The Gay Men's Edition
— this issue sponsored by —
101 Must-See Movies for Gay Men
by Alonso Duralde
Advocate deputy arts and entertainment
editor Alonso Duralde presents 101 films that will resonate with gay audiences, for reasons good, better, and outrageous.
Volume 2 Number 12*
By Richard Labonte
Favorites and Bests For '05:
It¹s time for that end-of-year rite: the Top 10 list. Except that the one I¹ve written (two actually, 10 fiction and 10 nonfiction, boys and girls in
each) is for Q Syndicate only, which distributes my fortnightly Book Marks column to a few dozen community papers; I'll link to my picks in the next issue of Books To Watch Out For - I'm sure one of the papers that subscribes to Book Marks will have it posted on their site by then.
What 58 Writers Read
But then I thought, why not ask people who write (or edit) books for a
living (or for the love of it) to tell me what they read and liked this year.
I wrote this to about 75 of them: “Could you tell me about your favorite book
of 2005 - preferably but not necessarily a book published in 2005, preferably
but not necessarily a queer book.”
The response was generous. Almost overwhelming. I’d hoped for reactions
that were “eclectic, quirky, and informed,” and that’s precisely what I got.
More than 120 books were mentioned by people who answered my call – but only
a handful of writers were cited more than one or two times: Vestal McIntyre,
Dennis Cooper, KM Soehnlein, Sam D’Allesandro – and Joan Didion. Some people
wrote chatty, short notes; several wrote quite learned reviews; some discussed
the thought process that led to their choices; several took time to explain
why the non-queer book they favored might matter to queer readers; a couple
of cheerful contrarians talked about books they didn’t like. The variety
in tone and style was a delight.
And, as it happens, only eight of the 20 books that I focused on for my
best-of-’05 Book Marks column appear in the 58 snappy reviews, chatty reactions,
and thoughtful mini-essays in this edition of BTWOF. Hurrah for fine writing,
good thinking, and creative diversity. We’ll do it again next year…
My favorite read of 2005 wasn't a gay book, but is certainly VERY
gay-friendly. It's the hysterical memoir Hypocrite
in a Pouffy White Dress, by Susan Jane Gilman (Warner Books).
Whether she's describing an encounter with a Maharishi who looks
like "a lawn troll in drag," or her teen obsession with
Mick Jagger ("Where were the magazines for 15-year-old girls
in love with British bisexual cokeheads, thank you?"), Gilman's
delightfully warped perspective abounds. An unapologetic sexual
hedonist ("Being told to 'wait until marriage' was like being
ordered to hold our breath for twelve years") she weaves hilarious
tales of a youth misspent "staggering around bars in lace stockings
and leather jackets, then coming home with toilet paper stuck to
our shoes" as well as working in a series of dead-end jobs
("like terminal illnesses") that make you wince with recognition.
Ultimately, however, it is Gilman's razor-sharp intelligence and
smart-mouth feminism that leave you thinking well after the laughter
Reviewer info: www.marcacito.com
(Marc is the author of How
I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft,
Friendship & Musical Theater, winner of the 2005 Ken Kesey/Oregon Book
Well, darling, the best book I've read in 2005 was mine, of course,
but it's not done yet. Seriously, the best book by far was JM
Coetzee's Slow Man (Viking). I know it got horrible reviews,
but critics are stupid. The only better book I've read recently
was his Elizabeth Costello. I am biased. I identify so
much with his writing, his bleak/vulnerable outlook, the amazing
juxtaposition of great feelings in unfeeling characters. So he's
not gay, but he's so good, he should be. If you want, I'll swear
that I slept with him — no sex though, just cuddling.
Excerpt from an Alameddine short story:
(Rabih is the author of Koolaids: The Art of War; I, The Divine:
A Novel in First Chapters; and The Pervs: Stories.)
I've thought about this long and hard, and there's to be no doubt,
it's Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days (Farrar, Straus
and Giroux). I would have liked to name something less successful,
or less known, but, well, it's the only book I've really loved
Specimen Days is a strange work, similar in so many
ways to The Hours (Specimen Days is also set in
three different times: past, present and future...) and yet so
different from The Hours and from Cunningham's other novels
it's hard to know quite what to make of it. My initial reaction
— as I read it and shortly afterwards — was that the
novel was a failure. What I usually enjoy the most about Cunningham
is the love of humanity he puts across. His ability to put us
inside each of his characters, and to make us understand the simultaneous
presence of the good, the bad and the ugly in each of us, to show
the multi-facetedness of human nature, and to understand the non-evil
origins of apparently "bad" acts as well as then not-so-good
origins of so many "good" ones. We grow to love and
hate Cunnigham's characters for their complexity, and we weep
for their death at the end of the book.
It took me about an hour to read the final three pages of
Flesh and Blood ... such were the tears blurring my vision. There's
none of this in Specimen Days. The novel
seems short, and relatively unemotional. I haven't counted, but
I think it actually is word short, and this time if there was
any desire to attach us to character, there certainly wasn't the
time or space. At a first reading it almost feels lazy. But a
few days after having finished, a distant dream slowly surfaced...
Something vague yet powerful about the fundamental desire of the
human race to run away from the life we have created, to return
to the wild west, to the farm in the country, to escape the machines
and get back to the archetypal lives of our ancestors. Though
this remains misty and is merely glimpsed through a mirage of
constructed subtexts — a deformed child of the industrial
revolution suffering at the hands of "the machine,” a 9-11
contemporary fighting the madness of modern fundamentalist terrorism,
a robot seemingly pointlessly programmed with Walt Whitman's poetry
which develops an inexplicable feeling of angst, Cunningham has
expressed one of the underlying tenets of the human condition
with a poetry all his own and, dream-like, it will bubble to the
surface, nudging and poking that same angst in each of us. Now,
months later, the book is still very much with me... And that
for me is the measure of true genius.
Reviewer info: http://www.50-reasons.com/buy.html
(Nick is the author of 50 Reasons to Say “Goodbye” and
by Travis Jeppesen (Akashic/Little House on the Bowery) — This
isn't a gay novel per se, but its polymorphous-perverse approach to the laws of
attraction includes what I'd categorize as homosexual libido. The book centers
around the last days of a religious cult called The Overcomers, who are preparing
for the end of their lives on earth, in a way similar to the mass suicide of the
Heaven's Gate cult. Six fragmented but ingeniously interlaced fragments paint
an apocalyptic portrait of America. The humor is black and the language is stunningly
musical. It's like a wedding of the best of Terry Southern and Tennessee Williams.
An interview with the reviewer: http://www.fluctuat.net/livres/interview/benderson_eng.htm
(Bruce is the author of the memoir The Romanian:
Story of an Obsession, winner of the 2004 Prix de Flore — one of France's
most distinguished literary prizes; it’s due from Tarcher, in English, in February;
and of User, Pretending to Say No, and Toward the New Degeneracy.)
Well, I was glad this didn't absolutely have to be a 2005 book — that would
mean I'd have to get cracking on the 2005 books in my massive Yet To Read pile...I
don't know how you do it...but I do have two books I can recommend with confidence:
Looking for It
by Michael Thomas Ford (Kensington) — There is a warmth
and ease and familiarity to this book and its characters that I found myself surrendering
to with careless abandon. The guys in this book were diverse but there was something
I could recognize in each of them, good and bad and everything in between.
Cold Dark Matter
by Alex Brett (Dundurn Group) — Any book with some contraption
called The Fruit Machine, secretively developed by the government to ferret out
homosexuals — and based on fact! — is gonna hook me. Add to that a protagonist
who's as ballsy as they come (and I think a closet lesbian) and an author who
knows how to develop setting in unexpected ways (much of the action takes place
in Hawaii — think again, it's all atop a mountain where it's freezing and the
air is almost too thin to breath) and I'm a happy reader.
Reviewer info: http://www.anthonybidulka.com
(Anthony is the author of three Russell Quant mysteries: Amuse Bouche,
Flight of Aquavit, and Tapas on the Ramblas.)
Here's my comment for your favorite book project:
Jesus and the Shamanic
Tradition of Same-Sex Love
by Will Roscoe (Suspect Thoughts Press). A first-rate
contribution to a much needed, honest and no-holds-barred dialogue about spiritual
issues from a queer perspective. This book clearly indicates that the time has
come for all of us to open up and really listen to one another on key issues like
Reviewer info: http://cathedralcenter.com/malcolmboyd.htm
(Malcolm is the author of many books, including Running With Jesus,
Simple Grace, and Prayers for the Later Years.)
One book that did stand out for me: Beyond Belief: the Secret
Gospel of Thomas by Elaine Pagels (Vintage). Beside having
one of the most beautiful prose styles I've read in ages, Pagels
really lets out some fascinating facts about the "gospel"
of the Bible, that is, how un-literal the whole thing is, how
the four gospels were really PR mechanisms for the cults that
coalesced around the four disciples who did not write the accounts
their names (their followers, who were often sycophants did),
and how the first gospel, Matthew's, is pretty straight forward
and the last one, John's, is so hyperbolic that it's like the
various groups got into a pissing contest to see who could throw
the most bull at the faithful. It also deals with the speedy advent
of fundamentalism to Christianity; they were already advocating
burning heretics at the stake when Jesus's body was barely cold
— like about 70 years after his death. Even while the Romans
were persecuting Christians, they went after each other. Plus
My other favorite book of 2005: Emily Bronte’s Wuthering
Heights. I finally got to read it. What a revelation! That
that little girl could write such a book! Stunning. Heathcliff
is the forerunner of umpteen queerish characters, from Stanley
Kowalski to my own Destry Powars in Warlock. He is explosive,
passionate, barely verbal; the bad boy every good girl wants to
tame, or be. When Katherine utters her famous line, "I am
Heathcliff," she uncovers the transgendered soul within all
Most disappointing book: The Master (Scribner) —
when does it ever really come to life? I felt that Colm Toibin's
James was a lot more of a prig than the real James ever was, or
am I just indulging in wishful thinking? After all, Christopher
Isherwood said about his stay in Berlin, "I'm doing all those
things that Henry James could only dream of."
As for most new books, they seem to go right through
me, and few stick. I'm also working on another novel, harder than
anything I've done in a while, so nothing works in my head except
Reviewer info: www.perrybrass.com
(Perry is the author of the novels The Substance of God,
Angel Lust, Warlock, Mirage, and others,
and of How to Survive Your Own Gay Life.)
Piano Girl: Lessons in Life, Music, and
the Perfect Blue Hawaiian
by Robin Meloy Goldsby (Backbeat Books) — What’s most
remarkable about this memoir — the perfect vacation book — is Robin Goldsby’s
singular and life-embracing voice. Goldsby chronicles her dilemmas with candor,
wit, and just enough self-deprecation that she wins the reader’s sympathy without
ever straying into annoying self-pity. While her situation is not unique — it’s
yet another variation on the classic struggling-artist-in-Manhattan story — she
reveals herself in such insightful, self-knowing detail that she lifts this tale
far beyond the banal recitation it could have been. At its best, this memoir is
an unforgettable recounting of the crazy situations one endures or embraces in
order to survive as an imaginative spirit in a mercenary world. (My personal favorite
was Goldsby's ecstatic description of dress-shopping at “Stall for the Handicapped,”
a clandestine boutique run by an audacious and unusually enterprising restroom
attendant in the tony hotel where they both worked.) I dare any reader not to
recognize himself or a loved one in at least one of Goldsby's many predicaments.
When I Knew, edited by Robert Trachetenberg
(Regan Books) — This great gift book is a humorous, sometimes touching series
of accounts by contributors from many walks of life. (The arts are disproportionately
represented, which is hardly surprising.) A very smart and stylish browse through
the often wild and wacky process of gay self-identity. Don’t expect impenetrable
depth here — the focus is on the one-liner — but it’s a stunning, lavishly illustrated
book safe enough for mother and her guests to browse. My partner and I chuckled
frequently as I read aloud several of the book’s more memorable vignettes. (My
personal favorite was Arthur Laurents’ — read it and laugh!) I would love to see
an equivalent book for lesbians — only a few are included here.
(Bill Brent is the author of The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Men
and the chapbooks This is Only a Test and apathy is a dangerous drug;
he blogs at http://www.authorsden.com/visit/viewblog.asp?AuthorID=9037.)
I'm under deadline for my third novel (eek!) so I haven't been
doing as much reading as I would have liked this year. But, as
always, I was captivated by the writing team of Becky Cochrane
and Timothy J. Lambert, writing as Cochrane Lambert. Their novel
Three Fortunes in One Cookie (Alyson) affectionately captures
the charm of Mississippi coastal towns, especially poignant since
those towns were ravaged by this year's hurricanes. But the solid
storytelling isn't limited by its Southern setting and characters,
as it details narrator Phillip Powell's experience of leaving
Manhattan and going back home to navigate through his past, his
quirky, complicated family and friends, and his fledgling efforts
to shape his own destiny.
(Rob is the author of Trust Fund Boys and The Night We Met.)
I am in love with Kelly Link's new collection of stories,
Magic For Beginners
(Small Beer Press), just out in hardcover. This book is a fairly complete
list of my favorite things. She sort of summarized it best when she signed it
for me: "Love, Magic, Zombies!" It's fantastical, whimsical, and dead
serious and it makes me interested in short stories again.
(Alexander is the author of Edinburgh and the forthcoming — in 2007 — The Queen
of the Night. He blogs at http://truenorth.typepad.com.)
"Favorite" is an odd word in my book, as is "best." The
most intriguing book I've read this year is Stephen Carlson's
Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark
(Baylor State University
Press), which snuck in at almost midnight this year, so to speak, and which
has thrown open a Pandora's box at the American Academy of Religion conference
that I attended recently. I'm sad in a way, as I'm certain many are, to find
that the icon of the homoerotic Jesus of the MCC and so many gay Christian fantasies/visions
— an icon on which so many gay works have been buttressed — has been tarnished.
Of course, I'm also a bit suspicious — is this an effort to discredit gay-spiritual
scholarship? Ah, yes, and Anne Rice turning to Jesus (Christ the Lord: Out
of Egypt), which I learned just after paying an outrageous amount to see
the musical premiere of 'Lestat.' It's a bit like the moon after the lunar landing:
we can still dream. In my dream, Judas and John and Mary Magdalene will always
be kissing Jesus, and out of love, not betrayal (that I leave to the Vatican
and Stephen Carlson).
(Randy is the author, with David Hatfield Sparks, of Queering Creole Spiritual
This list of “10 books I've read and really liked in 2005 (in no particular
order)” is reprinted from Cooper’s fine blog: http://denniscooper.blogspot.com.
by Jean-Jacques Schuhl (City Lights) — The first new novel
in twenty years by this giant of avant-garde French literature. Crazy and really
brilliant and inspiring and so entertaining.
Lunar Park, by Bret Easton Ellis (Knopf) — I'm
on record as a massive fan of Bret's writing. He continues to
enlarge his work in the most fascinating ways, and I think this
is yet another pinnacle for him.
Look Slimmer Instantly!
by Jerome Sala
(Soft Skull) — Sala's a great poet. You could hate poetry and still love his stuff.
There's a long poem sequence in my upcoming poetry book called “7 Poems for Jerome
Sala” that's an homage to his style. He's just awesome.
by Heather Lewis (Serpents Tail)
— This would have been Lewis's second novel after her highly acclaimed debut
Rules. No one would publish it. She committed suicide not long ago, and now
it's being published. Read this and know how wrong and idiotic major publishing
house can be.
The Wild Creatures
by Sam D'Allesandro
(Suspect Thoughts) — One of the best of the so-called “New Narrative” writers.
Died very young from AIDS. This is his collected prose. He was so good, and, shit,
he would have gotten so great.
Comfort and Critique
by Peter Sotos (Void
Books) — Sotos has always been a significant writer, but there's something new
happening in his fiction over the last couple of books that I can't quite put
my finger on but which is taking his work to an even higher level, I think.
The Evil Queen: A Pornolexicology
Perez (Spuyen Duyvil) — This novel came out of nowhere, for me at least. Daring
and very smart and full of structural thrills. It deserves much more attention
than it's gotten.
by Richard Siken (Yale Series of
Younger Poets) — A very strong new poet with a big voice. Easily the best book
of poems that happen to be gay that I've read in a long time.
by Marie Darrieussecq (Gardeners
Books) — One of the more impressive contemporary French writers. Her prose has
this terrific precise yet very hazy quality, and its interior is very deep in
the strangest way.
Moira Orfei in Aigues-Mortes
by Wayne Koestenbaum
(Soft Skull) — Best known for his poetry and voluptuous nonfiction, Koestenbaum's
first novel is a wicked, merry making, pillaging, high order romp.
(Dennis’ two recent novels are The Sluts
and God Jr.)
Thank you for thinking of me in soliciting comments on the best queer books
of 2005. I can’t say I’m caught up on my reading — that’ll never happen — so
there are a lot of books published in 2005 that I haven’t read yet; but I did
want to mention
by Dennis Cooper. I should be mad at him; his
My Loose Thread, sent me back into therapy, which
cost me a bundle. But he’s one writer that I try to keep up with. I can’t compete
with your typically elegant review that appeared in GMax, but I will
take this opportunity to vent. Some reviewers have referred to
Cooper’s “richest, deepest” novel. This is bullshit. Cooper’s books don’t lend
themselves to marketing terms. They just are, like found objects. He
works hard to make them that way: you can almost see the holes where words have
been taken out. How does he create such stark prose? Does he write with a chisel?
I am one of those who claim that Cooper’s writing has a direct effect on
your state of mind. Surfacing from one of his narratives, you go to the mirror
and learn what it’s like to look at yourself without pity. If you don’t like
what you see, score a point: not liking what you see is a step on the road to…what?
It’s a terrible dark trail that you have to follow, and at the end you may know
less than when you started. Score another point.
is a departure for Cooper in that there are no gay characters,
but you don’t have to broaden your definition of “queer” very much to see it
as a queer book. Our hero is a man who has killed his son in a car wreck, pretends
he can’t walk, stays stoned one hundred percent of the time and, over the course
of the narrative, systematically relieves himself of everything that has any
meaning in his life. All he’s left with is an inane video game that his son
liked to play. The last third of the book consists almost entirely of Jim’s
encounters with different arrangements of pixels. While there are no easy conclusions
about whatever meaning Jim’s journey may have, I choose to believe that being
left with nothing may be enough: when everything else is gone, then guilt can
leave too. Not that there’s any easy comfort to be taken in the ambiguous ending
of the book. Cooper’s world remains his world, where the frailty of human connections
is enough to give the reader an enduring chill.
I know that
also came out this year, but I have to take
a breather before starting in on it. Therapy isn’t getting any cheaper.
(Wayne is author of the novel My Name is Rand.)
My favorites reads of 2005 were Dry by Augusten Burroughs
(Picador) and The Wild Creatures by Sam D'Allesandro.
In 2005 I read all of Burroughs' oeuvre — after resisting
him because of all the media attention he gets — and have
come to the conclusion that he deserves
all the media attention he gets, because he is a truly gifted
writer. My favorite work of new fiction in 2005 is also an old
work of fiction. I am an avid fan of Sam D'Allesandro's short
stories and own an original copy of his first collection of fiction,
The Zombie Pit, published in 1989 by The Crossing Press
shortly after D'Allesandro's death. I am pleased that Kevin Killian
and the gang at Suspect Thoughts have re-issued his work for a
new generation of readers. Books I am most looking forward to
reading in 2006: Hard, a novel by Wayne Hoffman (Carroll
& Graf), and The Bill from My Father, a memoir by
Bernard Cooper (Simon & Schuster).
(Jameson is the author of Desire Lust, Passion, Sex; Where
the Rainbow Ends; and Dancing on the Moon: Short Stories
About AIDS, which a decade after it was published has just
been released in France by CyLibris, as Les Fantomes.)
The book that I read this year that I enjoyed the most was
The Line of Beauty
by Alan Hollinghurst (Bloomsbury USA). A little predictable, perhaps, but for
a good reason. The same reason that the book is on all these top-ten lists, and
the same reason it won the Man-Booker Prize: it's a stunning piece of literary
fiction. No book in recent memory has given us such delectable sentences or so
effortlessly tackled massive subjects. Hollinghurst hunts big game: the folly
of conservatism, the legacy of Henry James, the literary value of decadence, the
depth of beauty of everything that surrounds us. It is a brilliant and
That one was, of course, released in 2004. If you need something from this
year, I'd say that
You Are Not the One
(Carroll & Graf) would
have to take the cake. This collection of short stories, by New York queer writer
Vestal McIntyre, renders with endless humor and compassion the need of marginalized
people to find acceptance while holding on to their uniqueness. In McIntyre's
hands, the things that people are willing to give or take in this pursuit comes
off as both obvious and shocking. The stories are a little rough around the edges,
but this is part of the collection's charm and points to a sense of honesty one
rarely finds in an author's first book.
Reviewer info: http://www.citiesofweather.com
(Matthew Fox is the author of the story collection Cities of Weather.)
Well, my guilty pleasure of the year was undoubtedly the nonfiction
Coming to Take You To Lunch: A Fantastic Tale of Boys, Booze, and How WHAM! Were
Sold to China
by Simon Napier-Bell (Wenner Books). I picked up the galley
at BEA simply because it seemed so ridiculous and had one of the most garish covers
I've seen in ages. A big part of me thought I wouldn't actually read it. Well,
I'm glad I did. Napier-Bell, a now-66-year-old pop music impresario who wrote
hits for Dusty Springfield and managed everyone from Mark Bolan to David Sylvian
to, yes, WHAM!, is a raconteur par excellence, and as open about his sexuality
as he is about his cunning business machinations and all-around joie de vivre.
It's sometimes hard to believe this is a true story because there's all sorts
of outlandishness afoot, from politically skullduggery to George Michael's raging
egomania. Amid all the fun, I also learned some cool PR schemes. I only wish there
was an audiobook version, with Napier-Bell telling all his wicked tales aloud.
On the literary front, I found Jonathan Safran Foer's second
novel, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Houghton
Mifflin), a delightfully entertaining and emotionally powerful
read. This surprised me, as I almost didn't give it a shot, so
disappointed was I with his lauded debut, Everything Is Illuminated, which I found repetitive and show-offy. This new one, about
the grieving process of a goofy little 9-year-old brainiac whose
father was killed in the 9/11 attacks, just swept me away from
the very first paragraph. The experimental elements in the prose
— interwoven narratives, old letters inserted in the contemporary
mainframe story, etc. — added depth rather than distracting.
And the much criticized visual fillips mostly struck me as garnish
and, while not adding much, also didn't take away from the main
dish. The narrator is not necessarily a little gay boy. But he
might as well be, for all his acute emotion and observation of
the world from an alienated, but charmed perspective.
I read a very smart debut thriller this year that had some buzz on publication
but didn't catch fire.
Cast of Shadows, by Kevin Guifoile (Knopf), is hardly
the post-mod humor novel you might expect from a sometime McSweeneyite, although
it is literally postmodern, in that it's set in an altogether believable near-future
where the anonymous use of cloned DNA is one of the options for human reproduction.
That issue itself — explored with nuance at both scientific and moral levels —
makes the book of interest to GLBT readers, but its a corker of a read for
pretty much anyone. Nutshell plot: fertility doctor's teenage daughter is raped
and murdered, doctor gathers killer's genetic material from slain daughters'
clothing and sets into motion the raising of a duplicate from infancy in a loonily
credible nature vs. nurture observational experiment. Lots of scary fun... and
lots to think about, too.
Other favorites for the year included short stories by Vestal McIntyre —
Are Not the One
(Carroll & Graf) — and Haruki Murakami —
(Vintage), and Malcolm Gladwell's follow-up to
The Tipping Point
(Little, Brown). I also enjoyed re-reading one of the most under-acclaimed gay-themed
novels of the past couple decades, Warwick Collins'
which deftly handles sexuality, race and religion in a compact and entertaining
Reviewer info: http://www.gogladstone.com/main.html
(Jim is the author of the novel The Big Book of Misunderstanding and
the book of games Gladstone’s Games to Go.)
I'm in the midst of organizing the judging for this year's Ferro-Grumley Awards,
I should probably not comment on any LGBT titles I have loved from the past year.
But I do want to mention one of my very favorite books from last year, that though
not about gay life or gay characters is the kind of book that could have been
written only, I think, by a gay man:
by Dave King (Little, Brown).
The very design of King's portrayal of a man of normal intelligence who cannot
speak attests to the power of the gay imagination to yield fresh insights into
the conditions of life at large. Nobody last year got the delicate interaction
in a character's mind between intention and expression as well as King did.
(Stephen is the author of the story collection The Sperm Engine; his 30-page
story “Kate Neiring” is available as an amazon.com digital download for just 49
You Are Not The One
by Vestal McIntyre (Carroll & Graf) — This was not only my favorite story collection of 2005, but also one of my
favorite story collections in recent memory. The stories are tender and funny,
but they also have a memorable bite to them. I also enjoyed the way McIntyre can
take clever concepts, like a man with a fetish for sex in a car wash, or a kidnapped
kid in a kangaroo mask, and then spin them into poetry. I'm looking forward to
seeing what he'll do next.
Reviewer info: http://www.aaronhamburger.com
(Aaron is author of the novel Faith for Beginners and the story collection
The View from Stalin's Head.)
The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage, and My Family by
Dan Savage (Dutton) — This is a sequel-of-sorts to Savage's
2000 memoir, The Kid (which I also loved), about his and
his boyfriend's decision to adopt a child. This time around, Savage
and his boyfriend of ten years
try to decide whether or not to "tie the knot," and
make a formal commitment of their relationship — an option
that even D.J., their six-year-old "kid," firmly opposes.
As always, Savage is laugh-out-loud funny, but this is also a
book with great heart. I've read all the books out lately that
give the arguments why gays should have legal marriage under the
law. But same-sex marriage isn't really about facts or arguments;
ultimately, it's about emotion, about families, and about the
human beings involved. In The Commitment, Savage presents
his family as a case-study-of-sorts. The result is more powerful
than a thousand newspaper essays. My runner-up would be Lori Lake's
Have Gun, Will Travel (Regal Crest Enterprises), a lesbian
thriller with a crackling pace. It's a cliche, but I couldn't
put it down!
Reviewer info: http://www.brenthartinger.com
(Brent is the author of the YA novels The Geography Club,
The Order of the Poison Oak, and The Last Chance Texaco,
and the forthcoming Grand & Humble; he blogs at http://www.livejournal.com/users/brentsbrain.)
All the books I've been reading are from years past. But just now I'm
right in the middle of Karl Soehnlein's new book,
You Can Say You Knew Me When
(Kensington) and wow, there's some great stuff in it, so that's my pick. It’s
a highly insightful, entertaining, and poignant story that blows right through
the boundaries of gay literature and takes on what it is to be not just gay, but
male and human, in this crazy postmodern world. Soehnlein's scene of Jed and Jamie
hiking through the coastal mountains above Half Moon Bay is satorial, solid, beautifully
crafted, and one of the most remarkable, memorable, and must-read scenes to come
out of gay lit in ages. Think Brokeback Mountain, but with a more
Reviewer info: http://www.treborhealey.com
(Trebor is the author of the novel Through It Came Bright Colors and
the forthcoming poetry collection Sweet Son of Pan.)
Ice Haven, by Daniel Clowes (Pantheon) — Should I be embarrassed that
it's categorized as a "graphic novel"? I guess not, since its character
development, quirkiness, and stylistic complexity are on par with some of my favorite
(Scott is author of the novels In Awe and Mysterious Skin [a
hit film this year, directed by Gregg Araki, who was just nominated for an Independent
Spirit Award] and the forthcoming We Disappear. He blogs at http://www.etherweave.com/scottheim/weblog/index.html.)
I would have to say my favorite book of 2005 was
Kostova (Little, Brown). While the book wasn't queer in any way, I can't remember
the last time I read something so well-written, well-researched, and so engrossing.
It was also refreshing to read a vampire-themed novel in which the vampires were
really, really bad, rather than misunderstood romantic figures.
(Greg is author of the mysteries Jackson Square Jazz, Murder in the
Rue St. Anne, Murder in the Rue Dauphine, and the forthcoming Mardi
Gras Mambo; he blogs at http://www.livejournal.com/users/scottynola.)
Well, thanks for asking. It's always so much more fun to talk about someone
else's book. I've chosen three:
Specimen Days, published in 2005 but not necessarily
a queer book (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Divided into three sections, past, present
and future, and along with most readers I'm all love it, love it, then what the
heck? Talking lizards from another planet? And this is why I am listing this book.
Because it was a challenge. All three sections concern the search for and the
meaning of soul, the ghost/god in the machine. The essential Star Trek questions,
really, typically posed by Spock/Data: What does it mean to be human? And is that
different from the experience of other life forms? This book is thought provoking,
and surprisingly risk-taking for going where it goes. This is not a "safe"
book for Michael Cunningham, as it is his first book since
The Hours. Readers
do not want "science fiction" thrust upon them. Critics have been puzzled
by that third section (indeed, to my surprise, they have largely glossed over
and downplayed the unspeakable plot twist).
Also a favorite is a memoir,
The Tricky Part, by Martin Moran (Beacon
Press). This one is totally gay through and through. The writing here is bright
and engaging, even when grim, and the story unfolds in life-like layers. Marty
Moran, as a adult, deals with the impact of his paradoxical feelings around a
sexual relationship which started years and years before, when he was 12, with
an adult male.
The Tricky Part
also explores a topic almost taboo in the
gay world: sexual addiction and obsession as an expression of damage and a vehicle
of self-destruction. Throw in a couple of suicide attempts, a hero child, and
a love for musical theater and there you have it: a young gay life in a nutshell.
Somehow this is all very moving and inspirational, partly because the writing
is smart, vivid and authentic. The author is an actor who won an Obie for his
one-man play based on the same material.
And finally, chosen from outside the box, is Hari Kunzru’s novel
(Plume). I was really excited by the voice here and the character Arjun who does
well with computer programming but is otherwise somewhat naive and unworldly.
He ends up in a hi-tech ghetto in the U.S. as a no-green-card subcontractor getting
paid very little and learning too much. Wickedly intense scenes of cubicle life,
soul-sucking corporate culture, and the hollowness of the American dream. There
are a couple other story lines as well, involving Bollywood, computer viruses,
the intersection of old and new worlds, and whatnot. Completely engaging. There
is a little bit of queer content (still, more than
Specimen Days). I enjoyed
this author so much I immediately read his previous novel,
(George is the author of Random Acts of Hatred; his next book, ManBug,
is a spring title from Arsenal Pulp Press.)
For me, the book of the year I nominate is
by Dennis Cooper,
published by Void Books in the very first weeks of January 2005 (and reprinted
by Carroll & Graf in October). After the attenuated, fleecy heights of
I frankly could not imagine Cooper ever writing again, for like late period Beckett,
had said everything, had gone everywhere writing could go, or so
I thought, then in raced
and chopped and changed my preconceptions.
Wildly procedural, under heavy constraint, but teeming with the raw vigor of anonymous
sex, it tells a Rashomon like story of a slut for hire called Brad, sex with whom
is rated online by a panel of users whose identities shift and meld like the wind
and the water. He looks younger than he is, that's why these guys like him. And
also he allowed himself to be "raped" and "killed." It's a
brutal and unsettling story, but it's so freshly told it's like the work of some
For my runner-up I nominate
(Grove/Black Cat), Cooper's other
novel of the year, which addresses the problem of artistic innovation in yet another,
equally startling way. What a year for our boy, it's like the year (1936) in which
Gary Cooper made The Wedding Night, Peter Ibbetson, and Desire
all in one 12-month period.
(Kevin is the author of Shy, Little Men, Argento Series,
I Cry Like a Baby, and Bedrooms Have Windows; with Lew Ellingham,
of Poet Be Like God: Jack Spicer and the San Francisco Renaissance; most
recently, he edited a collection of the late Sam D’Allesandro’s stories, The
Wild Creatures; Dennis Cooper is editing a Kevin Killian reader for Carroll
I have been reading some pretty unsatisfying mysteries lately and so I decided
to read someone I was always told was the master, the writer's writer of mysteries,
and someone whom I've been saving to read in my dotage. I like the idea of knowing
there are writers of true quality unread and waiting for me to crack open their
pages. So I read
The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. I had, of course, seen
the classic movie and wanted to read the book and make the comparison. Le Carre
truly is the master. He does something that is rare, at least for this reader:
he literally makes me hold my breath with anticipation and suspense. After reading
I decided to start at the beginning of his works and make my way through.
What a delightful surprise to find that his early works are
every bit as engaging. Call for the Dead, his first, is
a real mind-teaser, and he masterfully walks the reader through
the protagonist's thought process as he tries to unravel the mystery.
The solution, as usual, is right in front of us all the time,
but we could never guess it in a million years. A Murder of
Quality, which takes place at a boys' school and features
a gay housemaster, is lovely and moving. Very tender and written
The third book may be my favorite. The Looking Glass War
is written in three sections following three characters on dangerous
assignments. The climax will have you chewing your nails. I am
in the process of studying Le Carre's technique, hoping to learn
how he achieves such suspense, so I might improve my current novel.
I would recommend any of these four titles, all of which have
a "queer" character, and it is intriguing to study the
narrator's attitude toward these people. He is sympathetic but
confounded by their proclivity. He considers it "schoolboy
behavior" that everyone engages in but would do well to leave
at school upon graduation. Very British. Someone might take a
politically correct attitude toward Le Carre over this, but it
would be beside the point. It is simply some of the best writing
of the 20th century in any genre. Simon & Schuster has republished
all the titles in their Pocket Books imprint with a new introduction
by the author, which is a real treat to read, especially for writers,
because Le Carre is filled with criticism for much of his work
and he gives an historical and biographical note to each one.
(Krandall is the author of Bardo, Love’s Last Chance, The
Christmas Poems, The President’s Son, and, with Paul Borja, It’s
Never About What It’s About: What We Learned About Living While Waiting to Die.)
I wasn't planning to respond to your query because I haven't read a book this
year that I would call a favorite or even recommend particularly. Except Harry
Potter 6 (
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince). The darker they get,
the more I like them. Mostly I read mysteries and most of them are pretty much...
well, just what they are. I haven't been really excited about a book since I
The Da Vinci Code
four years ago. But I do keep on reading.
(Michael is the author of Celebration: The Story of a Town and Disney
on Broadway, and of the poetry collection A Flame for the Touch That
Brian J. Leung
God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It
by Jim Wallis (HarperSanFrancisco) — I really appreciate
Wallis' thinking in this book because he fairly points out the dangerous ways
that the Right and Left use religion. Secularism isn't the answer, but nor is
the creation of a wholly evangelical nation.
(Brian is author of the story collection World Famous Love Acts.)
The Good Doctor
by Damon Galgut (Atlantic Books) — A disturbing and
very subtle book by fellow South African writer. It is his voice more than anything
that carried me through the story, the kind of voice that makes you want to sit
closer and catch every word he says. A quiet, thoughtful, relentlessly observant
storyteller. His other books are brilliant, too.
Reviewer info: http://www.shaunlevin.com
(Shaun is the author of A Year of Two Summers and Seven Sweet Things,
and editor of the arts journal Chroma.)
Hands down, my favorite book of the year is James Howe's Totally
Joe (Atheneum). There are few books I've
read that have so much heart. Joe is one of the sweetest, most
charming characters around, and his voice and his beautiful and
funny confusions are pitch-perfectly written. If you don't care
about him after ten pages, then you're worse off than the Tin
Man. I read this in full swoon, and it still makes me smile months
later. I can't recommend it enough.
Reviewer info: http://www.davidlevithan.com
(David is author of the YA novels Are We There Yet?, The
Realm of Possibilities, and Boy Meets Boy, which is
also available for listening from Full Cast Audio.)
by Mary Gaitskill (Pantheon) — I can't think of anyone else
who writes about the mysteries of sexuality and attachment with such beauty and
School of the Arts
by Mark Doty (HarperCollins) — Yes, I should be
flogged for listing my partner's book, but this collection of poems is major:
a reinvention of voice and a formal breakthrough. Check out the sequence titled
A Bill from My Father
by Bernard Cooper (Simon & Schuster) — This
doesn't officially come out till January 2006, but I just read it in galleys and
loved it. A perceptive and hilarious account of the writer's ongoing relationship
with his father. It both broke my heart and made me happy to be alive.
(Paul is the author of the memoir Famous Builder and the novel Lawnboy,
which will be reprinted in 2006.)
Here are two top-top-top-notch books that I read in 2005, one of them published
in this year, and gay, the other published many years ago, and not at all gay.
You Are Not the One
by Vestal McIntyre (Carroll & Graf) —
Vestal McIntyre's fiction, like his name, demands double-takes. His stories are
marked by strangeness of the most wonderful kind — I would call it “queerness,”
since he and many of his characters are queer, except that people might then
want to bury him in some subcultural crypt — strangeness not for its own sake,
or for the wink-wink showing off of literary transgression, but the genuine strangeness
that arises from a keenly tuned ear for the offbeat. Vestal's stories often make
us feel exactly the opposite of what we expect to feel (which is, of course, the
only hope for human improvement): he can make us feel the humor in a kidnapping,
or the poignancy — yes, the poignancy — of a married man getting a blow job from
a hooker in the midst of a car wash. I've been waiting 10 years for the world
at large to be able to share my enthrallment to Vestal's tragic hilarity and his
funny pain. Now, lucky for the world, this book has been published.
Kafka Was the Rage
by Anatole Broyard (Vintage) — This memoir of Greenwich
Village life in the late 1940s, by the former New York Times book critic,
is written with such preternatural precision, with metaphors so wild and wildly
spot-on, that I felt, as I read (and then immediately reread) it, as if I were
reading in a gorgeous foreign language in which I had suddenly, miraculously been
given fluency. It's full of sex and art and jazz, of characters too much larger-than-life
to have been anything other than real. I underlined passages on every single page.
I felt: here at last is the book that will teach me how to write.
Reviewer info: http://www.etherweave.com/mlowenthal/index2.html
(Michael is the author of the novels The Same Embrace and Avoidance,
and the forthcoming Charity Girl, due early in 2007.)
Liquor and Prime, by Poppy Z. Brite (Three Rivers
Press) — Set in New Orleans’ once-sizzling world of hot
chefs, ambitious restaurateurs, endless corruption, and alcoholic
high life, Poppy Z. Brite’s new series essentially creates a new
genre — the restaurant thriller. Chefs John Rickey, an intense,
big-thinking concept man, and Gary Stubbs, his tireless partner
and emotional rock, known as G-man, begin their adventures as
likeable twenty-something line cooks. In Liquor (2004),
the men perfect their kitchen chops in a series of third-rate
restaurants. Hard work pays off. With shady backing, the innocents
lease a former paint factory in a low-rent neighborhood. What
they don’t know is that a man was tortured and shot in the place
20 years earlier, that the murder was never solved and that powerful
people want to keep it that way. Liquor, the new restaurant, is
an immediate success, but not before Rickey faces mortal danger
in a chilling replay of the earlier killing on the same spot.
Prime, the 2005 sequel, a sexier yarn, begins two years later. Liquor
has won a James Beard Award as the best new restaurant of the year. Rickey, temporarily
lured to Dallas as consultant to a failing shrine to haute cuisine, creates a
restaurant to suit Big D’s culinary preoccupations: “Prime, A Global Palace of
Beef.” Unfortunately, success does not please the restaurant’s backers. Rickey
and G-man are gay male heroes for the post-AIDS age. The novels they inhabit offer
a five-star menu of satire, wit, colorful characters, soft-focus sex and butt-tingling
action. Two more are reportedly on the way.
(Elliott Mackle’s novel, It Takes Two, was a finalist for the Lambda
Award as Best Gay Men’s Mystery of 2003.)
While I thoroughly believed my favorite book of 2005 was going to be Elizabeth's Kostova's
(Little, Brown), with its update
on my favorite vampire of all time, Dracula (sorry, Lestat!) it wasn't to be. While,
I ended up finding the novel chockablock with interesting bits of historical and
vampirical information, none of it seemed, in my opinion, to be successfully incorporated
into any kind of interesting and/or feasible storyline. Minor characters kept
getting killed left and right while the main characters (can historians really
be all this boringly stupid!), just continued on their merry bumbling ways to
what has to be one of the most anticlimactic endings in all of literature. What
I ending up appreciating most about this book was how it sent me running in search
of Bram Stoker's
Dracula, the latter enjoyed by me so many years ago that
I thought for sure the Stoker volume's sense of foreboding would probably be diminished
with the passing of time.
Bram and the Count, though, didn't disappoint the second time, anymore than
they did the first, which catapulted
to the head of my 2005 favorite-books-read
list. My advice: skip
and go right for the still thoroughly
creepy real thing.
Reviewer info: http://www.williammaltese.com
(William is author of the plot-lead sci-fi epic Bond-Shattering, published
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (Knopf) —
Sad, insightful meditation on grief, loss, loneliness, sadness.
I saw her read here in New York; it was
painful because she started crying. The book is also about couples
and how dependent one gets on his/her boyfriend/girlfriend. When
reading the book, I thought mostly of my boyfriend, Scott Coffey,
and how my life would be without him, how I would handle his death,
how I'd rather die first, but then feel guilty for being so selfish.
This triggered the thought about why many gay boys don't ever
want or desire a long-term relationship, how they can perhaps
dodge this one painful bullet by remaining free of a primary relationship
through their lives.
Also (here's the gay one), What We Do Is Secret by
Thorn Hillsbery (Villard) — I think he's a masterful writer.
He's a poet, especially with this novel, his second. I'd imagine
even his emails are cleverly written. This book takes place in
black and white and it's a good thing. I'm not sure why I think
this, but the images are the punk rock version of what the film
Manhattan, by Woody Allen, looks like.
Reviewer info: http://blairmastbaum.com
(Blair is author of the LamGay Fiction Debut Lammy award for Clay’s
Way, and also appears in the independent film Ellie Parker,
directed by his boyfriend, Scott Coffey.)
Tommi Avicolli Mecca
Why, surprise, my favorite book would be
That's Revolting: Queer Strategies
for Resisting Assimilation
, edited by Mattilda, aka Matt Bernstein Sycamore
(Soft Skull Press). Why? Because I'm in it? Of course...not! It's because it looks
at rebellious out-of-control non-yuppie non-assimilationist alternative outrageous
revolutionary excess-prone wonderful queers. Need I say more?
(Tommi is a bred-in-the-bone queer Sicilian and committed social activist who
worked with me at A Different Light Bookstore for many years.)
I'm thrilled to recommend the book
by Richard Siken (Yale University
Press). It was the latest recipient of the Yale Younger Poets series and was the
outstanding choice of Louise Gluck. Siken's poems are informed, emotional, and
accessible, yet they're also remarkably active and challenging. I haven't enjoyed
a book of poetry so much since I first discovered Mark Doty. That said, the two's
poems would not be easily classified together, other than for the queer poets
that crafted them. Can I also remind everyone of the YA novel
Are We There
Yet? (David Levithan, queer author, Knopf). Though it doesn't have queer characters,
it's my favorite of Levithan's, and it hasn't gotten the attention it deserves.
(Billy is the author of Talking in the Dark, a collection of personal
narrative poems; is coeditor of the May 2006 “queerthology” The Full Spectrum:
A New Generation of Writing About the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning,
and Other Identities; and blogs at http://talkinginthedark.blogspot.com.)
It's morning here in Korea, but here's what my pre-caffeinated brain came up
by John Burdett (Knopf) — Intriguing sequel
to his brilliant, unclassifiable thriller/snarkfest
(Marshall is author of the novel The Concrete Sky and the story collection
Black Shapes in a Darkened Room; he blogs about life in Korea at http://www.livejournal.com/users/articulate_ink,
and about writing at http://www.livejournal.com/users/msminpdx.)
I've got two favorite novels of 2005. First, there's You Can
Say You Knew Me When by Karl Soehnlein (Kensington), a compulsively
readable slice of life story about a crazy mixed-up kid (well,
young man) who reconnects with his dead father through a lost
journal and bombs around San Francisco in the dying days of the
dot-com bubble, cleverly analogized to the waning days of the
Beatnik era, while getting high, cheating on his boyfriend, and
not being very career focused.
Second, there's Choir Boy by Charlie Anders (Soft Skull),
a romp through the gender identity crisis of a young teen wrapped
in the bosom of a clueless, uncaring family and church. The pleasingly
light tone and dry wit, while enjoyable in themselves, also herald
a new age in which the subject of transsexuality need no longer
be tragic or even weighty.
Reviewer info: http://www.alvinorloff.com
(Alvin is the author ofGutter Boys and I Married an
My favorite of 2005? I'm reading it right now, Daniel Curzon's "non-fiction
What a Tangled Web
(IGNA/Booksurge), an hilarious, horrifying
story about a teacher whose life is poisoned by Internet slander.
Reviewer info: http://www.glbtq.com/literature/patrick_r.html
(Robert is author of many, many plays (see above), of the novel Temple Slave,
and of the faaabulous CD-ROM memoir Film Moi, or Narcissus in the Dark;
email him at Rbrtptrck@aol.com.)
Try these on: a more mixed lot you'll probably not receive:
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
by Jared Diamond (Penguin
Interpreter of Maladies
by Jhumpa Lahiri (Mariner Books);
Night and Other Stories
by James Salter (Knopf); and
The Strange Case
of Charles Dexter Ward
by H.P. Lovecraft (Library of America Series).
Reviewer info: http://www.felicepicano.com
(Felice is author of a heck of a lot of good books, most recently the memoir
Fred in Love.)
Cutty, One Rock
by August Kleinzahler (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
— This collection of essays is pretty good, but the final essay with the same
title as the collection is brilliance itself. Kleinzahler, a poet, writes about
his pugilistic gay hustler brother with humor, deep affection, a poet's playfulness
with time, and a Jersey boy's bluntness.
(Scott, with his partner Scott Whittier, launched a successful line of gay
romance novels — info at www.romentics.com.)
I loved the shape, language, honesty and wit of the autobiographical stories
in Kevin Bentley's
Let's Shut Out the World
(Green Candy Press). And
though not a gay poet, discovering Gerald Stern this year - and his collection
(WW Norton) - made me feel glad to be alive.
(Andy is author of the collection of gay erotica and sex writing, Six Positions.
Creating this list forced me to ask myself some tough questions,
not only about why I liked the books included on my short list,
but what makes a book important to me. These two aspects of critical
thinking, I think, shed some light on not only my tastes in literature,
but also on the demands I try to meet as a writer myself.
My own work is often concerned with differing concepts of family,
and the differing constructs of family play a significant role
in each of the books on my list. I am also intrigued by the shadows
of foreboding even in the brightest light of the atmosphere in
books by others. This sense of tone and color in a book creates
an emotional atmosphere that lends richness to a book. And, I
feel the more successful a book is, the more deftly rendered the
psychological atmosphere that permeates it will be. Finally, I
look for a definite awareness on the part of the author that places
a work squarely in a certain place and time. The better this is
handled in terms of communicating the milieu of the characters,
the more readily I can perceive their lives continuing after the
conclusion of the book. I want, and need, to believe the people
I have come to know so intimately in the work have lives I can
imagine moving forward in time and space as they leave me at the
end. The following novels best embody these notions.
Saturday by Ian McEwan (Doubleday) — A look at
the utterly commonplace occurrence of evil in the contemporary
world by a modern master. McEwan gives us a completely intimate
view of a single day in the life of an unapologetically upper-middle
class professional Londoner as he confronts the threats of living
in the post-9/11 world. Brilliant.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (Knopf) — The
sheer artistry Ishiguro employs in creating a very probable shadow
world is amazing. As an exploration of living life as an "other,"
this book is richly atmospheric and maddening as you come to comprehend
the characters' ultimately predestined fate. Amazing.
The Good Priest's Son by Reynolds Price (Scribner) —
Once again, a post-9/11 book by a modern — if often overlooked
— gay master. The personal fallout in one man's life as
it changes incrementally as surely as the world is being redefined
around him. What remains to cling to, who do you turn to when
the ground gives way and you realize your choices have come back
to haunt you? Very well done.
The Brothers Bishop by Bart Yates (Kensington Books)
— Though it could be faulted for being a little over the
top, this sophomore novel makes Bart Yates a gay author worth
paying attention to and watching carefully. This book has a great
deal of subtlety if you can overlook (as you should) some of its
more crudely rendered points. Its main character is complex and
more intuitive and self-knowing than a surface read reveals. I
thought about this man often after I read the novel. He stayed
with me and I grew in understanding and empathy for him. That,
I think, is the mark of a successful writer. Bart Yates is even
better than he's given credit for. As he continues to grow and
mature in such giant steps, I think he will contribute a great
deal to gay literature.
(Jay is author of the novels Back Where He Started and
Metes & Bounds, and the memoir The Mentor.)
Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President
by Justin Frank
(Regan Books) — An in-depth look by a noted psychiatrist into the family pathology
of the Bushes, and one of the few books to discuss the president's alcoholism.
Puts the president's policy decisions in a new light.
Them: A Memoir of Parents
by Francine du Plessix Gray (Penguin)
— A memoir of the novelists' fascinating, maddening Russian emigre parents who
influenced the fashion world in New York in the '40s, '50s, and '60s. Sweeping,
gorgeously written, comic and shocking.
Caravaggio: Painter of Lives
by Francine Prose (Eminent Lives Series)
— Prose offers the perfect introduction to the wild life and stunning talent of
maudit. She helps you enter the period and each painting,
but you'll need a book of Caravaggio's prints as you read because the book doesn't
have enough of them.
by E.L. Doctorow (Random House) — An amazing, hypnotic
re-imagining of Sherman's march through the Carolinas told via people high and
low. The prose is stunning, the vision panoramic. Thrilling and sobering.
The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food,
Chic Cafes, Style, Sophistication, and Glamour
by Joan DeJean (Free Press)
— Champagne, diamonds, umbrellas, nightlife, coffee cafes, full-length mirrors.
The French invented or popularized all of these and more. This is a splendid,
witty examination of a time of great creativity subsidized by Louis XIV wanting
to make France culturally pre-eminent.
(Lev is the Lambda-winning author of Dancing on Tisha B'Av and 16 other
books. His latest are Writing a Jewish Life, out in December, and Secret
Anniversaries of the Heart, due in January.)
I'd have to say Nick Alexander's
was my favorite book
of 2005. In times when so many Amazon readers are giving one-star reviews to books,
complaining about sloppy writing and editing, it's nice to see an independent
voice that does it all better than the others. It's a great sequel about a character
so many readers can relate to.
(Matt is author of the novel The Unborn Spouse Situation.)
Three (sorry!) of my favorites from 2005:
The Year of Magical Thinking
(Knopf) — Reading this book
made me wonder what it would be like if we were fortunate enough to have a president
who was an arch, feline, 70-year-old intellectual woman.
Yom Kippur a Go-Go
(Cleis Press) — This is a compulsively
readable memoir. Matthue is the most adorable punk rock dyke in a straight boy's
body ever. And I mean that.
Everything I Have is Blue, edited by Wendell Ricketts (Suspect Thoughts
Press) — This anthology of stories by queer working class men is utterly necessary
and beautifully curated — it's a real gift to our ever-growing library.
(Kirk is author of the memoir How I Learned to Snap.)
I can't pick
a favorite, but one of my favorites is
Across The Ocean
by Randy Boyd (West Beach Books). I truly missed the
characters when I finished the book and to me that's the mark of a truly great
(Mark Roeder is the author of several novels, most recently Outfield Menace,
Masked Destiny, and The Soccer Field is Empty.)
Back Where He Started
by Jay Quinn (Alyson) — This stunning, emotion-packed
novel absolutely took my breath away. So fresh, so well-written, so generous in
its story-telling, so full of life and love! Jay Quinn takes the "gay romance
novel" and "family saga" genres major steps forward with this tale
of the breakup of one longtime relationship and the beginning of new lives. This
is not so much a story told — it is a world, a family, a father-son experience
created. It made me cry, it made me cheer, it made my heart beat faster.
(David founded the queer book club InsightOut five years ago for Bookspan;
after 16 years in the book club biz, he went to work for art book publisher Harry
D. Travers Scott
The Wild Creatures: Collected Stories of Sam D'Allesandro, edited by Kevin Killian (Suspect Thoughts Press) — Sam's
work has haunted me since I first read him in the early 90s. He's still much of
what I aspire to.
(Trav is the author of the novels One of These Things Is Not Like the Other
and Execution, Texas: 1987; his many websites are at http://homepage.mac.com/dtraversscott/Menu6.html.)
Clint (“Bob Vickery”) Seiter
My pick would be
A Brief History of Everything
by Ken Wilber (Shambhala).
Wilber is a philosopher in the "integrative consciousness" school, and
he writes prolifically about the evolution of human consciousness.
History of Everything
is an overview of his major ideas. Wilber writes with
such clarity and intelligence that the reader can follow him through some pretty
deep subjects and not get lost. The book isn't for everybody, but for those interested
in the subject of human consciousness, it's a fascinating read.
Reviewer info: http://www.quartermoonpress.com
(Clint’s work as Bob includes the story collection Play Buddies and
the audio takes Manjack.)
The book I can't get out of my mind this year is a memoir that features a teenage
boy whose parents send him to therapy because he has too much bounce in his walk;
his glamorous, occasionally suicidal mother, who drags him around the globe as
part of her dubious mission to promote world peace; his grotesquely self-interested
stepmother, dripping in jewels and scorn, whose every utterance seems designed
to wound; and an 11th hour cameo by a transvestite at a Catholic funeral — all
set against the backdrop of San Francisco's usually tight-lipped upper class.
Oh, the Glory of It All
(Penguin), written by heterosexual author Sean
Wilsey, may be the queerest straight-boy-coming-of-age story I've ever read. Wilsey's
prose is confident, hilarious, brutally frank and absolutely addictive. It's a
long book — probably about 50 pages too long — but I read through my borrowed hardcover in about two days, then promptly
went out and bought a copy to keep.
An interview: http://www.kqed.org/weblog/arts/2005/09/writers-block-km-soehnlein-reads-from.html
(Karl is author of The World of Normal Boys and You Can Say You Knew
This gave me an always welcome chance to lust after books. I'll choose these
two books of 2005:
The Year Of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (Knopf) — Readers often
get abstract cliches in books about death; this is devastatingly clear and elegant.
Didion makes a careful map through her grief with this book, and turns it over
to us, hands trembling. Not a queer book.
Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-three of the World’s Best
Poems by Camille Paglia (Pantheon) — Paglia does indeed bring her impressive
academic credentials to bear on the poems, but that's not all she brings, oh no;
her ‘60s radical, fiery Italian immigrant, and beauty-loving Madonna fan all come
out of the closet to shine bright light on a wide breadth of poems from Shakespeare’s
sonnets to Joni Mitchell. The result is half hardcore poetry class, half pure
lesbian sass. Paglia's close reading of Frank O' Hara's poetry I found especially
educative; O' Hara's lovely poems have until now been inscrutable for many of
us. Very queer author, much queer content.
Reviewer info: http://www.troysoriano.com
(Troy is author of the novel The Beginning and of Blue Year In A
Red State: A Survey Of Heartland Opinions.)
Still Life With June (St. Martin’s Griffin) — Writers
are liars, crazies, and fakes, and Greer's narrator proves this tenfold. It's an
easy, funny, curious read with its share of complicated, high fallutin' stabs
at the problematics of memory and identity, not to mention assuming a dead man's
identity and adopting a dead man's developmentally disabled adult sister. And
then there's the overworked Mexican transgendered sex surrogate. Convince your
friends with expendable income to buy it, then borrow it, read it, but make sure
not to return it.
(Joel is editor of Best Gay Asian Porn, Queer Papi Porn, and
the forthcoming Inside Him: Gay Erotic Fiction, as well as the self-published
chapbook El Canto de Animal and the forthcoming poetry collection Type
Patricia Nell Warren
My fave 2005 book was
1421: The Year China Discovered America by Gavin
Menzies (Harper Perennial) — The incredible forgotten story of how a Chinese fleet
discovered America more than half a century before Columbus. I love history and
especially cherish books that sweep away old myths and conventional views.
Reviewer info: http://www.wildcatintl.com/partners/pnw.html
(Patricia is the author of several bestselling novels, including The Front
Runner and The Wild Man.)
Boy, that's a tough one. I hate to say that many gay books I start, I don't
finish. Or I buy them and never get around to starting them at all. The bulk of
my time is spent reading submissions for C&G needless to say. But when I free
read, it tends to be catch up reading — stuff like
The Irreversible Decline
of Eddie Socket (John Weir) or
The Persian Boy (Mary Renault) — more
so than new titles.
Of new books, certainly Katherine Forrest's
Lesbian Pulp Fiction
anthology is extraordinary for its breadth, intelligence and insight. However, I'm reluctant to name this since I'm biased; not only is it published
by the old employer, I sit on the board of the Lambda Literary Foundation with
Katherine and I adore her. Plus, it's one of the last projects I came up with
for Cleis before I left. So of course I love it.
Two other books: Felice Picano's
Fred in Love (Terrace Books), which
is a sweet cat book (and I have a fondness for cat books) that I enjoyed; and
Jess Gregg's memoir
The Tall Boy (Permanent Press), which a friend gave
to me but I've only started reading recently; what I've read, however, is fascinating
for its window into pre-Stonewall gay life in Los Angeles. These aren't weighty
enough for me to call "best" or "favorite" books of 2005.
Which I wouldn't claim they are. Just two that come to mind that I enjoyed.
God knows there are so many others I want to start; like the gay history
of Harvard or the new Siegfried Sassoon biography. I'm also interested in
Girls, Diana Souhami’s new biography of Natalie Barney and her lesbian circle
in Paris, not to mention Edmund White's memoirs, (
My Lives, Ecco Press)
which come out next spring.
There's also a brilliant new writer, Patrick Ryan, whose first novel
Send Me is due out in January from Dial Press. Patrick is a New York
based writer who, I predict, will go on to be ranked as one of the most notable
talents. He's easily as good if not better than most of the guys from the "golden
age" of gay lit during the 1980s and early-1990s. I've read the galley and
am jealous as hell that I'm not publishing him. I'm thrilled however to welcome
him onto the scene. But you're not counting galleys read this year, right? Maybe
I should read something new this weekend and report back!
(Don is an editor at Carroll & Graf.)
My favorite books that I read in 2005 that came out in 2005 — if my memory
serves me correctly, since I read a buttload:
Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman (William Morrow);
by Katia Noyes (Alyson Books);
You Can Say You Knew Me When by K.M. Soehnlein;
78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published & 14 Why It Just Might
by Pat Walsh.
But there are many others that may or may not qualify...
Favorite book from 2005 I'm currently reading that will probably make my
favorite 2005 list because it is so good:
Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux); favorite books that I am currently reading or have
read or have reread in 2005 that weren't released in 2005 that seriously deserve
to be on a favorite list (because older books deserve as much attention, love,
and praise, as new ones...):
War for the Oaks by Emma Bull (Orb Books);
In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan* (Vintage UK);
Conjure Stories edited by Nalo Hopkinson (Aspect Books);
Horse and Other
Stories by Bo Huston (Amethyst Books/OP);
My Tender Matador by Pedro
Lemebel (Grove Press); and
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of
the West by Gregory Maguire (Regan Books); favorite (second) novels I've
read in 2005 that are not currently in print, but that will be in the near future
because Suspect Thoughts has contracted them:
An Ideal for Living by Marshall
Moore (author of
The Concrete Sky), and
V by Jennifer Natalya Fink
(* Because they are worthy and are good for my soul, I reread at least one
Richard Brautigan each and every year.)
(Greg is the publisher of Suspect Thoughts Press.)
Wide Eyed by Trinie Dalton (Little House on the Bowery/Akashic) — She's
an East Side L.A. lady who writes about ghosts, blood-stained bathroom tiles,
Wookies, elementary school crushes, "Slumber Party Massacre," Marc Bolan,
Pavement songs and feminist donut shops. Everything about her weird miniature
stories is magical and funny. In a perfect world she'd be your cool stoner neighbor
and you'd listen to records together. And I love
101 Must See Movies For Gay
Men by Alonso Duralde (Alyson Books), because my partner wrote it, and he let
me contribute a category of film that I like to refer to as the "Fuck Shit
(Dave is a contributor to 2004's Mondo Homo, author of the forthcoming
Exile In Guyville, and blogs at www.livejournal.com/users/djmrswhite)