Show me the books he loves and I shall know the man far better than through mortal friends - Silas Weir MitchellOut of the Pocket was one of the sweetest Young Adult / Coming of Age novel I read last year. Even if it's not exactly a romance, I did enjoy a lot the romantic side of this story, and for once, there was an uplifting and happy ending. And even if it's aimed to a young adult target, I think this is a novel that could appeal also to an older reader. So, I'm glad to host today Bill and his list.
Bill Konigsberg's Inside Reader List
When I started to write this list I planned to use only LGBT authors. After all, I´m a gay writer and I´ve been influenced by many other writers who identify as gay. But then I began to feel handcuffed. Omitting non-gay writers felt artificial, as if I was cutting off an important part of me. In the end, I realized that for me, gay and straight and in-between don´t matter that much. Authenticity matters. I adore reading about characters who jump off the page, who are truly alive and fully realized. That´s what I try to create with my own characters.
My 10 most influential books:
1) Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin. Reading this series when I was a teenager made me want to be a writer. I felt such loss when I finished a book, because the characters had become part of me. I internalized Michael "Mouse" Tolliver, to the point that I still sometimes talk like him. I felt Mary Ann Singleton´s angst when she felt like she couldn´t connect to others upon moving to San Francisco, and I sobbed when characters starting dying of AIDS. To this day, it is my greatest dream to create a world as richly textured and believable as the one Maupin created at 28 Barbary Lane.
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial (May 29, 2007)
Publisher Link: http://www.harpercollins.com/books/9780061358302/Tales_of_the_City/index.aspx
Amazon: Tales of the City
For more than three decades Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City has blazed its own trail through popular culture—from a groundbreaking newspaper serial to a classic novel, to a television event that entranced millions around the world. The first of six novels about the denizens of the mythic apartment house at 28 Barbary Lane, Tales is both a sparkling comedy of manners and an indelible portrait of an era that changed forever the way we live.
2) Music for Torching by A.M. Homes. I don´t think there´s a writer on this planet whose work I admire more than that of Homes, who was my teacher when I was an undergraduate at Columbia University. She´s written so many amazing novels, but this one stands out to me for its stark treatment of suburbia. Homes is a dangerous writer, it has been said, and I agree. She delves into the parts of our tranquil suburban world where no one is supposed to go. The scene where the main couple has sex while sobbing and saying things to each other like "I´m bored. I´m so bored, it´s not even funny" stands as my favorite written sex scene of all time. I like to read sex scenes I haven´t read before, and that one I definitely hadn´t read. It also spurred me to write a sex scene in my forthcoming novel "Father, Son, and Holy Buddha" which is, I promise, totally off the hook.
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial (April 4, 2000)
Publisher Link: http://www.harpercollins.com/books/9780688177621/Music_for_Torching/index.aspx
Amazon: Music for Torching
As A.M. Homes's incendiary novel unfolds, the Kodacolor hues of the good life become nearly hallucinogenic.Laying bare th foundations of a marriage, flash frozen in the anxious entropy of a suburban subdivision, Paul and Elaine spin the quit terors of family life into a fantastical frenzy that careens out of control. From a strange and hilarious encounter with a Stepford Wife neighbor to an ill-conceived plan for a tattoo, to a sexy cop who shows up at all the wrong moments, to a housecleaning team in space suits, a mistress calling on a cell phone, and a hostage situationat a school, A.M. Homes creates characters so outrageously flawed and deeply human that thery are entriely believable.
3) Eighty-Sixed by David B. Feinberg. Simply a gay classic. Savagely funny and biting, Eighty-Sixed is written with a complete lack of sentimentality, which makes it a one-of-a-kind in the AIDS literature canon. Feinberg shows us how we use humor as a defense mechanism. His protagonist, B.J. Rosenthal, is clearly based on himself, which makes it all the more amazing since it´s a brutally honest portrayal. I had a teacher tell me during college that this novel wasn´t "literary." I met Feinberg before he died, and repeated the comment to him, and was then put off when he got offended. All these years later, I truly understand. First off, it is literary. Second off, never, ever forget that an author´s book, no matter what it is, is his or her baby. Sorry about that comment, David. R.I.P.
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Grove Press (July 12, 2002)
Publisher Link: http://www.groveatlantic.com/#page=isbn9780802139023%20
"Wickedly fun . . . [Eighty-Sixed] stands out for its frankness, ferocious wit and total lack of sentimentality or self-pity. . . . A harrowing first-person account of gay life in the age of AIDS."—The New York Times Book Review
4) Sula by Toni Morrison. Is there a more interesting protagonist in our literary canon that Sula, the woman who flouts all convention and simply does what she pleases, when? I love the character development of Sula, from her reaction to hearing her mother say that sometimes she doesn´t like Sula, to the way she watched her mother burn alive "because she was interested." I love the way the pressure builds in this novel, in the prose, in the mood of the townspeople, erupting in a National Suicide Day massacre. Reflecting on what happens at the end of the novel, I really began to understand how words are important. Jokes have meaning. Morrison is in my opinion the most important living author because of her insistence in raising the questions, but not providing the answers.
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Vintage (June 8, 2004)
Publisher Link: http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9781400033430
Two girls who grow up to become women. Two friends who become something worse than enemies. In this brilliantly imagined novel, Toni Morrison tells the story of Nel Wright and Sula Peace, who meet as children in the small town of Medallion, Ohio. Their devotion is fierce enough to withstand bullies and the burden of a dreadful secret. It endures even after Nel has grown up to be a pillar of the black community and Sula has become a pariah. But their friendship ends in an unforgivable betrayal—or does it end? Terrifying, comic, ribald and tragic, Sula is a work that overflows with life.
5) The Dreyfus Affair by Peter Lefcourt. If you like boy-on-boy romance, this is a don´t miss. My novel Out of the Pocket is in some ways a take on a YA version of this great novel, which follows major league shortstop Randy Dreyfus as he figures out he´s gay, and in love with his second baseman. Searingly funny and also quite moving, The Dreyfus Affair is a perfect example of a popular novel that stays true to itself. The characters, especially Randy and his wife, Suzie, are depicted with great skill and heart. I felt their pain, even though this is at heart a comedy.
Paperback: 290 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial (April 14, 1993)
Amazon: The Dreyfus Affair
Consider the possibilities: In the middle of a pennant race, a team's star shortstop falls in love with his second baseman. Which is exactly what happens to Randy Dreyfus, the best-hitting, best-fielding, best-looking, and most happily married young shortstop in the major leagues. The Dreyfus Affair combines romance, comedy, social satire, and some of the finest baseball writing in years. The result is a rollicking, provocative odyssey through one unforgettable World Series championship.
6) Let the Dead Bury Their Dead by Randall Kenan. Tim´s Creek, North Carolina, may be fictional, but this collection of stories about the folks who live there gives the town a real pulse. My favorite thing about Kenan´s writing is his use of rhythm. In one story, an elderly teacher named Mabel is going crazy, and Kenan´s continued use of the phrase "Mabel, Mabel, Mabel" tells the reader everything we need to know about her mindset. I love the story about the woman who meets her dead grandson´s lover and struggles to come to terms with who her grandson was. Just stunning. One measure of a book is how it stays with you. I assume I will take Let The Dead Bury Their Dead to the grave.
Paperback: 348 pages
Publisher: Mariner Books; 1st. edition (June 4, 1993)
Publisher Link: http://www.hmhbooks.com/catalog/titledetail.cfm?titleNumber=1188356
Amazon: Let the Dead Bury Their Dead
Set in North Carolina, these are stories about blacks and whites, young and old, rural and sophisticated, the real and fantastical. Named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, nominated for the 1992 National Book Critics Circle Award, and given the Lambda Award.
7) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Junior. Oh, Junior. Has there ever been a more complete, beautifully drawn protagonist in what is essentially a middle school novel? Written in journal format, this novel really gets inside Junior´s (enormous) head. I have never lived on an Indian Reservation, but this novel made me feel as if I had. Outrageously funny, horribly painful, just beautiful.
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition (April 1, 2009)
Publisher Link: http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/teens_books_9780316013697.htm
Amazon: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author's own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings that reflect the character's art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he thought he was destined to live. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Alexie's YA debut, released in hardcover to instant success, recieving seven starred reviews, hitting numerous bestseller lists, and winning the 2007 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.
8) Enormous Changes at the Last Minute by Grace Paley. One of my two favorite collections of short stories. My favorite thing about these stories is the starkness of Paley´s writing. What is left unsaid. What she is able to get across with a minimum or words. The relationship between the protagonist and her dying father in "Conversations with My Father" is heartbreaking to me, and I can´t explain why. All I can say is that if you haven´t read that story, you need to, immediately. Paley is the writer who taught me to adore reading and writing in first person. The stunning first line of her short story "Distance" helped me understand how we can create a person with voice: "You would certainly be glad to meet me." That line is perfect, because when you read it you immediately get a sense of the person who wrote it. Especially when the second sentence comes: "I was the lady who appreciated youth."
Paperback: 200 pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 11th printing edition (September 1, 1985)
Publisher Link: http://us.macmillan.com/enormouschangesatthelastminute
Amazon: Enormous Changes at the Last Minute
In this collection of short stories, originally published in 1974, Grace Paley "makes the novel as a form seem virtually redundant" (Angela Carter,London Review of Books). Her stories here capture "the itch of the city, love between parents and children" and "the cutting edge of combat" (Lis Harris, The New York Times Book Review). In this collection of seventeen stories, she creates a "solid and vital fictional world, cross-referenced and dense with life" (Walter Clemons, Newsweek).
9) Looking for Alaska by John Green. Of all the great YA books I´ve read since becoming a YA author, this one stands ahead of the pack. Green´s depiction of Alaska Young, from the point of view of his protagonist, Miles, is so thorough, so filled with contradictions, so alive, I couldn´t help but feel a tad bit hetero while reading the book. Reading this book, you can smell her; you can feel her skin. I used this novel a lot as I wrote my next YA novel, Openly Straight. Both are set in boarding schools, and both involve protagonists´ quests to rediscover themselves.
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Speak (December 28, 2006)
Publisher Link: http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780142402511,00.html?strSrchSql=0142402516%2A/Looking_for_Alaska_John_Green
Amazon: Looking for Alaska
Winner of the Michael L. Printz Award. An ALA Best Book for Young Adults. An ALA Quick Pick. A Los Angeles Times 2005 Book Prize Finalist. A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age. A 2005 Booklist Editor’s Choice. A 2005 School Library Journal Best Book of the Year. Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole life has been one big non-event, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave “the Great Perhaps” even more (Francois Rabelais, poet). He heads off to the sometimes crazy and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young. She is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart. Then. . . . After. Nothing is ever the same.
10) Raiders Night by Bob Lipsyte. Bob is a sports writer, YA novelist, and someone I consider a mentor. This extremely courageous novel goes deep inside the world of high school football to look at steroid use and hazing. When one of the characters is brutally sexually assaulted by another, I actually felt the pain and embarrassment he felt. It´s a violent book, but the violence is necessary and real. Lipsyte is a rare heterosexual author who seems to understand the nuances of gay-straight, sex and power. This book is a must read if you can deal with the nightmares you´ll have for days after reading it.
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: HarperTeen (July 3, 2007)
Publisher Link: http://www.harperteen.com/books/9780060599485/Raiders_Night/index.aspx
Amazon: Raiders Night
What's it mean to think team? It means you don't talk team business with anybody who isn't on the team. It means whatever happens inside the team stays inside. It means you can only trust a brother Raider. Any questions? At Nearmont High School, football stars are treated like royalty, and Matt Rydek has just ascended to the throne. He's got it all: hot girls, chill friends, plenty of juice to make him strong, and a winning team poised to go all the way. If he can keep his eye on the ball now, his future will be set. But when the team turns on one of its own, should Matt play by Raiders rules, or should he go long alone?
About Bill Konigsberg: NOVELIST: What if the star of the high school football team was gay? In the Lambda Literary Award-winning OUT OF THE POCKET, 17-year-old Bobby Framingham of Orange County, Calif., is struggling with a secret. One of the most talented players in the state, Bobby knows he's different than his teammates. But he so much doesn't want to be. Can he be one of the boys while still being honest about who he is? And how will the girl who thinks she's dating him take to the news?
SPORTS WRITER: Bill Konigsberg is an award-winning sports journalist who has written for television, newspapers, wire services, and the internet. As a sports writer and editor for The Associated Press from 2005-08, he covered the New York Mets, and his weekly fantasy baseball column appeared across the country, from the New York Daily News to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. In May of 2001, while working as an assistant editor at ESPN.com, he came out on the front page of the website in an article entitled "Sports World Still a Struggle for Gays." That article won him a GLAAD Media Award the following year. Since then, he has spoken at venues across the country about what it is like to be one of the few openly gay people in sports media. He has written for ESPN.com, The New York Daily News, San Francisco Chronicle, Miami Herald, Denver Post, and North Jersey Herald and News. His work has also appeared in Out Magazine and Outsports.com. His story was included as a chapter in the book "Jocks 2: Coming Out To Play" by Dan Woog.
PERSONAL: In 1994, upon graduating from Columbia University with a degree in Literature-Writing, Bill became internationally known for simulating out the remainder of that yea's strike-shortened baseball season on a computer program. He wrote about the games and posted results daily in the NY Daily News, San Francisco Chronicle and Miami Herald. Coverage of his simulated season was seen on NBC World News Tonight, Dateline NBC, CNN, and the Tokyo Broadcast System. His World Series, won by the New York Yankees in what some believe to be the greatest fix since the Black Sox scandal of 1919, was dramatized on Dateline NBC using actual college players.
Bill received his MFA in Creative Writing from Arizona State University in 2005. He currently lives in Billings, Montana, with his significant other, Chuck Cahoy. He's working on new novels, and will announce dates of release as soon as they become available.
Out of the Pocket by Bill Konigsberg
Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile (September 18, 2008)
Publisher Link: http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780525479963,00.html?strSrchSql=0525479961/Out_of_the_Pocket_Bill_Konigsberg
Amazon: Out of the Pocket
Star quarterback Bobby Framingham, one of the most talented high school football players in California, knows he’s different from his teammates. They’re like brothers, but they don’t know one essential thing: Bobby is gay. Can he still be one of the guys and be honest about who he is? When he’s outed against his will by a student reporter, Bobby must find a way to earn back his teammates’ trust and accept that his path to success might be more public, and more difficult, than he’d hoped. An affecting novel about identity that also delivers great sportswriting.