Tag Archives: Augusten Burroughs

Ten LGBT Books That You Might Not Have Read But Should…

I don’t normally think about doing posts especially around Pride, not because I am not proud – I’m out and happy about it, I never know if proud is the right word – but because I always think that co-founding a prize like The Green Carnation Prize (which celebrates LGBT writing) means that I promote LGBT stories and LGBT authors. However with the reissue of three Vintage Classics, which you can win here, then the amazing news in America yesterday it felt the time was write for me to share my top LGBT novels, until I realised I had done it before. Oops. I then thought about doing a list of ten contemporary books you might not have read but should until I saw that Eric of Lonesome Reader had already done one this morning. Drats! However once he gave his blessing for me to do the same I popped a list together and neither of us have a book or author in common. Interesting. Here are mine, if I have reviewed them I have linked them in the title so you can find out more…

With A Zero At Its Heart – Charles Lambert

A collection of snippet like stories which create the whole of a human life. Experimentally it wonderfully evokes the story of a (rather bookish) young man as he grows up, discovers he is gay, finds himself, travels, becomes a writer and then deals with the death of his parents and the nostalgia and questions that brings about the meaning of life and how we live it. You can read a full review here.

Grasshopper Jungle – Andrew Smith

Now if I told you that a book about an impending apocolypse caused by giant horny mutant grasshoppers could be one of the most touching stories I have read this year about friendship and love and the blurred (and often confusing) lines between the two, you would probably think that I was mad. This is how I felt last year when everyone, and I mean everyone, who had read Grasshopper Jungle in America raved about it to me and said I simply had to read it. I did and they were right. It had also lead me into more YA fiction which by the looks of it is where some of the most exciting and intellegent LGBT themed writing is coming from. You have to read this book. I have to post my review sooner than soon.

He Wants – Alison Moore

Alison Moore’s writing is so deft in so many ways it is hard to try and do it justice, or without spoiling any of the many delights, twists/surprises and ‘did I just actually read that then?’ moments which the novel has in store as we discover the ins and outs of widowed Lewis’ life. It is a story of the everyman and a story that, if you are anything like me, will leave you feeling completely uplifted and utterly devastated, all at once. It is a perfect example of the sort of book I want to be reading. I loved it and you can see my full review of it here, was one of my books of 2014.

Physical – Andrew McMillan

Slight cheat here because this collection of poetry is not actually out for another two weeks (my blog, my rules) however you might want to order or put a copy on hold now. McMillan has the power to titillate and disturb in each of the poems that he writes whilst also, in particular the middle section, constructing poems the like of which I have never seen or read before. It is playful and also perturbing, saucy and sensual aswell as being masculine and moving. I haven’t read or experienced anything quite so like it, or so frank about all the forms of male love.

The Borrower – Rebecca Makkai

The Borrower is a road trip tale started when which ten year old Ian and his local librarian Lucy accidentally kidnap each other. This book is not only a love story to the powers of books and a good story, it looks at friendship and also the scary reality of some of the extremist views in certain parts of America (where I bet they are seething today) and the movement of ‘straightening therapy’. Bonkers and brilliant, it is one of those books that you hug to yourself afterwards and also cleverly packs one hell of a punch over a subject that is current and we need to talk about more – find out more here.

A Life Apart – Neel Mukherjee

In part the story of Ritwik a man who survives a horrendous childhood living on the breadline in Kalighat, India until his mother’s death when Ritwik moves to Oxford to find himself. Yet also a story of his elderly Oxford landlady Anne Cameron. As Ritwik experiments with his new found freedom and who he really is as a person he must also face is past and find a friend in Anne like he never expected, the story of their relationship is beautifully told. It is also a very vivid and, occasionally quite graphically, honest look at the life of some gay men in the early 1990’s – which as someone reminded me rudely today on the radio is over 20 years ago. I feel like I need to read this book again.

Hawthorn & Child – Keith Ridgway

I could have chosen this or The Long Falling also by Ridgway as they are both exceptional. Is Hawthorn & Child a novel or is it a series of short stories, who cares when it is this good. One of the many stories that make up the book will stay with me forever, ‘How To Have Fun With A Fat Man’ manages to several clever things in just fewer than twenty pages. Firstly it’s three separate narratives; one is Hawthorn at a riot, the second Hawthorn cruising for sex in a gay sauna and the third a visit to Hawthorn’s father. The way Ridgway writes the riot and the sauna sequences in such a way that sometimes you can’t tell which is which and plays a very interesting game with so called acts of masculinity. Brilliance. A sexy, quirky, stunningly written book which should have won the Booker.

Mr Loverman – Bernadine Evaristo

Yes I too now have Shabba Ranks in my head. Back to the book though, the tale of Mr Barrington Jedediah Walker, Esq is one you are unlikely to forget, just like its protagonist. As his elderly years start to approach more and more Barrington decides it is time to leave his wife and follow his true heart which lies with his best friend Morris, much to the horror of his family and many people he knows. Evaristo writes a wonderful, funny and moving novel which gives a much missed voice in the literary scene and in the LGBT scene a change to be heard, understood and by the end celebrated. You have to read this book.

Sacred Country – Rose Tremain

Possibly the oldest out of this selection of books but one which I think addresses something that we need to be discussing more and seems to be missing in literature in general, unless it is just me… the transexual story. Tremain introduces us to Mary Ward, who has felt different from everyone all her childhood, as she realises that she should actually be a boy. We then follow her journey from the turbulence of her youth in Northern England to London where believes she will be able to live just as she was meant to, yet can she?

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

So with my last choice, I have slightly cheated again as this isn’t out in the UK for another month and a half (though if you’re in the US it has been out a while) yet this is probably a book I am going to urge everyone, no matter their sexuality/class/colour, that they have to read as not only is it one of the best books I have read on love and sexuality and friendship, but one of the best books I have ever read on what it means to be human. Seriously that good. I cannot praise it enough, it’s tough to read but so it should be. Will easily be one of my books of the year and very likely to be one of the best LGBT books I ever read. Yep, that good.

Now if you are wondering about my favourite LGBT books that I hinted at back at the start, well below is a video I made discussing them when I was flirting with the idea of being a booktuber. Have a gander as there are ten more tip top recommended books, even if I do say so myself.

If you need a list of the titles they were; Pilcrow – Adam Mars Jones, The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller, Running With Scissors – Augusten Burroughs, The Proof of Love – Catherine Hall, A Single Man – Christopher Isherwood, My Policeman – Bethan Roberts, In Cold Blood – Truman Capote, Skin Lane – Neil Bartlett, A Boy’s Own Story – Edmund White and Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin.

If that wasn’t enough, and as if there can ever be enough book recommendations, then do check out Eric’s blog post today (where I have gained ten new to me recommendations) and also the Green Carnation Prize website for all the previous long and shortlists. Oh and don’t forget you can win those Vintage Pride Classics here. Happy Pride and well done America! Love wins.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Savidge Reads’ Top Ten LGBT Books…

As I mentioned yesterday I am in a little bit of a reading funk. So I was routing through my bookshelves, and preparing for the event I have coming next Tuesday, I thought that I would make a little video of my personal top ten LGBT themed books. This is by no means what I think are the best LGBT themed books, it is a list of the ones that have a special place in my heart from my young teens all the way to now. So have a gander if you fancy it…

I know there are some celebrated books and authors missing yet these are the ten books that I mentioned.

Pilcrow – Adam Mars Jones
The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller
Running With Scissors – Augusten Burroughs
The Proof of Love – Catherine Hall
A Single Man – Christopher Isherwood
My Policeman – Bethan Roberts
In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
Skin Lane – Neil Bartlett
A Boy’s Own Story – Edmund White
Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin

I am aware I have missed some of my favourite authors like Stella Duffy, Sarah Waters, Geoff Ryman, etc, lots and lots of Green Carnation books, nonfiction and classics, the latter mainly as I am playing catch up with Larry Kramer and Radclyffe Hall etc.

That is of course where you come in… What are the books you love with LGBT themes? Which books have I missed and might I have read and need to re-read (I feel I need to pick up ‘Rough Music’ by Patrick Gale again at some point) or try for the first time? Which of you the books I mention have you read? Who is coming to Leeds on Tuesday for my scary solo event? Who is currently reading ‘Tales of the City’, which I will be picking up to re-read today, to discuss on Friday on the blog? Lots of questions for you there.

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Filed under Random Savidgeness

Never Mind – Edward St Aubyn

I am not a fan of ‘real life’ tragic stories, nor am I in general of their fictional counterparts. To me these tend to be a) melodramatic and b) someone making a vast amount of money out of their misery. I am sure that these people had an awful childhood and so some people may think I am a little harsh, but I don’t like a whinger. In fact moaning is one of my least favourite things on earth, nothing puts me off people faster. I mean we all have really rubbish times now and again but frankly we can either whine about them or, as I hope I do when things get cruddy, try and do something positive about them or start a new project you can throw all your negative energy at in a positive way. This is all sounding a little self-helpy but hopefully it might explain why I have always resisted the, possibly autobiographical, Patrick Melrose novels by Edward St Aubyn whenever someone has heartily recommended me them (and many people have). Yet when someone compared them to Augusten Burroughs novels, which I love because of the humour in the darkest of subject matters, I decided to give them at try and so picked up ‘Never Mind’.

Picador Books, paperback, originally published 1992 (reprinted 2012), fiction, 197 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I always admire an author who can write beautifully and simply, an author who can create the most understated of melodramas will win me over. I also always admire an author who can write a passage that chills you before one that makes you laugh out loud and then another which horrifies you all over again. All these things are encompassed in Edward St Aubyn’s first Patrick Melrose novel ‘Never Mind’. I say that this is the first Patrick Melrose novel and yet Patrick is not really the focus of this book, it is his father David who we encounter most as we witness the Melrose family having guests for a weekend to their house in Provence.

The set up of ‘Never Mind’ is beguilingly simple at the start, we join the Melrose’s over an initially none descript weekend where guests are visiting. As we read on we soon learn that there is much more going on behind this family facade than we think, and it’s dark. We have a very dysfunctional family in the Melrose’s; fiver year old Patrick is a slightly fearful boy, who will be all the more fearful by the end of the book,  and somewhat a loner, his mother, Eleanor, is an alcoholic and quite possibly due to her husband, David, who married her for money, is a vicious cruel man who I would describe as psychopathic as when he needs to be (or when he wants to be) switches on the charm and has his guests enraptured, or so he likes to think.

“He knew that his unkindness to Eleanor was effective only if he alternated it with displays of concern and elaborate apologies for his destructive nature, but he had abandoned these variations because his disappointment in her was boundless. He knew that she could not help him unravel the knot of inarticulacy that he carried inside him. Instead, he could feel it tightening, like a promise of suffocation that shadowed every breath he took.”

I did for a while start to ask myself the question of ‘why are the guests visiting, why does St Aubyn want them there’ I couldn’t see the relevance as I thought the story was about an evil man abusing his wife and eventually his own child. As I read on however, I realised St Aubyn not only wanted to talk about class through this bunch of rather vile characters but he also cleverly uses the couples (Victor Eisen and Anne Moore, Nicholas Pratt and Bridget Watson-Scott) to give us their thoughts on the other characters both from what they know of them and what they observe throughout their time together. Anne being the most normal of the lot even spots there is something dark lurking in the Melrose atmosphere, Bridget just made me laugh at her blunt selfish nature.

“The thing about Nicholas was that he really was rich and beautiful and he was a baronet, which was nice and sort of Jane Austeny. Still, it wouldn’t be long before people started saying ‘You can tell he used to be good looking,’ and someone else would intervene charitably with, ‘Oh no, he still is.’ In the end she would probably marry him and she would be the fourth Lady Pratt. Then she could divorce him and get half a million pounds, or whatever, and keep Barry as her sex slave and still call herself Lady Pratt in shops. God, sometimes she was so cynical it was frightening.”

It is in fact Bridget that really brings the humour into the novel, because of her thoughts and observations, yet she also adds to the element of discomfort. Some authors use humour to lighten a novel, St Aubyn does it almost to highlight the real depths of the darkness, there is a sense of relief when you laugh out loud, but its shortlived and you know something darker will follow. The scenes around their welcoming drinks where Bridget knows just how David has made Eleanor get rid of the fallen figs from the tree, and then comments on how many figs must be wasted, are so uncomfortable you read on transfixed, rather like how you can’t help but stare at a car crash. The dinner table conversations also read like extreme dark frosty comedy of manners pieces, the humour adds to the darkness rather than detracts from it if you get my drift. It’s not something I have come across before in a book that I can think of and it’s stayed with me.

I don’t want to talk about the moment of utter darkness in the book in too much detail, not because I shy away from the uncomfortable subject of child abuse but because I think you need to read it without knowing when it’s going to happen, or how St Aubyn writes it so understatedly, for it to really have the desired effect and leave you winded. Like the whole book it’s economical and therefore only hits you harder. It seems odd, and a cliché, to call ‘Never Mind’ a masterpiece especially with some of its subject matter but really there is no other word for it. To quote Maggie O’Farrell, as she puts it so well, this novel is ‘At once epic and intimate, appalling and comic’ and that is exactly how I felt when I had finished ‘Never Mind’. Recommend seems the wrong word, but I would suggest everyone gives this book a try, I will certainly be reading the rest of the series without a doubt.

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Filed under Books of 2012, Edward St Aubyn, Patrick Melrose Novels, Picador Books, Review

You Better Not Cry – Augusten Burroughs

I had completely forgotten about ‘You Better Not Cry’ until I was delving through some of my books, currently residing in a lovely garage, for my new book groups next choice and as soon as I saw it I knew I had to read it. I will admit the cover made me snigger and that was what definitely sold it to me, you want a good laugh at Christmas don’t you, especially when things start to get a little fraught over turkey’s or charades! Well if you ever think that your Christmases get stressful or strange then really you need to read this collection of tales by Augusten Burroughs to put everything into perspective.

‘You Better Not Cry’ is like a festive special of some of the memoriesof Augusten Burroughs at various points in his life. From his childhood, which you may have already read about in the brilliant ‘Running with Scissors’ – if you haven’t read it then do, to his adulthood we get a glimpse of some of the most vivid and often rather hilarious but tragic Christmas moments. Stories like when his Grandmother had to point out the difference between Santa and Jesus as a younger Augusten thought they were one and the same person (which had caused some rather confused childhood moments), to waking up during his drink filled years to find a Santa suit and a naked Santa look-a-like in his bed (which had me laughing a lot) and to the year he realised he hadn’t celebrated Christmas for a decade, well not properly.

I really enjoyed this collection it has to be said, and started to rather annoy my family members as I was croakily giggling between chocolates on the sofa during this Christmas. I loved hearing more about his drug addled mother and alcoholic father and how they tried to make Christmas perfect… and failed slightly. In some ways the fact this book was over his lifetime so far at different points made it all the more interesting, it was less concentrated that some of his other books which whilst funny can really get to you at the same point.

Most of the stories are very funny though there is always a slight tinge of sadness around each of the tales in this collection, it’s not all ‘look at how hilarious and crazy my life has been and oh how we laughed’ it has a sensitive and often poignant side too reminding you what Christmas is all about… family and loved ones, no matter how much they can sometimes be a burden. There is also one utterly heartbreaking tale which I will admit had me on the verge of tears, yet left me thinking just how lucky I am this Christmas too! 8.5/10

So if you are after a final festive read this Christmas time, or after something to savour until next Christmas then I would highly recommend you give this a whirl. I really enjoyed it and it’s another ideal pick up and put down book between the merriment and mayhem of the season. It’s also reminded me I must pick up more of Burroughs books in the New Year; I don’t know why I have left it so long.

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Filed under Atlantic Books, Augusten Burroughs, Review

Not Writing But Blogging…

I know I probably don’t know half of the good book blogs out there in the ether. I have found some I love and there are several I subscribe to or drop in on, which have become favourites of mine and which you can see on the left under Bookish Blogs. What I haven’t really done which I think I will change is added Authors blogs. I don’t know about you but I do love a good blog regardless of the reason, ones by authors telling us how they create their craft and what they are all about sounds like heaven.

The blog that has got this blog started (is anyone else confused by that) is Not Writing But Blogging by the delightful Stella Duffy which I saw when catching up with Dove Grey Reader. Having only used minimal internet time whilst in Barcelona over New Years I had missed the launch of this, and I am sure an invite to the launch party. I have read a fair bit of Stella over the last twelve months and though a new find she is becoming one of my fav’s. Her, Kate Atkinson and Anne Tyler, who I don’t think have blogs sadly. If I am wrong please let me know and I will get reading them pronto. Without sounding sychophantic Stella is also just bloody lovely and her latest novel ‘The Room of Lost Things’ is out in Feb in paperback, do order it now! Anyways authors and their blogs… where are they all?

I know there was a slight snobbery towards book bloggers but authors I like such as Tess Gerritsen, Augusten Burroughs and Neil Gaiman have started them and I read avidly. I was a big fan of Susan Hill’s blog which one day was there and one day wasn’t and so if you know of any please wing them my way and I will get adding them. So that’s all really welcome to a new blogger, and let me know of any more author or just book wise that I am missing out on.

After arriving back from the joys of Spain I am too shattered to write more so apologies. I will say I had an amazing time I didn’t read anywhere near as much of Anna Karenina as I intended and I know its bad but am taking a break from her as had a lovely pile of new books from Vintage when I got home and one I have been wanting to read for ages… so off to bed with it now!

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Filed under Anne Tyler, Augusten Burroughs, Book Thoughts, Kate Atkinson, Neil Gaiman, Stella Duffy, Susan Hill, Tess Gerritsen