My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Have a seat: you are on the front row of witnessing a rights movement in America. Your host is Sean Strub. His story: the book BODY COUNTS.
True to its description, this book is a walk through a multi-decade fight of a group of fellow Americans, not just for equal rights and awareness, but also a fight against persecution and against fear itself—of having to stay hidden. We are living history now: Strub takes us back to its roots.
When growing up, while other teens were memorizing stats of sports stars, Strub was stalking political careers. He knew the voting records, the election histories, and everything else about everyone on Capitol Hill. His zeal for politics brought him into the heart of it all. We, the readers, are given joint insider access. With no pun intended, we are taken from the ground, up. (Strub started as an elevator operator at the Capitol, later given a job operating an exclusive elevator accessing secret, unmarked rooms of the Capitol with Senators and special guests. Later in life, he ran as the first openly HIV-positive candidate for office, and has since been seen at high level activist events, such as the UNAIDS conference.)
Reading this feels like a true-to-life Forrest Gump movie. I don’t mean that to belittle—it is a huge compliment. I love the historical interaction of Gump, and I love the historical interaction that Strub has with a LOT of household names. Having grown up in the 80’s, this book brought me back—with a new vantage point. There are historical moments I remember from news stories, and now there are historical moments seen from behind the scenes. It’s great. EVERYONE is named in full detail. It’s a who’s who list of people involved.
This book isn’t just about the movement, but also about a disease still misunderstood today: HIV/AIDS. It’s about the stigmatization and unawareness of such. It’s not just about being helped, but being empowered. It’s about hope. Most importantly, it’s about living.
WARNING: those squeamish or offended by details, enter with caution. This book does not hold back. You may not even want to read this paragraph. Strub wants to share with you a perspective you may not be aware of, both being a sexually active gay and in being someone surviving a relentless disease. You’ll find graphic details about everything from bloody underwear to throat-located yeast infections. It isn’t always pretty.
I listened to this book via Audible, narrated by David Drake. Mr. Drake did an excellent job of keeping the pace and emotion of the chapters without being overly dramatic or—a possible worse offense—without being boring. His tone was confident and appealing. In the introduction, he built the energy of the protest in New York City, as well as capturing the realization of having friends about to die. The following chapters were proceeded with a calm, well-paced buildup of Strub’s work. Drake vocalizes other characters, giving a since of who they are: from sweetly, soft-spoken Tennessee Williams, to the boisterous, baritone senator.
As an aside, this is my first time using the Audible app on my new phone (used to use it only on the computer). I love it! I could adjust the speed of playback, which helped if I wanted to get through it quickly, or slow down for understanding.
You can see other reviews of this book on Amazon, here: Body Counts: A Memoir of Politics, Sex, Aids, and Survival