Mid ’90s to ’00s
Paul Monette – I read three of his non-fiction books in the early to mid ‘90s: Borrowed Time, Becoming a Man, and Afterlife. While I remember Borrowed Time most, I think that Becoming a Man was the best of the three. Though at this point, I don’t recall why. The books are AIDS memoirs written almost as things happened. They have a journalistic immediacy – or they did at the time – that made them incredibly compelling. I keep intending to reread these books, but I keep not getting around to it. They’re worth more than one read.
Maurice, E.M. Forster – When I went back to college for my English degree in the mid ‘90s, I read most of Forster. I love his books. Eventually, I came to Maurice. Of course, I’d seen the Merchant Ivory film (1987), which is wonderful. It’s a lovely book, though I think not quite as good as his others. It’s interesting to note that he was still a virgin when he wrote it, so it’s much more a gay romantic fantasy than an exploration of gay relationships at the time. I did a paper on this when I was in college and learned that Forster gave a copy of the book to D.H. Lawrence prior to Lawrence’s writing Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Though I think each book is unique there are a great many similarities and it’s interesting to think of these two great writers influencing each other. Though I would not classify this as m/m romance – since it predates the emergence of the genre by nearly a century – I do think m/m readers would really enjoy it.
And the Band Played On – I think I read this around the time it was made into an HBO special (1993). I have it on my shelf and refer to it quite a bit for the Boystown series. Of course, most of us in Chicago were in the dark about what was happening, many of us willingly. So, this is an important document since it brings you right into the epicenter of AIDS as our understanding of it unfolded.
David Leavitt – Leavitt is an excellent, talented writer but for some reason not one I connect with. I have most of his books and have tried them. I think I only got all the way through one. He did, however, write a short story that I think is truly amazing. It’s called Gravity. It’s very short but manages to convey two lives completely. And it’s heart-wrenching. The story was collected in an anthology for one of my classes in college. I’ve seen it in a couple other anthologies. If you can find it, read it. Also, give his books a try. As I said, he’s a good writer and he might appeal to you more than he does to me.
The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde – I read this as part of a Gay and Lesbian fiction class at Cal State Long Beach. I think it was the first time they ever offered the class, taught by Clifton Snider. It’s a very creepy book in many ways, and only hints at queerness. If you bring to it an understanding of Wilde and his life it’s very easy to see the ways that a writer of his time – and indeed all gay writers until just a few decades ago – had to code work to make it acceptable for publication.
Robert Rodi – I think I’ve read all of Rodi’s books with one exception. They’re really, really fun. His first book, Fag Hag, came out in 1991. They’re fast past and funny and at the time a much needed respite from all the AIDS literature that was coming out. Not as funny as Joe Keenan but if you like funny books he’s worth reading.
Frank O’Hara – In general, I don’t like poetry outside of the classroom. I think poems are quite interesting when assigned for a literature class and then discussed. Reading poems on my own is something that just doesn’t happen. I do remember going over O’Hara’s poems in a class and finding them quite appealing. His life is every bit as interesting as his poetry and led me to read the excellent biography City Poet by Brad Gooch. I also read Larry River’s book What Did I Do? The unauthorized autobiography of Larry Rivers. Rivers and O’Hara had a long, intense relationship even though Rivers was heterosexual. Theirs is one of the very few real life “gay-for-you” relationships I’m personally aware. If you read River’s autobiography he’s clearly straight – and yet he speaks very honestly about his sexual and emotional relationship with O’Hara. A really fascinating friendship. I also have three of Rivers prints on my walls and enjoy his art.
(This is not one of the prints I have, but I have one from this series.)