What Would Auden Review?

Posted on December 1, 2009
Filed Under Deep Thoughts | 286 Comments

AudenThe great queer poet, W.H. Auden once said:  “One cannot review a bad book without showing off.”  Maybe that’s why I have been so reluctant to review bad books.  Maybe I thought having a website was showing off enough.

I began this blog on a down note.  Gay and Lesbian bookstores were closing.  Queer Lit was increasingly marginalized.  Carrol and Graf was shuttered.  Could it be possible, I wondered, to honestly recommend, say, one queer book a month?  I had my (unstated) doubts.  And I was kind of bummed out.

Well, alert the media:  This queer reader is no longer depressed.  LGBT bookstores are still under threat.  The Oscar Wilde Bookshop in New York has closed.  Philadelphia’s Giovanni’s Room is struggling mightily.  And the superstores continue to marginalize queer lit in distantly positioned “Gay and Lesbian” sections.

And yet, there are bright spots.  Don Wiese, the former head of Carrol and Graf is now the executive editor of Alyson.  He is re-making Alyson in his own image and that is a very good thing indeed.  Also, I would point to Edmund White.  His memoir, City Boy, is by far the best book of the year.  It was just yesterday announced that City Boy is on The New York Times Notable Books list.  And it’s selling.  I’m told City Boy has a sequel on the way:  something to look forward to.   Mr. White is so prolific, it’s sometimes hard to keep up with him.  For instance, if you’re not paying close attention, you might not notice that his Rimbaud biography The Double Life of a Rebel is being published in paperback today.

It’s reassuring to know that our standard-bearers are still writing.  I’m very much looking forward to Armistead Maupin’s upcoming novel: Mary Ann in Autumn.  And a much-anticipated new book by Dorothy Alison.  Michael Cunningham has revealed that he is working on a new novel.  The brief excerpt that was recently published in Electric Literature Magazine was exquisitely haunting.

It’s also nice to see a younger group of queer writers continuing to make an impact.  Among them are Stephen McCauley, Bob Smith, Alison Bechdel and Patrick Ryan.

And while we are on the subject, I would also like to acknowledge the contribution of the university presses in cheering this Queer Reader up.  These small publishing houses have repeatedly picked up the slack–publishing important academic titles, as well as highly entertaining ones.  In particular, I would point to The University of Chicago Press who really did a beautiful job packaging and publishing Andrea Weiss’s vividly illustrated:  In the Shadow of the Magic Mountain.

Quality queer lit is out there.  And in the coming weeks I will be offering guidance on some gift titles for the holidays.  In the meantime let me leave you with this: Support our queer bookstores.  If you don’t live near one, buy a book from one of them online.  It’s easy.

The paperback edition of Edmund White’s Rimbaud The Double Life of a Rebel is published by Atlas.

UPDATE 12/10/09:  Since I posted this, three more LGBT bookstore’s have announced that they are closing soon:  Lambda Rising in Washington, DC, its satellite store in Rehoboth and Out Word in Indianapolis.  It’s sometimes easy to forget that these gay institutions are also retail businesses.  And the holiday season is crucial to their survival.  So do your part.  Buy a book from one of the few remaining queer bookstores.  Now more than ever, they need your support.


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