Tag Archives: LGBT Literature

Some LGBT Reading This Summer

It has been the start of the Pride season around the world this weekend. After verbalising my lack of pride in my country on Friday (I have left some of the tame responses up but deleted the ones about encouraging rapists into the country and other racist hate filled bile which have appeared on and off over the last few days) I was unsure if I wanted to talk about Pride, could I really face any homophobia when I was already feeling saddened by it all. Then I thought fuck it this is my blog and I will write what the bloody hell I want. So I am, well I will be speaking it mainly as there is a video coming up.

As many of you will be aware I am part of the LGBT community. I am a gay man, to me it is just a part of my life, nothing special nothing dreadful – though in the past it has felt like the latter on occasions. Who I love shouldn’t really matter, to me it is just who I am, I don’t feel the need to shout about it but maybe it should. As we have seen in the news in America not long ago in Orlando we haven’t come as far as we like to think we have, it does still scare/anger people, difference still breeds fear and contempt. Which means we need to be talking about it and making a stand for it all, be it in the bigger ways like Pride or something smaller. I will be taking part in some Pride’s this summer,I also thought I could do something smaller this summer, something that I could get all of you involved with if you fancied it? I thought it would be good to read some LGBT themed fiction over the summer months and I would love it if you wanted to join in with me. You can watch a video below to hear me talking about the choices, I will also list the titles below too.

The Bells – Richard Harvell
We Are The Ants – Shaun David Hutchinson
Beijing Comrades – Bei Tong
Sphinx – Anne Garreta
The Narrow Door – Paul Lisicky
Under the Udala Trees – Chinelo Okparanta
The Art of Being Normal  – Lisa Williamson
Boy Erased – Garrard Conley

This list is by no means exhaustive, I actually had another 5 I wanted to talk about but I don’t like the number 13 and I would have ended up talking on the channel for ages. So if you fancy reading any of these then do let me know. Boy Erased, Sphinx and The Art of Being Normal are whizzing up the TBR the more I think of them, so I may read them quite soon. If you just fancy reading some LGBT literature of your own choice over the summer let me know which books you’ll be heading to AND as always do recommend me some LGBT titles new and old that you think I should be giving a read. I know it might seem small but it is still doing something. If you need any further inspiration for books the do head to The Green Carnation Prize (which I co-founded and will be back later in the year) website where lists of longlisted, shortlisted and winning titles reside, some corking reads there. Let’s get reading and discovering the worlds of all walks of life from all diverse backgrounds, after all that is all part of the wonder of books isn’t it?

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Filed under LGBT Literature, Random Savidgeness

This Book is Gay – James Dawson

So I thought I would end my mini Pride weekend with a book that I spent the whole of Pride reading as I was stuck in bed with the snuffles. Shockingly despite how forward thinking we are as people sex education in the UK, and as far as I am aware in the US, Canada and Australia, still fails to encompass information for LGBT people – and at a time when HIV is rising in the younger generations. And this is in progressive countries around the world where it is legal. I certainly wish I had been able to get my younger gay hands on this when I was going through some of my turbulent (to say the least) teens. Oh and if you think this book is just for LGBT people, think again this is a book for anyone and everyone whatever your sexuality or preferences.

Hot Key Books, paperback, 2014, non fiction, 272 pages, kindly sent to me by the publisher

Lesson One

  • Sometimes men fancy men.
  • Sometimes women fancy women.
  • Sometimes women fancy men and women.
  • Sometimes men fancy women and men.
  • Sometimes people don’t fancy anyone.
  • Sometimes a man might want to be a woman.
  • Sometimes a woman might want to be a man.

Got that? It really is that simple.

Of course whilst things should be that simple, taking into account that some men fancy women and some women fancy men obviously, they aren’t. This is where James Dawson starts This Book is Gay, because things aren’t that simple, which when you see it written in black and white like that makes it seem all the more idiotic, or ‘cray’ as James often mentions in the book. What follows is a guide to the world of the LGBT community from the very beginning and those first questions in their heads to what the possibilities can be in the future.

Now I am a 33 year old gay man and I thought this might be preaching to the converted but I learned so much from this book, which I binge read in just over twenty four hours, so I can only imagine how eye opening James frank yet funny book would be to someone at the early ponderings of what they may or may not be. First there is the history of LGBT rights, which again we didn’t learn at school, then there is the state of LGBT affairs all over the world. I still cannot believe that it is illegal in some countries let alone be treated with the death penalty.

Then there comes the science bit. Dawson looks at all the varying scientific discussions there have been from genetics to epignetics, from brain structure to evolution as to why people might be gay (making me feel so much cleverer) yet also highlighting that it doesn’t really matter and we should all just get on with it. He also looks at other things which are often just as complex to negotiate. Coming out, the gay scene, apps, dating, and sexy times Dawson looks at every possible angle of sexuality whatever yours might be. So much information and yet delivered in such a digestible and upfront way, marvellous. I came away understanding so much more, especially as Dawson intersects his text with the accounts of LGBT people of all ages from places all over the world.

Before you think that this is just some rainbow bright version of events, think again. Dawson also looks at all the darker and more difficult parts of LGBT life. From bullying in schools or parents and friends having issues with you when you come out, to homophobia in general and things like drug addiction, cheating spouses and other difficulties that can be faced. I have to give huge credit to Dawson here as he could have just said ‘these people are idiots’, instead he looks at reasons for their homophobia (internal, religion, uneducated, etc) tries to get you to see where its coming from and then how to deal with it. Even the more negative aspects of the books have a positive message or way of dealing with them.

The word ‘gay’ started life meaning joyful, carefree, bright and showy, from the French term ‘gaiety’, which is still used. However, by the seventeenth century, the word had evolved: a ‘gay woman’ was a prostitute, a ‘gay man’ was promiscuous, and a ‘gay house’ was a brothel. Nice.

Initially I did worry that when the book started that there might be one too many stereotypes and what if people didn’t feel they fit in with bears, twinks, otters, butch, femme etc. Or indeed what if they don’t identify themselves as L, G, B or T. But as one chapter is entitles ‘Stereotypes are poo’ and while Dawson discusses labels he is by no means saying you should identify with any particular one, he also says while being gay/lesbian/trans/pan/queer is an important part of you it shouldn’t be the only important part and define you. Bravo!

What is I found oddly uplifting and amazing is that This Book is Gay is only a year old and is already slightly out of date. This is not James’ fault of course, I am sure that he is thrilled by the fact that progress keeps on coming. Ireland has of course had the referendum vote on equal marriage which went through and the supreme court in the United States has ruled that that equal marriage is legal in every single state. Yet with countries like India going backwards, the all kinds of crazy stuff going on in Russia and the fact there is still no mention of LGBT in sex education (due to old legislation in 1988 and its ripple effects still lingering) in the UK we still have a long way to go for full equality.

Once upon a time, there was a very bad lady – let’s, for the sake of argument, call her Maggie. She decreed that teachers must not include ‘gay lifestyles’ in sex education lessons. This was called ‘Section 28’, and it explains why I, as a young man, had no idea what a gay man was OR what they did.

I am the same generation as Mr Dawson and I feel exactly the same, whilst my life wouldn’t have necessarily been less difficult growing up as a gay man if I’d had a copy of This Book is Gay I would certainly have felt less alone and at least a little more prepared for what might have been coming my way. With This Book is Gay James Dawson writes a guide to gay lifestyles from coming out, to dating, to sex, relationships and beyond in a style that makes you feel like you having a conversation with a caring friend.

I think This Book is Gay is an incredibly important book and one which needs to have several copies stocked in libraries and schools everywhere so it can be read by LGBT people, people questioning their sexuality or just people who want to know more or understand, whatever their ages. (As the book states our heterosexual allies are incredibly important too.) It’s rare that you can say a book could save lives, but this one could especially as education of safe sex for young gay men is so thin on the ground and HIV transmission is increasing. Mr Dawson, I applaud you and this book.

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Filed under Hot Key Books, James Dawson, Non Fiction, Review

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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LGBT Literature Latest…

I mentioned earlier in the week that the Green Carnation Shortlist for 2013 had been announced. It is interesting because the most common thing that happens, after all the lovely people have got excited and had a look at the list, is that people then want to know why we actually need an award for LGBT Literature. Well…the Guardian asked me to write something about it and so I thought I would share it with you all so you can have a look (and maybe leave a comment) right here.

It has meant that I have reached one of my (many) aims in life and one that I think Granny Savidge Reads would have been super proud of, my face is on the website as a contributor and everything! Sorry I have to share the thrill with you all…

GuardianLGBT

There that’s better. Now then in other LGBT news, yesterday was the Stonewall Awards and hooray and hoorah, Damian Barr has won an award for Maggie and Me, which I think is a bloody marvellous book and so I did a small cheer and a little boogie in the lounge before raising a glass of Pepsi Max to him. Well done Damian. If you haven’t popped that book on your TBR by now then you are a bit kerazy frankly.

I would be interested in your thoughts on why we need niche prizes and indeed an LGBT one, do you think we do (and that more prizes means more awareness of books in general) need them, or not? All thoughts welcomed. Though if anyone leaves anything vile, like some homophobe on the Guardian site, it will be removed – see there are people out there who still don’t feel comfortable discussing LGBT issues, even books.

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The Green Carnation Prize Shortlist 2013…

As the press release (which I wrote) states, the shortlist for the Green Carnation Prize has now been announced and “With subjects from the abolition of death in Civil War 1836 to dysfunctional families in modern America; from marital breakdowns to crime and conspiracy over continents; from transvestites in London to tolerance in modern times, it seems that this year’s Green Carnation Prize shortlist has shown once again just what diverse list of titles the prize can produce.” Which I think I can agree with even though, as yet I haven’t read all the short list (I am still working on the longlist, and the blinking ‘Luminaries’ when I can) but I will be reading them all. The six titles are…

Doesn’t my lounge look lovely in this shot?

  • Gob’s Grief – Chris Adrian (Granta Books)
  • Black Bread White Beer – Niven Govinden (The Friday Project)
  • May We Be Forgiven – A. M. Homes (Granta)
  • The Kills – Richard House (Picador)
  • Fanny & Stella – Neil McKenna (Faber and Faber)
  • Far From The Tree – Andrew Solomon (Chatto & Windus)

Congratulations to all of them, I did rather large cheers for Neil McKenna (review coming soon) and Niven Govinden (review here) and am really interested in reading the three that I still haven’t read. Yes, I know I am missing one but will be talking about it in due course as it’s a book that is so good it actually started to annoy me. You see this year it has been really interesting for me as I haven’t judged the books or read all the submitted novels  so I can be rather impartial, which is quite exciting. I get to watch the judges judging and clap or tear out my hair with their decisions; mind you I have done that in past years when I was part of the panel.

You see I trust the judges and their discussions and have been chatting with them about the list since they informed me of it last week (aren’t I good at keeping secrets) and so when I did an initial ‘oh no’ for both ‘Maggie and Me’ by Damian Barr (which I loved and beyond) and ‘Almost English’ by Charlotte Mendelson (which recently charmed the reading glasses off me), instead of getting cross (which nearly happened) I just had to think ‘wow this must be a bloody brilliant shortlist’ which of course makes me very excited about the reading I have ahead of me. Though I will also admit the size (and font size too) of ‘Far From The Tree’ scares me somewhat. I am looking forward to the surprise of finding out the winner in two weeks.

It is interesting though as after the initial ‘who is and who isn’t on the list’ discussion dies down the same question rears its head. ‘Why do we need a prize like this?’ It is one I will be answering in the Guardian tomorrow but until then I would be interested in hearing both what you think of the Green Carnation Prize shortlist this year and do you think we need a prize that celebrates LGBT writing?

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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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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?

Rainbow_flag_and_blue_skies

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…

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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!

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