21 LGBT Biographies or Memoirs You Should Read Now

From German counts to Utah cave-dwellers, there's something for every reader on this list.

BY Diane Anderson-Minshall

August 13 2012 1:29 PM ET

Into the Garden With Charles by Clyde Phillip Wachsberger (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, $28)

A sweet and inspiring story about art, love, and gardening, Into the Garden With Charles is set against around the author’s noteworthy garden outside his 300-year-old house in the hamlet of Orient on Long Island. In the memoir we meet Wachsberger, a boy in New York City who dreams of storybook gardens and grows into a a middle-aged gay man who has given up on finding the one. Then he meets Charles, an avid gardener, and the two will become life partners and create the wildly gorgeous garden of their dreams. Wachsberger’s published books include Daffodil, Rose, Of Leaf and Flower, and Stories and Poems for Gardeners, which he edited with his partner, Charles Dean, and for which his illustrations won the Garden Writers Association award for best book illustration. Into the Garden With Charles, in fact, includes 14 full-color illustrations of the author’s paintings, which give this sweet little story the feel of an antique children's book, fitting for a memoir about growing up and falling in love in a storybook setting. (FSGbooks.com)

Journey to the Abyss: The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler, 1880-1918 by Harry Kessler, edited by Laird M. Easton (Alfred A. Knopf, $45)

German Count Harry Kessler (1868-1937) was born into wealth and lived a life of privilege during the belle epoque, when Kessler was a socialite, book publisher, and cofounder of the avant-garde publication Pan. Kessler rubbed elbows with many of the era’s leading artists, performers and writers and his diaries are rich with gossip about those who shaped the times. Kessler was also a prolific journal writer, producing so many diary entries between 1880 and 1918 that the 877 pages included in Journey to the Abyss represent — according to Laird M. Easton, the editor and translator — only abou  a quarter of his writings. The diaries, which had previously been thought lost, were discovered in 1987 in a safe that had been rented 50 years earlier.

Kessler, who never married, wrote positively about homosexuality, predicting in 1907 that, in a decade or two, "the movement" would achieve “a kind of sexual revolution through which Germany will very quickly ... overtake the lead that France and England have had.”

Unlike Kessler’s later diaries (1918-1937, previously published as Berlin in Lights), these entries reveal a man who fails to see the dangerous political aspirations rising in Germany and who still shares his nation’s anti-Semitism. The elder Kessler lost his fortune, left Germany forever in 1933, and condemned that year’s “abominable Jewish boycott.” Kessler died in 1937 in his sister’s home in France. (KnopfDoubleday.com)

Rub Out the Words: The Letters of William S. Burroughs 1959-1974 by William S. Burroughs, edited by Bill Morgan (Ecco, $35)

In this sequel to an earlier volume of William S. Burroughs’s letters (1945-1959), the bulk of the 300 letters collected in Rub Out the Words are directed to Allen Ginsberg,  beginning with 1959’s classic missive: "Dear Allen, Thanks a million for the mescaline."

While drug use is certainly an important element in their relationship, the two men also shared a  love for the creation of fine literature — but Burroughs’s letters to Ginsberg also delve into mundane concerns about doctors and jobs. Readers hoping to learn more about the death of Burroughs’s wife, Joan Vollmer — whom the writer killed in an alcohol-fueled barroom game of William Tell — and the controversial obscenity trial over Burroughs’s famous novel Naked Lunch will be disappointed. If Burroughs wrote about those issues, those letters aren’t represented here. Instead, while  the Massachusetts Supreme Court decided the fate of  Naked Lunch,  Burroughs seemed more concerned that Grove Press was mishandling his royalties.

But what it lacks in new revelations about Burroughs’s personal life this collection more than makes up for in the sheer joy of devouring Burroughs’s command of language and ability to imbue his letters (including riffs on the creative process) with the same literary genius that seared his Beat poems into our collective consciousness. And you’ll understand why, 15 years after his death, there’s renewed interest from Hollywood in Burroughs and the Beat movement he personified.  (HarperCollins.com)

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