Show me the books he loves and I shall know the man far better than through mortal friends - Silas Weir MitchellWhen I started to see gay themed movies again (I had a time lapsed after, more or less, In & Out through two years ago), there were four movies I absolutely wanted to see: Big Eden, Shelter, Latter Days and Boy Culture. I was so eager that I bought the DVD directly from the USA, and in a format that allows me to see it only on my laptop, since my DVD player is not USA compatible. Of the four, Boy Culture was the most surprising: I was not really expecting for it to be a romantic movie, and guys, it's also one of the best production I have ever seen in the indie movie market. So good it was the movie that I bought the novel, even if it's often a big delusion: and then I had my next good surprise, the novel was even better than the movie, maybe even more romantic, but basically the movie didn't loose anything in the turning from paper to screen. I started to follow Matthew Rettenmund's blog, Boy Culture, something I strongly advice everyone to do, and so I was really, really glad when he accepted to be one of my Inside Reader. So please, friend, welcome him!
Matthew Rettenmund's Inside Reader List
The following books are my top 10 favorite...at this moment. I can´t swear they will be my top 10 tomorrow, nor were they my top 10 yesterday. But all of these have appeared on my daily top 10 lists often enough to warrant inclusion here.
1) The Celluloid Closet by Vito Russo. Russo´s invaluable scholarly work is also crazy-readable in its coverage of absolutely every film containing homosexual themes, most of them objectionable in some way. This book´s activist tone informed my entire outlook on the issue of outing and made me realize it´s okay to be offended by offensive material and that there is no such thing as harmless entertainment when that entertainment contains elements that cast homosexuality in a negative light (as opposed to those that cast someone who just happens to be a homosexual in a negative light). "I´m tired of trying to figure out whether the latest well-meaning soap opera has succeeded in convincing America that I don´t have horns and a tail, that I am not interested in molesting their dreary children or that the Bible doesn´t really say I´m headed for their world-famous but quite imaginary hell," Russo wrote in an afterword in the $6 used updated edition I bought. We need another Russo.
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Harper & Row; Revised edition (September 20, 1987)
Publisher Link: http://www.harpercollins.com/books/Celluloid-Closet-Vito-Russo/?isbn=9780060961329
Amazon: The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies
Praised by the Chicago Tribune as "an impressive study" and written with incisive wit and searing perception--the definitive, highly acclaimed landmark work on the portrayal of homosexuality in film.
2) Now You See It by Richard Dyer. Another film book, this one explores gay and lesbian film with such panache that reading is actually more cerebral and satisying than watching most of the movies it profiles. It also touches on porn, and I remember its expressive author being a huge fan of huge Ryan Idol-high and low art are all art, and passion is passion. One of many money shots? "Yet if camp and pop art are without moral or political `position,´ they are not, especially from a gay perspective, socially inexpressive." In other words, everything has meaning, or has the potential for meaning. His book Stars is a close second on some days, a strong first on others.
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Routledge; 2 edition (December 6, 2002)
Publisher Link: http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415254991/
Amazon: Now You See It
Now You See It, Richard Dyer's groundbreaking study of films by and about lesbians and gay men, has been revised for a second edition, and features an introduction by Juliane Pidduck outlining developments in lesbian and gay cinema since 1990. Now You See It examines familiar titles such as Girls in Uniform, Un Chant D'Amour, and Word Is Out, in their lesbian/gay context as well as bringing to light many other forgotten but remarkable films. Each film is examined in detail in relation to both film type and tradition and the sexual subculture in which it was made.
3) Starlust: The Secret Life of Fans by Fred and Judy Vermorel. A strange little import, this study of "the secret fantasies" of fans appealed to my fandom of fandom. Fans are really just voyeurs with really good and specific taste, so reading their innermost thoughts in a diaristic format is for me like eating chocolate-covered pieces of chocolate would be for a fatty. (I´m one of those, too.) The most shocking part was learning how horny Barry Manilow´s "Manilovers" were (are!)-they took audio snippets from his various interviews and made a Manilow orgasm from all of his errants ahhhs and ohhhs. Fiften years or more prior to the Internet.
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Comet (August 15, 1985)
Amazon: Starlust: Secret Life of Fans
4) The Gay Book of Days by Martin Greif. Perhaps my all-time favorite book, The Gay Book of Days showed up at a B. Dalton Bookseller in my local mall one day when I was 16 and was constantly blowing through all the money I earned as a stockboy in another town. It took tremendous courage for me to pick it up, let alone to furtively buy it, what with that huge word "GAY" on the cover and that shirtless Casey Donovan picture right below it. This "evocatively illustrated who´s who of who is, was, may have been, probably was, and almost certainly seems to have been gay during the past 5,000 years" is really a calendar, with birthdates of presumably gay figures for each and every day. Its dishy tone and assertive quality ("At the time of his death, Nick Adams was the lover of a movie actor who can only be identified as R____ C____.") require no proof-you know every word is true. As much a history textbook as a gay gossip rag, it leaves no stone unturned. It was also my first experience with blind items, listing the initials of over 60 then-living people who were closeted queers. A revelation.
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Lyle Stuart / Carol Publishing (2000)
Amazon: The Gay Book of Days: An Evocatively Illustrated Who's Who of Who Is, Was, May Have Been, Probably Was, and Almost Certainly Seems to Have Been Gay During the Past 5000 Years
5) The Andy Warhol Diaries edited by Pat Hackett. I read this book obsessively the summer I lost the last remaining aspects of my virginity. When it came out, people were salivating to find out who was in it, but there was no index. An unauthorized one popped up in Paper or Details, but I didn´t need it-I read every word. Every inexpressive sentence could have been silk-screened onto a giant canvas and it would have been art to me, an admirer of Warhol´s sense of purpose and appreciation for popular culture. Reading his boring notes about cabfares made me long to move to New York (I did, not too terribly long after) and discovering an editor I knew via my work with a literary agent within its pages made me feel like a part of The Factory (Warhol mentioned him in order to sniff that he suspected the guy had had a quickie in the bathroom while they were at a restaurant). It´s the best diary I ever read, including the time I stole a peek at my roommate´s-and I was in that one.
Paperback: 807 pages
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (January 1, 1991)
Publisher Link: http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/books_9780446391382.htm
Amazon: The Andy Warhol Diaries
Now in trade paperback, the sensational national bestseller that turns the spotlight on one of the most influential and controversial figures of our time.
6) A Boy's Own Story by Edmund White. Though I would come to dislike White´s subsequent work, I find this novel to be just about perfect. As a sexual awakening, it´s competitive with The Catcher in the Rye, and I´ll never forget flipping through it in my college bookstore and reading the line, "Go head, fill `er up," and realizing I had to own it. I need to re-read this soon-it never gets old, unlike all boys with their own stories.
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics); Reprint edition (February 24, 2009)
Publisher Link: http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780143114840,00.html?strSrchSql=0143114840/A_Boy'#39;s_Own_Story_Edmund_White
Amazon: A Boy's Own Story: A Novel
Originally published in 1982 as the first of Edmund White's trilogy of autobiographical novels, A Boy's Own Story became an instant classic for its pioneering portrayal of homosexuality. The book's unnamed narrator, growing up during the 1950s, is beset by aloof parents, a cruel sister, and relentless mocking from his peers, compelling him to seek out works of art and literature as solace-and to uncover new relationships in the struggle to embrace his own sexuality. Lyrical and poignant, with powerful evocations of shame and yearning, this is an American literary treasure.
7) Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal. I know Vidal looks down on it, but I think this is his best book by far, and the only thing that competes with the greatness of his rival Truman Capote´s In Cold Blood. I was tremendously influenced by Vidal´s complete originality of voice and of subject matter and his wicked toying with the reader´s expectations. And talk about having the balls to upend the standard portrait of a hero...
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Abacus (April 22, 1993)
Publisher Link: http://www.littlebrown.co.uk/Title/9780349103655
Amazon: Myra Breckinridge
It is a risky (and risque) business becoming 'Woman Triumphant' - exercising total power over men like Rusty Godowski. Rusty just wants to be a Hollywood star like everyone else at Buck Loner's academy, but now that Buck's niece, Myra Breckinridge, has arrived, the curriculum is taking a wildly strange turn. Willing to risk all to be superb and unique, Myra means to prove to her old friend Dr Montag that it is possible to work out in life all one's fantasies - and survive. 'From Myra's fist appearnce on the page she was a megastar', explains her creator, Gore Vidal. Myra caused a second furore when she returned in Myron to battle it out with her eponymous alter ego, a drab little man fallen into marriage and a job in Chinese catering. Theirs is a contest of hormonal roulette, with glorious Myra off on time-travelling missions of mercy back to 1948 to try to change cinema history and to introduce her own radical theories of popuation control. Meanwhile Myron tries desperately to stay in the present as inconspicuously as Mrya will allow.
8) Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram. When Christopher Bram and Michael Bronski took me to lunch at Bright Food Shop on Eighth Avenue after I published my novel Boy Culture, I was so touched and tickled I´d have let them touch and tickle me had they so desired. Both are so talented and it´s been a pleasure to read both. Father of Frankenstein is a beautifully and simply written character study that was miraculously made into a great film as well. It´s a gay novel done right.
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Plume (April 1, 1996)
Amazon: Father of Frankenstein
In 1957, James Whale, the director acclaimed for such classic gothic films as Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, was found floating face-down in the swimming pool of his Hollywood mansion. Here, Christopher Bram brilliantly recreates Whale's last days in this fascinating, astute, and suspenseful novel.
9) Marlene Dietrich by Maria Riva. I was intrigued by Marilyn Monroe at first, but then got sucked in by Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. I loved them so much that in college a guy I knew successfully freaked me out by joking that Dietrich had died. Eventually, she really did die, and I was caught up in the foreign magazines that published nosy photos of her cluttered old-woman´s apartment in Paris. When her daughter´s biography of Dietrich came out, it was monumental to me, and remains the best and most beautifully written biography I´ve ever read, offering amazing insights into the unpleasant, damaged person behind the glamorous vision.
Paperback: 800 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books; First Edition edition (January 18, 1994)
Publisher Link: http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780345386458
Amazon: Marlene Dietrich
"Gossipy...Elabroately detailed...Greatly entertaining...Riva leaves no sequin unturned." --THE NEW YORK TIMES. Marlene Deitrich was considered one of the most glamorous stars of her day. A determined perfectionist with an incredible ego, her beauty, her style, her sense of the outrageous, made her a star. In this candid, illuminating, and detailed biography full of photographs, her only daughter Maria Riva, tells the incredible, fascinating, story of the star's life and career, loves and hates, hits and misses, as only a daughter can.
10) The Lost Language of Cranes by David Leavitt. Leavitt is a writer whose skill is scary, and this is the best of his novels (though I should have put his Family Dancing short-story collection on this list, too), a work that for me is built entirely around the impact of the story from which it gets its name. It also manages to provide a touching and thoroughly believable account of how one man learns, literally, to successfully be gay.
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (April 14, 2005)
Publisher Link: http://www.bloomsburyusa.com/books/catalog/lost_language_of_cranes_pb_734
Amazon: The Lost Language of Cranes: A Novel
David Leavitt's extraordinary first novel, now reissued in paperback, is a seminal work about family, sexual identity, home, and loss. Set in the 1980s against the backdrop of a swiftly gentrifying Manhattan, The Lost Language of Cranes tells the story of twenty-five-year-old Philip, who realizes he must come out to his parents after falling in love for the first time with a man. Philip's parents are facing their own crisis: pressure from developers and the loss of their longtime home. But the real threat to this family is Philip's father's own struggle with his latent homosexuality, realized only in his Sunday afternoon visits to gay porn theaters. Philip's admission to his parents and his father's hidden life provoke changes that forever alter the landscape of their worlds.
About Matthew Rettenmund: Matthew Rettenmund is also the author of the novel Blind Items: A (Love) Story and several nonfiction titles and is currently a magazine editor living in New York with his partner Jose Velez. Read his blog at www.boyculture.typepad.com.
Boy Culture by Matthew Rettenmund
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; 1st edition (January 23, 2007)
Publisher Link: http://us.macmillan.com/boyculture
Amazon: Boy Culture: A Novel
X a wily hustler, has a dilemma. The object of his affections is his roommate Andrew, who is confused about his sexuality. Meanwhile, X's other roommate--a seventeen-year-old precocious partyboy--is falling for X in a big way. The result is an old-fashioned (well, sort of) love triangle peppered with savage one-liners-a touching portrait of love and lust among three very different gay men.