And yet the long tail is thriving. Across ninety-two entries, the majority of titles are mentioned only once. What does it mean that many brilliant books appear on the list with only a single nod? Are we too fractured? Or are there too many categories to keep track of?
Either way, the answer is to read closely.
You'll see the universal drift toward nonfiction reflected here in the continued rise of the queer memoir. Cited multiple times are: Judy Grahn's early days in A Simple Revolution: The Making of an Activist Poet, Alysia Abbott's story of being raised by her gay dad as he and his circle of friends one by one succumbed to aids in Fairyland [Kindle], Rigoberto Gonzalez's family stories in Autobiography of My Hungers, Damian Barr's funny coming of age and coming out during the Thatcher years in Maggie and Me [Kindle], and Nicole Georges' wryly drawn scenes in her graphic triumph Calling Dr. Laura.
The two most popular fiction titles are Ali Liebegott’s SF to NYC Cha-Ching![Kindle] and Caleb Crain's big debut about an expat in Prague in the 90s, Necessary Errors [Kindle]. Across genres, this is an excellent time for rediscovering our degayed past. Jeanette Winterson's new novel takes place in 1612. And Peter Cameron unearths a gem written by G.F. Green forty years ago of which he says, "I can think of no other book that is so overtly and unapologetically queer."
Here's to never apologizing. And to ever better reading.
(These six books are the only other fiction titles with multiple mentions: Denton Welch's In Youth Is Pleasure from 1944, David Leavitt's The Two Hotel Francforts [Kindle], Kevin Killian's Spreadeagle, Patrick Flanery's Fallen Land, Allan Gurganus's Local Souls [Kindle], and Jonathan Strong's Hawkweed and Indian Paintbrush. In poetry: Anne Carson's Red Doc> and David Groff's Clay.)
(Benjamin Alire Sáenz has two books on the list: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe [Kindle] and this year's PEN/Faulkner winner Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club [Kindle]. The other twofer author is Jeanette Winterson with her new novel The Daylight Gate and last year's instant classic Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?)
Last year I found used copies of James Purdy’s In a Shallow Grave, Eustace Chisholm and the Works, and his transgressive masterpiece Narrow Rooms. Enveloped by Purdy’s mad, perverted, psychotic characters and wicked wit, I decided that I’d only read his books this year. Though it was costly and time-consuming tracking down Purdy’s out-of-print work, reading the writing of only one author for many months was a strange and sublime experience. I felt the novels running into each other, the characters meeting, interacting, fucking and torturing each other, and I began to recognize the Purdy archtypes: the angelic boy who inspires crazed lust and destructive impulses from everyone he meets, the rich controlling dowagers with psychic abilities, and the tortured artists struggling to complete their work. There’s also ghosts, scheming authority figures, and the country youths who tumble into adulthood via gay sex, incest, and abject drunkenness. My favorites are mostly the dark, gayer ones: Narrow Rooms, The Nephew, On Glory's Course, In a Shallow Grave, Out With the Stars, and Cabot Wright Begins. This fall’s release of The Complete Short Stories of James Purdy is a welcome start to what I hope will be a proper reissuing of all of the overlooked genius’ work. Kevin Killian, Spreadeagle. A blistering, scathing satire of San Francisco’s gay literary and arts culture (and NYC by extension) featuring an unbelievable cast of phonies, fakers, charlatans, criminals, pornographers, art student hustlers, kept boys, meth heads, and deranged psychopaths. Oh, and Armistead Maupin. Laugh out loud funny and totally horrifying at the same time. In short: Bruce Wagner meets BUTT magazine.
Amy Hoffman, author of Lies About My Family:
All We Know by Lisa Cohen, a wonderfully written triple biography of fairly obscure, eccentric, and fascinating women of the mid-twentieth century — Madge Garland, Mercedes da Acosta, and Esther Murphy — and their networks of friends, enemies, admirers. A Simple Revolution: The Making of an Activist Poet by Judy Grahn. Memoir about growing up lesbian in the mid-twentieth century, early days of the women's movement in San Francisco, collective households, lesbian publishing. The Fan Who Knew Too Much: Aretha Franklin, the Rise of the Soap Opera, Children of the Gospel Church, and Other Meditations by Anthony Heilbut. Mostly for his essay "The Children and Their Secret Closet," about gay men in gospel. Another book I liked this year is the novel The Third Kind of Horse by Michelle Auerbach, because of the way it manages to convey the mood of a certain part of the late 1980s lesbian scene in New York. The protagonist is a young lesbian, trying to find her way through the AIDS epidemic, sex, love, friendship.
Andrew Solomon, author of Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity:
I’d choose Spencer Reese’s new book of poems, The Road to Emmaus. The poem of that title within the collection includes the lines : “All I know now / is the more he loved me the more I loved the world.” How could anyone fail to be moved by the poet who can write such words?
Armistead Maupin, author of The Days of Anna Madrigal:
The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer. As usual, Greer is unembarrassed about exposing his tender, well-travelled heart. His lyrical voice manages elegance without pretension, and his gift for telling a great story left me pining for a New York City I never knew — three different New York Cities -- all of them contained in the free-range dreams of a kind and fascinating woman. Madonna has reportedly optioned this book. My fingers are crossed.
Barrie Jean Borich, author of Body Geographic:
My 2013 queer stand-outs: Autobiography of My Hungers by Rigoberto González, a spare and imagistic memoir-collage introduced by the allegory of piedritas, the stones and twigs he helped his mother clean from the soup beans. Each bright, sharp interlude describes a hunger — for food, for sex, for union of body and identity. Prairie Silence by Melanie Hoffert is not so much a memoir of why a queer must flee the hinterlands as an exquisitely described quest to reconcile with her farm and prairie home. And I’m midway through Ali Smith’s brilliantly strange and edifying Artful — a ghost lecture-novel-essay-dream — the most refreshingly genre-queer book I’ve read in years.
Barry Webster, author of The Lava in My Bones:
Peter Dubé’s Conjure is the most original book I’ve read this year. Modelled on medieval wizard’s manuals, Conjure is a queer book of spells for the twenty-first century. Poetic, sensual and hypnotic, these incantations offer advice on how to walk through fire, purify water, find hidden treasures, conquer jealousy and “cause a desired person to seek you out.” There is even a section on how to correctly make love to the dead. Dubé boldly shatters the realism that underpins (and perhaps limits) so much queer literature. Conjure shows us the possibilities that arise when we accept that the world before us isn’t always as it appears. Corey Redekop’s Husk is not a just another zombie novel, but a literary novel about a zombie who talks (zombies usually can’t speak) and is gay. Looking at life through the eyes of the queer undead is startling indeed. Part horror story, part love story (yes the zombie has a lover) Husk investigates the body/identity relationship in a comic smorgasbord of a novel.
Halfway through Becoming a Londoner, a diary of the years 1966 to 1986 illustrated with photos and art, the novelist David Plante records that two friends "tell me I drop names." Indeed, Stephen Spender, Frank Kermode, Francis Bacon, Harold Acton, David Hockney, R. B. Kitaj, Philip Roth, and Sonia Orwell are major figures, and Forster, Auden, Isherwood, and Ashbery make cameos. Plante is amusing and illuminating about all. Even better, the diary is a moving portrait of the love that Plante shared with his boyfriend Nikos Stangos, a celebrated editor. A favorite moment: when Stangos focuses myopically on a sexy stranger on the subway — who turns out to be Plante.
Carol Seajay, reviewer for Books To Watch Out For:
My book of the year: A Simple Revolution — an essential history/memoir/true-life adventure story that both writes lesbians (dykes!) back into queer history and tells one hell of a tale. Read it, then go dig out a copy of “Edward the Dyke” (written in the 60s after being interrogated about her lesbianism and thrown out of the Army) and her other work and reflect on how brilliant and "decades ahead of her time" Judy Grahn has always been. What happened to gay people during/after African Americans migrated north? See Mia McKenzie's The Summer We Got Free. It's a novel I've been waiting decades to read. Another book I've been handing to my friends all year: Karen Joy Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Not LGB or T (well, no one asked Fern), but still one of the queerest books I've read. S-Queer? Two novels I loved but too few people know about: Theft by BK Loren and The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar.
Carter Sickels, author of The Evening Hour:
One terrific queer book I read in 2013 is Marci Blackman’s Tradition, about an African American community in Southern Ohio. The novel, moving back and forth between the 1930s and the present day, examines how the past shapes us, how memories shift, fail, and sustain. In lyrical prose, Blackman explores the intricacies of race, queerness, aging, and gender. Also about memory – loss of memory — is Sarah Schulman’s incredible The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination, an intelligent, fierce look at the long-lasting effects of the AIDS crisis in New York. It’s an important, inspiring must-read for anyone concerned about the future of queer arts and the queer community.
The Last Nude, Ellis Avery. The queer artist, Claude Cahun contended that lesbianism "occurs with special frequency in women of high intelligence" In her novel The Last Nude Ellis Avery certainly gives Cahun's notion of an "aristocracy of taste" a workout albeit through her fictionalization of the Polish bi-sexual painter Tamara de Lempicka’s image of her most erotic painting entitled, Beautiful Rafaela (1927). Allen Frame’s Detour, a compilation of photographs over a decade, was published by Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg in 2001. He is represented by Gitterman Gallery in New York where his covers for Belano are currently on view and receiving rave reviews.
Charles Rowan Beye, author of My Husband and My Wives: A Gay Man's Odyssey:
The Asylum: A collage of couture reminiscences...and hysteria by Simon Doonan is a positively glorious over the top narrative of thrills and spills in the rag trade, as campy and outrageously gaily gay as you can get, guaranteed to make the reader happy. Of course, my all-time favorite from 2012 was my own memoir, My Husband and My Wives, even if gays found it less than compelling, straight males thought it was nonsense.
Charles Francis, editor of Petition Denied, Revolution Begun:
Rodger McDaniel uncovers deleted gay political history for the first time in Dying for Joe McCarthy's Sins: The Suicide of Wyoming Senator Lester Hunt. A former trial lawyer, he demonstrates McCarthy’s probable role in the criminal conspiracy in 1954 when Senators Bridges and Welker blackmailed Hunt over his son’s arrest for soliciting sex from a male undercover cop. They tried to force Hunt, a Democrat, to resign, so the governor could appoint a Republican to finish his term, thereby flipping majority control of the Senate. They succeeded because Hunt killed himself in his Senate office. These events were never investigated and the full story has not been revealed until now. According to the dark and dangerous views of the Church of Scientology, homosexuality prevents believers from “going clear” on their e-meters and audits, which can be violent. The Church’s sci-fi prophet, the “infallible” L. Ron Hubbard wrote, “The sexual pervert is actually quite ill physically…such people should be taken from the society as rapidly as possible.” In the National Book Award finalist Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief Lawrence Wright reports as no one else has on the Church’s scary homophobic theology and how they deny or gloss it over, from John Travolta to Prop 8. And I loved reading about the triumphs of seriously “variant” children (dwarfs, deaf, prodigies, lgbt) delivered by fate to initially clueless parents, explored with self-revealing insight by Andrew Solomon—himself a very different kind of kid—in Far From the Tree.
Clayton Littlewood, author of Goodbye to Soho:
To describe a book as ‘life changing’ is a grand phrase. But in this instance it’s justified. In Far From the Tree Andrew Solomon shows us that difference can be life enhancing. I also adored Neil McKenna’s fabulously entertaining and meticulously researched, Fanny and Stella, Damian Barr’s Maggie and Me, an autobiography set in Thatcher’s Britain, and the black comedy and sharp characterisation of May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes. Finally, two horrors; the failure of the American dream in Fallen Land by Patrick Flanery, and a Wicker Man seaside frightfest, Grim by Rupert Smith.
Clifford Chase, author of The Tooth Fairy:
Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography by Richard Rodriguez. Rodriguez’s stylish, elliptical prose--by turns confiding and self-effacing, skeptical and devout, dazzingly philosophical and bracingly concrete--captures the thrilling essence of thought itself.
Colin R. Johnson, author of Just Queer Folks: Gender and Sexuality in Rural America:
I absolutely and completely loved Benjamin E. Wise’s William Alexander Percy: The Curious Life of a Mississippi Planter and Sexual Freethinker [Kindle]. The book is gorgeously written, which is enough to recommend it in my mind. But Wise also does a masterful job of accounting for Percy’s decidedly queer way of being in the world while simultaneously resisting the impulse to straighten out the question of his sexuality once and for all. I appreciated Justin Spring’s Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade for much the same reason. Of course neither of these skillfully written biographies hold a candle in the queerness department to Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians, the campiest biographical writing of all time.
Conner Habib, author of The Sex We’ve Never Had:
I keep thinking about how irritating it is that I can’t jerk off in my car in a deserted parking lot without maybe undeservedly being branded a sex offender for life. That’s because queer writer Roger Lancaster, in his excellent book, Sex Panic and the Punitive State, reveals how sex offender status is something that can accidentally or unjustly happen to you. Often the accusation alone is enough to ruin someone’s life, and the punishments after conviction are confused, Draconian, and sometimes just plain crazy. Sex panics are stirred up by a culture that insists on glorifying victimhood, which means we’re all victims of victims. To escape this impossible trap, go get this page-turner of a book.
Chose her own book and submitted the flap copy, which you can read here.
D. Gilson, author of Brit Lit:
Michael D. Snediker's The Apartment of Tragic Appliances. This book of prose poems is daring in that it is smart — oh, so sexily smart — and never apologizes for it. In reaching back (and forward!) to queer theory, pieces of literature, popular culture iconography, as well as the fabulously mundane, Snediker is able to build an alternative world that both parallels and improves the one we actually live in. "There are deeper issues in which the fridge and I commune," he explains gorgeously, and I am struck by Snediker's ability to uncover some unfathomable, yet completely fathomable once he makes apparent, truth.
Damian Barr, author of Maggie and Me:
Jeanette Winterson's Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? answers some of the questions raised by Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and raises even more questions. The cast of supporting characters is almost gothic but, as always, Jeanette is front and centre. Denton Welch, In Youth Is Pleasure, written in 1944 its themes of finding yourself and — quite literally when he walks across Sussex — your own way in life still resonate. John Waters recommended this book to me and I am recommending it to you all. It is darkly funny and often just dark. He deserves wider recognition. I Know You're Going To Be Happy by Rupert Christiansen. The photo on the cover of this book tells a heartbreaking story of a father abandoning his wife and children. He has arranged the photographer from the newspaper he edits. It's the first his family knows that their father is leaving them. In this brief but beautiful book, Rupert unforgets his father and explores his relationship with his heartbroken but determined mother. The Song of Achilles — is an excellent, and sexy, introduction to the story of Achilles and Patrcolus.
Danika Leigh Ellis, head librarian at The Lesbrary:
The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard edited by Tom Leger and Riley Macleod is a book that is undoubtedly desperately needed, but it also happens to be incredibly skilled. This collection is packed with evocative, effective writing, with memorable characters, and with queer people of every stripe. Even while I was cringing at the microagressions and cissexism the characters were facing, I couldn't help reveling in how well that discomfort is depicted. I had some favourite stories, but none that I actively disliked. I don't know if I've read any other anthology so evenly balanced. Both hopeful and brutal, this one is a must read.
David Ebershoff, author of The 19th Wife:
White Girls [Kindle] by Hilton Als is a crazy-genius mix of essay, fiction, memoir, icon-channeling, and cultural thinking by the best critic in America. You’ve never read a book like it because no one writes like Hilton Als.
Firdaus Kanga’s 1991 novel Trying To Grow — brought back into print by Penguin India in 2008 — tells the story of a boy coming of age in the Parsi community of Bombay in the 1970s and 1980s. The wheelchair-bound hero is called Brit because, like Kanga, he was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease. Yet the title also alludes to his Parsi family’s feverish anglophilia. This witty, sharp, irreverent novel was the basis for the BBC film Sixth Happiness (1997), directed by Warris Hussein and starring Firdaus Kanga himself in the role of Brit. [Rerelease edition from India here.]
David McConnell, author of American Honor Killings:
I really enjoyed reading Mitko by Garth Greenwell.
Donna Minkowitz, author of Growing Up Golem:
My favorite queer book of the year is The Virgins by Pamela Erens. Erens is straight and the teenage main characters are hetero too, but this novel is incredibly queer because it's about the disturbing fictions this culture inculcates in all of us about sex itself: that it naturally leads to transcendence, that it requires no learning, education, growth or self-care. It's a beautiful novel about two kids who are desperately in love with each other but don't know how to take care of their own feelings or bodies sufficiently to make the magic they so badly want to happen.
Douglas A. Martin, author of Once You Go Back:
My 1980s and Other Essays by Wayne Koestenbaum. This compendium is unquestionably my most toted around title this year, embracing voracious intellectual pacing in that plum professorial way he has (six styled sections all a mix of fab flash, full fleshed, sound outs). Now I teach by the way of what he has taught: I go over differently how punk read to me. I once in that time had a record player, a 45 spinning (“Rapture”), while I centered myself to show in the middle of my bed a stage.
Elliott Mackle, author of Welcome Home, Captain Harding:
Aside from The Two Hotel Francforts [Kindle], David Leavitt’s World War II house of mirrors wherein two married couples collide in Lisbon, the works that taught me the most were previously unread classics: The Music of Your Life, John Rowell’s 2003 debut (and, so far, only work of fiction), a stunning collection of bittersweet tales about sensitive Southern males; On the Black Hill, Bruce Chatwin’s 1982 novel charting the low-key adventures of identical twins, Welsh farmers, who share a bed almost every night of their lives; The Year of Ice, Brian Malloy’s 2002 account of an eighteen-year-old boy facing a houseful of Irish-American family secrets in Minnesota.
Ellis Avery, author of The Last Nude:
Garth Greenwell, author of Mitko:
Benjamin Alire Sáenz's gorgeous Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe [Kindle] would have changed my life if I had been able to read it at the age of its characters. David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing was the most formally innovative novel I read this year, and is one of the few books I know that seem genuinely adequate to gay experience in the present moment, with its atmosphere of unprecedented acceptance and persistent challenge. That both of these books were marketed as young adult says something wonderful about the state of YA literature today — but really they should be read by anyone who loves beautiful books.
Håkan Lindquist, author of On Collecting Stamps:
My favourite LGBT book of the year is Abdellah Taïa’s Le jour du Roi. Since my partner Davy and I have translated the book to Swedish during the last months, I have read it several times. Taïa’s novels are always based on his own life, his childhood and youth in Morocco and his adult life in Geneva and Paris, and they are always very touching. Poetic, at times. Sad and moving. But always with the protagonist’s struggle to find a better life, a context in which he can develop. Or settle. I have also re-read some of Carson McCullers’s novels. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and The Member of the Wedding. McCullers and her novels could easily be on my top list every year.
Hank Stuever, author of Tinsel: A Search for America's Christmas Present:
In his uplifting Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater New York Times Magazine writer Michael Sokolove goes back to his suburban high school to profile the best teacher he had - the indomitable Lou Volpe, who for 40 years ran such a demanding and provocative theater program that the school was routinely selected to test-run adaptations of Broadway shows looking to break into the high school market (“Spring Awakening"; "Rent"). It would at first seem like “Drama High” will hew to a "Glee"-like narrative, but Sokolove (disclosure: a friend of mine) surprisingly and tenderly peels back the essence and commitment of the high school theater experience. He also charts Volpe’s slow not-quite-coming-out process and, at one point, brings up a central heartbreak: How the most eager (and probably gay) boys in drama club are never as desirable to the director as the idea of the jock who forsakes varsity athletics to audition for the leading-man role.
Heather Love, author of Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History:
Ann Cvetkovich, Depression: A Public Feeling. This is a risky and innovative book that expands the possibilities of what can be done in queer scholarship. Mixing memoir with cultural analysis, Cvetkovich offers a history of depression that challenges the medical framework and investigates links between the diagnosis and forms of social exclusion and violence. It’s rare to find an academic book written in such a spirit of honesty and generosity. Between her brilliant account of the conditions of the present and her profound integrity as a thinker and writer, I feel that there is no limit to what I have to learn from Cvetkovich.
Three books of Homo note come to mind in from the last year or so: Ed White’s beautiful and true evocation of durable friendship in Jack Holmes and His Friend. White’s sumptuous style and dense substance, coupled with his unblinking insight, make this novel a must read! The centennial of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time made us pluck Sodom and Gomorrah off the shelf for yet another longing look. We’d like to mention Eminent Outlaws by Christopher Bram, an outstanding work about the heady cocktail that used to make being gay an adventure. And we're looking forward to Mark Wunderlich's The Earth Avails releasing February 4.
Jameson Currier, author of The Forever Marathon:
My favorite piece of gay literature this year was Buyer & Cellar. Michael Urie’s performance was wonderful and nuanced, but so is Jonathan Tolin’s play, a deftly constructed comedy about a gay out-of-work actor hired to be the clerk in Barbra Streisand’s basement shopping mall, and which blends the themes of romance and relationships, career insecurities, and celebrity worship into a witty and delightful experience. Another favorite was J.R. (John) Greenwell’s memoir, Teased Hair and the Quest for Tiaras, about the author’s fabulous drag persona Rachel Wells and his/her winning the title of Miss Gay America 1979. The memoir is set in Atlanta in the 1970s, where I was coming out myself and saw Rachel Wells perform at the legendary Sweet Gum Head. So another highlight of this year was to be the publisher of Who the Hell Is Rachel Wells?, John’s equally remarkable debut collection of short fiction.
Jason Baumann, Coordinator of Collection Assessment and LGBT Collections, NYPL:
My favorite queer book that I’ve read in 2013 is the galley of Sean Strub’s memoir Body Counts: A Memoir of Politics, Sex, AIDS, and Survival forthcoming from Scribner’s in January 2014. Strub’s new book gives us a generous and lived chronicle of the grassroots political response to the AIDS crisis in the U.S., from the People with AIDS empowerment movement to ACT UP to current work fighting the criminalization of HIV. Strub’s behind-the-scenes account of publishing POZ magazine gives a great window into the national conversations among people with HIV and AIDS. And the book is juicy too. Sean cuddled with Vito Russo and peed out the window with Gore Vidal. Fabulous.
Jason Friedman, author of Fire Year:
Amor and Psycho, Carolyn Cooke. Gay love makes matter-of-fact appearances in a few of the stories in this strange, droll, exquisitely written collection. Anne Carson's Red Doc>. Harder to love than the sublime Autobiography of Red, this unclassifiable book reuniting Geryon and Herakles eventually pays off in beautiful, startling imagery and wrenching emotion. A shout-out to Alvaro Mutis, who died this year. The Snow of the Admiral, the novella that opens The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll, offers up brief but hot man sex on a steamy trip down a South American river.
While there were many books I loved this year, especially Camille Paglia's Glittering Images and Wayne Koestenbaum's My 1980s, in the end it came down to a few titles for me, most in the rediscovery category (including Carl Johnes' Crawford: The Last Years : An Intimate Memoir, from 1979). I have to go with Christopher Coe's Such Times, which I read for the first time this year. In my favorite passage he takes a scene from Beverly Hills Madam, the 1986 made for TV movie starring Faye Dunaway, and turns it into a funny, pointed, and ultimately elegiac meditation on beauty, friendship, food, love of actresses, and the myths gay men create for themselves.
My favorite LGBT book of 2013 would be in the category of biography, and that is Blake Bailey's Farther and Wilder: The Lost Weekends and Literary Dreams of Charles Jackson. Jackson's substance abuse problems and character flaws are not pleasant to unveil, but they should be seen in light of the pressure of being a closeted mainstream author in homophobic times. Jackson's two best novels and his strongest stories (reprinted in 2013) are the work of a very talented gay artist. Bailey is also known for his fine biographies of John Cheever and Richard Yates. No one asked this but I think the best novel of the last decade is Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty.
Jim Elledge, author of Henry Darger, Throwaway Boy: The Tragic Life of an Outsider Artist:
A poet (mostly), I play more attention to poetry than any other writing, and so when I think of the best of book of 2013, I immediately think of David Groff’s wonderful Clay because of its captivating story and its powerful prosody. It’s an amazing book. I also became re-acquainted this year with Jack Spicer and Paul Blackburn. Spicer’s “Billy the Kid” sequence is a knockout; and Blackburn’s The Cities is incredible.
Maggie and Me by Damian Barr, is an engaging account of growing up gay on a tough housing estate in Scotland. Beautifully written, it’s wise, funny and deeply moving. Barr has just won the Stonewall Writer of the Year Award. Neil McKenna’s Fanny and Stella – the young men who shocked Victorian England is a delight. Laugh out loud funny, it’s also a fascinating look at Victorian London’s gay subculture. In fiction, I enjoyed The Gold-Rimmed Spectacles by Giorgio Bassani, published in a new translation by Penguin. Desire and obsession unfold against a backdrop of 1930’s Ferrara. A compelling read.
Joan Schenkar, author of The Talented Miss Highsmith:
Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady (1985) by Florence King is the funniest, most touching meditation on scumbled gender roles, confused sexual relations, and futile political judgements I've read. Not least, because it's a more or less lesbian memoir written by a conservative (in the best sense; she's a monarchist and a misanthrope) columnist who once earned her living writing erotica, who has a gorgeous ear for spoken language, and who uplifts (and, like all fine memoirists, fictionalizes) her history with beautiful, balanced, Ciceronian prose.
Jonathan Kemp, author of London Triptych:
Chris Tysh, Our Lady of the Flowers, Echoic. This glorious reworking of Genet’s first novel, in verse, is as shapely and glorious as a hoodlum’s buttocks. All the erotic charge of the original, but fantastically reimagined as an epic poem. Queering Anarchism: Addressing and Undressing Power and Desire edited by C.B. Daring, J. Rogue, D. Shannon & A.Volcano is an inspiring collection of writings which offer queered anarchism in a refreshingly non-academic prose from a range of fascinating writers. A must for anyone trying to rethink how we live now. Jean-Paul Martinon’s The End of Man is a poetic and thought-provoking reconfiguration of what it means to have a male body. Beautifully textured prose that is as lyrical as it is theoretically rigorous.
Jonathan Strong, author of Hawkweed and Indian Paintbrush:
Having at last finished Proust and the classic biography by George Painter, I turned to a biography of my old most-favorite writer, Thomas Mann, finally to my mind a greater artist and certainly a more openly appreciator of male beauty, and read Anthony Heilbut’s Thomas Mann: Eros and Literature, which gives a full account of Mann’s homoerotic obsessions as revealed in his diaries and letters. (He even had to ward off his own gay son Klaus from one particular object of affection.) Let me also recommend my spouse’s three-novella collection, Disembodiments by S.P. Elledge, with its take on an actual case study from the 1940s that he calls “The Homosexualist,” and a fabulous tale of a monastery in England with Mann-like sexual obsessions.
Julia Serano, author of Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive:
Justin Hall, author of No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics:
Anything That Loves: Beyond Straight and Gay edited by Charles "Zan" Christensen. This book is a delightful comics anthology featuring a diverse group of cartoonists tackling issues of sexuality and gender that go beyond traditional binaries, from playful fantasy to confessional memoir.
Justin Torres, author of We The Animals:
Kate Beutner, author of Alcestis:
This year I'd pick Nicola Griffith's Hild. It's a gorgeous, detailed historical novel about the woman who became known as St. Hilda, and its approach to sexuality feels just as organic as its attention to Hild's natural world. I also want to mention Kristin Cashore's Bitterblue (published in 2012), which mostly contains straight sexuality but feels queer to me because of its intense focus on feelings both private and public -- it's an odd YA novel about a truth and reconciliation effort in a medieval kingdom, and about how trauma shapes love.
Kevin Killian, author of Spreadeagle:
His daughter Alysia Abbott has written the life of one of my friends, the writer Steve Abbott, and she’s called it Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father. In England my favorite porn writer Thom Wolf brought out two splendid books, Watching Henry Lawton and The Leather and the Flesh, while David McConnell’s American Honor Killings is an In-Cold-Blood-style true crime surprise from one of our greatest stylists. In the poetry world, Robert Duncan’s complete poems and plays are now available in two volumes -- early and later -- edited beautifully by Peter Quartermain, while my own favorite, Jack Spicer The Poetry of Jack Spicer by the estimable Daniel Katz of the University of Warwick (where they have the nude rowers’ calendar every year). All We Know by Lisa Cohen and Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance, by Carla Kaplan are crowding my bedside table right now. And I see a new James McCourt book, Lasting City, is upon us as well—that all by itself makes 2013 a banner year.
Kunal Mukherjee, author of My Magical Palace:
Reinaldo Arenas’ autobiography, Before Night Falls, a literary gem and hauntingly moving account of his life under political repression in Cuba, is extraordinary. This story of an unabashed homosexual man’s incarceration and resilience, is timeless and inspiring. Who cannot relate to the alienation, loneliness and fear of socio-political censure? Barely sixteen, I secretly read John Rechy's City of Night, a book I serendipitously stumbled upon in New Delhi. His personal erotic accounts of the sex trade are unparalleled in their honesty, and lie outside the realms of gratuitous description. This unvarnished story of a man endlessly searching for love and intimacy in urban night worlds, is a milestone in literature.
Lee Thomas, author of Like Light for Flies:
My two choices this year come from an established voice and an emerging talent. The veteran, who creates literary magic from fantasy and fairy tales is Richard (Rick) Bowes. This year he has several new books out, including the excellent Dust Devil on a Quiet Street. The other guy is Ed Kurtz who is emerging as a powerful new voice in horror and crime fiction. His novella, A Wind of Knives, is actually a western that follows a bisexual cowboy out to avenge the murder of his lover. An excellent book and hopefully not the last LGBT title from this author.
Lisa Cohen, author of All We Know: Three Lives:
Hilton Als’ White Girls [Kindle]. “The world can absorb only the obvious,” Als writes in the dazzling first essay of this inspired, inspiring collection. There is nothing obvious and everything bold in Als’ writing and thinking. How do and shall we see ourselves and one another—look and listen and love—when the world withholds acknowledgment, when racism, lack of imagination, and capitalism prevail? A book of intricate pleasures. A book of many voices. A book about the power, beauty, and dangers of “being too much.” A book that teaches us to read ever more closely. Also, forthcoming in February 2014, Clifford Chase’s memoir The Tooth Fairy. Rhapsodic and acerbic, redemptive yet attuned to the ridiculous. Chase’s keen self-scrutiny and elegant aphorisms are addictive.
Lonely Christopher, author of the forthcoming Death and Disaster series:
My favorite book this year—Henry Darger, Throwaway Boy: The Tragic Life of an Outsider Artist by Jim Elledge—is a queer reading of the life of Henry Darger that challenges the most baseless theories about this enigmatic and extremely influential artist and creates a revisionist portrait of the survivor of “a thousand troubles” who, although ever-haunted by his trauma, not only cultivated an indescribably rich fantasy world—which he rendered beautifully in two massive illustrated novels and a 5,000 page “life history” that becomes obsessed with a mythical tornado named Sweetie Pie—but who navigated the worst circumstances in a deadly oppressive social climate and, before dying senile and penniless, found a kind of love and companionship that has been entirely denied him heretofore by Darger scholarship. While, like all approaches to this mysterious artist, it is at times exceedingly speculative, Elledge's intentions and conclusions are grounded in an entire decade of beyond-thorough research that will present to you a new conception of Darger in the form of a stimulating narrative.
Three releases by writers I admire took me to places – homeland(s), bedrooms, kitchens, bars, barrios – that my estranged and strange body knows well. Emanuel Xavier’s Nefarious is every bit as sexy and harrowing as I had hoped, these poems are as sweet as the musk of tomorrow morning’s lover’s back and as immobilizing as his departure. Rigoberto González’ Autobiography of My Hungers is a breathtaking (re)collection of vignettes capturing moments, longings, hopes that queer men of color carry (and have carried) in our stomachs, on our lips, in our memories, in our bones. Verónica Reyes’ Chopper! Chopper! Poetry from Bordered Lives is a love letter, a manifesto, and a crooning lullaby chronicling with exquisite nuance the beauty and torment of lives and life of those of us who straddle literal and imagined borders of brown lands, brown bodies, brown desires, and brown hearts.
Lucy Jane Bledsoe, author of The Big Bang Symphony:
My first pick, for sheer reading pleasure and also because so many readers haven’t heard about it, is Good Kings Bad Kings by disability rights activist Susan Nussbaum. The novel won Barbara Kingsolver’s Bellwether prize and features one of the best butch lesbian characters I’ve read in a long time. Chavisa Woods’ novel, The Albino Album, is fierce and redemptive and strange in all the best ways. Ali Liebegott’s Cha-Ching![Kindle] is un-put-down-able and haunting. Alysia Abbott’s Fairyland is a must read for anyone who loves poetry and San Francisco. She Rises, by Sarah Waters mentee Kate Worsley, is a rollicking fun read. I’m dying to read Judy Grahn’s A Simple Revolution but am saving it for savoring over the holiday break.
So many books! So little time! For pleasure, I read books in search of wonderful sentences. In White Girls [Kindle] by Hilton Als, I found "Some of us regard memories as accidents, which is for the best if we want to forget them. But we condemn ourselves to self-disgust if we insist on not remembering, because memory's always there, no matter what." Allan Gurganus hits it on the head with "Privilege meant a lady qualified for marriage." Bingo! in Local Souls. And in Darling, Richard Rodriguez asks: "Does the desert, in short, make warriors?" What do they have in common? Women & Faith. Stellar reading.
Mary Cappello, author of Swallow:
I spent this year in the company of the work of several lesbian writers who newly inhabit memoiristic forms or re-invent the genre altogether: Lies About My Family by Amy Hoffman restores the power of understatement in an age of overstatement: she subtly plumbs familial ironies in a pure prose that is hard to come by; Body Geographic by Barrie Jean Borich charts territories of the city, the body, and desire in a layered experiment with literary form; Falling Into the Fire by Christine Montross brings deft research, first-hand medical expertise, self-reflexivity, and a poet’s sensibility to a set of vexing psychiatric conditions that most people would readily turn away from. And, looking ahead, I can’t recommend enough Catherine Reid’s forthcoming nonfiction collection, Falling into Place: An Intimate Geography of Home. Reid writes with an enthralling grace of matters environmental, spiritual, and relational.
Matthew Gallaway, author of The Metropolis Case:
Very Recent History: An Entirely Factual Account of a Year (c. AD 2009) in a Large City by Choire Sicha.* I recently read about elephant “culling,” a conservation tool employed by wildlife managers in the 70s and 80s; families were rounded up and shot, except for the youngest. Decades later, these elephants exhibit a form of post-traumatic stress disorder ranging from an inability to defend themselves to hyper-aggressive attacks. In Very Recent History, Choire Sicha describes a similar phenomenon in a group of young gay men living in the city. Although a generation removed from the height of AIDS, they seem similarly addled; it’s heartbreaking to see the effects of loss on those who have little memory of it, and in a larger culture that pretends it never happened. Honorable 2012 mention: Richard Kramer's witty and (secretly) melancholy These Things Happen.
*Sicha is also a co-owner and editor of the Awl, where I should mention that I'm a regular contributor.
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, author of The End of San Francisco:
Among the Bloodpeople: Politics and Flesh by Thomas Glave. It’s possible that I’ve never before read a book so capable of describing beauty and violence, the two at once, side-by-side, at war and in peace. Refusing to give in to selective amnesia or fatalistic despair, Thomas Glave dares us to examine the contradictions in tyranny and love, desire and hope and yearning and betrayal, personal and structural, our lives and lies, breathing, falling down, getting up again, breathing, yes, breathing, that’s what this book makes us do.
Michael Alenyikov, author of Ivan and Misha:
The Ikon Maker by Demond Hogan. A beautiful, difficult to classify gem from 1975 by the long neglected Irish writer. Necessary Errors [Kindle] by Caleb Crain. Crain has a painterly eye not only for the nooks and crannies and architecture of Prague in the early 1990s, but also for his main character Jacob's introspective mind as he goes abroad to find himself, recreate himself, leave the prosaic choices of home behind, and of course, find if not love then something akin to it with men who present different challenges than the ones back home. Eminent Outlaws and Mapping the Territory by Christopher Bram. Some criticized Eminent Outlaws for the gay writers he left out . . . but in both books Bram is such a wonderful companion to accompany regardless of who and what he chooses as a subject in the vast world of gaydom.
Michael Downing, author of Life with Sudden Death:
Hawkweed and Indian Paintbrush by Jonathan Strong This beautiful novel is a wholly original examination of the bittersweet rewards of aging. An engaging chronicle of one man's attempts to locate and orient himself in the once-familiar territory of his life, the story of Christopher Parish is, finally, about longing--and how we learn to live in this ever-shrinking world with our undiminished passions.
Michael Klein, author of The Talking Day:
“Truman Capote became a woman in 1947….” is the beginning of the first sentence of “The Women,” an essay by Hilton Als included in his book White Girls [Kindle] which was, for me, the most ecstatic reading experience of 2013. The whole book is as surprising as the beginning of that sentence and is a completely and addictive blend of autobiography, supposition, madman invention, and criticism. Als is a master stylist, and his syntax is wondrous because he always approaches his subject matter with the one desire — to reveal its awe. The wonderful writer Peter Orner once said of a book he’d read that it made him feel more alive. That’s how I felt after White Girls.
Michael Sledge, author of The More I Owe You:
The City of Devi from Manil Suri took me by surprise. After the restraint of the first two novels in his trilogy, I wasn’t quite prepared for this adventure that opens in a world veering toward apocalypse, then gallops along breathlessly to an unexpectedly tender conclusion. It’s all very entertaining, but it’s the relationship at the center of this book—a three-way love affair between two men and a woman—that gives the story its weight. Suri’s playful and open take on sexuality feels new, both for him and for us, and his exploration of the ambiguity at the heart of all love is incredibly poignant.
Monica Nolan, author of Maxie Mainwaring, Lesbian Dilettante:
If you only read one contemporary LGBT book this year, make it Ali Liebegott's Cha-Ching! [Kindle]. That's what I did, unintentionally, but I'm sure that even if I had read dozens more Cha-Ching! would still be a favorite. The accounts of dead-end jobs, cockroach-ridden apartments, and assorted addictions made me laugh out loud more than once. My other favorite is the distinctly non-contemporary The Gay Detective by Lou Rand, an out-of-control campfest written eight years before Stonewall. It's not just the plot (an ex-chorus boy-turned-detective investigates bath houses and drag shows in "Bay City”) but the breezy, offhand treatment that charms and amazes.
Neel Mukherjee, author of A Life Apart:
Patrick Flanery's second novel, Fallen Land, is one of the most memorable takes on the American Dream -- perhaps we should rename that the American Nightmare now. Unfailingly intelligent, gripping, animated by a furious moral energy, and knowing in its use of genres and modes such as the thriller, the American Gothic, even the C-list Hollywood chiller, Fallen Land is an anatomization of the USA like no other. Vestal McIntyre’s Kindle Single, Almost Tall, from his forthcoming collection of short stories, is a perfect short story, the kind William Trevor would have been proud to pen. It is melancholy (a much more difficult thing to pull off than straightforward unhappiness), sympathetic, generous, and written with gem-like clarity. And surely I’m not the only reader who thought that the real sexual energy in Claire Messud’s furious and brilliant The Woman Upstairs was not between ‘the woman upstairs’ and the man, but between the two women, Nora and Sirena?
Neil Bartlett, author of Skin Lane:
Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art, edited by Timothy Clark, British Museum, London, 2013. This was a total eye-opener - gay sex and desire at their most graphic and tender included in the catalogue of an exhibition at the august British Museum. Samurai and their boys; cross-dressing actors; randy monks; devoted lovers - all taking their natural, non-ghettoised place in the extraordinary parallel universe of shunga, erotic woodcut-prints and scroll paintings reaching back over 500 years of Japan's history The images are breathtakingly beautiful, and text both incisive and inclusive. Clark and his team have achieved an extraordinary thing, lifting the veil on a hundred-year-old scholarly taboo and bringing some the greatest masterpieces of this particular strand of Japanese art together in a heartfelt and brilliantly thought-through exhibition. The exhibition was unforgettable - not mention extremely horny; for those who don't live in London, seek out the catalogue.
Neil McKenna, author of Fanny and Stella:
For the thirtieth or fortieth time, I re-read Denton Welch's In Youth Is Pleasure an intense, sometimes painful and oozingly homoerotic account of a holiday spent by Welch with his father at a hotel in Surrey in the 1930s. It's exquisitely written, and because Welch trained as an artist, it's a very visual book. Brian Sewell's autobiographer, Outsider: Always Almost: Never Quite is very good on his early years in National Service and his struggles to come to terms with his sexuality, but there was too much about his years at Christie's. Wendy Moffat's A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E. M. Forster is a fantastically concise and refreshing account of Forster's life and lays bare his sexuality. Linda Stratmann's revisionist The Marquess of Queensberry: Wilde's Nemesis aims to re-contextualise Queensberry's role in the Oscar Wilde scandals. I'm not are she succeeds entirely, but the book is extremely well-researched and well-written. I also re-read Barbara Pym's The Sweet Dove Died which has lots of gay themes and characters in it. Her novels are very consoling, terrifically funny, and perfectly written."
Nicole Georges, author of Calling Dr. Laura: A Graphic Memoir:
A book I read & loved this year was the chapbook Vernacular Scholarship by Eileen Myles. I also loved A Mermaid in Chelsea Creek by Michelle Tea. And my book (!!!) Calling Dr. Laura. Although it is not gay, Susceptible by Genevieve Castree is a beautiful graphic piece of fiction/memoir.
Paul Lisicky, author of Unbuilt Projects:
Stacey D'Erasmo's The Art of Intimacy: The Space Between may be brief, but it has the heft of a whole library. "What happens in the space between us?" she writes in the beginning of the book, then proceeds to hold up that question against the art of Nan Goldin, Virginia Woolf, William Maxwell, and others, transfiguring the way we read and see.
This spring, Gilbert Hernandez, one half of the wonderful Hernandez Brothers, published Julio's Day, a magic realist graphic novel which could have been more reductively titled 100 Years in the Closet. The book takes place in a small Mexican town somewhere in the American Southwest. Its gentle hero is born at the beginning of the 20th century and dies right at its end. In between he watches family and friends love and die through wars, poverty and inexplicable disasters from World War I all the way up to the AIDS epidemic. Hernandez draws his characters with a simple, pared-down dignity and Julio carries his unnecessary burden with all the pathos of a Christian martyr. [For more, see Paul's review at Full-Stop.]
Peter Cameron, author of Coral Glynn:
The Power of Sergeant Streater by G. F. Green (1972) An amazing book. Beautifully written, first of all -- as atmospheric and lush as Green's In The Making, but with a stronger narrative and more clarity. The book, set somewhere in southeast Asia during or after WWII, concerns three British civil servants who are all almost fatally attracted to the beautiful, sweet, sarong-wearing local boys who are their servants and/or catamites. The men are also attracted to one another, but unable to act on these desires, and so channel this repression into foiling one another's romances. The frankness of homosexual attraction and desire in this nearly all-male world is both startling and tremendously exciting and erotic. It is never questioned or judged, and in this way this book seems revolutionary. I can think of no other book that is so overtly and unapologetically queer.
Peter Dubé, author of Conjure: A Book of Spells:
I’ve read too many books I loved this year to be able to narrow in on just one choice. So, here are three wonderful books– in different genres - that brightened my 2013. Ronnie Burk’s dazzling poems in Sky*Boat captured so much of what is marvelous in surrealism’s vast liberatory adventure. In fiction, the revised edition of Samuel Delany’s Phallos was a metafictional delight that had me fascinated right through. Pleading in the Blood (Dominic Johnson, ed.), the first book-length consideration of Ron Athey’s complex, uncompromising art, is my non-fiction pick; it constitutes a compelling meditation on the always-generative relationship of body and spirit.
Peter Gadol, author of Silver Lake:
Red Doc>, Anne Carson’s sequel to her astonishing 1998 narrative poem about those teenagers in love, Geryon the red-winged monster and Herakles the sexy monster slayer, is full of lyrically dexterous surprises: G, as he’s now tagged, is a grown up cattleman wandering a modern world of ancient woes with Herakles (now called Sad But Good, or just Sad), a weary war veteran, and their chronicle runs down the page in a narrow strip of free-falling verse. Carson’s “unlatched” figurations spin off the page fast with dark whimsy. In my favorite sequence, G and Sad travel to a wondrous northern ice-scape; I had to put on an extra sweater while reading it; I didn’t want to leave.
Peter Hegarty, author of Gentlemen's Disagreement: Alfred Kinsey, Lewis Terman, and the Sexual Politics of Smart Men.
Choosing his own book: "What irked the man who introduced the word IQ to the English language about the first Kinsey report in 1948? Where do the histories of genius and sexuality intersect? How do the silences and norms in American psychology trouble Foucault's history of sexuality? This short but tightly-packed book maps an under-explored historical territory landmarked by queer genius, husbands who are less than ideal in the bedroom, and troubled species boundaries in the American west. My description of the projections of human scientists onto individuals, populations and histories present a new vision of how the psychological and the historical made each other up in 20th century United States."
Rabih Alameddine, author of An Unnecessary Woman:
I loved Justin Hall’s No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics. I grew up with comics, then grew up once again with queer comics. This book is a revelation. More than a trip down memory lane, I found that it reminded me of how we came to be. I enjoyed every line.
Rahul Mehta, author of Quarantine:
Some titles that leap to mind: Anne Ishii’s The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame: Master of Gay Erotic Manga; Manil Suri’s The City of Devi, the third book in his brilliant trilogy; and Benjamin Alire Saenz’s Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club. Finally, I have not yet read Allan Gurganus’s Local Souls because I’m saving it for winter break when I’ll have time to savor it. But Gurganus’s work is part of what inspired me to become a writer in the first place, so I consider any year he has a new book out a blessing.
Rena, founder of Sistahs on the Shelf:
Authors Skyy and Ericka K. F. Simpson didn’t disappoint with their releases in 2013. Skyy’s Full Circle was the fitting end of a beloved series that began with three best friends – Denise, Cooley, and Carmen – at Freedom University, and finalizes the family they've made. The three previous books – Choices, Consequences and Crossroads – set itself up for the enjoyable back-and-forth and realistic development these characters experienced in Full Circle. Just as intense is Simpson’s protagonist Symone Holmes in I Am Your Sister 2, who undergoes painful flashbacks of parental disownment while achieving her dream as a WNBA player. Her growing pains from the previous novel to this sequel are testaments to Simpson’s talent, tying religion, sports, sexuality and love.
Richard Kramer, author of These Things Happen:
Leonard Bernstein was the culture god/stud of my 50’s/60’s suburban Jewish household. So brilliant! So handsome! So romantic! Now his letters have been published – real letters, that he sat down to write—and he comes across as someone you wish you knew, envying his lifelong correspondents Aaron Copland, Betty Comden, Adolph Green, his wife Felicia, Stephen Sondheim … on and on, as tireless and inspired in his letter-writing as he was in life, burning the candle at all three ends as he wrestled with his music, his sexuality, and his almost laughably abundant gifts. Wagnerian (adj.) I’ve always used the word as a signifier for fat women or florid theatrical craziness, never bothering to determine its actual meaning. Matthew Gallaway's The Metropolis Case changed that. It’s an erudite page turner, about the love of men, music, Manhattan, which are all things I love, too. It's also about the transcendence of time, the yielding of reason to ecstasy, the sublime combination of the elements of a work of art that can only be described as -- Wagnerian. I love this book for its fearless storytelling, its glorious writing, its vision of a kind of life that I long for and have only glimpsed.
Rick Whitaker, author of An Honest Ghost:
Hilton Als has the talent I admire above all others in a writer: unpredictability. Here’s a single sentence from near the end of White Girls [Kindle], his first book in fifteen years: “Not remembering, or misremembering one’s childhood is a way of allowing oneself the notion that the past does not exist, that it was not lived through in quite that way, that somehow it did not make one different than the rest, as in, I was the one in hellish bliss wearing my mother’s garters behind the closed door, not being a boy; or, I was in my childhood bed with her and our legs were entwined and young ladies are supposed to keep their legs away from one another, and closed, and so forth.”
Rupert Smith, author of Man's World:
My reading has been severely curtailed this year because I became a father, but I did manage to read The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. I've had problems with James ever since being forced to read him at college, but at last it clicked. I know James's sexuality is a muddy issue, but I'm convinced that only a gay man could have written this particular masterpiece. For the rest, it's mostly children's books. The outstanding discovery is The Family Book by Todd Parr, a beautiful, simple illustrated volume which helps children understand that men, women, couples, singles, whatever, can make up a family as long as there's love.
Sandy Leonard, writer/photographer at Sandy Leonard Snaps:
Another year of memorable reading, most of it biography and memoir, most of it not specifically queer (Picasso, Muhammad, Whitey Bulger.) For balance, this very queer threesome: the sadly alcoholic Farther and Wilder: The Lost Weekends and Literary Dreams of Charles Jackson by Blake Bailey; Mikey Walsh’s Gypsy Boy on the Run: My Escape from a Life Among the Romany Gypsies, and Alysia Abbott's superbly nuanced Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father. Of the few LGBT novels to remain with me from 2013, a welcome pair from reliable favorites: David Leavitt's glittering, mysterious The Two Hotel Francforts [Kindle] set in pre-WWII Lisbon, and masterful Jeanette Winterson's grimy witchfest, The Daylight Gate.
Sarah Schulman, author of The Gentrification of the Mind:
I am having a crazy year, and most of the books I read were in drafts, or not yet finished. Even the titles are unknown. I read exciting unfinished manuscripts by Julia Creet, by bh Yael, by Farzana Doctor, by Emily Stern, and a galley of Rabih Alameddine's gorgeous new novel An Unnecessary Woman. But the book I most look forward to doesn't exist, it's the proceedings of the Homonationalism and Pinkwashing Conference, edited by Velina Manolova and Chris Eng hopefully to be published by Social Text. The book I wish someone would write is an analysis of the campaign to free John Greyson and Tarek Loubani from jail in Cairo, explaining why it was NOT the Canadian government but rather a complex, and highly strategized grassroots movement whose innovative and disciplined structure and methods could be helpful to other people in serious trouble. The book I am looking for is a collection of Anna Akhmatova's lesbian poems. If anyone knows even a line written from that part of her life, please send it to me. And the book party at which I will drink the most champagne is James Baldwin and The Queer Imagination by Matt Brim.
Sassafras Lowrey, author of Roving Pack:
Maranda Elizabeth’s debut novel Ragdoll House is my top book pick for 2013. The novel by this celebrated zinester turned novelist is tender and gritty. Within Ragdoll House’s pages we follow Ruby, a sometimes-writer and Maria a femme dyke haunted by her past. We watch as these girls negotiate loss, what it means to be queer in a small town, the dream of escape, survival, and sharing an apartment that like any good punk house has a long history of providing refuge for the lost, and lonely. Ragdoll House is more than a coming of age novel, it’s about the confusing, and sometimes painful journey of coming into yourself.
Scott Herring, author of Another Country: Queer Anti-Urbanism:
Stephen Grosz, The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves. At first glance, this book--written by a practicing psychoanalyst and ending with a tale of his four-year-old son--would seen to have little to do with LGBTQ concerns. But Grosz's wise retellings of sessions with his clients circle around themes that our communities have long mulled over: desire, loss, how to stay and when to leave a relationship, how to connect and disconnect with strangers. It then unexpectedly shatters you with one of the most moving accounts of treating HIV that I have ever read. It reminded me of Paul Monette's 1988 Love Alone: Eighteen Elegies for Rog and for that I am grateful.
Sean Strub, author of Body Counts: A Memoir of Politics, Sex, AIDS, and Survival:
Tim Teeman gets to the essence of Gore Vidal's discomfort with a homosexual identity when he surmises that, to Gore, gay meant weak, an attribute abhorrent to the power-defined society in which Vidal was raised in post WWII Washington. He seemed not to care who knew he had sex with men, as evidenced by The City and the Pillar, which he wrote in 1946, when he was 21 and his unusual, for his generation and milieu, life-long frankness about his sexual interest in men. But one didn't dare call him a homosexual, unless prepared for the furious wrath of a towering intellect and acerbic wit who rejected sexual identities. The rise of a gay identity in the second half of the 20th century coincided with the rise of identity politics in general, another phenomenon Vidal despised, perhaps because he ultimately saw that, too, as a weakness. Teeman's meticulous research and engaging writing style pays off; In Bed with Gore Vidal is a great read.
Sebastian Stuart, author of The Hour Between:
Fairyland by Alysia Abbott. I loved this book. Abbott's mother was killed when she was two, and she and her father moved to San Francisco, where he came out and became a poet of some renown. It's a fascinating, entertaining portrait of SF's vibrant gay and cultural scenes in the 1970s. It's also amazing on parenting, AIDS, and loss -- the last three paragraphs are deeply moving and left me in tears.
Stephen McCauley, author of Insignificant Others:
Hawkweed and Indian Paintbrush by Jonathan Strong. A quiet novel about a man who becomes infatuated with his lesbian neighbor. Strong's precise and uncluttered sentences are spellbinding, and I love impossible love stories. We Think the World of You by J.R. Ackerley. A model of restraint and economy. Ackerley didn't publish many books, and I'm not sure why I hadn't read this one. (I saw the movie?) It's funny, heartbreaking, and brilliant, and of course has a wonderful canine character. Necessary Errors [Kindle] by Caleb Crain. Personal and political liberation(s) converge in '90's Prague. Sometimes you just want a long, richly observed novel.
Stephen Mills, author of He Do the Gay Man in Different Voices:
D. Gilson’s Brit Lit contains eighteen fascinating poems about the pop star Britney Spears. The poems range in subject, tone, and imagination with such titles as “Britney Spears Watches CNN,” “ Britney Spears Must Die,” and “From rehab, Britney reads Ariel and dreams of Sylvia Plath at the Stonewall Inn.” If you can’t tell from those titles, the book is playful and funny, yet gets at the heart of our connection to celebrities and what they represent to us as queer people. This was one of my favorite reads of the year.
Stephen Motika, author of Western Practice:
Doris Grumbach's first two memoirs, Coming into the End Zone (1991) and Extra Innings (1993), were revelations. Comprised of her journals, these books follow her from Washington DC to coastal Maine, where she and her life partner moved in 1990. I love the radical non-linearity of these two titles; these books are necessarily episodic, aphoristic, and epiphanic. Tough as nails, Grumbach proves a memorable critic, not just of books, but also of social and political life. Grumbach's views on gender and sexuality reveal the complexities and contradictions of a queer life spanning nearly a century. Although she's obsessed with her own mortality in these books, she's still alive today, at age 95.
Tom Cardamone, author of Green Thumb:
David McConnell’s American Honor Killings is a gutsy, searing foray into the murder of gay men. I make sure to read at least one biography of a writer every year, and David Sweetman’s book on Mary Renault was a perfect find, illuminating how talent matures. Proof of this is found in Edmund White’s 2008 historical novel, Hotel de Dream, about dying novelist Stephen Crane’s rush to complete a book about a gay male prostitute he met in New York City. White’s writing here is a surprise of poetic economy, and makes for a damned good read.
Trebor Healey, author of A Horse Named Sorrow:
Encounters With Authors: Essays on Scott Symons, Robin Hardy, Norman Elder by Ian Young. This is a smart and revealing book about 3 lesser known gay writers, who led fascinating lives that Young describes in prose that is humorous, luminous and full of the breadth and scope that only a man such as Young, who has lived through and chronicled the gay movement since the 60s, can evoke. I also found Young's The Stonewall Experiment compelling as a sobering and well-documented history of the juggernaut of the gay movement after Stonewall as it moved away from gay lib and toward a more commercial hedonism. Kevin Killian's Spreadeagle has to be one of the best SF novels I've read, complete with hustling art students, well-heeled nonprofit movers and shakers, the ghost of the great short story writer Sam D'Allesandro and a harrowing dive into meth and the central valley that only Killian can make funny.
Tripp Evans, author of Grant Wood: A Life:
American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love, and Politics by Dan Savage. I'm a longtime fan of Savage's columns and his (increasing) appearances as a pundit, so I'd eagerly awaited this collection of essays. Savage is terrific company -- an engaging and intelligent writer, a fierce (and often hilarious) advocate for LGBT equality, and a man who really does his homework... often going deep into enemy territory. His arguments are always compelling, even in cases where I may not agree with him, and it's refreshing to see him covering ground beyond the sex-advice-expertise for which he's best known (the ethics of health care, for example, or the role of faith in families). A great collection, one I've returned to more than once.
Trish Bendix, managing editor of After Ellen:
Nicole Georges’ Calling Dr. Laura was my favorite graphic novel, a beautifully-drawn and told story of the writer/illustrator's figuring out of who she was through trying to find her father and come out to her mother. Susan Choi's My Education was a tragic yet delicious twist on the oft-used "teacher/student" relationship, and I also loved Ali Liebegott's Cha-Ching![Kindle] for the familiar style I've come to love from her work. It's still so rare to read a novel from the point of view of a butch woman moving around the world. And I have to say that Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways was the queerest band biography I've ever read. Evelyn McDonnell told the full truth of the all-girl band, delivering an honest portrait of the young women involved had a lot to do with their sexualities and how they decided to show (or hide) them from the public. Lastly, I finally read Sarah Schulman's After Delores once it was reprinted, and the New York-based lesbian break-up tale felt as revolutionary in fiction today as it likely was when it was first published in 1988.
Will Schwalbe, author of The End of Your Life Book Club:
My favorite LGBT book published in 2013 is Clay by David Groff. This slender volume of poems is relentless, romantic, brutal, nostalgic, painful, hot, surprising, and incredibly moving. The past and presence of HIV and AIDS run through this very contemporary collection. I'm lucky enough to be friends with David and with Clay, the subject of many of the poems. But the appeal of this book goes way beyond the personal. This is a book for right now that I believe last the test of time.
William Benemann, author of Men in Eden: William Drummond Stewart and Same-Sex Desire in the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade:
Re-Dressing America's Frontier Past by Peter Boag is a deeply researched look at the phenomenon of crossdressing on the American frontier. He acknowledges both the diversity and the complexity of the issue, and looks for no easy answer to the question of why some women dressed as men, and some men dressed as women. Boag’s careful analysis of the surviving documentation parses the issues of sexual orientation and gender identity while leaving open the possibility that we may never know the full story. His handling of the myth of the frontier and its role in the development of gender identity is particularly skillful.