Five Good Queer-Friendly Coffee Table Books 2011

Posted on December 21, 2011
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With the holidays upon us, it’s a good time to think about buying a high quality coffee table book as a gift. There are quite a lot of them to choose from this year.  Here are five that are good:

1.  Pilgrimage, Annie Leibovitz. There are no portraits in Annie Leibovitz’s new book.  And yet it is fully inhabited with powerful personalities.  Henry David Thoreau, Eleanor Roosevelt, Annie Oakley are all present here.  Ms. Leibovitz achieves this effect by photographing places: Walden Pond, Val-Kill, the Annie Oakley Museum  She also took photographs of the homes of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf and others, as well as of Niagara Falls and The Yosemite Valley. These photographs are deeply personal, beautiful and evocative. It’s nice to see that Ms. Leibovitz is at the height of her powers, exploring new territories–literally and figuratively.

2. Cecil Beaton The New York Years, Donald Albrecht. Quite simply this book is magnificent. Beautiful photos of Cecil Beaton’s duplex apartment at The Sherry Netherland, sketches and portraits of Marlon Brando, Greta Garbo, Elsa Maxwell, Marilyn Monroe, Henry Geldzahler, Martha Graham, Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol and many more. Donald Albrecht’s prose is lucid and intelligent. His exploration of Beaton’s complex relationship with Truman Capote is particularly thoughtful.

3.  Gay in America, Scott Pasfield. It says something about the state of gay America that all of the subjects in this book look ordinary.  These gay men are racially diverse, young and old and spread geographically across the country–in urban, suburban and rural locations.  They are all attractive. And none of them looks particularly unusual. They don’t look like guys you’d see in a nightclub.  They look like guys you’d bump into in the supermarket–if you were lucky.  Even the super-sexy Dan Choi looks (almost) ordinary here.  The photograph of him inside a bedroom of his boyhood home is beautiful, poignant. And yet he looks like the boy next door here. Which I guess he is. Now if only he’d just move next door to me.
4.  Breakfast at Tiffany’s:  The Official 50th Anniversary Companion, Sarah Gristwood. Truman Capote was notoriously disdainful of the film version of his novella, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but in some ways the movie is actually better than the book. Blake Edwards dispensed with the gratuitous racism at the beginning of the book. And he added a new character: Patricia Neal’s Chanel-suited cougar. Her brief appearance is the second best thing about the movie. The first best thing is of course Audrey Hepburn. This book features photographs of on location shooting of the movie, plus pages from the script, background on how the story developed and of course, numerous photographs of Ms. Hepburn waiting for her takes–effortlessly lounging in Givenchy.

5.  Judy: A Legendary Career, John Fricke. Just how important is Judy Garland to gays today? In her lifetime, Ms. Garland had a huge gay following.  “Somewhere over the Rainbow” became a gay anthem.  And Judy Garland’s funeral was for many years thought to be one of the catalysts of the Stonewall riots.  But more recently, Steven Carter’s book largely debunked the Judy Garland funeral-Stonewall Riots connection. And today gay youths sometimes only know of Judy Garland as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz(!) For those who wish to dig deeper, may I suggest:  Judy: A Legendary Career. It is a beautifully-produced, richly illustrated book of all of Ms. Garland’s films. Even the minor ones get some coverage here including:  gorgeous photographs of on set filming, plus backstories on the film, its opening, box office etc.  If you’d like to read the negative and positive critical responses to (say) I Could Go On Singing (yes, it did get some good reviews) then this book is for you.

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