Saturday, November 26, 2016

Holiday gift guide 2016: The Gift of Books

Written by  Gregg Shapiro

What a great year 2016 has been for books. It’s been especially good when it comes to books by and about queer people. That’s why these outstanding titles in poetry, fiction, non-fiction and even picture books should make holiday shopping a breeze.

Literary language

Primer (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016), the third full-length book by gay poet and educator Aaron Smith is a devastating poetry collection that explores some of the darker corners of existence while letting in just enough light for the poems to glow with a cool radiance.

The seven short stories in At Danceteria and other stories (Squares and Rebels Press, 2016), the debut collection by Philip Dean Walker, are deeply entrenched in the 1980s and feature appearances by era icons Keith Haring, Princess Diana, Freddie Mercury, Halston, Liza Minnelli, and Sylvester, among others.

The late, renowned African-American lesbian-feminist poet and performer Pat Parker (1944-1989) is feted with the massive compilation The Complete Works of Pat Parker (Sapphic Classics/A Midsummer Night’s Press/Sisnister Wisdom, 2016). Edited by Julie R. Enszer and with an introduction by Judy Grahn, the substantial tome contains poetry, prose and two plays.

Set during the Cold War and based on the “hidden life” of award-winning lesbian writer Lucy Jane Bledsoe’s aunt, the novel A Thin Bright Line (University of Wisconsin Press, 2016) follows Lucybelle’s struggles with “the impossible compromises of queer life” at the dawn of the civil rights movement.

Sinister Wisdom editor/publisher and poet Julie R. Enszer’s new full-length poetry collection Avowed (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2016) encompasses celebration and mourning, and the various aspects of being a lesbian in a long-term relationship, including being the one who “always” does the dishes.

Straight author Ann Patchett, who created unforgettable queer characters in her 1997 novel The Magician’s Assistant , returns with her remarkable new novel Commonwealth (Harper, 2016), about a few generations of the Keating and Cousins families.

Winner of the 2015 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, In the Volcano’s Mouth (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016) the debut collection by queer poet Miriam Bird Greenberg, is considered to be “portrait of life on the enchanted margins.”

Fittingly described as a “contemporary odyssey,” The Troubleseeker (Chelsea Station Editions, 2016) by Alan Lessik combines Greek mythology and Cuban Santería as a means of telling the story of Antinio in post-revolution Cuba through the early days of the AIDS epidemic.

Words and pictures

With an introduction by Kate Clinton, Pride & Joy: Taking the Streets of New York City (The New Press, 2016) colorfully celebrates the institution of the NYC LGBT pride parade via photos by Jurek Wajdowicz, and affirming quotes from Holly Hughes, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Lea DeLaria, Michangelo Signorile, Edie Windsor, Dan Savage, John D’Emilio, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill DeBlasio, Cyndi Lauper, and many others.

“Real-life couple” and “artist-authors” Lynn Dowling and Asia Kepka expanded what began as a collaboration exhibited at the Griffin Museum of Photography in Boston into the book Horace & Agnes: A Love Story (Blue Rider Press, 2016), a love story between a middle-aged horse and squirrel.

As dishy as it is enlightening, including a chapter on “The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name,” The Art of the Affair: An Illustrated History of Love, Sex and Artistic Influence (Bloomsbury, 2016) by Catherine Lacey and Forsyth Harmon, is about the affairs behind great works of art.

No One Told Me To Do This: Selected Screenprints 2009-2015 (Akashic Books, 2016)by Jay Ryan, with a foreword by Aaron Horkey, features Ryan’s colorful and distinctive artwork, most of which are concert posters, including those for shows by queer artists including Bob Mould and St. Vincent.

A sequel of sorts to 2015’s Rad American Women A-Z, Rad Women Worldwide (Ten Speed Press, 2016), written by Kate Schatz and illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl, features “artists and athletes, pirates and punks, and other revolutionaries who shaped the world,” including Frida Kahlo, Venus and Serena Williams, Poly Styrene, Ugandan LGBT activist Kasha Jacqueline Nagabasera, as well as Chavela Vargas, Audre Lorde, Sylvia Rivera, Grace Jones and Pussy Riot.

True stories

Anatomy of a Song (Grove Atlantic, 2016), expanded from Wall Street Journal contributor Marc Myers’ column of the same name, features interviews with the artists and songwriters behind 45 essential pop songs, including queer acts such as Michael Stipe of R.E.M. (on “Losing My Religion”) and Janis Joplin, as well as a number of performers beloved by LGBT folks, including Joni Mitchell (on “Carey”), Cyndi Lauper (on “Time After Time”), Bonnie Raitt (on “Nick of Time”) and Debbie Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie (on “Heart of Glass”), among others.

Boys in the Trees: A Memoir (Flatiron Books, 2015/2016), the bestselling memoir by singer/songwriter Carly Simon, who openly discussed her sexuality in a 2008 interview in the LGBT publication The Bay Area Reporter, writes with humor and sensitivity about the lesbians of Sarah Lawrence College and Provincetown. She leaves off at the end of her marriage to James Taylor meaning that, with any luck, there might be more to come from the “You’re So Vain” diva.

The Sea Is Quiet Tonight: A Memoir (Querelle Press, 2016) by Michael H. Ward, a retired psychotherapist, takes readers back to the early days of the AIDS epidemic in Boston.

Described as  “the partial inspiration” for Dustin Lance Black and Gus Van Sant’s forthcoming ABC miniseries, When We Rise: My Life In the Movement (Hachette, 2016) is Cleve Jones’ personal story of self-discovery in `70s San Francisco through the AIDS crisis and his co-founding of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt and more.

The travel memoir anthology Inspired Journeys: Travel Writers in Search of The Muse (University of Wisconsin Press, 2016), edited by gay writer Brian Bouldrey (Honorable Bandit: A Walk Across Corsica), features contributions by queer writers including Raphael Kadushin, Goldie Goldbloom, Lucy Jane Bledsoe, Trebor Healey, Susan Fox Rogers.

Not your typical music memoir, Tranny:  Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout (Hachette, 2016) follows Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace’s journey from  being Tom Gabel in Naples, Florida to the groundbreaking trans musician and activist that she is today.


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