It's a good year for queer readers when books by the likes of Christopher Bram, Edmund White, Norah Vincent, Leslie Feinberg, Cheryl Clarke, Stephen McCauley, and Andrew Holleran are crowded out of the Book Marks Top 10 lists. Impressive debut work from a new generation of skilled writers - including Wayne Hoffman, Patrick Ryan, Robert Marshall, Josh Kilmer-Purcell, Ivan E. Coyote, and Mary Jacobsen - also didn't make the cut. My subjective bests follow (in order of author's last name) - but there are certainly many other fine books out there than these 20.
Top 10 Fiction Titles, 2006:
The Last Time I Saw You, by Rebecca Brown (City Lights, $12.95 paper).
Winkie, by Clifford Chase (Grove Atlantic, $16.95 hardcover).
A boy named Clifford loved his teddy bear, Winkie. When the boy grew up, Winkie sat lonely on a shelf - until he escaped, experienced his first poo (a poetic excretory account), and was arrested for terrorist acts. Chase's novel is an absurdist allegory skewering the over-reaching Patriot Act and fundamentalist paranoia about everything sexual.
A Scarecrow's Bible, by Martin Hyatt (Suspect Thoughts Press, $16.95 paper).
When wounded souls connect, the miracle can be explosive, as in this rapturous debut novel, a tragic love story set in the working-class Deep South. The romance between a closeted older man who's not sure he's queer and a flamboyant younger man forever on the edge of flaming out is doomed, desperate, and lyrical.
My Lucky Star, by Joe Keenan (Little, Brown, $24.95 hardcover).
Sweet Creek, by Lee Lynch (Bold Strokes Books, $15.95 paper).
The Good Neighbor, by Jay Quinn (Alyson Books, $24.95 hardcover).
Quinn invests his novel about suburban over-the-fence sexual trysts and fragile friendships with a nuance that gives it complex emotional texture - and a deep intelligence about how couples can love each other while dealing with imbalance in their lives. This is the good gay novel about suburbia that John Updike won't ever write.
Now is the Hour, by Tom Spanbauer (Houghton Mifflin, $26 hardcover).
It's 1967, and eternally tumescent 17-year-old Rigby John Klusener is hitchhiking to San Francisco, leaving behind an oppressively religious mother, a bigoted father, and the first man he's ever loved. This alluring story about masturbation, mysticism, and the mystery of life is enchanting.
The Night Watch, by Sarah Waters (Riverhead, $24.95 hardcover).
Top 10 Nonfiction Titles, 2006:
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, by Alison Bechdel (Houghton Mifflin, $19.95 hardcover).
When he was 44, high school teacher and funeral home operator Bruce Bechdel committed suicide, after his penchant for buying beer for teenage boys got him into trouble. This gripping graphic memoir, by the creator of Dykes to Watch Out For, is impeccably balanced between the tragic and the comic, a feat that transforms an unhappy story into a generously entertaining read.
The Romanian: Story of an Obsession, by Bruce Benderson (Tarcher Books, $16.95 paper).
When it comes to full disclosure, Benderson's searing account of his obsession for a 24-year-old Romanian hustler sets breathtaking new standards. The sex during their nine-month affair was usually unsafe, and, for the author, never enough: he wanted the young man's spirit as much as he wanted his ass - but never captured it.
The Bill from My Father, by Bernard Cooper (Simon & Schuster, $24 hardcover).
Cooper's cantankerous father, who died in 2000, figures prominently in the author's three previous books. So it's remarkable that this one - the title comes from an invoice for $2 million that a piqued Edward Cooper once sent his puzzled son - is such a fresh dissection of the chasm separating an aloof, often baffling father from his frustrated but loving gay son.
Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians, by Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons (Basic Books, $29.95 hardcover).
This seamless queer collaboration between Faderman, an academic, and Timmons, the biographer of Mattachine founder Harry Hay, makes the case for Los Angeles as the true pioneer city of American gay liberation. Historians may quibble, but this portrait of a city and its queers is a first-rank achievement of illuminating scholarship and entertaining writing.
Butterfly Boy: Memoirs of a Chicano Mariposa, by Rigoberto Gonzalez (University of Wisconsin Press, $24.95 hardcover).
Gonzalez was the chubby Chicano son of illiterate migrant farm workers, whose mother died when he was 12 and whose father was often absent. He matured into a Guggenheim-winning queer, and his story of abuse and recovery is recounted with breathtaking candor. An innate love for reading was the author's ticket out of a homophobic, dead-end life.
Speeding: The Old Reliable Photos of David Hurles, text and design by Rex (Green Candy Press, $36.95 hardcover).
Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son, by Kevin Jennings (Beacon Press, $24.95 hardcover}.
The Full Spectrum: A New Generation of Writing about Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Other Identities, edited by David Levithan and Billy Merrell (Knopf, $9.95 paper).
I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg, by Bill Morgan (Viking Press, $29.95 hardcover).
This detailed biography of the gayest poet who ever howled draws extensively on Ginsberg's private journals - the author was Ginsberg's archivist. Morgan's illuminating study presents a fully dimensional portrait of a defiantly political, intensely spiritual, voraciously sexual, deeply flawed, and essentially human poet and man.
Exile in Guyville: How a Punk Rock Redneck Faggot Texan Moved to West Hollywood and Refused to Be Shiny and Happy, by Dave White (Alyson Books, $13.95 paper).
David Sedaris, David Rakoff, Augusten Burroughs: queer and witty. Dave White: queer and fall-to-the-floor-gasping-for-breath hilarious. This collection of caustic observations on West Hollywood life - which grew out of White's blog about movies, music, pancakes, and his friends - has more smart things to say about gay life than a shelf full of theory texts.
British novelist Sarah Waters is lauded as a "literary lioness" in the December issue of Out, while serial memoirist Augusten Burroughs merits the headline "memory man" - two of a dozen bookish types in "The Out 100," the magazine's annual list of queer and queer-friendly achievers. The selection features elder homo Gore Vidal, for a body of work that includes a second volume of his memoirs, Point to Point Navigation; Joe Keenan, for his hilarious third novel, My Lucky Star; cartoonist Alison Bechdel, for her memoir, Fun Home; book designer Chip Kidd, for the retrospective of his cover-design work, Chip Kidd: Book One: Work: 1986-2006; and Josh Kilmer-Purcell, for his memoir of drag life and drugs in the '90s, I Am Not Myself These Days. Others feted: T. Cooper, for her novel Lipshitz, Or Two Angry Blondes; Daniel Mendelsohn, author of the gay identity memoir, The Elusive Embrace, and The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million, about Holocaust survivors; A.M. Homes, an executive producer for The L Word, with two gay-interest novels to her credit, Jack and This Book Will Save Your Life; and blogger Keith Boykin, author of Beyond the Down Low. Australian novelist Alasdair Duncan, 24, is the wunderkind of the list: his first novel - published three years ago as Sushi Central in his homeland and as Dance, Recover, Repeat in the United States - was hailed as the voice of Australian gay youth; his second, Metro, was just published in Australia.
Richard Labonte has been reading, editing, selling, and writing about queer literature since the mid-'70s. He can be reached in care of this publication or at BookMarks@qsyndicate.com.