Karine Jean-Pierre
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The 15 Best LGBT Summer Reads Include Anne Rice, Kevin Sessums

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan (Crown)

 At its heart, this lovely, strange, lyrical novel, which draws on the folklore of Scotland's islands, is about two women trying to find their place in the world. But in this magical realm where the world is covered in water and humans are divided into two groups, the landlockers (who live on the tiny bit of terra firma left) and the damplings (those who live on ships that wander the oceans), what’s most refreshing is Logan’s underlying message that the world does not need to be binary, whether that’s gay or straight or land and sea.

The Daylight Marriage by Heidi Pitlor (Algonquin Books)
In this captivating and emotionally stirring new mystery that, dare I say, may be even better than Gone Girl, an unhappy wife, Hannah, goes missing on the way to work one day. Her climate scientist husband, Lovell, unravels chapter by chapter after her disappearance as police find the bones of a dead woman. Hannah and Lovell’s marriage has already disintegrated and their parenting is terrible because of it, but their teenage daughter finds role models of a marriage done right in their next-door neighbors, a gay couple. A riveting psychological thriller that lets you work out your darkest fears with a gay twist? Yes, please!

Becoming Westerly by Jamie Brisick (Outpost19)
Almost any athlete who comes out as trans right now will be compared to Bruce Jenner, but the story of surf champion Peter Drouyn’s odyssey from teenage Australian hopeful to 1960s surf champion to embittered has-been struggling to rise again as the glamorous, 64-year-old Westerly Windina is a story that deserves equal attention. As a surfer, Westerly pioneered an aggressive style called “power surfing,” introduced the man-on-man competition format, won the Australian National Titles, and brought surfing to the People’s Republic of China. But at the heart of that hypermasculinity lay an unhappy athlete who never felt properly credited. In the hands of journalist (and former pro surfer) Jamie Brisick, this biography is more than a trans coming-out narrative; it’s a story of a journalist chasing a legend and a woman trying to become the vision she’s had of her perfect self, raw and vulnerable but also wildly self-empowered after her 2012 gender affirmation surgery in Bangkok. (And if you’re too busy to read: Brisick’s U.S.-based documentary on Westerly, produced by House of Cards’ Beau Willimon, is scheduled for release this fall.)

Beauty’s Kingdom by Anne Rice, writing as A.N. Roquelaure (Viking)
In 1983, The Advocate gave the first book of Rice’s erotic Sleeping Beauty series, The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, a great review, saying the book was "something very special ... at once so light and yet so haunting." Now that Rice again casts her lurid gaze towards the traditional tale of Sleeping Beauty, probing the unspoken implications of this suggestive tale by exploring its undeniable connection to sexual desire, we’re thrilled to say it too deserves some LGBT adoration. That’s because, in addition to the usual rich imagery there’s every configuration of sexual pleasure — gay, lesbian, bi, and straight — in every combination, with amble doses of BDSM. Rice recently wrote on her Facebook page, “I am a feminist who believes in the right of women to their sexual fantasies, no matter how shocking such fantasies might seem. … I resist all efforts to politicize or sanitize women's fantasies for them. They have a right to imagine what they want, to write what they want, to read what they want.” This book is an unadulterated example of that philosophy.

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North (Blue Rider Press)
There’s a reason why Emma Donoghue, one of the best lesbian novelists out there, joined a slew of magazines and critics in praising Sophie Stark. This terrific lit-fic novel, which explores love, art, and identity, offers a look at a once-rising but imperfect filmmaker, told from the POVs of the people who loved her most, including an ex-husband and an ex-girlfriend. In fact, though the titular Sophie Stark is a bisexual woman, neither her sexuality nor her gender is an explicit driving plot point, both characteristics taking a back seat to her difficult, artistic brilliance.

I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves by Ryan O’Connell (Simon & Schuster)
Growing up, Ryan O’Connell always knew he was special — and not because his magnet high school for the “extraordinarily” gifted told him so, nor was it the countless hugs and kisses from his helicopter parents that gave him the idea. No, Ryan knew he was special because he drooled on people, wore leg braces, and couldn’t manage to put a key in a door. He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth, and he is also gay. His hilarious millennial memoir goes through his often ridiculously funny escapades in his 20s, trying to find love (or get a BJ) off Grindr and stalking people on Facebook, enduring stressful unpaid internships, and that excruciatingly awkward first time with another man (it really is funny). The book, coming out Tuesday, is already making headlines: After a multistudio bidding war, the television rights were sold to Warner Bros., with The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons’s production company, That’s Wonderful Productions, signed on to produce. I’m Special is delightfully fun and, better for us beach bums, easy to read in one fell swoop.

Lost Boi by Sassafras Lowrey (Arsenal Pulp Press)
Fans of children’s tales and the genderqueering of literature will adore Sassafras Lowrey’s queer punk reimagining of the Peter Pan story in which orphaned, abandoned, and runaway bois of the street have sworn allegiance and service to Pan, the fearless leader of the Lost Bois Brigade. It’s like a subversive alternate take on the classic story, with undercurrents that tackle some real issues like LGBT youth homelessness, BDSM, addiction, love, family, gender, and so much more. Tootles (Pan’s best boi) narrates the story, in which the bois make their own family in a squat called Neverland. But despite their loyalty to Pan and their refusal to join ranks with Hook's leather pirates or the needle-fueled Crocodile, nothing has prepared the bois for the arrival of newly corrupted Mommy Wendi and tomboy John Michael, who bring irreversible change to Neverland. Lowrey won the Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Award, and this perverted, fantastic novel is proof that was money well spent.

Searching for Celica by Elizabeth Ridley (Bold Strokes)
In this captivating lesbian page-turner, Dayle, a best-selling spy novelist from Wisconsin, arrives in London for a writers’ conference only to be told that her best friend and former lover, Celia, has died under mysterious circumstances. Or so they say; there's no body, and her apartment seems to suggest Celia was planning to leave. So Dayle teams up with Celia's Nigerian-British ex-girlfriend, Edwina, to investigate. What they and the local detectives find leaves Dayle questioning everything she knows in this fast-paced, twisted, philosophical mystery.

Harold and Maude by Colin Higgins (Chicago Review Press)
A whole new generation of fans discovered the classic film Harold and Maude when Netflix recently added it. Now the much-loved original novel by late gay screenwriter and activist Colin Higgins is getting a re-release as well, with a new cover meant to appeal to a new generation of audiences. A must-read (or watch), this 1971 dark romantic comedy follows the unlikely but wonderful relationship that develops between Maude, a quirky 81-year-old optimist, and death-obsessed 19-year-old Harold. Higgins, who was also writer-director of Nine to Five and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, died in 1988, shortly after his 47th birthday, of complications related to AIDS. His legacies, however, will be lasting. Two years before he died, he established the Colin Higgins Foundation to support LGBTQ youth in underserved communities. The foundation has given $3 million over the years to numerous LGBTQ organizations, including the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, youth outreach efforts, and AIDS prevention programs. With the book’s re-release, royalties will all go to the foundation, which just this month gave out $10,000 each to three Youth Courage Award winners: Victoria, 19, an undocumented queer transgender immigrant who first came to the U.S. at age 3; Alex, 20, a queer transgender man was raised Muslim and battled drug addiction, and like Victoria, he endured homelessness and bullying; and AJ, 20, a bisexual man raised in a poor black Southern neighborhood, who’s a staunch advocate for workers’ rights, including an increase in the the minimum wage. Do the Courage Award winners have anything to do with the book? Maybe so. Like them, Harold and Maude handle themselves with grace and dignity in the face of overwhelming hardship. And if you buy this book, you help put money in the pockets of great LGBT kids like these.

Seducer Fey (Genetic Fey Series: Volume 1) by Cullyn Royson (Booktrope)
Populated by characters whose genders and sexualities are fluid — and centered on Danny and her girlfriend Cassidy — this truly fascinating series opener imagines a world where genetic engineering has found a fountain of youth in the blood of Celtic fairies. Written by out pansexual and genderqueer author Cullyn Royson — who began LGBTQ activism as a teenage volunteer for GLSEN — Seducer Fey is simply one of the best young adult fantasy novels out there, queer or otherwise. Get ready for the sequel.

How I Shed My Skin: Unlearning the Racist Lessons of a Southern Childhood by Jim Grimsley (Algonquin Books)
Growing up, this award-winning gay author never felt like he belonged in his small Southern hometown. Raised in harsh poverty with a violent father, Grimsley was 11 when his Pollacksville, N.C., school was integrated, putting him and the other kids on the front lines of a battle that it seemed the adults were having while many of the kids just wanted to go to school, make friends, and have fun. What sets this apart from other memoirs of the time is Grimsley’s beautifully crafted and unflinching look at his own inherited racism and his ability to confront it.

Oh! You Pretty Things by Shanna Mahin (Dutton)
Thirty-year-old Jess, whose mother had hoped she’d be the next Brooke Shields, is one of Hollywood’s barista/celebrity assistant/aspiring chefs that anyone in L.A. knows well. She works for an erratic composer who sends his complaints via his manager but may have a more glamorous job in the works — if things work out. Author Shanna Mahin, whose Oscar-nominated screenwriter grandfather worked on a slew of classic films including Gone With the Wind  andScarface (and cofounded the screenwriters’ union), was once a celebrity personal assistant herself, so there’s a disarming authenticity to this look about the fringes of celebrity culture and the ordinary people who get climbed on by others on their way up. It's hard to put down this witty, incisive, buzzy, and all too real novel.

The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother and Me: An Aristocratic Family, a High Society Scandal and an Extraordinary Legacy by Sofka Zinovieff (Harper)
The author’s grandparents lived and loved with abandon. Her grandfather, Robert Heber-Percy, was a dashing and impulsive charmer who married Jennifer Fry, a famous socialite, and brought her home pregnant. By the time of their marriage, though, Robert had already lived with and loved a man for a decade — Gerald, Lord Berners. The two men lived together in the famed Faringdon House in Oxfordshire, England, when homosexuality was still illegal. When a pregnant Jennifer moved in, it created a formidable ménage a trois that both added something to their lives and also confused people around them. After Gerald's death and Jennifer and Robert's divorce, Robert would become something of a flamboyant, arrogant, and racist gay playboy, until very late in life when he married another woman. The final reveal is what his legacy does to his granddaughter, the author of the book, who unexpectedly finds herself at Faringdon House decades later in this fascinating, quirky, and oddly moving must-read hybrid biography-memoir.

The Holy Mark by Gregory Alexander (Mill City Press)
Father Tony was destined to be a priest at birth. That’s when his Italian immigrant grandmother saw a birthmark on his head and declared it a sign that he was to be a man of God. But his mob-connected uncle is not so thrilled with the move and vows to take Tony down, with the help of his friends in the Catholic hierarchy. When Father Tony fights back, we see the dynamics of power and family, faith and politics, revenge and regret all mired together. But don’t think you’ll find heroes in this psychological thriller about a predator and victim in one. There’s a reason Anne Rice plugged the book, saying it haunted her. Many will be left pondering good and evil, knowing perhaps they are sometimes two sides of the same coin, and what’s wonderful here is that Alexander manages to indict the church as much as the priest in this well-told mystery.

I Left It on the Mountain by Kevin Sessums (St. Martin’s Press)
Kevin Sessums, the famed former contributing editor of Vanity Fair who is now the editor in chief of FourTwoNine magazine, won the enduring devotion of many LGBT readers with his first memoir, Mississippi Sissy. While that book took readers into his childhood in the Deep South (including testifying at the sensational murder trial of the man who killed his gay mentor, Frank Haines), this new memoir takes off as in completely different territory as Sessums risies New York’s arts scene, first as an actor and then a writer, delves into celebrity journalism, and travels the world searching for himself spiritually. For celebrity buffs, his musings on his time with Madonna, Michael J. Fox, and more are worth a gander, while fellow journalists will enjoy his recollections of chatting with Andy Warhol as a writer at the just-launched Interview magazine, and later writing for Vanity Fair under both Tina Brown and Graydon Carter.

But there’s more to this than sheer celebrity spectacle. In fact, it’s in these other stories that Sessums seems most approachable. At some point, Sessums is seeking and not finding, but when he does awaken he realizes he’s a sex-addicted meth user who is depressed and rather empty inside. He’s tired of anonymous sex and struggling for something. When his friend dies of an overdose, it awakens the functional addict and Sessums seeks change.

In one of the best scenes, Sessums, who is also HIV-positive and open about his status in the book, writes about getting a tattoo — a line from a Emily Dickenson poem. But the tattoo artist screws it up and Sessums must ask for an edit, which leads to a breathtaking moment of clarity that will stay with readers long after the book is finished. Now over 50, Sessum writes, “I realized that like my tattoo, I am singlular. I am imperfect. And I am fixable.” A perfect mantra for any of us, especially that Mississippi sissy we fell in love with years ago.

Tags: Books, Books

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