Favorite Books That I Read in 2013

I’ve had the good fortune to have read some incredible books these past twelve months. Earlier this week I posted a rant here about the books that appear on a goodreads thread titled Best Books Ever, a list to which I took strong exception. So for the record the works I mention below are the ones I read this past year that I most enjoyed and which I believe have helped to make me a better writer; each of them I found truly outstanding. I will not attempt to rank these; each was superb in its own special way. Thus they are arranged in alphabetical order by title. These authors have all truly inspired me as I work to complete and get published my own first novel. I have also included my Honorable Mention List. A number of the books on both lists were the author’s first published work, wonderful encouragement for those of us who hope to see our own first book in print. The date following the author’s name is where you will find a more detailed review of each of these works in the Archive section to the right. Happy Holiday Reading!

A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham: (May 2013) One of my new favorite authors, the story centers around the relationship between two people who meet as young boys, experiment sexually with each other, move apart and reconnect later in life. Beautiful, heartwarming, funny and sad. This book preceded his Pulitzer Prize winner, The Hours.

Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman: (Feb. 2013) Set in the Italian Riviera and viewed from the perspective of someone looking back on events that happened in the distant past. Aciman creates an erotic energy between two young men that is not consummated until late in the book. Rarely have I ever seen such a beautiful mastery of language and images. I was in complete awe by the time I finished this brilliant literary novel.

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin: (Feb. 2013) The tragic, heart-breaking story of doomed love set in 1950’s Paris. One of the great breakthroughs of 20th century literature and one perfectly executed.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: (Aug. 2013) What can I possibly say that has not been said ad infinitum about one of the greatest pieces of American fiction? How did I ever get this far into life without having already read it? A masterpiece without question.

Where You Are by J.H. Trumble: (Nov. 2013) I read two books this year by this incredibly gifted author. This one dares to take head-on the taboo subject of teacher/student intimacy forcing the reader to not think in black & white terms. She creates a beautiful, complex and thoughtful work in the process.

Winter Birds: A Novel by Jim Grimsley: (Dec. 2013) A grim, painful and frightening novel set in a poor rural North Carolina home dealing with an abusive and alcoholic man who terrorizes his wife and five children. 

Honorable Mention List

Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story by Paul Monette: (May 2013) This memoir is so painful, so poignant, so beautifully written and deals with the author’s struggle for the first half of his life to accept himself as a gay man. So sad that this great author died way too soon.

Don’t Let Me Go by J.H. Trumble: (June 2013) The other novel I read by this talented author this year and her first. The story centers on two young men deeply in love who face serious challenges and jealousies when circumstances force them to live far apart from one another. This author has really impressed me.

Dream Boy by Jim Grimsley: (Aug 2013) One of three books I read by Grimsley this year. A disturbing, powerful and moving story of forbidden and unspoken love in the rural South.

Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez: (Sept. 2013) This book focuses on the lives of three high school seniors, whose lives are interconnected, each of whom is in a different state of gay self-acceptance. At times quite humorous, at other times fairly serious.

Three Junes by Julia Glass: (Aug. 2013) The 2002 National Book Award Winner. Three separate but interconnected stories taking place in Greece, Scotland and New York during three Junes over a ten-year period. Fascinating work!

 

 

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Background Reading for My Novel, A Small & Very Satisfying Detour: French Lessons

French Lessons

When I attended last month’s San Francisco Writers Conference among the many fine individuals I met was Ellen Sussman, author and writing coach. I attended two workshops where she spoke, both of which were excellent. TheFeeding Your Daily Writing Habit: 4 Steps to Higher Productivity” I found especially valuable. One of her books that she mentioned was French Lessons, published in 2011. Being a hardcore Francophile (I’ve been to Paris eight times and I’m not done yet), I was so envious to learn that she lived in my favorite city for five years. I got an opportunity to talk one-on-one with her which was a thrill. After leaving the conference and getting back into a more normal routine, I searched online to learn more about French Lessons and decided that while it did not fit the theme of the novel I am writing I had to include it on my To-Read list.

Just last night I finished the novel and am so glad I fit the book into my reading schedule. This was a guilty pleasure of a read. The story takes place in Paris all in a single day. The work can be viewed as three separate short stories although all three are interconnected. Each story involves an American in Paris who is spending time there with a French tutor to improve her or his French-speaking skill. The characters have all come to Paris for very different reasons. Josie has just suffered a tragic personal loss and is there hoping to heal her broken heart. Her tutor is Nico, a sensitive poet. Riley has come to Paris with her two children and husband whose business has brought him to the City of Lights and who now is largely ignoring her. Phillipe is her tutor and someone who seems to regard seducing women as life’s primary goal. Jeremy is a man in his forties, the husband of a famous American actress and who lives in her shadow but loves her enormously nonetheless. They are in Paris for a film shooting and he feels quite removed from her world. His tutor is the beautiful young Chantal to whom he is strongly attracted. The book begins with the three tutors whose lives are intertwined meeting at a café in the morning and ends later that afternoon at their scheduled rendezvous spot.

By story’s end all but one of the characters have learned something very important about him-or-herself and have had a wonderful adventure in the process. While it’s certainly not necessary to have spent time in Paris and fallen in love with the city in order to enjoy this book, it certainly enhances the experience. The author certainly knows the city well and describes its sights, sounds and smells very accurately. She also interjects just enough of the French language into her writing to add some interest without having a reader who knows little or no French wonder “what does that mean?” There is also just the right amount of sexual tension throughout to keep the reader curious and want to keep turning the page.

All in all I found this a very pleasurable read and am very happy I took a little detour in my reading path to enjoy this.

Background Reading for My Novel, Part V: Giovanni’s Room

Giovanni's Room

A  book that always seems to appear on anyone’s list of great gay-themed fiction is James Baldwin’s modern-day classic Giovanni’s Room, his second novel, first published in 1956. The Publishing Triangle, the American association of the LGBT publishing industry, has ranked this as number 2 on its list of the best 100 gay and lesbian novels, second only to Death in Venice by Thomas Mann. As part of my plan to read an abundance of quality fiction that is gay-themed or of a coming-of-age genre to assist me in own writing efforts, I read this book in early January.

This is the first work of Baldwin’s I have ever read & what an incredible story it is. The protagonist David, a young American living in Paris in the 1950’s, for his entire life has been in complete denial that he is gay. Only when he meets the handsome Italian bartender Giovanni, who works in a gay bar in Paris, does he begin his slow acceptance of his sexuality. Tragically David begins this acceptance of his natural desires & stops lying to himself and others only when it is too late for him to have a long-term relationship with the man he realizes will almost certainly be the great love of his life. You know from the very beginning of this book that there will be a tragic ending and yet I found myself hoping it would not end the way it did.

Being a gay African-American in the 1950’s, Baldwin himself suffered a double dose of persecution and hostility with widespread racism and homophobia permeating American culture for his generation. He emigrated from the U.S. to Paris in 1948 where he felt life would be easier and lived in Europe the rest of his life.

This was a quick but painful story to read; I polished it off in two evenings. The novel is incredibly well written & poignant. Giovanni’s Room was a major breakthrough in the publishing industry, helping to broaden public awareness and opinion on same-sex desires and relationships at least in the minds of the reading public. In light of the growing acceptance of marriage equality, Baldwin’s novel is a reminder of just how far the fight for LGBT rights & acceptance has come since Baldwin’s time. I plan to read more by this brilliant author.