Click through for the year's queer finest...
The problem of ignoring LGBT literary excellence isn’t limited to the straight press. The gay media doesn’t devote nearly enough attention to gay books. Moreover, many, many queer authors told me they hadn’t read any queer books at all this year.
What splendors they’re missing! In Band of Thebes’ biggest survey ever, more than 90 authors from Australia to Slovenia name their favorite queer reads in 2011. Books by returning fiction stalwarts, Hollinghurst, Tóibín, Nina Revoyr, Eileen Myles, Paul Russell, and Bob Smith, vie with spectacular nonfiction works that each by itself could make the year worthwhile, Christopher Reed's Art and Homosexuality, Wanda Corn and Tirza Latimer's Seeing Gertrude Stein, Michael Bronski's A Queer History of the United States, and Wayne Koestenbaum's Humiliation. The two most cited poetry collections are Tim Dlugos’ A Fast Life edited by David Trinidad and Trinidad’s own Dear Prudence. Several reissues make the list, particularly Bruce Duffy’s The World As I Found It introduced by David Leavitt, but nothing indicates our longterm viability like the vibrancy of the newcomers. This year saw an amazing number of ambitious, accomplished queer first novels: Laurie Week's Zipper Mouth, Garth Greenwell’s Mitko, Matthew Gallaway’s The Metropolis Case, Ralph Sassone’s The Intimates, Thomas Mournian’s hidden, Charles Rice-Gonzalez’s Chulito, story collections from Rahul Mehta, Lonely Christopher, and Michael Graves, and the list’s most mentioned title, Justin Torres’ debut novel We the Animals, which was launched with an excerpt in The New Yorker and enjoyed wide critical acclaim. Here’s to the future.
Michael Alenyikov, author of Ivan and Misha:
I’m woefully behind in my reading and, in fact, I’m currently rereading Bruce Duffy’s The World as I Found It, an amazing novel about the intersecting lives of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russell, and George Moore. Wittgenstein was gay, and was he ever so queer in many of the old fashioned meanings of that word. It’s more than a few years since publication, but John Weir’s What I Did Wrong deserves a larger audience. And last, my own, Ivan and Misha, winner of the 2011 Northern California Book Award.
Dennis Altman, author of Global Sex:
Let me suggest an extraordinary Australian novel: Steve Holden's Somebody to Love. This is the story of a transsexual mortician in small town Tasmania, beautifully written, and with huge insight. It comes from University of Queensland Press, who often pioneer Australian writing, and deserves to be better known. It’s gritty and demanding, but also one of the most moving books of the last few years.
Neil Bartlett, author of Who Was That Man?: A Present for Mr. Oscar Wilde:
Two picturebooks this year: George Platt Lynes: The Male Nudes edited by Steven Haas makes luxuriously public the astonishingly brave and explicit private archive of a true pioneer explorer of male black-and-white beauty. The exhibition catalogue of William Etty: Art and Controversy edited by Sarah Burnage, Mark Mallet and Laura Turner puts into glorious full-colour reproduction a sensational selection of Etty's life-studies, securing this obscure and often riotously kitsch British painter his place as an unsung lover of male flesh at it's finest. And the 1841 portrait of his "friend" John Harper on p.240 is as handsome, as tender and as kissable an example of the queer gaze in paint as I've ever seen. Knockout.
Alison Bechdel, author of Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic:
I recently re-read Lucy Jane Bledsoe’s The Big Bang Symphony. I’ve loved everything Lucy has written since her first book of short stories came out in 1996. But this is my favorite so far. In the setting of Antarctica, life is stripped down to the bare essentials, and so are her characters, and so is her language. It’s a spare, lean, crystalline novel that focuses a narrow lens on the broadest questions.
Katharine Beutner, author of Alcestis:
My first recommendation is Patricia Highsmith's classic The Price of Salt, which I just read. I'm not the ideal reader for Highsmith's more vicious novels, but I adored this book and loved that its ending is not just happy but also complicated and adult. I also want to mention Jacqueline Carey's Santa Olivia, one of the only novels in the massively popular YA dystopian/post-apocalyptic subgenre with a queer protagonist. I'm teaching a class on this overwhelmingly heterosexual subgenre at the moment, so I was delighted to discover Carey's Loup (and her girlfriend).
Lucy Jane Bledsoe, author of The Big Bang Symphony:
Must reads from this year include Jackie Kay’s memoir, Red Dust Road, and Summer Wood’s novel, Wrecker[[Kindle]]; I also really enjoyed the radical bisexual artist in Carolyn Cooke’s novel, Daughters of the Revolution; I’m a big fan of Colm Tóibín and loved his story collection, The Empty Family [[Kindle]]. Bonnie Jo Campbell’s Once Upon a River is decidedly heterosexual, and yet, the protagonist is so authentic, and so, well, not straight—in a way that I long for in books written by straight people—that I must mention it.
Then there are books I haven’t gotten to yet but am very eager to read: Jane Rule’s posthumous memoir, Taking My Life, is at the top of the list, along with the newish biography of Frances Perkins. I’m a big fan of work by John D’Emilio and Estelle Freedman, and so I’m looking forward to the book they edited of Allan Bérubé’s essays, My Desire for History: Essays in Gay, Community, and Labor History; I also can’t wait to read Sally Bellerose’s novel, The Girls Club.
Paul Burston, author of A Queer Romance: Lesbians, Gay Men and Popular Culture:
My top three books are: Autofellatio by James Maker
London Triptych by Jonathan Kemp
Homo Jihad by Timothy Graves
Peter Cameron, author of Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You:
Favorite book that I read this past year: The More I Owe You by Michael Sledge. A novel about the decade Elizabeth Bishop spent in Brazil. The writing is crystalline and delicate, and the story of Elizabeth's affair with Lota is complexly rendered and engaging. I felt this novel succeeded very well on its own peculiar terms. Other favorites:A Fringe of Leaves by Patrick White, The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker, Night Letters by Robert Desaix, and Mitko by Garth Greenwell.
Tom Cardamone, editor of The Lost Library: Gay Fiction Rediscovered:
Two favorite writers delivered this year: Geoff Ryman’s first short story collection, Paradise Tales, contains challenging speculative fiction, queer and otherwise, of the highest order. Kathe Koja’s novel of prostitutes and puppets, Under the Poppy, simply dazzles. I mined Wilde Stories 2011: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction for new talent. It’s the biggest, best and most vividly diverse entrée so far in this annual collection of gay fantasy and science fiction.
Alexander Chee, author of Edinburgh:
The Great Night [[Kindle]], by Chris Adrian. Only Chris Adrian could write a sequel to A Midsummer Night’s Dream set in San Francisco, or make Henry, a young man suffering from a germophobia so strong it drives the love of his life away, into a part of a uniquely romantic tragic adventure. There’s a fearlessly playful sensibility at work here, rarely seen in American fiction, providing throughout the novel, from Titania and Oberon to the home for lost changeling boys, queer pleasures from the fantastic to those entirely of this world.
Jamieson Currier, author of The Third Buddha:
This past year my reading material shifted from books to manuscripts because of Chelsea Station Editions and the new Chelsea Station magazine, so I’d have to say my favorite reads of the year are the books and stories that I also published. As a small press publisher, I can only afford to publish what I really adore and admire. But I did manage to read a few books from other publishers this year, and among those my favorites were Remembrance of Things I Forgot by Bob Smith, Sweet Like Sugar by Wayne Hoffman, and The German [[Kindle]] by Lee Thomas, the latter a page-turning thriller with gay characters set in a small Texas town in 1944.
Daniel Curzon, author of Collected Plays of Daniel Curzon: Volume IX (2008-2009):
Role Models by John Waters. I recommend John Waters, even though I have almost nothing in common with him, because we need to see how other people think, even if it is wilfully perverse or downright silly.
John D’Emilio, co-editor of My Desire for History: Essays in Gay, Community, and Labor History:
I'm always a bit behind in my reading - tend not to buy hardcover books - so my favorite reads of 2011 were two 2010 books, one nonfiction and one fiction, and both with a similar characteristic: a non-GLBT author sympathetically and insightfully capturing something of a gay man's experience in times past - Patti Smith, Just Kids, recreating NYC life in the late 1960s and early 1970s and offering a wonderful portrait of Robert Mapplethorpe; and The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, providing a fictional portrait of the intersecting worlds of the artist, the political radical, and the sexual nonconformist in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. Loved them both.
Stacey D'Erasmo, author of The Sky Below:
A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers , by Michael Holroyd. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26. In this gorgeous, insightful, and graceful biography of three extraordinary, marginal women--Alice Keppel, mistress of the Prince of Wales; Eve Fairfax, muse to Rodin; and Violet Trefusis, the legendary love of Vita Sackville West's life--Holroyd illuminates the beauty and the cost of loving outside the lines. A great stocking stuffer, especially if the stockings are still on.
Joel Derfner, author of Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever and What Ended Up Happening Instead:
Richard Morgan's fantasy novel The Steel Remains delighted me when I read it and delighted me again when I reread it. The writing is good, the fantasy imaginative, the sex hot, and the protagonist irresistible. I can't wait to read the sequel, The Cold Commands.
Laura Doan, author of Fashioning Sapphism:
Alison Bechdel’s graphic narrative Fun Home (2006) remains one of the most impressive achievements in LGBT writing to date. Its power stems from its many paradoxes—it is a queer memoir at once emotionally intense and understated, excessive and restrained, misleading and truthful. I have already placed my order for its sequel, Are You My Mother? (May 2012).
Tom Dolby, author of The Sixth Form:
I really enjoyed the discovery of the 40th anniversary edition of John Donovan's I'll Get There. It Better Be Worth The Trip. Originally published in 1969, it's the story of a gay teenage boy who goes to live with his estranged mother in Manhattan after his grandmother dies. The novel is a poignant depiction that shows how much has changed -- as well as how much hasn't -- for gay teens over the past forty years.
Michael Downing, author of Life with Sudden Death:
Grant Wood: A Life by R. Tripp Evans. This might be the greatest book ever written about hiding in plain sight. If Grant Wood: A Life did nothing but explain the peculiar thrall of the most recognizable American painting ever made, it would be essential reading. But R. Tripp Evans manages that in the first few pages of this stellar biography. Evans understands the painter of "American Gothic" better than he dared to know himself. And with this frank and bold book, Evans illuminates the darkness that has long shadowed our vision of America's heartland.
Stella Duffy, author of Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore :
My pick this year is Zoe Strachan’s novel Ever Fallen in Love for the honesty about relationships (family and romantic), the non-traditional and hugely welcome take on the university novel from a different class perspective, and for proving it is possible to set a ‘gay novel’ outside a major metropolis.
Larry Duplechan, author of Got 'Til It's Gone:
Beyond Normal: The Birth of Gay Pride by Gale Chester Whittington. In the Spring of 1969, young Gale Whittington is fired from his job for being gay. He publicly protests, and co-founds San Francisco's first gay liberation organization, the Committee for Homosexual Freedom (CHF) – a a few months ahead of the Stonewall Riots. Whittington's writing style is breezy and his story engaging. Photographs and reproductions of newspaper articles (including beefcake – twink-cake? – photos of Whittington from a gay publication of the time) help take the reader back to a time and place in recent gay history that might otherwise have gone undocumented.
Elana Dykewomon, author of Risk:
Memoir/"literary non-fiction": Salt and Paper: 65 Candles by Janell Moon. An accomplished poet's reflections through her 65th year, in which meaning, feeling and story build slowly, engagingly, making you taste not only Moon's life, but your own, with new appreciation. Poetry: Milk and Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry, edited by Julie R. Enszer. Thirty-four poets representing at least 34 generations of Jewish lesbian intensity, from Joan Nestle to Allison Wonderland. Cleverly edited and formatted, these poems are funny, political, edgy, loving – a gift to us all.
David Ebershoff, author of The 19th Wife:
Is it possible that after giving us American classics such as A Boy's Own Story and The Beautiful Room Is Empty Edmund White has written his best novel yet? It just might be. Jack Holmes and His Friend is a radical book that dares to remind us of an age not so long ago when practically no one -- not even gays and their friends -- took gay love seriously. It's about relationships and friendships and Edmund's lifelong theme -- that only the truth can make us happy, and free.
Tripp Evans, author of Grant Wood: A Life:
So, my favorite this past year was Christopher Reed's Art and Homosexuality: A History of Ideas. This book is not just an important contribution to the history of Western art, it's also a tremendously smart reflection on the way gay and lesbian culture have helped shape modern culture, period.
Lillian Faderman, author of Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers:
My choice for best book of 2011 is Michael Bronski's A Queer History of the United States. Bronski provides an insightful, economic, and yet broad survey of gender outlaws, women-loving-women, and men-loving-men that goes back even before the United States became the United States. He shows, for example, the tolerance towards sexual difference in early Native American cutures that the conquistadors found on these shores, and he outlines admirably the struggles through the centuries between the forces of Puritainism and the strains that opposed it and made eventual LGBT victories possible.
Tana Ford, author of Duck:
Sister Mischief by Laura Goode. It's a queer hip hop revolution. Esme Rockett is a Jewish lesbian high school lyricist. Her crew, Marcy, the butchest straight girl, Tess the popular powerhouse vocalist and Rowie, a beguiling desi chick, have taken the Catholic Minnesota town of Holyhill by storm. Esme’s feelings for Rowie get complicated, soon Esme has to balance love, sex and on-stage performances, all without failing out of school. Laura Goode is an exciting talent with a fresh voice. She created a provocative, heartfelt novel about discovering love, friendship and soul.
Peter Gadol, author of Silver Lake:
That wasn't a nightmare; no, you weren't dreaming last night; you stayed up late reading Justin Torres' astonishing debut We the Animals [[Kindle]], a one-hundred-twenty-five-page maze of frighteni ng turns and unexpected vistas of hope. This brief, beautiful novel has haunted me like no other this year.
Matthew Gallaway, author of The Metropolis Case:
Inferno (a poet's novel) by Eileen Myles is a perfect antidote or artistic redemption to the soul-sucking tedium that so often accompanies two-dimensional declarations of being gay in a civil rights era. To read Inferno, in which Myles decides to become a poet and a lesbian—and she uses the word “career” to describe both choices, which is painful, hilarious, and not exactly PC in the manner of much of the book—is to understand that for Myles, the issue is not “it gets better” but a more punk-rock “it IS better.” By the end it’s impossible not to feel deficient for being anything but a poet/lesbian, and specifically anyone but Eileen Myles, which is a pretty amazing trick in our society, and one that should inspire many to follow in her footsteps.
David Greene, author of Unmentionables:
Life After Joe by Harper Fox. If you have an e-Reader and are interested in exploring the M/M romance genre, written by and for women and gay men, a great story to start with is Life After Joe, by Harper Fox, the British author of several gay romance novels published for Kindle and Nook. Prepare for high drama, hot sex, passionate romance, and a tempest on the North Sea, all delivered with a deft use of language.
Harlan Greene, author of The German Officer's Boy:
Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger's Child [[Kindle]], riffing on the vagaries of gay biography and human memory, wins for me. As for a real gay writer forgotten by time I favor Harry Hervey (1900 – 1951) and his 1925 novel Ethan Quest (called The Gay Sarong in the UK). Hervey disguised Ethan’s gayness, but “decoding” him is easy. Hervey himself was surprisingly out for his time, but like Hollinghurst’s Cecil Valance, is lost to closeted history. Hopefully, this biographer of Hervey won’t be among the likes of those skewered so delightfully by Hollinghurst.
Garth Greenwell, author of Mitko:
Two favorites: I loved The Great Night [[Kindle]], in which Chris Adrian weaves themes and arrangements from A Midsummer Night's Dream into a nightmare fantasia on the limits of magic and the limitlessness of grief. And Colm Toibin’s The Empty Family [[Kindle]] was the most haunting book of the year for me, perhaps especially for its astonishing final piece, "The Street." From the relationship between two Pakistani immigrants in Spain, Toibin makes a brutal, consoling story about the odd, twisted, finally hopeful shapes lives assume to make room for seemingly impossible loves.
Aaron Hamburger, author of Faith for Beginners:
My recommendation is Sweet Like Sugar [[Kindle]] by Wayne Hoffman, touching, charming, wise, funny, fun to read. The characters and relationships are expertly handled, the writing smooth, and the story gripping from start to finish.
James Earl Hardy, author of the B-Boy Blues series:
The brilliance of Darian Aaron's When Love Takes Over [[Kindle]] is in its simplicity: In a cultural milieu where whiteness is still propagated as the default gay experience, this groundbreaking collection of eighteen portraits of Black male couples (married, civil unionized, and just together) is literally a breath of refreshing, affirming air. The so-called National Organization for Marriage could learn much from the agency and universality of these men's journeys. No matter their national or ethnic identities, the number of years that separate them, or the emotional trials they've endured, the common denominator is always love -- and love's got everything to do with it.
Brent Hartinger, author of Project Sweet Life:
Remembrance of Things I Forgot by Bob Smith tells the story of a gay man who takes a time machine back to the 80s to meet his former self, and the two of them then team up to try to make certain George W. Bush never becomes president. It's over-the-top, extremely bitter, totally offensive, and I loved every page. Screw Christopher Buckley -- when it comes to laugh-out-loud political satire, I'll take Bob Smith every time.
Scott Herring, author of Another Country: Queer Anti-Urbanism:
Mark D. Jordan, Recruiting Young Love: How Christians Talk about Homosexuality. You have to love a book that takes seriously Anita Bryant's 1970 memoir Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory. Across ten fast-paced chapters that span the invention of homosexuality to the rise of the ex-gay movement, Harvard Divinity School professor Mark Jordan accomplishes the impossible -- he untangles the Gordian knot that is religion and queerness in America. Hands-down the most moving and creative piece of gay prose I read this year.
William Johnson, editor of Mary: A Literary Quarterly:
My favorite book this year is Humiliation by Wayne Koestenbaum. We have all have been humiliated at some point in our lives (The time I farted loudly in my fifth grade shop class still haunts me! It! Haunts! Me!). The universal experience of mortification has rarely been critically examined and never with the wit, candor, humanity, and intelligence that Koestenbaum’s displays in this slim volume. Koestenbaum’s book is partly a postmodern accounting of his own humiliations, partly a pop cultural survey of noted public embarrassments, and partly an anecdotal fireside chat. He smartly lend his dissecting eye to an emotional experience that all of us want to forget, but unfortunately can not escape, and by doing so makes the lonely experience of being humiliated not so lonely.
Jonathan Kemp, author of London Triptych:
I nominate James Maker's Autofellatio - a riproaring memoir from the lead singer with 80s indie band Raymonde and 90s fag rock group RPLA. Perhaps best known for his long-standing friendship with Morrissey (Maker go-go danced onstage in heels at early Smiths’ gigs), he's written a laugh-out-loud, sharply observed autobiography that I can't recommend highly enough. Also, Mark Walton's poetry collection Frostbitten, a beautiful collection of poems that capture in smart, tender, sexy verses the joys and sorrows of modern gay life.
Kevin Killian, author of Impossible Princess:
The best book of the year is Dennis Cooper’s The Marbled Swarm. Three other fine novels: Stephen Beachy’s Boneyard, Paul Russell’s The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov, Laurie Weeks’ long-awaited Zipper Mouth. My favorite book of poetry came late in the year, Dear Prudence: New and Selected Poems by David Trinidad, as did a genius book of porn called Bedtime Stories, by the UK-based master Thom Wolf. Leche, by R. Zamora Linmark, takes that old exile-returns cliché and fucks with it till it cries out in ecstasy. Wayne Koestenbaum’s Humiliation is pretty amazing. So are We the Animals by Justin Torres and The Mere Future by Sarah Schulman. Question: where are all the movie star bios I love so much? The only good one I found was the life of Glenn Ford! Please sir, may I have some more?
Wayne Koestenbaum, author of Humiliation:
I'll name David Trinidad's Dear Prudence: New and Selected Poems, about which I wrote, as blurb, on its back cover: "A worthy successor to James Schuyler, Trinidad writes soulfully and sometimes photorealistically about the melancholy threshold where dolls and stars become inner objects -- dirty, glamorous, destructible. Jacqueline Susann meets Sei Shonagon? Trinidad manages to combine neo-formalist abstraction with dripping, gorgeous figuration: Bonnard's wet dream."
Kathe Koja, author of Under the Poppy:
My choice for 2011, hands down, is A Dead Man in Deptford, Anthony Burgess' ravishing, word-drunk novel of genius playwright and queer icon Christopher Marlowe. Rarely is subject so perfectly met by writer, but Burgess not only gives us Elizabethan England in all its glory, stink, and clamor, but a portrait of a man and a poet himself as wildly word-drunk, and targeted as much for his free-hearted persona as his political espionage. Read it, and fall in love.
Jeff Krell, author of Jayson Goes to Hollywood:
Duck, an original graphic novel by J Tana Ford, is my pick of the year. This beautifully illustrated, smartly plotted “road picture” lurches to a start when Duck, a twenty-something Boston lesbian, learns that her brother is in a New Mexico jail. Deserving winner of Prism Comics’ 2010 Queer Press Grant.
Richard Labonte, editor of Best of Best Gay Erotica 3:
The Marbled Swarm, by Dennis Cooper: A liturgy of salacious acts invested with luscious language and sly wit; it's unlike anything Cooper has written, and yet a solid part of his oeuvre. The highbrow book. • Fog: A Novel of Desire and Reprisal, by Jeff Mann: Sex is violence and passion is pain in Mann’s relentlessly brutal (a genre Stephen King once called "torture porn") yet irrepressibly romantic short novel; the poetry of Mann's prose imbues sexual intensity with sensual beauty. The lowbrow book. • Love/Imperfect, by Christopher T. Leland: Seventeen short stories, some gay, some straight, each one focused on the sometimes awkward, sometimes supple, intersection of intimacy and desire. The overlooked book.
Leslie Larson, author of Breaking Out of Bedlam:
Tirza True Latimer, co-author of Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories
Art and Homosexuality: A History of Ideas by Christopher Reed. Reed deftly synthesizes recent scholarship and historical sources to demonstrate how art and sexual dissidence productively intertwine. His vivid examples and elegant prose make this study accessible without sacrificing complexity. Homosexuality and Art requires (and equips) us to rethink what we think we know about art history. Eileen Gray and the Design of Sapphic Modernity: Staying In by Jasmine Rault. The first sustained lesbian feminist analysis of Gray’s architecture and design. She argues that Gray and many of her female contemporaries shared a commitment to designing new domestic schemes adapted to sexually dissident modernity. Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories by Wanda M. Corn and Tirza True Latimer. An analysis of how Gertrude Stein the person became Gertrude Stein the personage in and through forms of visual representation. The book places special emphasis on the importance of Stein’s gay relational networks in the creation of her artistic legacy and rise to iconic status in queer culture.
David Leavitt, author of The Indian Clerk:
A few reprints from New York Review Books merit mention: Bruce Duffy's The World as I Found It, about the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, for which I wrote the introduction; Glenway Wescott's The Pilgrim Hawk; and J. R. Ackerley's We Think the World of You; these last two with fantastic new covers.
Sandy Leonard, writer/photographer of Sandy Leonard Snaps:
Colm Tóibín’s mesmerizing The Empty Family [[Kindle]] prompted me to re-read ALL of his earlier books. Heaven. Is there a more engaging writer at work today? Michael Bronski's remarkable A Queer History of the United States looks at our country's past from an important, revelatory perspective, making me proud to be both queer and American. And consequently, knowing the real meaning of "queer," I think Kevin Wilson’s The Family Fang is the queerest (and my favorite) novel of 2011. Wilson may be straight, but, man, he's queer as all get-out.
Paul Lisicky, author of The Burning House:
If the stories in Dirty One [[Kindle]]; were films, they'd look a little like early Todd Haynes or early Todd Solondz -- they'd have the same comic surface, the brutal content. But Michael Graves' take on American childhood is entirely his own. No one else writes with his unsettling mixture of sass, vulnerability, longing, distance, and compassion. "'I'd blow up our new house if I could," thinks Philip Winston, the young narrator of one of these stories. This book does just that and puts the house back together.
Michael Lowenthal, author of Charity Girl:
Slow on the uptake, I only this year read The Quest for Corvo: An Experiment in Biography, by A.J.A. Symons (published in 1934). Symons uncovers the life of Frederick Rolfe, an eccentric Edwardian writer, painter, and failed priest who was surprisingly open about his love for teenage boys, especially Venetian gondoliers. I also gobbled up the two novellas in Smut, by Alan Bennett: one about a closeted gay man’s double life, and the other (even better) about a widowed landlady who gets involved with her two young tenants in a deliciously surprising way. Finally, I think Michael Bronski’s erudite, subversive A Queer History of the United States should be required reading for... well, everyone.
Sassafras Lowrey, editor of Kicked Out:
The most terrifying, triggering and by far the best new book I read in 2011, was Tomas Mournian's hidden. 'Hidden' offers a chilling look into the life of Ahmed, a young gay boy whose homophobic parents incarcerate him in a lock-down psychiatric facility designed to "cure" his queerness. We follow Ahmed through his daring escape and run to San Francisco where he is taken into an underground network of safe houses designed to hide and protract queer kids from their abusive parents that continue to hunt for them.
Elliott Mackle, author of Captain Harding's Six-Day War:
The German [[Kindle]] by Lee Thomas. Set in a small Texas town during World War Two, the novel is told from three points of view: the widowed, somewhat dim sheriff; a teenage boy with more curiosity than common sense; a former subordinate of Ernst Röhm who fled Germany after the Night of the Long Knives. The German has no use for women and prefers the company of men. The bodies of ritualistically murdered boys start turning up. Barbarism erupts.
James Magruder, author of Sugarless:
I am a Yankee ever queer for Southern fiction. This year, from Mr. Peabody's WABAC Machine, I found Thomas Hal Phillip's The Bitterweed Path (1950), a gorgeous evocation of male desire in post-Civil War Mississippi. And anyone who knows Wesley Gibson's work -- and that should be everyone -- ought to be as glad as I at the October appearance of his third book, Personal Saviors, a wicked and tender look at sex, faith, and race in the New South of 1969.
Jill Malone, author of A Field Guide to Deception:
Inferno: A Poet's Novel by Eileen Myles. Inferno is the book the Modernists meant to write. Eileen Myles captures the actual experience of being alive.
William J. Mann, author of Object of Desire:
Hands down, Bob Smith's Remembrance of Things I Forgot. It's a book I wish I'd written, but even if I'd been able to come up with the brilliant idea (guy goes back in time to prevent George W. Bush from becoming president and encounters his own younger self) I could never have done it with Smith's humor and cheeky insight. Fun, thoughtful, witty, poignant, subversive... this one will stand the test of, well, time.
Jaime Manrique, author of Our Lives Are the Rivers:
Douglas A. Martin, author of Once You Go Back:
A Fast Life: Poems of Tim Dlugos, edited by David Trinidad. Love, sweet lust, great pop "I" poems and the landmark "G-9"; I keep turning back to and through this invaluable compendium we now have that rewards long play.
Stephen McCauley, author of Insignificant Others:
Remembrance of Things I Forgot by Bob Smith. More pithy and true one-liners per page than most writers manage in an entire book. Bob Smith won over a sci-fi phobic like me with this hilarious and touching novel about families, love, and -- believe it or not -- time travel. The Stranger's Child [[Kindle]] by Alan Hollinghurst. Hollinghurst is surely one of the most brilliant writers working today. This isn't as taut and elegantly randy as most of his novels, but genius is genius.
David McConnell, author of The Silver Hearted:
I was incredibly excited to see that a new edition of The Songs of Antonio Botto had appeared. The Portuguese Botto was a great, dandyish colleague of Pessoa. He's been unjustly neglected because of his historically precocious gay flamboyance. Remembrance of Things I Forgot is my favorite Bob Smith book. It's a time travel farce that embraces its refreshing gayness the way the works of wry, funny Yiddish writers like Sholem Alechem and, more recently, Chaim Grade rejoice in Jewishness. I like the comedy of oppression and neurosis, the political digs, the winking, rattle-trap plot, the comfy rhythm of stand-up, but I love love love the tone, which is dignified and wise and makes this book rise far above its own pretensions. There's a hint of grandeur in the way melancholy and anger over a sister's long-ago suicide are woven into a light comic novel. Humor can be important!
James McCourt, author of Time Remaining:
Apart from my own Time Remaining (though I say it as shouldn't, but I do think it's awfully good), the best gay themed books of the last generation were all written by Andrew Holleran, whose masterpiece is The Beauty of Men. Of the many others that come to mind, Home for the Day by Anderson Ferrell, a wonderful book, Why We Never Danced the Charleston, by Harlan Greene, and my favorite of all, the beautiful novella Joseph and the Old Man, by Christopher Davis. Also George Whitmore's Confessions of Danny Slocum and Joseph Caldwell's In Such Dark Places (a masterpiece). They don't write like they used to.
Rahul Mehta, author of Quarantine: Stories:
Justin Torres hardly needs me to add to the tsunami of praise for his luminescent debut novel We the Animals [[Kindle]], and yet I must, since it’s the book, more than any other this year, that I found myself thrusting into people’s hands demanding, Read this. Wayne Koestenbaum is an effing genius, and Humiliation [[Kindle]] is a revelation. (My partner and I are taking turns reading aloud the numbered meditations, or “fugues” as Koestenbaum calls them.) Finally I’m currently reading, savoring, the wise and courageous poems in Christopher Hennessy’s Love-In-Idleness.
Madhavi Menon, editor of Shakesqueer: A Queer Companion to the Complete Works of Shakespeare:
Alan Hollinghurst, The Stranger's Child [[Kindle]]. To read this book is to viscerally experience desire, disappointment, and longing. You want characters to be better people, effective historians, and confident lovers. But they aren't and we can't be either. We grasp at biographical straws, yearn for the full picture, and long for true love. None of it arrives and we emerge with a sense, not of what it means to be gay across the years, but of the impossibility of such a project. Our most intense desire resides in that impossibility.
Wendy K. Moffat, author of A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E. M. Forster:
This year the fiction that took me by the heart was Colm Tóibín’s collection of short stories The Empty Family [[Kindle]]. We never know where or when we will alight in these tales- his range of imagination is vast. But the real wonder of the writing is how wisely and subtly Toibin reveals the texture of humanity in gay lives. Life seems stranger and more palpable after you finish the book.
James Morrison, author of Everyday Ghosts:
Atsuro Riley’s Romey's Order is a book of poetry that has the shadings of a novel, with its beautifully oblique near-narrative of a boy in backwoods South Carolina – early Capote comes to mind, with language as pungent and sharply etched as Elizabeth Bishop’s or Thom Gunn’s. And Justin Torres’s We the Animals [[Kindle]] is a novel with the shadings of poetry. In short, distilled segments, by relentless degrees, it builds a portrait of family life – and a feeling of growing up queer – that is vividly detailed and indelible.
Stephen Motika, author of Western Practice:
Robert Duncan's The H.D. Book long fugitive but never forgotten, finds its way into book form. This text, which grew from a modest homage to the poet H.D into a 600-page tome, relates the history of modernism through the filter of Duncan’s poetic vision. Written fifty years ago, this masterpiece’s luminosity is undiminished. Paul Russell's The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov conjures the novelist Vladimir's younger brother’s tragic life in evocative and erotic language. A Fast Life: Poems of Tim Dlugos for the wit and wonder of every page.
Brane Mozetič, author of Lost Story:
The Fish Child, a novel by a young Argentinian writer Lucia Puenzo, is one of the best lesbian novel that I red in last years. My two favorite gay novels are only in French: Le Dernier Combat du Capitain Ni'mat is the last novel (published in 2011) of an excelent Moroccan writer Mohamed Leftah who died in 2008. Sang Damné is a novel about AIDS today, by Alexandre Bergamini, provocative writing of a new generation.
Neel Mukherjee, author of A Life Apart:
This hasn't been a great year for LGBT fiction but, paradoxically, it is the year that will go down in history as the one in which the King of LGBT Books was published: Alan Hollinghurst's The Stranger's Child [[Kindle]]. In a book that spans nearly a century, Hollinghurst slyly reinscribes homosexuality into the lacunae of Britain's socio-cultural history. The combination of the novel's deliberate antiquarianist impulses and the progressive sexual politics, like the German music and Italian libretti in Mozart's Da Ponte operas, is just explosive.
Manuel Muñoz, author of What You See in the Dark:
It's hands-down David Trinidad's year. If he's not recognized in some way for the one-two punch of his collected Dear Prudence: New and Selected Poems and A Fast Life, the volume of Tim Dlugos's collected poems he edited for Nightboat Books, then I'm not sure what to think of how little we acknowledge those writers who have laid out so much groundwork for the rest of us.
Eileen Myles, author of Inferno: A Poet's Novel:
Monica Nolan, author of Bobby Blanchard Lesbian Gym Teacher:
I see Eileen Myles' Inferno (a poet's novel), which is possibly the only glbt book I read this year, is actually from last year and so I am sadly out of date. What can I say? I've been on a mainstream binge, and the closest I've gotten to queer reading is a scene in an old Tess Monaghan detective mystery where the straight Tess visits a lesbian bar. Or skimming Sex Life of the Career Girl (1965, picked for title) and coming across the line, "I've become a lesbian and my life is a nightmare!" I did enjoy Judith Halberstam's The Queer Art of Failure, but I got paid to read it (review) so it feels a bit dishonest to put it as a pick. Would I have read it if I hadn't been paid $40? Probably not. It all leads to the inevitable, shocking conclusion: I don't read much contemporary, glbt lit. Don't tell.
Lori Ostlund, author of The Bigness of the World:
I love short stories, so this year I'd like to recommend story writers who aren't LGBT but whose story collections are great (and contain one or more stories with gay or lesbian characters): Jessica Treadway's Please Come Back To Me; Eric Puchner's Music Through the Floor; Tracy Winn's Mrs. Somebody Somebody; and Yiyun Li's Gold Boy, Emerald Girl.
Lou Pizzitola, author of Hearst Over Hollywood:
In his compelling debut novel for young adults, hidden, based on an award-winning news article he wrote for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, author Tomas Mournian achieves what few writers do in the YA genre - he steers clear of any and all temptations to stoop or pander to the age of his reader. The visceral storytelling in Mournian’s hidden will likely make a perceptive young reader (i.e. one who is overly excited, but decidedly underground) feel they are in their element in a world where youth does not fall on the eve of adulthood but is rather an entire day that runs from dawn to dusk to dawn.
John Rechy, author of About My Life and the Kept Woman: A Memoir:
My recommendation is Patchwork by Dan Loughry. It's a first novel of moving grace, beautifully written; a love story and a sad story of two men, and Loughry manages out of such a situation to extract both humor and pathos.
Christopher Reed, author of Art and Homosexuality: A History of Ideas:
2011 brought two major exhibitions, both with important and beautiful catalogs, to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington. Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture by Jonathan D. Katz and David Ward was technically a 2010 book, but the show just reopened at the Brooklyn Museum. Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories traveled from the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco to the NPG in October 2011. The catalog, by Wanda M. Corn and Tirza True Latimer, explores the queer community Stein gathered around her in the last three decades of her life.
Nina Revoyr, author of Wingshooters:
The poems in Nikky Finney’s Head Off & Split read like they were shaped from fire. She makes history intimate, and transforms the personal into news of the larger world. How thrilling that this brilliant, fierce, black lesbian poet won the National Book Award. Anyone who doubts the importance of literature should listen to her spine-tingling acceptance speech. And anyone who doesn’t believe in the power of poetry should go read Nikky Finney. Today.
Christopher Rice, author of The Moonlit Earth:
Enter, Night [[Kindle]] by Michael Rowe. It's hard to believe this is Rowe's debut novel. The vampires here are terrifying monsters, not seductive rock stars, and Rowe manages to imbue the wilds of Northern Canada with a stark, Gothic menace that pulled me in from page 1. The gay and straight characters stand on equal footing, and the conclusion was so unexpected and moving I literally gasped.
Charles Rice-Gonzalez, author of Chulito:
Justin Torres’ We the Animals [[Kindle]] will be on many top lists as it is on mine because it’s simply complex, quietly beautiful and reaches the heart. His words evoke emotions and images that have haunted and delighted me. I also loved the story “Huerfanita” by David Andrew Talamantes in the poignant anthology From Macho to Mariposa: New Gay Latino Fiction [[Kindle]]; “Shorty” by Daisy Hernandez in the luscioulsly eclectic Ambientes: New Queer Latino Writing; R. Zamora Linmark’s hilarious and quirky Leche [[Kindle]]; and Leslie Larson’s wonderful, funny, heartfelt Breaking Out of Bedlam [[Kindle]].
Wade Rouse, author of It's All Relative:
We the Animals [[Kindle]] by Justin Torres is a blistering, meticulous debut that is an explosion of wonder in so few words it takes your breath away. Half Empty is vintage David Rakoff but perhaps even better: Optimistically pessimistic, neurotically funny, scholarly-journalistic, whip-smart. And I encourage younger gay readers to rediscover Rita Mae Brown’s classic, Rubyfruit Jungle, which opened doors for so many LGBT authors. I re-read it every year.
Paul Russell, author of The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov:
Ralph Sassone, author of The Intimates:
Sempre Susan by Sigrid Nunez. A wonderful novelist's smart, swift, nuanced, and deeply affecting memoir about her relationship with Susan Sontag, with whom Nunez lived briefly when she was an aspiring young writer romantically involved with Sontag's son.It's an artfully balanced and luminous portrait of a bold and often polarizing character -- an insatiably brilliant, fervent, complicated woman of many contradictions -- beautifully rendered with equal parts candor and compassion and gratitude. It's also an elegy for a bygone American era when an intellectual like Sontag could still be an exalted and glamorous public figure.
Joan Schenkar, author of The Talented Miss Highsmith:
Nightwood by Djuna Barnes. Is there a more astonishing novel (in any category) than Djuna Barnes's Modernist masterpiece, Nightwood (1936)? Excised from the skin of Miss Barnes's Baroque imagination, Jacobean vocabulary, and turbulent life in Paris with her lover, the artist Thelma Wood, Nightwood has never had any peers. Sentences like this one are the reason why: "I tell you, Madame, if one gave birth to a heart on a plate, it would say 'Love' and twitch like the lopped leg of a frog."
Lawrence Schimel, author of Desayuno en la cama:
The 2011 book I was most excited about is the massive posthumous A Fast Life: Poems of Tim Dlugos, edited by David Trinidad, collecting all of Dlugos' work from his earliest name-dropping sexy and urbane poems buzzing with the energy of New York to his later angrier, affecting poems about AIDS. Also pleased to see more international gay fiction being translated into English, such as Slovenian Brane Mozetic's drug - and sex-fuelled "found diary" novel Lost Story or Swedish Hakan Lindquist's story of family secrets uncovered My Brother and His Brother.
Sarah Schulman, author of Ties That Bind:
Nina Revoyr’s Wingshooters gets my Novel-of-the-Year for its brilliantly accurate portrayal of the everyday racism of rural America and for the ways it mangles young dykes’ lives. I shelve Mikey next to Bone, and Scout. • Best lesbian sub-plot least likely to be found by American readers: Six Metres of Pavement by Farzana Doctor. • Sweetest collection: My Desire for History: Essays in Gay, Community, and Labor History by Allan Bérubé, edited by John D’Emilio and Estelle Freedman. • Best portrayal of patriarchal idiocy and why lesbians needed the feminist revolution: Carolyn Cooke’s Daughters of the Revolution. • Wickedest read: Stella Duffy’s Parallel Lies. • Most unexpected lesbian character: see Joseph Caldwell’s The Pig Comes to Dinner. • Most haunting discoveries from years past: Shamin Sarif’s Despite The Falling Snow and Dodici Azpadu’s Living Room. • What I’m hoarding for a rainy day: Jane Rule’s Taking My Life, found among her papers after her death. • Book not yet written that I most want to read: A queer version of the brilliant The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, which would name the decades of lesbian and gay migrations away from ‘home’ to anyplace one could love, if not in peace, then with a lesser threat.
Michael Sledge, author of The More I Owe You:
Because I live in a field in rural Mexico, I’m not always up to date with the latest emerging talents. But two books I discovered in 2011 that I really loved are Manuel Muñoz’ The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue, a taut, heartbreaking collection of stories set in California’s central valley, and J.R. Ackerley’s Hindoo Holiday, which chronicles his year serving as secretary to an outrageous gay maharajah in 1920s India.
Bob Smith, author of Remembrance of Things I Forgot:
The book I most enjoyed this year was Christopher Bram's riveting master class history of gay fiction, Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America (February 2012) which comprehensively chronicles the courage and achievements of Christopher Isherwood and Edmund White, includes deserved praise of Armistead Maupin and Stephen McCauley, and mentions new must-read writers like Rakesh Satyal and James Hannaham. The young gay writer whose play I loved in 2011 was Stephen Karam's Sons of The Prophet. I'm dealing with my own illness, and Stephen's story of two gay brothers, one of whom falls ill, profoundly and hilariously illustrated the precarious nature of life. He's definitely one of our best comic writers.
Rupert Smith, author of Man's World:
The Stranger's Child [[Kindle]] by Alan Hollinghurst. This is the book I've been waiting for Alan Hollinghurst - or anyone, really - to write: a warm, moving account of how love and reputation evolve through time, persuasively arguing that homosexuality is the vein in the marble of English culture.
K.M. Soehnlein, author of Robin and Ruby:
What You See in the Dark [[Kindle]] by Manuel Muñoz. This novel is not a standard "mystery,” though there's an unsolved murder at its center. It's not a horror novel, though it imagines the filming of Psycho through the eyes of an unnamed Actress, who visits a dusty Central California town in the late 1950s. With visual style and emotional depth, Munoz braids together episodes in the lives of various small-town women, linked to each other and shaped by two murders, one "real" and one "fictional" (but which is which, the novel seems to ask).
Jonathan Strong, author of Consolation:
Michael Bronski’s A Queer History of the United States is a most illuminating book on America’s ways of addressing sexuality through the centuries. You won’t think of our nation’s past quite the same ever again. For covert homoeroticism, read Hemingway’s second bullfighting book, The Dangerous Summer; for the wisest insights into the range of sexual expression, read Colette’s The Pure and the Impure; for a bit more cheer, read Carol Anshaw’s Lucky in the Corner (2002), a charming novel.
Sebastian Stuart, author of The Hour Between:
Secret Historian by Justin Spring. This biography chronicles Samuel Stewart’s truly amazing American life. Stewart was a professor, novelist, sex addict, tattoo artist, pornographer, a friend to Gertrude Stein and a collaborator with Alfred Kinsey. This book is a mind-blowing ride – sexy, scary, riveting, important.
Hank Stuever, author of Tinsel: A Search for America's Christmas Present:
I read the amazing new Wayne Koestenbaum book, Humiliation [[Kindle]] nearly naked in a frigid Beverly Hills hotel room in August, when I was supposed to be at a party interviewing television stars and producers. Instead I ordered a cheeseburger and fries from room service and scarfed them down them while reading Humiliation in one continuous, cholesterol-packed loop of greatness. Afterward I felt sick and humiliated. It was so worth it.
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, author of Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?: Flaming Challenges to Masculinity, Objectification, and the Desire to Conform:
Laurie Weeks’ Zipper Mouth is a novel so lush with language that casual neurosis and intimate decay take us skyward instead of sinking us, a bubble bath in an elevator. Listen: "Has it ever happened even once that she pushed the sheets off, bitter they weren't me, and moved around her kitchen making coffee in a haze, unhinged by love, brushing her teeth with Neosporin?" Also check out Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex, edited by Eric Stanley and Nat Smith, and A Queer History of the United States by Michael Bronski.
Peter Tatchell, author of We Don't Even Want to March Straight: Why Queers Should Oppose the Military:
Wilde's Last Stand: Scandal and Conspiracy During the Great War by Philip Hoare. A fascinating tale of jingoism, bigotry and witch-hunts. Behind the Mask by Winston Green explores the ups and downs of a cross-cultural relationship between two men: one African and the other Afro-Caribbean.
Sarah Waters, author of The Little Stranger:
One of the most impressive and affecting books I've read in the past couple of years is Damon Galgut's In a Strange Room. Three linked short narratives follow a restless protagonist across a series of African and Asian landscapes as he continually searches for and fails to find an attachment to people and to places. A beautiful, powerful novel about longing and loss, of opportunities missed and desire endlessly thwarted.
Andrea Weiss, author of In the Shadow of the Magic Mountain: The Erika and Klaus Mann Story:
Homage to Barcelona by Colm Tóibín is not explicitly queer, but implicitly so. I picked it up as I was packing to move to Barcelona, but in truth I was not all that predisposed to like it. That’s because I first encountered Tóibín in the London Review of Books where he summarized rather than reviewed the entire story of my book, with barely a mention of the book itself (or its author). Well, qué sorpresa, Homage to Barcelona is a fascinating love letter to the city, and virtually impossible to put down.
Emanuel Xavier, editor of Me No Habla With Acento:
With striking portraits and personal narratives, Scott Pasfield's Gay in America provides a genuine glimpse into the lives of contemporary gay men throughout the United States. His photographs capture the great diversity of gay men from farmers to fathers and everyone in between, both struggling and successful, who share the harsh realities and great rewards of being openly honest about their lives. Beautiful, inspiring, and with a prevailing message that equality is definitely within reach.