the inside reader + bonus books

Today I am The Inside Reader at Elisa Rolle’s blog.

my bookshelves are messyTo the left is a quick and dirty snapshot of two of the… uh… six? bookcases I have in my apartment. The book hoarding, it’s a disease. I totally will be the old lady you find out about who got crushed under the weight of all the stuff in her apartment. Thank goodness for ebooks; owning an ereader has cut my paper book acquisition down to a small fraction of what it once was (although then the Brooklyn Public Library or the Housing Works Bookstore has a sale, and I have a tote bag full of new books, dammit).

I have a lot of books, is what I’m saying. I’ve read a lot, too, because I live a couple of blocks from the central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, so they keep me in books even when my budget doesn’t allow for new ones. So narrowing the best/my favorites/my influences is a task that is well nigh impossible.

So IN ADDITION to the ones on my list, here are a few more books that didn’t make my cut but maybe should have.

A note first! I went through a few years in which I thought I was too good for romance novels, and only started reading them again a few years ago. A friend of mine loaned me a romance novel, then I had to spend 4 hours on a bus, so I read it. And was completely engrossed and entertained by the book. I had forgotten how much pleasure could be found in a book that, even while maybe not being the most erudite or groundbreaking, is just a fun read. A few months after that, I got a job as a proofreader at a law firm. After spending all day looking at contracts and newsletters, I wanted my recreational reading to be fun and easy, and romance novels filled that need pretty nicely. I’ve since moved on, job-wise, but I’ve been a regular romance reader ever since. As such, a lot of my favorite books of the last 3-4 years have probably been romances. And I would argue, actually, that the genre gets a lot of flak that is undeserved. Sure, there’s some crap, but there’s also some really fantastic writing and storytelling that goes unrecognized (or under-recognized?). So my shelves, and my list of favorite books, contain both more literary works and romance novels. So there.

I’m sticking with a mostly LGBT theme here. I have many, many other favorite books, too.

Whisting in the Dark by Tamara Allen. It pained me a little to leave this off the list. I’ve been fascinated by the 1920s for a long time, and as soon as I knew of the existence of an m/m romance that took place just after WWI, I bought it immediately. It’s a really lovely book, full of great period detail and interesting characters.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeannette Winterson. I love Winterson’s prose. It’s a moving book, about a lesbian growing up in a religious community.

Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison. And speaking of bad girlhoods. This is a book that will stick with you for a while.

Taking Woodstock by Eliot Tiber. Maybe an odd choice. Here’s why, though: I saw the movie last summer with my mother, who is still a hippie on the inside. I am, apparently, the only one who liked the movie. Something about it really worked for me, I guess. I loved Liev Schreiber’s performance. I love that no special attention is paid to the fact that Eliot is gay, it’s just a fact of his life. I got home afterwards and Googled the movie, which is how I stumbled upon the book. The book… was not in any way what I expected. Though the movie is a fairly faithful adaptation of the second half of the book, it was the first part of the book that really surprised me. It’s a frank account of life for a gay man in New York City in the 60s. It’s flawed—the prose is straightforward and unadorned, it’s name-droppy, it’s peppered with too-good-to-be-true coincidences—but it’s interesting, too. (There is some explicit discussion of BDSM, fair warning.)

The real reason this book makes the list is that there was something about it I found inspiring. It indirectly was the catalyst for the novel I wrote during the last NaNoWriMo. I’ve long been interested in life in New York in the 70s—Jonathan Mahler’s Ladies and Gentleman, The Bronx is Burning is excellent, and also, I’m personally fascinated by how much the city has changed since I was a kid in the 80s, and I think the period of time between the late 60s and the mid-90s is key to understanding how cities ebb and flow and grow and decay (something that I am interested in)—and after reading Taking Woodstock, I started reading other first-hand accounts of various events of the 60s in New York, and that became my novel. (I’ll finish it some day. It is, in part, about a gay man who comes of age in Brooklyn in the 50s and 60s.) Incidentally, this and Stone Butch Blues both contain scenes during the Stonewall riots. And, having read a bunch of accounts of Stonewall, I guess I was surprised at how small the inn itself seemed when I walked by it recently, how nondescript Christopher Street is, even, in the middle-of-a-weekday sunlight in 2010.

Some other of my favorite books of all time include some classics like Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. And, I know there are corners of the romance community that will disagree with me, but I much prefer the Bronte sisters to Jane Austen, and Jane Eyre remains a favorite book, one I’ve read probably ten times. (There’s something about a hero you can’t quite like. I wound up re-reading it last year or the year before when my book club read Wide Sargasso Sea, and, I have to say, Rochester gets some of the best lines in the book.) In maybe the same vain, Laura Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm is still probably one of my favorite historical romances of all time. Louise Erdrich is also a favorite writer; of her books, Tales of Burning Love is probably my favorite. Pete Hammill’s novel Forever is wonderful; the premise is that the main character is immortal, as long as he does not leave the island of Manhattan, so he lives through 250 years of New York history. I unabashedly love Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series. I’ve read everything Jennifer Crusie has published (among which Faking It and Agnes and the Hit Man are probably my favorites). There are dozens of really great m/m authors I didn’t get to mention and many I’m sure I’m forgetting: K.A. Mitchell, Ethan Day, Charlie Cochrane, T.A. Chase, Astrid Amara, Lynn Lorenz, Alex Beecroft, J.L. Langley, and on and on and on. I could keep going. I have read many books.