By Richard Labonte
Despite the disappearing act of Haworth’s lesbian and gay imprints, the dissolution of Carroll & Graf’s ambitious queer catalog, and the financial impact on smaller gay and lesbian presses of distributor PGW’s bankruptcy, all in 2007, there’s still a lot of vibrancy in queer publishing; here are the books Book Marks liked best this year – in alphabetical order.
Top 10 Fiction Titles:
“Biting the Apple,” by Lucy Jane Bledsoe (Carroll & Graf, $14.99).
Bledsoe’s sleek fourth novel, packed with complex female characters (a former golden-girl athlete turned charismatic motivational speaker front and center) is an intelligent, introspective, and smartly sarcastic story about the shackles of the past, the pressures of a present built on falsehoods, and the promise of reinvention and renewal in the future.
“Call Me By Your Name,” by Andre Aciman (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $23)
Egyptian-born author Aciman’s assured debut novel is an elegant, delicate account of the romance between a young scholar and the 17-year-old son of the professor in whose home he spends an emotionally intense Italian summer; the best of the best of the year.
“Dahlia Season,” by Myriam Gurba (Manic D Press, $14.95).
Desiree Garcia, star of this collection’s novella-length title tale, is an endearingly weird 15-year-old Chicana dyke nimbly balancing an academic home life, a yen for punk-goth adventure, and an undiagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder – and, through Gurba’s sharp prose, she’s representative of 21st-century queer heroines in immigrant-nation America.
“Fellow Travelers,” by Thomas Mallon (Pantheon, $25).
Mallon’s account of closeted trysts and fumbled love in the midst of McCarthy-era homophobic hysteria, and his evocative depiction of crass, backstabbing Washington politics, fictionalizes an important slice of factual gay history with poignant fictional clarity.
“First Person Plural,” by Andrew W. M. Beierle (Kensington Books, $15 paper).
This wholly original exploration of the profound intricacies of human anatomy and human love is about twin brothers, one an athletic extrovert and straight, the other an intellectual introvert and gay. They’re as emotionally different as brothers can be, though conjoined – born with two distinct (and incredibly handsome) heads atop one shared (and eye-fetchingly well-built) body.
“Hotel de Dream,” by Edmund White (Ecco Press, $23.95).
With the self-reflective story collection “Chaos,” and with this fantasia about a novel Stephen Crane might have written – about a street hustler in turn-of-the-century New York – White demonstrated this year why he’s still a top-ranked writer.
“Hotel Theory,” by Wayne Koestenbaum (Soft Skull Press, $16).
Down the left of the page: a lighthearted yet insightful dissertation on the philosophical import of hotels; down the right, a short story about Lana Turner and Liberace finding refuge in a 1940s-yet-timeless Hollywood hotel. It’s a mind-bending but rewarding challenge, spun from an engaging author’s enigmatic and provocative queer mind.
“My Side of the Story,” by Will Davis (Bloomsbury, $14.95).
Davis’ hilarious novel about a rebelliously precocious 16-year-old gay British boy’s tempestuous family life and fumbling sexual entanglements puts a welcome new spin on the coming-out genre; it’s a wiseass pleasure from an author still in his 20s.
“Now, Voyager: The Night Sea Journey: Some Divisions of the Saga of Mawrdew Czgowchwz, Oltrano, Authenticated by Persons Represented Therein, Book One,” by James McCourt (Turtle Point Press, $17.95).
In a book as daunting as its title, McCourt dazzles with kaleidoscopic wordplay, re-imagining the gay cultural landscape of 1950s New York, the world of opera, and the charms of the notorious Everard bathhouse, all with crackling wit, campy style, and irresistible literary excess.
“Userlands: New Fiction Writers from the Blogging Underground,” edited by Dennis Cooper (Little House on the Bowery, $16.95).
Two years after novelist Dennis Cooper set up a personal blog, he invited an eclectic community of its readers to send him their stories; this artistically dramatic anthology of 41 mostly young and mostly unknown writers (though several are destined to make literary waves) is the invigorating result.
Top 10 Nonfiction Titles:
“All: A James Broughton Reader,” edited by Jack Foley (White Crane Books, $18).
James Broughton was a poet, filmmaker, and all-around faerie for whom effervescent joy was a way of life. This rich sampler, smartly compiled with a caring touch, is a delicious introduction to the words of a shaman whose life, as much as his art, celebrated the necessity – and the fun – of love.
“Butch Is a Noun,” by S. Bear Bergman (Suspect Thoughts Press, $16.95 paper).
This sassy essay collection is savvy about the theory of being a butch – about the physicality and the psychology of moving through a world normally divided into this-is-a-boy and this-is-a-girl certainties, a book that “opens up a space for a gender that is not man or woman.”
“Dog Years,” by Mark Doty (HarperCollins, $23.95).
Got a dog in your life? Be prepared to grin with recognition and to weep in sympathy while reading Doty’s heartbreakingly lyrical and intensely joyous celebration of the bonds between mutts and men.
“Fish: A Memoir of a Boy in a Man’s Prison,” by T.J. Parsell (Carroll & Graf, $24.95).
Fantasies about prison rape are a staple of gay porn. This is the real thing: the memoir of a 17-year-old white boy’s journey through America’s sexually predatory prison system. Turns out those fictional scenarios aren’t all that implausible – though they lack the layers of emotional terror this very personal account delivers.
“Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys: True Tales of Love, Lust, and Friendship Between Straight Women and Gay Men,” edited by Melissa de la Cruz and Tom Dolby (Dutton Books, $24.95).
Thirteen women who adore queers, and 15 queers who (almost always) adore the women who adore them, write with engaging depth and much humor about the instinctive, emotional, and sometimes sexual bonds between straight women and gay men.
“The Grand Surprise: The Journals of Leo Lerman,” edited by Stephen Pascal (Alfred A. Knopf, $37.50).
For more than 50 years, magazine editor and man-about-Manhattan Leo Lerman collected notable boldface names the way some people collect colorful butterflies. This biography about the glitter and glam – and about his own gay life – offers irresistible anecdotal bonbons about New York’s cultural demimonde.
“Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics,” by Jennifer Baumgardner (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $24).
The sexually personal and the culturally sexual are beguiling bedfellows in this thoughtful blend of pop-culture consideration and heart-on-her-sleeve memoir. Baumgardner’s thesis is straightforward: bisexuality is an honest self-definition rather than a not-yet-lesbian, not-yet-gay equivocation.
“Mississippi Sissy,” by Kevin Sessums (St. Martin’s Press, 320 pages, $24.95 hardcover).
Sessums was butch enough to play football with some talent in 1960s Mississippi, but he preferred dressing up as actress Arlene Francis. This account of growing up a Southern sissy – mentored by a circle of older gay men, and nurtured by writer Eudora Welty – is warm and rewarding.
“Other Men’s Sons,” by Michael Rowe (Cormorant Books, $18).
There is much to praise in this collection of celebrity interviews, culture criticism, and personal essays, most notably wordsmith Rowe’s account of how he and his husband took a young straight man – another man’s son – under their wings.
“Voices Rising: Celebrating 20 Years of Black Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Writing,” edited by G. Winston James and Other Countries (RedBone Press, $25).
This collection of 100-plus contributions, fiction and nonfiction from 60-plus writers, is a rich and hefty reader, and a generous testament to black literary accomplishment – a hymn to the power of words to build community, express emotion, realize dreams, and explore the complexities of identity.
Top 10 lists are always subjective, and never easy to compile. Here are 10 more personal fiction favorites that, on another day, could have made the cut: Armistead Maupin’s sort-of “Tales of the City” sequel, “Michael Tolliver Lives”; Peter Cameron’s accomplished coming-of-age, coming-out, young adult novel, “Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You”; Perry Moore’s queer superkid young adult tale, “Hero”; Nicola Griffith’s slam-bang mystery, “Always”; Lu Vickers’ authentic Southern coming-out novel, “Breathing Underwater”; Sheri Joseph’s gay-straight love triangle, “Stray”; Monica Nolan’s charming pastiche of ’50s-era lesbian pulp novels, “Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary”; Ali Liebegott’s perky story about self-discovery, “The IHOP Papers”; Timothy James Beck’s complex and comic fifth book, also about self-discovery, “When You Don’t See Me”; and Jay Quinn’s exploration of the uneasy intersection of straight and gay lives, “The Good Neighbor.”
Three authors from Book Marks’ “bests” for 2007 are singled out in “Out” magazine’s annual list of 100 eminent queers: Edmund White, who is hailed as a “colossus of gay fiction”; Kevin Sessums, heralded for his “beautifully written memoir”; and Thomas Mallon, dubbed “keeper of the records” for his historical fiction. Among other literary personages highlighted in the December-January issue: Hyperion editor-in-chief Will Schwalbe; novelist Eliot Schrefer (“Glamorous Disasters,” “The New Kid”); former “drug-fueled” club kid James St. James, author of the true-crime account “Disco Bloodbath” and, this year, of the young-adult story, “Freak Show”; Kim Powers, for this year’s novel, “Capote in August,” and last year’s memoir, “The History of Swimming”; and – the only woman on the literary component of the list – Lori Sonderlind, whose “Chasing Montana” was a standout memoir last year. Gay celebs better known for their un-literary accomplishments – though they’ve written books as well – are preacher Mel White (“Religion Gone Bad” and “Stranger at the Gate”), profiled with his son, the actor, screenwriter, and director Mike White (“Chuck & Buck” and “The Year of the Dog”); former NBA basketball player John Amaechi (the memoir “Man in the Middle”); singer Marc Almond (two memoirs, “Tainted Love” and “In Search of the Pleasure Palace: Disreputable Travels”); and director John Waters (“Crackpot” and “Shock Value”).