It’s difficult to know where to begin with RuPaul. Historically, any human who rises to the level of being referred to by just one name tends to operate on two contradictory planes” the constant surprise of an ethereal shapeshifter and the glossy fixity of a strong personal brand. In this case, we’re talking about the entire planet’s foremost ambassador of drag. He needs no words to do this work—it’s in the makeup, the clothes, the lip sync, the walk—and yet RuPaul is the author of three books: an autobiography, a guide to life, and Dey Street’s newly released GuRu, which is both. I’ll be buying copies of GuRu for everyone this holiday season, because it’s as versatile as its author.
An eighth grader can read this book, and they probably should. They need to learn how to love themselves, how to set good boundaries, how to appreciate what they have. They need to learn that style is in many ways the opposite of fashion. If you’re in need of emotional permission to do your own thing, but you don’t want too much of a self-help vibe or any religious, preachy stuff, GuRu is a solid choice. RuPaul is funny and articulate without belaboring a point for too long, as each two-page spread operates independently of the others and so no idea is developed beyond one paragraph. Most teens could flip through this book in an hour or two.
GuRu, may be an easy read for young people, but it’s also for mature queens. Between philosophical morsels of honesty and goodness there are also tips on how to pose, how to give the illusion of an elongated neck, how to make easy fake eyelashes, and so on. These are not highly technical and all but the most fledging drag babies will be on top of these tips already. If you’ve watched even a half dozen episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race, you’re covered. The tips may be of greater use to the average suburban housewife who’s not steeped in drag cultural knowledge and who still thinks duckface holds the secret key to the kingdom of Instagram.
Yet these tips remain interesting for two reasons: the way their attention to artifice consistently intrudes on more philosophical musings on how to lead an authentic life reminds us that life is a stage and we are all merely players. This also serves to reminds us to value the deliberate constructedness of our public face as being equally valid alongside our inner wellbeing. Young queers need to hear those things, and so do curmudgeonly old cavemen who live in basements with no internet. Drag is but the most pop experience of postmodernism available today, and RuPaul is very effective at using conversations about drag to drag us all into a better, brighter future.
And then of course, this book is full of pictures. At heart, it’s a modestly-sized coffee table book. Every page has rich colors and lush costuming with RuPaul mostly looking directly into the camera. For a novice, these will delight just the way any magazine or social media feed would. Even knowledgeable readers will be tempted to just let the images wash over. But here again, there is something more carefully curated in the works. Each image corresponds thoroughly to the text on the same page. This is more rare in coffee table books than one might think, because when gorgeous layout reigns supreme and the text is often an afterthought, it’s hard for text and image to reinforce each other in any meaningful way. It’s not just that RuPaul is wearing spider lashes on the page with tips about lashes, or a holiday look on the page that refers back to ghosts of Christmases past. Suffice it to say that RuPaul has dressed every page of this book appropriately, and those who can read the nuances will find themselves in a masterclass.
Buy this book for: the grandmother who loves her quarterly pilgrimage to Macy’s but doesn’t like to read much despite owning 70 pairs of adorably flashy reading glasses, the uncle who took you to see a Britney Spears concert when you were little, the cousins who immediately buy a cheap knock-off of anything they see you wearing, the coworker whose name you randomly picked out of the office party grab bag, anybody who would dig that the foreword is written by Jane Fonda, your South American pen pal whose go-to costume is Cher, your local burlesque troupe in need of raffle items for the next show, the cat lady down the block who cobbled together one of those little lending library kiosks for her front yard, your favorite bartender, and (I’ll say it again because it can’t be said to often) every eighth grader you know. Don’t buy it for any drag queens, because they’ll already have a copy.
The glory of RuPaul is that he is leading the charge for self-acceptance in a way that is brash yet extremely palatable. To hear him talk, you really can’t help but like him. To see him walk, you really can’t tear your eyes away. Whether used as a beginner’s entry point or an ancient queen’s retrospective summation, the slim volume of GuRu does justice to RuPaul’s life’s work, providing heaps of sugar to soothe the reader’s quickly dissolving ego. The message is clear: be who you want to be. You might want to be the kind of person who buys this book.