Saturday, April 24, 2010

My Top 10 Gay-Themed Books

Elisa Rolle (check out her blog here) is an Italian book reviewer who focuses on GLBT books and does a lot for both writers and readers to promote the cause of literary. Recently, Elisa asked me to share my top ten favorite books and I thought I'd share part of that article with you here. See the whole article here.

The Inside Reader: Rick R. Reed

I like Rick R. Reed since his stories feel real, even when they are paranormal bordering in horror. It's all in the characters, where probably I find little pieces of the author himself. And then sometime, Rick R. Reed leaves at home the horror and gifts us with some romantic but never silly contemporary romances about being a over-30 gay modern man.

Rick R. Reed´s Inside Reader List

When Elisa asked me to pick a top ten of books, I freaked out. When I move, the worst part of it is packing up and moving all the books. I am buried under books. I have read more books than I can count. I am a true book slut, moving restlessly from one to the other, finding satisfaction here, disappointment there...and sometimes magic (the same has held true for me with men, but that's another story).

So, I used the following criteria for this list. First, since this is a site devoted primarily to gay fiction, I wanted my choices to at least reflect that, if only in a tangential way. Second, I wanted to just give you the very first books that came to mind when I thought of my very favorite "gay" books. I´m a great believer in going with one´s gut. So here they are (in no particular order):

1) Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith. Highsmith has long been one of my literary icons. When it comes to probing the darkest sides of human nature, no one does it better than she. Strangers on a Train is a much better novel than the Hitchcock movie of the same name (although that was not without its charm, among them the very lovely Farley Granger) and has a much darker resolution. Its homoeroticism, too, is much more explicit than in the sanitized Hollywood film that bears the same name.

Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (August 2001)
Publisher Link:
ISBN-10: 0393321983
ISBN-13: 978-0393321982
Amazon: Strangers on a Train

A major new reissue of the work of a classic noir novelist. With the acclaim for The Talented Mr. Ripley, more film projects in production, and two biographies forthcoming, expatriate legend Patricia Highsmith would be shocked to see that she has finally arrived in her homeland. Throughout her career, Highsmith brought a keen literary eye and a genius for plumbing the psychopathic mind to more than thirty works of fiction, unparalleled in their placid deviousness and sardonic humor. With deadpan accuracy, she delighted in creating true sociopaths in the guise of the everyday man or woman. Now, one of her finest works is again in print: Strangers on a Train, Highsmith's first novel and the source for Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1953 film. With this novel, Highsmith revels in eliciting the unsettling psychological forces that lurk beneath the surface of everyday contemporary life.

2) The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren. How many other gay men have had the same experience as I did? I discovered this book on a trip to the mall when I was in high school, surreptitiously bought it when my friend wasn´t looking, and took it to home, hid it between my mattress, and box springs...and absolutely treasured it. It opened my eyes to so much (yes, two men can really love each other-it´s not a sickness or an abnormality) and made me realize I was not alone.

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Wildcat Press; 20 Anv edition (June 1, 1996)
Publisher Link:
ISBN-10: 0964109964
ISBN-13: 978-0964109964
Amazon: The Front Runner

First published in 1974, The Front Runner raced to international acclaim — the first novel about gay love to become popular with mainstream. In 1975, coach Harlan Brown is hiding from his past at an obscure New York college, after he was fired from Penn State University on suspicion of being gay. A tough, lonely ex-Marine of 39, Harlan has never allowed himself to love another man. Then Billy Sive, a brilliant young runner, shows up on his doorstep. He and his two comrades, Vince Matti and Jacques LaFont, were just thrown off a major team for admitting they are gay. Harlan knows that, with proper training, Billy could go to the '76 Olympics in Montreal. He agrees to coach the three boys under strict conditions that thwart Billy's growing attraction for his mature but compelling mentor. The lean, graceful front runner with gold-rim glasses sees directly into Harlan's heart. Billy's gentle and open acceptance of his sexuality makes Harlan afraid to confront either the pain of his past, or the challenges which lay in wait if their intimacy is exposed. But when Coach Brown finds himself falling in love with his most gifted athlete, he must combat his true feelings for Billy or risk the outrage of the entire sports world — and their only chance at Olympic gold. Author Patricia Nell Warren has created a gay literary monument with the searing reality of her own years in the sport, as a runner, sports activist, AAU official and reporter for Runner's World.

3) No Night is Too Long by Ruth Rendell (writing as Barbara Vine). No contemporary mystery/psychological thriller writer does it better than Ruth Rendell. She plays with gay themes in several of her novels, but in this tale of psychological suspense, she most successfully blends homosexual themes and characters with heart-pounding suspense and shines a light into our darkest fears and compulsions.

Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Onyx (January 1, 1996)
ISBN-10: 0451406346
ISBN-13: 978-0451406347
Amazon: No Night is Too Long

The author of Anna's Book -- who was hailed as "one of the finest practitioners of her craft in the English-speaking world" by the New York Times Book Review -- has written a relentlessly compelling tale of sexual obsession, mistaken identity, and murder. Tim thought he'd gotten away with it. For months after the murder off the Alaskan coast he'd heard not a word. No policeman at his door asking questions. Nothing. And then the letters began. At first they seemed almost innocuous accounts of historical events. But a common theme emerged quickly. It was particularly germane to Tim, and it related directly to murder. In No Night Is Too Long, Barbara Vine has written a tour de force, rich in characters and setting, a remarkable novel by an internationally celebrated master of her craft. To research the book, the author and her husband embarked on a boat trip from Seattle up the Alaskan coast. The stark beauty of that experience provides No Night Is Too Long with an extraordinarily vivid sense of place. The novel's exploration of sexual identity and guilt represents a departure for Vine. Its resolution -- as always -- is a stunning surprise.

4) Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim. This was Heim´s debut novel and it´s weird, wonderful, and disturbing, combining alien abduction, memory loss, and child sexual abuse in a compelling, lyrical, and thought-provoking narrative. I´m sad to say that none of his subsequent work had the sheer power of this one.

Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial (May 10, 2005)
Publisher Link:
ISBN-10: 0060841699
ISBN-13: 978-0060841690
Amazon: Mysterious Skin

At the age of eight Brian Lackey is found bleeding under the crawl space of his house, having endured something so traumatic that he cannot remember an entire five–hour period of time. During the following years he slowly recalls details from that night, but these fragments are not enough to explain what happened to him, and he begins to believe that he may have been the victim of an alien encounter. Neil McCormick is fully aware of the events from that summer of 1981. Wise beyond his years, curious about his developing sexuality, Neil found what he perceived to be love and guidance from his baseball coach. Now, ten years later, he is a teenage hustler, a terrorist of sorts, unaware of the dangerous path his life is taking. His recklessness is governed by idealized memories of his coach, memories that unexpectedly change when Brian comes to Neil for help and, ultimately, the truth.

5) In a Shallow Grave by James Purdy. Purdy is one of the most underrated American writers. I believe he is one of the masters of 20th century literature and this gem, about a disaffected and disfigured war veteran and his love for a hired male caretaker and the fugitive who comes into both their lives is spiritual, carnal, and profound. And Purdy´s command of the language and his use of American colloquial speech is nothing short of poetry.

Paperback: 140 pages
Publisher: City Lights Publishers (January 1, 2001)
Publisher Link:
ISBN-10: 0872862348
ISBN-13: 978-0872862340
Amazon: In a Shallow Grave

Beautiful, moving novel of a love triangle.

6) The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst. A perfectly rendered portrait of England in the 1980s and the rise of the new right, this story about young gay Nick Guest and his social and sexual awakening is harrowing stuff, since we know that tragedy lurks just around the corner for not only our naïve young-and often selfish-protagonist, but for a whole segment of society.

Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 2nd edition (September 15, 2005)
Publisher Link:
ISBN-10: 1582346100
ISBN-13: 978-1582346106
Amazon: The Line of Beauty

Winner of 2004’s Man Booker Prize for fiction and one of the most talked about books of the year, The Line of Beauty is a sweeping novel about class, sex, and money that brings Thatcher’s London alive.

7) Was by Geoff Ryman. This revisionist take on my favorite movie of all time, The Wizard of Oz, is simply brilliant literature. In its parallel stories of a "real" Dorothy Gale, a "scarecrow" dying of AIDS, and the plight of a child star named Frances Gumm combine to form a narrative that is nothing short of literary brilliance.

Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics); later printing edition (May 1, 1993)
ISBN-10: 0140178724
ISBN-13: 978-0140178722
Amazon: Was

This haunting, wildly original novel explores the lives of several characters entwined by The Wizard of Oz--both the novel written by L. Frank Baum and the strangely resonant 1939 film. Was traverses the American landscape to reveal how the human imagination transcends the bleakest circumstance.

8) Michael Tolliver Lives by Armistead Maupin. The Tales of the City books, like The Front Runner, were eye-openers and touchstones for me as a young gay man coming to grips with his own identity. Reading this last entry in the series really resonated with me and touched me, since I am not far behind Michael himself and have experienced many, if not most, of his same joys and sorrows.

Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins; 1 edition (June 12, 2007)
Publisher Link:
ISBN-10: 0060761350
ISBN-13: 978-0060761356
Amazon: Michael Tolliver Lives

Michael Tolliver, the sweet-spirited Southerner in Armistead Maupin's classic Tales of the City series, is arguably one of the most widely loved characters in contem-porary fiction. Now, almost twenty years after ending his ground-breaking saga of San Francisco life, Maupin revisits his all-too-human hero, letting the fifty-five-year-old gardener tell his story in his own voice. Having survived the plague that took so many of his friends and lovers, Michael has learned to embrace the random pleasures of life, the tender alliances that sustain him in the hardest of times. Michael Tolliver Lives follows its protagonist as he finds love with a younger man, attends to his dying fundamentalist mother in Florida, and finally reaffirms his allegiance to a wise octogenarian who was once his landlady. Though this is a stand-alone novel—accessible to fans of Tales of the City and new readers alike—a reassuring number of familiar faces appear along the way. As usual, the author's mordant wit and ear for pitch-perfect dialogue serve every aspect of the story—from the bawdy to the bittersweet. Michael Tolliver Lives is a novel about the act of growing older joyfully and the everyday miracles that somehow make that possible.

9) The Lost Language of Cranes by David Leavitt. This was Leavitt´s first novel and, while I wouldn´t say it´s his best, I would say it´s his sweetest and most satisfying. So much of the story resonates with me personally (the closeted father with a gay son) that it simply touches my heart more than his other work.

Paperback: 353 pages
Publisher: Mariner Books (November 14, 1997)
ISBN-10: 0395877334
ISBN-13: 978-0395877333
Amazon: The Lost Language of Cranes

When Philip falls in love with Eliot, he realizes it's time to come out of the closet to his parents, Owen and Rose. But they are experiencing life changes of their own. Owen spends Sunday afternoons in gay porn theaters, and when he and Rose are forced out of their long-time apartment, they must confront his latent homosexuality and their son's stunning admission.

10) IM by Rick R. Reed. You didn´t think I´d compile this list without putting myself on it? But people always ask which of my books is my favorite and this one is clamoring for a mention. I love this tale of a serial killer finding his victims on gay online hookup sites because it combines a little romance, with a lot of suspense, some horror, and commentary on gay life and culture.

Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Quest (May 10, 2007)
ISBN-10: 1932300791
ISBN-13: 978-1932300796
Amazon: IM

The Internet Is the New Meat Market for Gay Men Now a Killer Is Turning the Meat Market into a Meat Wagon. One by one, he's killing them. Lurking in the digital underworld of, he lures, seduces, charms, reaching out through instant messages to the unwary. He's just another guy. They invite him over. He's just another trick. Harmless. They're dead wrong. When the first bloody body surfaces, openly gay Chicago Police Department detective Ed Comparetto is called in to investigate. Sickened by the butchered mess of one of his brothers left on display in a bathtub, he seeks relief outside where the young man who discovered the body waits to tell him the story of how he found his friend. But who is this witness...and did he play a bigger part in the murder than he's letting on? For Comparetto, this encounter with a witness is the beginning of a nightmare. Because this witness did more than just show up at the scene of the crime; he set the scene. And maybe, he's more than just a killer...maybe he's dead himself. Comparetto is on a journey to discover the truth, a truth that he needs to discover before he loses his career, his boyfriend, his sanity...his life. Because in this killer's world, IM doesn't stand for instant stands for instant murder.

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  1. You're smarter than me. I forgot all about my own books when compiling my list for her back in January. "In a Shallow Grave" topped my list. And Ryman's "Lust" was on there too. I still need to read "Was."

  2. Oh you really do need to read WAS. I've read LUST and AIR by him, but WAS is far and away my fave.

  3. You know, despite having a number of gay friends who constantly recommend books to me, I don't think I've ever read a "gay" book. I think I'm going to grab one of these and give it a go.

    IN A SHALLOW GRAVE sounds interesting, but (and not to sound sycophantic) IM seems more like my kind of book.

  4. Bless your heart. In a Shallow Grave is one of my all time favorite books, but I don't want to dissuade you from IM. Why not try both?

  5. It's my turn to choose the book for the gay book club I belong to in Chicago...found your site, and was happy to see The Line of Beauty on your list(we just finished it) As a suspense/mystery fan normally,(Patricia Cornwell is my fav)I was looking for a gay- themed mystery, and IM sounds just like what I'm looking for and it will be my choice for the September 2010 book! And No Night Is Too Long sounds like it will be my next choice, when I get to choose again! Thanks!

  6. Thanks, Tim! I lived in Chicago for 16 years and there's a lot of local color in IM...I think you'll like it. And NO NIGHT IS TOO LONG is amazing.