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Reading is fundamental

“If you go home with somebody, and they don't have books, don't fuck 'em!”― John Waters

I, of course, agree with John Waters. I once went home with a very, very attractive man with extremely outstanding qualities. OUTSTANDING, I'm telling you. Don't you know that when we got to his place, his mattress was on the floor, he only had water and cereal in his kitchen and there was not a book, magazine or newspaper in sight. I left. He was flabbergasted (and erect) but I was unmoved. He lived like he had just moved there. He had been in that place for a year! How could somebody so perfect not have ANY printed material in his house?

But this post is not about me not giving the semiliterate Adonis some ass. It's about the bibliography of my life (annotated). Here’s some books I think many gay boys could read just for the kick of it. This post was inspired by dear Walter, who basically gave me the idea when I posted about the soundtrack of my life. So here we go:

When I was fifteen, I read Delta of Venus. I found the book in a box that had been abandoned in my house. I think I was looking for a pair of pants my mom had worn when she was young (that's another story, trust me) and I found this book. I started reading it and was absolutely shocked. I had already had sex by then, but it had been mainly quick kisses in the bleachers, handjobs in the back of cars and perfunctory fucks in some abandoned lot. I had no idea that sex could be THAT fantastic. And sensual. I was so absolutely turned on by Anais prose that I could only read the book when I knew I was going to be alone. To this day, I revisit the book every so many years because I always find something new. Miss Nin had the most incredible gift to write smut.

The Sheik belonged to my mom's older sister, Rachel. Aunt Rachel had a HUGE library and knowing that I was an absolutely geeky kid, she let me browse it at my leisure. I found so many books there I would need another post to talk about them. The one book that stuck with me (and that I kept until I went to college) was The Sheik. I thought it was a travelogue of sorts but was absolutely enthralled when I found it was about a tomboy (a stand in for me, of course) who gets basically kidnapped by a sheik that sees her in a party and falls terribly in love with her. It's truculent, it's cheesy and it's absolutely fantastic. 

I read that book about seven times. Then I discovered that Rudolph Valentino had become famous playing The Sheik in the silent movie version of it. I read that women would FAINT in the theater when he'd look at the camera. It was too good. I also read The Son of the Sheik, that follows the same bodice-ripper formula of the original and I also stole that book from my aunt's library. I don't have the books anymore (she had very old 1940's editions of the books, I wish I would have kept them) but I still remember them. I should look them up. They should be in Project Gutenberg at this point. These books made me a longtime lover of romance novels.

I read The Beautiful Room is Empty as part of a lit class. One of those Women's Studies classes you take when you're a freshman and you're trying to find your niche. I think it was the first gay-themed book I read and it made me a voracious reader of anything gay I could find. It was incredibly liberating to read about experiences that were just like mine. I was a precocious boy and I started to have sex early (another post, I know) but reading about gay relationships was something absolutely new to me. I grew up observing very conventional, binary relationships, and gay relationships to me seemed absolutely exotic and almost unattainable. This book was the first glimpse I got at what it could be to grow up gay.

Two boys. Catholic school. Romance. Need I say more? I found this one because I was dating a married man at that time (yep, I was THAT boy) who used to write for a national newspaper and and we got into an argument about it. He thought it was trash and I, naturally,  loved it. Looking back, it was trash, of course. It was a gay love story of doomed boys. What did I know of literature when I was twenty? But I could relate! Having been in catholic school all throughout my life I could totally understand their drama.

Years later I knew that they had made a movie out of it, but I was not interested. The book was in my collection for years! I think I donated it to an LGBTQ club in college.

When I read David Leavitt's novel, I did not know what to think. It has required several readings for me to get into it. The most striking metaphor is that of the child who behaves like the cranes he sees from his window. He is left alone for hours and his only contact with humans is the cranes used to work on buildings far away. It also freaked me out because both the father and the son end up being gay and I had to process that.

I was reading very strange books at that time and this was one of those that stayed with me. I recently got it back in my collection as a gift from my friend Abandon, who found it in their collection and remembered a discussion we had about it. Funny, how books you've read so many years ago can be re-read with new eyes. Experience, I guess, is 20/20.

I was fascinated by Baldwin's exploration of masculinity, homosexuality, bisexuality and gay spaces. As someone who has traveled to a foreign country, I found his insights incredibly deep and they even helped me understand some things that had happened to me. I think I bought this book in a tiny bookstore in downtown Morgantown, West Virginia. It was an old edition. I remember finding an inscription in it that said: "Always remember". I wondered who had owned that book before who decided to write in it such command.

Even though there seems to be no intersectionality in the novel (all the characters are white) it is told from the point of view of a black man. I think that at the time it was written, Baldwin would have had to choose one of the two and he chose homosexuality, which I think was as brave as if he would have chosen race.

When I found Maurice in a pile of books in a bookstore in Pittsburgh, I knew I had to read it. I find books published after the writer is dead to be strangely cathartic. Forster obviously never wanted it published while he was alive because of the prejudice against gay people. I wonder what he would have thought about all the lives he touched after the book saw the light of day.

Maurice touches on class and social status and it's essential reading for every gay man! It's a love story that does not kill or maim one of its protagonists and it has a happy ending. To me, that was absolutely refreshing. I was tired of reading love stories in which one of the men died or where the relationship found some insurmountable obstacle. It was luminous, it was sexy and it was romantic. What can I do? I like gay romances that end well. So sue me.

Hollinghurst is considered 'serious' literature, but I read The Line of Beauty as you read bodice rippers. It's set in the 80's (my fav decade!) and the backdrop is the AIDS epidemic, that looms over the protagonist like a shroud. It also explores privilege, social class, snobbery and a very definitive vision of homosexuality as the love that dares not to speak its name. I don't remember where I got this book. It may have been through a friend or through one of those book clubs that let you order one book every month. Remember those? 

I think there was an adaptation by the BBC or a movie made based on this novel, I'm not sure and I'm too lazy to google it right now, but I loved the book. And when I saw Call Me By your Name, it gave me the vibe I imagined The Line of Beauty embodied.

When I read Chbosky's novel I was living in Pittsburgh and of course I related. It's almost too YA but everybody can relate to that awkward period when we are too young to be a man but too old to be a boy. It is gay-adjacent, because Charlie is not gay but one of the other characters is, so you see homosexuality though somebody else's eyes.

There is a movie that was made based on this, too, and I think Chbosky adapted. This was also one of those 'banned books' because it touches themes like suicide, sexuality and mental illness. I, of course, had to read it.

Now, you know I had to write about Augusten. Running with Scissors is a brilliant, hysterical and poignant memoir of sorts. Remember when memoirs were the shit and everybody was writing one? There were scandals, because some people invented half of theirs and even Oprah got involved. This one tells us about Augusten's teen years and it's the most bonkers description of somebody's adolescence and at the same time it's a gateway book to anything memoir. The absolutely sui genesis mother, the distant father, the bonkers household where he goes to live, the older man he falls for. It was basically my life. I know there's a movie version of this, but the book is absolutely fantastic. Really. If you haven't read it, do it.

I have read five or six of Augusten's book (Sellevision is a hoot!) and I strongly recommend them as Summer reading. It was a toss-up between Augusten and David Sedaris and Augusten got the tails.

Now, if you don't have many lesbian friends, you have got to read Stone Butch Blues. It will give you an absolutely different view of the L in LGBTQ. Gender, race, social class and gay life before Stonewall all appear in this book. It's about finding your tribe as a lesbian and it's a fantastic exploration of the Butch/Femme dichotomy. It's a voyage through gender identity and what we consider being a man or a woman.

I think it's a fascinating book. The butch lesbian experience is the mirror image of the femme gay boy experience and this book gives us a round trip in the life of somebody who founds themselves through trial and error. I'd recommend it. I believe Leslie had a very rough period and was ill for the longest time. I don't know if they have published anything lately.

And this is getting way too long. I'm a pretentious egghead, what can I say? This ended up being bent (LOL sorry not sorry) towards the LGBTQ but hey. You feel me?
 Oh, and some honorary mentions follow. And you? What's your fav book? Should I read it? Go ahead, give it to me.



  1. WOW! that first paragraph - dude sounds like a fucking slob. and john waters is spot on; see donald dump, for example.

    was a member of a couple of those "buy a book a month" and "buy an album a month" clubs until amazon put them outta business.

    "you feel me?" - no, but I'd like to (wink wink nudge nudge)!

    so you spent time in pittsburgh, and you went to catholic school. my gay uncle taught at central catholic high until 1966. catholics are way fucked up; see michael elizabeth pence, for example.

    my ex-husband graduated from WVU; he took me to morgantown once, what a fucking dump!

    my taste in books runs from bio/autobio, travel, philly history, trains, knitting. I don't do fiction.

  2. I can remember the first real book that I read (post Dick and Jane). It was Swiss Family Robinson. We were at a family event at my aunt’s house and I got bored. I went to my cousin’s bedroom and found the book there. I started reading it and when it was time to go, my aunt told me to take it with me so I could finish it. A few years later I saw the Disney movie and thought the boys were cute 😎. I wish I had more time to read. Unfortunately I’m a word for word reader and it take me time that I don’t currently have with all the other stuff I’m reading these days and trying to save my sanity. I should probably do myself a favor and just unplug and lose myself in a good book. I’ve got so many to choose from on my kindle account. I’m also one that consumes media for enjoyment. Meanings are usually over my head.

    XOXO 👨‍❤️‍💋‍👨

  3. I'm with you.No books?Bye.
    When i first met Carlos online we chatted a bit and then moved to phone calls. One of the first questions I asked was, "Do you read?"
    Of course, his being Latino, he interpreted the question as "Do you know HOW to read?"
    He snapped back at me that he was college educated and and and ... I explained how I meant the question. It was our first laugh together.

    Now, your book list; I've read and loved several of your choices, and others I have not, so now I will search those out and add them to the list of what I'm reading.

  4. I've read half the books you listed here and I could go on and on about them, but will just mention a couple of things --

    I read "Giovanni's Room" because one of the gay bars in Winnipeg when I came out in the '80s was named after the book. Everyone just called it "Gio's" for short.

    And I was lucky enough to attend a live talk and presentation by Vito Russo back in the day about "The Celluloid Closet," complete with clips from the movies he discussed. There's a documentary now that does the same thing but this was long before such a film could even have been contemplated. It was just Vito and his projector! What a wonderful evening that was. (Must have been in the '80s too because he died in 1990).

  5. My head hit the desk and I passed out on the floor by reading your post. I am in love with you. From one bibliophile to another, what an excellent post. I have so many stories for you, like: the one time when I went on a date with someone and almost freaked out when I saw he had no books in his apartment. Or the one where I could tell someone's personality by the books he had on his bookshelves. Or how about the one about the little boy who discovered who he is by reading books. Or the one about the high school kid who imagined his bullies were being killed in every Agatha Christie book he read. Oh, yes. I still remember reading Maurice and falling in-love with Scudder for the first time. I still visit him and Maurice in the woods from time to time. Oh, and how my eyes bulged out of their sockets when I read the pissing scene at the end of The Swimming Pool Library. And how I threw Giovanni's Room across the room when I got to the end of the book because (No Spoilers). And am I the only one who thinks Rose got a raw deal in The Lost Language of Cranes? I could go on. You'll hate me and never want to speak to me because I now read my books on an e-reader instead of paper. The thing is, type is so small on books these days, it makes me cranky to read 6pt type. But to be honest, what I think the beauty of e-readers is that I can carry over 500 books with me in my NutSac (yes, a thing. Settle down Maddie. nutsac.com) and I bring me all the heroes, villains, lovers, mongrels, and characters I love. Let people have their music libraries in their phone. I bring worlds and people with me in pocket. So, from one reader to another: Have you read "Two Boys Kissing" or Song of Achilles, or Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, or the Nightrunner series? Grab some Pinot and let's talk books girl. And thank you for this post!

  6. The sixpense gay book review. I mostly read in the summer, so I will have to look for these, and I bet Giovanni's Room in Philly will have some of these titles. I love that place, and it supports the community and gay authors

  7. The perfect guy you talk about at the beginning is a Spartan minimalist, I have a friend who's one - he's different, he's really, really nice... attractive... just... different.
    I thought 'Maurice' was boring, liked his other work better: 'Room with a View.' Same thing with 'The Beautiful Room is Empty.' Loved both 'The Celluloid Closet,' 'And the Band Played On.' One of my favorites not on your list is Felice Picano's 'The Lure.'

    And Anne Marie isn't being quite honest... she read my first book, and it's fiction.

  8. @AnneMarie: I know, right? It was such a contrast between his physical appearance and his lack of care! WVU was fun, though. It’s changed a lot in the last years, they’ve invested tons of money there. And Amazon has changed most everything!
    @Bae: yes, a little bit more time to read would be awesome! I get your suggestions for the Kindle. I binge read them when I travel!
    @Bob: LoL you don’t mess with Carlos, huh? Something about a man who doesn’t care about reading anything (newspapers, books, magazines, NEWS!) is just kind of off putting to me.
    @Debra: that should have been absolutely amazing! Vito was highly influential and a walking gay encyclopedia.He preserved a huge swath oh lgbtq history. I’ve seen the documentary they did from the book. It should be mandatory viewing for every gay kid along with Paris is Burning and For the Bible Tells Me So.
    @Walter: I could smooch you right now. Isn’t it true that the books you have read stay with you? Those characters ARE alive. And don’t worry. I also have given in to Kindle, especially for traveling. I have so many books in my queue (and in my bedroom) that need to be read that’s almost ridiculous. OMG Two Boys Kissing? I mentioned here cause it was one of the banned books the xtianists wanted to erase from libraries! Song of Aquiles is cannon! ANnd I've added the Nightrunner and Aristotle and Dante to my ever growing list of books to read! 🤓
    @Maddie: small bookstores were eaten up by Barnes and Noble and Amazon. They were islands in a sea of inanity years ago. We need to always go to small, privately owned bookstores every time we can and support them.
    @Dave: sorry my dear but no books is no nookie still. Asceticism does not mean sloppiness. I think that Maurice needed the sex that Lady Chatterley’s lover had. Room with a View is indeed good, though. Edmund White has a great record IMHO. And I do have to read Picano. I’ll add The Lure to my to-do list. Btw, I’m super curious about your new book.



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