Books Under Consideration
These are the books that the Pat Parker/Vito Russo Library book discussion group is considering to read in the future.
In general, we only read books that are currently in print and that are in paperback. The list is arranged alphabetically by author. A list of hardbound books that we'll consider reading in the future appears at the end.
Return to the Book Club list of books we've already read.
THE GREAT NIGHT
by Chris Adrian (2012 novel from Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
$15 (paperback available May 2012 from Picador) 384 pages
Acclaimed as a “gifted, courageous writer” (The New York Times), Chris Adrian's magical thrid novel brings all his extraordinary talents to bear in The Great Night—a brilliant and mesmerizing retelling of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” On Midsummer’s Eve 2008, three brokenhearted people become lost in San Francisco’s Buena Vista Park, the secret home of Titania, Oberon, and their court. On this night, something awful is happening in the faerie kingdom: in a fit of sadness over the end of her marriage and the death of her adopted son, Titania has set loose an ancient menace. Even as a rowdy bunch rehearse a play aimed at exposing the mayor's crimes against the homeless, three people are trapped in the park by the fairies’ madness: uptight Molly, lovesick Will, and gentle, obsessed Henry, who still misses his decamped lover Bobby and whose tragic past and connections to other characters unfold tantalizingly.
WHITE GIRLS: ESSAYS
by Hilton Als (collection of essays, McSweeney's, Nov 2013)
$16 (paperback available Aug 2014 from McSweeney's) 200 pages
White Girls, Hilton Als’s first book since The Women fourteen years ago, finds one of The New Yorker's boldest cultural critics weaving together his brilliant analyses of literature, art, and music with fearless insights on race, gender, and history. The result is a complex portrait of “white girls,” as Als dubs them—an expansive but precise category that encompasses figures as diverse as Truman Capote and Louise Brooks, Malcolm X and Flannery O’Connor, and AIDS and music. In pieces that shift between critique and meditation, fiction and nonfiction, high culture and low, the theoretical and the deeply personal, Als presents a stunning portrait of a writer by way of his subjects, and an invaluable guide to the culture of our time.
THE PRINCE OF LOS COCUYOS: A MIAMI CHILDHOOD
by Richard Blanco (2014 memoir from HarperCollins)
$15 (paperback available June 2015 from Ecco) 277 pages
A poignant, hilarious, and inspiring memoir from the first Latino and openly gay inaugural poet, which explores his coming-of-age as the child of Cuban immigrants and his attempts to understand his place in America while grappling with his burgeoning artistic and sexual identities. Blanco’s childhood and adolescence were experienced between two imaginary worlds: his parents’ nostalgic world of 1950s Cuba and his imagined America, the country he saw on reruns of The Brady Bunch and Leave it to Beaver—an “exotic” life he yearned for as much as he yearned to see “la patria.” Navigating these worlds led Blanco to question his cultural identity through words; his vision as a writer prompted the courage to accept himself as a gay man. In this moving, contemplative memoir, the poet traces his poignant, often hilarious, and quintessentially American coming-of-age and the people who influenced him, including his well received presentation at the 2013 Obama inauguration.
THE SHELTERING SKY
by Paul Bowles (classic American novel published in 1949)
$16 (multiple editions available but re-published by Ecco in 2014) 350 pages
In this classic work of psychological terror, Paul Bowles examines the ways in which Americans apprehend an alien culture—and the ways in which their incomprehension destroys them. The story centers on Port Moresby and his wife Kit, a married couple originally from New York who travel to the North African desert accompanied by their friend Tunner after WW II. The journey, initially an attempt by Port and Kit to resolve their marital difficulties, is quickly fraught by the travelers' ignorance of the dangers that surround them. The Sheltering Skyetches the limits of human reason and intelligence—perhaps even the limits of human life—when they touch the unfathomable emptiness and impassive cruelty of the desert.
EMINENT OUTLAWS: GAY WRITERS WHO CHANGED AMERICA
by Christopher Bram (2012 literary history and biographies from Twelve)
$14 (paperback available Feb 2012 from Twelve) 372 pages
After World War II, a group of gay writers established themselves as cultural figures in America: Truman Capote, the enfant terrible; Gore Vidal, the chronicler of politics and sex; Tennessee Williams, whose powerful plays rocketed him to the top of the theater; James Baldwin, the perceptive novelist and social critic; Christopher Isherwood, the English novelist who became an American novelist; and the exuberant Allen Ginsberg, whose poetry defied censorship.
But the change was only beginning and a new generation of gay writers took more risks to write openly about their sexuality. Edward Albee brought his prickly iconoclasm to the American theater. Edmund White laid his own life bare in stylized works. Armistead Maupin wove a rich tapestry of the queer counterculture. Mart Crowley put gay men's lives on the stage. And Tony Kushner put them at the center of American ideas. Bram weaves these men's ambitions, affairs, feuds, loves, and appetites into a single sweeping narrative.
FIRE SHUT UP IN MY BONES
by Charles Blow (2014 memoir from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
$15 (paperback available Sept 2015 from Mariner) 240 pages
A moving memoir of how one of America's most innovative journalists found his voice by coming to terms with a painful past. NYTimes columnist Charles M. Blow mines the compelling poetry of the out-of-time African-American Louisiana town where he grew up -- a place where slavery's legacy felt astonishingly close. Blow's attachment to his mother -- a fiercely driven woman with five sons, brass knuckles in her glove box, a job plucking poultry at a factory, and a love of newspapers -- cannot protect him from secret abuse at the hands of an older cousin. It's damage that triggers years of anger and self-questioning. Finally, Blow escapes to a nearby state university, where he joins a black fraternity after a passage of brutal hazing, and then enters a world of racial and sexual privilege that feels like everything he's ever needed and wanted, until he's called upon himself to become the one perpetuating the shocking abuse. A redemptive memoir that fits the tradition of African-American storytelling from the South and gives it a new slant.
THE COMPLETE STORIES OF TRUMAN CAPOTE
by Truman Capote (2005 collection, multiple editions)
$15 (paperback available in multiple editions) 320 pages
A landmark collection that brings together Capote’s life’s work in the form he called his "great love," This confirms Capote's status as a master of the short story. Ranging from the gothic South to the chic East Coast, from rural children to aging urban sophisticates, all the unforgettable places and people of his work are here, in stories as elegant as they are heartfelt, as haunting as they are compassionate. Most of Capote's stories were concentrated in the early years of his career, the 1940s, but his capacity for writing deeply thought-out, moving stories continued into the 1980s. From the first story in the collection, "The Walls Are Cold," an entertaining piece about a flirtatious young socialite, to the last story, "One Christmas," set in the Alabama and New Orleans of his boyhood, about learning the differences in how people love, this is a powerful collection of 20 stories. "It is not hard at all to open to any page and be amused, moved, intrigued." - Newsday. (This is NOT the "Early Stories" published in 2016.)
by Michael Chabon (2012 novel by Harper)
$15 (paperback available 2013 from Harper Perrenial) 496 pages
By one of our most loved straight Pulitzer prize-winning allies. In the summer of 2004, Archy and Nat are longtime friends, bandmates, and co-rulers of Brokeland Records, a kingdom of used vinyl located somewhere near Berkeley and Oakland. Their wives, Gwen and Aviva, are the Berkeley Birth Partners, a pair of legendary midwives who have welcomed more than a thousand citizens into the dented temple-like utopia known as Brokeland. When ex–NFL quarterback Gibson Goode, the fifth-richest black man in America, announces plans to build his latest super megastore on nearby Telegraph Avenue, Nat and Archy fear that it means doom for their vulnerable little store. Meanwhile, Aviva and Gwen find themselves caught up in a battle for their professional existence, one that tests the limits of their friendship. Adding another layer of complications to the couples' already tangled lives is the surprise appearance of Titus, the teenage son who Archy has never acknowledged and the love of fifteen-year-old Julius Jaffe's life.
by Susan Choi (2013 novel published by Viking)
$16 (paperback available May 2014 from Penguin) 296 pages
In 1992, 21-year-old Regina Gottlieb begins graduate school. She is intrigued by charismatic professor Nicholas Brodeur, whose seductive reputation precedes him. Though she is fascinated by Nicholas, it is Nicholas’ remote, mercurial wife, Martha, who inspires an overwhelming passion in Regina. After sharing a charged kiss at a party, Regina relentlessly pursues Martha and throws herself without restraint. Although Martha tries to conceal the relationship from Nicholas and the nanny who helps care for their son, Regina is reckless and angry that Martha won’t plan a future with her. With a sharp eye and piercing insights, Choi captures the romanticism that infuses a youthful love affair before the responsibilities and realities of adulthood set in. With fully drawn characters, this sophisticated book is about sophisticated people who may be brainy about arts and letters but are clueless when it comes to the complex affairs of the heart. A masterful coming-of-age novel. An Amazon book of the month club.
by Garrard Conley (memoir, Riverhead 2016)
$tbd (paperback date tbd) 349 pages
The son of a Baptist pastor and deeply embedded in church life in Arkansas, as a young man Garrard Conley was terrified and conflicted about his sexuality. When he was a 19-year-old college student, he was outed to his parents, and was forced to make a life-changing decision: either attend a church-supported conversion therapy program that promised to “cure” him of homosexuality or risk losing his family, friends, and the God he had prayed to every day. Through an institutional 12-Step Program heavy on Bible study, he was supposed to emerge heterosexual, cleansed of impure urges, and stronger in his faith in God for his brush with sin. Instead, even when faced with a brutal journey, Garrard found the strength to break out in search of his true self.
By confronting his buried past and the burden of a life lived in shadow, Garrard traces the complex relationships among family, faith, and community. At times heart-breaking, at times triumphant, this memoir is a testament to love that survives despite all odds.
A HOME AT THE END OF THE WORLD
by Michael Cunningham (1990 novel published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
$15 (paperback available in 2004 from Picador) 342 pages
Two very different boys are drawn together by their oppressive home lives and by a connection that is both brotherly and sexual in this vivid coming-of-age tale. Clevelanders Bobby Morrow and Jonathan Glover become childhood friends in the 1960s, and their friendship persists well into the '80s, when first Jonathan and then Bobby moves to NYC. There they meet aging hippie Clare, who imposes her own needs upon the two men. Clare attempts to build a normal life for herself using Bobby to become pregnant and Jonathan as emotional support. When Clare and Bobby have a baby, the three move to a small house upstate to raise "their" child together and, with Jonathan's mother, create a new kind of family. A Home at the End of the World masterfully depicts the charged, fragile relationships of urban life today.
THE SNOW QUEEN
by Michael Cunningham (2014 novel published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
$16 (paperback available May 2015 from Picador) 272 pages
Cunningham’s luminous novel begins with a vision when Barrett looks up at the sky from Central Park to see a pale light that seems to regard him in a distinctly godlike way. Barrett doesn’t believe in visions—or in God—but he can’t deny what he’s seen. At the same time in Bushwick, Barrett’s older brother, Tyler, is trying to write a wedding song for Beth, his wife-to-be, who is seriously ill. Tyler is determined to write a song that will be not merely a sentimental ballad but an enduring expression of love. Barrett, haunted by the light, turns unexpectedly to religion. Tyler grows convinced that only drugs can release his creative powers. Beth tries to face mortality with as much courage as she can summon.Cunningham follows the two brothers as each travels down a different path in his search for transcendence. The Snow Queen, beautiful and heartbreaking, comic and tragic, proves again that Cunningham is one of the great novelists of his generation.
STARS IN MY POCKET LIKE GRAINS OF SAND
by Samuel Delany (classic 1985 sci-fi novel from Bantam Dell)
$25 (multiple editions, 20th edition by Wesleyan in 2004) 376 pages
With a burst of radiation to the brain, an angry young man is transformed into a dim-witted slave—suitable only for the most brutal work. But the tragedy of Rat Korga is the prologue to the story of Marq Dyeth, an “industrial diplomat,” who travels from world to world in this exciting, sprawling future, solving problems that come with the spread of “General Information.” The greatest fear in this future is Cultural Fugue, a critical mass of shared knowledge that can destroy life over the surface of an entire world in hours. In this dizzyingly original novel, information is perilous, but without it a human is only a rat in a cage. "Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand" is a science fiction masterpiece, an essay on the inexplicability of sexual attractiveness, and an examination of interstellar politics among far-flung worlds. First published in 1984, the novel's central issues—technology, globalization, gender, sexuality, and multiculturalism—have only become more pressing with the passage of time.
(This is the book in which, a decade before the fact in 1984, Delany predicted the Internet.)
by Damon Galgut (British novel, published 2014 by Europe Editions)
$17 (paperback available Sept 2014 from Europa Editions) 352 pages
Damon Galgut’s third novel, a fictionalized biography of English author E.M. Forster, focuses on Forster’s many years in India and the process of writing his masterpiece, A Passage to India. This finely wrought novel also addresses Forster’s unforgiving childhood in England and the homosexuality he feared and repressed throughout his life. Psychologically acute without being sentimental, Forster’s relationships are described with compassion. Galgut is a master at constructing strange, compelling landscapes, and Arctic Summer shifts seamlessly between staid, restricting England and Cairo and vibrant, pleasantly absurd India. Moments of gentle humor shine through the sparse prose, lending Forster a humanity that makes his story all the more heartbreaking.
WAGSTAFF BEFORE AND AFTER MAPPLETHROPE: A BIOGRAPHY
by Philip Gefter (20th Century biography, published 2014 by Liveright)
$18 (paperback available Sept 2015 from Liveright) 468 pages, illustrated
The full biography of Sam Wagstaff describes his indelible influence on the world of art and gay culture. Born in 1921, Wagstaff followed the arc of a young man from a wealthy family. He attended Yale, served in the navy, and then followed his classmates to Madison Avenue to work as an ad execurive. But by 1961 he'd turned his life into something notable and became a respected curator at Hartford's Wadsworth Atheneum, bringing it some fame with his shows, before he moved to the Detroit Institue of Art. Returning to NYC in 1972, the 50-year-old Wagstaff met the 25-year-old Queens-born Robert Mapplethorpe, then living with Patti Smith. What at first appeared to be a sexual dalliance became a historic lifelong romance in which Mapplethorpe fostered Wagstaff's interest in photography and Wagstaff secured Mapplethorpe's reputation in the art world. Positioning Wagstaff's personal life against the rise of photography as a major art form and the formation of the gay rights movement, this absorbing biography provides a searing portrait of New York just before and during the age of AIDS.
ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE OF MY HEART
by Richard Goldstein (memoir, published 2015 by Bloomsbury)
$17 (paperback available June 2016 from Bloomsbury USA) 240 pages
In 1966, at the ripe age of 22, Richard Goldstein approached The Village Voice with a novel idea. "I want to be a rock critic," he said. "What's that?" the editor replied. It was a logical question, since rock criticism didn't yet exist. In the weekly column he would produce for theVoice, Goldstein became the first person to write regularly in a major publication about the music that changed our lives. He saw the full arc of events that shaped culture and politics in the 1960s--and participated in them, too. He toured with Janis Joplin, spent a day at the Grateful Dead house in San Francisco, and dropped acid with Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. He was present for Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, the student uprising at Columbia, and the riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention. He was challenged to a boxing match by Norman Mailer, and took Susan Sontag to her first disco. All of this while he was discovering his own queerness that would affect his life and his coverage.
"A deeply felt and largely compelling portrait of an age that indelibly marked everyone who took part in it. Indispensable for understanding the culture of the '60s and the music that was at its heart." - starred review, Kirkus Reviews
by Brad Gooch (memoir, published 2015 by Harper)
$15 (paperback available April 2016 from Harper Perennial) 256 pages
A searing memoir of life in 1980s NYC: wild bohemians, glamorous celebrities, and complicated passions -- with cameo appearances by Madonna, Robert Mapplethorpe, William Burroughs, and a host of other legendary artists. Gooch arrived in NYC in the late 1970s, yearning for artistic and personal freedom. This intimate memoir of an exhilarating time and place describes his love affair with film director Howard Brookner, pieced together from fragments of memory and fueled by a range of emotions, from ecstasy to despair. As both men try to reconcile love and fidelity with the desire to enjoy the freedom of the age, they live together and apart. Gooch works briefly as a model in Milan, then returns to the city and discovers his vocation as an artist. Brookner falls ill with a mysterious virus as the city is suddenly overshadowed by the plague of AIDS that ravages a generation and transforms the creative world. Gooch charts the progress of Brookner through his illness, and writes about the loss of a great talent, a passionate love affair, and an incandescent era.
THE ORGANISED CRIMINAL
by Jarlath Gregory (Celtic noir thriller, British Liberties Press, 2014)
$18 (paperback only) 224 pages
The Organised Criminal is about blood, family and organized crime. Jay O’Reilly, reluctantly returning for home for his cousin’s funeral, is offered a job by his father. His family's criminal activity had made Jay determined never to return. His father is a well-known smuggler with a far-reaching empire.
Though Jay likes to think he’s turned his back on his community, his lost-past still fascinate him. The job is deceptively simple but lucrative. Despite himself, Jay is tempted by the money, the possibility of escape, and a chance to make things right.
Spiked with black humor throughout, Jay’s feelings of loneliness, displacement, dissatisfaction and even hatred elevate this thrilling celtic noir novel and show that a job is never just a job. It becomes a story of fear, family-ties, male friendship and power.
As Jay contemplates the job, he reacquaints himself with the place and the family he left, only to find that it is exactly as hard and cold as he remembered. When the truth behind his father’s offer is finally revealed, Jay faces a struggle between familial bonds and moral obligations. This novel was highlighted in an article in the NYT about gay-straight "bromosexual" friendships. It has no reviews on Amazon, may be a bit tough to find, and I can't find many reviews but it sounds interesting, so proceed with caution.
by Matthew Griffin (contemporary novel, Bloomsbury USA, 2016)
$16 (paperback available Jan 2017 from Bloomsbury USA) 282 pages
Set in a declining textile town in the South, this is the love story of Wendell Wilson, a taxidermist, and Frank Clifton, a World War II veteran. They meet after the war, in a time when such love holds real danger. But, severing nearly all ties with the world, they carve a home for themselves on the outskirts of town. For decades the routine of self-reliant domesticity--Wendell's cooking, Frank's care for a yard no one sees, and the vicarious drama of courtroom TV--seems to protect them. But when Wendell finds Frank lying motionless outside at the age of 83, their carefully crafted life together begins to unravel. Frank's physical strength deteriorates and his memory dissolves as Wendell struggles to keep him healthy and to hold onto the man he once knew until he must come to terms with the consequences of half a century in seclusion, the sacrifices they made for each other, and the different lives they might have lived. Impossibly tender, gently funny, and gorgeously rendered, Hide is a singularly powerful debut. "Hide is the freshly imagined story of a gay male couple who decide to give up the world --friends, family, career-- to live out their forbidden love in the decades before gay liberation. This is a great love story." -- Edmund White
by Saleem Haddad (novel, Other Press, March 2016)
$16 (paperback only), 368 pages
Set over the course of twenty-four hours, Guapa follows Rasa, a gay man living in an unnamed Arab country, as he tries to carve out a life for himself in the midst of political and social upheaval. Rasa spends his days translating for Western journalists and pining for the nights when he can sneak his lover into his room. One night Rasa's grandmother catches them in bed together. The following day Rasa is consumed by the search for his best friend Maj, a fiery drag queen star of the underground bar, Guapa, who has been arrested by the police. Ashamed to go home and face his grandmother, and reeling from the potential loss of the most important people in his life, Rasa roams the city’s slums and prisons, the lavish weddings of the elite, and the bars where outcasts drink to a long-lost revolution. Each new encounter leads him closer to confronting his own identity, as he revisits his childhood and probes the secrets that haunt his family. Amazon's best novel of March 2016.
by Scott Heim (1996 novel - Harper Perennial)
$15 (paperback republished in 2005 by Harper Perennial) 304 pages
"The summer I was eight years old, five hours disappeared from my life" So runs the catchy opening to Heim's impressive first novel. The speaker is Brian Lackey, now a troubled teenager, once an introverted kid growing up scared in the small town of Hutchinson, Kans. The reason for his memory lapse and his fear, as we and Brian learn during the course of the novel, turns out not to be the space aliens that he first suspects, but his molestation at the hands of his Little League coach. The key to Brian's reclamation of those lost hours is homosexual hustler Neil McCormick - the slugger on that Little League team and an accomplice to Brian's sexual abuse. Working its way over the course of a decade toward Brian and Neil's reunion, the narrative unfolds through chapters whose points of view alternate among Brian, Neil and a handful of their siblings and confidants. While perhaps introducing prominent characters who outlive their usefulness, Heim aksi creates scenes of genuine beauty and handles his complicated characters and delicate subject matter with calm assurance.
THE PRICE OF SALT
by Patricia Highsmith (classic 1953 fiction from a recognized master)
$11 (multiple editions, especially after the 2015 movie "Carol") 296 pages
A chance encounter between two lonely women leads to a passionate romance in this lesbian cult classic. Therese, a struggling young sales clerk, and Carol, a homemaker in the midst of a bitter divorce, abandon their oppressive daily routines for the freedom of the open road, where their love can blossom. But their newly discovered bliss is shattered when Carol is forced to choose between her child and her lover.
Author Patricia Highsmith is best known for her psychological thrillers Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley. Originally published in 1952 under a pseudonym, The Price of Salt was heralded as "the novel of a love society forbids." Highsmith's sensitive treatment of fully realized characters who defy stereotypes about homosexuality marks a departure from previous lesbian pulp fiction. Erotic, eloquent, and suspenseful, this story offers an honest look at the necessity of being true to one's nature.
TRANS: A MEMOIR
by Juliet Jacques (contemporary menoir, Verso 2015)
$15 (paperback available May 2016) 320 pages
A moving memoir and insightful examination of transgender politics. In 2012, Juliet Jacques --aged 30-- underwent sex reassignment surgery, a process she chronicled with unflinching honesty in a serialised national newspaper column. Trans tells of her life to the present moment: a story of growing up, of defining yourself, and of the rapidly changing world of gender politics. Fresh from university, eager to escape a dead-end job, she launches a career as a writer in a publishing culture still figuring out the impact of the Internet. She navigates the treacherous waters of a world where, even in the liberal and feminist media, transgender identities go unacknowledged, misunderstood, or worse. Yet through art, film, music, politics and football, Jacques starts to become the person she had imagined, and begins the process of transition. Interweaving the personal with the political, her memoir is a powerful exploration of debates that comprise trans politics, issues which promise to redefine our understanding of what it means to be alive.
WHERE YOU CAN FIND ME
by Sheri Joseph (2014 novel, Thomas Dunne Books)
$??? (paperback available ??? from ???) 336 pages
Caleb, kidnapped at age 11 by a violent pedophile, is miraculously returned to his stunned family three years later. His mother, who has been utterly consumed with finding him, flees the paparazzi staked out in front of their house and takes him to Costa Rica, where her mother-in-law runs a wildlife preserve. At the heart of the story is shell-shocked Caleb, who now feels like damaged goods and finds himself still drawn to his kidnapper. In the exotic environment of Costa Rica, where no one knows his backstory and he can forge a new relationship with his bohemian uncle, Caleb begins to understand just what has happened. Joseph turns the sensationalistic story of an abused boy who has seen the darkest parts of life into a transformative and often suspense-filled tale of identity and resilience. A deeply moving novel about a family determined to survive the greatest of tragedies.
by Jonathan Kemp (2013 British novel, Arsenal Pulp Press)
$15 (paperback available 2013 from Arsenal Pulp) 256 pages
Rent boys, aristocrats, artists, and criminals populate this sweeping novel in which author Jonathan Kemp skillfully interweaves the lives and loves of three very different men in gay London across the decades. In the 1890s, the young Jack apprentices as a rent boy and discovers a life of pleasure and excess that leads to new friendships, most notably with the soon-to-be-infamous Oscar Wilde. A century later in 1998, David tells his own tale of unashamed decadence from prison, recalling life as a young man arriving in the city in the mid-'80s just as the scourge of AIDS hit. Where their paths cross, in the politically sensitive 1950s, when gay men were the target of police and politicians alike, the artist Colin tentatively explores his sexuality while working on his painting "London Triptych." Moodily atmospheric and rich with history, London Triptych is a sexy, resplendent portrait of the politics and pleasures of queer life in one of the world's most fascinating cities.
THE REBELLION OF MISS LUCY ANN LOBDELL
by William Klaber (fictionalized biography, St. Martin's Press, Feb 2015)
$16 (paperback available 2016 from St. Martin's Griffin) 278 pages
At a time when women did not commonly travel unescorted, carry a rifle, sit down in bars, or have romantic liaisons with other women, Lucy Lobdell boldly set forth to earn men's wages. Lobdell (1829 - 1912) did all of these things in a personal quest to work, to wear what she wanted, and to love whomever she cared to. But to gain those freedoms she had to endure public scorn and wrestle with a sexual identity whose vocabulary had yet to be invented. In this riveting historical novel, Klaber captures the life of a brave woman who saw well beyond her era. This is the fictionalized account of Lucy's foray into the world of men and her internal journey to a new sexual identity. Klaber lived in Lobdell's farmhouse in upstate NY. A local historian told him Lucy's story and showed him a leather satchel filled with recollections, articles, and letters about her, including a copy of a self-written account of Lucy's early life that the historian had found in an unmarked box in a library basement. Meticulously researched and told with compassion and respect, this is historical fiction at its best.
ZAMI: A NEW SPELLING OF MY NAME
by Audre Lorde (memoir-biography, she calls it mythobiography, Crossing
$17 (December 1983) 260 pages
Audre Lorde, best known for her gifted poetry and essays, leaves us with
this striking autobiography of her early years as a writer, and as a struggling
black lesbian in NYC. Slowly, through gentle inflections of her Grenadian
roots and development of the ideas of Caricou society, she stitches together
a number of very personal 'mythographies,' ultimately weaving a passionate,
touching and mythic telling of her life. Voted #8 on the Publishing Triangle's
list of 100 best lesbian and gay non-fiction books.
by Mark Merlis (contemporary novel, Univ of Wisconsin Press, March 2015)
$tbd (paperback available ??? from ???) 272 pages
Jonathan Ascher, an acclaimed 1960s cultural hero, has been dead for thirty years. When a would-be biographer approaches Ascher’s widow, she delves for the first time into her husband’s papers and all the secrets that come tumbling out of them. She finds journals that begin as a wisecracking chronicle of life at the fringes of the New York literary scene, then recount Ascher’s sexual adventures in the pre-Stonewall gay underground and the social upheavals that led to his famous book “JD.” She also finds herself in a long-distance conversation with her dead husband, fighting with him again about their rocky marriage and learning about the unseen tragedy in her own apartment that ended with the destruction of their son, Mickey. Lambda LIterary finalist.
A HOUSE FULL OF DAUGHTERS: A MEMOIR OF SEVEN GENERATIONS
by Juliet Nicholson (memoir, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, June 2016)
$16 (paperback available June 2017) 336 pages
A family memoir that traces the myths, legends, and secrets of seven generations of remarkable women. We read "Portrait of a Marriage: Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson" by Nigel Nicolson a few years ago. This seems like a terrific followup.
For many years Juliet Nicolson accepted the myths and legends around her family -- the dangerous beauty of her flamenco-dancing great-great-grandmother, the flirty manipulations of her great-grandmother, the infamous eccentricity of her grandmother Vita Sackville-West, her mother’s Tory-conventional background. But then Nicolson, a distinguished historian, started to question and sifted fact from fiction, uncovering details and secrets long held just out of sight. This is one woman’s investigation into the nature of family, memory, and the past. As Nicolson finds uncomfortable patterns reflected in these distant and more recent versions of herself, she realizes her challenge is to embrace the good and reject the hazards that have trapped past generations.
by Joe Okonkwo (a contemporary novel about the Jazz Age, Kensington, May 2016)
$15 (paperback only) 350 pages
In a lyrical debut set against the backdrop of the Harlem Renaissance and glittering Jazz Age Paris, Okonkwo creates an evocative story of emotional and artistic awakening.
On a sweltering night in 1925, beauties in beaded dresses mingle with hepcats in dapper suits on the streets of Harlem. Ben and his devoted wife, Angeline, are among the locals crammed into a basement club to hear jazz and drink bootleg liquor. For aspiring poet Ben, the swirling, heady rhythms are a revelation. So is Baby Back Johnston, an ambitious trumpet player who flashes a devilish grin. Ben finds himself drawn to the trumpeter and then to Paris where Baby Back says everything is happening.
In Paris, Blacks are welcomed as exotic celebrities. It’s an easy life that quickly leaves Ben adrift and alone, craving solace through anonymous dalliances in the city’s decadent underground scene.
UNDER THE UDALA TREES
by Chinelo Okparanta (Nigerian biography, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Sept 2015)
$15 (paperback available Sept 2016 from Mariner) 328 pages
Inspired by Nigeria’s folktales and its war, Under the Udala Trees is a deeply searching, powerful debut about the dangers of living and loving openly. Ijeoma comes of age as her nation does; born before independence, she is eleven when civil war breaks out in the young republic of Nigeria. Sent away to safety, she meets another displaced child and they, star-crossed, fall in love. They are from different ethnic communities. They are also both girls.
When their love is discovered, Ijeoma learns that she will have to hide this part of herself. Under the Udala Trees uses one woman’s lifetime to examine the ways in which Nigerians continue to struggle toward selfhood as the country recovers from the effects of war and division. This story offers a glimmer of hope — a future where a woman might just be able to shape her life around truth and love. NY Times Editor's pick. “Tales will break your heart open” (New York Daily News).
AFTER THE PARADE
by Lori Ostlund (debut novel, Scribner, Sept 2015)
$17 (paperback available July 2016 from Scribner) 340 pages
A deeply moving debut novel about a man who leaves his longtime partner in New Mexico for a new life in San Francisco, launching him on a tragicomic road trip and into the mysteries of his own childhood. Self-conscious 40-year-old Aaron escaped the confines of his Midwestern hometown but he still feels like an outcast. After twenty years under the controlling direction of his older partner, Aaron decides to take control of his own fate. But soon after establishing himself in San Francisco, he sees that real freedom will not come until he has made peace with his heartbreaking memories of Minnesota.
After Aaron’s father died in the town parade, his loving but enigmatic mother and a collection of oddball relatives help Aaron find his place in a hostile world. But Aaron’s sense of rejection runs deep: when he was seventeen, his mother vanished one night with the town pastor. Aaron hasn’t heard from her in more than twenty years but begins to search for her.
LOVERS AT THE CHAMELEON CLUB, PARIS 1932
by Francine Prose (historical novel by a popular author, April 2014, Harper)
$15 (paperback available May 2015 from Harper) 448 pages
Artistically and intellectually adventurous, Prose presents a house-of-mirrors historical novel built around a famous photograph by Brassai of two women at a table in a Paris nightclub. The one wearing a tuxedo is a race-car driver and Nazi collaborator, Violette Morris. So intriguing and disturbing is her story, Prose considered writing a biography, but instead she forged an electrifying union of fact and fiction by creating a circle of witnesses of varying degrees of reliability. Gabor, a Hungarian photographer enthralled by Paris after dark, photographs two weary lovers: Arlette, an opportunistic performer, and Lou Villars, a tux-clad athlete. The women are regulars at the Chameleon Club, a safe haven for lesbians, gays, cross-dressers, and others who must change their stripes to survive. We glean the many facets and repercussions of Lou’s “dramatic and terrible life” via Gabor’s surprisingly explicit letters to his parents, an unpublished biography, works by an American writer in Paris, and the memoirs of two rivals for Gabor’s love: a young teacher and a lonely baroness. The novel offers an intricately patterned, ever-morphing, lavishly well-informed plot spanning the French countryside and reaching to Berlin. A dark and glorious tour de force.
BLACK SHEEP BOY
by Martin Pousson (a novel in stories, Rare Bird Books, 2016)
$tbd (paperback date tbd) 208 pages
Meet a wild-hearted boy from the bayou land of Louisiana. Misfit, outcast, loner. Call him anything but a victim. Sissy, fairy, Jenny Woman. Son of a mixed-race Holy Ghost mother and a Cajun French phantom father. In a series of tender and tough stories, he encounters gender outlaws, drag queen renegades, and a rogues gallery of sex-starved priests, perverted teachers, and murderous bar owners. To escape his haunted history, the wild-hearted boy must shed his old skin and make a new self. As he does, his story rises from dark and murk to reach a new light and a new brand of fairy tale. Cajun legends, queer fantasies, and universal myths converge into a powerful work of counter-realism. Black Sheep Boy is a song of passion and a novel of defiance. “What Pousson does so masterfully is to take such a dazzlingly fantastical and specific world and render it universally recognizable to anyone who's grown up queer in a world that would —sometimes violently— prefer he or she did not. While he artfully lifts the veil on a world outside of most people's experience, he also offers an outstretched hand of solidarity to every black sheep boy and girl who's lucky enough to pick up a copy of his book.” Lambda Literary
THE DREAM LIFE OF ASTRONAUTS
by Patrick Ryan (short stories, June 2016, Dial Press)
$tbd (paperback available ??? from ???) 272 pages
These nine unforgettable stories, all set in and around Cape Canaveral, showcase Ryan’s masterly understanding of regret and hope, relationships and family, and the universal longing for love. The Dream Life...balances heartbreak with wry humor as its characters try to make sense of the paths they find themselves on. A would-be Miss America auditions for a shady local talent scout over vodka and Sunny D; a NASA engineer begins to wonder if the woman he’s having an affair with is slowly poisoning her husband; a Boy Scout troop leader, recovering from a stroke, tries to protect one of his scouts from being bullied by his own sons; an ex-mobster living in witness protection feuds with the busybody head of his condo board; a grandmother, sentenced to driver’s ed after a traffic accident, surprises herself by falling for her instructor.
Set against landmark moments—the first moon launch, Watergate, the Challenger explosion—these private dramas unfurl in startling ways. The Dream Life of Astronauts ratifies the emergence of an indelible new talent in fiction.
By May Sarton (novel,
W.W. Norton & Co.)
$14 (paperback 1997, multiple editions available) 256 pages
When Laura Spelman learns that she will not get well, she looks on this last illness as a journey during which she must reckon up her life, give up the nonessential, and concentrate on what she calls "the real connections." The heart of the story is Laura's realization that for her the real connections have been with womenher brilliant and devastating mother, a difficult daughter, and especially a woman she knew when she was young.
In interviews, the openly lesbian Sarton expressed anger at critics who derided the (autobiographical?) novel, which contains a memorable portrait of a gay male son, by marginalizing it as a "lesbian novel."
THE CHILD'S CHILD
by Barbara Vine (novel, published by Scribner in 2012)
$19 (paperback 2013 by Scribner) 320 pages
Adult siblings Grace and Andrew inherit their grandmother's sprawling London home and move in together. The arrangement is odd but ideal for the affectionate pair—until Andrew brings home a handsome new boyfriend. When he and Andrew witness a murder outside a London nightclub, things begin to unravel, and the lives of everyone in the house are disrupted.
Grace escapes into reading a long-lost novel from 1951, never published because of its taboo subject matter. The book is the story of two siblings born a few years after World War One, mirroring the present-day Andrew and Grace: a homosexual brother and a sister carrying an illegitimate child.
The Child’s Child is a brilliantly constructed novel-within-a-novel about family, betrayal, and disgrace.
THE PAYING GUESTS
by Sarah Waters (British historical novel, published by Riverhead UK in 2014)
$17 (paperback available Sept 2015 from Riverhead) 576 pages
An enthralling novel about a widow and her daughter who take a young couple into their home in 1920s London. It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned and the out-of-work are demanding change. In South London, in a genteel villa—a large, silent house now bereft of family and servants—life is about to be transformed as impoverished widow Mrs. Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers. With the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the “clerk class,” the routines of the house are shaken up in unexpected ways. Little do the Wrays know just how profoundly their new tenants will alter the course of Frances’s life—or, as passions mount and frustration gathers, how far-reaching the disturbances will be. Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize three times, Sarah Waters has earned a reputation as one of our greatest writers of historical fiction. A love story, a tension-filled crime story, and a beautifully atmospheric portrait of a fascinating time and place, The Paying Guests is Waters’s finest achievement yet.
LEAVES OF GRASS
by Walt Whitman (classic American poetry in various versions from 1855 to 1892)
$10 (multiple paperback editions) 150 pages.
Walt Whitman (1819 - 1892) first published Leaves of Grass in 1855, becoming the volume of poems that defined his life's work. Although some critics treated it as a joke and others were outraged by its unprecedented mixture of mysticism and earthiness, the book attracted the attention of some of the finest literary lights and slowly achieved a wide readership. D. H. Lawrence referred to Whitman as the"greatest modern poet, and the greatest of Americans." Whitman suffered a stroke in 1873 and was forced to retire to Camden, New Jersey, where he spent the last twenty years of his life and continued to work on Leaves of Grass. In 1892, the final edition was published to generally favorable reviews but was soon banned in Boston as obscene. The collection is notable for its delight in sensual pleasures during a time when such candid displays were considered immoral. Where much previous poetry relied on symbolism, allegory, and meditation on religious and spiritual issues, Leaves of Grass exalted the body and the material world.
WHY BE HAPPY WHEN YOU COULD BE NORMAL?
by Jeanette Winterson (memoir, published in 2012 by Grove Press)
$15 (paperback available March 2013 from Grove) 240 pages
Jeanette Winterson’s novels have established her as a major figure in world literature. She has written some of the most admired books of the past few decades, including her bestselling first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, the story of a young girl adopted by Pentecostal parents. Why Be Happy...? is a memoir about a life’s work to find happiness. It's a book full of stories: about a girl locked out of her home; about a religious zealot disguised as a mother who has two sets of false teeth and a revolver in the dresser; about growing up in an north England industrial town now changed beyond recognition.
It is the story of how a painful past that Jeanette thought she'd written over and repainted rose to haunt her, sending her on a journey into madness and out again, in search of her biological mother.
Witty, acute, fierce, and celebratory, Why Be Happy? is a tough-minded search for belonging—for love, identity, home, and a mother. "Bold . . . One of the most entertaining and moving memoirs in recent memory . . . A coming-of-age story, a coming-out story, and a celebration of the act of reading . . . A marvelous gift of consolation and wisdom."—The Boston Globe. A New York Times Editors' Choice
by Jacqueline Woodson (NBA nominated novel published in 2016 by Amistad)
$tbd (paperback available ???) 192 pages
Running into a long-ago friend sets memory from the 1970s in motion for August, transporting her to a time and a place where friendship was everything—until it wasn’t. For August and her girls, sharing confidences as they ambled through neighborhood streets, Brooklyn was a place where they believed that they were beautiful, talented, brilliant—a part of a future that belonged to them. But beneath the hopeful veneer, there was another Brooklyn, a dangerous place where grown men reached for innocent girls in dark hallways, where ghosts haunted the night, where mothers disappeared. A world where madness was just a sunset away and fathers found hope in religion. Another Brooklyn heartbreakingly illuminates the formative time when childhood gives way to adulthood—the promise and peril of growing up—and exquisitely renders a powerful, indelible, and fleeting friendship that united four young lives. National Book Award nominee.
by Nell Zink (humorous, well-reviewed novel published in 2015 by Ecco)
$15 (paperback available Jan 2016 from Ecco) 256 pages
A sharply observed, funny, and startlingly original novel from an exciting new voice about the making and unmaking of the American family that lays bare all of our assumptions about race, sexuality, and desire. In 1996 Viriginia, freshman Peggy, an ingénue with literary pretensions, falls under the spell of Lee, a blue-blooded professor, and they begin an ill-advised affair that results in an unplanned pregnancy and marriage. The two are mismatched from the start—she’s lesbian, he’s gay—but it takes a decade of emotional erosion before Peggy runs off with their three-year-old daughter, leaving their nine-year-old son behind.
Peggy goes underground, adopting an African American persona for her and her daughter. They eventually move to a housing project where no one questions their true racial identities. As Peggy and Lee’s children grow up, they contend with diverse emotional issues. Lee's son deals with his father’s compulsive honesty; while Peggy's daughter struggles with her mother’s lies—she does not know that she is "white" or has any other family. Years later, the daughter lands back in Virginia so that the long lost siblings can meet, setting off a series of misunderstandings that culminate in a comedic finale worthy of Shakespeare.
“A deceptively slim epic of family life that rivals a Greek tragedy in drama and wisdom. It deftly handles race, sexuality, and coming of age.” (Publishers Weekly starred review)
Books we've decided not to read, but if someone really wants to discuss the matter again...:
IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote
MY ANTONIA by Willa Cather
THE LETTERS OF NOEL COWARD
THE NAKED CIVIL SERVANT by Quentin Crisp
CONCERNING THE ECCENTRICITIES OF CARDINAL PIRELLI by Ronald Firbank
SARAH by J. T. Leroy
NOW IS THE HOUR by Tom Spanbauer
THE SELECTED ESSAYS OF GORE VIDAL
Patrick White (a gay author, the only Australian to win the Nobel prize for literature, but no gay content)
ORLANDO by Virginia Woolf