Show me the books he loves and I shall know the man far better than through mortal friends - Silas Weir MitchellIt was long that I haven't an Inside Reader in this journal and I'm really glad that Kergan Edwards-Stout has joined me today to share with us his favorite books. I met Kergan at the Rainbow Book Fair in NYC and his Songs for the New Depression is a Rainbow Awards submission (fingers crossed for him), but this novel has already won the 2012 Indie Book Award in the LGBTQ category, was shortlisted in the same category for the 2011 Independent Literary Awards, and is available now in paperback, hardcover and e-Book formats. If you want to discover the new novel Kirkus Reviews calls "an engaging debut," and Frontiers Magazine notes is "simply stunning.", just leave a comment on this post, I will draw a winner and Kergan will send you a print copy (so be aware that you need to provide an home address, so please, don't leave anonymous comments, so that I can contact you).
And now please welcome Kergan Edwards-Stout!
My favorite reads are likely not on many other author’s top lists, as they’re not the most high-minded of books. Instead, they are a mixed grab-bag, evoking specific memories of places and times. Some meant a lot upon initial read, and others add layers, the more I read them. Here are my top 5, in no particular order, though I may regret the admission of some!
1. The Tales of the City Series by Armistead Maupin: It is impossible for me to begin a list of favorites without first mentioning the entire Tales of the City series. While not the first LGBT books I read, this series spoke to me in an identifiable way, which few others have, before or since. Originally a compendium of six (Tales of the City, More Tales of the City, Further Tales of the City, Babycakes, Significant Others, and Sure of You), latter tales such as Michael Tolliver Lives and Mary Ann in Autumn are an extenuation of the whole, in my mind, and cannot be separated from the rest.
The initial story of Mary Ann Singleton, a single career gal venturing into the cosmopolitan world of San Francisco, is an intoxicating story, filled with humor, surprise, and inevitable tears. But Maupin isn’t content to stop with just that. In each succeeding book, he draws you further into the world of Mary Ann and her many friends, Mouse, Brian, Mona, DeeDee, Mrs. Madrigal, and the others, in a simple, straight-forward manner, allowing this rag-tag band to feel more like family than anything else. I first began reading the collection just after high school, in 1983, and even today, the news of a new Tale is enough to perk my spirits.
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial (May 29, 2007)
For more than three decades Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City has blazed its own trail through popular culture—from a groundbreaking newspaper serial to a classic novel, to a television event that entranced millions around the world. The first of six novels about the denizens of the mythic apartment house at 28 Barbary Lane, Tales is both a sparkling comedy of manners and an indelible portrait of an era that changed forever the way we live.
2. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein: No matter how many times I’ve read the book, both as a child and now to my own children, this gorgeously told tale of friendship never loses its luster. Both simple and profound, it touches something at my core, about how life is supposed to be led.
Reading level: Ages 1 and up
Hardcover: 64 pages
Publisher: Harper & Row; First Edition edition (October 7, 1964)
'Once there was a tree...and she loved a little boy.'
So begins a story of unforgettable perception, beautifully written and illustrated by the gifted and versatile Shel Silverstein.
Every day the boy would come to the tree to eat her apples, swing from her branches, or slide down her trunk...and the tree was happy. But as the boy grew older he began to want more from the tree, and the tree gave and gave and gave.
This is a tender story, touched with sadness, aglow with consolation. Shel Silverstein has created a moving parable for readers of all ages that offers an affecting interpretation of the gift of giving and a serene acceptance of another's capacity to love in return.
3. Our Arcadia by Robin Lippincott: I first read Our Arcadia several years ago and it has stayed with me ever since. A Virginia Woolf aficionado, Mr. Lippincott’s first book was the lovely Mr. Dalloway, which — as its title suggests — imagines the life of Mr. after the passing of the more well-known Mrs. While I enjoyed it, Our Arcadia found a way into my soul, and every so often I pick it up to read again.
In Our Arcadia, Lippincott looks at the lives of 6 people sharing a house on Cape Cod in 1928. The central characters, Lark and Nora, are seeking the answer to the question “How to Live?”, which is perhaps why it resonates so deeply with me. I’ve often found myself searching for “home” and “community,” and the longing of the characters feels entirely real to me, as they search for their own unique answer to the larger question.
Reading level: Ages 18 and up
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Penguin Books (May 1, 2002)
Inspired by their desire to explore the question, "How to Live?" Nora Hartley and Lark Marin buy a house in Truro, on Cape Cod, to create a haven for themselves and their like-minded friends in their quest for a meaningful life. Nora, thirty-three, is a well-educated divorcée with two young children; Lark, twenty-four, is a disaffected gay man. The story spans from 1928 to 1943 as it follows the colorful cast of characters who make their way into the bohemian True House. Inevitably, the friends' haven is not impermeable, and they are unable to keep harsh, sometimes violent, reality at bay. Presented in short, deft, impressionistic chapters, Our Arcadia is an elegant, thoughtful novel about the intersection of life and art and the importance of friendships from the critically acclaimed author of Mr. Dalloway.
"A captivating novel, peopled with appealing characters and an intriguing theme: experimenting with an alternative lifestyle." (Orlando Sentinel)
4. The Glass Lake by Maeve Binchy: I don’t think Maeve Binchy has yet gotten her due. She writes tight, character-driven tales, giving glimpses into small town life in Ireland and Great Britain, and has a way of writing characters which draws readers in quickly. While she died this past year, she left behind a whole host of different tales. I’m partial to her novels, which allow you to dive into her rich characters more fully than her short stories.
While I could list just about any one of her many novels on this list, including Copper Beech, Light a Penny Candle, Circle of Friends, or Firefly Summer, as I’ve read them all, The Glass Lake stands out for me, which I think is due to its wonderfully mysterious plot, containing twists I never saw coming. Definitely a page-turner.
Paperback: 768 pages
Publisher: Dell (May 29, 2007)
Night after night the beautiful woman walked beside the serene waters of Lough Glass. Until the day she disappeared, leaving only a boat drifting upside down on the unfathomable lake that gave the town its name. Ravishing Helen McMahon, the Dubliner with film-star looks and unfulfilled dreams, never belonged in Lough Glass, not the way her genial pharmacist-husband Martin belonged, or their spirited daughter Kit. Suddenly, she is gone and Kit is haunted by the memory of her mother, seen through a window, alone at the kitchen table, tears streaming down her face. Now Kit, too, has secrets: of the night she discovered a letter on Martin’s pillow and burned it, unopened. The night her mother was lost. The night everything changed forever…
5. My Brother and His Brother by Håkan Lindquist: This terrific Swedish novel, My Brother and His Brother, introduces readers to the world of Jonas Lundberg, a young boy who has grown up in the shadow of his deceased older brother, Paul. Never having known Paul, as he was born after his death, Jonas is drawn to the stories he’s heard about him, and finds himself being pulled inexplicably towards the details of Paul’s tragic death. Was it an accident, as he has always been told, or is something more at play?
Billed as a mystery, while there are such elements, the novel never feels gimmicky. There is never an appearance by a hardened detective, or a villain, smoothing their mustache with a smirk. Rather, it is an evocative and subtle look into one boy’s pain — indeed, his family’s — and how by unraveling the mysteries of the past, this teenager is able come into his own, evolving into an assured young man.
There is sparseness to the writing. It is clean, concise, and unadorned; almost poetic. Whether this is purposeful, due to translation issues, a nod to Strinberg, or simply a Swedish aesthetic, this simplicity serves to highlight the more dramatic moments, providing that much needed balance. These quieter moments help the characters, and we the readers, open emotionally, giving ourselves over to the narrative, instead of having it pummeled into us. And when you allow something to seep into your marrow, as My Brother and His Brother did to me, it is difficult to walk away unaffected.
Paperback: 169 pages
Publisher: Bruno Gmunder Verlag Gmbh (March 1, 2011)
"My Brother and His Brother" is a novel about two brothers. The story is told by one of them, Jonas, an 18-year old boy. Throughout his teenage years he has been trying to get an image of Paul, the brother he never met, a brother who died at the age of 16, the year before Jonas himself was born. The story is told like a crime story, with loose ends, clues and cliff hangers. In his search for his brother, Jonas soon finds out that Paul had an intense love affair with another boy during the last year of his life. This love affair is described in a few chapters in the middle of the novel. My Brother and His BrotherA" received very good reviews when it was published in Sweden, and soon new editions followed as well as several translations. The novel has been published in Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Hungary, Iceland, France, Germany and Italy.
About Kergan Edwards-Stout: Edwards-Stout is an award-winning director, author and screenwriter.
His debut novel, Songs for the New Depression, won the 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Award in the LGBTQ category, was short-listed for the 2011 Independent Literary Award in the same, and is available in paperback, hardcover, and eBook. Inspired by his years of working at AIDS Project Los Angeles, as well as the loss of a partner to the disease, Songs for the New Depression takes its readers on a compelling journey to personal awakening. It has been called “Simply stunning” by Frontiers Magazine and received high critical acclaim.
Shorter works, including essays and short stories, have appeared in such journals and magazines as Huffingon Post, Bilerico Project, American Short Fiction and SexVibe. His screenplays have placed highly in competition, including the Nicholl’s Fellowship, Writer’s Digest, and Amazon Studios.
When Esther Saw the Light, a theatrical production Kergan directed, won awards at the Kennedy Center for both Best Play and Meritorious Direction. The Washington Post called it “Gaspingly funny”, while the Washington Times noted it was a “nose-thumbing comedy worth its weight in sacred cows.” While at UCLA, Kergan was honored to receive the Doris Packer Award for Graduating Senior.
As an actor in his early years, Kergan performed in countless plays, and did commercials and print work for Toyota, Honda, Guide Los Angeles, and Isuzu, among others. His proudest moment, however, was as a model for a national ad campaign for “Today Condoms”, which ran for many months in such magazines as Rolling Stone, Esquire, GQ, and Cosmopolitan. This led him to be known at UCLA as “the condom guy”, long before he became known even more widely as “the condom guy” for demonstrating safer sex techniques, such as rolling a condom on a dildo with his mouth, as part of his work at AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA).
While at APLA, Kergan headed an HIV education program, overseeing and training countless volunteers, editing a magazine, doing community outreach, and writing curriculum for workshops covering everything from safer sex basics, to increased intimacy and enhanced self-esteem. Kergan gave hundreds of educational speeches, and he was honored to be the keynote speaker for the Louisiana State Department of Health’s Annual Conference. This passion for social justice led him not only to APLA, but to the L.A. Free Clinic, where he created traveling theatrical productions educating teens about high risk behaviors.
Kergan credits much of his adult emotional growth to a pivotal moment in his life: while at APLA, he fell in love with Shane Michael Sawick, an actor who ran the Southern California AIDS Hotline. When they met, Shane had already been diagnosed with AIDS, and at that time, there were not the medical advances we have today. During the course of their relationship, Shane became ill with Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy (PML), and died on March 22, 1995. Through the process of being caregiver and in loving fully, Kergan was forced to examine himself and his darker emotions, and this experience influences much of his writing. Shane is greatly missed.
In a volunteer capacity, Kergan has organized protests, benefits, and rallies, and the Peace & Justice Speakers Series he created at Church of the Foothills (ChOTF) featured experts from the Southern Poverty Law Center, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Children of Uganda, OC Transgender Coalition, Habitat for Humanity, OC Equality Coalition, OC Food Bank, and Schindler’s List/Holocaust survivor Laura Hillman. Also at ChOTF, Kergan was pleased to bring the controversial and important plays Corpus Christi and Confessions of a Mormon Boy to conservative Orange County.
Furthering his commitment to progressive causes, Kergan was proud to help launch Bright Green Kids, an “all green”, eco-friendly fundraising initiative for schools, where he served as Director of Marketing.
Currently, Kergan lives in Orange, California, with his partner Russ Noe. Russ is a creative brand strategist and is the cat’s pajamas. And when Russ is not busy being the cat’s pajamas, he is the bee’s knees.
Accompanying Russ and Kergan on their life journey are their two amazing sons, Mason (12) and Marcus (10). Mason is smart, sweet, and an incredible athlete, and Marcus is charming, funny, and destined to end up on stage somewhere. Kergan feels incredibly fortunate to have such a phenomenal family, and dedicates his blog to them.
When not busy writing or promoting his radical gay agenda, Kergan stays busy with his family, church, coaching soccer, working out, and folding laundry. He was honored to be chosen as one of HRC‘s 2011 “Fathers of the Year.”
He is currently at work on a collection of holiday-themed short stories, Gifts Not Yet Given, as well as his forthcoming memoir, Never Turn Your Back on the Tide. (Source: http://kerganedwards-stout.com/bio/)
Songs for the New Depression by Kergan Edwards-Stout
Paperback: 270 pages
Publisher: Circumspect Press (October 25, 2011)
Amazon: Songs for the New Depression
Gabriel Travers knows he's dying; he just can't prove it. Despite his doctor's proclamations to the contrary and rumors of a promising new HIV drug cocktail, all it takes is one glance into the mirror to tell Gabe everything he needs to know. His ass, once the talk of West Hollywood, now looks suspiciously like a Shar-Pei, prompting even more talk around town.
Back in his 20's, life had been so easy. Caught up in the 1980's world of LOVE! MONEY! SEX!, Gabe thought he'd have it all. But every effort to better himself ended in self-sabotage, and every attempt at love left him with only a fake number, scrawled on a realtor's notepad.
The only happiness he could remember was in high school, where he'd met Keith, his first love. Only Keith had recognized the goodness within, and knew of the brutal attack Gabe had faced, the effects of which still rule his life today.
Now almost 40, and with the clock ticking, Gabe begins to finally peel back the layers and tackle his demons - with a little help from the music of the Divine Miss M and his mom's new wife, a country music-loving priest.