Your 2018 Winter Reading List

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Wednesday February 14, 2018
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Words and pictures: Readers should consider themselves lucky that gay writer and photographer Bill Hayes has two books for them to enjoy. The first is the paperback edition of his breathtaking 2017 memoir "Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me" (Bloomsbury), which interweaves essays with journal entries, photos and poetry to tell the story of the writer's romantic relationship with the late writer and scientist Oliver Sacks.

The second Hayes book, "How New York Breaks Your Heart" (Bloomsbury), focuses on his street photography through four-color and black & white images of his "chance encounters" with a fascinating assortment of New Yorkers, including Sacks.

"Assembled from the completed but unpublished works in the Silverstein Archive," "Runny Babbit Returns: Another Billy Sook" (Harper) by the late writer and cartoonist Shel Silverstein ("The Giving Tree," "Where the Sidewalk Ends") features more of the author's whimsical wordplay, along with accompanying drawings.

Combing humor, history and hotness, "Hottest Heads of State - Volume One: The American Presidents" (Holt), by J.D. and Kate Dobson, described as a "Tiger Beat for U.S. presidents," gives us a fanzine view of our leaders, from Washington to Trump, minus the staples and photocopy smell.

The "illustrated exploration" "Portals: Gates, Stiles, Windows, Bridges & Other Crossings" (Wooden Books/Bloomsbury) combines original drawings by artist Miles Thistlethwaite and antique pictures with author Philippa Lewis' examination of "liminal boundaries" and how we cross them.

Words and music: Countless LGBTQ folks have found comfort and inspiration in the music of legendary singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, the subject of the biography "Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell" (Sarah Crichton Books/FSG) by David Yaffe.

Both an insider's look at the 90s grunge scene in Seattle and a personal portrait of addiction, "Hit So Hard" (Da Capo Press, 2017) by Hole drummer Patty Schemel, with Erin Hosier, shares its title with P. David Ebersole's 2011 documentary about the lesbian musician.

In light of the recent electoral victory in Alabama, singer-songwriter, environmentalist and social justice advocate Dar Williams' book about her life as "bridge builder," "What I Found in a Thousand Towns: A Traveling Musician's Guide to Rebuilding America's Communities - One Coffee Shop, Dog Run & Open-Mike at a Time" (Basic Books) is more essential reading than ever.

If you are among those gay men and lesbians who have forgiven the late disco goddess Donna Summer for her rumored homophobic transgressions, then you are sure to find something to your liking in the informative and thoroughly entertaining "Record Redux: Donna Summer (Joy of Sound)," in which author Quentin Harrison takes us through the seasons of Summer's career, album by album and single by single.

True words: Gay journalist John-Manuel Andriote, author of the groundbreaking "Victory Deferred: How AIDS Changed Gay Life in America" and others, has returned with his latest nonfiction, "Stonewall Strong: Gay Men's Heroic Fight for Resilience, Good Health and a Strong Community" (Rowman & Littlefield).

Out in March, gay writer Rigoberto Gonzalez's "What Drowns the Flowers in Your Mouth" (University of Wisconsin), is subtitled "A Memoir of Brotherhood." It tells the emotional and complex story of the author's Mexican immigrant family, who settled in the Coachella Valley, struggling with "poverty, illiteracy and vulnerability," and the different paths taken by Rigoberto and his brother Alex.

Also out in March, the memoir "The Rest of It: Hustlers, Cocaine, Depression, and Then Some 1976-1988" (Duke) details the historian and prominent player in gay and lesbian studies Martin Duberman's 12-year period of "despair, drug addiction and debauchery" following the death of his mother.

At 702 pages, the American edition of "Keeping On Keeping On" (FSG), the third installment in the collected prose writings of gay British playwright and memoirist Alan Bennett ("The History Boys," "The Lady in the Van"), is an epic read if there ever was one.

Now in paperback, Brooklyn-based writer and educator Melissa Febos' highly praised collection of linked essays "Abandon Me: Memoirs" (Bloomsbury) follows the out author as she attempts to reconnect with her birth father, and also deals with an obsessive long-distance love affair with a woman.

"The Invention of Ronald Pinn," the second of three essays in "The Secret Life: Three Stories of the Digital Age" (FSG) by Andrew O'Hagan, author of the gay-themed novel "Be Near Me," features a gay central figure.

Cinematic words: Glenn Frankel's "High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic" (Bloomsbury) tells the revealing story behind the 1952 classic Western film starring Gary Cooper, with a screenplay by Carl Foreman and direction by Fred Zinneman, set against the backdrop of the insidious House Committee on Un-American Activities and the career-crushing Hollywood blacklist.

Had she lived, actress Virginia O'Brien (who died in 2001) would be turning 100 in 2019. "Virginia O'Brien - MGM's Deadpan Diva: The Authorized Biography" (BearManor Media) by Robert Strom celebrates the life and career of "one of the more unique talents under contract" at MGM.

Joel and Ethan Coen are not known for gay visibility in their movies, with "Hail, Caesar!" and "Miller's Crossing" being two exceptions. Somewhere there are probably queer fans of the Coens' 1998 comedy "The Big Lebowski" who will also enjoy "I'm a Lebowski, You're a Lebowski" (Bloomsbury) by Bill Green, Ben Peskoe, Will Russell, and Scott Shuffitt. Reissued in time for the 20th anniversary of the movie, the book features a foreword by Jeff Bridges and a new afterword by Daphne Merkin.