Literary loot: LGBT titles to gift and be gifted

If you didn’t check off all the LGBT giftees on your holiday-shopping list on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday or Cyber Monday (or if, like some of us, you haven’t even started compiling that list), why not opt for gifting some of the latest and greatest of LGBT books? To help you on your quest for quality LGBT lit, PGN staffers got to reading some new and upcoming releases, and found a wealth of works that will make great stocking stuffers or perfect companion pieces for a night curled up by a fireplace. And if the titles don’t fit someone on your shopping list, ’tis the season for giving, even to yourself!

Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution By Shiri Eisner Nonfiction

Bisexuals tired of being told that they are just going through a phase or they are really gay will welcome Eisner’s book.

Rather than providing a breezy survey of celebrities who have slept with both men and women, she addresses substantive issues, including the nature of bisexuality and its relation to feminism and the LGBT movement.

Eisner, an unabashed radical, rejects assimilation and aims instead for liberation. She regards bisexuality as inherently destabilizing, a genuine threat to white, male, heterosexual privilege.

She approaches the topic through the dual perspectives of activism and academics, a fitting method given the subject. Whenever she employs theoretical jargon, she defines it clearly and explains how it illuminates complicated matters. She recommends that readers use the book as a resource, putting its arguments into action. Consequently, the main text is accompanied by a glossary, suggestions for further reading and an index.

An important concept she introduces is monosexism, a social system dictating that everyone, gay or straight, be attracted to one sex only. This enables her to discuss instances of biphobia, including some by gays and lesbians, while still recognizing that all marginalized groups are oppressed by the dominant culture.

Overall, Eisner’s book is a compendium of thoughtful, provocative arguments in favor of bisexuality, one that can be read with profit by anyone interested in progressive social change.

— Ray Simon

Blue is the Warmest Color By Julie Maroh Graphic novel

This striking graphic novel is the source for the hit film of the same name. Fans of the movie may be surprised to learn how the story, set in the mid-1990s, deviates from what was adapted for the screen.

In the initial pages, Clementine (Adèle in the film) has passed away. Her great love, Emma, is instructed to read her diaries, which begin when Clementine was 15 and continue through their relationship. The vivid panels depict Clementine’s teenage angst. She finds herself fantasizing about the blue-haired Emma. The book’s sepia-toned panels are arrested, as Clementine is, by the shocking presence of azure.

“Blue is the Warmest Color” chronicles Clementine’s coming-of-age, which includes “stomachaches every time the phone rings” as she hopes Emma will call, and being shamed by her friends who think she is a lesbian. The story is best when the girls are together, especially when Emma helps Clementine accept herself, but also when the lovers fight. An episode not in the film featuring Clementine’s parents discovering their daughter’s “secret life” is powerfully rendered in the graphic novel.

Maroh’s storytelling makes being queer both political and intimate, and her artwork notably reflects these qualities as well.

— Gary Kramer

Born This Way By Paul Vitagliano Compilation

Lady Gaga’s LGBT anthem is put to paper with Vitagliano’s collection of stories about growing up LGBT.

Each page of “Born This Way” contains one brief (truly brief — this reader got from cover to cover in one sitting) tale of self-acceptance, with writers talking about their first inklings they were “different,” their gradual acceptance of their sexual identity and their coming-out process. The stories represent great diversity: Some writers acknowledged same-sex attraction from early in childhood, while others didn’t recognize their orientation until middle-age, and some families disowned their children after their coming-out, while others celebrated their LGBT identity.

The storytellers, too, run the gamut, with a number of famous faces, such as former Congressman Barney Frank, celebrity blogger Perez Hilton and drag performer Miss Coco Peru. Each story is set in a different year, which corresponds to a photo of the storyteller as a youth — one of the most engaging, and endearing, elements of the book. Most of the photos show the writers in poses that, while often stereotypical, illustrate their proclivity towards pushing gender barriers from a young age.

“Born This Way,” based on a blog of the same name, is a relatable, humorous and insightful companion piece for an LGBT person of any age to see the often-common threads that tie community members together.

— Jen Colletta

Chicago Whispers By St. Sukie de la Croix Nonfiction

On Nov. 20, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed marriage-equality legislation into law, making the Prairie State the 16th to legalize same-sex marriage. And with this new victory comes a spotlight on the state’s most populated city, Chicago, the LGBT history of which is detailed in “Chicago Whispers.”

Journalist St. Sukie de la Croix gives a colorful and vivid account of LGBT life and love in the city from the late 1600s to the end of the 1960s. The book features accounts from many of the Windy City’s famous LGBT activists, musicians and artists, and de la Croix, a former Windy City Times writer, outlined the rich history of both the glamorous life of Chicago’s LGBT citizens and the dark stages in the fight for equality.

“Chicago Whispers” gives readers a view into a city that was once closeted but now celebrates marriage equality for its LGBT citizens, which would have been seen as impossible just a few short decades ago. This book is ideal for history buffs — especially those who are fascinated by Chicago’s history and LGBT history in general.

— Angela Thomas

The Complete Short Stories of James Purdy Introduction by John Waters Compilation

“The Complete Short Stories of James Purdy” offers the queer writer’s perceptive tales, which often unfold as conversations between two people or, sometimes, the confession of one. Full of small, dramatic moments that have big emotions, and deep meaning, they illuminate sordid but true details of human nature.

“You May Safely Gaze” has a man telling his friend over their regular Wednesday lunch about his Adonis-like coworker who irks and fascinates him. “Cutting Edge” features a son whose beard disturbs his parents more than his nakedness. These sordid stories are two of the volume’s many highlights.

Purdy’s detached but authoritative storytelling is captivating, and he selects great names for his characters, introducing readers to Fenton Riddleway, Mrs. Hemlock and Parkhurst Cratty. He also has marvelous imagery, such as “wallpaper that shows some sacrifice of an animal by a youth.” John Waters’ fine introduction sets the appropriately dark tone for the book. It would be hard for readers of this irresistible volume to be disciplined enough to read just one tale a week, and then finish all five of his “Early Stories” at this impressive volume’s end. But it would allow folks to savor all 56 tales for an entire year.

— G.M.K.

Fairyland, A Memoir of My Father By Alysia Abbott Memoir

Abbott’s memoir is a valentine to her father, Steve. Bisexual and bohemian, he raised her on his own before succumbing to AIDS. Drawing on his journals and letters, she recalls the nontraditional but loving family life they shared.

Abbott’s parents were activists in the late 1960s. Compared to ending the Vietnam War, her father’s sexuality struck the couple as an easily surmountable problem.

After Abbott’s mother dies in a car accident, father and daughter move to San Francisco, where Steve immerses himself in the city’s gay culture. Many mornings, she finds strange men in his bed. Unfortunately, neither his roommates nor his tricks are interested in raising a child.

Eventually, the pair settles into a funky Haight-Ashbury apartment and begin attending readings together. Steve becomes a respected figure in the local literary scene, publishing his poetry and editing an influential magazine.

As a girl, Abbott imagined that her life was a fairytale. By her teens, however, she was embarrassed by her father’s sexuality and their poverty. Some anecdotes reveal Steve as an obtuse parent, but Abbott is quick to admit she was sullen and ungrateful.

Attending NYU brings her a measure of independence, at least until Steve reveals he is HIV-positive. Sooner than expected, she must return home to care for him.

This book is a testament to her abiding love for him. — R.S.

God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage By Gene Robinson Nonfiction

With holiday dinners right around the corner, “God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage” may be the best book to slip into the hands of that aunt or uncle who’s still not yet onboard with your LGBT identity.

Robinson, the first openly gay person elected to the episcopate, used his own experiences to write the book, so it comes from a genuine voice. Among the many strengths of this book is that it tackles head-on the same arguments religious family members may use to condemn same-sex relationships — from a religious leader who happens to be gay.

Robinson’s book is a perfect way to open dialogue about the concerns that parents, guardians or other family members may have about same-sex relationships, while maintaining a level of respect for all parties involved. Robinson outlines common issues raised against marriage equality by relying on clear theology, and also secular views to explain the positives and support for gay marriage — all without sounding preachy or confrontational.

If, like many, you get red-faced or trip over your words when arguing with family about same-sex marriage, then Robinson’s book is also the perfect tool for you — arming you with clear, reasoned arguments you can bring to any debate or conversation.

— A.T.

The Heavens Rise By Christopher Rice Fiction

Rice has crafted a four-star suspense thriller with just enough morsels of foreshadowing to entice and intrigue without revealing too much. Coincidentally, it’s difficult to say much about the story without giving away key points, but ask yourself this: What if you found you had the ability to control any animal, from birds to humans, and they would have no recollection? Assuming they live through it, of course. Think carefully. Because there are always consequences and unless you know what is in a person’s soul, it can get ugly.

The story is set in Rice’s native New Orleans and starts with some introductory casual pre-Katrina high-school friendships and romances. Those lives change in a car-crashing instant. And we know what the characters are up to now also, because we are also privy to the present-day action that is interwoven with the past through the first half of the book.

Just wait until you get to that second half. In his own words a few weeks ago at Giovanni’s Room, Rice described the antagonist Marshall as “the most evil and scariest character I have ever written because he kills without any regret or conscience.” Indeed. And if that’s not enough to grab your attention, then maybe a scene where someone under control takes a blade to themselves will.

Kafka-esque is the best word to describe this plausible and engaging story and it is one of Rice’s best writes to date. Buy two copies. You and a lucky friend will thank me. — Scott Drake

Just Between Us J.H. Trumble Fiction

“Just Between Us” may on the surface seem like a tale of teen angst, but the novel delves to much deeper and more valuable levels as it explores parental homophobia, school bullying, 21st-century HIV diagnosis and a wealth of other real-world issues faced by LGBT teens today.

The story is a follow-up to Trumble’s “Don’t Let Me Go,” which introduced the character of Luke Chesser. In “Just Between Us,” Luke encounters Curtis Cameron, a college student working at Luke’s school, and together the pair confronts the realities of growing up gay — some experiences they share, and others vastly different.

Whereas some stories focused on the high-school years are stunted by their attempts to exemplify teen language and day-to-day dramas in and out of the classroom, “Just Between Us” succeeds because it allows the characters the internal space to explore just why each of the situations they face are impactful. We get to see the characters’ thought processes, divided by chapter, and learn alongside them as they change and adapt to their ever-evolving surroundings.

“Just Between Us” is an engaging tale that takes readers on the roller-coaster of adolescent love and self-acceptance, and all the humor and heartbreak that accompany those journeys. — J.C.

Legendary: Inside the House Ballroom Scene By Gerard H. Gaskin Nonfiction

The coffee-table book uses Gerard H. Gaskin’s color and black-and-white photographs to take readers inside the culture of house balls, underground late-night pageant events where gay and transgender men and women, mostly African-American and Latino, come together in a safe place to see and be seen.

Gaskin, who has been attending balls for 20 years, features photos taken at events in the New York City area, Philadelphia, Richmond and Washington, D.C. The book also features an introduction by Deborah Willis and an essay, “The Queer Undercommons,” by Frank Roberts.

The black-and-white photos give the collection a documentary feel, while the color photography gives the book a glamorous high-fashion feel.

Whether you are familiar with the house ballroom scene or not, “Legendary” makes for some interesting conversation and exotic eye candy.

— Larry Nichols

Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us By Dr. Jesse Bering Nonfiction

Out author and professor Dr. Jesse Bering explores the subject of sexual deviancy, from run-of-the-mill kink to the most extreme of fetishes, in an effort to show that sexual deviance is commonplace and is something everyone experiences in one way or another.

Bering draws on a lot of stories, historical references and his own personal reflections on growing up gay in America to illustrate and communicate his points. We can’t promise you that knowing the historical origins and the genetic predispositions of some of the scarier fetishes (zoophilia, amputees, etc.) will make them any more or less freakish (we’re not here to judge), but “Perv” will give you lots of ammo to defend your more vanilla fetishes.

“Perv” should definitely be on your reading list if your academic mind wants to know about the seldom-talked-about corners of sex and sexuality.

— L.N.

A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk Edited by Valerie Steele Nonfiction

You don’t have to be a fashionista to appreciate this stylish coffee-table book that traces queer presence and influence in fashion from the 18th century to the present.

The essays and images in this elegant anthology address fops, macaronis and dandys (both male and female), as well as hipsters, clones and bears, butch-femmes, tomboys, androgynes and cross-dressers. Clothes, Steele and her contributors assert, “are gay signifiers” and queer people negotiate their sexual identity through their appearance and articulate their acceptance of sexual orientation through their dress sense and style.

While clothes in the 18th century could “conceal or reveal a dandy’s sexual identity,” in the modern age, fashion designers emphasized sexuality — from Jean Paul Gaultier’s corset-influenced designs to Gianni Versace’s “bondage” collection.

The photographs are as fabulous as the text. Icons like Marlene Dietrich in a tux or Lady Gaga in Alexander McQueen are showcased along with a gorgeous man’s silk waistcoat and coat c. 1770-79 and an original Hilary Knight illustration (“Workroom of Charles James”). The closing chapter, by Jonathan D. Katz, emphasizes queer fashion as a political statement, which reinforces the book’s savvy and sartorial points. — G.M.K.

This is How You Say Goodbye Victoria Loustalot Memoir

Victoria Loustalot’s debut work is an effort to finally lay to rest her father and his enduring and often-undecipherable impact on her life.

A gay man who was dying of AIDS, Loustalot’s father committed suicide shortly before his daughter’s eighth birthday. While her father lacked a physical presence in her life, his absence became a defining element of her life; and it is through her memoir that she seeks to fill that gap by exploring the man her father was and the relationship that was, and could have been.

The reader accompanies the writer as she travels to all corners of the world on her own journey of self-discovery, intrinsically linked to a discovery of her father. She looks at her life, and the life of her father, in an honest, no-holds-barred manner; her often-witty, and just-as- often-emotive, language eliminates the barrier that sometimes distances memoir-writers from their readers, as her family, her upbringing, her struggles and her triumphs become both real and relatable to the reader.

Loustalot’s work is a treasure for all readers who’ve experienced loss — through death or other circumstances that have taken family members or friends out of their daily life. Her memoir illustrates the need for looking to and learning from, yet not living in, the past.

— J.C.

We Do! American Leaders Who Believe in Marriage Equality Edited by Jennifer Baumgardner and Gov. Madeleine M. Kunin

“We Do!” is the type of book you read when you need reassurance that the world is on your side — or at least partly on your side.

Baumgardner, author of feminist pieces “Manifesta” and “Grassroots,” and Kunin, former governor of Vermont, present a series of texts from politicians on both sides of the aisle who support marriage equality and LGBT rights. “We Do!” includes historical speeches such as Harvey Milk’s “Hope” monologue, the 1996 Congressional debates on the Defense of Marriage Act, President Barack Obama’s statements on same-sex marriage throughout his political career and the seminal speech delivered by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Human Rights Day in 2011.

The book provides insight into progress the LGBT-rights movement has made over the years, and the strides it has made with legislators of all backgrounds. And even better, not only can the book boost your own confidence, but it also boosts the support of marriage equality, as 10 percent of the profits of book sales will support Freedom to Marry.

Now that is a win-win for marriage equality! — A.T.

The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Extreme Edition By Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht Humor

If you need the information in this book, you either live a fascinating life or you are making a lot of really bad decisions.

Yes, the advice contained in the latest of this popular book series is as practical as it is improbable that you will ever need to use any of it. Well, actually, living in Philadelphia, details on how to successfully “take a bullet” or “recover a motorcycle spinning out of control” might be useful.

But many of the other entries probably won’t ever come into play in your life unless you are Indiana Jones or 007. Sure, knowing how to survive an elephant stampede, an attack by a pack of wolves or being buried alive is helpful, but we’d like to assume that 99.9 percent of us have the presence of mind to never, ever find ourselves in those situations.

This is a funny, informative and entertaining read, but if you ever need any of this info, you have really screwed something up in your life.

— L.N.