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 12:29 PM ET

Kasher in the Rye: The True Tale of a White Boy from Oakland Who Became a Drug Addict, Criminal, Mental Patient, and Then Turned 16 by Moshe Kasher (Grand Central Publishing, $24.99)

Thirty-two-year-old Moshe Kasher is a Jewish comedian who has appeared on television shows including Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, Shameless, Chelsea Lately and Whitney. In his hilarious memoir,  Kasher in the Rye, he chronicles a troubled San Francisco childhood, spent in and out of psychoanalysis, mental institutions, drug trips, and rehab. The son of two deaf parents, Kasher was sent to anger therapy when he was just 4 years old, the start of a long journey toward mental health with detours when his self medicating got out of hand. Although he keeps his dark humor throughout, Kasher does share some heartwarming moments as well, as when he signs to his mother while receiving his college diploma.

Although he’s straight, Kasher has earned gay-adjacent cred by incorporating a queerish personality into his stand-up routines (“If at any point you do become offended, that’s just you being a bitch”), Twitter posts (“If i have a son I will send him to the Boy Scouts so he can learn to tie a knot and to prevent gay people from tying the knot”), and interviews ("What is your least favorite question to answer? 'Why are you such a faggot?’"). (hachettebookgroup.com)

Second Son by Ryan Sallans (Title Town Publishing, $16.95)

A coming-of-age story by a transgender man tackles new territory, especially as Sallans (seen in the video below) interlinks his history as body-obsessed kid with an eating disorder that almost killed him. It's a traditional transition narrative but because Sallans is able to focus on very intimate issues that may related to his gender identity and the struggle to become the man he knew he should be, it transcends the ordinary and offers a fascinating look at a the life of a modern trans man. As Sallans says it took him 29 years to find himself, Second Son certainly could help others avoid that very long journey the author took. (TitleTownPublishing.com)


 

Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane by Andrew Graham-Dixon (W.W. Norton, $39.95)

Italian painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was born in 1571. By the time he was 6 years old he had lost all of his male relatives to the bubonic plague, and he spent much of his youth on the streets, brawling with a gang of what one early biographer called “painters and swordsmen who lived by the motto nec spe, nec metu, ‘without hope, without fear.’” In some way, Caravaggio never really escaped those roots: at 38, he was executed for killing a man.  

These sparse facts were nearly all Andrew Graham-Dixon could uncover about the famous painter, even after extensive research and returning to the original Italian source material (mostly criminal records). It’s that same dearth of biographical material that led two novelists (Peter Robb and Francine Prose) to previously offer fictional accounts of Caravaggio’s personal life. But there remains another source of insight about the artist, the paintings he left behind. Understanding that artists cannot help but to reflect parts of themselves in their work, and knowing Caravaggio frequently utilized his own face in his work, Graham-Dixon interprets truths about the painter’s life from the biblical scenes he was commissioned to paint.

In fact, Caravaggio seemed to have a particular need to incorporate the world he knew — the squalid, violent world of Rome’s underclass, populated with unwashed prostitutes, pimps, criminals, beggars, hustlers, and street urchins — into his portrayals of iconic Bible scenes.

Needless to say, not all of his contemporaries were pleased with Caravaggio’s penchant for painting the Madonna with the face of a prostitute or depicting bowls of fruit as rotten and worm-infested, and, during his life, his work was often disparaged. It wasn’t until the latter half of the 20th century that Caravaggio’s work finally received the recognition it deserved.

Caravaggio's homosexuality is distilled from the numerous naked boys he painted as angels and saints. They are often seated on disheveled beds, explicitly offering (rotten) fruit, wine, and music while implicitly offering their own fruits for the plucking. Graham-Dixon calls the pudginess of these young, feminine boys “the hormonal side effects of castration.”

In this illustrated biography (out in hardback now, in paperback in November), Graham-Dixon shows us a painter who may have lived 500 years ago but was in many ways a thoroughly modern artist, willing to portray both the ugliness of superficial beauty and the beauty in gritty, fetid realism. (wwnorton.com)

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