Show me the books he loves and I shall know the man far better than through mortal friends - Silas Weir MitchellRobin Reardon is probably the first mainstream contemporary author I read in the Gay Novels genre (contemporary since of course I read some of the classics before). I love both novels I read, and I'm waiting to read the third, that I'm sure I will love as well. I love that basically, Robin Reardon is writing common stories about common people, young men at the beginning of their adult life, that period of life I love, when everything seems possible, and everything seems huge and tremendous. So I'm really happy to have Robin as Inside Reader today.
Robin Reardon's Inside Reader List
1. Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides. Anyone who doesn't believe that one's gender identity is, foundationally, second only to species in how we define ourselves would change their mind after reading this book. Although a novel, it would be believable as a memoir. And in fact it tells the story of many, many individuals who have remained mostly hidden.
Cal Stephanides was born with barely visible male genitalia and was consequently (and ignorantly) raised as a girl. As Calliope, entering puberty, she struggles painfully with the confusion brought on by a deepening voice, darkening and thickening body hair, and sexual feelings for girlfriends who are supposed to peers, not romantic partners. And when the truth begins to be unavoidable, Cal comes to feel like a freak that the medical world wants to study.
Told cleanly, without manipulation or sentimentality, gritty enough to be real but never offensive, this is a masterpiece. And what a challenge for an author! Wish I'd thought of it.
Paperback: 544 pages
Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (June 5, 2007)
Publisher Link: http://us.macmillan.com/middlesex
Amazon: Middlesex: A Novel
"I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of l974. . . My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver’s license...records my first name simply as Cal." So begins the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family who travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus in Asia Minor to Prohibition-era Detroit, witnessing its glory days as the Motor City, and the race riots of l967, before they move out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Pointe, Michigan. To understand why Calliope is not like other girls, she has to uncover a guilty family secret and the astonishing genetic history that turns Callie into Cal, one of the most audacious and wondrous narrators in contemporary fiction. Lyrical and thrilling, Middlesex is an exhilarating reinvention of the American epic.
2. The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell. The underlying themes here are deep and intense: the human longing to understand itself; our inability to see what our own assumptions are, let alone understand how someone else’s might be different; our compulsion not just to believe in a god-like power but also to find it. All these themes are woven in a poignant, vivid tale that combines fantasy with religious fervor and is unlike any other story I’ve encountered.
Imagine that our technology suddenly reveals that there is celestial music—true music, not just pretty sounds—from some source other than earth. Imagine being convinced that these sounds emanate from some godly source. Imagine being one of the humans who fly off in search of that music, that God, that Answer, only to find a place where the welcome you receive looks more like evil to you than the gracious hospitality your hosts believe it to be. Imagine trying to explain this to fellow believers. Or even to yourself.
Paperback: 408 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books (September 8, 1997)
Publisher Link: http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780449912553
Amazon: The Sparrow
"A NOTABLE ACHIEVEMENT . . . Russell shows herself to be a skillful storyteller who subtly and expertly builds suspense." --USA Today. "AN EXPERIENCE NOT TO BE MISSED . . . If you have to send a group of people to a newly discovered planet to contact a totally unknown species, whom would you choose? How about four Jesuit priests, a young astronomer, a physician, her engineer husband, and a child prostitute-turned-computer-expert? That's who Mary Doria Russell sends in her new novel, The Sparrow. This motley combination of agnostics, true believers, and misfits becomes the first to explore the Alpha Centuri world of Rakhat with both enlightening and disastrous results. . . . Vivid and engaging . . . An incredible novel." --Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "POWERFUL . . . Father Emilio Sandoz [is] the only survivor of a Jesuit mission to the planet Rakhat, 'a soul . . . looking for God.' We first meet him in Italy . . . sullen and bitter. . . . But he was not always this way, as we learn through flashbacks that tell the story of the ill-fated trip. . . . The Sparrow tackles a difficult subject with grace and intelligence." --San Francisco Chronicle. "SMOOTH STORYTELLING AND GORGEOUS CHARACTERIZATION . . . Important novels leave deep cracks in our beliefs, our prejudices, and our blinders. The Sparrow is one of them." --Entertainment Weekly
3. Life of Pi, Yann Martel. This is one of the most beautifully written books I've ever read. Martel has a real talent for painting with words, and the depth of his philosophy is subtly apparent in each stroke of his verbal brush. Many times I stopped, took a deep breath, and re-read an entire paragraph just to enjoy it again.
The story takes you from a zoo in India, where you learn the true animal nature of the captive creatures, to a small boat accidentally adrift on the ocean, where a boy is trapped alone except for one companion: a tiger. What will it take for this boy and the potential man-eater to coexist in this tiny space?
When I got to the end, I found myself thinking back over the book trying to understood where the author landed me. And even now, there’s a little mystery; I’m not entirely sure.
Paperback: 326 pages
Publisher: Mariner Books (May 1, 2003)
Publisher Link: http://www.hmhbooks.com/catalog/titledetail.cfm?titleNumber=1184330&searchString=0156027321
Amazon: Life of Pi
The son of a zookeeper, Pi Patel has an encyclopedic knowledge of animal behavior and a fervent love of stories. When Pi is sixteen, his family emigrates from India to North America aboard a Japanese cargo ship, along with their zoo animals bound for new homes. The ship sinks. Pi finds himself alone in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi, whose fear, knowledge, and cunning allow him to coexist with Richard Parker for 227 days while lost at sea. When they finally reach the coast of Mexico, Richard Parker flees to the jungle, never to be seen again. The Japanese authorities who interrogate Pi refuse to believe his story and press him to tell them "the truth." After hours of coercion, Pi tells a second story, a story much less fantastical, much more conventional--but is it more true?
4. Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson. Robinson is a writer’s writer. Her use of language is sublime, bordering on heavenly. And the story she tells in this, her first book, is a masterful balance of the extremely ordinary and the compellingly insane.
Set in the most undecorated geography, orphaned sisters live a life of quiet desperation with their aunt, who descends slowly into something other than reality. Seeking equilibrium in a world that looks like it should be normal but that teeters more unsteadily with every step they take, each girl reaches out for something to hold onto, some piece of flotsam that might keep her afloat in the eerie chaos of her home life. Despite the similarities in their situation—their common plight, the parents they shared, the environment that looks the same for both of them—their personalities take them in directions that are as different as solid conformity and rootless, center-less existence can be.
Robinson leaves you wondering if there is a right direction for either girl. Or if there is one for you.
Paperback: 219 pages
Publisher: Picador (October 14, 2004)
Publisher Link: http://us.macmillan.com/housekeeping
Amazon: Housekeeping: A Novel
A modern classic,Housekeeping is the story of Ruth and her younger sister, Lucille, who grow up haphazardly, first under the care of their competent grandmother, then of two comically bumbling great-aunts, and finally of Sylvie, their eccentric and remote aunt. The family house is in the small Far West town of Fingerbone set on a glacial lake, the same lake where their grandfather died in a spectacular train wreck, and their mother drove off a cliff to her death. It is a town "chastened by an outsized landscape and extravagant weather, and chastened again by an awareness that the whole of human history had occurred elsewhere." Ruth and Lucille's struggle toward adulthood beautifully illuminates the price of loss and survival, and the dangerous and deep undertow of transience.
5. The Once and Future King, T.H. White. On the surface, this is a story of Camelot: of a noble king, the beautiful queen who loves him, and the self-effacing, powerful soldier who worships him. And for a good portion of the book, it seems like a story you might read to children. The delightful scenes where Merlin the magician transforms the boy king into different animals, so that he learns what it means to be human, present lessons in humility and generosity I keep with me today. The contrast between the Questing Beast and the Holy Grail—one comedic and earthly, one celestial and sacred, and both retaining their meaning only as long as the objects are unattainable—contains lessons for everyone.
But it’s also a story of betrayal, of self-delusion and false dreams, and of what happens when we draw lines between what’s yours and mine, between what you are and I am, and when we isolate ourselves from each other by any of the various means at our disposal. It’s a story of what happens to love when we try to divide it.
Paperback: 688 pages
Publisher: Ace Trade (October 1, 1996)
Publisher Link: http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780441003839,00.html?strSrchSql=0441003834/Once_and_Future_King_T._H._White
Amazon: The Once and Future King
The whole world knows and loves this book. It is the magical epic of King Arthur and his shining Camelot; of Merlin and Owl and Guinevere; of beasts who talk and men who fly, of wizardry and war. It is the book of all things lost and wonderful and sad. It is the fantasy masterpiece by which all others are judged.
6. The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith, Irshad Manji. This one is not a novel. It’s full of facts and real-life truths. In this open letter, a call for reform of Islam, Manji makes a compelling case for worshiping strategically rather than tactically. Among many other astoundingly insightful points, she says that one of the biggest hurdles for Muslims is the tendency to apply the Qur’an as though the practitioners still lived centuries ago, in a desert civilization, following behavior and rules that made sense then but might no longer apply, given the knowledge and social infrastructure to which we have access today.
Manji is a journalist who has traveled broadly in the Islamic world, and in making her point she speaks openly and honestly about her experiences with the practices common to fundamentalist versions of Islam, including what it’s like to conform fully with the traditional dress and demeanor of a strict Muslim woman. The waste, as she sees it, of fully half of Islam’s humanity as the rights—and brains—of women are dismissed, screams for the reform she seeks.
Manji is a devout Muslim. She is a lesbian. And she lives behind bullet-proof glass.
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (February 10, 2005)
Publisher Link: http://us.macmillan.com/thetroublewithislamtoday
Amazon: The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith
"I have to be honest with you. Islam is on very thin ice with me.... Through our screaming self-pity and our conspicuous silences, we Muslims are conspiring against ourselves. We're in crisis and we're dragging the rest of the world with us. If ever there was a moment for an Islamic reformation, it's now. For the love of God, what are we doing about it?" In this open letter, Irshad Manji unearths the troubling cornerstones of mainstream Islam today: tribal insularity, deep-seated anti-Semitism, and an uncritical acceptance of the Koran as the final, and therefore superior, manifesto of God's will. But her message is ultimately positive. She offers a practical vision of how Islam can undergo a reformation that empowers women, promotes respect for religious minorities, and fosters a competition of ideas. Her vision revives "ijtihad," Islam's lost tradition of independent thinking. In that spirit, Irshad has a refreshing challenge for both Muslims and non-Muslims: Don't silence yourselves. Ask questions---out loud. The Trouble with Islam Today is a clarion call for a fatwa-free future.
7. The Red Tent, Anita Diamant. In addition to the vivid picture Diamant paints of life for the earliest Biblical Jews, this story has a point to make to those who believe that the Bible defines marriage as a sacred union between one man and one woman.
Following the life of Dinah, daughter of Leah and Jacob, we see how Jewish women in that time, in the Middle East, were treated by the men who essentially owned them. And we see how the women used their own strengths to support each other, how their situation caused them to use what influence they had in ways that either benefited or damaged other members of their sisterhood, and how this influence could be made to affect the lives of the men in their tribe. Dinah’s story demonstrates clearly how human nature escapes from between the fingers of a hand trying to control people by squeezing their bodies and souls into a malleable mass of silly putty.
The book, for which Diamant did scrupulous research, also provides the only clear Biblical definition of marriage we have: one man, many women. Many religious people who would deny that same-sex partners should be allowed to marry and call it marriage point toward Genesis 2:24, where it says that man will leave his father and his mother, and will join with his wife, and they will be one flesh. Never mind that this verse appears right after Adam’s rib has been used to create Eve, and that Adam and Eve were both without father or mother (other than God, of course, but hardly the earthly equivalent implied). Never mind that Eve was the only game in town for Adam, so he had no choice of any kind. Whatever the reason for this verse to appear where it does, it was roundly ignored by the descendants of this famous pair. The children of Adam and Eve formed themselves into nomadic tribes in which one man had several wives, and he relegated them to the red tent when they were sick and unclean—that is, during their cycles of birthing, menses, and other “illnesses.”
The Red Tent gives modern readers a fascinating insight into the relationship between men and women, and between women and women, in a time when the Judeo-Christian religious tradition itself was being formed—and, true to the historical period, she does it with precious little religion of any kind.
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Picador (August 21, 2007)
Publisher Link: http://us.macmillan.com/theredtent
Amazon: The Red Tent: A Novel
A New York Times Bestseller. A decade after the publication of this hugely popular international bestseller, Picador releases the tenth anniversary edition of The Red Tent. Her name is Dinah. In the Bible, her life is only hinted at in a brief and violent detour within the more familiar chapters of the Book of Genesis that tell of her father, Jacob, and his twelve sons. Told in Dinah's voice, Anita Diamant imagines the traditions and turmoils of ancient womanhood--the world of the red tent. It begins with the story of the mothers--Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah--the four wives of Jacob. They love Dinah and give her gifts that sustain her through childhood, a calling to midwifery, and a new home in a foreign land. Dinah's story reaches out from a remarkable period of early history and creates an intimate connection with the past. Deeply affecting, The Red Tent combines rich storytelling with a valuable achievement in modern fiction: a new view of biblical women's lives.
8. Snow falling on Cedars, David Guterson. This moody, contemplative story is written in a voice that is clean—even pristine—and yet creates a nexus of seemingly contradictory realities. As a reader, I usually remember for a long time written descriptions of nature that use pigments and shapes to evoke an emotional response that colors the entirety of the story. Guterson’s depiction of the forests and seas of Pugent Sound do exactly this.
The confluence of lives in the story includes berry farmers, fishermen, a local newspaper publisher, and the Japanese-American woman with whom the publisher had a childhood romance—and who is now the wife of a Japanese-American accused of murdering a fisherman. Guterson weaves a very real and plausible story out of seemingly disparate pieces to create a work that is part romance, part mystery story, part courtroom drama, and part historical fiction (with the echoes of the internment camps into which the U.S. put Japanese citizens during World War II).
I did not see the film that inspired this book, but I understand that it was a pale imitation. So if you saw and were not impressed by the film, I hope you won’t let that prevent you from reading this book, which has subtle magic threading through it.
Paperback: 460 pages
Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage contemporaries ed edition (September 26, 1995)
Publisher Link: http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780679764021
Amazon: Snow Falling on Cedars: A Novel
Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award. American Booksellers Association Book of the Year Award. San Piedro Island, north of Puget Sound, is a place so isolated that no one who lives there can afford to make enemies. But in 1954 a local fisherman is found suspiciously drowned, and a Japanese American named Kabuo Miyamoto is charged with his murder. In the course of the ensuing trial, it becomes clear that what is at stake is more than a man's guilt. For on San Pedro, memory grows as thickly as cedar trees and the fields of ripe strawberries--memories of a charmed love affair between a white boy and the Japanese girl who grew up to become Kabuo's wife; memories of land desired, paid for, and lost. Above all, San Piedro is haunted by the memory of what happened to its Japanese residents during World War II, when an entire community was sent into exile while its neighbors watched. Gripping, tragic, and densely atmospheric, Snow Falling on Cedars is a masterpiece of suspense-- one that leaves us shaken and changed.
9. The Vintner’s Luck, Elizabeth Knox. If a man falls in love with a male angel one summer night on a hilltop in a French vineyard in 1808, if for years he sees this angel only once a year on this same hilltop, if the angel seems both intimate and impersonal at once, how will this affect the man’s ability to live his life as his family has lived for generations—raising children with his wife, making wine, interacting with the local nobility? What connection, if any, is there between the angel’s annual appearance and the success of each year’s vintage? What can the man make of the angel’s matter-of-fact telling of wildly incredible stories of heaven and hell? And, perhaps most important, what horrible things would be necessary for this angel to be more worldly because of his love for the man?
This book affected me deeply and created images that have stayed very present in my mind. For me, it falls somewhere between fantasy and allegory, tending toward the latter. The quiet, even voice somehow manages to evoke a powerful response (think "still waters run deep"). It's not for everyone. It's unique.
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (August 5, 2000)
Publisher Link: http://us.macmillan.com/thevintnersluck
Amazon: The Vintner's Luck
One summer night in 1808, Sobran Jodeau sets out to drown his love sorrows in his family's vineyard when he stumbles on an angel. Once he gets over his shock, Sobran decides that Xas, the male angel, is his guardian sent to counsel him on everything from marriage to wine production. But Xas turns out to be a far more mysterious character. Compelling and erotic,The Vintner's Luck explores a decidedly unorthodox love story as Sobran eventually comes to love and be loved by both Xas and the young Countess de Valday, his friend and employer at the neighboring chateau.
10. Dancer from the Dance, Andrew Holleran. Once upon a time, I didn’t know there was a genre called gay literature. Not being gay myself, perhaps this is understandable—but not forgivable. When I discovered this rich world, the first book I read was this one. It’s not likely that anyone reading these summaries hasn’t read this book, so I’ll just offer the ways in which it affected me rather than try to describe the book itself.
The Stonewall riots weren’t even a decade behind the timeframe of this story, and in the eyes of someone outside the gay community, this book depicts how people who had been cruelly restrained by persecution and societal shame began to express themselves explosively and unabashedly, even as they carried their past shame with them. Certainly, the main character, Malone, seems to struggle to express his true nature while wallowing in shame that was forced on him from external sources, and he carries both to extremes.
This book, along with the next books I read from this genre (by authors such as Edmund White and John Rechy), are the reason I didn’t go to see Brokeback Mountain. By the time that film came out, not only did I not need to be told what happens when people are forced to live lives that are against their natures, but also I was chomping at the bit for stories in which gay people had promising futures, stories in which their fortunes were not dictated by their sexual orientation alone, but by the entirety of who they are as people. And these are the stories I write. So to Holleran’s classic I owe the impetus for my own work in a genre I didn’t even know about before I read this book.
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: A Novel
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.
About Robin Reardon: Robin Reardon is an inveterate observer of human nature and has been writing forever — childish songs, poems, little plays.
If you enjoy Robin’s books, you should read her open letter: THE CASE FOR ACCEPTANCE: An Open Letter to Humanity. In this work Robin uses reason, physical and social sciences, psychology, various other provable disciplines, and religious scripture to remove any rational objection to homosexuality. The letter also takes a stab at explaining why so many people refuse to let go of their gut-level, knee-jerk negative response to gays, and how their very humanity could help them. How it could help everyone.
By day Robin works as a communications manager for an international financial institution, creating strategic communications approaches specializing in intranet delivery of internal communications. Interests outside of writing include singing, photography, and the study of comparative religions. Robin writes in a butter yellow study with a view of the Boston, Massachusetts skyline.
A Question of Manhood by Robin Reardon
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Kensington; Original edition (September 28, 2010)
Publisher Link: http://www.kensingtonbooks.com/finditem.cfm?itemid=17603
Amazon: A Question of Manhood
November 1972. The Vietnam War is rumored to be drawing to a close, and for sixteen-year-old Paul Landon, the end can’t come soon enough. The end will mean his older brother Chris, the family’s golden child, returning home from the Army for good. But while home on leave, Chris entrusts Paul with a secret: He’s gay. And when Chris is killed in action, Paul is beset by grief and guilt, haunted by knowledge he can’t share.
That summer, Paul is forced to work at his family’s pet supply store. Worse, he must train a new employee, JJ O’Neil, a gay college freshman. But though Paul initially dislikes JJ for being everything he’s not—self-confident, capable, ambitious—he finds himself learning from him. Not just about how to handle the anxious, aggressive dogs JJ so effortlessly calms and trains, but how to stand up for himself—even when it means standing against his father, his friends, and his own fears. Through JJ, Paul finally begins to glimpse who his brother really was—and a way toward becoming the man he wants to be…