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I will never forget the first time I read a book that was about people like me. I was 20 years old, an English major living in studio apartment on the second floor of what I liked to imagine was once the ballroom of a coal baron’s river side mansion in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. The bathtub was green, the door knobs were chipped crystal, and the carpet was disgusting.
Amazon.com was only a couple years old then, a new river of books ready to flood industrial Wilkes-Barre or anywhere else. I could finally read about men like me somewhere besides the HIV and AIDS headlines in my student subscription to the New York Times or the club listings in the back of The Village Voice.
I ordered David Leavitt’s The Lost Language of Cranes and collection of short stories about gay men. I must have judged that book by it’s cover: I remember a lean yellow cover with a black and white photo of college men rowing with thick deckle edge pages. I waited for these books to arrive. I longed for them. I worried they wouldn’t fit in my tiny, broken mailbox. Would I be outed by something on the outside of the box, or what if the box opened in transit?
The books arrived discreetly. My life changed instantly. Suddenly, I was holding the stories of other people like me. (Note: This was 1997: the year before the world gave us Google and Will and Grace). I laid in my single bed by the window and read every word of both books. I seems strange now that I don’t remember plots or characters from either of these books. What I remember is a deep sense of relief. A sense of being known.
Fast forward: I graduated college, moved to Brooklyn, started stalking bookstores in the West Village, and joined a grouchy stubborn Gay Men’s Book Club where I was the youngest and least well read member.