Show me the books he loves and I shall know the man far better than through mortal friends - Silas Weir MitchellI'm very happy to have as my Inside Reader Sean Kennedy whose Tigers & Devils is one of the best gay romance of the last year. Sean Kennedy's list is a mix of classic, romance and young adult novels, some of them already in my wish list and some of them are my "don't miss" as well (see Maurice and Orlando).
1) Maurice by EM Forster. One of England’s most prominent novelists, the story that was closest to Forster’s heart was only published after his death. This book means so much to me because it was one of the first ‘gay’ books I ever read, sneaking it off my older sister’s shelf. It was also one of the first representations of a gay couple I discovered in film or literature that didn’t end in tragedy. Seriously, check out the excellent documentary The Celluloid Closet to discover just how often a gay, or gay-coded, character doesn’t survive the film they’re in. Imagine my relief where I read a story where the characters slipped away into the mist, presumably to find a place where they could live freely and happily.
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co. (December 17, 2005)
Publisher Link: http://books.wwnorton.com/books/detail.aspx?ID=12811
Amazon: Maurice: A Novel
"The work of an exceptional artist working close to the peak of his powers." Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times. Set in the elegant Edwardian world of Cambridge undergraduate life, this story by a master novelist introduces us to Maurice Hall when he is fourteen. We follow him through public school and Cambridge, and on into his father's firm, Hill and Hall, Stock Brokers. In a highly structured society, Maurice is a conventional young man in almost every way, "stepping into the niche that England had prepared for him": except that his is homosexual. Written during 1913 and 1914, immediately after Howards End, and not published until 1971, Maurice was ahead of its time in its theme and in its affirmation that love between men can be happy. "Happiness," Forster wrote, "is its keynote. In Maurice I tried to create a character who was completely unlike myself or what I supposed myself to be: someone handsome, healthy, bodily attractive, mentally torpid, not a bad businessman and rather a snob. Into this mixture I dropped an ingredient that puzzles him, wakes him up, torments him and finally saves him."
2) Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice. The Vampire Chronicles are kind of like the first set of homoerotic novels that a queer kid can get away with reading while still closeted because they are not often seen as ‘gay’ books. Rice’s vampires crossed all boundaries – sexual, religious, political – and therefore opened up the eyes of any teenage kid who knew to seek them out.
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books (March 18, 1997)
Publisher Link: http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780345337665
Amazon: Interview with the Vampire
Here are the confessions of a vampire. Hypnotic, shocking, and chillingly erotic, this is a novel of mesmerizing beauty and astonishing force–a story of danger and flight, of love and loss, of suspense and resolution, and of the extraordinary power of the senses. It is a novel only Anne Rice could write.
3) Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin. There is no denying that this is a gay classic, and it works so well because it shows gay people interacting with the straight community rather than being apart from it. The whacky residents of Barbary Lane can be followed through seven books, although you should be warned that as the books move into the eighties they become a bit more sombre when the impact of AIDS is first known.
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial (May 29, 2007)
Publisher Link: http://www.harpercollins.com/books/9780061358302/Tales_of_the_City/index.aspx
Amazon: Tales of the City: A Novel (P.S.)
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.
4) Hero by Perry Moore. This is the kind of book I wished I could have read when I was a teenager, who still enjoyed his comics but wished he could have seen himself reflected in them. Although it has its (extremely) dark moments, LGBTQ teens everywhere would enjoy this story of a gay superhero who is coming to terms with both his newfound powers and his sexuality. Can someone save the world and come out at the same time?
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Hyperion Book CH; Reprint edition (May 5, 2009)
Publisher Link: http://hyperionbooksforchildren.com/board/displayBook.asp?id=2103
The last thing in the world Thom Creed wants is to add to his father’s pain, so he keeps secrets. Like that he has special powers. And that he’s been asked to join the League – the very organization of superheroes that spurned his dad. But the most painful secret of all is one Thom can barely face himself: he’s gay. But becoming a member of the League opens up a new world to Thom. There, he connects with a misfit group of aspiring heroes, including Scarlett, who can control fire but not her anger; Typhoid Larry, who can make anyone sick with his touch; and Ruth, a wise old broad who can see the future. Like Thom, these heroes have things to hide; but they will have to learn to trust one another when they uncover a deadly conspiracy within the League. To survive, Thom will face challenges he never imagined. To find happiness, he’ll have to come to terms with his father’s past and discover the kind of hero he really wants to be..
5) Orlando by Virginia Woolf. A classic in so many ways, the history behind this book makes the meaning and the layers even more eloquent and opens up a whole new world of interpretation. Essentially a love letter to one of Woolf’s partners, Vita Sackville-West, Orlando is a coded lesbian romance. Orlando is a nobleman who simply decides through his own will that he will never grow old. He moves through the centuries, has many romances and even changes sex, becoming the Lady Orlando. It was because of the gender-bendering and ‘fantastical’ elements that Woolf could, at the time, explore gender and sexuality in a way that had never been done before. It is a brilliant work that should be read by everybody.
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Wordsworth Editions Ltd (December 5, 1999)
Publisher Link: http://www.wordsworth-editions.com/jkcm/default.aspx?pg=/book%20more%20details/&showkey=190
Amazon: Orlando (Wordsworth Classics)
With an Introduction and Notes by Merry M. Pawlowski, Professor and Chair, Department of English, California State University, Bakersfield. Virginia Woolf's Orlando 'The longest and most charming love letter in literature', playfully constructs the figure of Orlando as the fictional embodiment of Woolf's close friend and lover, Vita Sackville-West. Spanning three centuries, the novel opens as Orlando, a young nobleman in Elizabeth's England, awaits a visit from the Queen and traces his experience with first love as England under James I lies locked in the embrace of the Great Frost. At the midpoint of the novel, Orlando, now an ambassador in Costantinople, awakes to find that he is a woman, and the novel indulges in farce and irony to consider the roles of women in the 18th and 19th centuries. As the novel ends in 1928, a year consonant with full suffrage for women. Orlando, now a wife and mother, stands poised at the brink of a future that holds new hope and promise for women.
6) A Boy’s Own Story by Edmund White. Often labelled the ‘gay Catcher in the Rye’ this is the story of a teen trying to discover himself in a much more unwelcoming period of the 50s. A bit bleak and heavy going at times, this was followed up by two sequels, yet I never found them as appealing as this one.
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?A_Boy'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) Geography Club by Brent Hartinger. Is it just me, or does some of the finest LGBTQ lit out at the moment seem to be in the YA genre? A group of teens wish to form a Gay-Straight Alliance at their local high school, but don’t wish to be so open about it so they name it the “Geography Club” so nobody else will join because they’ll assume it to be too boring and therefore it won’t draw attention to itself. As Russ says, “who will want to join that?” The wonderful thing about this book is how realistic the teenagers and their actions are, although good kids they sometimes do ‘bad’ things in order to protect themselves. Of course the club won’t remain secret for long, and so far there are two sequels that are just as enjoyable to read.
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: HarperTeen (February 17, 2004)
Publisher Link: http://www.harperteen.com/books/9780060012236/Geography_Club/index.aspx
Amazon: Geography Club
Russel Middlebrook is convinced he's the only gay kid at Goodkind High School. Then his online gay chat buddy turns out to be none other than Kevin, the popular but closeted star of the school's baseball team. Soon Russel meets other gay students, too. There's his best friend Min, who reveals that she is bisexual, and her soccer–playing girlfriend Terese. Then there's Terese's politically active friend, Ike. But how can kids this diverse get together without drawing attention to themselves? "We just choose a club that's so boring, nobody in their right mind would ever in a million years join it. We could call it Geography Club!" Brent Hartinger's debut novel is a fast–paced, funny, and trenchant portrait of contemporary teenagers who may not learn any actual geography in their latest club, but who learn plenty about the treacherous social terrain of high school and the even more dangerous landscape of the human heart.
8) A Really Nice Prom Mess by Brian Sloan. Another recent YA novel, what is so fun and different about ARNPM is that it is like a John Hughes movie (the good kind of Hughes film from the 80s) except it actually has gay characters in it. Cameron and his boyfriend double date on the prom so that they can almost pretend they are going with each other – unfortunately it all goes to hell when his date Virginia finds out he’s gay and she’s not too happy about acting as his beard for the evening. What follows is a comedy of errors of epic proportions and a series of wild adventures, and Cameron finally finding the strength to be himself.
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Simon Pulse (February 19, 2008)
Publisher Link: http://books.simonandschuster.com/Really-Nice-Prom-Mess/Brian-Sloan/9781416953890
Amazon: A Really Nice Prom Mess
Cameron doesn't want to go to prom. Not with his boyfriend, Shane, and definitely not with his fake date, Virginia. Sure, it's senior prom, it's the end of high school, and Virginia's drop-dead gorgeous. But none of that matters to Cam, who's never liked any high school dance. Ever. Then an unexpected kiss changes everything, and Cam needs to make a quick exit. After teaming up with a waiter who's been dealing drugs in the bathroom, Cam leaves the prom. But his night is far from over. From a high-speed car chase, to a stop at the after-prom party, to a bar with a wild dance contest...Cam's night finally ends in the most unlikely of romances.
About Sean Kennedy: Sean Kennedy lives in the second-most isolated city in the world, so it’s just as well he has his imagination for company when real-life friends are otherwise occupied. He has far too many ideas and wishes he had the power to feed them directly from his brain into the laptop so they won’t get lost in the ether.
Dash and Dingo by Catt Ford & Sean Kennedy
Paperback: 310 pages
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press (September 28, 2009)
Publisher Link: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?cPath=55_113&products_id=1480&osCsid=n06f2lbln590fboc3lb4vu9fg5
Amazon: Dash and Dingo
Stodgy British archivist Henry Percival-Smythe slaves away in the dusty basement of Ealing College in 1934, the only bright spot in his life his obsession with a strange Australian mammal, the thylacine. It has been hunted to the edge of extinction, and Henry would love nothing more than to help the rare creature survive. Then a human whirlwind spins through his door. Jack "Dingo" Chambers is also on the hunt for the so-called "Tasmanian Tiger," although his reasons are far more altruistic. Banding together, Dingo and the newly nicknamed Dash travel halfway around the globe in their quest to save the thylacine from becoming a footnote in the pages of biological history. While they search high and low, traverse the wilds, and fight the deadliest of all creatures—man—Dash and Dingo will face danger and discover another fierce passion within themselves: a desire for each other.