Judgment Days 

Same-sex scenes; sister acts; the local scene wordwise.

You're pro or you're con, but however you see it, you're up to your eyeballs in op-ed pieces, magazine features, and TV shots of happy men and women kissing happy men and women. You're happy too at the prospect of same-sex marriage. Or you're fed up with the very idea.

Time out, then: time to clear the air and leave some room for balanced reporting on this issue, backed by a lesson in history and a lesson in law as outlined in Civil Wars: A Battle for Gay Marriage by David Moats (Harcourt, $25). That's a battle: Vermont's 2000 legalization of same-sex civil unions. That's unions, not marriages.

Moats, whose editorials on this subject for the Rutland Herald in Rutland, Vermont, won that paper its first Pulitzer Prize, is your able guide. He is a master at making courtroom maneuverings, judiciary proceedings, and congressional power plays plain and simple when the legal and political wranglings were anything but. He is also a historian to bring you up to date on Vermont's 18th-century exceptionalism and its 21st-century divisiveness. But he is especially good at painting life portraits of the leading figures in this story:

The two lesbian couples and the male couple who first brought their constitutional right to marry to court in 1999; the lawyers who argued for and against that case; the judge who directed a final decision out of his hands and straight to the legislature; the lawmakers who crafted the civil-unions bill; the elected officials who voted yea or nay on that bill; and one lawmaker, Representative Bill Lippert, the only openly gay member of the state legislature, whose impassioned speech before his fellow congressmen Moats reproduces in its entirety. That speech helped to pass Vermont's civil-unions bill, and no time like the present to see it in print and give yourself some added argument or needed enlightenment.

Investigative journalist Cheryl L. Reed spent four years and conducted more than 300 interviews with seemingly every order of U.S. nun under the sun -- from the fully habited, cloistered kind to the tough-talking, blue-jeaned variety. The result: Reed's published report, Unveiled: The Hidden Lives of Nuns (Berkley, $24.95), which could easily confirm your faith in the power of women to lead their lives according to their deepest beliefs. What it won't confirm are your outmoded parochial-school perceptions. In fact, you may wonder to what extent a number of these women are Catholic at all.

Some take daily attendance at mass to heart; others apparently can't care less. Some toe the Vatican line as a matter of course; others pray for the pope's death in the name of justice. Some practice bare-bottom corporal punishment; others pop open beers at the end of the day. Some subsist on hand-outs; another earns, unapologetically, a CEO's salary. Some serve on city streets where most of us wouldn't be caught dead; others live sequestered lives according to a monastic rule governed by prayer, hard labor, and no time off for good behavior. Some are members of a dying breed; others are seeing their membership on the slow upswing.

Care to guess which religious orders are attracting the greatest numbers? Care to understand why women of all ages continue to act on their vocations and enter the religious life? Care to witness individual determination played out in a variety of ways and a variety of dress, in the face sometimes of personal doubt but always in the name of Christ's teachings? (Official church teaching is a whole other matter.) Unveiled, without judging, is your eye-opener.

During the past year, local author Jeff Crook did more than write fantasy fiction. He established the Memphis Writers Co-op, which has just released its inaugural publication, the Best of Memphis Anthology 2003 (Kerlak Enterprises, $14.95). Selections in the anthology, drawn from the top entries in a contest last year sponsored by the co-op, include Best Fiction winner Beth Boyett and Best Poetry winner Ryland Bruhwiler. Boyett and Bruhwiler will read from and sign copies of the anthology at Burke's Book Store on Monday, March 22nd, from 5 to 7 p.m.

Other contributors to the anthology will be on hand too: Felicia Elam, Ann Fisher-Wirth, Barbara Gatewood, Michael Graber, Malra Treece, Joy Tremewan, Ken Yarbrough, plus Burke's owner and Flyer contributing book reviewer Corey Mesler. Not on hand but see as well: a short story from Flyer music writer and book reviewer Stephen Deusner.

Yours truly helped judge the contest's short-story entries. Check out the Best of Memphis Anthology and judge for yourself.

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