This year's Band of Thebes queer lit survey is the biggest ever: 80 authors select their favorite LGBT books of 2010, naming 100 titles. The top pick of 2010 and all the choices...
Unquestionably, it's been a banner year for queer biography/ memoir, with many novelists crossing over to nominate nonfiction. In all categories, among the most mentioned are new works by Eileen Myles, Wendy Moffat, Adam Haslett, Lucy Jane Bledsoe, K.M. Soehnlein, and Barb Johnson, along with dozens of enthralling discoveries in nearly every genre of prose, poetry, and graphic narratives -- even a cookbook and an Archie comic. The mainstream media missed many of these titles, so this list is your best chance to discover the year's greatest LGBT writing.
Coincidentally, earning the most mentions here was the one gay book by a gay author that received the widest acclaim from the straight press, and a National Book Award nomination: Justin Spring's Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade. As David Rakoff says below, "The book's breadth, gob-smacking, protean erudition, invaluable contribution to the world of letters (queer and otherwise), and sheer entertainment value make it one of the very best books of this or any year. With this book, Spring answers the very central question of "What is history?" and who decides."
Readers might consider a parallel question about who decides what is literature. Here's a thrilling start, from eighty writers I invited to participate.
To boost the year's best LGBT books, please blog, Facebook, or tweet about the survey.
[The list looks best if you adjust your browser window slightly wider than the banner photo.]
Steven Amsterdam, author of Things We Didn't See Coming:
Neel Mukherjee's A Life Apart. It's a story about an upper class British woman proselytizing modernity for women in turn-of-the-last-century Bengal, interlaced with the story of an Indian man who has struggled up from poverty in Kalighat to find himself barely surviving as a rent boy in nineties London. The countless refractions of the outsider themes make this book a continuous and revelatory wonder.
Neil Bartlett, author of Who Was That Man?: A Present for Mr. Oscar Wilde:
Journeying Boy, John Evans' 2009 compilation of the early diaries of Bemjamin Britten, gives us the unedited raw material out of which this extraordinary young queer man struggled to compose himself in 1930's England. Confused, enthusiastic, despairing, giddy, sure, horny, guilty, overwhelmed, overworked.... but with a steely thread of talent drawing him towards his own future. Terrific.
Elaine Beale, author of Another Life Altogether:
I thoroughly enjoyed The Big Bang Symphony by Lucy Jane Bledsoe. A wonderful read that manages to evoke convincing three-dimensional characters and the beautiful and bleak setting of the Antarctic. I was deeply engaged all the way to the end.
Bruce Benderson, author of Pacific Agony:
White, Christian by Christopher Stoddard with an introduction by Bruce Benderson. If the blank generation were articulate, this is what they'd say. This first novel about a good-looking, reformed addict, who gets lost a second time in hustling, has immediacy and poignancy and touches me to the quick.
Katharine Beutner, author of Alcestis:
Emma Donoghue, Inseparable: Desire Between Women in Literature. I'm in the middle of reading this right now and just loving it. It's an excellent, thorough study of the literary-historical context of female same-sex desire, organized according to thematic motifs: stories that feature cross-dressing characters, “inseparable” romantic friends, and so on. It's tremendously erudite but also very accessibly written.
Lucy Jane Bledsoe, author of The Big Bang Symphony:
Impossible task, so many good books. Yiyun Li is straight but has included a fascinating lesbian story in her new collection, Gold Boy, Emerald Girl. And I loved Lori Ostlund’s The Bigness of the World, but that was last year. So I’m going with Emma Donoghue’s Room even though there’s no lesbian content, because one of my tests of a great novelist is one who keeps challenging herself with new subject matter and even styles, and Donoghue – who is very out in most of her work – definitely does that. If you want lesbian content, dig into her novel Life Mask: art, history, sly humor, and a whopping good story.
Kate Bornstein, editor of Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation:
Kicked Out edited by Sassafrass Lowrey.
Christopher Bram, author of Mapping the Territory: Selected Nonfiction:
The best book I read in 2010 is Bob Smith’s forthcoming Remembrance of Things I Forgot. This is the gay time-travel novel about a comic book dealer in his forties who travels back to New York in the 1980s where he meets his younger, more innocent self. The book combines great comic prose with the imagination of the best science-fiction and the emotional soul of first-rate autobiographical fiction. It's both ingenious and moving, a rare combination. I can't recommend it too highly.
Paul Burston, author of A Queer Romance: Lesbians, Gay Men and Popular Culture:
DJ Connell's Julian Corkle is a Filthy Liar is the story of a star-struck gay man growing up in Tasmania. It's been compared to Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and the film rights have already been sold. There's also a touch of Billy Liar about Julian, but ultimately he is his own special creation. Another book I really enjoyed recently was Christopher Fowler's hilarious memoir, Paperboy. Fowler isn't always seen as a gay writer, possibly because he writes across so many genres, but his account of his peculiarly queer childhood is an absolute joy.
Mary Cappello, author of Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration, and the Curious Doctor Who Extracted Them:
Roland Barthes (trans. Richard Howard), Mourning Diary. A.T. Fitzroy (pseud. Rose Allatini), Despised and Rejected. Barbara Hammer, Hammer!: Making Movies Out of Sex and Life. James Morrison, Said and Done. Aife Murray, Maid as Muse: How Servants Changed Emily Dickinson's Life and Language. (Dickinson is as queer as they come, and I consider any great book about her a contribution to queer arts and letters.) Susan Sontag, Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963.
Tom Cardamone, editor of The Lost Library: Gay Fiction Rediscovered:
David Pratt’s Bob the Book is the compelling love story of two gay books sharing a shelf and the trials of their separation when purchased by different people. Wayne Courtois’ Tales My Body Told Me teases out existential angst from the residents of a mysterious halfway house. The nonfiction Gay Bar: The Fabulous, True Story of a Daring Woman and Her Boys in the 1950s is an excavated text from 1957. Originally published by the Mattachine Society as a tonic to homophobia, it’s a fascinating artifact made richer by Editor Will Branson’s inclusion of letters from gay men of that era.
Alexander Chee, author of Edinburgh:
Michael Cunningham's By Nightfall takes on a truly cliched fantasy from pornography -- falling for your wife's brother, but one that isn't seen in literary fiction -- and descends into the particulars of it, emerging with a sustained investigation of desire, sex, identity, art, marriage, family, death, addiction -- of almost everything. Lee Houck's Yield is a debut novel about the ways we lie to ourselves -- a young man comes to the city and has a nasty little secret, that he likes to have sex for money. Justin Spring's biography of Samuel Steward, Secret Historian, is the story of a man who had careers as a novelist, professor and tattoo artist, and who wrote a 1000 page sex diary of his adventures for Alfred Kinsey dating from the mid-20th Century. Barb Johnson's More of This World or Maybe Another, a debut collection of inter-connected short stories set in New Orleans, is a must-read.
Bill Clegg, author of Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man:
I’d nominate Role Models by John Waters. The writing is inspiring in the truest sense of the word. Water’s compassion, awe, insight and delight are infectious as he sheds light on figures ranging from Johnny Mathis to Tennessee Williams to U.S. Marine-fetish pornographer Bobby Garcia. What emerges is a chronicle of how one of the most original and interesting artistic sensibilities of the last century came to be.
Daniel Allen Cox, author of Krakow Melt:
Get That Freak: Homophobia and Transphobia in High Schools by Rebecca Haskell and Brian Burtch. Thorough research into subtle forms of school bullying. Discusses what happens when educators refuse to include diversity in their curriculums : the “invisibilization” of queer and gender-variant students, and a license to bully. Excellent focus on the importance of allies in the education system. Great Speeches on Gay Rights, Edited by James Daley. Excerpt from Harvey Milk’s “The Hope Speech”: “About six months ago, Anita Bryant in her speaking to God said that the drought in California was because of the gay people. On November 9, the day after I got elected, it started to rain.” This firebrand book only costs $3.50!
Howard Cruse, author of Stuck Rubber Baby:
The Mirror of Love by Alan Moore and José Villarrubia. To quote from Robert Rodi's introduction, Moore's text and Villarrubia's gorgeous photographs embody "an attempt to distill the entire history of homosexuality to serve as the subtext to a sustained love affair between two hermaphroditic angels, mirror images of each other." Heady stuff beautifully packaged.
Jamieson Currier, author of The Wolf at the Door:
The best book I read in 2010 was Barb Johnson’s collection of linked short stories More of This World or Maybe Another which came out in 2009. The stories revolve around the characters who frequent a Laundromat in a working class neighborhood in New Orleans. I think the highest praise one writer can give another is to say, “I wish I had written that,” and that’s how I felt about these stories. They were marvelous and rich with detail and personality.
Daniel Curzon, author of Collected Plays of Daniel Curzon: Volume IX (2008-2009):
I highly recommend the very readable biography of Samuel Steward (Phil Andros) by Justin Spring, the definite dark side of the old gay (masochistic) life, admirably researched and lucidly presented. I gobbled it up: Secret Historian. The truth is always better than lies, the better to strengthen us.
John D’Emilio, author of The World Turned: Essays on Gay History, Politics, and Culture:
With all the headlines and discussion lately about teen suicides, Kai Wright’s Drifting Toward Love: Black, Brown, Gay, and Coming of Age on the Streets of New York is even more relevant than when it was published two years ago. It is passionate, compelling, poignant, insightful, and inspiring as it follows the lives of young queers of color in NYC.
Stacey D’Erasmo, author of The Sky Below:
I'd like to name Just Kids by Patti Smith. One of the loveliest, most poignant, queerest memoirs I've ever read, and the best depiction of Robert Mapplethorpe I think we're ever likely to get.
Tom Dolby, author of The Sixth Form:
Two of my favorite reads this year were Bill Clegg's Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man and David Levithan and John Green's Will Grayson, Will Grayson. The Clegg book was a harrowing real-life trip into a druggy gay subculture, while the Levithan/Green novel was a charming reminder that despite all the angst the teenage years entail, young gays are still entering a world that is very different from the one in which we all grew up.
Michael Downing, author of Life with Sudden Death:
Secret Historian by Justin Spring. An astonishment--reading this book will up-end your sense of history and your sense of yourself. Justin Spring's superb and genuinely heartening biography uncorks a life story that is, at every turn, as original and queer and true as an Oscar Wilde epigram.
Stella Duffy, author of Parallel Lies:
I’d like to nominate Rupert Smith’s Man's World. Last night in London, Rupert and I jointly won Stonewall Writer of the Year (the UK’s only LGBT writing award), Rupert for Man’s World and myself for Theodora-Actress, Empress, Whore. Given I can’t suggest my own work, I think Rupert’s novel is well worth nominating for your poll. It covers two time scales, looking at gay men’s lives in the present day and 50 years ago, the gains – and losses – made in that time.
Larry Duplechan, author of Got 'Til It's Gone:
Part cautionary tale, part folk tale, part fable, Daniel Black's Perfect Peace is a complete triumph. It bursts with emotions as intense as opera. Perfect Peace will bring you to tears and laughter. You will recognize characters from your own life, and perhaps even recognize yourself. In Emma Jean Peace, a mid-20th-Century rural Southern black woman who wants a daughter so desperately that she raises her infant son as a girl, Dr. Black has created a character as complex, equivocal and unforgettable as Scarlett O'Hara.
Elana Dykewomon, author of Risk:
My picks for 2010: Fiction: The Big Bang Symphony by Lucy Jane Bledsoe -- a compelling setting (Antarctica) full of courageous, well-drawn characters. What I love about Bledsoe is how she keeps getting better. Poetry: The Takeaway Bin by Toni Mirosevich. Prose poems that riff on American idioms, funny but in a scratch-the-surface-and-find-a-furious-eye way. Non-Fiction: The Fat Studies Reader, edited by Esther Rothblum and Sondra Solovay. Not specifically a queer book, though a majority of the writers are. Full of analysis and insight that counters the hysteria of a media & diet industry manufactured "obesity epidemic." Necessary reading.
David Ebershoff, author of The 19th Wife:
My Queer War by James Lord. This is a book I wanted to read even before I knew it existed. The mythologizing of the Greatest Generation has mostly edited gays out of the narrative, but Private First Class James Lord wants to complicate the story with another kind of heroism. Equipped with a campy wit, a love for Thomas Mann, and highly sensitive gaydar, Lord went off to war to liberate Europe -- and himself. They say 700 men who fought in WWII die every day. I only hope this book will bring forth more stories from our queer veterans.
Tripp Evans, author of Grant Wood:
Wendy Moffat's marvelous A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E. M. Forster Not only is this a truly groundbreaking study of Forster's life and work -- and an eye-opening read for any student of twentieth-century gay social history -- but it's also beautifully written. Moffat is one of those rare writers able to combine elegant prose with a style that engages the reader in an intimate conversation (she is, in other words, the very best sort of company). By illuminating the previously underexamined terrain of Forster's private life, Moffat has restored an important figure, along with his era, to a deeply satisfying wholeness. It is a remarkable achievement.
Lillian Faderman, author of Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers:
My favorite lesbian novel of the last year or so is Sarah Water's ghost story/psychological thriller, The Little Stranger. This is a lesbian novel only to the initiated: Most critics missed Water's plentiful--sometimes subtle, always wonderfully provocative--hints that Caroline is a lesbian. I compare the depiction of Caroline in The Little Stranger to Carson McCuller's depiction of Frankie in Member of the Wedding. Both authors present encoded lesbian characters. The savvy reader gets it.
Evan Fallenberg, author of Light Fell:
It is my pleasure to recommend the novel Death of a Monk by Israeli author Alon Hilu, a rococo, homoerotic rendering of a real-life event, the Damascus Blood Libel of 1840. I know the book intimately -- I had the honor of translating it from Hebrew to English -- and it is one of the most astonishing, explosive and over-the-top literary reads of recent years. The single-sentence thirty-six-line paragraph that begins on page 91 is itself worth the price of the book. Just don't read it aloud at a dinner party to a squeamish crowd, as I once did.
David Francis, author of Stray Dog Winter:
The best LGBT book I read last year: The Book of Getting Even, Benjamin Taylor. Exquisite.
Peter Gadol, author of Silver Lake:
When Tennessee Williams' estranged writing partner and Truman Capote's bff Donald Windham died last May at the age of 89, I was sent back to his compact, graceful novel Two People (1965, reissued in 2008). It's a straightforward, unsentimental, yet unexpectedly tonic story about a middle-aged, soon-to-be-divorced American stockbroker at loose ends in Rome who falls for a seventeen-year-old schoolboy newly aware of his charms. Even as the lovers' future together is impossible, their enchantment is reciprocal, and the Eternal City will never be quite the same
Matthew Gallaway, author of The Metropolis Case:
Bill Clegg’s Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man is often described as an "addiction memoir" because it describes a harrowing period spent in the grips of crack cocaine. Drugs are only part of the story, though; here we find a man in his twenties coming to terms with his attraction to other men, and what this means in a society that was and still is reeling not only from the terror of AIDS but also the pervasive homophobia that so often leads gay men down increasingly compulsive and self-destructive paths. Bill is my literary agent, but even if I had never met him, I would say this is a beautifully written and important book for any reader who identifies with the often painful struggle to find a sense of worth.
Rigoberto González, author of Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa:
Steven Cordova, Long Distance. A book of poetry that's also a personal exploration of one gay man's identity as a New Yorker and a person living with HIV. The body and anti-body coexist within the larger body of the city--the muse that inspires verse from every unexpected encounter at every familiar street.
Harlan Greene, author of The German Officer's Boy:
Wendy Moffat. A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E. M. Forster. The influence of E. M. Forster on 20th century gay novelists and gay writing has long been recorded. Now, finally, the impact of being gay on E. M. Forster himself is on record. Moffat restores Forster the gay man to us, no longer the gelding that other biographers have tried to present.
Aaron Hamburger, author of Faith for Beginners:
My pick is Sugarless by James Magruder. This debut novel is a deft and engrossing take on a classic trope of gay fiction: the coming out/coming of age tale. What makes Sugarless stand out is Magruder's ability to create complex characters who make you care.
Brent Hartinger, author of Project Sweet Life:
I was a big fan of K.M. Soehnlein’s Robin and Ruby, a sequel to his 2001 novel The World of Normal Boys. It does everything a sequel should do: it gives us the familiar characters and shows us how they've changed since the previous novel, but more importantly, it also tells a whole new story, in this case, a "road-trip" with an alternating point-of-view. Best of all, he avoided the "unsympathetic main character" trap that I think too many gay authors still fall into: he made his characters complicated while still making them people you like. Definitely recommended.
Scott Herring, author of Another Country: Queer Anti-Urbanism:
Justin Spring, Secret Historian. In a biography that breaks hearts as it much as it drops jaws, Spring has not only given us a blow-by-blow account of one man's ferocious sexual exploits. He has also written a decades-spanning history of sex across America -- one where small-town Ohio stands on equal footing with a liberated Bay Area, and where the ink spilled onto a sailor's body plays as important a role as the written words of the Kinsey report.
Kevin Killian, author of Impossible Princess:
The best book of the year is Eileen Myles’ Inferno: A Poets Novel. Two other fine novels: Daniel Allen Cox’ Krakow Melt and Robin and Ruby by K.M. Soehnlein. And more poetry—Tony Leuzzi’s Radiant Losses; Jeffrey Jullich: Portrait of Colon Dash Parenthesis; and Other Flowers, previously uncollected poems by the late James Schuyler. Four 2010 biographies of unconventional entertainers—Sam Irvin’s Kay Thompson, Justin Spring’s Secret Historian, Michael Michaud’s Sal Mineo, and Jeff Gordon’s Foxy Lady: The Authorized Biography of Lynn Bari—duke it out on my bookshelves. I actually don’t know if biographer Jeff Gordon is gay, but if he’s not, I’m Mary Queen of Scots.
Wayne Koestenbaum, author of Hotel Theory:
James Schuyler, Other Flowers: Uncollected Poems, edited by James Meetze and Simon Pettet. The great Schuyler is dead, and won't be writing any new books; let's treasure this last bouquet of remnants, flights, experiments, slumbers, asides, still lives, epistles, and contemplations. From "Stele": "I will suck you off in Athens / and carry your seed in my mouth / to your friend in Syracuse."
Jeff Krell, author of Jayson Goes to Hollywood:
I don’t know if it qualifies as an LGBT book — or even a book — but what rocked my world in 2010 was the introduction of openly gay teen Kevin Keller in Archie Comics’ Veronica #202. I created my comic strip “Jayson” in 1982 largely in response to the lack of queer representation in mainstream humor comics. “Veronica” #202 is the first book in Archie Comics’ history to sell out and demand a second printing. Kevin will resurface in “Veronica” #205 and in his own four-issue miniseries in 2011. Archie Comics can be purchased at archiecomics.com.
Richard Labonte, editor of Best of Best Gay Erotica 3:
The best book of 2010 was a 2009 title, one I was led to by this blog's enthusiasm for it: The Twin, by Gerbrand Bakker, about which I wrote, "Bakker’s brilliant novel – yes, brilliant, and sublime, and subtle, and seductive – is a triumphant balance of delicacy, complexity and simplicity." Among many 2010 standouts is Michael Sledge's The More I Owe You, fiction based on a slice of the life of poet Elizabeth Bishop, her years in Brazil as lover of Lota de Macedo Soares re-imagined "with extraordinarily atmospheric prose and unflinchingly emotional intimacy." Also... Lucy Jane Bledsoe's The Big Bang Symphony: crystalline. Gay debut: Lee Houck's Yield captures big-city New York young queer hustle with the values of small-town heart. Memoir? Guillermo Reyes' Madre and I: searing candor about body image, coming out, and immigrant roots. Queer lit? Tom Cardamone's The Lost Library: Gay Fiction Rediscovered: writers on writers, wondrously.
Leslie Larson, author of Breaking Out of Bedlam:
Kristin Naca's volume of poetry, Bird Eating Bird, won the 2008 National Poetry Series MTVU Prize—with good reason. The language, the sensibility, the subjects—you just want to stay in the world of these poems and let them seep into you.
David Leavitt, author of The Indian Clerk:
I would recommend A Book of Memories by the Hungarian novelist Peter Nadas, which Picador reissued in paperback in 2008. Set in East Berlin in the decade before reunification, this novel is as beautiful as it is complex. Among the many stories it tells is that of the Hungarian narrator's simultaneous seduction by Melchior, a charismatic East German poet, and Thea, an actress whose career the Communist regime has stifled. "Sweeping" is one of those adjectives that publicists trot out all too often to describe long novels. A Book of Memories really deserves to be called "sweeping."
Sandy Leonard, author of Hate for Hire:
The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker held me quietly and comfortably captive within its atmospheric mise-en-scène as it served up titillating, on-the-brink glimmers of suggestion worthy of Denton Welch. Adam Haslett's much-anticipated first novel Union Atlantic more than justified its great expectations, deftly and beautifully spinning tales beneath tales of teenage longing and high-finance power trips. Muriel Spark: The Biography, Martin Stannard's exhaustive gloves-off dissection, offered a wealth of new dish (she hated Maggie Smith!) about my all-time favorite mercurial grudge-holder. And Nick Malgieri's Bake!: Essential Techniques for Perfect Baking sweetly entertained with its memoir-rich recipes as it knowingly showed me the very best way to a man's heart.
Paul Lisicky, author of Famous Builder:
"What is a soul? What color is it?" Questions like these feed Patti Smith's Just Kids, a book so smart and pure and funny that reading it feels like stepping into friendship with the speaker and with Robert Mapplethorpe.
Sassafras Lowrey, editor of Kicked Out:
My favorite book this year without a doubt has to go to Ivan Coyote’s Missed Her. This collection of short stories are a honest, beautiful and complicated weaving together of queer experience that will break your heart and stitch it back together. ‘Missed Her’ left me cracked open feeling raw and seen in a way that only the very best books are capable of. It’s an absolute must read.
Elliott Mackle, author of Hot off the Presses:
Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett. Although the homosexual element of this sprawling novel seems at first almost casual and off-hand, the union of thoughtless man and yearning boy leads directly to the stunning conclusion involving historic preservation, the financial meltdown, new versus old money and the role of government in the United States.
James Magruder, author of Sugarless:
This year I loved Monica Nolan's Bobby Blanchard Lesbian Gym Teacher and Jill Malone's Lammy-winning A Field Guide to Deception. I also caught up to Henry Blake Fuller's "re-discovered" Bertram Cope's Year (1919) and John Weir's amazing What I Did Wrong. But I suppose the book that most set my graying hair on fire -- line by line, surprise by surprise -- was Douglas Martin's gorgeous Once You Go Back.
Jill Malone, author of A Field Guide to Deception:
Like all new converts, I’m seized with fervor. I can’t stop reading graphic novels. They tell stories in a way I haven’t previously experienced. Take Mariko Tamaki's Skim for instance, a kind of love story, quiet and perfect and painful. She’s a goth chick who practices Wicca and goes to an all-girls Catholic school, of course. The narrative seems to circle around, the way our experience circles around. Nothing is ever quite as direct as we remember it. Never quite as clear as it seems afterward. Sometimes we fall in love with an impression.
William J. Mann, author of Object of Desire:
Douglas A. Martin, author of Once You Go Back:
The “my revolution” chapter in Eileen Myles’s Inferno: A Poet’s Novel is one of the sexiest things I’ve ever read. Earlier this year, I was much galvanized by Virginie Despente’s King Kong Theory, a “manifesto for women who can’t or won’t obey the rules,” a memoir even of sorting self out of media, masculine-identifications, rape, post-celeb swinging, censorship, and the ever present sex work: “It’s hard to stop. To return to normal work, normal pay, with normal treatment, as an employee.”
Blair Mastbaum, author of Us Ones in Between:
The Romanian: Story of an Obsession by Bruce Benderson. Benderson mixes Romanian history, excellent travel writing, and a forbidden relationship with a poor, straight Romanian boy named Romulus into one impeccably written, sweet, and honest memoir. It's all a blur until it crystallizes in your mind into some of the clearest images the written word has ever conjured.
Stephen McCauley, author of Insignificant Others:
Here are two books that came out this year that deserve a bigger audience than they found. Consolation by Jonathan Strong. A witty comedy that's half academic satire (including teacher-students crushes) and half meditation on the ways in which art and creativity can be the foundation of fulfillment. Love Drugged by James Klise. A warm and very funny high-school novel about a pill that "cures" homosexuality. Perfect reading in the middle of the current debate about bullying and teen suicide.
David McConnell, author of The Silver Hearted:
For me, Jonathan Littel's The Kindly Ones read more like a thriller than a masterpiece, but I loved it. I discovered the wonderful Lori Ostlund's The Bigness of the World. But three books stood out: Kevin Killian's masterful, forthcoming Spreadeagle. I also adored the very peculiar and deceptively quiet So Much Better by Terri Griffith, who has the sensibility of a new Jane Bowles. Finally, I was stunned by a rawly experimental book of a kind I thought our age was too lazy for. Non-narrative, non-anything I can think of, Rob Stephenson's Passes Through rebuilds expression in language from the ground up, a perfectly contemporary version of the project that obsessed the great old modernists. It's the sort of impossible work that requires a touch of genius to pull off.
Vestal McIntyre, author of Lake Overturn:
Neel Mukherjee's debut novel A Life Apart is dark and sensual, thick with unforgettable images and perfect sentences. Young Ritwik escapes a boyhood of poverty and abuse in the slums of Calcutta with a scholarship to Oxford, then enters the perilous world of the illegal alien, picking strawberries in Kent, hustling at King's Cross, finally securing a position as a live-in nurse for a woman in her nineties. Ritwik's relationship with woman, the brilliantly depicted Anne Cameron, gives rise to some of the most tender and genuinely moving scenes I've read in recent years.
Charlotte Mendelson, author of When We Were Bad:
To be truthful, it has been a flat year for LGBT fiction. Come on, Sarah Waters/ Alison Bechdel/ Michael Cunningham. But I did read Iris Murdoch's The Bell, published fifty years ago, which is not only brilliant, but deeply queer, as so many of her great novels are.
Tom Mendicino, author of Probation:
K.M. Soehnlein’s Robin and Ruby is the rare follow-up to a beloved novel that doesn’t disappoint. I hope (hint, hint) we'll have many more opportunities to follow the MacKenzie family through the decades.
Wendy K. Moffat, author of A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E. M. Forster:
Frank Mort's Capital Affairs: London and the Making of the Permissive Society is a doorstopper -- and a heartstopper. There are so many surprises in this compendious social history of the secret vices erupting into the public eye in Britain in the 50s and 60s. Mort writes beautifully, and the effort to dislodge and discern the many stories of the queer and the illicit is moving in its own right. Sexual renegades finally have their story told by a smart, sympathetic voice.
Neel Mukherjee, author of A Life Apart:
Kari by Amruta Patil, published in 2008, is India's first gay graphic novel, crunchily written, intelligent, brimful of ironic swagger. This year, Damon Galgut, a writer not known for tackling gay themes, gave us his Man Booker Prize-shortlisted In a Strange Room, more a blade of piercing, clarifying light than a book. The first two stories deal with the edginess of desire and heartbreak in the wake of possibilities not taken in prose that has the stark, austere beauty of Gregorian chant. A blazing masterpiece.
Manuel Muñoz, author of The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue:
I choose Lee Houck's thrilling debut novel, Yield for its reinforcement of a new idea of family, a book about people doubtful that they are capable of kinship, yet in the end discover more intricate definitions of fidelity and intimacy.
Eileen Myles, author of Inferno: A Poet's Novel:
I nominate The Mikvah Queen by Jennifer Natalya Fink. Female excess par excellence.
The Obituary by Gail Scott. Great Canadian novelist writes beautiful complex weave of family, languages, sex. She is the best.
Frank Poems (expanded edition) by C.A. Conrad. My favorite book of poems of the last ten years.
Event Factory by Renee Gladman. A rolling genius's latest.
Lesléa Newman, author of Heather Has Two Mommies: 20th Anniversary Edition: Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan features two teenage boys who share the same name, but the real star of the book is Tiny Cooper, who is larger than life and puts the "F" in fabulous. He is described on the first page of the novel: Tiny Cooper is not the world's gayest person, and he is not the world's largest person, but I believe he may be the world's largest person who is really, really gay, and also the world's gayest person who is really, really large." I absolutely loved this book!
Monica Nolan, author of Bobby Blanchard Lesbian Gym Teacher:
I've always been fascinated by Patricia Highsmith so Joan Schenkar's The Talented Miss Highsmith was a must. Talented -- very. Also antii-semitic and maybe a little nuts. And in her constant pursuit of other women, she's a pulpy lesbian stereotype come to life.
Lori Ostlund, author of The Bigness of the World:
I loved the collection of linked stories More of This World or Maybe Another by Barb Johnson, which is set in New Orleans. One of my favorite poetry collections ever is Richard Siken's Crush, which won the Yale Series of Younger Poets. My partner and I read this collection aloud several times a year.
Lou Pizzitola, author of Hearst Over Hollywood:
Jarid Manos’ Ghetto Plainsman is the memoir of a man lost in a desolate urban landscape who crisscrosses the country searching for himself and meaning in life. In America’s plundered Great Plains he discovers an environment that mirrors the violence he left behind in the city but also a way to restore his life and the earth. The unfolding of sexual identity coincides with the fulfillment of human identity in Manos’ organic, none too neat work that creates an atmosphere that is often a dreamlike and always a gripping experience for the reader.
David Rakoff, author of Half Empty:
Hands down, it's Justin Spring's Secret Historian. The book's breadth, gobsmacking, protean erudition, invaluable contribution to the world of letters (queer and otherwise), and sheer entertainment value make it one of the very best books of this or any year. With this book, Spring answers the very central question of "What is history?" and who decides. It's a tour de force, so it gets my vote.
Christopher Rice, author of The Moonlit Earth:
The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd. It uses the classic structure of young adult storytelling to deliver an arresting and highly memorable tale of adolescent homosexual desire.
Shawn Stewart Ruff, author of Toss and Whirl and Pass:
Wendy Moffat, A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E. M. Forster. A great read that reveals brilliant Forster as three-quarters out of the closet -- a brave step in mid-20th-century England -- and places him squarely in the early gay rights movement.
Paul Russell, author of War Against the Animals:
My Queer War by James Lord. A gay soldier’s experiences during World War II. Hard to say whether I was more riveted by the queer bits or the war bits. This intense, eloquent memoir offers unforgettable glimpses of both.
Patrick Ryan, author of Send Me:
The Silver Hearted by David McConnell. I love every word of this violent, gay adventure story. From the moment the narrator opened his mouth, I wanted to be on board for his journey. No book has stuck with me quite the way this one has. Exquisite writing.
Alex Sanchez, author of Bait:
Emily Horner's A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend could well be called Much More than a Love Story. It's about friends, and hope, and letting go, and learning to love again. The story will make you want to grab a bike, take a spin, and remember how good it feels to be alive!
Max Schaefer, author of Children of the Sun:
The most memorable book I read this year was almost certainly The Heart in Exile by Rodney Garland, published in 1953. There's nothing remotely coded about it -- it's a queer novel. It's also an extraordinary historical document, and fascinatingly precise on the impact of class on desire. I tore through it in a single sitting, which happens very rarely.
Joan Schenkar, author of The Talented Miss Highsmith:
A Compass Error, by the master stylist of English prose, Sybille Bedford, is a novel of palpable, sensuous surfaces and great moral complexity, first published in 1968. Set in the South of France in the early 1930's, it dramatizes the direction taken by Flavia -- an appealing and intelligent adolescent girl -- straight into the web of the most compellingly evil female seducer since the Marquise de Merteuil. How Flavia's "compass error" alters her destiny is only one of this brilliant book's lines of force.
Sarah Schulman, author of Ties That Bind:
My favorite queer anthology this year was War Diaries edited by Tisa Bryant and Ernest Hardy - it is a series published by the AIDS Project Los Angeles. An innovative and insightful collection of writings by and about the AIDS community of Los Angeles in 2010 by two sophisticated, alert writers and critics. Best book was The Promise of Happiness by Sara Ahmed. Sara is one of our greatest minds- she's funny, feminist, disciplined, a highly attuned thinker and caring. I love all her books but this one in particular was enlightening and provocative. And here she identifies my favorite category of recognition of 2010 "The Feminist Killjoy."
If I was still doing Books To Watch Out For I'd have declared Lucy Jane Bledsoe's exuberant The Big Bang Symphony my Novel of the Year. Women (some lesbian) claim a space for us in the research stations of the Antarctic frontier. Not a novel you've read before. Non-fiction: Emma Donoghue's Inseparable: Desire Between Women in Literature -- which totally expands and redefines lesbian lit past and present. Other faves: Glorious by Bernice McFadden and The More I Owe You by Michael Sledge, unexpected riffs on the lives of the women of the Harlem Renaissance and Elizabeth Bishop, respectively. Books I got to late: The Mud of the Place by Susanna Sturgis and Meet Me under the Ceiba by Silvio Sirias.
Bob Smith, author of Selfish and Perverse:
This was a banner year for gay comic authors with wonderful new books by two masters of the comic novel, Stephen McCauley and Armistead Maupin and two wonderful new books by masters of the comic essay, David Rakoff and David Sedaris. But my favorite book of the year was a serious literary novel The Silver Hearted by David McConnell. It’s a beautifully written, suspenseful, adventure story.
Rupert Smith, author of Man's World:
Cold Snap by Francis King. A beautiful, funny and engrossing book set in post-war Oxford, detailing the awkward loves and friendships between local people and German prisoners of war. After a lifetime of writing fiction, Francis King has delivered what might be his masterpiece -- at the age of 87.
K.M. Soehnlein, author of Robin and Ruby:
It was a good year for books looking at the bond between artist and muse. Patti Smith’s Just Kids—a recollection of her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe—is a dream of a bygone Bohemian New York and a meditation on the saving grace of art. Barbara Kingsolver’s novel-as-diary, The Lacuna, gives us a highly private man employed and inspired by Frida Kahlo, who goes on to write his own novels, which thrust him into an unforgiving McCarthy-era spotlight.
Justin Spring, author of Secret Historian:
At the risk of sounding like an egomaniac, I will vote for my own book, Secret Historian, which is a finalist for the National Book Award.
Jonathan Strong, author of Consolation:
Stephen McCauley’s Insignificant Others is the sixth in his series of wise and witty cross-sections of contemporary urban life, this one somewhat darker and, in the best sense, older. Jane Austen also managed to write six ever-fresh novels on the theme of who should end up with whom, and McCauley’s sixth may be his Persuasion.
Sebastian Stuart, author of The Hour Between:
Did you ever think, as you watched Divine eat dog shit, that John Waters would end up an eminence grise? Well, his book Role Models reveals a true sophisticate -- a man of insight, warmth, humor, and originality. No doubt, he’s a Gay Great. Can a postage stamp be far behind?
Hank Stuever, author of Tinsel: A Search for America's Christmas Present:
Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett. The most nuanced part of this very good Great Recession novel is a creepy and well-depicted gay relationship between a gay teen and the closeted hedge fund trader. Half Empty by David Rakoff. One of my favorite writers, who does tenderhearted, borderline misanthropy so well, and knows how to subtly weave in, say, a gym locker room encounter into his overall -- and quietly universal -- themes. Secret Historian by Justin Spring. Am still savoring this biography at a rate of about 20-30 pp. a night, even though -- or perhaps because? -- it has made me weirdly horny some nights. So fascinating and well-done.
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, author of So Many Ways to Sleep Badly:
Inferno: A Poet’s Novel by Eileen Myles. It’s hard to imagine a book this raw and sculpted, every transition a transmission honed from the feelings you’re forced into when one thing slams into the other -- everything is pared down even when it’s rambling and rough and broken and shy and bold and open and then you notice you’re not breathing. Until the page becomes your head, expanding. Soft and soothing and full with the emptiness of becoming. Thank you, Eileen Myles!
John Weir, author of What I Did Wrong:
I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed Scott Herring's Another Country: Queer Anti-Urbanism, from NYU Press. And while I suspect it is aimed at snooty NYC homos like myself, nonetheless, I appreciate the book's smart, even stinging, critique of monolithic lesbian-and-gay culture - a culture that Herring suggests is both imposed on and generated by urban queers, and that is hardly expansive enough to account for all the ways in which we live now.
Emanuel Xavier, author of If Jesus Were Gay & Other Poems:
James Baldwin's The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings edited and with an introduction by Randall Keenan is my favorite LGBT book of 2010. Provocative and prophetic, this collection features essays, articles, polemics, reviews, and interviews from one of the most inspiring literary figures of our community. It’s quite fascinating to read his thoughts on everything from the possibility of an African-American president to the hypocrisy of religious fundamentalism to the black church in America.
Not Enough? Still want more? Go back to last year's survey of the best queer lit of 2009.