The Gay Men's Edition
Volume 3 Number 7
By Richard Labonte
Part Two: A Year’s Favorites From 22 More Writers
Almost 60 writers, and readers, responded to
my request for a few words about their favorite books of 2006 - so many that
this year-end installment of the Gay Men's Edition of Books To Watch
Out For comes in two parts. To round out the survey of favorites and bests
(there is much overlap), I've added a roundup of queer books that made it
on to mainstream lists.
10 More: My Own Favorites
In part one of this year's Favorite Books roundup, I cited seven titles that I
reviewed in 2006 for my Book Marks column: Martin Hyatt's A Scarecrow’s
Bible, Jay Quinn's The Good Neighbor, and Joe Keenan's
My Lucky Star in fiction; Bernard Cooper's The Bill from
My Father, Rigoberto Gonzalez's Butterfly Boy, and Stuart
Timmons and Lillian Faderman's Gay L.A. And my favorite among
favorites was Tom Spanbauer's magical Now is the Hour.
But there were plenty of good
books I didn't get to, even though the column covers 100 books each year.
Here are 10 of them, some odd favorites and some definite bests:
Gutted, by Justin Chin.
Justin's a friend. But I have at least a passing
acquaintance with many of the authors whose books I've reviewed over the year,
and with more whose books I didn't. This is searing, scabrous, and serious
poetry, about the death of his father, about dealing with his own mortality,
about becoming an American, about growing older, about living between two
worlds. It's hard for me to separate the voice in this stunning book from
the voice of friendship (and, in recent years, emails). I'd imagine a stranger
diving into this work would be enthralled.
Sweet Lips, by Mel Smith.
I read a *lot* of erotica every year. Sometimes to review it,
often to judge it (for the Best Gay Erotica series I edit
for Cleis Press, and for a handful of other erotica anthologies
I've edited), but not often for pleasure. Or, more precisely,
for self-pleasure. I didn't take Sweet Lips to bed with
me, but I had a great good time with this slick bit of cowboy
lust and frontier romance. It's easy enough to sustain erotic
tension in a short story. Not so easy in a full-length novel.
This one, well plotted and well-written, held my interest. Maybe
it appealed to me so much because I haven't seen Brokeback
Mountain? Nah. It was just a good read.
Tush, by Jaffe Cohen.
Humor is hard. Even from bitchy homosexuals, who often confuse
acidic bon mots for real
wit. But I liked this campy story - about a thirty-something gay
Jewish astrologer who lures young men into his apartment in order
to admire, and play with, their bums - for the same reason that
I singled out Sweet Lips from the reams of erotica I read
this year: it's a fine example of genre reading. The humor, campy
and queeny and facile as it was, worked for me on an overcast,
gloomy day. It's certainly not the most literary book published
in '06 by Carroll & Graf, but it was a heck of a lot of fun.
35 Cents, by Matty Lee.
Others have praised this pitch-perfect account
by a damaged straight boy of surviving days of hustling men for money and
affection - and of a boy who grew into a man who understood that what society
views as sordid saved his life. Almost everything published by Suspect Thoughts
stands tall in the sometimes-shrubby field of queer-interest lit; this was
the year's standout.
Sound of All Flesh, by Barry Webster.
This is a 2005 book, from a Canadian publisher, but I didn't come
across it until last month, when the author read at Wilde About
Sappho, an annual literary do in Ottawa. His short stories, about
piano music and nudity and other dissimilar stuff, are gems of
dazzling wordplay and quiet humo(u)r, some gritty and realistic
and some fantastical and hallucinatory.
Suspension, A Novel (P.S.), by
Best debut of the year, this one. This beauty
of a book dares to use the backdrop of 9/11 without diluting the humor of
its dark, comic edge. It's about one Andy Green, bored to tears by his work
concocting quiz questions for students; it's about how he falls in love with
a handsome man who's not what he seems to be, how he half-heartedly oversees
his straight woman friend's hapless cabaret career, and how he barricades
himself inside his Manhattan apartment for months on end when his life falls
apart. Farce, romance, mystery, coming of age, political commentary: it straddles
Every Visible Thing, by Lisa Carey.
I assume Carey is straight. She's married to a man and has a son.
It's that old heterosexual assumption. Nonetheless, this is a
beautifully rendered queer novel, about a family shattered by
the disappearance of its oldest son, the story shining partially
through the precocious homosexual lens of the missing teenager's
10-year-old younger brother. Among gay-character novels written
by women, this is the most movingly authentic I've read since
Laura Argiri's The Gods in Flight, published a dozen years
ago (and her only book) - made more marvelous because not only
does Carey perfectly capture a gay voice, but because she dares
to capture a kid's gay voice.
Gay Life & Culture:
A World History, edited by Robert Aldrich.
A succinct, wide-ranging overview
of queer culture, from the sexual practices of New Guinea tribes to the Berdaches
of Native America to ACT UP and AIDS.
Covering: The Hidden Assault
on Our Civil Rights, by Kenji Yoshino.
From a gay Japanese-American
law professor, this healing mix of legal scholarship and anecdotal autobiography
argues for a recasting of how the federal courts address discrimination, anti-gay
The Romance of Transgression
in Canada: Queering Sexualities, Nations, Cinema, by Thomas Waugh.
At 600 pages, this is a hefty
book - and it's all about queer Canadian cinema and video:
"Waugh identifies the queerness
that has emerged at the centre of our national sex-obsessed cinema, filling
a gap in the scholarly literature. In Part One he explores the explosive canon
of artists such as Norman McLaren, Claude Jutra, Colin Campbell, Paul Wong,
John Greyson, Patricia Rozema, Lea Pool, Bruce LaBruce, Esther Valiquette,
Marc Paradis, and Mirha-Soleil Ross. Part Two is an encyclopedia of short
essays covering 340 filmmakers, video artists, and institutions."
It's become the guide to films
I'm scouring Internet video rental outlets for.
Some Non-Queer Reading Content-ment
And then there were several non-gay books that
enthralled me this year. Yeah, I read outside the queer canon...often when I'm
deluged by botched mysteries, repetitive self-help sermons, soggy romances,
banal erotica, or heartfelt self-published under-edited fictionalized autobiographical
coming out stories, and need an escape to straightville.
The Raw Shark Texts, by Steven Hall.
Hall's first novel is a fiercely original literary thriller pitting men against
sharks - though these sharks, more metaphysical than corporeal, hone in on
memory and essence, not flesh and blood. This is an addictive and electrifying
mashup of Jaws, cyberpunk, and sappy romance - and it comes with a
built-in flipbook featuring a shark.
Knots, by Nuruddin Farah.
Somalia-born Farah's ninth novel tells the inspirationally feminist story
of a self-reliant woman's return from Toronto to her civil war-torn homeland.
Farah's depiction of the riotous urban madness that is Mogadishu, where boys
toting AK-47s roam the ravaged streets of a once-cosmopolitan city, is relentless
and remorseful. But there is hope in how this drawn-from-reality novel depicts
the everyday heroics of people attempting to lead normal lives in the midst
of savagely abnormal times.
Winterwood, by Patrick McCabe.
From all evidence, Irish author McCabe is as straight as they come. But he
does dwell on things queer: his Booker Prize-shortlisted novel, Breakfast
on Pluto, told the story - against a backdrop of Irish Republican Army
bombings - of Patrick "Pussy" Braden, who leaves a small Irish town
for a London life as a transvestite rent boy on Piccadilly's Meat Rack. Winterwood,
which also delves into the byways of queer ways, is creepy fiction fueled
by the fact that child molestation spreads its evil through generations. Despite
a fractured chronology that is sometimes hard to follow, this hallucinatory
dark tale, about a man's descent into madness and murder, is artfully repellent
and hypnotically compelling.
The Zero, by Jess Walter.
Novels written in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 were generally sensitive
about still-fragile sensibilities. That's not what Walter aspires to, with
acidic success, in this sharp-elbowed, deliriously mordant political satire
about a shadowy government agency, the Documentation Department, established
by the "Liberty and Recovery Act" to scrutinize first every scrap
of paper scattered across Manhattan when the Twin Towers fell, and later -
shades of the NSA's warrantless wiretapping - every financial record in the
Martian Dawn, by Michael Friedman.
A Richard obviously based on Gere and a Julia obviously based on Roberts
are called back to reshoot - on Mars - the bollixed ending to a science fiction
movie, Martian Dawn. Elsewhere in the comically off-kilter universe
of this larky debut novel from poet Michael Friedman, a man in a bar is obsessed
by Monstro, a pet baby whale who has been freed into the Atlantic. Slight
but sly, this is a scrumptious literary trifle.
Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
When the Igbo people of eastern Nigeria seceded in 1967 to form the independent
nation of Biafra, bloody civil war, crippling economic deprivation, and mass
starvation followed. This haunting story, told primarily through the eyes
and lives of a 13-year-old peasant houseboy who survives conscription into
the raggedy Biafran army, and of twin sisters from a wealthy and well-connected
family, is a dramatic fictional epic drawn from that period - and a searing
real-life history lesson.
Suite Française, by Irène Némirovsky.
The human face of war, not the triumphant tactics of generals
or the bloodshed of epic battles, is at the heart of this long-lost
in the months before its Russian-born author was shipped to Auschwitz
in the summer of 1942. It was to have been a five-novel cycle:
this extraordinarily gripping "suite," collecting the
first two unpolished but wondrously literary sections of a work
cut short, surfaced more than six decades after her death. Storm
in June chronicles the intersecting lives of a disparate clutch
of Parisians, among them a snobbish author, a venal banker, a
noble priest shepherding churlish orphans, a foppish aesthete,
and a loving lower-class couple, all fleeing city comforts for
the chaotic countryside. Dolce, set in 1941 in a farming
village under German occupation, tells how peasant farmers, their
pretty daughters, and petit bourgeois collaborationists coexisted
with their Nazi rulers.
The Futurist, James P. Othmer.
As Young & Rubicam ad exec Othmer's satirical first novel opens, famed
futurist J.P. Yates, dead drunk after downing most of his hotel room mini-bar's
contents, experiences a spiritual epiphany: he's a fake. After years of peddling
pontifical insights plucked from the pop-culture ether to any group willing
to pay him well - one week he assures a Bible college's graduates that God
has a future, the next he assures adult video distributors that porn has a
future - he stuns attendees at a "Futureworld Conference" in South
Africa by declaring himself "founding father of the Coalition of the
Clueless." And, ironically, his career takes off - he's more in demand
than ever, recruited by quasi-governmental goons to travel the world asking
why everyone hates the United States. This spirited dissection of the cultural
and political zeitgeist is fluidly subversive speculative fiction.
More Than 100 Favorites From 22 More Authors
Tommi Avicolli Mecca
My fave of the year is no contest: It's Alison Bechdel's brilliant illustrated
memoir, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. I am a huge fan of illustrated books. This one stands
out from all the rest. Not only is the story engaging (and lacking the seemingly
prerequisite violence of that genre), but each page is painstakingly rendered
with such a fine eye to detail that one has to go back to the book several
times to appreciate what Bechdel has accomplished. The author of Dykes
To Watch Out For, the best comic strip in the world, has done it again.
I can only hope that there's another illustrated book in her. Or at least
a collection of short stories.
Tommi is a radical, working-class, southern Italian queer
performer, writer, and activist with writings at
music at myspace.com/peacenikssf.
I see from the recent BTWOF I may not be too late to get this into
you - sorry for the delay. As I scurried about my office checking out the
books I'd managed to read this past year - mostly those of my colleagues in
the gay mystery genre - and jotted down some of my favorites, I realized that
most of them were books that were heavy on atmosphere and sense of place;
so, quite obviously, I was looking to be transported to a different geographical
location when I sat down to read this past year (or perhaps just a reflection
of my love of travel). That being said, some of my favorites this year were:
Mahu, by Neil Plakcy: Mahu is the Hawai'ian word for homosexual and
the story of a terrific new face in the mystery field - a coming out gay surfer
cop in Honolulu. Neil really gets the sense of the islands right, the reader
can tell he loves both the place and his protagonist.
Roman Blood and Catalina's Riddle, by Steven Saylor: These
aren't new this year, but rather the first two in his Sub Rosa series that
I discovered this year - no outright gay content, but plenty of steamy subtext
set in ancient Rome and those glorious public steam baths.
Cold Dark Matter, by Alex Brett: The second in a series that takes
place, in part, in a much different Hawai'i than the above-mentioned Plakcy
book - nice contrast between Neil's sun-swept Waikiki Beach and Alex's miserably
cold Mauna Kea summit - and is based around the true story of something called
the Fruit Machine that was built and used by the government to detect homosexuals:
Cajun Snuff, by W. Randy Haynes, Mardi Gras Mambo, by Greg
Herren, and Intersection of Law and Desire, by J.M. Redmann are all
pictures of a much different Louisiana and New Orleans. Cajun Snuff
is the first of what I hope to be another continuing series with a unique main
character, whereas Greg and J. M. (Jean) have long-established series, and
these two books are amongst their best.
Anthony is author of the Russell Quant mysteries Amuse Bouche,
Flight of the Aquavit, Tapas on the Ramblas, and the
just-published Stain of the Berries. Author info:
At summer's end, on my last bike ride out to Coney Island, I recall passing
a father methodically baiting his son's hook; the little boy watched, fully
absorbed. Some books, most books, end when you finish the last page. But others
linger in a way that is hard to pin down; they have informed perception in
a way that doesn't recall the title or the author; when you see something
in a new light you're not so mindful of the source. However when I see a father
guiding his son onto the train, how I imagine their lives, the way in which
I then contemplate my own relationship with my father, I am aware that the
rhythm of these thoughts keeps time with Justin Chin's Gutted.
I reviewed his collection of poetry for the Lambda Book Report and
have previously written about Attack Of The Man-Eating Lotus Blossoms
here, in Books To Watch Out For, so obviously I'm interested and excited
about his work. The poetry in Gutted takes a flashlight into the undiscovered
country; work about illness, the death of a father, the meaning of family,
is as personal as an artist can get, yet whatever he shines the light on,
it's something we can all relate to. And thumbing through the text again,
I can't find a suitable portion to quote here. The best pieces course as fast
and natural as a river, and I can't just scoop out the essence.
I have discussed the book with a friend whose father recently passed away.
Ironically, he's the one who first introduced me to Chin's poetry. Rightly,
he doesn't want my copy. He can tell that this is one of those books you have
to pick up on your own.
It's a lasting piece of music or text where the complexity of memory is revealed
in such a way as to highlight a universal experience. Chin's book is still
with me; it resonates like Lou Reed's Magic and Loss.
Tom's erotic novel, The Werewolves Of Central Park, comes out next
spring. You can read some of his short fiction at
The Children's Hospital, by Chris Adrian, is my book of the year. It's
relentlessly imaginative, beautifully written and perhaps the ballsiest
work of fiction I've come across in a very long time. In this novel, God
changes his mind about never flooding the earth again, and saves just the
residents of a single Children's Hospital. Adrian's managed to pour all of life
into the place, somehow. And make it all feel very real. He's managed to
reinvent the novel just to fit all of this inside it.
Alex is author of the novels Edinburgh and the forthcoming The Queen of
the Night (Houghton Mifflin). His blog:
My two faves:
Exile in Guyville, by Dave White: Hilarious essays about being gay,
grumpy, and displaced.
Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel: Her Dykes to Watch Out For is
one of the smartest comic strips ever, but it in no way prepared readers for
this haunting and powerful graphic memoir.
Alonso is former Arts and Entertainment Editor of the Advocate,
a member of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and author of 101
Must-See Movies for Gay Men. Author info: www.alonsoduralde.com.
My favorite book is My German Question: Growing Up in Nazi Berlin,
by Peter Gay (1999). In the summer of 2006, I chose to read the high-concept
title precisely because I figured Gay's survival techniques in the Nazi 1930s
might be helpful to our gay psychology surviving the age of Bush. As a writer,
Peter Gay is a perfect and precise stylist who tells a dramatic coming-of-age
story that is one tick this side of Isherwood's Berlin Stories and
another tick that side of Katherine Ann Porter's Ship of Fools. The
Jewish Peter Gay claims to be heterosexual, but the autobiography he pens
so eloquently seems to be a coded transparency which makes his closeted survivalist
tale all the more interesting and supportive.
Jack is author of more than a dozen erotic
and literary books, including a memoir about Robert Mapplethorpe and the epic
Some Dance to Remember. He was an early editor of Drummer magazine,
and is working on Eyewitness Drummer: A Memoir of the Gay History, Pop
Culture, and Literary Roots of The Best of Drummer Magazine. Author info:
I wanted to get back to you in the hopes of making your second installment. While
I needn't add more detail to others' well-deserved affection for
Julia Glass's tender, engrossing The Whole World Over and
Cliff Chase's weirdly wonderful Winkie, I would like to mention
a few titles that haven't come up on anyone else's radar that I
think are really special.
Randall Peffer, author of several travel guides, including Lonely
Planet books on the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, turns his
perceptive eye for local character on the people and places of
two extraordinarily eccentric locales in his gut-punching queer
noir novel, Provincetown Follies, Bangkok Blues (Bleak
House Books, $24.95,
www.bleakhousebooks.com). A relentless page-turner, this shoo-in
for a Lammy nomination in the mystery category is a deliciously
twisty hybrid of Chinatown and The Crying Game with
pinches of La Cage Aux Folles and National Geographic
thrown in for good measure. Tuki Aparecio, Thai drag queen and
the toast of P-Town
nightlife, and Michael DeCastro, rugged son of Portuguese fishermen,
don't meet cute: Tuki is accused of murdering her millionaire
lover, and Michael - a public defender just weeks away from his
wedding - begrudgingly takes on the case. Through flashbacks to
Tuki's youth in Vietnam and Thailand, replete with trauma, romance,
and dazzling descriptions of Bangkok's inner city squalor and
riverside splendor, Peffer deepens what could have been a simply
terrific court procedural into a complexly terrific piece of literature.
Touching on American history, gender identity, and a host of other
pithy themes, the author keeps the plot sizzling like a house
- or in this case, an arson-torched nightclub - on fire. Toward
novel's end, there's one bit of character interpretation that
puts a strain on credibility, but by that point, you'll be reading
too fast to care.
C.A. Conrad, a queer renegade and last-vestige-of-true-American-bohemia,
has somehow been missed by much of the gay media. Big mistake. Following a
peripatetic Idaho-Texas-Pennsylvania Amish Country boyhood with his wild-eyed
single mother, Conrad made his way to Philadelphia in the mid-1980s and took
up residence in the sort of fabled flophouse hotel that's been largely erased
from the landscape over the subsequent two decades. Snatching bits of poetry
from the hallway conversations of his drag queen hooker neighbors, from his
work in a group home for the mentally disabled, and from his conflicted inner
feelings of personal freedom and social injustice, Conrad began to forge the
crooked smile of an artistic sensibility that until recently has only found
its way into limited edition chapbooks. Now, his work is finally available
to a wide audience in Deviant Propulsion (Soft Skull Press, $13.95,
www.softskull.com) which takes
only a page to get to Conrad's cackling, radical faerie fantasy of reforming
George W. through sexual healing, and quickly hop-scotches through intimate
encounters in taxi cabs, French kisses with slices of toast, and close encounters
with the Frugal Gourmet and the lead singer of Chumbawamba.
For more than 66 far-flung and phantasmagorically improvisational years,
Simon Napier-Bell has been a jazz musician in Canada, a door-to-door salesman
in Mexico, a feature film editor, the writer of Dusty Springfield's 1966 hit
single "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me," a manager of pop stars
(including the Yardbirds, and Rupert Everett in an ill-fated 90s attempt to
launch a music career), and the resident of a London apartment in which he
and his boyfriend could peer out the windows to watch Queen Elizabeth feeding
her pet flamingos at Buckingham Palace. As befits the creator of such a rococo
"career," Napier-Bell is also one deliciously chatty Cathy. The
latest of his three giddy, ego-ecstatic memoirs is the concisely titled
I'm Coming to Take You To Lunch: A Fantastic Tale of Boys, Booze, and How
WHAM! Were Sold to China (Wenner Books, $14.95,
Reading it seems a likely simulacrum of what leisurely lunching with Napier-Bell
would be like: a succession of bon mots, travel tales, tangents-upon-tangents,
and - amidst a fair share of bitchery - a joyful enthusiasm for life. From
the get-go, side notes pop up in profusion, Napier-Bell being the Orville
Redenbacher of anecdote. In 1983, he takes on George Michael and Andrew Ridgely
and plans to win massive worldwide media for the duo by having them be the
first Western pop group to give a concert in Communist China. It takes two
years, however, of Chinese adventures, stealthy persuasion, government bribes,
and covert C.I.A. intervention (along with diverting junkets into Japan, Thailand,
and Hong Kong) to finally pull off the big show. By the time 15,000 Chinese
college students are swept up in the strains of "Wake Me Up Before You
Go-Go" in 1985, George Michael has decided he wants to become a solo
act; the breakthrough and the break-up are practically simultaneous. Millions
of hoped-for dollars never materialize for Napier-Bell. No matter, though.
To Napier-Bell the journey is clearly more important than the destination.
His book is quite a trip.
Butt Book from Taschen is a compendium of the best of the
first five years of the pale pink periodical out of Amsterdam
that has become a queer contemporary version of Warhol-era Interview.
The conversational mix of raunch, intellect, artsiness, and silliness
is just about perfect and the pictures are all kinds of hot (which
means they're not just your standard shiny hairless beauty boys).
Editors Jop Van Bennekom and Gert Jonkers are friendly devils
who have - despite recent attention from the Tate Modern and a
fan base that includes Michael Stipe, Bruce Benderson, Edmund
White, and other Big Gay Names - somehow remained un-jaded and
un-sold-out; they've got a terrifically Dutch sense of self-possession,
humility, and drollness. Full-disclosure: I was a regular contributor
in the first few years and have a piece in the book. (www.buttmagazine.com/Issues/4_Eingang.html)
Jim, author of Gladstone's Games to Go,
is a writer and creative consultant based in Philadelphia. His debut novel,
The Big Book of Misunderstanding,
won a Foreword Award, honoring excellence in small press publishing.
American Genius: A Comedy, by Lynne Tillman. Tillman started off great
and just gets greater. You never need to disagree with what the narrator is
saying in American Genius, because the narrator will do it for you
in the next sentence, or even in the same one. And yet the world seems to
pour into this stasis of assertion. I love this book for being so full of
the world, for getting what can be said about the world into words. Like Lynne
herself, it is the grandest of companions.
Some Phantom/No Time Flat, by Stephen Beachy. Beachy is a visionary.
In these twin novellas, he explores madness and crime with the nocturnal lyricism
of empty time and space. Beachy's dear criminals reach an exquisite isolation
and so does his reader, a non-place where categories collapse, like freedom
and confinement, chaos and lucidity, the angelic and demonic. A harsh dream,
and we will never wake.
The Romanian, by Bruce Benderson. This book won the Prix de Flore,
an important award in France. Benderson brings so much wisdom, observation,
sweetness, and nuance to a frantic tale of obsession and adventure. There are
the close-ups of total intimacy paired with the long shots of history, of
a country in ruins, as our hero Bruce pursues his dreamboat Romulous through
different kinds of wreckage.
A Separate Reality, by Robert Marshall. Describing the plot of this
book does not do it justice, and maybe that is true of any terrific novel.
It is about growing up gay and Jewish in a middle-class family in the seventies.
The whole book is rather calm; it calmly renders an era with a Proustian leisure,
yet it is also a page-turner. The delectation of an exquisite banality, the
slow earnest longing that has not quite found its proper object, the humid
passions and blind spots of the nuclear unit, the young fag as poet, as perfectionist,
whose sensibility and aspirations are pitched so high - I experienced wave
after wave of recognition (though my family was not so peaceful or so cultivated).
Winkie, by Clifford Chase. This is a beautiful and moving novel about
a stuffed bear accused of terrorism. Winkie attains a kind of sainthood, as
well as a new gender, by the end of the book. I was reminded of The Bunny
Book, a novel by John D'Hondt, a lost classic of literature that deals
with physical suffering, and loss.
Adverbs, by Daniel Handler. Handler is the renowned author Lemony
Snicket, of A Series of Unfortunate Events fame. My kid knew all their
publication dates, and we flew down to the bookstore the instant they appeared.
Once he carefully asked me, "Are these books classics?" And I assured
him that they are. Another time he said, "Dad, I love women who are evil
and into fashion," and I assured him that we all do. He was referring
to Esme Squalor, one of the terrific villains in the world of the Baudelaire
Orphans. It is a world in which any amount of paranoia is justified, where
plots and conspiracies go deep, where harm is not mitigated by sunny conclusions.
At the same time, the books have an eighteenth-century love of wit and mischief
and invention, a glittering surface, and a deep pleasure in the outlandish.
I am grateful for these books.
Handler has published other books that I am also grateful for, that also
take you on some wild rides, including the twelve-step program as a literary
form in Watch Your Mouth. The latest is Adverbs, called both
stories and a novel, but more a kind of fugue or rondo on the theme of romantic
love. Characters appear as bystanders in each other's stories, and fall in and
out of the book pleasingly. The stories are very elegant, and life is inconclusive,
mostly unknowable and messy - and Adverbs has a few homo episodes that
are really stunning.
Robert is author of Elements of a Coffee Service, Jack the Modernist,
Margery Kempe, and, most recently, Denny Smith. He and Brian Bouldrey
gab together here: www.lodestarquarterly.com/work/138.
Since I started being a publisher, it seems as if I read fewer books put out by
other publishing houses. Although I did read some gay books, the
majority of books I did get to read were Harlequin, Silhouette,
and Red Dress romances, which are short and easy to plow through.
As it turns out, two of the three gay titles I read have already been discussed:
I Am Not Myself These Days by Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Queen of the
Oddballs by Hillary Carlip. Both are fantastic must-reads for any and
Then there is the one book I was eager to
read, which turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. That book
was the latest in the Benjamin Justice series, Rhapsody in Blood,
by John Morgan Wilson. I discovered the Benjamin Justice series
a few years ago and turned a few of my close friends on to this
series. The first four are wonderful reads, then Benjamin Justice
starts drinking less and becomes less
of a dark, tortured character, and the books begin to lose some
of their attraction. And in the latest Justice novel this is all
too true. Although Justice is still himself and his sidekick Alexandra
Templeton is with him, he's less morose and has his drinking problem
under control. One of the things I loved about Justice was that
he had real problems that he was able to work past while solving
a mystery. Take that away and a lot of the magic is gone. The story
is still good and the mystery well done, but I'm not going to feel
so eager to read the next installment. Please, if you like a good
mystery, read the first four in this series (Simple Justice,
Revision of Justice, Justice at Risk, and The Limits
The next two books are from 2005, but I read them in 2006. Hot Target
by Suzanne Brockmann was a fun read. This is a romantic suspense with both
dished out in spades. Hot Navy SEAL Cosmo Richter is hired to guard high profile
movie producer Jane Mercedes Chadwick. It's the typical romance where he hates
her until he learns what she's really all about, but the clinch is that one
of the central story lines involves gay FBI agent Jules Cassidy, who is still
smarting from the end of a relationship and fighting his attraction to Chadwick's
closet case brother. This book was a major drool fest full of intrigue, glamour,
and everything that makes romance fun.
My final pick for a fun read is Do They Wear High Heels in Heaven?
by Erica Orloff. The story revolves around Lily, a divorced woman with two
children who is diagnosed with breast cancer. Although this is a heavy topic,
it's kept light without avoiding the awful truths about cancer. Although there
is some romance for Lily in this book, most of the romance centers on her
gay friend Michael. I am not one to cry - and I did not shed a tear while
reading this book - but those prone to fits of emotion should keep a box of
tissues close by. This book was just wonderful.
Ken is the publisher of Seventh Window Publications, with a focus on romance
fiction (including Lawrence Schimel's Two Boys in Love and the just-published
Discreet Young Gentleman, by MJ Person), and author of Ten Thick
Inches and Bad Behavior. Info: www.seventhwindow.com.
Stephen Beachy, Some Phantom/No Time Flat (Suspect Thoughts). My amigos
Greg Wharton and Ian Phillips put out some fine books this year, but this
is the crème de la crème, the gold standard of West Coast writing.
Bruce Benderson, The Romanian: Story of an Obsession (Tarcher). I
have yet to write anything about the magnificence of this book. It just floors
me. He is the platinum standard, and so beautifully kempt and torn.
Robin Blaser, The Fire: Collected Essays and The Holy Forest
(both from University of California Press). Blaser, born in Idaho, educated
at Berkeley, and now a citizen of Canada (and the world) celebrates his 80th
birthday with sumptuous editions of his collected critical work and a new
volume of collected poems. Hooray, hooray!
Hart Crane, Complete Poems and Selected Letters (Library of
America). Perhaps silly of me to recommend this new edition of a classic poet,
while there are so many new books to talk about, but try it - you might love
Landis Everson, Everything Preserved: Poems 1955-2005 (Graywolf Press).
In other poetry news, the beautiful young poet of the Berkeley Renaissance,
the man whom Duncan, Spicer, and Blaser all wanted, stopped writing in 1962
and began again only recently, under the spell of a young muse and a newly
appreciative audience. The backstage story of the year.
Michael Friedman, Martian Dawn (Turtle Point Press). The Colorado-based
poet has written his first novel, a sophisticated mashup of Hollywood satire,
Eastern wisdom, Russian émigrés, and long slow comfortable screwing aboard
international space shuttles on their way to luxury Mars hotels.
Martin Hyatt's A Scarecrow’s Bible (Suspect Thoughts). Just the kind
of book I usually can't stand, but young Martin Hyatt pulls off a coup
d’écriture with this sad tale of love, loss, and last minutes in a not-so-long-ago Louisiana wasteland.
Chris Kraus, Torpor (MIT/Semiotext[e]). Kraus's writing keeps getting
better and better and her new novel Torpor seems to me the postmodern
equivalent of books like Isherwood's The World in the Evening or Rebecca
West's The Birds Fall Down - books which wanted to reveal the entire
politics of an era - grand ambitious books with breathtaking narratological
Matty Lee, 35 Cents (Suspect Thoughts). It's a hard knock life, it
is, but Matty Lee tells it with the clearest eyes in the world; you can see
what made him a hit on the streets.
Janis and Richard Londraville, The Most Beautiful Man in the World, Paul
Swan from Wilde to Warhol (University of Nebraska Press). The ace biographical
team turns their attention to Paul Swan, the modernist painter who was also
the American Nijinski and lived into old age, queening it up out of a studio
at Carnegie Hall.
Derek McCormack, Christmas Days, illustrated by "Seth"
(House of Anansi Press). Richard, you are Canadian and can you forgive my
lateness in recommending the books of your brethren? I am still reading Christmas
Days (2005) aloud to my students and in fact, to strangers on the subway.
I should also like to say a big word about Montreal-based Peter Dube's novel
Hovering World (DC Books) from 2002. I may be slowing down, but I can
still smell genius a mile away.
Patrick Moore, Tweaked (Kensington). Along with Matty Lee's book (above)
and Ed White's My Lives (see below) this is the memoir I enjoyed
most in 2006 - what seems in retrospect to have been the year of the memoir.
Finally a book that shows off why people become addicts in the first place,
because it's such a rush - at least initially.
Scott O’Brien, Kay Francis: "I Can't Wait to be Forgotten"
(BearManor Media). I couldn't get this far into the alphabet without singing
the praises of this fine book, which unleashes the "Kay Fwancis"
in all of us. Kay, you will never be forgotten, you had both bwains and beauty.
Chris Packard, Queer Cowboys: And Other Erotic Male Friendships
in Nineteenth-Century American Literature (Palgrave Macmillan). Packard
has trod the range and has the saddle sores to prove it. His research into
hidden pockets of U.S. Western literature will show you why they didn't fret
if their chaps had no ass.
R.T. Raichev, The Hunt for Sonya Dufrette (Carroll & Graf), the
triumphant return of the traditional Golden Age detective story.
Lawrence Rinder, Art Life, Selected Writings 1991-2005 (Gregory R.
Miller and Company). Veteran curator and educator Rinder produced probably
the best-edited book of the year, where every account means something and
ties together, accruing meaning and power as it goes along.
K.E. Silva, A Simple Distance (Akashic Books). First novel of a young
woman's journey from a Caribbean island, haunted by family ties and taboos,
into the perilous world of present-day San Francisco. A lover and a mother
fight an epic battle of fealty over Jean Sousa's soul.
Michelle Tea, Rose of No Man’s Land (MacAdam Cage). The poet of Mogsfield,
Massachusetts, trains her amazing eye and her big heart on a romance between
two young girls who between them seem to embody all the words of love that
have ever been spoken.
Lynne Tillman, American Genius (Soft Skull). Here's another book that
has kept me reading and reading, utterly fascinated by Tillman's writing.
I'm reading it with a raw compulsive energy and envy. How I wish I could write
as beautifully as Lynne Tillman!
Edmund White, My Lives (Ecco Press). As we all know now, My Lives
impresses as much for what it doesn't do as what it does. It would have been
supremely easy for White to give us one of those "and then as I told
Vera Nabokov" memoirs, for he has known everyone and really listened
closely; instead he writes as though inventing the entire genre for the very
first time - the way Augustine or Rousseau must have felt, on fire with new
Kevin writes poetry, prose, and plays, is author most recently of Little
Men and I Cry Like a Baby, editor of The Wild Creatures,
a collection of short stories by the late Sam D’Alessandro, and is working
on a book about Kylie Minogue. Author info: http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/killian.
It's a trend (I think) to write mature gay fiction, meaning novels about grown
men dealing with relationship
issues as opposed to sweet, fresh romance or dramatic break-ups.
But Christopher Bram's Exiles in America did it best for
me this year. Bram tackled this unruly subject with humor and touching
generosity toward his characters. At one point in the book Bram
compares writing about relationships to writing in white ink on
white paper. Well, if that's true, Bram's white ink is rather diverse
in density, opacity, and texture. His ink has plenty of shadows
and glittery highlights, too. Exiles ends with a thorny,
awkward little knot, which I am still struggling with. But the few
weeks of 2006 I spent reading Exiles in America were very
Aaron is author of the novel Half-Life, an editor at Cargo
magazine, and an artist and photographer. Author info:
Timothy J. Lambert
In the past I've read lists like this and thought, "They're just promoting
their friends' books." So I'll be completely honest and say, yes, I've
mainly read my friends' books this year, which include When the Stars Come
Out by Rob Byrnes, A Coventry Christmas by Becky Cochrane, Mardi
Gras Mambo by Greg Herren, Through It Came Bright Colors by Trebor
Healey - published in 2003, yes, but I think it got a new cover this year
- and What I Did Wrong by John Weir. John Weir is more of a pen pal
than a friend, I suppose, because he insists on living so far away. I also
read A Scarecrow's Bible by Martin Hyatt, who isn't a friend, per se,
but we did sit on the same sofa once.
Next, I'm going to finally read Alternatives to Sex by Stephen McCauley,
whom I've never met, which is probably for the best, because I admire him
greatly and I'd probably turn into a blathering idiot. Because of my involvement
in Best Gay Erotica 2007, I've been hounding Alana Noel Voth for more
stories to read, and luckily for me she's complied with my requests. I think
her writing is a prime example of the difference between erotica and porn
- that is, why erotica is considered literature.
Anyway, that's my list. Yes, they're books by my friends and acquaintances,
but they're all good writers. "Good" is a superlative that often
gets shoved aside in favor of flashier words like "fantastic" or
"stupendous." But I think "good" best describes these
writers, as well as their work.
Timothy selected the "bests" for Best Gay Erotica 2007,
is one-quarter of "Timothy James Beck" (Someone Like You, It Had
to Be You, I’m Your Man, He’s The One), one half of Cochrane
Lambert (Three Fortunes in One Cookie), the co-author with Becky Cochrane
of The Deal, and co-editor, also with Becky Cochrane, of the forthcoming
romance anthology, Moonlight & Roses: Men Romancing Men. He blogs
For reading suggestions from Alana Noel Voth, check her blog, http://alananoel.typepad.com.
Douglas A. Martin
My favorite books of the year:
The Last Time I Saw You, Rebecca Brown
Up is Up But So Is Down: New York's Downtown Literary Scene, 1974-1992, edited by Brandon Stosuy
(New York University Press)
Pornocracy, Catherine Breillat (Jovian)
American Genius, A Comedy,
Lynne Tillman (Soft Skull)
Works 1963-2006, Tracey Emin (Rizzoli)
Felix Gonzalez-Torres, edited by Julie Ault (Steidldangin).
Douglas is author of Outline of My Lover, They Change the Subject,
and Branwell: A Novel of the Bronte Brother. Coming in 2008: Last
Early Poems and a lyric prose work, Your Body Figured.
Since I stopped writing "The Book Nook" earlier this year, I haven't
been keeping up with the latest and greatest in LGBTQ literature.
The end of so many LGBT bookstores and publications depresses me,
which is why I rejoice that you and BTWOF are still around
to promote good LGBT literature.
On a positive note, 2006
has brought us some great works of LGBT history, dealing with
people, places, and groups that have been neglected in the past.
Books like Different Daughters: A History of the Daughters
of Bilitis and the Rise of the Lesbian Rights Movement, by
Marcia M. Gallo (Carroll & Graf) and Behind the Mask of
the Mattachine: The Hal Call Chronicles and the Early Movement
for Homosexual Emancipation, by James T. Sears (Harrington
Park) are long-overdue histories of the early "homophile"
and "gay liberation" movements; as is Steve Endean's
Bringing Lesbian and Gay Rights Into the Mainstream: Twenty
Years of Progress (Harrington Park). But if I had to pick
a "book of the year," I'd pick Gay L.A.: A History
of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians,
by Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons (Basic Books). From the
very beginning, LGBT histories have centered on New York City
- this year's Gay Power, by David Eisenbach, is just the
latest New York-centric history - thus ignoring the many contributions
that Los Angeles (and San Francisco) have made to our communities.
In Gay L.A., Faderman and Timmons make up for years of
historical neglect by writing a book that is revealing, thought-provoking,
educational, entertaining and inspiring.
Jesse is the semi-retired author of "The Book Nook."
Max T. Pierce
Growing up in Texas, I knew at an early age that my future lay in Los Angeles.
For those who California Dreamin' is not becoming a reality,
armchair travelers, and students of queer culture, I offer up three
From 2005, Wilshire Boulevard, Grand
Los Angeles, by Kevin Roderick and J. Eric Lynxwiler (Angel
City Press) is the romantic Los Angeles small town boys like me
were weaned on. Chock-full of vintage photos and reproductions of
postcards and matchbook covers, this is a road trip from downtown
to the Pacific along the famous street. The bad news is the book
isn't gay inclusive; the first location of the Gay Community Services
Center (a faded Victorian, long demolished) at Wilshire and Union
The good news is that recently published was Gay L.A., by Lillian
Faderman and Stuart Timmons (Basic Books). This meaty, academically inclined
work studies the City of Angels' political, economic, and cultural heritage
from the pueblo days through the end of the twentieth century. I was fascinated
to learn how early acceptance devolved into one of brutality and discrimination,
yet like any good Hollywood story, there's the cycle of rise, fall, rise and
fall. Lesbians and gay men are given equal coverage, and although there's
the requisite Hollywood 'who is' section, it's mercifully limited to names
familiar only to die-hard vintage movie fans. I got a kick out of the locations
of long gone bars and trysting spots: for example, who knew the old hotel
on Hollywood Boulevard (and now the Church of Scientology's offices) once
housed a gay bar in its basement? With addresses and place names, I've got
the makings of a Sunday afternoon scavenger hunt.
After writing a popular series of books specifically for those die-hard movie
fans, author Richard Lamparski could have been the subject of his own Whatever
Became Of?... chapter. Back in Texas, I devoured his books one by one
until they abruptly ended in 1989. Word on the street was he'd died, retired,
or had become eccentrically reclusive. With the release of Hollywood Diary
(BearManor Media), the first two claims can be laid to rest. While I'd assumed
Lamparski was, at the minimum, gay friendly, and maybe more, this slim volume
begins with the author driving none other than Quentin Crisp around the city
in 1980. Lamparski relates tales of encounters with Our Gang's Darla Hood,
Patsy Kelly, and Zeppo Marx and more (he specializes in the obscure) with
a decidedly gay sensibility floating throughout.
Gay L.A. informs us that by 1969 Los Angeles was home to over 160
bars catering to gays and lesbians. Today, there are less than a handful, and
even fewer are businesses that specifically identify as queer. Real estate
prices continue driving everyone but the wealthiest out of the traditional
gay enclaves. While we make needed inroads of equality, I question the price
paid via the growing loss of community. I'll answer my question with a quote
from the opening credits of a film crafted by the forebears of my adopted
hometown. "Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream
remembered. A civilization gone with the wind." These books capture the
Max is the author of the forthcoming gothic mystery-romance The Master
of Seacliff (Haworth Press); author info:
up ten years of sports writing this year, several books about LGBT
athletes were sent to me, which proved informative and fascinating.
D.M. Bordner's Roller Babes (iUniverse), an affectionate
fictional account through the early days of women's roller derby,
included a lesbian romance between two skaters, and was written
by a gay man who's followed the "sport" with fascination
since childhood. This independent self-published book just got
a film option, too.
Another of my favorite independent authors is Randy Boyd,
and his massive (720 pages!), ebullient romantic epic Walt Loves the Bearcat
(West Beach Books), which takes off from football stadium to outer space in recounting
an unstoppable romance between a football jock and a cheerleader.
With two autobiographies penned by gay former NFL players, Esera Tuaolo's
Alone in the Trenches: My Life as a Gay Man in the NFL (Sourcebooks)
and Roy Simmons's Out of Bounds: My Life In and Out of the NFL Closet (Carroll
& Graf), never has the struggle of closeted men in sports dealing with
addiction and the pressures of pro sports been so thoroughly brought out into
the open. After interviewing and meeting both men, it was also a thrill in
2006 to give Tuaolo a private tour of the exhibit I curated at the GLBT Historical
Society (I'll treasure the football Tuaolo signed), and to hear Tuaolo sing at
Gay Games VII's opening ceremonies.
It's great when friends write books, but even better when they're good. Among
those is Trebor Healey's Sweet Son of Pan (Suspect Thoughts), a sweet,
sexy, reverent poetry collection penned by my favorite pagan stud muffin.
And yes, as promised, I first read parts of it aloud, while naked and outdoors
with another man. The poems proved a perfect nature loving aphrodisiac!
K.M. Soehnlein's You Can Say You Knew Me When (Kensington) explored
both San Francisco's beat era and a contemporary gay resident's foibles in
maintaining a relationship while searching for his father's lost years here
in the Bay Area. Appropriately, I started reading Karl's second novel just
days after seeing the famous Jack Kerouac On the Road first draft scrolls
when they were exhibited at the San Francisco Public Library.
Felice Picano's Fred in Love (University of Wisconsin Press) told
the tale of a cat he owned while living in New York City. While I read it
with pleasure, it made a perfect gift for my mom, a former New Yorker whose
current cat closely resembles the book's cover "model."
Speaking of New York, Christopher Bram's The Lives of the Circus Animals
(Harper Perennial) thoroughly captured my attention and affection. I alternately
sympathized with the struggling Manhattan actors and the beleaguered theatre
critic, having been both at times. Bram's witty prose never fails to please.
Another darker yet at times funny novel, Robert Westfield's Suspension
(Harper Perennial) captures a specific post-9/11 ennui with a few intriguing
plots of conspiracy, violence, and the ambiance of dread through a series
of odd plot twists.
On my flight to and from Chicago's Gay Games VII, I read Erik Larson's compelling
The Devil in the White City (Vintage) about the phenomenon of developing
the World's Fair, and a bizarre serial killer. That part interested me less
than the historical accounts of the city of Chicago becoming transformed in
preparation for the fair. Passing some of the sights mentioned in the book
while in Chicago made it all the more vivid.
For pleasure, and a bit of nostalgic bittersweet gay history, Joshua Gamson's
The Fabulous Sylvester (Picador) tells the life story of the disco
era's legendary singer who made us feel mighty real. For a time during his
all-too-short life, he lived only blocks from my current home in San Francisco.
After finishing the book, I bought a copy of the live concert he gave at Herbst
A special find was Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore,
Mythology, and Legend (Harper Collins). At nearly 1200 pages, this massive
tome lists expansive descriptions and is the perfect reference guide for writers
like me who like to weave old stories into new ones. Gods and goddesses, symbols,
rituals, and spirit animals are all explained in fascinating detail.
Jim is the author of PINS and Monkey Suits; author info:
Seducing the Demon, by Erica Jong: Jong's honesty, power, and wit
make this a unique memoir and an inspiring book about the writing life.
The Kill, by Emile Zola: Bonfire of the Vanities avant la
lettre, filled with sex and money-madness. The stunning new translation
is a killer.
The Man Who Saved Britain, by Simon Winder: A hilarious combination
of memoir, history of England's decline, and a study of Bondmania, with great
stories about Fleming.
Grief, by Andrew Holleran: A dazzling meditation on the losses we
all will face, a deft comedy, and a vision of Washington, D.C. unlike any
other. As powerful as anything he's written.
Shalimar the Clown, by Salman Rushdie: Thriller, romance, spy novel,
and a lament over Kashmir's tragedy, this is big, bold, and stunning at every
Lev’s next book, Hot Rocks, a Nick Hoffman Mystery, is
due in April; Writing a Jewish Life and Secret Anniversaries of
the Heart were new in 2006. Author info:
Here are the six I thought of first. Does that make them the best?
Friends, by John Le Carre: Political commentary in the guise
of a spy novel about two double agents from different countries.
I read this after several recommendations and friends gave me
their copy. I expected some updated James Bond thingy, but no,
instead of good guys versus bad guys, we have an altogether different,
carefully drawn view of the world we think we know.
Dark Dominion: A rare old novel by the incomparable Marianne Hauser,
published in 1947, about an amateur painter from the Swiss Alps who visits
and observes the strange marriage of his sister and her therapist husband.
The three of them live together for several months in the couple's high-rise
apartment in NYC. My mind could not put this book down until long after I
had finished reading it. Her The Collected Short Fiction of Marianne Hauser
came out a couple of years ago - subtle and varied in scope and style. I highly
recommend them. Her introductory essay is priceless. Not many 90-year-old
women talk so candidly and cleverly about what their sex lives are like!
The Glass Bees, by Ernst Jünger: Published in 1957. Supremely, quirkily
futuristic novel about a war veteran, desperate for money, who goes for a
job interview at the headquarters of a powerful inventor of new technologies
and is forced to re-examine his entire outlook on life after seeing things
he had never imagined possible. Jünger predicted a future that is eerily similar
to our present.
The Romanian, by Bruce Benderson: Fascinating memoir about the author's
difficult relationship with a remarkable hustler, gloriously intertwined with
the trouble-ridden story of King Carol of Romania and his Jewish mistress.
Hatred of Capitalism: A Semiotext(e) Reader: Essays and fiction by
a lovely gang of radicals about the state of the world inside and out. Bits
and pieces from the many fine publications by this press.
About Writing, by Samuel R. Delany: A collection of brilliant essays
and interviews on writing. Challenges abound! The book includes four inspired
letters that he wrote to aspiring authors.
Rob is a writer, composer, and visual artist living in NYC; his work has
been published in a wide variety of anthologies and magazines, including
Blithe House Quarterly,
Velvet Mafia, Dangerous Families, and Best Gay Erotica 2003.
He co-edited the erotic anthology Tough Guys with Bill Brent, and his
music compositions can be sampled here:
Mattilda, aka Matt Bernstein Sycamore
I finally got around to reading Kevin Bentley's Wild Animals I
Have Known, his diaries about living, socializing, cruising, and fucking
near Polk Street from the late 70s to the late 90s. His stories are filled
with the sexual hopes of a different time, joyful and even innocent - they
reminded me of the possibilities for playful connection through slutty sex
that often seem so lacking in the contemporary gay cruising world of assimilation,
shame, the internet, and addiction - bring those hopes back! Then I read Bentley's
collection of essays, Let's Shut Out the World - I especially
liked the title piece, so many layers of beauty and connection and betrayal.
Did I mention that the writing about AIDS in Wild Animals I Have Known
is especially careful, spare, and of course heartbreaking? We need more of
Michelle Tea's new novel, Rose of No Man's Land, is a mesmerizing
take on the horrors and highs at that point between childhood and the end
of the world. Just when you think you've settled in for a comfortable tale
of being uncomfortable, Trisha, the narrator, does crystal for the first time,
with her new friend Rose, and they're out in this dinosaur-themed miniature
golf course in the suburbs of Boston, and they start to make out, and it's
like everything from there to the end is one extended revelation filtered
through breakdown. It's tremendous.
Jennifer Natalya Fink's V doesn't come out until January, but oh,
the complexity of themes packed into such compact, precise, and playful language!
Who else could write a novel where much of the tension comes from the disagreements
between a hat and a gun, and where one of the culminating scenes occurs when
an anorexic teenaged girl ends up cruising the men's room? All of this within
a stunning take on capitalism, development, religion, desire, and coming-of-age
Did I mention T Cooper's Lipshitz Six, or Two Angry Blondes,
a complicated take on Jewish family history, intergenerational trauma, and
the perils of assimilation? Or Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s incredible anecdote
about accidentally running into Oliver North in Honduras, contained in Blood
on the Border: a Memoir of the Contra War? And for an incredibly dense,
awe-inspiring, and illuminating look into the process by which immigrants
to the U.S. became "white," check out David Roediger's Working
Toward Whiteness, which weaves together a tremendous variety of sources
- historical, sociological, literary, journalistic - oral histories, autobiographies,
teaching manuals, movies, to tell so many complicated, critical, challenging,
and controversial stories. The result is simply breathtaking. I especially
like the way the book focuses on assimilation as both whitening as well as
Americanizing and its insistence on the messiness of racial categories - Roediger's
analysis of the New Deal as both white and whitening, as well as his tracking
of the exclusionary politics within unions, is particularly startling and
Mattilda is author of the novel Pulling Taffy and editor of the
anthologies Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender & Conformity,
That's Revolting: Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation,
Dangerous Families: Queer Writing on Surviving, and Tricks and Treats:
Sex Workers Write About Their Clients. He selected and introduced the stories
in Best Gay Erotica 2006. Author info:
Jim Van Buskirk
it's because I have just seen my mother for the first time in over
20 years, but I am currently fascinated with memoirs that deal with
gay men's coming to terms with their parents' legacy. Three stellar
examples, all published this year, are Bernard Cooper's The Bill
from My Father, Kevin Jennings's Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son,
and Jonathan Silin's My Father's Keeper. All three of these
well-written accounts, while stylistically unique, present a thoughtful
and thought-provoking entrée into these men's perspectives on their
aging or deceased parents, and by extension into how those relationships
change as we mature and face our own mortality.
Another entry in this genre is British playwright Alan Bennett's Untold
Stories, a collection of assorted autobiographical sketches, essays, and
criticism, in which he somewhat elliptically paints a portrait of his relationships
with his family of origin. While these titles may at first seem less than
uplifting reading material, they are in fact humorous, poignant, enlightening,
stimulating, and important works, ultimately eliciting as much about the readers'
relationships as about the writers.
Jim is co-author of Gay By the Bay (with Susan Stryker) and Celluloid
San Francisco (with Will Shank), and co-editor with Jim Tushinski of
Identity Envy: Wanting To Be Who We Are Not, Creative Nonfiction by Queers.
Author info: www.jimvanbuskirk.com.
I love Laurel Canyon by Michael Walker (Faber and Faber). It's an
exhaustive account of the music scene that took place in a very specific part
of the Hollywood Hills in the 1960s and 70s, starting with the Byrds and Mama
Cass and Joni Mitchell and ending with everyone on cocaine and acting like
assholes and deserving to be mowed down by punk rock. It's even better for
me because I live five minutes away from history I had paid only a little
attention to until recently. It makes driving through the canyon less irritating
now because instead of worrying that Jason Priestly will be driving the next
out-of-control car coming around the bend, I fix on the houses and wonder
which ones famous people shot up in.
The other book I loved this year was the next installment in the pocket-sized
33 1/3 book series. This one is called 69 Love Songs (Continuum); it's
a mini-encyclopedia of all things related to the 1999 three-CD album of the
same name by the Magnetic Fields. Written by sometime-Field LD Beghtol, it's
like taking a microscope to a really delicious cookie and realizing that all
the individual crumbs have weird fact-filled stories and tangential observations
about cookiedom to tell you about.
And, finally, I think Ian Svenonius's The Psychic Soviet (Drag City)
is the sassiest book in America. Argue with me about these things at
You'll be bested.
Dave is author of Exiles in Guyville, a film reviewer for
a contributor to the Advocate and Instinct, a columnist for
www.MSNBC.com, a sometime DJ, and blogs at:
favorite queer book this year is a book of - gasp - poetry! Trebor
Healey's collection of visionary verse, Sweet Son of Pan (Suspect
Thoughts Press) delivers on its promise of pagan promptings, erotic
love spells, and sweaty incantations to the cloven-hoofed god of
fertility. Healey's project here is to restore the broken bond between
men and celebrate the carnal impulse shared between them as something
sacred and life affirming. Reading Healey aloud is to smudge the
air with an earful of ecstasy! The book also gets my vote for most
erotic cover of 2006, with its gorgeous tattooed satyr planted amid
swirling dragonflies and shooting flames.
My runner up for the year has to be Kevin Jennings's touching memoir, Mama's
Boy, Preacher's Son: A Memoir of Becoming a Man (Beacon Press), which
very courageously tells the story of what it's like to be the gay son of a Southern
Baptist preacher. The book is a testament to moving beyond guilt and shame
and reclaiming an authentic life on your own terms. The work Jennings does
with helping students reconcile with their sexual identities is laudable!
I can't wait to read more of him.
Gerard is a poet (Dervish), fiction, and prose writer whose most
recent book is Postcards from Heartthrob Town: A Gay Man's Travel Tales.
Kind Words for Kate
William Mann's Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn (Holt), made it to
at least three best-of-the-year lists. The New York Times, somewhat
opaquely, wrote: "Mann's biography takes some complicated sexual algebra
into account." The Washington Post avoids the L-word, but less
"Though Hepburn emerges as a willful fame-seeker in Kate,
Mann is never less than respectful and even-handed when discussing aspects
of her life she may have preferred stay in the shadows. [Her] cosmopolitan
circle could certainly be fodder for a more salacious account, but Mann handles
the material with clear-eyed equanimity... Mann offers a corrective to the
hagiography that has often passed as her personal history (up to and including
her own memoirs), but nonetheless manages to keep intact her image as rebellious
icon, screen goddess and American original."
And Publishers Weekly
said, "This outstanding, splendidly written biography will surely be
the definitive version of Hepburn's life for decades to come" - but doesn't
More Love for Fun Home
In addition to Mann's Kate, a few queer-connected titles broke into
the mainstream roundups for the year; the title with the most glowing accolades
(and also a nominee for the second annual Quill Awards) is Alison Bechdel's
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic.
The most high-profile praise is in the year-end issue of Time magazine,
which put the book number 1 on its Top 10 List:
"The unlikeliest literary
success of 2006 is a stunning memoir about a girl growing up in a small town
with her cryptic, perfectionist dad and slowly realizing that a) she is gay
and b) he is too. Oh, and it's a comic book: Bechdel's breathtakingly smart
commentary duets with eloquent line drawings. Forget genre and sexual orientation:
this is a masterpiece about two people who live in the same house but different
worlds, and their mysterious debts to each other."
From the Los Angeles Times:
"In this graphic novel, Bechdel re-creates
her difficult childhood, using her relationship with her father - a closeted
English teacher and funeral director who committed suicide after she came
out to him - as a lens through which to explore her own sexuality and identity.
Densely drawn and subtly written, this is an example of graphic storytelling
at its most profound."
Except it's not a novel!
New York magazine put Alison's book on its Top 10 list, along with
the likes of Cormac McCarthy (The Road), Alice Munro (The View from
Castle Rock), and Claire Messud (The Emperor’s Children):
year, one graphic novelist gets crowned 'the next Art Spiegelman.' And you
don't read his book, because it actually seems kind of boring. Don't make
that mistake with Bechdel. One of the best memoirs of the decade, Fun Home
tells the story of her closeted father, pairing visuals and storytelling in
a way that is at once hyper-controlled and utterly intimate... Alice Munro came
up with a new kind of memoir, and so did Alison Bechdel."
Publisher’s Weekly liked it too: "In this haunting memoir, Bechdel
examines her closeted father's homosexuality and destructive lies while learning
to accept her own lesbianism."
Salon, in one of its several assorted Best of 2006 lists, dubbed Fun
Home Best Nonfiction Debut:
"Alison Bechdel calls her graphic
memoir a 'family tragicomic,' though the story in a lesser artist's
hands would probably have come out simply sad. The book is an investigation
of her own childhood, spent in the ornate Victorian house her father obsessively
restored and maintained, and the way her understanding of that childhood was
overturned after she came out to her parents at 19. The return whammy, delivered
by her mom, was that her father had a lifelong history of affairs with men,
including some of the teenage boys in the small Pennsylvania town where their
family had lived for generations. A few weeks later, her father was killed
in a highway accident that Bechdel believes was a form of suicide. Bechdel's
years of drawing a serial comic strip (the divine Dykes to Watch Out For)
have honed her ability to convey oceans of feeling in a single image, and
the feelings are never simple; Fun Home shimmers with regret, compassion,
annoyance, frustration, pity, and love - usually all at the same time and never
without a pervasive, deeply literary irony about the near-impossible task
of staying true to yourself, and to the people who made you who you are."
And, in other national honors, Bechdel's book was anointed Best Graphic Book
by USA Today, the number one nonfiction pick on Entertainment Weekly's
Best of 2006 list, and made the Best of 2006 list for People magazine.
(Ed. note: BTWOF publisher Carol Seajay, now living in Newcastle-upon-Tyne,
has alerted us that the London Times has named Fun Home #10 on their
Top 10 Best Books of 2006
list. Their review:
Praise From Other Mainstream Presses
Besides Fun Home, the L.A. Times
also liked Gay L.A. (which was on that newspaper's bestseller list
for a spell):
"In this 'meticulously researched history' of Los Angeles
from its earliest days to the present, the authors maintain that this city
has had a greater influence than other major American metropolises - San Francisco
and New York, for instance - on the gay movement's development over the years."
And the L.A. Times also liked The Lost:
A Search for Six of Six Million, by Daniel Mendelsohn: "The author's
epic journey to understand what happened to members of his mother's family
in the Holocaust, taking him from family stories and old letters to explorations
on the Internet and eventually to the streets of Poland, in search of anyone
who might remember his lost relatives," said the paper’s anonymous reviewer.
The Washington Post favorites, three fiction
and one memoir, were The Night Watch, by Sarah Waters:
"Told backward, allowing us to know the outcome of unrequited
love before it falls apart, this is a sophisticated, beautifully
written novel about London during World War II," wrote
Tracy Chevalier; The
Pale Blue Eye, by Louis Bayard: "Bayard carries off the
miserable locale of the Hudson Valley with an atmospheric darkness
worthy of his illustrious subject: Edgar Allan Poe," said
Jasper Fforde - a book also selected in BTWOF/GME #29 by Dan Cullinane;
Grief, by Andrew Holleran (a book that Lev Raphael liked
in this issue, and that Kevin Bentley, John Weir, and Don Weise
liked in the first installment of BTWOF's 2006 Favorites): "Set
in Washington, D.C., this haunting novel takes Holleran's themes
- loss, desire, the joy and solace humans derive from their homes
and surroundings - and distills them into a heady, bittersweet
aperitif," wrote Elizabeth Hand; and Untold Stories,
by Alan Bennett: "There is probably no other distinguished
English man of letters more instantly likable than Bennett,"
said Michael Dirda of a memoir that James Van Buskirk also liked
in this issue.
The online magazine Salon also asked its readers for
their favorite books of 2006. K.M. Soehnlein expanded on his praise
for Michelle Tea's Rose of No Man’s Land: "Tea moves
from being the sharpest eye on the queer underground (Valencia,
Rent Girl) to the torch-carrier of the comic coming-of-age
novel. No other book this year had me laughing and wincing in
perfect balance at the memory of what it was to be a high school
freshman making every exciting wrong choice." And one Alan
Roberts really liked Patrick Ryan's debut novel, Send Me:
"Reading it transported me from the middle of a New
City winter to a very hot and sticky situation, both weather-
and sibling/parental-related, in Central Florida. His simple prose
and colorful characters, plucked straight out of Richard Russo
land, made Send Me a very enjoyable read. Also, the original
use of non-linear storytelling put forth by Mr. Ryan was highly
effective - I had no idea how it was going to end. But it all
made perfect sense once I finished."
And Publishers Weekly singled out Spanbauer's Now is the Hour:
"Spanbauer's superb channeling of 17-year-old Rigby John Klusener's summer
of love makes for an unforgettable bildungsroman."
Bestsellers From Our Bookstores
I like bestseller lists - they're a great gauge of what people are really
buying, as opposed to what the critics (like us, in this and the last Books
To Watch Out For) are writing about. Here are two that couldn't be more
different... December lists, presumably reflecting book sales in November, as
well as local authors, book signing appearances, and geographical quirks.
I've been cycling through a handful of gay bookstores that post their lists
on their websites: Giovanni's Room, Outwrite, Lambda Rising, Little Sisters,
mostly. But if there are any bookstore managers receiving BTWOF who
want to send me their lists, I'll add them to the roster: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Giovanni's Room / Philadelphia
1. Harvard's Secret Court: The Savage 1920 Purge of Campus Homosexuals,
by William Wright (St. Martin's). Based on the secret records found
by the Harvard Crimson.
2. Discreet Young Gentlemen, by M. Pearson (Seventh
Wind). Period romance.
3. Stripped: The Illustrated Male, a compilation of cartoon
art from Bruno Gmunder Verlag.
4. Breathe, by Blair R. Poole (Burrow). A young black man struggles
with his demons. Set in Philadelphia.
5. Gangsta Daddy, by Julius (Juliusart). Oversized book of
very explicit cartoon art.
6. Point to Point Navigation: A Memoir, 1964 to 2006,
by Gore Vidal (Doubleday). Sequel to his Palimpsest.
7. Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son: A Memoir by Kevin Jennings (Beacon).
Jennings's poignant, razor-sharp memoir describes growing up in poverty in
the South, the death of his fundamentalist preacher father when he was eight,
and his discovery of a world beyond poverty.
8. Deep Sex, photos by Tom Bianchi (Gmunder). Tom's
erotic diary of life with his partner and friends.
Bookstore info: www.giovannisroom.com. Book descriptions
from the bookstores.
Outwrite / Atlanta
1. I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, by Amy Sedaris
(Warner Books). America's most delightfully unconventional hostess provides
jackpot recipes and solid advice laced with her blisteringly funny take on
entertaining - plus four-color photos and enlightening sidebars on everything
it takes to pull off a party with extraordinary flair.
2. Seventy Times Seven, by Salvatore Sapienza (Southern Tier
3. Ask the Fruitcake Lady: Everything You Would Already Know If You
Had Any Sense, by Marie Rudisill (Hyperion). Truman Capote's aunt
- also known as the Fruitcake Lady after an appearance on the Jay Leno show
where she taught him and Mel Gibson how to make fruitcake - dishes out sassy
advice to fans.
4. What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality, by Daniel
Helmniak (Alamo Square). New edition! Top scholars show that those who perceive
Bible passages as condemning homosexuality are being misled by faulty translation
and poor interpretation. Helminiak, a respected theologian and a Roman Catholic
priest, explains in a clear fashion the fascinating new insights of these
5. The Book of Bad Habits, by Patrick Regan (Andrews McNeel).
The Book of Bad Habits takes us behind convent walls for a hilarious
look at nuns like you've never seen them before. Absolutely authentic, un-retouched
vintage photos offer glimpses of nuns at ease and in action. Wry, clever captions
complete this unholy alliance of words and pictures. Not to worry, Mother
Superior - it's all harmless fun. After all, all pray and no play makes for
a very dull day. Nuns with guns! Nuns with pool cues! Nuns with cigarettes,
footballs, fire hoses, and flying fists! Holy Mother! Have these sisters lost
their religion? Hell, no . . . they're just nuns having fun, and this book
catches them in the act. At risk of attracting a lightning bolt from the blue,
author Patrick Regan has rifled through the Vatican's photo files and unearthed
an eye-opening array of candid snaps of holy sisters doing some rather un-nun-like
things. Paired with irreverent (to say the least) text, this book is guaranteed
to induce "church giggles" of the highest order.
6. Lesbian Sex 101: 101 Lesbian Lovemaking Positions, by Jude
Schell (Hylas Publishing). The essential book on lovemaking, woman to woman.
7. Running With Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs (Picador).
8. Walk Like a Man, by Laurinda Brown (Q-Boro Books). Lesbian
9. Inside Out: Straight Talk from a Gay Jock, by Mark Tewskbury
10. Penis Pokey: The Adult Board Book, by Christopher Behrens
(Quirk Books). This book contains no nudity. No profanity. No sexual material
of any kind. And yet it just might be the most obscene thing we've ever published!
Penis Pokey is an illustrated board book with a large die-cut hole
in its center. Every spread features a dazzling full-color illustration with
one thing missing - a banana, perhaps, or a fire hose, or a sea serpent. Male
readers can complete the illustrations using the talents God has given them.
Are we serious? Yes! Is this funny? Absolutely! Will this be a terrific hit
with college students, bachelorette parties, and exhibitionists of all ages?
Of course! Penis Pokey is far and away the strangest and funniest novelty
book we've seen in a long, long time.
Bookstore info: www.outwritebooks.com. Book description
from the bookstores.
A Couple of (oops) Corrections
First: Dennis Altman teaches at La Trobe in Melbourne, not Sydney.
And: Trebor Healey's praise for Gay L.A: A History of Sexual Outlaws,
Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians, in the last
BTWOF/GM #29, quite
delightful, was based on early drafts of the book with now-vanished references,
writes Stuart Timmons, co-author with Lillian Faderman of the book. "He
kindly and carefully read earlier drafts of Gay L.A., and a few details
change in some of the stories he cites. To read about the one-legged hustler,
Ah Fook and the Swedish sailor, and other compelling queers of L.A.'s past,
you may have to wait for the next book."
Here's a revision, by Stuart, of Trebor's original comment, with changes
L.A. has such a fascinating history, and this book covers so much of it,
reminding us that queers have always been present in large numbers and thus
a huge part of that history. I love all the little personal anecdotal stories
in this book - the early native tales of two-spirited children, the tragic
hustler boy of Main St., the tale of the five female impersonators
in 1890s Chinatown, the mystique of Captain Jinx, the masculine
frontierswoman who passed for a dude, and the numerous twisted Hollywood
tales. You realize in reading this book that though L.A. is often popularly
eclipsed by SF and NYC when it comes to queer history, it seems likely that
a lot more actually happened in L.A. than either of those cities and challenges
you to consider that L.A. may in fact be the queerest town on the planet in
the final analysis.
They Read, They Write: 3 Letters
Thanks for the end of the year roundup. Very interesting. It gave me some
sense of that community of writers that is slipping away by the nanosecond.
You're an angel for taking the time to pull this together. As always, I loved
it. Where else am I going to find out what John Weir or Fenton Johnson are
reading? However, seeing so many titles I've not read - or heard of before,
in a lot of instances - I feel as if I've
awakened from a really long nap. Where did they all come from?
I'm never going to live that circumcision article down. You gave me a good
laugh when I saw that link. I wondered why my
website was getting so many