The full list, after the jump.
It's hard enough for an author to get one book mentioned on this freewheeling, lawless survey, so special kudos to Sarah Schulman and Edmund White, both of whom have three titles on the list. The authors with two books each are Abdellah Taia, Alan Hollinghurst, Paul Russell, and Sylvia Townsend Warner, 34 years after her death. Here's to perseverance, endurance, and timelessness.
FYI, the just-released NYT 100 Notable Books has more than a dozen queer-inclusive titles, overlapping with this list on eight books. In 2010, the overlap was three.
Study these recommendations closely. Many must-read gems are mentioned only once.
Michael Alenyikov, author of Ivan and Misha:
The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst is a moving, complex, beautifully written page-turner. Hollinghurst continues to explore how the gay past bleeds into the present; in particular how the gay past does this, deepening our sense of having a gay lineage, much of it in shadows, evidence destroyed, distorted. He tells the story of England in the 20th century, shining a light on the gay men in those shadows. While the sex is off-stage, he captures the "desire" between young men -- often frustrated but no less sweet and touching and erotic -- remarkably well.
Ellis Avery, author of The Last Nude:
Alison Bechdel's Are You My Mother? was my absolute favorite, and We the Animals by Justin Torres was also gorgeous, but readers may not know about My Awesome Place, by Cheryl B. Before dying of cancer treatment at the age of 38 last summer, Cheryl B, a hard-edged, bighearted performance poet, introduced scores of queer writers to New York audiences through the reading events she organized: the Atomic Reading Series, Poetry vs. Comedy, and Sideshow: The Queer Literary Carnival. Cheryl had also completed, though not yet sent out, a wry, radiant, and very, very funny memoir. After her death, Cheryl's friends and her partner Kelli Dunham worked with Topside Press all year to bring out My Awesome Place this past October: it's a gritty, kinetic, and ultimately triumphant portrait of the East Village queer performance scene in the '90s and, even more so, of a young woman summoning the courage to leave behind alcohol and abuse in order to forge her truest self.
Neil Bartlett, author of Who Was That Man?: A Present for Mr. Oscar Wilde:
Oscar Wilde's The Uncensored Picture of Dorian Gray edited by Nicholas Frankel. Having spent most of the last six months creating a major new stage version of Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray for a wonderful company of seventeen actors at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, Ireland's national theatre, my book of the year and constant companion was Nicholas Frankel's brilliant edition of Wilde's original, unexpuraged typescript for the Harvard University Press. At last, what Oscar actually wrote. A marvellousy accomplished labour of love.
Katharine Beutner, author of Alcestis:
Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein. This young adult WWII spy thriller chronicles the passionate friendship between two girls fighting for England in their own ways. While their relationship is not sexual, it's heartbreakingly romantic. Megan Abbott's Bury Me Deep is delirious southwestern noir novel, also about female friendship. Dark and breathless in a way that brings to mind Joyce Carol Oates.
Charles Rowan Beye, author of My Husband and My Wives:
All We Know: Three Lives by Lisa Cohen is a history of the lives of three distinguished women of the early part of the twentieth century who happened to be lesbian. All three are interesting, although I was particularly taken with the story of Esther Murphy simply because she was so successful in living against the competition of her famous brother Gerald Murphy and his wife Sarah. NW by Zadie Smith is a novel that is set in northwest London, hence the title, where the new English society of mixed races dominates. Of the four characters who move the narrative one is a woman who has a strong sexual interest in other women who nonetheless marries as the cultural norm and predictably lives unhappily, yet the other protagonists are equally miserable, mired as they are in the conflicts of race, class, and economic need. No more crumpets and tea in England, I guess.
Lucy Jane Bledsoe, author of The Big Bang Symphony:
It’s been a year of riches. In no particular order, do read: Carolina de Roberts powerful novel Perla about Argentina’s disappeared; BK Loren’s gorgeous novel Theft ; Ellis Avery’s alluring The Last Nude; and Alison Bechdel’s heart-wrenching Are You My Mother?. Carol Anshaw’s Carry the One is filled with brilliant, jewel-like sentences. I’m a huge Emma Donoghue fan, so am anticipating the pleasure of reading her new collection, Astray. I loved Sarah Van Arsdale’s Grand Isle. Sarah Moon’s The Letter Q is a delight. I’m looking forward to the just-released new Sarah Schulman, Israel/Palestine and the Queer International. Thrity Umrigar’s The World We Found is an intriguing read. Jeanette Winterson fans will be fascinated by Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? I must mention Kim Stanley Robinson’s new novel, 2312, which features some of the most interestingly gendered characters I’ve read in recent fiction. Speaking of transgendered characters, don’t miss Joy Ladin’s deep and beautiful exploration of her journey from man to woman, Through the Door of Life. Read widely, dear queerfolk, read everything.
Christopher Bram, author of Eminent Outlaws:
My favorite queer book this year actually came out over sixty years ago. Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford is a comic novel about fox hunting gentry from 1949 with a great gay character, an aesthete from Canada named Cedric. He is outrageous, charming, and very seductive. (Though he didn't seduce American reviewers of the period, who found him "loathsome.")
Dan Bucatinsky, author of Does This Baby Make Me Look Straight?
Of course my own book... Does This Baby Make Me Look Straight? ... worked so hard on it -- to be honest, and truthful and funny, I'd be remiss if I left it off. David Rakoff's Half Empty -- He's always been an inspiration to me.. and a friend. And this year, after his sad passing, I re-read his gorgeous volume. Jane Lynch's Happy Accidents -- What a bold, honest, raw, hilarious and touching memoir. She really lets us in. And inspires each and every one of us to tell the truth about ourselves. Andy Cohen's Most Talkative -- another humorous and honest self-portrait by one of our most "out", and inspiring personalities. Justin Richardson's And Tango Makes Three -- the best kids' book on the topic of having "two dads"... re-read again to my kids. TIMELESS and perfect. Edmund White's A Boy's Own Story -- re-read this year because it was the first one I ever read ... and having written my own book this year -- wanted to re-visit. Still perfect. And honest. And innocently, evocative.
Peter Cameron, author of Coral Glynn:
Penelope Gilliatt wasn't a gay man, but she wrote about homosexual men with a startling sympathy and matter-of-factness in many of her stories and novels, and of course, her brilliant screenplay for John Schlesinger's film Sunday Bloody Sunday. Gilliatt's first novel, One By One, published in 1965, is about a mysterious plague that strikes London. The brilliant quality of the writing and observation is almost excrutiating, and Gilliatt's propensity to include people with unorthodox sexualities in her world is both laudable and immensely refreshing.
Mary Cappello, author of Swallow:
Sara Greenslit’s experimental fiction, As If a Bird Flew By Me: gorgeous and rare, a music in a minor key that invokes the “subterranean ecstatic.” Gayle Rubin’s Deviations: A Gayle Rubin Reader: it’s thrilling to have Rubin’s groundbreaking, liberating work gathered together in one place. Ryan van Meter, If You Knew Then What I Know Now, a collection of beautifully contemplative and formally consummate essays. And, the children’s book, The Quiet Noisy Book by Margaret Wise Brown, author of the better-known Goodnight Moon. My work in Sound Studies took me to Hillel Schwartz’ work on “noise” where Brown’s books on quiet and sound are discussed. I hadn’t known that Brown was a lesbian. Now I’m hooked.
Tom Cardamone, author of Green Thumb:
Paul Russell’s The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov is doubly good: great fiction and recovered history. A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E. M. Forster, by Wendy Moffat, proves that some wisdom has an undeniable erotic kernel. Deborah Davis’ Party of the Century: The Fabulous Story of Truman Capote and His Black and White Ball is a flawless record of the diminutive master at his peak. With Outlaw: John Rechy, biographer Charles Casillo produces a record that just about pulls even with the compelling work of its subject.
Lisa Cohen, author of All We Know: Three Lives:
I will bow to two recent biographies, both of which pay tribute to the shaping forces of collectivities, scenes, and less “important” people, even as they focus on indelible individuals. Robert Duncan and David Wojnarowicz made visionary, complex, fiercely queer, wildly disciplined, inspiring work. Lisa Jarnot’s Robert Duncan, The Ambassador from Venus and Cynthia Carr’s Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz—each book many years in the making—are equal to the genius of these artists’ lives and creations, and to the task of weighing the often conflicting evidence they left behind.
Jeanne Cordova, author of When We Were Outlaws
Female Masculinity by Dr. Judith Jack Halberstam, a much heavier-weight book about the author's decoupling of the definitions of "masculinity" and "femaleness." It's a sophisticated, mind-bending read, and I heartily recommend it for everyone interested in the butch femme lesbian dynamic. Luisita Lopez Torregrosa's Before the Rain: A Memoir of Love and Revolution is a haunting lesbian book with an historical backdrop of Cory Aquino's revolutionary rise to the presidency of the Philippines. Beautiful descriptive writing sets this book apart as well as some handsome descriptions of that infamous love-of-your-life person who doesn't quiet deliver. The Song of Achilles a light weight but intriguing Greco-Roman history of Achilles the from the point of view of his femme Greek warrior lover Petroculus. Fifty Shades of Grey tells how an ordinary would-be housewife meets and tames a kinky Dominant and becomes his Submissive. It teaches both women and men (hey, gay guys already know this stuff!) how to handle power in a sexual relationship that is also about enduring love.
Ivan Coyote, author of Missed Her:
The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknovitch. This book literally took the breath from me on several occasions. I had to keep stopping and writing sentences down so I could re-read them later without having to look for them. I have since read it two more times, and recommended it to everyone who would listen. I even took a couple of pictures of passages on my phone so I could keep them with me and read them from wherever I was. Brutal, raw and beautiful.
Jamieson Currier, author of The Third Buddha:
There were two must reads this year: Scotty Bowers' Full Service and Christopher Bram’s Eminent Outlaws, both immensely entertaining. My favorite discovery of the year was an English translation of Separate Rooms, a novel by Pier Vittorio Tondelli, published by Serpent’s Tail in 1992, which I found at Antinous, the gay bookstore in Barcelona. It is an autobiographical novel about an Italian writer in his 30s remembering his deceased German lover and their lives together in France. It’s fully detailed, mesmerizing and melancholic. The novel was originally published in Italian in 1989. Tondelli died in 1991 of AIDS.
Daniel Curzon, author of Collected Plays of Daniel Curzon: Volume IX:
Scotty Bowers' Full Service is a great book about guilt-free sex in Old Hollywood. This book not only shows that sex can make life happier, it can help you meet the stars. Walter Pidgeon, Cole Porter, even the Duke and Duchess of Windsor make their appearance in the busy life of the author. Just when you think it is all too goody-goody, porny wondrous to be true, Bowers throws in some flak about Katharine Hepburn or Charles Laughton that tested even his enormous powers of laissez-faire love. People are sexual beings, and they rarely get their needs met in the confinement of the missionary-position or monogamy. Scotty Bowers knows this and celebrates it.
Farzana Doctor, author of Six Metres of Pavement:
My favourite LGBT fiction book of 2012 is one I just finished: Astray by Emma Donoghue. It’s a short story collection that traces migrations through time. Her characters cross borders and boundaries that are geographical, but also those of gender identity, sexual orientation. I also highly recommend Ties That Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences, by Sarah Schulman. This is an important book. As a psychotherapist, it challenged me to think differently about my role in challenging families. I love how she refers to familial homophobia as pathological.
Tom Dolby, co-dircetor of Last Weekend:
While I had several favorites this year, the most entertaining of them was Scotty Bowers' Full Service. Yes, it's as deliciously trashy as it sounds, but it's also a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at old Hollywood and the same-sex manners and mores of the entertainment industry.
Michael Downing, author of Life with Sudden Death:
The Paternity Test by Michael Lowenthal is a sly and sophisticated social comedy that zips along so entertainingly that you don't notice the sun setting, the smiles fading, and the clouds roiling overhead until the gathering storm is upon you. Michael Lowenthal drives you right into the heart of a genuine mystery -- why it is so unnerving to discover who you are.
Larry Duplechan, author of Got 'Til It's Gone:
Camili-Cat: Lost Love #1, story and art by Patrick Fillion - an action-filled, hyper-sexual, emotionally involving mash-up of romance novel, one-hander and sci-fi comic book. Clearly one of the premier smut-artists of his generation (his gift for erotic exaggeration of the male anatomy is unsurpassed), Patrick Fillion also proves a surprisingly adept story teller in this tale of inter-galactic sex, love and loss, told with Technicolor eye-candy.
David Ebershoff, author of The 19th Wife:
I’ve become enchanted by the fiction of Abdellah Taia. His latest novel translated into English, An Arab Melancholia, continues his incomparable depiction of what it means to be young, poor, Arab, and gay. Taia is as much a poet as a storyteller. His fiction, typically short and episodic, leaves a deep impression on the heart and mind.
Kergan Edwards-Stout, author of Songs for the New Depression:
Having bonded with Trebor Healey at Palm Springs Pride over a shared lament of others pushing us to change the titles of our novels into something “less sad,” I was pleased to discover, in his most recent work, A Horse Named Sorrow a lyrical and nuanced world, full of all of the bravado, intelligence, and pathos his title promised. Shimmering prose and an eye to detail help create a profoundly moving piece…
Tripp Evans, author of Grant Wood: A Life:
How To Be Gay by David Halperin is one of the most refreshing, comprehensive, and wonderfully readable books on gay culture since George Chauncey's Gay New York. In addition to being an impressive scholarly achievement, it is also poignant, fearless, and sometimes very funny -- a rare combination in academic writing. There's a lot to spark controversy here (the mark of a good professor), but in reclaiming gay stereotypes he's found a way to celebrate and better understand them. For those of us who learned "How to be Gay" the hard way, this book will be especially appreciated.
Charles Francis, editor of Petition Denied, Revolution Begun:
Dale Carpenter's Flagrant Conduct delivers the true ‘texture of history’ and makes it a page-turner. Openly-gay, Texas-native Carpenter conveys the grit of Houston, from the jail cell to the gay bar, to the inspired legal activists who lifted the unlikely couple to the Supreme Court---where we all won. Allan Bérubé's collection My Desire for History: Essays in Gay, Community, and Labor History highlights his “archive activism,” uncovering previously deleted gay history. The best essay, wonderfully introduced by John D’Emilio, is an account of the 1954 SF mayoral campaign focused on the “undersirables” and “perverts” flocking to the city. A candidate warned in a radio broadcast (transcript found by Bérubé), “The Mattachine Society is the national voice of organized sex deviates.” Bérubé asks, “How did I learn to become this new thing: a gay community-based historian?” These essays tell that story all the way to Coming Out Under Fire and his MacArthur Award.
Peter Gadol, author of Silver Lake:
I spent much of the year reading my way through Kay Ryan’s 2010 Selected Poems, The Best of It. Ryan’s observations, especially of the natural world, are always sharp and lean and wise. However, some of her most beautiful and heartbreaking lines are spent considering her late partner Carol. From “Things Shouldn’t Be So Hard”: “Her things should / keep her marks. / The passage / of a life should show; / it should abrade. / And when life stops, / a certain space— / however small— / should be left scarred / by the grand and damaging parade. / Things shouldn’t / be so hard.”
Matthew Gallaway, author of The Metropolis Case:
Into the Garden with Charles by Cylde Phillip Wachsberger. Beautifully written and illustrated memoir by a New York City native who in his early fifties leaves the city to buy a ramshackle house in Orient, Long Island. After answering a personal ad on a whim, he finds the love of his life (Charles), an urbane Southern transplant, and together they grow a garden stuffed with rare and often zone-challenged trees and plants. The book offers hope to anyone who has ever thought about jettisoning your present life in order to forge ahead with dreams of reinvention.
Michael Graves, author of Dirty One:
This year, I fell in love with Tom Cardamone’s novella, Green Thumb. Set in a post-apocalyptic America, Cardamone tells the story of a boy named Leaf. He drinks sunshine, falls in love and, basically captures the audience, entirely. I truly admire Cardamone’s descriptive abilities. He creates an entire gorgeous world. It reads like an Alexander McQueen fashion show. Literary couture. I am also quite fond of Michael Lowenthal’s The Paternity Test. This novel follows Pat and Stu as they embark on the journey of becoming parents. It isn’t so easy, of course. Lowenthal’s fiction is filled with countless, seasoned details that make for a rich and wonderfully told story. The conclusion sucker punched me, again and again, long after I had finished reading.
Garth Greenwell, author of Mitko:
Two books were favorites this year. I’m a little late recommending Manuel Muñoz’s What You See in the Dark a gorgeously written novel that interweaves small-town tragedy with the making of Psycho in a meditation on the often-illusory promises of both art and love. I also loved Carol Anshaw’s Carry the One, the reading of which became an almost overwhelmingly moving experience; I don’t know many recent novels that offer such a satisfying immersion in lived reality. As a plus, it also features the hottest sex scenes of any book I read this year.
Justin Hall, author of No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics:
Dylan Edwards’ wonderful Transposes is a biographical graphic novel about the lives of six queer-identified trans men. Edwards approaches his subjects with sensitivity, humor, and genuine empathy, and the result is an engaging, and informative read that never slips into didacticism. It also doesn’t hurt that Edwards is an excellent cartoonist, with crisp line work, a good sense of pacing, and great character illustrations. Alison Bechdel provides a moving introduction, and the production by Northwest Press is impeccable.
James Earl Hardy, author of the B-Boy Blues series:
Image of Emeralds and Chocolate by K. Murry Johnson. On the surface, many would assume that Johnson's debut is a nod to the Twilight series, but with a twist: Eric Peterson, a high school senior in present day New Orleans, falls in love with a student in his advanced college writing course, Marquis LeBlanc—who, it turns out, is a 200-year-old vampire. How wrong they would be. Johnson breathes new, refreshing life into this ever-popular but stale genre, while expertly crafting and exploring the rarely acknowledged lives of enslaved Black Same Gender Loving men during the Antebellum era. It's an ambitious undertaking—juggling such distinctly different voices, time periods, and complex narratives—but Johnson succeeds in seamlessly merging the historical and contemporary. Above all, Johnson tells a damn good story, adding just the right amounts of suspense, horror, and passion to produce a stew as spicy and tasty as a pot of Big Easy gumbo. With Image of Emeralds and Chocolate, Johnson raises the bar on what "Black," "gay," and "Black gay" literature can be (while leaving you aching for a sequel). A brilliant breakthrough.
Trebor Healey, author of A Horse Named Sorrow:
Scott Herring, author of Another Country: Queer Anti-Urbanism:
Michael Cobb, Single: Arguments for the Uncoupled I can think of few other works published this year that ignited such a firestorm of dish, chat, debate, and activity feed than Michael Cobb's Single. In prose you envy and ideas you chew, this Toronto-based professor builds a powerful case against the psycho-social molds of coupling. It's an important rejoinder to recent electoral advances on the US gay marriage front. And you just have to appreciate a book that swings deftly from Beyonce to Herman Melville to solo hiking.
Wayne Hoffman, author of Sweet Like Sugar:
My favorite non-fiction GLBT book of 2012 was Christopher Bram's Eminent Outlaws. Bram goes beyond the standard historical chronology of the movement (this march, that protest, this piece of legislation, that landmark ruling) to reveal a community's political evolution that places literature at the very center of the story. As for fiction, I'll take Michael Lowenthal's The Paternity Test, which takes what seems like a traditional family novel and turns it inside out in so many ways.
Lee Houck, author of Yield:
2012's queer reading began with Sarah Schulman's The Gentrification of the Mind, a contemporary look at AIDS and cultural memory loss. I always revisit Paul Russell's novels, and this year his Boys of Life was as fresh as it ever was. Kate Bornstein’s A Queer and Pleasant Danger is brutal and heartbreaking and important. Most recently, I have loved Aaron Smith's Appetite -- robust, obsessive, swooning poems that are perfect for the oncoming winter.
Tendai Huchu, author of The Hairdresser of Harare:
Men of the South by Zukiswa Wanner. This wonderful delightful novel was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize (Africa Region) in 2011. One of the few books emerging out of Africa to tackling LGBT issues, Wanner weaves a light tale with multiple threads and subplots that zips along at pace. It is one book I would hope wins more readers, if not for its themes, then at least for its humor and wit.
Kerry Hudson, author of Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma:
So my favourite LGBT book of the year is Jeanette Winterson's Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? The title alone is enough to explain the alienation of coming out at whatever age you do so. While only sections of it cover the queer experience it is written with such honesty, dignity, humour and emotional intelligence it is a gift to anyone searching for their place and searching to make sense of themselves and those around them.
Jonathan Kemp, author of Twentysix:
In 2012 I enjoyed Eminent Outlaws by Christopher Bram for it's ability to tell a great story and get me rushing to read the books he writes about. Clayton Littlewood's Goodbye to Soho for its warmth, humour and crystal-clear observations from life. Sophie Robinson's poetry collection The Institute of Our Love in Disrepair for its raw heart and astonishing language.
Kevin Killian, author of Impossible Princess:
In a year of recovery projects, I loved Masters of the 'Humdrum' Mystery, Curtis Evans’ exhumation of three forgotten UK GAD writers, John Rhode, J.J. Connington and Freeman Wills Crofts. 2012 was the annus mirabilis of Robert Duncan studies, including Lisa Jarnot’s amazing bio The Ambassador from Venus, Christopher Wagstaff’s compilation of Duncan interviews A Poet's Mind, and The H.D. Book, the magnum opus of Duncan himself. Thom Wolf returned with his first novel in nine years, The Sex Cabaret. For poetry The Collected Poems of Naomi Replansky (blurb by George Oppen!) and Stephen Motika’s Western Practice delighted me. Sarah Schulman’s The Gentrification of the Mind is topnotch, as is Brian Busby’s life of John Glassco, A Gentleman of Pleasure. I also support Justin Hall’s No Straight Lines, Trebor Healey’s A Horse Named Sorrow, Daniel Cox’s Basement of Wolves. So many books! “Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind.”
Richard Kramer, author of These Things Happen:
Full disclosure: I know Bob. He's a cherished friend. But I have other cherished friends who are lousy writers. That's not Bob. Whenever I read him, I get to spend part of the day thinking like him, seeing like him; I'm briefly and blissfully as nutty and inspired and poetic as him. Then it fades, and I have to go read some more, from his first book, Openly Bob , which is how I first found him, to this, which is at the same moment large-hearted, mean-spirited in the sweetest way, Swiftian in its satire, Smithian in its soul.
Nick Krieger, author of Nina Here Nor There:
Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics and the Limits of Law by Dean Spade. This is a highly readable, informed, and compelling argument for why the mainstream strategy for LGBT progress -- focused around legal rights -- is ultimately not the most effective for our goals of trans liberation and gender justice. Dean Spade is brilliant, his case is solid, and I wish more people would read his work to better understand how all social justice movements are linked, and we could focus our actions on the deeper structural issues.
Jeff Krell, author of Jayson Gets a Job!:
Kyle's Bed & Breakfast: A Second Bowl of Serial by Greg Fox. This graphic novel is a beautifully rendered, fun and sexy soap opera set at a gay-owned New England bed & breakfast. It’s the thinking man’s “Dante’s Cove.” This is the second collection; the first was Lambda Literary Award Finalist for Best Humor Book.
Leslie Larson, author of Breaking Out of Bedlam:
The book that stands out in my mind was published in U.S. edition in 2011—Annabelby Kathleen Winter. Set in 1968 rural Labrador, it's the coming of age story of a child born with both sets of sex organs, though this fact is hidden from him throughout his formative years. The writing is powerful, especially in depicting the beauty and harshness of the landscape. Winter explores queerness in a very original way. This is a book that I've passed on to friends again and again.
David Leavitt, author of The Indian Clerk:
Richard Canning has devoted much of the last decade to restoring the reputation of the English writer Ronald Firbank. Now Penguin UK has brought out a new edition of Firbank's Vainglory that also includes definitive versions of his shorter novels Inclinations Caprice. Challenging critics who dismiss Firbank a throwback to the late nineteenth century, Canning makes a persuasive argument that Firbank was in fact a seminal Modernist whose radical experiments in structure and dialogue had a profound influence on Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster, among many others. All three of the novels are great fun to read, and&Inclinations—a surreal tale of love and ambition, set mostly in Greece—is, I think, a comic masterpiece.
Sandy Leonard, writer/photographer of Sandy Leonard Snaps:
What a wonderful reading year, so many favorite writers published new books, all of them happily devoured. Peter Cameron’s shadowy and insinuating Coral Glynn found the revered author expertly tackling yet another genre. The bold, gorgeous language of The Testament of Mary captivated even as devilish Colm Tóibín let us know the BVM had quite the mouth on her. Jeanette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? exploded the boundaries of memoir, savaging one mother, tracking down another. And Christopher Bram’s Eminent Outlaws deftly served up salient backstories on some trailblazing gay authors who transformed America.
Håkan Lindquist, author of On Collecting Stamps:
I've read lots of books but since you probably prefer books that are available in English I'd like to suggest Abdellah Taïa's Salvation Army. I've read it both in English and French before my partner Davy and I started to translate it to Swedish. There are several places in which Abdellah Taïa writes about the love he felt for his brother Abdelkébir, his obsession and awe.
Paul Lisicky, author of The Burning House:
Say Are You My Mother? to another Alison Bechdel fan, and most will say: "It isn't Fun Home." Well, Fun Home was brutal, touching, and totally unforgettable, but this book is another animal. This is the story of a mind at work. It's brave enough to walk without a flashlight, and maybe that makes its arrivals that much sweeter. It continues to remind me that love and the need to separate from the object of that love aren't always opposing desires. This book changed my writing--my life--earlier this year, and I suspect it will continue to break me.
Clayton Littlewood, author of Goodbye to Soho:
Three authors for me this year: Jonathan Kemp’s Twentysix, a collection of short, sexual charged stories. Beautiful and elegant, evoking the poetic spirit of Cocteau and the danger of Genet. Arthur Wooten’s Birthday Pie and Leftovers. One of the most prolific authors I know. Witty, entertaining, with extremely well drawn characterisation. The cloning of Maupin and Sedaris. David G. Hallman’s August Farewell, an intense two weeks between the day his partner was diagnosed with cancer and the day he died, 16 days of sadness intertwined with thirty-three years of love.
Lonely Christopher, author of The Mechanics of Homosexual Intercourse:
An imposing and immersive novel punched me in the face, and kissed me, and filled my lungs this year. It is a deeply pornographic and sympathetic experience that disturbs (expect a barrage all sorts of non-normative sex and a total re-evalutation of narrative structure), gratifies (expect an in-depth journey with a cast of characters that you will come to know and love in such a way you thought impossible in contemporary fiction), and enlightens (expect a Spinoza-fueled contemplation of value, ethics, time, love, relation, community, and whatever else). The importance of this book CANNOT be overstated. It is the best LGBT book that was published this year, as well as the best book, period, that was published this year, as well as (professor Steven Shaviro and I agree on this) the best book written in the 21st century so far. It is a book titled Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders by Samuel R. Delany.
Michael Lowenthal, author of The Paternity Test:
I buy every Peter Cameron novel in hardcover, the day it’s published. His latest, Coral Glynn, set in 1950s Britain, combines period-piece ventriloquism with absolutely contemporary sizzle. It’s both restrained and over-the-top: a British potboiler, which seems like a contradiction in terms, but he makes it work. I also devoured Christopher Bram’s history of 20th-century gay writers, Eminent Outlaws. It’s incisive, rigorous, and intellectual, but always wonderfully accessible; I felt as though I were being told a long, dishy story by the most scintillating cocktail party guest imaginable.
Sassafras Lowrey, author of Roving Pack:
My top book for 2012 is Jeanette Winterson’s highly anticipated memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? which I read even before it was released in The States thanks to a copy sent from Europe! Winterson gives readers an exquisite view into her abusive childhood, that culminated in her leaving her mother’s home to live in her car when she refused to renounce her lesbianism and the haunting last words her mother spoke now repurposed as the title for this brilliant memoir. This is a book about survival and triumph but also deep wounds. I was drawn in and intimately identified and connected with each page.
Elliott Mackle, author of Captain Harding and His Men:
Full Service by Scotty Bowers is a rollicking tell-all by the previously discreet stud and pimp to Hollywood and other royalty. Names are named: Cary and Randolph, Spencer and Kate, the Windsors. Hot Head by Damon Suede, a beach-read romp, has it all: Brooklyn firefighters. Uniforms. Bunks and locker rooms. Deadly danger. Porn. The male/male elements in Tan Twan Eng’s lyrical The Garden of Evening Mists, set during and after World War II in Malaya, are comparatively minor but crucial and heart-breaking.
Jill Malone, author of A Field Guide to Deception:
Go buy Alison Bechdel's Are You My Mother? Mothers. Daughters. Therapy. Lesbians. Memory. Art. Love. Family stories. Language. Comics. It’s fucking awesome. Read it.
Jeff Mann, author of Purgatory:
What with my ongoing research into Civil War history, my reading in LGBT literature in 2012 has been limited. I’ve particularly enjoyed the spicy and imaginative short fiction of Jerry L. Wheeler’s Strawberries and Other Erotic Fruits and Jay Neal’s Waking Up Bear, and Other Stories. Scott M. Terry's Cowboys, Armageddon, and The Truth: How a Gay Child was Saved From Religion is a moving and poignant memoir, and Lewis DeSimone’s The Heart's History is a fine novel dealing with illness and the power of friendship.
Douglas A. Martin, author of Once You Go Back:
2500 Random Things About Me Too, Matias Viegener. I played a game with my boyfriend driving, asking him two numbers and finding matching list and entry. On some occasions, correspondence required going to the one above (“Thatisthe best episode of The Twilight Zone”). "I" sifts here for your perusal, each bit a sentence or so of intelligence affably granted. A hungry devourer of conversational facts, feelings and theories—anyone’s three queer cents come across—this work is positively bore proofed, my kind of page-turner. I cop to being an index reader. I might've been tagged; I don’t remember.
Stephen McCauley, author of Insignificant Others:
Carol Anshaw and Peter Cameron are two of my favorite writers, so to have a book from each in 2012 was like a lottery win. Carry the One (Anshaw) and Coral Glynn (Cameron) are completely different in tone and subject matter, but have in common great stories, vivid, precise characters (many of them somewhere on the queerness spectrum) and the most intelligent, witty prose and brilliant observations in contemporary fiction. They're both novels that deserve multiple readings.
Rahul Mehta, author of Quarantine: Stories:
Garth Greenwell’s dark and poetic novella, Mitko, devastated me. I started to write that Ryan Van Meter’s collection of personal essays, If You Knew Then What I Know Now, is required reading for gay men, but realized it’s required reading for everyone. Three more books I read this year that I loved, none primarily LGBT, but all with queer elements: Cheryl Strayed’s collection of Dear Sugar columns, Tiny Beautiful Things, a celebration of life in all its messy, painful, beautiful glory; Black Cool, an anthology of essays edited by Rebecca Walker; and The Collective, a novel by Don Lee.
Madhavi Menon, editor of Shakesqueer: A Queer Companion to the Complete Works of Shakespeare:
My favourite queer book of 2012 is Alison Bechdel's graphic novel, Are You My Mother? This brilliant, beautifully-drawn book is not for the weak of stomach because it will affect you viscerally, and it will insist that you think psychoanalytically about desire and our various relations to it. When I finished reading, I could not speak to anyone for hours. Can you imagine: our mothers do not exist to cater to our every desire? Instead of holding them hostage to an impossible ideal of maternity, we have to accept that like us, our mothers too remain children. Far from being our future, children are queerly the past we never outgrow.
Jory Mickelson, author of Slow Depth:
I've read over 100 books this year, and none moved me more than Bruce Snider’s Paradise, Indiana. The poems center on a rural, Midwestern town and the death of a high school boy. Snider manages to avoid all of the easy tropes and devastate readers nonetheless. Quite simply, I wish I had written it. Another book that exceeded all of my expectations was Canadian author Derek McCormack’s Dark Rides from 1996. These stories are dark, smart without being clever, and charged with longing. McCormack’s newer work is strong, but start here.
James Morrison, author of Everyday Ghosts:
Any year in which Edmund White publishes a novel, he’s hard to beat, and this year’s, Jack Holmes and His Friend is among his best. Carol Anshaw’s Carry the One is haunting and beautifully textured. Peter Covino’s poetry collection The Right Place to Jump is sharp and pungent – and I’ve got enough space left to quote a priceless few lines from one of the best poems, “Bad Trick”: `And how did my ass sag so soon,/Even in my best butt-cheeky Lucky jeans/And this well-beyond B-list attitude?/Who trolls the bars anymore anyway,/Since the damned Internet?”
Fantagraphics just published Justin Hall’s important anthology No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics. The collection stretches back to the early ’70s but it also features contributions from some of the best storytellers working today in any medium. On that note, Tim Fish’s Cavalcade of Boys is a sharp, well-told soap opera set in Southern California. Steve MacIsaac’s Shirtlifter series employs a mise-en-scene worthy of a Michael Mann movie to chronicle the agonizingly slow coming-out process of a middle-aged bear.
Stephen Motika, author of Western Practice:
In 2012, I read and some cases reread the novels in the work of Alan Hollinghurst. I think his first, The Swimming-Pool Library, and his most recent, The Stranger's Child, engage deeply and profoundly not only with what constitutes queer life, but also how that life has changed over the last century. He addresses queer epistemologies in subtle and often brilliant ways. On this side of the pond, The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard helped me to understand the range, wit, humanity, and utter brilliance of Joe Brainard's poems, journals, essays, and occasional pieces.
Neel Mukherjee, author of A Life Apart:
Steven Amsterdam’s What The Family Needed is a smart, magical (literally), wry mosaic of a novel about the bonds that constitute a family. His angle of vision is new and the resulting work witty, fresh and original. Patrick Gale’s A Perfectly Good Man is gripping, heartbreaking, fiendishly cleverly constructed and radiant with a lucid and fierce moral intelligence. Philip Hensher’s Scenes from Early Life, a novelisation of the Bangladeshi childhood of his real-life partner, Zaved Mahmood, is a warm, wise, witty, utterly beguiling novel, brimful of affection and that most artful of all things – artlessness.
Stephan Niederwieser, author of On a Wednesday in September:
Edmund White: Jack Holmes and His Friend. As all of White's books very entertaining, nice language, intriguing plot, could use some cutting here and there, but an overall very enjoyable experience. John Green & David Levithan: Will Grayson, Will Grayson . A fascinating, almost thrilling read. The characters (heartbreakingly sweet!), the plot, the intertwining of two boys’ lives (one gay, one straight) showing that – at least at this stage of life (16) – the problems are not so different after all. The story is brightly constructed, full of surprises, scarily “real“ – a wonderful book originally written for adolescents, but a pleasure for adults nonetheless. Stephan Niederwieser: On a Wednesday in September. I had to re-read my own novel (written 15 years ago) for its English translation and was very surprised to find myself intrigued again and still by the plot: The lives of many characters appear to be connected through a ring. Instead, the driving force is longing and illusion, which leads the main character into panic attacks with visions of World War II, where a young man is tortured to death by the Nazis – which has more to do with his own life than he can even imagine...
Monica Nolan, author of Bobby Blanchard Lesbian Gym Teacher:
It took me a while to figure out how to attack Susan Sontag's As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980 which seemed at first mostly an intellectual to-do list ("Buy Wittgenstein's Notebooks"). My method is to read a few pages each morning with my coffee. That way I won't be tempted to skim and miss the rewarding pulpy bits that are embedded throughout--like Susan's tormented musings after a 1965 breakup on the question of whether or not she's good in bed. The Sontag book also prompted me to finally read Terry Castle's The Professor and Other Writings. Her essay on Sontag, "Desperately Seeking Susan" had me laughing out loud on the 38 Geary.
Lori Ostlund, author of The Bigness of the World:
I recommend E.J. Levy's Love, in Theory, a story collection released in October and a co-recipient of the 2011 Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. Her prose is a pleasure to read, and she straddles beautifully emotion and intellect, introducing readers to "the surprisingly erotic terrain of the intellect."
Ryan Quinn, author of The Fall:
Best LGBT book I read in 2012 was Almost Like Being in Love by Steve Kluger (from 2004). Its about two guys who had a few flings in high school and wind up searching for each other years later as adults. Charming, funny, and touching.
Glen Retief, author of The Jack Bank:
Absolution, the 2012 debut novel by a queer, native Nebraskan author now living in Britain, Patrick Flanery, is neither LGBT-themed, nor even American. However, it is a brilliant and exquisitely-written examination of my native South Africa, today, through the eyes of a novelist looking back on how she once struggled with apartheid censorship. The implicit queer analogy is in the mental games we play to resist annihilating power. I also loved Mei Ng’s Eating Chinese Food Naked, a funny, saucy, gorgeously observed, bisexual coming-of-age story set in New York.
Paul Russell, author of The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov:
Jonathan Strong's latest wonder, More Light, which marries the strange to the ordinary in unexpected, mysterious, beguiling ways. Christopher Bram's intelligent and delicious Eminent Outlaws. Garth Greenwell's short novel Mitko—a wonderful debut, alive with complex sentences and complex lives. And finally, from 1936 (I'm a bit behind in my reading!), Sylvia Townsend Warner's stunning Summer Will Show, about an English woman's affair with her husband's Jewish/Parisian mistress during the revolution of 1848—historical fiction at its very best.
Ralph Sassone, author of The Intimates:
Lisa Cohen’s erudite, freshly conceived, and elegantly written triple biography All We Know: Three Lives not only rescues three well-connected 20th century bisexuals (the brilliant talker Esther Murphy, the obsessive fan Mercedes de Acosta, and the British Vogue editor Madge Garland) from near obscurity; her narrative triptych also obliquely illuminates the modernist currents her subjects embodied. Also in 2012, I reread Edmund White’s My Lives and again found it a timeless memoir: unsparing yet generous, polished yet emotionally raw, blazingly intelligent yet shot through with humility, and as pleasingly complicated and good-humored as it is fearless.
Joan Schenkar, author of The Talented Miss Highsmith:
Lawrence Schimel, author of Desayuno en la cama:
I was lukewarm about Brian Farrey's YA novel With or Without You at first; well-written but populated by stock, archetypal gay characters. But then it took an unexpected twist (perfectly foreshadowed, though I didn't notice), to tackle something few adult titles are dealing with, and it grabbed me. Despite various loose ends and a deus-ex-machina, it doesn't end patly; I'm still thinking about it, when other less-flawed titles have been forgotten. The voice of Bil Wright's YA novel Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy charmed me, and I especially liked that it was a novel about class and not about coming out. Likewise, Patrick Ryan's Gemini Bites was populated by endearing characters naturally exploring the fluidity of their teenage desires. Finally, was glad to get my hands on UK poet Gregory Woods' latest, An Ordinary Dog. The closest US reference for his combination of formal verse and homoeroticism (not to mention classical references) would be Richard Howard's If I Dream I Have You, I Have You.
Sarah Schulman, author of The Gentrification of the Mind:
1. The Whale by Samuel L Hunter. This play was produced at Playwrights Horizons this season by a young man who is getting an enormous amount of institutional support, so you will probably hear a great deal from him for a while. A profound work about the suffering of homophobia, and a work against the idea of resiliency. One of the most moving experiences I have ever had in the theater. 2. My Awesome Place by Cheryl B. Our dear friend Cheryl B died of medical malpractice at the age of 28. She left behind this unpublished memoir about growing up fat and working-class in New Jersey and escaping to become an artist in New York. It is moving, funny and an authentic document of the day. (disclaimer: I edited this manuscript after Cheryl died.) Published by the intrepid Tom Leger and Julie Blair of Topside Press, my new favorite publisher. 3. On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life by Sara Ahmed. Sara is one of the smartest people around and this searing book about "integration" and "diversity" in the British University system is filled with insights and revelations about the experiences of scholars of color. I love the way her mind works and the book is a lesson in owning Point Of View as a revelatory process. 4. The Collection, edited by Riley McLeod and Tom Leger. Another jewel from Topside Press- the first...the FIRST anthology of trans literature. A must for every library and classroom.
Michael Sledge, author of The More I Owe You:
One of my favorite discoveries of the last year is Quarantine, Rahul Mehta’s first collection of short stories. This look into the lives of first-generation, gay Indian-Americans manages to explore sexual, familial, and cultural identities all at once, often layered into the same scene. The stories take off in so many surprising directions they kept me off balance in the best way possible, urging me to re-examine many things I thought I’d already understood and packed away.
Bob Smith, author of Remembrance of Things I Forgot:
The LGBT book I loved this year was These Things Happen by Richard Kramer, a beautifully written story about a teenage boy and his two gay fathers. I've spent the last three years writing a novel set in Ancient Athens and my reading has almost entirely been about Ancient Greece. The book that masterfully explained how same-sex love permeated their culture was James Davidson's The Greeks and Greek Love. I have no trouble imaging the life of a homosexual, but the book that really allowed me to imagine the life of an ancient Greek was Walter Burkert's Greek Religion. It's scholarly but completely engrossing.
Rupert Smith, author of Man's World:
My queer book for 2012 would be Goodbye to Soho by Clayton Littlewood, the continuing diary of his London life, a wonderful pageant of characters, razor-sharp observations and a pervasive sense of loss. I'd also like to mention two other books that I read this year. I finally got round to Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain - a great American classic, of course, but also a profoundly, disturbingly homoerotic account of adolescence. And Me, Cheeta by James Lever - on the surface a comic spoof autobiography by Tarzan's chimp, but also, among other things, a very moving account of loving an unattainable man.
K.M. Soehnlein, author of Robin and Ruby:
Two poetry collections to recommend: the late James L. White’s The Salt Ecstasies—back in print after 30 years, with an illuminating intro by Mark Doty—is saturated in sadness and longing, but White’s voice is so genuine his poems inevitably vibrate with hope. Given 30 more years, what else might he have written? Allusive where White is direct, Aaron Shurin, in Citizen, deliriously revels in sensual images, sly wisdom and rumbling pauses. Shurin’s brilliant book—his eleventh—suggests how a lengthy career allows a poet the room to roam, stretching the limits of what his poems can be.
Justin Spring, author of Secret Historian:
Jonathan Galassi's Left-Handed: Poems. Coming out late in life, and as publicly as Galassi did, took great bravery. To go even further and produce a volume of poems about the experience seems to me to border on the heroic.
I read two novels where the homoeroticism is intense and beautiful, though never openly expressed. William Maxwell’s The Folded Leaf and Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Mr. Fortune's Maggot; Tennessee Williams’ Memoirs and a number of his later plays more than made up for their reticence. And I’m deep in Proust’s Sodom and Gomorrah, about as gay as any book ever, despite the narrator’s straight disguise.
Jonathan Strong, author of More Light:
Sebastian Stuart, author of The Hour Between:
Peter Cameron's Coral Glynn is simply one of the most enthralling novels I’ve ever read. It’s a weird gothic psychothriller set at an English country house, with shades of Hitchcock, Jane Eyre, Barbara Pym, yet completely original, unlike anything I’ve ever read. It seduces you into a world pulsing with pathos, longing, love, sex and menace. I wanted to stay there forever. In my opinion Peter Cameron is a great artist.
Hank Stuever, author of Tinsel: A Search for America's Christmas Present:
I'm halfway through and completely absorbed by NYT reporter John Schwartz's Oddly Normal, about how he and his wife worked through some of the emotional problems their son, Joe, experienced when he came out at 13. This book is several steps beyond the old "acceptance" memoir and thus much more useful for families living in the now. John has left a road map for modern fathers on how to be the kind of stand-up dad so many of us needed decades ago. (And what a pleasant surprise to find myself quoted in Chapter 2 on what happens to faaabulous five-year-olds who are sadly force-marched through the fires of teenagerdom. I find books that mention ME to be that much more enjoyable, don't you?) Rachel Maddow's Drift is required reading, I think, for its elegant and horrifying assessment of where our military spending goes (and doesn't go), but also because she is our lesbian laureate; and also check out William Mann's Hello, Gorgeous, which is a biography of how Barbra Streisand became Barbra Streisand. It's like the gay examination of the immortal HeLa cells. It's science.
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, author of Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?: Flaming Challenges to Masculinity, Objectification, and the Desire to Conform:
In The Gentrification of the Mind, Sarah Schulman boldly asserts that "9/11 is the gentrification of AIDS.” In talking about the “replacement of deaths that don't matter with deaths that do,” Schulman examines the impossibility and necessity of accountability and intergenerational cultural memory as queer dreams and lives are removed from the record as fast as fusion cuisine overtakes lower Manhattan. In Roving Pack, Sassafras Lowrey’s first novel, Lowrey deftly explores the intoxication and viciousness of peer pressure in young queer lives, showing how the pack mentality required for belonging in our new communities often leaves us stranded.
Peter Tatchell, author of We Don't Even Want to March Straight:
Justin Fashanu by Jim Read. The most comprehensive documentation so far of the rise and fall of the gay black football star who was both heroic and flawed; including his goal-scoring triumphs, million-pound transfer, serial football club bust-ups and the lifelong inner conflict regarding his homosexuality and his Christianity.
Lee Thomas, author of The German:
Eminent Outlaws by Christopher Bram Bram’s book is an essential work that is illuminating and extremely entertaining. Jack Holmes and His Friend by Edmund White. White remains the premier chronicler of gay life in New York City. White’s writing here is crisp, immediate, and heartfelt. The Survivors by Sean Eads Starts out as a lighthearted look at an unlikely alien invasion, only to rapidly descend into a grim study of humanity.
Laurie Weeks, author of Zipper Mouth:
The Vicious Red Relic, Love: A Fabulist Memoir by Anna Joy Springer. Should be on every bookshelf. I've never seen anything like it, but I've been craving it my whole life. It's a headfuck from Heaven, a lyrical, hilarious psychedelic fractal Being grounded in deep emotion, compassion and grief rendered with the lightest touch imaginable. It's what life feels like to me, only thank god I'm transported to the Anna planet. It's composed of Anna stories and a babble of myths, unedited letters, psycho pamphlets and pictures and yet it's not enraging. It's a page turner like some crazy detective novel but the language made me insane. As I've noted before, it took me about six weeks to recover from the phrase The Forest of Tangential Literacies alone.
Jonathan Weinberg, author of Speaking for Vice:
Christopher Reed, Art and Homosexuality; smart and elegantly written survey. Cynthia Carr, Fire in the Belly; definitive biography of David Wojnarowicz. R. Tripp Evans, Grant Wood; first book to explore in depth Wood’s homosexuality. Benjamin Shepard and Greg Smithsimon, The Beach Beneath the Street Contesting New York City’s Public Spaces; fascinating overview of activism and public spaces in NYC. 112 Greene Street: The Early Years, 1970-1974 survey of the incredible impact of this independent artist space on the art world.
Rick Whitaker, author of The First Time I Met Frank O'Hara:
My favorite book of 2012 is Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle: Book One, translated from the Norwegian (with five more volumes to come). Knausgaard's unforgettable story, which is purely autobiographical, is above all an account of his disillusionment. As a teenager, the (straight) narrator feels special and powerful, full of potential and possibility. As an adult, he's crushed by reality, his specialness having transmuted into ordinary unhappiness. While there's nothing gay about Knausgaard or "My Struggle," I think any queer will relate to this narrator's contempt for the meaningless of life as one moves ever farther away from the fraught significance of youth.
Emanuel Xavier, author of Americano: Growing up Gay and Latino in the USA:
Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay, edited by Paul Vitagliano has been my favorite gift book this year. My own contribution to the book is a bit of a downer but many of the other stories are delightful and the book as a whole is very inspiring and fun. The photographs are everything from cute to hilarious and, like the blog it is based on, this little book provides hope and inspiration for anyone wondering how they fit into the world. The ultimate message is that we know from childhood what makes us happy and that it is okay to love ourselves.
Justin Luke Zirilli, author of Gulliver Takes Five:
Holy Rollers by Rob Byrnes is a hilarious madcap heist movie crammed into a book by the genius author Rob Byrnes. It follows a gay couple who also happen to be small-time con men, and the motley crew of gay and straight clowns they gather together to rob a mega church just outside of D.C. It's part of Byrnes's immensely enjoyable series of books following the same crew, and I highly recommend all of them!