Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Five Best LGBTQ Books of 2012

Each year I review thirty to forty books. The following five books are my favorite of the LGBTQ themed books I reviewed in 2012.

The Empty Family by Colm Toibin
Nine exquisitely crafted stories make up this gem of a book, set in present-day Ireland, 1970’s Spain, and nineteenth-century England. Each story is a unique perspective on loneliness, desire, and love-lost.

“Silence” presents Lady Gregory, a woman married to a man she abhors. Her loneliness is temporarily quenched by an impeccable lover, but she is then abandoned by love and forced to live out her life, never being able to speak of her one great passion.

“Two Women” tells of a prickly set designer who takes a job in her hometown in Ireland, and is forced to confront the emotions of loss she has long repressed.

“The Street” draws a portrait of Pakistani immigrants working in Spain who must hide their relationship while living in a community ruled by the laws set forth in the Koran, obedience to Allah, and silence.

All nine stories are shatteringly beautiful, thought provoking, and poignant, but these three stand out as superlative.  Toibin is a master of the written word, presenting immaculately crafted stories with vivid, unsensationalized prose.

Conversations with Capote by Lawrence Grobel
“I am a homosexual. I am a drug addict. I am a genius.” —Truman Capote

Between July, 1982 and August 1984, writer Lawrence Grobel recorded many interview sessions with Truman Capote for what they both agreed would be the definitive in-depth interview with the great writer. This book is the remarkable result of those conversations. As startling, candid, and controversial as the man himself, these interviews have become a key part of the Capote legacy.

I have always been enchanted by Capote’s stories, and reading this book I became mesmerized by the man behind those stories. He had a genius that elevated talk to art, and gossip to literature. He bedazzles with brilliant insight, and also reveals a condescending pettiness toward many of his contemporaries.

Sal Mineo, A Biography by Michael Gregg Michaud
Sal Mineo was raised in a family who struggled to make ends meet. His father owned a casket factory in the Bronx, and his mother managed Sal’s early television and stage career. Sal appeared in a number of TV spots and big stage productions, including The King and I, staring Yul Brynner, before becoming one of the hottest teen stars of the fifties. His role opposite James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause made Sal into a teenaged heartthrob. Other notable movie roles were in Giant, The Gene Krupa Story, and Exodus. While still a teen, Sal was nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Rebel and Exodus).

In Rebel, Sal’s character, Plato, was the first gay character to ever be shown in a Hollywood film. Many young gay guys, myself included, didn’t even understand what the movie was trying to show with that role, but we connected with it in ways no other movie role had ever done.  And of course, we fell in love with Sal. It made Sal a national sensation.

But when Sal grew into his twenties, and was no longer suitable for teen roles, his career began a long, downhill slide. Many other child stars have had difficulty making the transition to adult roles, but Sal had two other career setbacks to overcome: 1) his mother, as manager, had spent all his money supporting his family, leaving him virtually penniless;  2) He was gay, and rumors of his private affairs began circulating around Hollywood and Broadway, and that was the kiss of death for this remarkably talented actor.

The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov by Paul Russell
Sergey Nabokov was born into a wealthy family in pre-communists Russia. His father was a respected member of the government. His older brother would grow to become the brilliant writer, Vladimir Nabokov. While enjoying a luxurious lifestyle in Russia, Sergey grew up in the shadow of his older brother. As Sergey matured into puberty, it became apparent that he was gay and a bit of a dandy, which, as far as his family was concerned, pushed him deeper into the shadow cast by Vladimir.

Both brothers were forced to flee their mother Russia when the Bolshevik revolution brought the communists to power. They traveled to England where they received an education at Cambridge University, and then settled in Paris. Sergey became known to the artist crowd of pre-war Europe, hobnobbing with Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Picasso, Diaghilev, Stravinsky, Magnaus Hirschfield, and Nijinsky. But as his finances dwindled, Sergey became more and more desperate, turning to opium for a bit of comfort and living off the generosity of men. As war with Germany loomed, Vladimir fled to the United States while Sergey ended up in isolation in war-torn Berlin. Sergey died after spending two years in a Nazi concentration camp for the crime of being gay and for speaking out against the Nazi regime.

Songs For The New Depression by Kergan Edwards-Stout
This story compiles three snapshots in the life of Gabe, a gay man with a troubled soul, biting wit, and razor sharp tongue. Each snapshot—near death, middle age, young teen—focuses on his relationship with his love interest during that fragment of his life.

Gabe is a man who, because of a sexual-bullying incident during his early years, has built up strong, thick walls around his heart, and uses his cutting wit to keep people at a distance, even though he craves love and affection. Completely self-absorbed, he is also a man that during the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, was changing sexual partners as often as he was changing his socks.

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