How To Find Great Gay Books

Young Man Sunbathing Lying On A Towel In A Garden Near A Pool

Finding good gay books is hard. Too hard. Most of the gay bookstores have closed and the gay sections of Amazon and Barnes and Noble are hard to browse. There’s no one place to catch up on classic gay fiction and read reviews of new novels.

Here’s how I try to stay in the loop on the world of gay literature. I’m sure I’m missing some things – so please comment or email me if you have more ideas to share

  1. Lambda Literary is a non-profit supporting LGBTQ readers and writers. Annually they give out Lammys, the Oscars of the queer book world. The list of past Lammy winners can be a virtual bookstore of greatist hits. Lambda Literary’s new LGBTQ book reviews are a great way to stay in the loop on smaller press books that probably won’t show up in newspapers or magazines.
  2. Band Of Thebes is the best gay book blog. Whenever my reading list feels especially stalled, I can head here and find something great. The site had been on hiatus for a bit, but I’m so glad to see some new posts up lately. This The Most Anticipated LGBT Books of 2018 list is gold.
  3. Round-ups of great gay books bring new energy to your reading list. I just found this list of The Best LGBT Books of All Time from The Good Men Project.  “I wish someone had given me a list of required gay reading when I was coming out. Gay men gave me a lot of things back then (porn, theater tickets, crabs), but no one gave me book titles,” wrote Benoit Denizet-Lewis. This list of 21 Books Every Gay Man Should Read Right Now from Thought Catalog is a great round up of classics. I haven’t read them all but I do love the shout out to one of my favorites: Patti Smith’s Just Kids. There’s also this British list, this LGBTQ book timeline,
  4. Before I became a dad to a busy toddler, I had more time to leisurely read book reviews. Finding a book with a gay character mentioned in the New York Times felt like finding a goldmine – or a bitcoin. Lately I rely on Google Alerts to scan the book reviews for me. My Google Alert tracking “gay book latimes” helped me to find this review of Some Hell by Patrick Nathan. I have Google Alert searches set up to ping me gay book news from  Boston Globe, LA Times, New York Times and Entertainment Weekly.
  5. I got my introduction to gay reading through a gay book club I found via The Center here in NYC. Book clubs can be a great way to get our noses out of books and into real life. But here’s my hack: even if you can’t find time to attend the book group or don’t have a gay book group in you city or don’t feel comfortable going to the meetings, you can still read the books they are talking about. Meetup is a good spot to find some gay book clubs and see what they are up to.
  6. Ask for help finding a new read in a good independent book store. I realize not everyone feels comfortable doing this and some parts of the country don’t have independent book stores. The owners and managers of these stores try to shape their stores around what we’re reading. They also speak to publishers about the kinds of books their customers want. I believe buying gay books at independent book stores helps to make more gay books. Here’s my story of three books I found at Three Lives and Co.

Let me know what you’re reading and how you stay up to date on the best gay books.

 

 

 

 

Ugly Numbers and Cartier Rings

Screen Shot 2018-02-19 at 12.59.49 PMThe New Yorker has a tremendous personal essay this week by publishing exec Ben Loehnen.

On marrying his husband: “Once a cynic about marriage, I came to think that my ring was magic. This piece of metal, an object of no utility whatsoever, soon became my most prized possession. I loved the comfort and the aesthetic and the power of wearing it. I also came to appreciate that wearing a ring sent a signal.”

Go read it right now!

 

A great literary thriller – is it gay?

thedestroyers_bollen

I wish the protagonist in The Destroyers was gay. Sharply, strongly, sassily gay. Since the author Christopher Bollen is gay, I expected (or at least hoped) that his main character Ian Bledsoe would be too.

Ian’s sexy, smart, screwed up and strangely likable. Ian goes for girls – but has a sharp eye for the men around him too. He admires men’s muscles, watches a gay couple have sex, and eyes his best friend’s below-the-belt wardrobe malfunction, comparing his friend’s scrotum to a newborn’s head.

The novel is a beautiful escape to the Greek island of Patmos interrupted by some hot takes on New York City. This line was one of my favorites: “The only redeeming quality left in a New Yorker is their ability not to take up space.”

The book reads a bit long to me, but the reader’s patience are rewarded with reflections on “all the jobs that growing this 1.5 oz. bag of potato chip to the beach grass of a Greek island . . . ” and the hymn On Eagle’s Wings.

Bollen dedicated this book to his agent Bill Clegg. Bill Clegg’s memoir Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man is a great gay memoir.

I like that this book makes reader’s question what a queer novel is or what it might be. Is a novel about gay men written a straight man, like Call Me By Your Name, any more or less gay than a book written by a gay man about seemingly straight men?

 

Three New Gay Books, Discovered At Three Lives Books

Three-Lives-and-Co-Bookstore-1
Photo: Carly Tati

I took my birthday off to have lunch with a friend and wander the West Village. After lunch and Big Gay Ice Cream, we wandered into Three Lives and Company Bookstore.

Three Lives has the greatest LGBT sections of any bookstore. Since the store is so small – the gay book section isn’t marked, none of their sections are. But if you walk in you’ll find it toward the left near the staff stairs to the stockroom.

It seems almost rude in retrospect, but I complained to the staff that there just weren’t many good gay books out right now. I’d read so many of the books in their LGBT section. A great guy – I wish I knew his name – came over to help me.

First, I asked him about Ross Raisin’s new book A Natural that I’d read about in the New York Times. While strangely it wasn’t in their gay book section, they had it in stock. That was my first book on my birthday to buy pile. Sports books with gay main characters are rare, so this is a find. I’m was interested in how A Natural sits with the murky day to day grind of the business side of football. I am very interested in novels that show gay men at work; Adam Haslett’s Union Atlantic is my favorite.

After suggesting some books I’d already read, he recommended Sergio Y by Alexandre Vidal Porto, a Brazilian novel translated from Portuguese. This short book captures a psychologist near the end of his career and an intriguing patient. The man in Three Lives  told me to just dive into the book and trust his recommendation, without reading any of the reviews or jacket copy. And so I did. It was one of the best birthday presents I’d given myself in a while.

The last book I picked up at three lives was Insomniac City: New York, Oliver and Me by Bill Hayes. I’d thought about reading this book before, but it never reached the top of my to-read pile because I wasn’t familiar with the work of Oliver Sachs (shame on me!). I am glad Three Lives put this book in my hands because it is one of the best and most creative books I read this year. I love a downtown New York City story and this is it: quiet and carefully written with fresh observations about our city that never sleeps. I wish that perhaps the book went deeper into coming out issues and age disparity in relationships, but maybe that would have broken the mood of this memoir.

I bought my books and headed across the street to Julius’, a bar with a rich history and one of New York City’s oldest gay bars. I’m deliberately not linking to any of these books because I’m hoping you’ll be able to buy them from your own local book store or you’ll call or email Three Lives and ask them to ship these to you. I never would have read Insomniac City or Sergio Y without the recommendations from Three Lives. We need to support their business.

Congratulations, Andrew Sean Greer!

Less_novel

Andrew Sean Greer’s Less was my best beach read this summer. Buzz for this funny book is still building: the Washington Post named it a Top 10 book and the New York Times named it to their Top 100 list.

It’s sweet to see a novel by a gay men about a gay character get this kind of recognition. I agree with Ann Patchett: Less is “the book I’ve been looking for, and it seems quite possible it’s the book you’re looking for too”

Laura Bush has a lesbian grandmother — in this novel

American_WifeI’m interested in White House history so I read Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife, a lightly fictionalized account of the life of Laura Bush. The Laura Bush character in the novel has a lesbian grandmother. I read mostly novels about LGBT characters and started reading this one as a break, the sort of thing I wouldn’t normally read. And look – a queer character still popped up!

Even though the White House part of the book is the least rich in detail, I enjoyed this book far more than I thought I would. This book made me want to find a novel about a gay president. Is there one?

A heartbreaking new gay memoir

spoiler_alertLast night I started reading “Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Other Four-Letter Words” by TV Line’s Michael Ausiello. This book was recommended to me because I entirely love Bettyville, George Hodgman’s memoir about leaving gay media land Manhattan to go care for his aging mother in Missouri.

“Spoiler Alert” tells the story of Ausiello’s relationship with his late husband Kit.

Early in the book there’s a perfect description of Ausiello walking into Kit’s apartment for the first time and trying to learn more about Kit’s character through the design of his place. Pitch perfect telling of the way the gay eye scans a room. Can’t wait to keep reading.

Can’t wait for Stephen McCauley’s new novel

stephen_mccauley_gay_novel

Stephen McCauley’s new novel My Ex-Life won’t be out until May 8, 2018. It should be a great, gay beach read. He’s one of my favorites. McCauley’s books are energetic, easy reads with a pop culture bite. They are well written and shouldn’t be dismissed as light books. McCauley manage to make a deeper commentary on modern urban gay relationships. When I finish one I always want to start a new one. I rationed myself to move through his books more slowly, but now I’ve finished all of them.

While trolling the web for more information about My Ex-Life I found this old Boston Globe article. It reminded me that Stephen McCauley also wrote two novels about yoga under the pseudonym Rain Mitchell. They might have to feed my McCauley novel craving until his new book comes out in the spring.