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The Inside Reader: Blair Mastbaum

Show me the books he loves and I shall know the man far better than through mortal friends - Silas Weir Mitchell
Blair Mastbaum is a contradiction in terms, former model, sometime actor, he should be always on center stage, his photos plastered everywhere, and instead he is more the reclusive type. Oh, his face is plenty on the net, if you want to find it, but if you visit his website (http://blairmastbaum.tumblr.com/), the bio simply says "Mr. Blair Mikhail MASTBAUM, writer, linguist", the booklist is Clay's Way, Us Ones In Between, Cool Thing, Clay's Return (in progress), Homme Boys (in progress), a contact email, and then you go directly to his blog. Blair Mastbaum seems to be more generous with his words, his thoughts, and in the end, his soul; the "about the author" section for him is represented by his brainstorming, sometime a short story, more often a picture, little pieces of his mind. Like his list, he said to me "I know my descriptions are brief, but they still manage to capture why I love these books"; yes, they plenty manage to do that, and I'm sure that many in my friends list will love this.

1) Try – Dennis Cooper. Sweetness under the guise of horror. In the opening scene, a teenage kid called Ziggy is sitting in his bed editing his zine about being abused. A kid gets killed by an evil pornographer. Yet you’re rooting for these people, you feel their heartache and lonliness.

Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Grove Press (March 9, 1995)
Publisher Link: http://www.groveatlantic.com/#page=isbn9780802133380%20
ISBN-10: 080213338X
ISBN-13: 978-0802133380
Amazon: Try

Simultaneously deadpan and queasily raw, Try is the story of Ziggy, the adopted teenaged son of two sexually abusive fathers whose failed experiment at nuclear-family domesticity has left him stranded with one and increasingly present in the fantasies of the other. He turns from both of these men to his uncle, who sells pornographic videos on the black market, and to his best friend, a junkie whose own vulnerability inspires in Ziggy a fierce and awkward devotion. Terminally insecure and yet inured to sexual brutality, Ziggy questions his two fathers, his uncle, his drug dealer, his friends, and himself in an attempt to isolate and define the vagaries and boundaries of sexuality, attraction, and abuse, compiling their responses into a magazine that he calls I Apologize. In prose that is taut, rhythmic, charged, chillingly precise, and beautifully controlled, Cooper examines his characters’ motivations not as the product of cultural coercion but as the emanations of something hungry and amoral and essentially human. Try explores “that buried need to go all the way and really possess someone,” that place where desire disintegrates into the irrational. He illuminates with utter clarity the need to claim the desirable, to possess wholly something that will fulfill the profound emptiness of the human soul. With Try, Cooper has produced a novel even more complex than his previous books, dangerously innovative and with the startling familiarity of truth in its examination of love, obsession, devotion, and the depths of human need.

2) Less Than Zero – Bret Easton Ellis. Set the framework for a new gay identity, a new fantastic way of living, and made every young gay kid I knew fantasize about being an object.

Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Vintage (June 30, 1998)
Publisher Link: http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780679781493
ISBN-10: 0679781498
ISBN-13: 978-0679781493
Amazon: Less Than Zero

Set in Los Angeles in the early 1980's, this coolly mesmerizing novel is a raw, powerful portrait of a lost generation who have experienced sex, drugs, and disaffection at too early an age, in a world shaped by casual nihilism, passivity, and too much money a place devoid of feeling or hope. Clay comes home for Christmas vacation from his Eastern college and re-enters a landscape of limitless privilege and absolute moral entropy, where everyone drives Porches, dines at Spago, and snorts mountains of cocaine. He tries to renew feelings for his girlfriend, Blair, and for his best friend from high school, Julian, who is careering into hustling and heroin. Clay's holiday turns into a dizzying spiral of desperation that takes him through the relentless parties in glitzy mansions, seedy bars, and underground rock clubs and also into the seamy world of L.A. after dark.

3) War Boy – Kief Hillsbery. A scarily vulnerable deaf kid navigates the world deftly, and you get into the character’s head more deeply than almost any novel I’ve ever read.

Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial (July 3, 2001)
ISBN-10: 0060935014
ISBN-13: 978-0060935016
Amazon: War Boy

Fleeing an abusive father, fourteen-year-old Radboy takes to the road with Jonnyboy, an older friend and mentor who is the only person Radboy believes he can trust. On the bus headed out of town they hook up with Finn and Critter, a couple of speed-freak boyfriends who take a shine to both of them.They also meet Ula, who is mourning the death of her fiancó and taking a trip across the United States in his memory.The five become fast allies, united by personal loss and by the allure of intimacy only friends in the throes of conflict can understand. When Jonnyboy drops out of sight, Radboy stays behind in San Francisco, where the underground world he has been introduced to inspires his own burgeoning sexual and emotional desires.

4) Close to the Knives: a Memoir of Disintegration – David Wojnarowicz. True and thrilling. The Port Authority has never seemed so scary and so romantic. Sorry. I guess you’re not supposed to think that.

Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Vintage; First Edition edition (May 7, 1991)
Publisher Link: http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780679732273
ISBN-10: 0679732276
ISBN-13: 978-0679732273
Amazon: Close to the Knives: a Memoir of Disintegration

In Close to the Knives, David Wojnarowicz gives us an important and timely document: a collection of creative essays -- a scathing, sexy, sublimely humorous and honest personal testimony to the "Fear of Diversity in America." From the author's violent childhood in suburbia to eventual homelessness on the streets and piers of New York City, to recognition as one of the most provocative artists of his generation -- Close to the Knives is his powerful and iconoclastic memoir. Street life, drugs, art and nature, family, AIDS, politics, friendship and acceptance: Wojnarowicz challenges us to examine our lives -- politically, socially, emotionally, and aesthetically.

5) Wonder Boys – Michael Chabon. The kid I wanted to find in college, played by Tobey Maguire in the film version. Who couldn’t fall in love with a chronic lying, gay, rich, talented depressing fiction writer?

Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (April 29, 2008)
Publisher Link: http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780812979213
ISBN-10: 0812979214
ISBN-13: 978-0812979213
Amazon: Wonder Boys

A modern classic, now in a welcome new edition, Wonder Boys firmly established Michael Chabon as a force to be reckoned with in American fiction. At once a deft parody of the American fame factory and a piercing portrait of young and old desire, this novel introduces two unforgettable characters: Grady Tripp, a former publishing prodigy now lost in a fog of pot and passion and stalled in the midst of his endless second book, and Grady’s student, James Leer, a budding writer obsessed with Hollywood self-destruction and struggling with his own searching heart. All those who love Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay will find the same elegant imagination, bold humor, and undeniable warmth at work in Wonder Boys.

6) Junky – William Burroughs. Pretty much the best book ever. The setting, the title, the style of the one and only W.F.B.

Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Penguin Classics (November 6, 2008)
Publisher Link: http://www.penguin.co.uk/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780141189826,00.html?strSrchSql=Junky%2A/Junky_William_S._Burroughs
ISBN-10: 0141189827
ISBN-13: 978-0141189826
Amazon: Junky: The Definitive Text of 'Junk'

Burroughs’ first novel, a largely autobiographical account of the constant cycle of drug dependency, cures and relapses, remains the most unflinching, unsentimental account of addiction ever written. Through junk neighbourhoods in New York, New Orleans and Mexico City, through time spent kicking, time spent dealing and time rolling drunks for money, through junk sickness and a sanatorium, Junky is a field report (by a writer trained in anthropology at Harvard) from the American post-war drug underground. A cult classic, it has influenced generations of writers with its raw, sparse and unapologetic tone. This definitive edition painstakingly recreates the author’s original text word for word.

7) The Listener – Bo Huston. This nostalgic novel proves that characters don’t have to be interacting much with other characters to seem alive and real. This book is about being alone and combing through memories, and it’s not very well known.

Publisher: St. Martin's Press (December 1994)
ISBN-10: 0312113137
ISBN-13: 978-0312113131
Amazon: The Listener: A Novella and Four Stories

A new collection by the author of The Dream Life features the story of Jane, whose obsessions threaten her little boy's safety, and Paul, a gay man seeking solitude and solace after a close friend's death.

8) The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea - Yukio Mishima. Embracing Japanese Empirical repression and using it for self power is what Mishima is famous for, and this is the best book, in my opinion, of this dichotomy.

Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Vintage; 7th Printing edition (May 31, 1994)
Publisher Link: http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780679750154
ISBN-10: 0679750150
ISBN-13: 978-0679750154
Amazon: The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea

A band of savage thirteen-year-old boys reject the adult world as illusory, hypocritical, and sentimental, and train themselves in a brutal callousness they call 'objectivity'. When the mother of one of them begins an affair with a ship's officer, he and his friends idealise the man at first; but it is not long before they conclude that he is in fact soft and romantic. They regard this disallusionment as an act of betrayal on his part - and the retribution is deliberate and horrifying.

9) Allan Stein – Matthew Stadler. Allan Stein is an object, but he’s a beautiful, elegant European object and he's well worth pursuing. I wrote about why I love this novel in depth for a book called Fifty Gay and Lesbian Books Everybody Must Read, edited by Richard Canning, which is also a great book by the way.

Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Grove Press; 1st Pbk. Ed edition (December 6, 1999)
Publisher Link: http://www.groveatlantic.com/#page=isbn9780802136626%20
ISBN-10: 0802136621
ISBN-13: 978-0802136626
Amazon: Allan Stein

Comic, erotic, and richly imagined, Allan Stein follows the journey of a compromised young teacher to Paris to uncover the sad history of Gertrude Stein’s troubled nephew Allan. Having been fired from his job because of a sex scandal involving a student, the young teacher decides that a change of scenery is in order. He enlists his best friend, a museum curator by the name of Herbert Widener, to help him get out of Seattle. It so happens that Herbert had been planning a business trip to Paris to find Picasso’s missing 1906 drawings of Allan Stein, the only child in the charmed circle of Gertrude Stein’s Paris. After some convincing, Herbert allows his troubled friend to go in his place, using his own name and passport. In Paris “Herbert” discovers an unusual family that welcomes him, and he becomes enchanted by one particular family member, a fifteen-year-old boy named Stéphane. As he unravels the gilded but sad childhood of Allan Stein, “Herbert” is haunted by memories of his own boyhood, particularly his odd, flamboyant mother. Moving through the glitter and pomp of the Parisian art world, he becomes more and more entangled in his masquerade and finds himself increasingly bedeviled by his feelings for Stéphane, with whom he ultimately absconds to the south of France. Moving from the late twentieth century back to the 1900s, effortlessly blending fact and fiction, Allan Stein is a charged exploration of eroticism, obsession, and identity.

10) A Home at the End of the World (first half) – Michael Cunningham. I’ve only read the first half on advice of many friends, but it’s an amazing portrait of suburban teenage America and fumbling with sexual feelings with a best friend in your bedroom. When the mother smokes pot with her son and his "boyfriend," I almost died.

Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Picador; 1st Picador USA pbk. ed edition (November 15, 1998)
Publisher Link: http://us.macmillan.com/ahomeattheendoftheworld
ISBN-10: 0312202318
ISBN-13: 978-0312202316
Amazon: A Home at the End of the World

From Michael Cunningham, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author ofThe Hours, comes this widely praised novel of two boyhood friends: Jonathan, lonely, introspective, and unsure of himself; and Bobby, hip, dark, and inarticulate. In New York after college, Bobby moves in with Jonathan and his roommate, Clare, a veteran of the city's erotic wars. Bobby and Clare fall in love, scuttling the plans of Jonathan, who is gay, to father Clare's child. Then, when Clare and Bobby have a baby, the three move to a small house upstate to raise "their" child together and, with an odd friend, Alice, create a new kind of family. A Home at the End of the World masterfully depicts the charged, fragile relationships of urban life today.

About Blair Mastbaum: Blair Mastbaum is American writer and a former model who lives in Portland, Oregon. Mastbaum acted in and produced the 2005 Sundance Film Festival official competition film, Ellie Parker, directed by Scott Coffey. Mastbaum's first novel, 2004's Clay's Way, won a Lambda Literary Award. Mastbaum's second novel, Us Ones In Between, published by Running Press and released in May 2008, centers on depressed art school graduate Kurt Smith, who fantasizes about pushing boys in front of subway trains. The title is taken from the song "Us Ones In Between," written by Spencer Krug and performed by the band Sunset Rubdown. The novel was a finalist for the 2008 Ferro-Grumley Award. Mastbaum edited the anthology Cool Thing: The Best New Gay Fiction by Young American Writers, released by Running Press on November 10, 2008.

Best Gay Erotica 2010 edited by Richard Labonté, selected and introduced by Blair Mastbaum
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Cleis Press (December 1, 2009)
Publisher Link: http://www.cleispress.com/book_page.php?book_id=346
ISBN-10: 1573443743
ISBN-13: 978-1573443746
Amazon: Best Gay Erotica 2010

Heart pounding, male-on-male desire.

When sexual intensity and literary flair meet, the result is Best Gay Erotica 2010. Series editor Richard Labonté gathers the most intelligent, provocative gay erotic fiction of each year. This year's edition, selected and introduced by guest judge Blair Mastbaum, features the private and public lusts of gay men in a collection of unparalleled hotness. In "A Beautiful Face," a male ingénue brings Hollywood to its knees, literally. "The Suburban Boy" reveals the real magic kingdom in central Florida, where every erotic with comes true.

Including: Hank Fenwick, Natty Soltesz, David May, Richard Hennebert, Simon Sheppard, Jimmy Hamada, Robert Patrick, Shane Allison, Tommy Lee "Doc" Boggs, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Thom Wolf, Trebor Healey, David Holly, Jamie Freeman, Jeff Mann, Jonathan Kemp, Rob Wolfsham, and Jan Vander Laenen.


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