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Reading is Gay, Fundamental and Valuable - Pick Up Gay Books and Read

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Written by  | Published in: Personal stories

By George M. Akerley

Gay men are stereotypically described as "artsy." In that light, it would make sense that gay men are all readers. Of course, we know that not to be so; otherwise, gay tomes would top the best-seller charts. Then again, many of them do just that. Well, at least Maurice Sendak's "Where The Wild Things Are" rests at number 23 this week, according to USA Today.


Some of the very best writing every published came from the minds and pens of gay writers. To miss out on some of this literature would be a shame. Just think - William Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, James Baldwin, T.E. Lawrence, Herman Melville, E.M. Forster, W. Somerset Maugham. Some of the greatest names in literature, drama, poetry are those of gay men.

A recent publication is Richard Canning's Fifty Gay and Lesbian Books Everybody Should Read (discussed in more detail later). It would seem that for all the years that the written word has been in print that 50 would be a bare minimum for someone to get through. After all, there are books of gay fiction, non-fiction, plays, poetry, fantasy, biography...and the list goes on.

Clearly, in reading some of our favorite authors, there is much to learn. Often, the protagonists are gay themselves, and we can get a particular insight into the mores of the times, the culture of the times, even the acceptance or lack thereof for those who are gay by the remainder of the population. It is worthwhile to invest in a library that will complement the copies of Unzipped, Manhunt and all the other fleshy magazines that constitute the gay genre.

Herewith, a synopsis of some of the most interesting, provocative, beneficial and smart books that have been produced by gay authors. Check them out and see if you're not enchanted and enlightened.

In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God, written by Bishop Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire. Because he is gay and a bishop, of course, there is a world of controversy surrounding the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. His book provides us with an insightful view of his life, the faith that he has professed and continues to follow and the tempest that surrounds him.

The Mayor of Castro Street, written by Randy Shilts
Harvey Milk was a hero for so many gay men, and remains so. His life was portrayed for all the world to see in the 2008 motion picture "Milk," for which Sean Penn won the Academy Award as Best Actor. The 1984 film "The Times of Harvey Milk" was awarded the Academy Award for Best Documentary. Milk was known as "The Mayor of Castro Street," and he was San Francisco's first openly gay man to win elective office, to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Here, Shilts gives us a look at Milk's personal life as well as his public life. His 1996 assassination galvanized the gay community throughout the nation. This is a powerful read, worth the trouble for anyone who's seen the movie, and a valuable re-read for those who've already taken the time to read it.

Role Models, written by John Waters
Has there been a more inventive, albeit controversial, moviemaker in our lifetimes than John Waters? His work with Divine; and his marvelous, subversive sense of humor and timing; have led us to some of the best movies of the generation. Here, he provides us with an amusing ride through the influences he has had throughout his career - people like sexy crooner Johnny Mathis, the controversial atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair, noted playwright Tennessee Williams - all to let us know where in the world John Waters is coming from. His comedic sense will delight and entrance.

Tales of the City, written by Armistead Maupin
Maupin's splendid tale of the inhabitants of the legendary 28 Barbary Lane has enchanted millions throughout the past three decades. Life is no longer as it is, and the moments and circumstances of the changing landscape are captured in his engaging and humorous prose. Of course, the inquisitive reader will want to take advantage of the entire series of stories, evocative of the changes in our lives that have taken place.

A Single Man, written by Christopher Isherwood
Despite his loneliness, George, a middle-aged, gay Englishman, must adapt to his new life as a single man, following the sudden death of his partner. The novel takes place in Southern California, where George is a professor. Alienated as he is from society, we see his joy of life through the contact he has with the outside world, in combination with his own considerations of life. We experience the very fabric of life in this humorous, ironic and somber novel. Edmund White called it "one of the first and best novels of the modern gay liberation movement."

The Berlin Stories, written by Christopher Isherwood
The Berlin Stories comprises two novellas, The Last of Mr. Norris and Goodbye to Berlin, set in Berlin in 1931, as the Hitler and the Nazi party were rising to power. In the first, Mr. Norris, a nefarious sort, is befriended by the narrator, one William Bradshaw. The second, reflected of Isherwood's own experiences in Berlin, contain reflections from various friends, acquaintances, landlords, roommates and others as they navigate through the charms and vices of Berlin. Sally Bowles, introduced as a character in the second, lived on in stage and screen presentations of "I Am A Camera" and "Cabaret."

Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked The Gay Revolution, written by David Carter
The 1969 riots against the police in Greenwich Village, precipitated by a raid on The Stonewall Inn, a gay bar, changed history. Perhaps the first time that homosexuals fought back against the political system that persecuted them, Stonewall is seen as the benchmark for the institution of civil rights for gays. Carter's research provides extraordinary detail into the riots, the aftermath and the full story of one of the most significant events in gay history.

The Meaning of Matthew, written by Judy Shepherd.
Matthew Shepard was beaten to death in 1998 simply because he was gay. His death signaled a change in the American temperament as it related to hate crimes. Since his death, we have seen a greater acceptance of gays and lesbians by society, and the expansion of various rights. Nevertheless, the struggle continues, and now Judy Shepherd, Matthew's mom, lets us into her life and the changes that resulted from his heartbreaking death. Motivated to activism, she worked vigilantly for the passage of the hate crimes bill that was signed into law late in 2009.

The Best Little Boy in the World, written by Andrew Tobias
Here is a tome that has been suggested, re-suggested and continually touted as a must-read for someone trying to come to grips with the indication that he may be gay. Tobias' own website asks the question, "What's this book about?" and then provides the answer: "Don't ask, don't tell." And, of course, The New York Times described it as "uniquely frank." When he wrote it, he had to use a pseudonym, John Reid, because the subject was taboo. That best little boy didn't masturbate, he honored his parents, he was an honors student and athlete and an extraordinary corporate executive. He was also a closet case. As the Times also said, "one reads this utterly honest account with the shock of recognition." Twenty-five years later, Tobias wrote "The Best Little Boy in the World Grows Up," which ought to be on this list as well.

Maurice, written by E.M. Forster
We first meet Maurice as a 14-year-old and in public school; we follow him to Cambridge, where he excels and moves into his father's brokerage business. Growing into the business and into life as a typical Cambridge man, Maurice is everything his Dad wishes for him to be, except for one small item - he is homosexual. Forster's novel is said "to be ahead of its time" because of the gay theme and the thought that there could actually be happiness in the love between men. Sadly, not every gay couple in these times sees the happiness that they desire.

Waiting to Land, written by Martin Duberman
Duberman brings us up to date, covering the period from 1985 to 2008, as a follow-up to his two previous autobiographical books, Cures and Midlife Queer. Here he tells us of his establishment of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies (CLAGS) and his service on the original board of Queers for Economic Justice. He expresses his disdain for what he's seen in the gay movement; his thoughts that as gay becomes more mainstream in society, there is a loss of uniqueness and standing for earlier ideals becomes less evident. Maintaining a sense of primacy in the gay movement is paramount in his mind, and there's undoubtedly plenty of proverbial "food for thought" in this meaty memoir.

The Naked Civil Servant, written by Quentin Crisp
Crisp was flamboyant, having made it a priority to let the world know that his homosexuality wasn't going to prevent him from enjoying life as it was intended for him, nor that it should deter any other gay man from enjoyment. He says "as soon as I stepped out of my mother's womb, I realized that I'd made a mistake." In comedic terms, and with all frankness, Crisp tells of his encounters with his parents, soldiers and sailors, the law, making it clear that his intent was to live life unvarnished.

Mapping the Territory, written by Christopher Bram
Bram, an essayist of renown over the last quarter century, has accumulated, in this first non-fiction book, a variety of topics, including his coming-out in Virginia in the 1970s. He also discusses why he and his partner are not desirous of marriage, how it felt to see his novel Gods and Monsters be made into an Academy-Award winning movie with the great gay actor Ian McKellan. Bram also tells us of some of the reading he did when he was coming to grips with himself as a gay man. He provides us with his insight on Greenwich Village, and shares his ideas on life with wit, elan and grace.

Fifty Gay and Lesbian Books Everybody Should Read, written by Richard Canning
Undoubtedly, many readers have picked up some of the texts that are contained in this collection of essays from a wide variety of critics, authors and others. It is illuminating to recognize the need to sample the thoughts of so many who've opined on gay (and lesbian) life. Discussed are such topics as what constitutes gay or lesbian literature; politics; diversity throughout the populace. Recognizing the contributions of gay literature to life is part of the rationale. Will you have the time to pick up each of these 50 books? Perhaps a better question is whether you'll take the time to pick them up to begin with. Canning makes a strong case for each of these books, and the well-read gay will find the time.

There you have it...fourteen books, reflecting truth and beauty, sex and love, the primacy of gay life. For those who are still searching and trying to come to grips with being gay, who want to know more about the lives and loves of those who've gone before, either through fiction or non-fiction, adding these titles to your library will be worthwhile. If, of course, adding books to a personal library is beyond someone's reach, keep in mind the public libraries will carry most all these titles as well.

George M. Akerley has been writing since his early youth, and has embarked on a journey that he once never imagined. He is the owner/proprietor of Word of Excellence, a writing and editing business that is based on the assumption that all that is written ought to be excellent.

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Last modified on Thursday, 24 July 2014 09:08
George Akerley

I'll have something more to say soon - once I can determine what it is that I want to say. At this point, suffice to say that I'm gay. I've just posted information concerning my business, Word of Excellence. It is an editing/writing/proofreading business that sprang up in 2007. I have an extensive background in writing and editing. I'd be pleased to correspond with anyone who's interested as we enjoy these latter years. I am located in Connecticut. You can see some of my writing here, as I will be submitting what I hope will be beneficial articles, stories, etc. for my fellow Prime Timers.

By way of introduction, I recognized that I was gay at about age 50, but it's been a struggle to deal with it, as many of you may know. I've only come out to a fairly small circle of friends, and it's still a process for me. I've dated and fallen in love with one man, and I love the romance. I'm 65 now and I am proud to acknowledge my true sexuality.

Coming out isn't easy, as we all know; but at some point we have to take control of ourselves and let others know who we truly are. It's been a struggle for me for a variety of reasons, but I'm proud that I'm gay and glad to say that I finally accepted it.



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