Sunday, May 18, 2014

25 suggestions for Memorial Day weekend reading to combat brain-freeze

Admit it: the long Memorial Day weekend is approaching and you just can't decide if you're ready for another beach book, or picture-perfect book about barbeque, or breathless celebrity tell-all brain-freeze. Besides, you have to save something nap-inducing for the long, lazy days of summer, still a month away. What to read now?

Tyler Coates, online at Flavorwire, offers a smart list of 25 essential non-fiction books -- some serious, some humorous, ranging from gimlet-eyed memoir to astute history -- with lesbian / bi / gay / transgender authors and subjects. Several recommended titles qualify as classics (Quentin Crisp's The Naked Civil Servant, Randy Shilts' And the Band Played On), and there are more recent books of lives led in- or out-of-the-closet. 

As with any online list, readers have responded with their own additions. The genderbending A Low Life in High Heels by Warhol superstar Holly Woodlawn would be a good, entertaining extra. Coates makes the point that the broad selection, with topics from gender politics to AIDS to literary outlaws, isn't meant to be complete. At the very least, The Life of Roman Novarro (AndrĂ© Soares) qualifies as both a Hollywood bio and a beach read that could make it to the waterside before before Labor Day. An excerpt from the list and Coates' comments:

The Gay Metropolis: The Landmark History of Gay Life in America by Charles Kaiser. Kaiser’s historical look at how gay men informed the culture of America’s urban areas — particularly New York City — spans 56 years from the periods of silent acceptance, the tumultuous pre-Stonewall years, the empowering ’70s, and the AIDS crisis of the ’80s.

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde. This collection of speeches and essays from the influential and outspoken Audre Lorde touches on racism, sexism, and homophobia without losing a sense of hope for positive results in the face of class struggles. 

Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade by Justin Spring. A contemporary of Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and Thornton Wilder, Samuel Steward lived an extraordinary secret sexual life which he chronicled in great detail in a collection of journals.  

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. Alison Bechdel’s gorgeous and heartbreaking graphic memoir follows the artist as she grapples with both her own sexuality and the revelation that her cold, distant father led a secret life as a gay man. 
Before Night Falls by Reinaldo Arenas. The internationally renowned poet shares his life story, from his adolescence spent fighting for the Castro regime to his imprisonment for his sexuality to his flight from Cuba to his deathbed in New York City. 

Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us by Kate Bornstein. Legendary transgender activist and writer Kate Bornstein details her transition from a heterosexual man to a lesbian woman in this modern classic about challenging gender and cultural norms. 

Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin by John D’Emilio. Bayard Rush was responsible for teaching the principles of non-violent protest to Martin Luther King, Jr., yet his status as an openly gay man in the midst of the civil rights movement kept him from being recognized for the efforts and activism he accomplished. 
Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro by AndrĂ© Soares. This biography tells the story of the first Latin American movie star, whose death was one of the most shocking scandals of the early days of Hollywood. 
Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 by George Chauncy. Chauncy’s history of gay life in New York decades before the impact of the Stonewall riots is a surprising account that defies the notion that homosexuality was hidden out of view until the 1960s.

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