LGBT History Month 2013

Some of you may be well aware of this already, though I thought I would bring it up anyway, that today marks the start of LGBT History Month. The idea behind the initiative of a whole month of LGBT history is to bring to the fore tales of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who have not just done amazing things recently but also those who have done things in the past and might have been forgotten. It is about remembering, or highlighting, these people and the history of LGBT culture and using it to educate people of all orientations at the same time. For more details pop and check out the website. Now despite the fact that I co-founded an LGBT book award (which launches at the end of the February to coincide with all this) I have never really gotten involved in the month and so I thought this year I should, especially as I won’t be judging the Green Carnation Prize 2013. The question is though… how?


I wanted to make sure that I was doing something, even if it was just something small, on the blog really, as whilst hopefully I don’t bash you over the head with it, I am a member of the LGBT community – if a bit of a rubbish one – and actually I am rather clueless (which I am almost ashamed to admit to) on the history of the LGBT movement. So therefore I wanted to read a nonfiction book that might open my eyes to more of that. I also thought it would be fun to read a book that has become an LGBT ‘cult classic’ though it is difficult to get hold of AND I thought I might try and get you all to join in with reading an LGBT book that if you have read, like me, you will be desperate to read all over again or have you not yet read it will open up your eyes to a wonderful series of books with some amazing characters, and so I have dug these three books of various shelves…


Neil McKenna’s latest nonfiction book ‘Fanny and Stella; The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England’ sounds like it is going to be right up my street. Fanny and Stella were two male clerks who were also part time actresses and prostitutes, so good was their guise as women. Yet when their impersonating nature was discovered their court case was one of the most sensation trials of the Victorian era, should they be found guilty of their many supposed crimes they would face life in prison. This just sounds incredible and is an LGBT tale that I’d never heard of, or even seen flickers f in neo-Victorian literature really, until a buzz started about this book. I will be starting this today.

‘Queens’ by Pickles is a book that is apparently quite difficult to get hold of as it has been out of print for many years. I picked it up about 4 years ago in London when I had that amazing 5 for £2 second hand bookshop down the road and have still not read it and I really feel I should. It is apparently a visceral, blunt and confronting novel that tells of the underground lives of gay men in the 1980’s and is told with wit and cynicism in third-person ,omniscient narrator, overheard dialogue, and epistolary. It should be something quite different and special; apparently the pessimistic tone of the book is what makes it both hard hitting and also darkly funny, as it is hard to get I decided not to make this the unofficial read-a-long choice instead going for…

‘Tales of the City’ by Armistead Maupin and easily, easily, easily one of my favourite books of all time. I love the characters, I love the descriptions of 1970’s San Francisco and I can remember falling in love with everyone and wishing so badly I could move to Barbary Lane when I first read this in my early teens. Please, please, please (not that I am begging much, ha) do join in for an unofficial read-a-long of this if you fancy it, I plan on discussing it on Friday the 22nd of February and would genuinely love to get you all picking it up. I have a feeling I will want to read the whole series again. Can you tell I am excited?

I am also joining in with The Guardian’s Reading Group this month which too has gone all LGBT and is reading, deep breaths now, ‘Swann’s Way’ the first in Marcel Proust’s series ‘In Search of Lost Time’ – I won’t lie, I am petrified of this book and I haven’t even picked it up yet, in fact I don’t have a copy as yet but I am working on it. I will also be doing an event at Leeds Library at the end of the month called ‘Wilde About Literature’ and will be looking for your help with some thoughts on that, but more on that in another post.

So who is up for reading ‘Tales of the City’ and just out of interest what have been your favourite LGBT themed books, not necessarily by an LGBT author but a book that deals with it, nonfiction books recommendation books especially welcomed, as I mentioned I need to brush up on my knowledge of the LGBT past, though fiction recommendations are always welcomed of course!


Filed under LGBT History Month, Random Savidgeness

49 responses to “LGBT History Month 2013

  1. AstroSkyeTaz

    I have never read any “Tales of the City” although I did have a copy years ago that I think disappeared in a cull unfortunately! I have heard so many good things about it recently, and now your enthusiasm, Simon – I am off to track another copy down and this time it will get read!

    • Oh hoorah! That has just made my day! I love that series so much, I literally wanted that to be my life one day – though don’t judge me too much when you read it ha – and it was one of those books that made me less nervous about being what many saw as different. Oh, this post when I re-read it might be quite emotional!

      • AstroSkyeTaz

        Oh Simon, you were so right – it is delicious! Just got the second book out of the library and I’ll be starting that later today!
        Thanks so much for finally getting me to read it!

  2. Adam of Roof Beam Reader sponsored an LGBT History Month (US) “read-along” last October, and I read so many great books. Have fun!

  3. Laura Caldwell

    My library has a copy of this (and it’s sequels) so I’ll give it a go. Sounds like a nice break from Tess (which I have yet to start) and Middlemarch (ready to start Book 4).

    • Hahahaha this will be a wonderful breather between all of those classics indeed. Maupin is a genius because his books are immensely readable and yet deal with some big issues of people lives be they LGBT or not. He’s a master writer.

      P.S I’ve been pondering doing Tess on audiobook. Is that cheating?

      • Laura Caldwell

        I listen to some of these classics while following along in the book. Slower, but I tend to read too quickly and miss things on my own. BTW if some of the author “interjections/introductions”. in Middlemarch start to loose you, read them aloud. It has helped me considerably.

      • I’m dreading Middlemarch, I won’t lie. I am pretending its not on its way, though to be fair my mother said she thought I would love it.

  4. So tempted to reread Maupin since I read Tales of the City long before moving here and now “Barbary Lane” is just a few streets away from where I sit. But that would me breaking my TBR Double Dog Dare pledge. Oh, the humanity!

    • I think you can re-read during the dare, though I could be making that up completely just to get you to read along anyway 😉

      • Yes, if I owned it, but I don’t own it! 😦

        It’s one of the many books I bought in Paris and I traded in when moving back to the US for a more-portable three-volume boxed set of Shakespeare. Damn Shakespeare!

  5. I had no idea it was LGBT History Month. For me, it’s Black History Month. Thanks for the reading suggestions. Have wanted to check out Tales of the City. Have a happy month with lots of interesting reading!

  6. I re-read Tales of the City not long ago and had the whole series when I was in my 20’s, it is a great set of books. TOTC was featured on Radio 4 only last week, or maybe 2 weeks ago.. In terms of other LGBT books, Sarah Waters is always good and well written. Christopher Isherwood and Jeanette Winterson pop into my head too, I’m sure I’ll think of more later! *goes and browses book shelves*

    • Yes it was hearing Armistead on Woman’s Hour that made me think about picking up the book again. Though this won’t be a re-read, more a re-re-re-re-re-read.

      I have only got two of Sarah Waters novels as yet unread, isnt she due a new one out fairly soon. Its been ages.

  7. Ruthiella

    There is no way I can re-read just the first book of Tales of the City. That series is like a bag of chips…you cannot stop at one!

    I will chime in with afictionhabit and recommend anything by Sarah Waters.

    • I have a feeling that reading Tales of the City will lead to reading all of them again, but I quite like that idea. Especially with the two new ones which I have read with a big gap since the last ones.

  8. Sweet Fanny Adams

    Ah, thanks for the memories of Tales of the CIty. I bought this decades ago and despite numerous clear-outs, I never parted with it. Lovely book.

  9. Henrietta

    I have just re-read the first five books of the series, having read them originally in the 80.s. They are wonderful to re-read, and I realise how greedily and speedily I consumed them first time around. There is more to glean the second time, more to enjoy and more to make you weep.
    Armistead Maupin was on Womans Hour last week talking about the 9th book of the series which he is writing/promoting. “Tales of the CIty” is currently being serialised on Radio 4, although it has been heavily cut to fit the time slot. Great if you have already read the book, but not sure how easy it would be to follow if you haven’t.

  10. It’s been a while since I read ‘Tales of the City’, so am very tempted to go back to them again – loved them the first time round. I also love Isherwood’s depiction of Berlin and have a friend who lives in that neighbourhood – it has’t changed much at all!

  11. Kats

    Here is my LGBT recommendation for you, Simon; last month I thoroughly enjoyed “In One Person” by John Irving – brilliant, epic coming-of-age story spanning more than 50 years and dealing sensitively (I felt) with LGB and especially T issues.
    Typically outrageous, hilarious and poignant Irving. I hope you’ll enjoy it, too.

    • Ooooh I tried ‘In One Person’ when it came out and liked it but left it for some reason, then the library wanted it back. I will have to get it back out again I think. Thanks Kats.

  12. Sharkell

    Just managed to download this for free and I’ve read the first couple of chapters. It looks good.

  13. janakay

    So nice to see the plug for Tales of the City. I found the first book years ago by chance and read the whole series in about a week—it was just totally addictive. It was light, frothy and full of great characters; one of those rare series where, as you said, the reader just enters another world. Remember that great scene at the very beginning, when on her last day of vacation in San Francisco Mary Ann calls her mother and on the spur of the moment decides to never, ever go back to Kansas (I think it was Kansas–somewhere in the midwest!). I’d actually thought about re-reading the series… I’ll look forward to your discussion.
    Re recommendations: it’s nothing like tales of the city, nothing, nothing, nothing, but I’ve always loved Mary Renault’s The Charioteer. It’s a gay love story set in London during the blitz, poetic and beautiful and a bit tragic. I think people either love this book or hate it; the latter may find it a bit heavy in spots and be turned off by the many classical allusions (I loved them). It’s a story about complicated relationships; it resonates on many levels and gives a fascinating look at a time when it was very, very difficult to be gay.
    If you’re interested in classical history, you might enjoy another Renault novel, The Last of the Wine. Another gay love story, set against a backdrop of war (this time the great struggle between Athens and Sparta) but in a society where being gay was in many respects the norm.

    • Mary Renault is an author my mother loves because of her tales of the classics (tales of the city and tales of the classics hey) and has always said that I should give them a whirl. Maybe now is the time?

      Maybe I should do a top five of LGBT books for the blog and get everyone elses… that might be interesting!

  14. Sweet Fanny Adams

    After Simon’s excellent review of Neil Bartlett’s Skin Lane a couple of years ago I had to buy the book. I loved it. At times it made me want to cry my eyes out.

  15. sue N

    Love Tales of the City and well past time to retread the series and the new one published last year. Will try and catch up with your
    Leeds event.

  16. Umm how about Martin Bauman by David Leavitt and “Hap Collins and Leonard Pine” mysteries by Joe R Landsdale.

  17. My suggestions will probably all have a very Ameriican bent to them but here they are. Vito Russo’s The Celluloid Closet is wonderful read. While’s it’s focus is on movies it ends up being an excellent look at Gay life in America. It’s much better than the documentary, though that is good, too. There’s a terrific novel called Better Angles about gay relationships in the 1930’s written in the 1930’s. Richard Meeker is the author, I think. Before Stonewall is very good non-fiction about pre-1970’s gay life.

    You could do very well with a documentary dvd film festival of your own: How to Survive a Plague is an excellent look at the history of ACT-UP. The Times of Harvey Milk is wonderful, too. Changing Our Minds: The Story of Dr. Evelyn Hooker is a wonderful documentary about the pioneering work of the pyschologist who basically proved that we are just as mentally sound as everyone else back in the 1950’s. I quite like Chris and Don: A Love Story about Christopher Isherwood and Don Bacardy.

    Enjoy Tales of the City. I re-read the entire series every so many years. When you do make it to San Francisco, be sure to visit Macondry Lane the street that inspired Barbary Lane. And the film Armisted Maupin is a man I made up is pretty good, too.

    • Nothing wrong with an American bend CJ. Nothing at all. I probably miss out on many of those. The Celluliod Closet sounds like a very interesting read indeed. I also really, really need to read the Harvey Milk book, that is a very, very important life story indeed.

      What film is that?

  18. fenella

    I have a battered old copy of Tales of the City a friend of mine leant me. I’ll bump it up to the top of my TBR list to ensure I read it this month. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  19. The R4 dramatisation of Tales and More Tales had already got me thinking about a re-re-re- read and then all the way through, just in time for the next book, “The Days of Anna Madrigal” in the autumn. I’ve also treated myself to the Harper Collins omnibus collections “28 Barbary Lane” and “Back to Barbary Lane” (waiting for the second one to “Cross the Pond”) so that I’ve got a nice line up on the bookshelves, although I love my battered old paperbacks.
    For more serious LGBT History Month reading I’ve Randy Shilts “And the Band Played On”
    Black History Month is October in the UK, but February in US. Confusing, no?

    • Ooh I didnt know there were omnibus editions. I too am very excited about The Days of Anna Madrigal, I am really pleased Armistead brought the characters back, or that they nagged to come back as he mentioned on the radio.

      We shoudl have these History months at the same time I think.

  20. Pingback: Free February – Challenge Time! |

  21. I was at a party at the weekend and I met a guy there who has written a social history of gay men in New Zealand. It sounded absolutely fascinating and I nipped onto my library’s website on my phone to request it there and then. I’ll be picking it up tomorrow.

    I had no idea it was LGBT History Month, but the timing is perfect. I’m really looking forward to reading it (except for the fact I think the print is really small).

    • That is indeed perfect timing! How interesting that book will be, what is it called? It might be interesting to learn about the LGBT story from all the countries, in fact I would like to learn much more about the countries where it is still illegal or really looked down upon and why, but that might be a whole other bigger project in itself. Has got me thinking though so thank you!

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