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Must read books of 2005
Gay authors excel in fiction and non-fiction

by John Hall

The LGBT community continued to turn out record amounts of literary prose this past year — some of it shocking and thought-provoking, while other tales were heart-warming and eye-opening. Whatever the case, there was a lot to choose from. Here’s a taste of what I thought were some of the best.

“ All American Boy” (fiction) by William J. Mann (Kensington). Mann’s latest novel treads a far darker path than his previous explorations of gay culture as Wally Day, a semi-successful actor, must return to his decaying hometown to confront the ghosts of his past that he left behind years ago. The results are powerful, deeply unsettling and not easily forgotten.

“ Beyond the Down Low: Sex, Lies, and Denial in Black America” (non-fiction) by Keith Boykin (Carroll & Graf). This book triumphs as a cogent analysis and deconstruction of the down low phenomenon (as well as the backlash caused by its exposure in the national media). One of its highlights is Boykin’s systematic critique of J.L. King’s “On the Down Low,” the book which first brought the issue to national attention.

“ Breakfast With Tiffany: An Uncle’s Memoir” (non-fiction) by Edwin John Wintle (Miramax Books). When Ed Wintle agrees to take in his volatile 13-year-old niece Tiffany (the product of a broken, dysfunctional home), any hopes of an “Auntie Mame”-like bonding between the two quickly goes out the window in this present-day take on gay childrearing. Parents of all persuasions will empathize with Wintle’s selfless, thankless situation, while those who can’t stand kids will come away with their prejudices justified after reading this heartwarming yet harrowing account of family values with a twist.

“ The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage, and My Family” (non-fiction) by Dan Savage (Dutton). As his 10th anniversary with his boyfriend Terry approaches, Dan Savage starts getting pressured by his mother to get married. Thus begins a heartfelt examination of gay marriage and what it means in this case to all involved members of a family. This book puts a much-needed human face onto one of our country’s most divisive issues and scrutinizes it with humor and insight.

“ The Fabulous Sylvester: The Legend, the Music, the Seventies in San Francisco” (non-fiction) by Joshua Gamson (Henry Holt & Co.). Best known for his song “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real),” the late disco diva Sylvester gets the star treatment in this expansive biography, which offers a warts-and-all account of the genderbending singer and the times in which he cavorted. This is not only a great chronicle of an overlooked, pioneering musician, but a wonderful portrait of San Francisco itself.
“ Home Rules: Transform the Place You Live Into a Place You’ll Love” (non-fiction) by Nate Berkus (Hyperion). While home renovation has become a nationwide craze, Berkus offers dozens of tips that are not only easily accomplished, but easy on the budget as well. Openly gay and beloved by Oprah, Berkus dispenses tips on organizing, accessorizing and personalizing your space.

“ The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln” (non-fiction) by C.A. Tripp (Simon & Schuster). The late Dr. Tripp’s rambling treatise on the possibility that our 16th President was sexually and affectionally oriented toward men created quite a stir earlier this year. By showing us Lincoln’s ribald wit and his intense male friendships, Tripp turns Abe into an actual human being rather than the martyred saint most of us learned about in school.

“ Luncheonette: A Memoir” (non-fiction) by Steven Sorrentino (ReganBooks). When his father suddenly became paraplegic on Christmas Eve 1980, Sorrentino moved back to his hometown and took over running his dad’s luncheonette. Over the next four years, his career dreams evaporated, his sex life shriveled, and his father’s health fluctuated precariously. A hugely engaging and pungently narrated memoir, “Luncheonette” serves up a satisfying recipe of pathos and bleak comedy with a delicious side order of small-town eccentricity.

“ Now Batting for Boston” (fiction) by J.G. Hayes (Southern Tier Editions / Harrington Park Press). This is a new collection of short stories — “hopefully…less bleak” than Hayes’ previous effort, “This Thing Called Courage” — that either take place in, or feature characters from, South Boston (a hardscrabble Irish-Catholic enclave). They’re all of a uniformly high quality and boldly experiment with a variety of themes and lengths. Consider this another home run from a talented author.

“ Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star” (non-fiction) by Tab Hunter and Eddie Muller (Algonquin). Hunter’s disclosure of his homosexuality (one of Tinseltown’s worst-kept secrets) is hardly a revelation, but he and Muller do it in such an affable, elegant fashion that the results are disarmingly charming. Hunter might not tell all the tales people would’ve liked him to, but he delivers an honest, sincere account of what life in the closet was like for a ’50s heartthrob. This book shows that there’s something to be said for taking the high road.

“ The Tragedy of Today’s Gays” (non-fiction) by Larry Kramer (Tarcher/Penguin). Based on a fiery speech Kramer delivered in November 2004, this blunt instrument of a book whacks us over our collective heads for the state of affairs that we’ve allowed the gay community to get into through complacency and denial. Kramer’s always been something of a modern day Cassandra, but in light of events like the Supreme Court’s current status, his ranting predictions seem even more eerily prophetic than ever.

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