Show me the books he loves and I shall know the man far better than through mortal friends - Silas Weir MitchellWhen I started to browse the mainstream LGBT themed novels outside the Romance genre, there were some names that always popped out, like Edmund White, Andrew Holleran and Felice Picano. Probably for the "italian" sound of his name, that of Felice Picano was the one that rang again and again in my mind, above all when authors started to list his Ambidextrous in their Top 10. Recently I had also the chance to contact him about his reading in Los Angeles for the presentation of 50 Gay and Lesbian Books Everybody Must Read, and he was so kind to reply and tell me that, indeed, the reading went quite good and people attended (I hope someone in my friends list was among them ;-) I told you to go!). And so, obviously, I HAD to ask him for his Top 10, hadn't I? Probably Felice Picano gives us the most "classic" list of all posted till now, I'm sure many of you will enjoy it.
Felice Picano’s Ten Favorite GLBT Books (in aphabetical order by author)
1) Hindoo Holiday by J.R. Ackerley (1935). All of this early 20th Century Briton’s books are worth reading. But none are as complex and delicious as this memoir slash travel book. Ackerly was invited by the middle-aged, immensely wealthy, Shakespeare-obsessed Rajah of Chhondrapur in India to come tutor his teenaged actor boyfriend in English literature and to help run their version of the Royal Shakespeare Theater’s tour of India. The clash of cultures and personalities is by turns perplexing, hilarious and sour-sweet sad.
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: NYRB Classics; First Edition. first thus edition (January 31, 2000)
Publisher Link: http://www.nybooks.com/shop/product?usca_p=t&product_id=16
Amazon: Hindoo Holiday
In the 1920s, the young J. R. Ackerley spent several months in India as the personal secretary to the maharajah of a small Indian principality. In his journals, Ackerley recorded the Maharajah's fantastically eccentric habits and riddling conversations, and the odd shambling day-to-day life of his court. Hindoo Holiday is an intimate and very funny account of an exceedingly strange place, and one of the masterpieces of twentieth-century travel literature.
2) RubyFruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown (1974). When this memoir/novel came out in the early 1970’s all the male homosexual novels around were weepy, whiney and annoying. Brown’s rambunctious young tomboy lesbian heroine was not only someone I could easily identify with, she was also someone who lived a life of let’s-see-what-happens-next adventure that became my own mantra for the entire period. By turns, it’s searingly honest, witty and quite satirical -- power-lipstick lesbians take the worst hit. Brown never topped this book.
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Bantam (April 1, 1983)
Publisher Link: http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780553278866
Amazon: RubyFruit Jungle
Rubyfruit Jungle is the first milestone novel in the extraordinary career of one of this country's most distinctive writers. Bawdy and moving, the ultimate word-of-mouth bestseller, Rubyfruit Jungle is about growing up a lesbian in America – and living happily ever after. Born a bastard, Molly Bolt is adopted by a dirt-poor Southern couple who want something better for their daughter. Molly plays doctor with the boys, beats up Leroy the tub and loses her virginity to her girlfriend in sixth grade. As she grows to realize she's different, Molly decides not to apologize for that. In no time she mesmerizes the head cheerleader of Ft. Lauderdale High and captivates a gorgeous bourbon-guzzling heiress. But the world is not tolerant. Booted out of college for moral turpitude, an unrepentant, penniless Molly takes New York by storm, sending not a few female hearts aflutter with her startling beauty, crackling wit and fierce determination to become the greatest filmmaker that ever lived. Critically acclaimed when first published, Rubyfruit Jungle has only grown in reputation as it has reached new generations of readers who respond to its feisty and inspiring heroine.
3) Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote (1955). Or “Answered Prayers” or “Music For Chameleons.” Pretty much anything by the tiny, fame-crazed Southern-Belle in Brooks Brothers clothing will do. His writing is never less than wonderful and everything he wrote is so imbued with his unstoppably queer sensibility that it doesn’t make any difference what the character’s gender preference happens to be. “Tiffany’s” happens to be a perfect piece of fiction; and the way that Capote hides/reveals his gay narrator is a masterly example of how deft closeted, Pre-Stonewall writers could “play the game.”
Hardcover: 176 pages
Publisher: Modern Library (January 13, 1994)
Publisher Link: http://www.randomhouse.com/modernlibrary/library/display.pperl?isbn=9780679600855
Amazon: Breakfast at Tiffany’s
“Truman Capote is the most perfect writer of my generation. He writes the best sentences word for word, rhythm upon rhythm.” —Norman Mailer
4) Stars in My Pocket like Grains of Sand by Samuel R. Delany (1982). Delaney was the first Science Fiction writer to so naturally include Gay and Bisexual characters in his many excellent stories, novels, and novellas so that you knew with certainty that we’d all be around in whatever future there was. In this late novel, he breathes new life into a piece of genre with iconic characters and a story revolving around an intense homoerotic sexual compulsion. Don’t worry if can’t follow every word or phrase. Just go with the prose and you are promised a terrific journey.
Paperback: 376 pages
Publisher: Wesleyan; 20th edition (December 15, 2004)
Publisher Link: http://www.upne.com/0-8195-6714-0.html
Amazon: Stars in My Pocket like Grains of Sand
"Sentence by sentence, phrase by phrase, Delany invites the reader to collaborate in the process of creation. The reader who accepts this invitation has an extraordinarily satisfying experience in store."—Gerald Jonas, The New York Times Book Review. The story of a truly galactic civilization with over 6,000 inhabited worlds. Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand is a science fiction masterpiece, an essay on the inexplicability of sexual attractiveness, and an examination of interstellar politics among far-flung worlds. First published in 1984, the novel's central issues—technology, globalization, gender, sexuality, and multiculturalism—have only become more pressing with the passage of time. The novel's topic is information itself: What are the repercussions, once it has been made public, that two individuals have been found to be each other’s perfect erotic object out to “point nine-nine-nine and several nines percent more”? What will it do to the individuals involved, to the city they inhabit, to their geosector, to their entire world society, especially when one is an illiterate worker, the sole survivor of a world destroyed by “cultural fugue,” and the other is—you!
5) Stand Up Friend With Me by Edward Field (1965). Or find Field’s Variety Photoplays or simply go for his Collected Poems. Field has been overshadowed by James Merrill and John Ashberry but he’s the one who’s going to endure. All of his poems are inventive, with his unique and original voice, while being well-mannered, sly, sexy, funny, sad and at all times amazingly smart. Yes, this is poetry for people who don’t read poetry.
Publisher: Grove Press; Later printing edition (June 1964)
Amazon: Stand Up Friend With Me
6) Nights in Aruba by Andrew Holleran (1981). I know. I know. Holleran’s first novel, Dancer From the Dance makes all the lists of best of. But it’s this second, more relaxed, more mature, bildungsroman that takes the prize for me. It’s about a young gay man in the U.S. Army in Europe when there’s no war to be fought except the usual internal ones, and those eternal ones with “society” -- in this case in the form of several astonishing queens!
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial (December 18, 2001)
Publisher Link: http://www.harpercollins.com/books/9780060937348/Nights_in_Aruba/index.aspx
Amazon: Nights in Aruba
This groundbreaking novel of gay life centers around Paul, an uneasy commuter between two parallel worlds. He is the dutiful son of aging, upper-middle-class parents living in Florida, and a homosexual man plunged deliriously into the world of New York City's bars, baths, and one-night stands. With wry humor and subtle lyricism, Holleran reveals the tragedy and comedy of one man's struggle to come to terms with middle age, homosexuality, truth, love, and life itself.
7) Collected Poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1883). Poetry for poetry mavens. And also for Catholics, priests, tortured souls, and anyone who looked at a clock at 3.33 a.m. and said, “Not again!” But mostly for those who cannot believe what a poem can actually do and on so many levels. These are the first poems I memorized since grade school and are they ever memorable:”Margaret are you grieving/ Over Goldengrove unleaving?/ Leaves, like the things of man, you/ With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?”
Paperback: 150 pages
Publisher: Book Jungle (November 4, 2009)
Amazon: Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins
8) The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood (1933). We all know the Sally Bowles stories from this volume that became Cabaret, and they hold up gloriously well. Even so, it’s the novella, “Mr. Norris Changes Trains” that is my absolute favorite Isherwood and I got to read a section in front of a star studded Hollywood crowd for the celebration of Isherwood’s hundredth anniversary. Not only is Mr. Norris a perfect anti-hero, he is the shady forerunner of so many morally ambiguous, delightfully immoral, and frightfully illegal heroes that populate 20th Century books, plays and films. Even funnier and sadder is watching Berlin’s tres Gay ‘Twenties characters transform themselves into Hitler’s uptight Third Reich .
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: New Directions; Reissue edition (September 17, 2008)
Publisher Link: http://www.ndpublishing.com/books/isherwoodberlin.html
Amazon: The Berlin Stories
The Berlin Stories is a book comprising two short novels by Christopher Isherwood: Goodbye to Berlin and The Last of Mr. Norris. The two novellas are set in Berlin in 1931, just as Adolf Hitler was moving into power. Berlin is portrayed by Isherwood during this transitional period of cafes and quaint avenues, grotesque nightlife and dreamers, and powerful mobs and millionaires. Sally Bowles is the protagonist who experiences her share of misadventures along with Mr. Norris, Fräulein Schroeder, and the Landauers. The Berlin Stories was the starting point for the John Van Druten play I Am a Camera, which in turn went on to inspire the film I Am a Camera as well as the stage musical and film versions of Cabaret. "Sally Bowles took center stage in [Berlin Stories'] musical adaptation, Cabaret, but the theatrical version can't match the power and richness of the original." –Time (100 Best English-language novels of the 20th century)
9) The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin (1969). I read all of her novels and stories as they come out, but this early book about a world of winter where people change -- seriously change -- with the seasons is one of her best still. LeGuin has this uncanny ability to make you feel, believe and at the same time be rapt in wonder at what she can write of. Sci-Fi for people who don’t usually read sci-fi.
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Ace Trade (July 10, 2000)
Publisher Link: http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780441007318,00.html?The_Left_Hand_of_Darkness_Ursula_K._Le_Guin
Amazon: The Left Hand of Darkness
Winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards. A groundbreaking work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an alien world whose inhabitants can change their gender. His goal is to facilitate Winter's inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the completely dissimilar culture that he encounters. Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an alien world, The Left Hand of Darkness stands as a landmark achievement in the annals of intellectual science fiction.
10) The Sea of Light by Jenifer Levin (1993). Levin’s novel returns to the scene and themes of her first book, Water Dancer, with three strong and utterly credibly women characters and the result is lovely, wise, and always compelling reading. Probably my favorite scene is the young “Babe” Delgado having a real hetero date, which turns into a hilarious fiasco. Not just for Lesbian athlete fans or swimming competition fans.
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Plume (June 1, 1994)
Amazon: The Sea of Light
A novel about surviving, excelling, winning, and trying to hold on to the self in the highly-charged world of athletic competition. This story centers around three women's athletic victories, losses, and battles with family and identity.
11) One Arm and Other Stories by Tennessee Williams (1948). Yes the plays are terrific, when that is they aren’t over the top –“The mendacity! The mendacity!” Big Daddy cries out in Cat On a Hot Tin Roof and we just know someone’s been playing “hide the salami!”. Many of his plays were first short stories and you can find them all in his Collected Stories, chock-a-block with neurotic post adolescents, young men in snakeskin who are too beautiful to exist, and middle aged women in need of a good –well, anything! This first collection is the purest Tennessee, however , published right after the sensation of Streetcar. Not only is it drenched in Williams’ poetry and trademark romanticism, it’s also pretty damn advanced for its time.
Paperback: 220 pages
Publisher: New Directions Publishing Corporation; First Edition edition (January 1, 1950)
Publisher Link: http://www.ndpublishing.com/authors/williamstennessee.html
Amazon: One Arm and Other Stories
About Felice Picano: Felice Picano is the author of 19 books, including the literary memoirs Ambidextrous, Men Who Loved Me, and A House on the Ocean, a House on the Bay as well as the best-selling novels Like People in History, Looking Glass Lives, The Lure, and Eyes.
He is the founder of Sea Horse Press, one of the first gay publishing houses, which later merged with two other publishing houses to become the Gay Presses of New York.
With Andrew Holleran, Robert Ferro, Edmund White, and George Whitmore, he founded the Violet Quill Club to promote and increase the visibility of gay authors and their works.
He has edited and written for The Advocate, Blueboy, Mandate, GaysWeek, Christopher Street, and Books Editor of The New York Native and has been a culture reviewer for The Los Angeles Examiner, San Francisco Examiner, New York Native, Harvard Lesbian & Gay Review, and the Lambda Book Report.
He has won the Ferro-Grumley Award for best gay novel (Like People in History) and the PEN Syndicated Fiction Award for short-story. He was a finalist for the Ernest Hemingway Award and has been nominated for three Lambda Literary Awards.
A native of New York, Felice Picano now lives in Los Angeles.
The Lure by Felice Picano
Paperback: 267 pages
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books; Reprint edition (March 24, 2009)
Publisher Link: http://boldstrokesbookshop.com/products.php?product=Lure%2C-The-%252d-by-Felice-Picano
Amazon: The Lure
Noel Cummings’s life is about to change irrevocably. After witnessing a brutal murder, Noel is recruited to assist the police by acting as the lure for a killer who has been targeting gay men. Undercover, Noel moves deeper and deeper into the dark side of Manhattan's gay life that stirs his own secret desires—until he forgets he is only playing a role.