Show me the books he loves and I shall know the man far better than through mortal friends - Silas Weir MitchellShaun Levin is another of those author that kindly accepted to do an Inside Reader list when a request arrived from a strange italian woman; actually he has done more than that, he also provided a personal pictures to demonstrate that the books he is suggesting are for real his top 10, since they are right there, on his real shelf (and not a virtual one), ready to be opened and read again and again. So please, welcome Shaun and his quite international list.
Top 10 Books
A couple of years ago I had to move house. My landlord wanted to sell the flat, a flat I’d been living in for the past three years, a place that had, from the start, felt like home. I figured that if I had to move, I would move! I had visions of hitting the road with just a backpack of clothes and books. Nothing is a must-have. It is easy to leave everything behind. The hardest thing to walk out on would be my books. I rely on them to keep writing; their presence on my shelf is often enough. If I had to take ten with me, ten books I couldn’t do without, the ones I’d reread to reaffirm my choice of living as a writer, the books that keep teaching me about the power and outer reaches of the imagination, books that reassure and remind me of the work ahead, they would be these:
[as far as the move went: the economy collapsed, the housing market slumped, and the flat never got sold. I’m still here, me and a few thousand books.]
1) Such Times by Christopher Coe
[In which a dying young man, while watching a game show with his best friend, remembers the great love of his life.]
I will always have a copy of Christopher Coe’s Such Times. Preferably more than one, for as much as I like to lend out my books, and don’t mind if people return them or not, I will always want a copy of Such Times within easy reach. I need it for its language, for each glorious sentence, for the brutal allure of its honesty, for the prayer-like quality of its prose, the deceptive simplicity of this story of love and death and endurance and friendship. If it wasn’t for the plague, this book would never have been written. And if it wasn’t for the plague, Christopher Coe would still be with us, writing works as stunning as this and his only other novel, I Look Divine.
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics) (December 1, 1994)
Amazon: Such Times
In haunting narrative, the acclaimed author of I Look Divine evokes gay life in the 1970s and early '80s and the years of loss that followed. Deftly interweaving past and present, Coe creates a moving portrait of people living on the razor's edge of desire and pays homage to those who now face death for having lived so exuberantly in such times.
2) The Feast of The Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa
[In which we learn about some of the people linked to Rafael Trujillo, the Dominican Republic’s dictator, on the day he is killed – and the aftermath of his assassination – through an intricate weave of characters, timeframes and events.]
I’d want Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Feast of The Goat – one of the fiercest, most relentless and patient books I have read. Sometimes we are given a book casually (like when a Spanish teacher I know gave me a copy of The Feast of the Goat because his English boyfriend gave up on it) and that book changes the way we see the immensity of our subject matter as writers, and the way we look at our lives. The Feast of the Goat reminds me how to tell a story slowly and meticulously, and still maintain an almost unbearable level of suspense. It teaches us how to compose a political story so that it feels like fiction. Great books make you feel privileged to have read them.
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Picador (November 9, 2002)
Publisher Link: http://us.macmillan.com/thefeastofthegoat
Amazon: The Feast of The Goat
Haunted all her life by feelings of terror and emptiness, forty-nine-year-old Urania Cabral returns to her native Dominican Republic - and finds herself reliving the events of l961, when the capital was still called Trujillo City and one old man terrorized a nation of three million. Rafael Trujillo, the depraved ailing dictator whom Dominicans call the Goat, controls his inner circle with a combination of violence and blackmail. In Trujillo's gaudy palace, treachery and cowardice have become a way of life. But Trujillo's grasp is slipping. There is a conspiracy against him, and a Machiavellian revolution already underway that will have bloody consequences of its own. In this 'masterpiece of Latin American and world literature, and one of the finest political novels ever written' (Bookforum), Mario Vargas Llosa recounts the end of a regime and the birth of a terrible democracy, giving voice to the historical Trujillo and the victims, both innocent and complicit, drawn into his deadly orbit.
3) My Tender Matador by Pedro Lemebel
[In which The Queen of the Corner does whatever it takes to be with the handsome and militant Carlos. And a Chilean dictator loses his grip on the country.]
I’d take My Tender Matador, too, for some of the reasons I want Vargas Llosa’s book, but also for it’s tenderness and its squalid glamour. Pedro Lemebel’s novel is the camp, sequined gay younger brother of The Feast of the Goat. Besides being a political drama, it is also the story of every gay boy who has loved a straight guy, the kind of love that’ll make you do anything to be close to him, defy anyone – God, family, you name it – regardless of reciprocity or a blowjob. Favourite scene: The Queen of the Corner talks her way through a line of soldiers while carrying illegal weapons in her bag.
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Grove Press (February 10, 2005)
Publisher Link: http://www.groveatlantic.com/#page=isbn9780802141873%20
Amazon: My Tender Matador
From Chile’s most provocative novelist, a novel of forbidden love and revolution during Pinochet’s dictatorship. Centered around an historical event that changed Chile forever—the 1986 attempt on the life of Augusto Pinochet—My Tender Matador is the most explosive, controversial, and popular novel to have been published in that country in decades. It is spring 1986 in the city of Santiago and Augusto Pinochet is losing his grip on power. In one of the city’s many poor neighborhoods, the Queen of the Corner, a hopeless and lonely romantic, embroiders linens for the wealthy and listens to boleros to drown out the gunshots and rioting in the streets. Along comes Carlos, a young, handsome man who befriends the aging homosexual and uses his house to store mysterious boxes and hold clandestine meetings. Thus begins a friendship and a love that will have unexpected though vastly different consequences for both. My Tender Matador is an extraordinary novel of revolution and forbidden love, and a stirring portrait of Chile at a historical crossroads. By turns funny and profoundly moving, Pedro Lemebel’s lyrical prose offers an intimate window into the world and mind of Pinochet himself. As Carlos and the Queen negotiate their unspoken complicity and mismatched affections to the beat of the bolero and the threat of repression, Pinochet contends with revolutionary upstarts, negative world opinion, fascistic reveries, terrifying nightmares, and an endlessly chattering wife who has more respect and affection for her hair stylist than for her husband. As riveting as it is exquisitely crafted, My Tender Matador marks the fictional debut of one of Chile’s most admired, popular, and challenging literary voices.
4) The Beauty of Men by Andrew Holleran
[In which Lark becomes obsessed with Becker, and spends too much time at the lake waiting for cock; Becker’s in particular. And in which Lark makes daily visits to his paralysed mother, and remembers friends who have died of AIDS.]
I have always read Andrew Holleran’s The Beauty of Men as a cautionary tale. It is a story about what could happen if you left the city and went back to living in a small town. The Beauty of Men is a story of obsession, of aging without grace. But, my God, it is beautifully told. There is not a single writer in the whole of gaydom who writes, and has always written as exquisitely as Andrew Holleran. The honesty of his prose lifts every sentence into the lyric register and brings humour to the page the way only a person who has survived so much death can do.
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Plume (June 1, 1997)
Amazon: The Beauty of Men
Lark struggles with his loneliless, his aging, the loss of so many of his friends to AIDS and the obsessive feelings he experiences toward one young man, Becker, who has taken over his dreams.
5) The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamamda Ngozi Adichie. For sheer lightness of touch, because the last four books are extremely intense, and sometimes we just need to be carried through a story, to feel the confident magic of the storyteller, I would take Chimamamda Ngozi Adichie’s The Thing Around Your Neck. These stories are lessons in elegance, their tone reminiscent of writers like William Trevor and John McGahern. The stories will resonate with anyone who has moved from one country to another, who has wanted to leave the country they are from, who has seen what immigrating to a new place can do to us. The stories explore the impact of existing simultaneously in the land we live in and the land we are from. Sometimes the land we are from is childhood.
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Anchor (June 1, 2010)
Publisher Link: http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780307455918
Amazon: The Thing Around Your Neck
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie burst onto the literary scene with her remarkable debut novel, Purple Hibiscus, which critics hailed as “one of the best novels to come out of Africa in years” (Baltimore Sun), with “prose as lush as the Nigerian landscape that it powerfully evokes” (The Boston Globe); The Washington Post called her “the twenty-first-century daughter of Chinua Achebe.” Her award-winning Half of a Yellow Sun became an instant classic upon its publication three years later, once again putting her tremendous gifts—graceful storytelling, knowing compassion, and fierce insight into her characters’ hearts—on display. Now, in her most intimate and seamlessly crafted work to date, Adichie turns her penetrating eye on not only Nigeria but America, in twelve dazzling stories that explore the ties that bind men and women, parents and children, Africa and the United States. In “A Private Experience,” a medical student hides from a violent riot with a poor Muslim woman whose dignity and faith force her to confront the realities and fears she’s been pushing away. In “Tomorrow is Too Far,” a woman unlocks the devastating secret that surrounds her brother’s death. The young mother at the center of “Imitation” finds her comfortable life in Philadelphia threatened when she learns that her husband has moved his mistress into their Lagos home. And the title story depicts the choking loneliness of a Nigerian girl who moves to an America that turns out to be nothing like the country she expected; though falling in love brings her desires nearly within reach, a death in her homeland forces her to reexamine them. Searing and profound, suffused with beauty, sorrow, and longing, these stories map, with Adichie’s signature emotional wisdom, the collision of two cultures and the deeply human struggle to reconcile them. The Thing Around Your Neck is a resounding confirmation of the prodigious literary powers of one of our most essential writers.
6) Flesh and the Word 3. Edited by John Preston.
[In which boxers and bodybuilders fuck. And we face the truth that gay men can’t really talk about sex.]
I write a lot about sex. I try not to be messy about it. Yes, I try to be elegant, without being prim or oblique. Reading John Preston showed me how that was possible. He was my writer-daddy when I was starting out. I read My Life as a Pornographer and I Once Had a Master long before I read Mr Benson. In a room in my flat in Tel Aviv, that was the life I dreamed of. I marvelled at the writers John Preston gathered together in his Flesh and the Word anthologies. Stephen Greco, Michael Bronski, Scott O’Hara. I owe these writers my voice. John Preston reminds us in his Introduction that the more spaces we create for our work, “the more difficult it will be for the forces of opposition to succeed.” That call is as relevant today as it was twenty years ago.
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Plume; First Printing edition (June 1, 1995)
Amazon: Flesh and the Word 3: An Anthology of Erotic Writing (Bk. 3)
On the heels of the hugely successful Flesh and the Word 1 and 2 comes another erotic anthology compiled by one of the gay community's most eminent and outspoken writers. Anne Rice (writing as Anne Rampling), Aaron Scott, Travis O'Hara, Lars Eighner, Andrew Holleran, and Preston himself are among those who contribute to this collection of 31 exceptional pieces.
7) Joseph and the Old Man by Christopher Davis
[In which two men, writers, live together happily.]
For pure heartbreaking elegance, it would be hard to beat Christopher Davis’ Joseph and the Old Man. The novel opens: “The two of them, the old man and the young man, were working together in a room that looked out on the sea...” And continues: “The two of them, the old man and the young man – his name was Joe – worked on through the morning quietly but accompanied by the sound of the sea, by the voices and laughter of the people on the beach, and by the sound of Joe’s typewriter. They worked until it was past noon and gradually the old man became aware that the typewriter was silent and he put down his pen and turned back toward Joe.”
Paperback: 195 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Press (August 1987)
Amazon: Joseph and the Old Man
8) Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
[In which Janie learns about love from the bees in the pear tree and goes through two marriages before she finds a man to love.]
The writer who made me want to be a writer; or rather, made me want to be the kind of writer she was, was Zora Neale Hurston. Their Eyes Were Watching God cracked me open. It was like having my shell thrown off, like suddenly being naked in front of the thing you want most and being invited to partake. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t taken that course in African American Literature at Tel Aviv University in 1989. What kind of writer would I be now? Their Eyes Were Watching God, published first in 1937, is poetic and sexy and Hurston has a way of composing a sentence that imbues each line with the potency of a spell.
Paperback: 219 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics (January 3, 2006)
Publisher Link: http://www.harpercollins.com/books/Their-Eyes-Were-Watching-God-Zora-Neale-Hurston/?isbn=9780060838676
Amazon: Their Eyes Were Watching God
One of the most important works of twentieth-century American literature, Zora Neale Hurston's beloved 1937 classic, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is an enduring Southern love story sparkling with wit, beauty, and heartfelt wisdom. Told in the captivating voice of a woman who refuses to live in sorrow, bitterness, fear, or foolish romantic dreams, it is the story of fair-skinned, fiercely independent Janie Crawford, and her evolving selfhood through three marriages and a life marked by poverty, trials, and purpose. A true literary wonder, Hurston's masterwork remains as relevant and affecting today as when it was first published -- perhaps the most widely read and highly regarded novel in the entire canon of African American literature.
9) Tropical Animal by Pedro Juan Gutierrez
[In which the writer writes and fucks and thinks about fucking.]
Seeing as we’re talking about straight sex, and because, really, not only gay men write well about fucking, although on the whole we do, I’d take the Cuban writer Pedro Juan Gutierrez’s Tropical Animal with me, or maybe Dirty Havana Trilogy. I haven’t decided yet. The Havana in these books reminds me of Tel Aviv in the summer, when it’s too hot to do anything except sit on the balcony or on the roof or go down to the beach for a swim at night or fuck and cruise people and basically be ruled completely by the body’s urges. He writes: “A normal person forgets about all the shit in his life. About others shitting on him and the shits he took back... But an artist converts his shit into raw material... He makes sculptures, paintings, songs, novels, poems, stories. All smelling of fresh shit.” “Oh, Pedro Juan,” Agneta the Swedish woman says to him. “Why do you talk like that?”
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Carroll & Graf (December 20, 2004)
Amazon: Tropical Animal
Echoing the raw vitality of Henry Miller, Tropical Animal brings the return of the already infamous Pedro Juan, the seductive protagonist at the heart of Dirty Havana Trilogy. Pursued by Gloria, a proud and sophisticated prostitute on a mission to curb his predatory instincts, Pedro Juan is holed up in his crumbling Havana apartment, painting, with a growing sense of melancholy as he observes the lives of the hustlers, hipsters, and hookers in the city below him. An invitation to Sweden, of all places—cold, unwelcoming, the antithesis of Pedro’s Cuba—gives him an official way out, and the phone manner of his potential hostess offers incentive enough for him to leave for the literary life in Europe. However, once there he finds himself haunted by memories of the passionate Gloria and increasingly uninspired by his new environment. Does Pedro Juan, legendary seducer and imbiber of hard liquor, finally have to admit that his game is over—to be replaced by this more balanced, more secure, colder existence? In tight, tough prose Pedro Juan Gutiérrez explores human animalism with a joyous fearlessness absent from much of our contemporary culture and sheds a brilliant new light into the depths and complexities of the soul.
10) 3am Epiphany by Brian Kiteley. And because I can’t always rely on books and myself for inspiration, I’d want to have 3am Epiphany with me, Brian Kiteley’s fantastic book about writing. His exercises are, as the cover says, uncommon, and they are surprising and inspiring and they make you want to sit down and write a story, which is more or less what I need to sit down and do.
Paperback: 261 pages
Publisher: Writers Digest Books; 1 edition (August 5, 2005)
Amazon: 3am Epiphany
DISCOVER JUST HOW GOOD YOUR WRITING CAN BE. If you write, you know what it's like. Insight and creativity - the desire to push the boundaries of your writing - strike when you least expect it. And you're often in no position to act: in the shower, driving the kids to school...in the middle of the night. The 3 A.M. Epiphany offers more than 200 intriguing writing exercises designed to help you think, write, and revise like never before, without having to wait for creative inspiration. Brian Kitely, noted author and director of the University of Denver's creative writing program, has crafted and refined these exercises through 15 years of teaching experience. You'll learn how to: * Transform staid and stale writing patterns into exciting experiments in fiction * Shed the anxieties that keep you from reaching your full potential as a writer * Craft unique ideas by combining personal experience with unrestricted imagination * Examine and overcome all of your fiction writing concerns, from getting started to writer's block. Open the book, select an exercise, and give it a try. It's just what you need to craft refreshing new fiction, discover bold new insights, and explore what it means to be a writer. IT'S NEVER TOO EARLY TO START - NOT EVEN 3 A.M.
About Shaun Levin: Shaun Levin is the author, most recently, of Snapshots of The Boy (Treehouse Press). His other books include Seven Sweet Things (bluechrome) and A Year of Two Summers (Five Leaves). He lived in Israel for many years before moving to London, where he teaches creative writing. He is the founding editor of Chroma, a queer literary and arts journal. Visit him at shaunlevin.com.
Seven Sweet Things by Shaun Levin
Paperback: 146 pages
Publisher: Lethe Press (July 1, 2010)
Amazon: Seven Sweet Things: A Novella with Recipes
An affair that begins in an Internet chatroom takes the narrator and his lover, Martin, further into love than either could have imagined. Disturbingly honest and intensely erotic, Seven Sweet Things is as much an exploration of love as it is the lovers' exploration of London. Eking out a living by selling cakes and desserts, the narrator loves reading Plato, sitting on park benches, and feeding his beloved. Each meeting between them is framed by the making, or the promise of a sweet thing (chocolate-coconut fudge bars, oatmeal cookies, rum-glazed chocolate cake, meringues). The landscape shifts from hidden archaeological mysteries in London to a fantastical stay in an old house in Yorkshire, and from Clissold Park in North London to Roslyn Glen in Scotland, where the narrator gets invited to prepare extravagant desserts for an aristocratic family.