Show me the books he loves and I shall know the man far better than through mortal friends - Silas Weir MitchellAaron was another of my first time... now don't get me wrong, I was just starting this LiveJournal, posting reviews (more ramblings than reviews) and I compiled my then Top 50 Gay Novels list (it soon became 100 since there were too many good books out there). Half-life was in the Top 50, I don't remember exactly how I found it, probably in one of my browsing session on the net. Aaron wrote to me to say thank you for including the book and then he offered to send me a print copy. Wow, until then authors had always sent me ebooks, a real print book, signed... that was love at first sight and you will never forget your first time. So I'm more than happy to have Aaron as a guest today. More since we share a lot of "love": for Venice, for art, for photography (well he is an artist, I'm only a tourist).
Seven Perfect Books by Aaron Krach
Books change my life in small and large ways, almost every day. So I find myself wanting to share such transformative experiences with my friends. So I try and buy books as gifts. Except I am the guy who freezes in a store filled with thousands of options.
I need a list of perfect books. This is that list.
I carry around inside my head. Need a gift? Buy any one (or all) of the titles below. They’re each amazing and foolproof, new “classics” that everyone will learn from and love. They’re good enough to change a life.
(in alphabetical order)
1) The Ballad of Sexual Dependency By Nan Goldin. Yes, it’s a photography book. But you can get a handy paperback version that reads like the best fiction. I always liked Nan Goldin’s photographs, saturated color images of her friend and lovers and boyfriends and gay friends. Maybe I wanted to be her or at least be around her friends who seemed to smoke and drink and have sex all the time. This book strings them together in remarkable fashion, each leads into the next and tells a story of love and desire, heartbreak and death, only to start all over again with sex and creation. I remember exactly where I was when I found this book. Spain, 1994. Inside the library of the Reina Sofia, 19 years old, traveling alone. I found the book and began reading the introduction. When I finished a few pages later I was crying. Goldin writes about her sister’s suicide and explains the role such an event played in her becoming an artist. She didn’t want to lose (or forget) anything she loved ever again. Then the pictures unfold, full-bleed and gorgeous. Goldin has captured couples of every age loving. Sometimes painfully. Other times ecstatically. The result is a thin slice of life. It hurts. It feels amazing. And it’s only a book.
Paperback: 144 pages
Publisher: Aperture (June 15, 2005)
Publisher Link: http://www.aperture.org/the-ballad-of-sexual-dependency-paperback.html
Amazon: The Ballad of Sexual Dependency
The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is a visual diary chronicling the struggle for intimacy and understanding between friends and lovers collectively described by Nan Goldin as her "tribe." Her work describes a world that is visceral and seething with life. As Goldin writes: "Real memory, which these pictures trigger, is an invocation of the color, smell, sound, and physical presence, the density and flavor of life."
2) Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan. By page two, it was over. I fell in love and couldn’t stop. And I dare any reader not to fall in love with David Levithan’s novel. It’s an adorable, charming, heartwarming work of staggering genius. The writing is rhythmic and pop and Pop, like a perfectly crafted pop song. It’s a fantasy about growing up gay, a naturalistic book about being a teenager. He’s filled the story with Christians and drag queens and jealous lovers-to-be. Romance and adventure and… I’m not afraid to give this book as a gift to anyone. In fact it’s my go-to gift. I know it’s that good and impossible not to love.
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (May 10, 2005)
Publisher Link: http://www.randomhouse.com/kids/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780375832994
Amazon: Boy Meets Boy
This is the story of Paul, a sophomore at a high school like no other: The cheerleaders ride Harleys, the homecoming queen used to be a guy named Daryl (she now prefers Infinite Darlene and is also the star quarterback), and the gay-straight alliance was formed to help the straight kids learn how to dance. When Paul meets Noah, he thinks he’s found the one his heart is made for. Until he blows it. The school bookie says the odds are 12-to-1 against him getting Noah back, but Paul’s not giving up without playing his love really loud. His best friend Joni might be drifting away, his other best friend Tony might be dealing with ultra-religious parents, and his ex-boyfriend Kyle might not be going away anytime soon, but sometimes everything needs to fall apart before it can really fit together right. This is a happy-meaningful romantic comedy about finding love, losing love, and doing what it takes to get love back in a crazy-wonderful world.
3) Dancer From The Dance by Andrew Holleran. With full knowledge of the horror of AIDS that followed in the 1980s, I still have fantasies about gay life in the 70s. I blame Andrew Holleran. His book is just too damn visceral, memorable, and detailed. Reading it is a multimedia experiences. I can hear the music on the dance floor and smell the sweat of men. The book is terribly sad, yet inspiring, an ecstatic reverie about a city I love and gay families, real and imagined. To this day, I can’t drive through Sayville (to a very different Fire Island than the one in this book) without hearing Holleran’s voice. His story has become part of my life, and that’s pretty cool.
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial (December 18, 2001)
Publisher Link: http://www.harpercollins.com/books/Dancer-from-the-Dance-Andrew-Holleran?isbn=9780060937065&HCHP=TB_Dancer+from+the+Dance
Amazon: Dancer From The Dance
One of the most important works of gay literature, this haunting, brilliant novel is a seriocomic remembrance of things past -- and still poignantly present. It depicts the adventures of Malone, a beautiful young man searching for love amid New York's emerging gay scene. From Manhattan's Everard Baths and after-hours discos to Fire Island's deserted parks and lavish orgies, Malone looks high and low for meaningful companionship. The person he finds is Sutherland, a campy quintessential queen -- and one of the most memorable literary creations of contemporary fiction. Hilarious, witty, and ultimately heartbreaking, Dancer from the Dance is truthful, provocative, outrageous fiction told in a voice as close to laughter as to tears.
4) Flesh and Blood by Michael Cunningham. So he may have won a Pulitzer Prize for “The Hours,” but that’s because the committee regretted not giving him the prestigious award for “Flesh and Blood” years before. That’s the story I tell myself. Not because “The Hours” isn’t wonderful. But because “Flesh and Blood” is an American Epic. It’s grand, deep, absorbing, thrilling, urgent. In a hundred years high school kids will be reading Cunningham’s book along with “The Great Gatsby.” The book is filled with so much: an immigrant’s tale, a family saga, gay life, AIDS, drug addiction, adoption, and life during the queasy final decades of the 20th century. Everyone should read it.
Paperback: 480 pages
Publisher: Picador (April 17, 2007)
Publisher Link: http://us.macmillan.com/fleshandblood
Amazon: Flesh and Blood
From the bestselling author ofThe Hours and Specimen Days comes a generous, masterfully crafted novel with all the power of a Greek tragedy. The epic tale of an American family, Flesh and Blood follows three generations of the Stassos clan as it is transformed by ambition, love, and history. Constantine Stassos, a Greek immigrant, marries Mary Cuccio, an Italian-American girl, and they have three children, each fated to a complex life. Susan is oppressed by her beauty and her father's affections; Billy is brilliant, and gay; Zoe is a wild, heedless visionary. As the years pass, their lives unfold in ways that compel them--and their parents--to meet ever greater challenges.
5) Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel. No argument Alison Bechdel’s first books, “Dykes To Watch Out For,” are jewels in the crown of gay literature. But even their brilliance did not prepare me for the emotional depth and narrative complexity of “Fun Home.” Just when I thought the memoir had been thoroughly exhausted, Bechdel made two brilliant decisions. She used her skill as an artist to tell her story through amazing, detailed drawings. The pictures are so good she almost didn’t need words, but her writing is amazing. Bechdel is so concise (she has to be to fit a whole book into speech balloons!) I kept flipping back and re-reading pages to slow the book down.
Paperback: 232 pages
Publisher: Mariner Books (June 5, 2007)
Publisher Link: http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/catalog/titledetail.cfm?titleNumber=694163&searchString=0618871713
Amazon: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
In this groundbreaking, bestselling graphic memoir, Alison Bechdel charts her fraught relationship with her late father. In her hands, personal history becomes a work of amazing subtlety and power, written with controlled force and enlivened with humor, rich literary allusion, and heartbreaking detail. Distant and exacting, Bruce Bechdel was an English teacher and director of the town funeral home, which Alison and her family referred to as the "Fun Home." It was not until college that Alison, who had recently come out as a lesbian, discovered that her father was also gay. A few weeks after this revelation, he was dead, leaving a legacy of mystery for his daughter to resolve.
6) Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi By Geoff Dyer. Sex and art and losing yourself: Three of my favorite topics fill every nook and cranny of this extraordinary book. The first half is about a writer named Jeff sent to Venice to write an article about the Biennale. He wanders the muggy streets and looks at a lot of art. He meets a woman and has an exquisitely sexy affair. Geoff (the author) is also a writer who spent time at The Biennale in 2003. He writes like a journalist using uses real artists and exhibition details. Part Two begins with a different (or maybe the same) Jeff off to Varanasi to write another article. There he wanders along filthy riverbanks and through hundreds of temples. And he watches two others at his hotel have an affair. He is outside himself. He is lost. I think. I don’t know. I know I felt overwhelming sadness and excitement, and joy at discovering an author I loved. When I finished the book I went online and started researching flights to Varanasi.
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Vintage (April 6, 2010)
Publisher Link: http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780307390301
Amazon: Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanesi
In Venice, at the Biennale, a jaded, bellini-swigging journalist named Jeff Atman meets a beautiful woman and they embark on a passionate affair. In Varanasi, an unnamed journalist (who may or may not be Jeff) joins thousands of pilgrims on the banks of the holy Ganges. He intends to stay for a few days but ends up remaining for months. Their journey—as only the irrepressibly entertaining Geoff Dyer could conjure—makes for an uproarious, fiendishly inventive novel of Italy and India, longing and lust, and the prospect of neurotic enlightenment.
7) The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles. I backed into this book through sidelong glances and full-frontal nudity found. I was 13 years-old and up late watching Bernardo Bertolucci’s film version after my mom went to bed. The story and setting and, well, everything about it turned me on. It’s about a married couple, Port (John Malkovich) and Kit (Debra Winger), on vacation with another man, Tunner (Campbell Scott, who is so obviously their boyfriend). So I searched out the book and fell into a state of love and lust with it, too, though in a different way. Bowles’ novel is quieter, yet no less vivid and erotic. It’s darker, in some ways, and more cerebral. Bowles’ does something in this book that stunned me. He writes both what Port and Kit “say” and what they really wanted to say, but don’t. This creates a level of intimacy between the reader and the characters that is one of the most intense in literature.
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics (September 20, 2005)
Publisher Link: http://www.harpercollins.com/books/The-Sheltering-Sky-Paul-Bowles?isbn=9780060834821&HCHP=TB_The+Sheltering+Sky
Amazon: The Sheltering Sky
The Sheltering Sky is a landmark of twentieth-century literature. In this intensely fascinating story, Paul Bowles examines the ways in which Americans' incomprehension of alien cultures leads to the ultimate destruction of those cultures. A story about three American travelers adrift in the cities and deserts of North Africa after World War II, The Sheltering Sky explores the limits of humanity when it touches the unfathomable emptiness and impassive cruelty of the desert. This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.
About Aaron Krach: Aaron Krach is an American film critic, journalist, writer and artist currently living in New York City.
He was born in Ionia, Michigan on February 15, 1972. He grew up in Alhambra, California, and graduated from Alhambra High School. He attended the University of California San Diego in La Jolla, CA, graduating with a B.A. in Visual Arts in 1994. Aaron Krach moved to New York City in 1995. He now lives on Manhattan's lower east side.
Krach has written for Time Out New York, Out magazine, InStyle, , Oui, The independent film & video monthly, Indie Wire, HX, The Villager, a former editor of Empire Magazine, arts editor of Gay City News, and was a former editor of Empire in New York City, and was a senior editor at Cargo, which work was lengthily quoted in San Diego Union Tribune. He was an editor at BravoTV.com, and affiliated sites OUTzoneTV.com and BrilliantButCancelled.com. He is currently a features editor at House Beautiful, a Hearst publication.
Krach's debut novel Half-Life was published to critical acclaim by Alyson Books in 2004. The novel was nominated for a Violet Quill Award and was among the 2004 Lambda Literary Award finalists. Of Half-Life, Reed Business Information wrote "Gay readers will relish the attention lavished on love's growing pains and the smart dialogue between Adam and his high school buddy". His second book, 100 New York Mysteries, was published in 2006.
His work has been exhibited in Olympia, Washington, New York City, St. Petersburg, Florida, and Copenhagen, Denmark. In 2006, his solo exhibition titled "100 New York Mysteries" was presented at DCKT Contemporary in Chelsea, New York. In 2007, new photographs and sculpture have been exhibited at 3rd Ward in Greenpoint, Jack The Pelican Presents in Brooklyn, Gallery 312 Online in Nova Scotia, Canada, and Massachusetts's College of Liberal Arts. In 2009, "Longer Periods of Happiness," appeared at DCKT in Manhattan.
In October, 2009, he curated the exhibition, "Artists Who Use Text To Say Nice Things". Artists featured include: Alex Da Corte, Carl Ferrero, Dana Frankfort, Incidental, Chris Johanson, Cary Leibowitz, Gillian MacLeod, Mark Mahosky, Heath Nash, Kate O'Connor, Jack Pierson, Megan Plunkett, Franklin Preston, Trevor Reese, Alyce Santoro, Sighn, Mickey Smith, Charlie Welch, and Shawn Wolfe.
Of Krach's work in an art show in January 2009, Christopher Muther of Boston Globe wrote "Balancing the seriousness of Burtonwood and Holmes's political tees is the work of New York artist Aaron Krach, whose art plays with the familiar." (From Wikipedia)
Half-life by Aaron Krach
Paperback: 312 pages
Publisher: Alyson Books (May 1, 2004)
Publisher Link: http://www.alyson.com/9781555838546.html
During the last year of the 20th century, 18-year-old Adam Westman finds himself “on the verge of manhood,” as his best friend Dart likes to say. He lives in the exact center of center-less Los Angeles with his depressed father, Greg, and imaginative younger sister, Sandra. When Greg suddenly dies, more than everything changes and the relatively smooth orbits of family and friends are altered when Adam needs them most. In the middle of the drama, a man in uniform appears—and he is more than interested in Adam. This man, a policeman, is warm, witty and wise. He is 6 foot-something, dirty blond, and . . . well, he’s a California Boy trapped inside the body of a 38 year-old man. But how can Adam consider the possibility of a relationship when he is dealing with his father’s death, his friends’ (and his own) pre-pre-pre mid-life crises, his mother’s ambivalence, and his little sister’s need for him? Then again, how can he not?
Half-Life is about being—or at least feeling—young and old at the same time. About loving, or wanting to love, but knowing that life and love are both as exuberant and seductive yet two-dimensional and illusory as a billboard along any of Los Angeles’s endless freeways.