author of IN SEARCH OF GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD and THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET (Revised edition): AN APPRECIATION OF JOSEPH CAMPBELL.

Johnson's Lammy Award winning book GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness was published in 2000. His Lammy-nominated book  GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe was published by Alyson in 2003. Both books are available now from Lethe Press.

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