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The Inside Reader: Lee Bantle

Show me the books he loves and I shall know the man far better than through mortal friends - Silas Weir Mitchell
Last year one of the books that had more word of mouth in my friends circle was David Inside Out by Lee Bantle, and I would have probably already read it if not for the fact that, when I found it at Giovanni's Room, last September, I had too many luggage and too little space and it was my last day in the US... but this book is steadily climbing my Top 100 Gay Novels list and so I think it will end in my next book hunting session. In the meantime I hope you will enjoy Lee Bantle's list, where I found some "old" friends, but also interesting new suggestions.

My Top Ten Favorite LGBT Books of All Time By Lee Bantle

Elisa – Thanks for the opportunity to go public with my ten best list. As a YA novelist, books for teens hold a special place in my heart and are well represented on the list below.


1) ANNIE ON MY MIND by Nancy Garden. This is a must read! If you want literature, if you want great writing, this book is for you. And if you’re a girl who thinks you might like other girls, this compelling love story will resonate. I aspire to write like Nancy Garden. She is lyrical and this novel is beautifully realized. Winner of many awards. Deservedly so.

Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR); 1st edition (February 20, 2007)
Publisher Link: http://us.macmillan.com/annieonmymind
ISBN-10: 0374400113
ISBN-13: 978-0374400118
Amazon: Annie on My Mind

This groundbreaking book, first published in 1982, is the story of two teenage girls whose friendship blossoms into love and who, despite pressures from family and school that threaten their relationship, promise to be true to each other and their feelings. Of the author and the book, the Margaret A. Edwards Award committee said, “Nancy Garden has the distinction of being the first author for young adults to create a lesbian love story with a positive ending. Using a fluid, readable style, Garden opens a window through which readers can find courage to be true to themselves.” The 25th Anniversary Edition features a full-length interview with the author by Kathleen T. Horning, Director of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center. Ms. Garden answers such revealing questions as how she knew she was gay, why she wrote the book, censorship, and the book’s impact on readers – then and now.

2) REFLECTIONS OF A ROCK LOBSTER by Aaron Fricke. This book has faded and deserves revival. Nonfiction. Aaron took a boy to his prom. In 1980! Way before people were doing that. And then wrote the story. What guts! A pioneer. Fulfilling and historic, this memoir is another must read.

Paperback: 124 pages
Publisher: Alyson Books (March 1, 2000)
ISBN-10: 1555836070
ISBN-13: 978-1555836078
Amazon: Reflections of a Rock Lobster: A Story about Growing Up Gay

Reflections of a Rock Lobster has been widely praised as the best book ever written about growing up gay. It will be valuable for young people who are just beginning to understand their own and other people's sexuality, and for adults who work with teenagers and who need to know more about the 10% of the population that is gay.

3) GIOVANNI’S ROOM by James Baldwin. Baldwin is a brilliant, intuitive writer and this is a classic. Bear in mind though that it was written in the 1950's and that being “homosexual” was far from accepted. That said, Baldwin broke new ground by taking on this theme and exploring erotic love between men.

Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Delta (June 13, 2000)
ISBN-10: 0385334583
ISBN-13: 978-0385334587
Amazon: Giovanni's Room

Set in the 1950s Paris of American expatriates, liaisons, and violence, a young man finds himself caught between desire and conventional morality. With a sharp, probing imagination, James Baldwin's now-classic narrative delves into the mystery of loving and creates a moving, highly controversial story of death and passion that reveals the unspoken complexities of the human heart.

4) BOYS LIKE US – A Collection edited by Patrick Merla. This compelling collection of coming out stories from gifted gay writers is evocative, moving, and marvelously entertaining. Edmund White, Andrew Holleran, Brad Gooch. There is nothing more revealing than a gay man’s exposition of this coming out experience. Don’t miss the astounding entry by Alan Gurangus.

Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks (October 1, 1997)
Publisher Link: http://www.harpercollins.com/books/Boys-Like-Us-Patrick-Merla?isbn=9780380788354&HCHP=TB_Boys+Like+Us
ISBN-10: 0380788357
ISBN-13: 978-0380788354
Amazon: Boys Like Us

In stunning essays written especially for this collection, twenty-nine noted gay writers recount their true "coming out" stories, intensely personal histories of that primal process by which men come to terms with their desire for other men. Here are accounts of revealing one's sexual identity to parents, siblings, friends, co-workers and, in one notable instance, to a stockbroker. Men tell of their first sexual encounters from their preteens to their thirties, with childhood friends who rejected or tenderly embraced them, with professors, with neighbors, with a Broadway star. These are poignant, sometimes unexpectedly funny tales of romance and heartbreak, repression and liberation, rape and first love defining moments that shaped their authors' lives. Arranged chronologically from Manhattan in the Forties to San Francisco in the Nineties, these essays ultimately form a documentary of changing social and sexual mores in the United States--a literary, biographical, sociological and historical tour de force.

5) BORROWED TIME by Paul Monette. This harrowing tale of the last 19 AIDS-wracked months of Monette’s lover is not for the faint of heart. I remember being overcome with despair as Monette’s powerful love and practical intervention are not enough to save the man who means more to him than life itself. Heartbreaking. An important historical document of the calamitous 1980’s.

Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Mariner Books (June 1, 1998)
Publisher Link: http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/catalog/titledetail.cfm?titleNumber=1182773&searchString=0156005816
ISBN-10: 0156005816
ISBN-13: 978-0156005814
Amazon: Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir

This "tender and lyrical" memoir (New York Times Book Review) remains one of the most compelling documents of the AIDS era-"searing, shattering, ultimately hope inspiring account of a great love story" (San Francisco Examiner). A National Book Critics Circle Award finalist and the winner of the PEN Center West literary award.

6) DANCE ON MY GRAVE by Aidan Chambers. “If I die first you dance on my grave,” the young hero tells his new BF. This request gives life to a coming of age love story which is delightful and quirky. Adolescent love is captured in all its awkward, passionate glory. Written in 1982, this one has stood the test of time.

Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Amulet Books; 1 edition (October 1, 2008)
Publisher Link: http://www.abramsbooks.com/Books/Dance_on_My_Grave-9780810972612.html
ISBN-10: 0810972611
ISBN-13: 978-0810972612
Amazon: Dance on My Grave

In this revelatory, groundbreaking novel, the love of sixteen-year-old Hal Robinson for self-confident Barry Gorman is revealed through Hal’s own observations, press clippings, and the scattered notes of a social worker. These various perspectives contribute to an extraordinarily sensitive portrait of the intensity of first love. The Horn Book writes, “The author is marvelously gifted at suggesting the ecstasy and insecurity that accompany new love—including its emotional and physical, social and spiritual aspects. A major strength of the book, the central conflict hinges not on the lovers being gay, but on their having two idiosyncratic and contradictory personalities.”

7) THE BITTERWEED PATH by Thomas Hal Phillips. Few have heard of this tender tale of love between two Southern boys first published in 1950. Take this one home, unplug the phone and computer and let yourself be transported to another world. Literary and brave, this book told the truth about male love long before Stonewall.

Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (May 22, 1996)
Publisher Link: http://uncpress.unc.edu/browse/book_detail?title_id=68
ISBN-10: 0807845957
ISBN-13: 978-0807845950
Amazon: The Bitterweed Path: A Rediscovered Novel

This long out-of-print and newly rediscovered novel tells the story of two boys growing up in the cotton country of Mississippi a generation after the Civil War. Originally published in 1950, the novel's unique contribution lies in its subtle engagement of homosexuality and cross-class love. In The Bitterweed Path, Thomas Hal Phillips vividly recreates rural Mississippi at the turn of the century. In elegant prose, he draws on the Old Testament story of David and Jonathan and writes of the friendship and love between two boys--one a sharecropper's son and the other the son of the landlord--and the complications that arise when the father of one of the boys falls in love with his son's friend. Part of a very small body of gay literature of the period, The Bitterweed Path does not sensationalize homosexual love but instead portrays sexuality as a continuum of human behavior. The result is a book that challenges many assumptions about gay representation in the first half of the twentieth century.

8) MAURICE by E.M. Forster. Forster is, of course, one of our literary lions. This tale of love between men was written deep in the past and, at the author’s request, published posthumously. So no punches were pulled. Taking on the class structure as well as societal disdain for gay love, there is no question what desires lay deep in Forster’s eloquent heart.

Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (December 17, 2005)
Publisher Link: http://books.wwnorton.com/books/detail.aspx?ID=12811
ISBN-10: 0393310329
ISBN-13: 978-0393310320
Amazon: Maurice: A Novel

Set in the elegant Edwardian world of Cambridge undergraduate life, this story by a master novelist introduces us to Maurice Hall when he is fourteen. We follow him through public school and Cambridge, and on into his father's firm, Hill and Hall, Stock Brokers. In a highly structured society, Maurice is a conventional young man in almost every way, "stepping into the niche that England had prepared for him": except that his is homosexual. Written during 1913 and 1914, immediately after Howards End, and not published until 1971, Maurice was ahead of its time in its theme and in its affirmation that love between men can be happy. "Happiness," Forster wrote, "is its keynote. In Maurice I tried to create a character who was completely unlike myself or what I supposed myself to be: someone handsome, healthy, bodily attractive, mentally torpid, not a bad businessman and rather a snob. Into this mixture I dropped an ingredient that puzzles him, wakes him up, torments him and finally saves him.”

9) TALE OF TWO SUMMERS by Brian Sloan. A delicious summer read. This book keeps you hooked. Hilarious, sexy and surprising, it’s the story of two friends — Hal and Chuck (one straight and one gay) — apart for the summer, who keep in intimate contact through a blog. Hal’s tales with Henri (the French bad boy) will leave you panting for more.

Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing (May 23, 2006)
Publisher Link: http://books.simonandschuster.com/Tale-of-Two-Summers/Brian-Sloan/9780689874390
ISBN-10: 0689874391
ISBN-13: 978-0689874390
Amazon: Tale of Two Summers

You are in L-O-V-E. Notice how I have no hesitation spelling it. At all. Reason? That was just the wildest entry you've posted! Ever....You are so seeing the world through the eyes of L-O-V-E. A ten-year best friendship is put to the test when Chuck and Hal spend their first summer apart falling for two questionable mates: a sexy Saudi songstress and a smokin' hot French punk. As Chuck heads off to summer theater camp and Hal stays in their hometown, learning how to drive, they keep in touch via blogging, reporting to each other about their suddenly separate lives and often ridiculous romantic entanglements. As both their relationships take some unexpected turns, Hal and Chuck struggle to come to terms with their growing differences while trying to keep their friendship alive.

10) WEETZIE BAT by Francesca Lia Block. Magical realism comes to gay LA. Anything by Block is a quick, fun, uplifting read. She gets it. There is depth. The perfect book for one of those sleepovers when you never go to sleep.

Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: HarperTeen; 10 Anv edition (July 6, 2004)
Publisher Link: http://www.harperteen.com/books/Weetzie-Bat-Francesca-Lia-Block/?isbn=9780060736255
ISBN-10: 0060736259
ISBN-13: 978-0060736255
Amazon: Weetzie Bat

Fifteen years ago Francesca Lia Block made a dazzling entrance into the literary scene with what would become one of the most talked-about books of the decade: Weetzie Bat. This poetic roller coaster swoop has a sleek new design to match its new sister and brother books, Goat Girls and Beautiful Boys. Rediscover the magic of Weetzie Bat, Ms. Blocks sophisticated, slinkster-cool love song to L.A.the book that shattered the standard, captivated readers of all generations, and made Francesca Lia Block one of the most heralded authors of the last decade.

About Lee Bantle: I live in Park Slope, Brooklyn in a sunny apartment where I do my writing. I set David Inside Out in Minneapolis, Minnesota where I grew up and went to college.

In addition to being a writer, I am a lawyer who represents employees in race, gender, disability and sexual orientation discrimination lawsuits. My law firm, Bantle & Levy LLP, is located in Greenwich Village.

I got my B.A. degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota and my law degree from New York University.

David Inside Out is based in part on my experiences growing up gay in Minnesota before the age of Gay/Straight Alliances, television shows like Will & Grace, and books like the one I have written. My goal in writing this book was to capture the evolving dynamics in play today while giving voice to the complicated feelings that still accompany coming to terms with one's sexual identity. I wrote the book for gay teens who are struggling with their sexual identity, but also for the girls who may date and fall in love with these guys. I also hoped to tell a good coming of age story that would appeal to everyone, no matter what their sexual orientation.

I did lots of research for David Inside Out in addition to drawing on personal experience. Among other things, I read a book of teen essays called One Teenager in Ten, attended a meeting of the Gay/Straight Alliance at Westport High School in Connecticut, and interviewed many gay and lesbian people, both adults and teenagers. In the book One Teenager in Ten, one of the boys wrote about how he read men's magazines (Road and Track, Hunter's World) to try to make himself straight. I thought this was both funny and poignant and used the idea for my main character. This is an example of dramatic irony - the reader knows that the plan is not going to work, but David does not know that.

My prior middle grade novel, Diving for the Moon, was about a 12-year-old hemophiliac boy who become HIV-positive.

More information about my law firm can be found at the firm website:

civilrightsfirm.com

David Inside Out by Lee Bantle
Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 192 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR); 1 edition (May 12, 2009)
Publisher Link: http://us.macmillan.com/davidinsideout
ISBN-10: 0805081224
ISBN-13: 978-0805081220
Amazon: David Inside Out

David Dahlgren, a high-school senior, finds solace in running with the track team; he’s a fast runner, and he enjoys the camaraderie. But team events become a source of tension when he develops a crush on one of his teammates, Sean. Scared to admit his feelings, David does everything he can to suppress them: he dates a girl, keeps his distance from his best friend who has become openly gay, and snaps a rubber band on his wrist every time he has “inappropriate” urges. Before long, Sean expresses the thoughts David has been trying to hide, and everything changes for the better. Or so it seems.

In this thoughtful yet searing coming-of-age novel, Lee Bantle offers a raw, honest, and incredibly compelling account of a teenager who learns to accept himself for who he is.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Aug. 13th, 2010 06:21 pm (UTC)
Love this book too, Elisa! I enjoyed reading Lee's top ten LGBT novels. I knew about half as well...must check into some of the others.

--Lauren Becker
elisa_rolle
Aug. 13th, 2010 06:37 pm (UTC)
Grazie Lauren for stopping by. Yes, also for me Lee's list helped me adding some book to my very long reading list.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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