Winter Reading: Books by the fireside

Between holiday parties, bumper-to-bumper traffic and mentally preparing for meals with Trump-lovin’ relatives, it’s hard to imagine any of us will have any downtime this holiday season. If you are lucky enough to eke out a few minutes to yourself in the coming weeks (or if you want to broaden the literary horizon of above-mentioned Republican family members), considering adding these latest LGBT-related titles to your wish list, or your holiday-shopping list.


“100 Things To Do In Philadelphia Before You Die”

By Irene Levy Bake

Travel guide


Local Philadelphia expert and PR exec Levy Baker knows Philly and this book shows it.


“100 Things” is an almost by-the-numbers guide to what to see and do in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.


Yeah, the book is predictable for anyone who has lived here more than two years. For every interesting deep cut in the Philly tourist pantheon (i.e., where the best vegan restaurants are, The Mütter Museum and Eastern State Penitentiary), there are at least two suggestions that anybody with a basic knowledge of Philly could steer you towards (i.e., malls, hip neighborhoods, historical tours).


This is the perfect gift to give someone who really, really wants to do the Philly tourist thing but whom you don’t want to guide to the same haunts you’ve seen enough times. We all know the type: They land in Philly and all they can talk about is running the “Rocky” steps or going to Pat’s or Geno’s for cheesesteaks despite the fact you insist there are better places to visit that aren’t as well-known and that are less crowded. At which point you can hand them this book and say, “Here you go. Have fun. Call me when you want to start drinking.”


— Larry Nichols



“The ABCs of LGBT+”

By Ashley Mardell



The book explores and explains in great detail and in a language most, if not all, can understand about the different forms of expression that exist among the binary worlds of gay and straight and male and female.


“The ABCs of LGBT+” starts with a cheat sheet of terms for the uninitiated, before diving headlong into mapping out the spectrums of gender and sexual identity, using lots of graphics and charts, all done in colorful cartoon-like imagery, to better illustrate the terms and issues Mardell hopes to educate the reader about. It also includes personal stories and anecdotes to give the reader a deeper understanding of the terms and issues being addressed.


This book is perfect for individuals who don’t subscribe to any of the more mainstream gender and sexual identities, those who are still trying to figure out where they fall in the spaces between L, G, B and T, or allies (parents and teachers especially) who want to understand more about their loved ones.



“Becoming Who I Am: Young Men on Being Gay”

By Ritch C. Savin-Williams

LGBT studies/psychology


According to Savin-Williams, a psychologist at Cornell University, young gay men today are happier and healthier than the media or the public imagine.


What distorts our understanding is research focusing on young gay men encountering developmental difficulties and journalism portraying them as victims.


Without minimizing the harsh conditions some young gay men still endure, Savin-Williams suggests that we can get a better sense of their welfare by speaking directly to them. What have their experiences been? How do they feel about them?


Savin-Williams put these questions, and more, to a group of young gay men between their teens and early 20s. He asked them about their first sexual memories, their adolescent sex play and their first crushes, to name just three topics. And rather than obscure their answers with academic jargon and endless commentary, he quotes them verbatim and at length — which is great, because their replies are candid and refreshing.


The portrait that emerges is overwhelmingly positive. In many regards, young gay men are a lot like young straight guys: They want to be happy, to have a good job and to fall in love.


If this comes as a surprise, it’s largely because few people bothered asking them.

 — Ray Simon



By Nick Comilla



Arthur, the protagonist of this debut novel, is a queer kid from a Podunk town who yearns for urban bohemia. An aspiring poet, he finagles his way into college in Montréal, despite not knowing French. He quickly learns the language and how to navigate the city’s trendy “gay village.”


Attractive and self-assured, Arthur has no trouble finding eager bottoms to fuck but love eludes him — until he meets Jeremy. He falls hard for the handsome high-schooler, but the two can’t commit. Youth is partly to blame, but the drugs and promiscuity don’t help.


The tale, told from Arthur’s perspective, is alternately gritty and dreamy. His poems occasionally appear, serving as commentary, and there are paeans to rimming. Allusions to the French poet Rimbaud, who sought visions via “the derangement of all the senses,” are deliberate.


Despite the great sex, Arthur’s five years in Montréal are ultimately frustrating. He decamps to Manhattan for grad school, where he hooks up with Jason, an escort with a serious drug problem. Jason wants Arthur, who initially resists. Sure, Jason’s hot; he’s also emotionally volatile and physically abusive.


By the end, roughly 10 years later, Arthur has matured considerably. To Comilla’s credit, it’s a hard-won wisdom.


— R.S.


“Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was”

By Sjón



The first 10 pages of this queer Icelandic fable, set mainly in 1918, are erotic, poetic and cinematic.


Sjón, who has collaborated as a lyricist for Björk, tells the story of Máni Steinn, a 16-year-old orphan who earns petty cash performing sex acts on older men in Reykjavík. Máni is an outsider — an illiterate who chooses to be alone. He is intrigued by a mysterious motorcyclist named Sola G, and spends most of his time in either of the city’s two cinemas. Before long, however, a Spanish flu epidemic starts decimating the town, turning the local school into an “orphanage and hospital, lunatic asylum and mortuary.”


Sjón’s balance of harsh realism and flights of fantasy make “Moonstone” compelling. Máni effuses about Irma Vep and filmmaker Louis Feuillade’s “Les Vampires” (there are even stills from the film in the book). There are also vivid, surreal images of nails “growing as long as fingers,” or a body dissolving. Máni’s hot tryst with a Danish sailor is also notable for how it is presented.


This slim volume can be easily read in one sitting, which may be a drawback for readers who are captivated and will want more.

 — Gary M. Kramer


“My Son Wears Heels: One Mom’s Journey from Clueless to Kickass”

By Julie Tarney



In 1992, Tarney’s toddler Harry casually tells her, “inside my head I’m a girl.” She’s unsure what, if anything, that means but worries that Harry will be bullied or, eventually, die of AIDS. Dr. Spock, the only source of information she’s aware of, doesn’t say much about raising gay kids, let alone transgender ones.


Tarney resolves to be supportive, but Harry is a handful. He wants to be Wendy for Halloween, requests a Barbie Dream House at Christmas and is soon entertaining neighborhood kids by playing dress-up. Inevitably, mean-spirited classmates hassle Harry, but he quickly learns how to handle them.


Discovering a local production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is momentous for Harry; he joins the cast as soon as possible. Midway through high school, when he matter-of-factly announces that he’s gay, Tarney is simply delighted that he knows himself so well.


Sure, Harry hits some rough patches. What kid doesn’t? And if his mom occasionally gushes, she can’t be faulted for kvelling over such a great kid.


Clearly, Tarney has learned a tremendous amount from Harry, which she generously shares in this memoir. Here’s hoping it reaches parents looking for help raising their LGBT kids.

 — R.S.


“On Christopher Street: Transgender Stories”

By Mark Seliger

Photo essay


Acclaimed photographer Seliger put together this volume of portraits shot documentary-style that captures the flamboyant characters from the famous, but vanishing, neighborhood in New York City’s Greenwich Village. This collection features never-before-published black and white portraits of people of all kinds of sexual orientations and gender identities, from transgender and non-binary to genderqueer, drag kings, drag queens and many other identities.


Accompanying the portraits are the moving and deeply personal quotes and stories from the subjects describing their lives and their need for sanctuary and a space to call their own.


The book does a great job of telling the portraits’ stories both visually and literally — and in a way that is compelling, honest and respectful to the communities the book is about.

— L.N.


“Pierre Et Gilles: 40”

By Pierre Commoy, Gilles Blanchard and Eric Troncy

Coffee-table book


Forty years ago, photographer Pierre Commoy met painter Gilles Blanchard and, soon after, a romantic union and an artistic collaboration known as Pierre Et Gilles began.


This anniversary compilation celebrates 40 years of their works with a year-by-year retrospective of the artists’ vast collection of colorful, influential, sexy and provocative works. Their art has been an international mainstay in magazines, art galleries, posters and other media focused on celebrity and mainstream gay culture, tackling themes of religion, mythology and beauty. Many of the pieces feature stars like Madonna, Naomi Campbell, Dita Von Teese, Kylie Minogue and Karl Lagerfeld.


In flipping through the pages, it’s amazing how this duo has been able to stay visually interesting and artistically arresting from the late 1970s through the changing tastes and styles of all the decades that followed. If you are in the market for a massive coffee-table book filled with a treasure trove of gorgeously edgy and thought-provoking artwork, you should definitely pick this up.

— L.N.


“Pride & Joy: Taking the Streets of New York City”

By Jurek Wajdowicz, with an introduction by Kate Clinton

Photo essay


An inspiring collection of photographs — in vivid rainbow color — “Pride and Joy” celebrates New York City’s Gay Pride Parade.


Wajdowicz focuses on both the macro and micro moments that accompany the floats down Fifth Avenue. He showcases close-up shots of Dykes on Bikes or feather-headed drag queens, as well as rainbow flags and displays of affections of the marchers and onlookers. Peppered throughout this fine book are quotes from LGBT celebrities and activists, including Alison Bechdel, Lea DeLaria, Edith Windsor and Evan Wolfson. There are also fabulous images of Cyndi Lauper, Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi.


In addition, many LGBT attendees recount their experiences at the parade, from their first march to bringing attention to the AIDS crisis. The expressions on people’s faces, from wide, beaming smiles to more impassioned, celebratory emotions, are nicely captured by Wajdowicz’s camera. “Pride & Joy” addresses political topics, like marriage equality and same-sex parenting (there are a number of images of children) to ethnic and religious expressions of queer unity and solidarity. The diversity in the book illustrates how wide-reaching queer inclusion is. (There are even photos of dogs wearing rainbows).


And a timeline in the back of the book shows just how far the queer community has come since Stonewall.

— G.M.K.