It begins with “This book is not a canon!!!
And that’s fine with me. I suspect it’s fine with most of you, too.
There is nothing “representative” or “survey-like” about this volume.
The only rule that Richard Canning had in approaching the project was that each author selected could feature only once.
“As it is, you’ll doubtless already be drawing up your own list of worthy neglecteds. Again, I can only urge you not to measure the value of this book by what isn’t here, but by what is.”
The contributors are not defined by their sexuality and although “each piece argues for GLBTQ resonance in the work in question, there’s no cumulative or summative aim”.
One theme that regularly resurfaces is the portrayal of difference, the unfamiliar. But the contributors take a variety of approaches in considering their subjects.
Some are documenting their early experiences with identifying with a character or temperament, others are drawing on personal reminiscences of the authors discussed, some are celebrating watershed moments rooted in the experience of the book.
Some are very literary with lots of quotes; others have a more personal side to them, but there are still lots of quotes, for these pieces are fundamentally rooted in the books, not in the lives of the contributors, although of course the line between living and reading is blurred.
Here’s the opening of Carol Anshaw’s “The Letters of Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf” by Vita Sackville-West:
“Somewhere in the early part of my coming out, I read these letters and mistook them for a field guide. They gave me the ridiculous notion of a future populated by slouchy, casually elegant, literary women. I conjured up settings of city apartments and country houses. Gardens and dogs. Delicious, stolen evenings in bed. Muted, civilized partings.”
By the fifth paragraph, there are extracts from the letters, couched in this intimate and inviting style. The style of each piece varies dramatically, but what is consistent is the contributors’ passion for the works they’ve chosen to discuss.
50 Gay and Lesbian Books Everybody Must Read would make either make for excellent bookish reading, or would make an excellent reading project, with the essays spread out over a longer period of time, the books discussed therein sandwiched between. (Not that anyone here loves reading projects.)
Leah Price’s (Ed.) Unpacking My Library:
Writers and Their Books
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011
Alison Bechdel, Stephen Carter, Junot Díaz, Rebecca Goldstein & Steven Pinker, Lev Grossman & Sophie Gee, Jonathan Lethem, Claire Messud & James Wood, Philip Pullman, GaryShteyngart and Edmund White.
Books I was thrilled to see on someone else’s shelves:
Emma Donoghue’s We Are Michael Field; McDonough and Braungart’s Cradle to Cradle; one of the Childcraft series, which I remember from grade school; Ann Patchett’s Truth and Beauty; the little pocket guide to Weather; multiple copies of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (on Alison Bechdel’s shelves)
Octavia Butler’s pocketbooks, The Tolkien Reader, Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven, Jean Auel’s The Clan of the Cave Bear, Linda Hogan’s Mean Spirit, the first two volumes in Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, one of Kelley Armstrong’s WOTU series, Jen Sookfong Lee’s The End of East (on Junot Díaz’s shelves)
Madeleine Thien’s Certainty; Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country (on the shared shelves of Rebecca Goldstein and Stephen Pinker)
Those funny green editions of Willa Cather’s novels that look like they have stuck-on title labels (on the shared shelves of Claire Messud and James Wood)
Stephen King’s The Shining; Ross King’s Ex Libris; Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees (on Philip Pullman’s shelves)
Books I was thrilled to see on someone else’s top ten list:
Always, Rachel: The Letters of Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman, 1952-1964: The Story of a Remarkable Friendship (on Alison Bechdel’s list)
Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior (and the same funky little pocket book edition, too, in Junot Díaz’s collection)
Books I added to/nudged up my TBR because they appeared in one of the photos:
Samuel R. Delaney’s The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village;
Edward Rivera’s Family Installments: Memoires of Growing up Hispanic (1983) (thanks to Junot Díaz)
Fernando Pesssoa’s The Book of Disquiet; Italo Calvino’s Italian Folktales; A.L. Kennedy’s works (thanks to Philip Pullman)
Alan Hollinghurst’s The Folding Star; Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Blue Flower; Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man (thanks to Edmund White)
Have you been reading any bookish books lately? Or, if not, do you have a favourite bookish book that you love to recommend?