Cover by Mel Odom.
What's a “gay book,” anyway?
Is it a book with a gay theme? One with no gay theme but whose author is gay? One specifically about being gay, written by a gay author? Must it be pro-gay, or can it be anti-? Does it count if it's exploitative and prurient?
Regardless of your definition, the heyday of the gay novel is behind us. Yes, there are still books by, for, and about gay people, but it's not like in the '70s and '80s, when gay novels took off, or the early '90s, when they'd become a bona fide boom business.
Not long after, they went bust, and the days when you might read a review calling a work of fiction, “The best gay novel of the year!” went with them. As did gay bookstores...when was the last time you were inside a gay bookstore? Were there any woolly mammoth footprints pressed into the clay?
Gore, Gore, Gore...how do you like it, how do you like it?
Part of the reason a booming literary niche was decimated is good—we became less concerned with obsessing over our place in the world as the world became less convinced we were aliens and/or carriers of disease and/or agents of Satan. (Not that a huge chunk of the world doesn't still ponder those questions.) As we have been assimilated, we've become less excited by existentialist literary endeavors and more likely to spring for, say, books about the first time various anonymous narrators had gay sex, or coffee-table books of nude men or books with no discernible gay sensibility at all.
But I miss the days when the gay novel was a big deal. I miss being in my college bookstore and grabbing an Edmund White tome and flipping it to a passage where two farmboys “cornhole” each other, and realizing that it wasn't pornography, but rather was frank, familiar, terrifyingly emotional art.
For fun, I'm including a collection of the first and last sentences of as many gay novels as I could readily lay my hands on. I'm sticking with the books' proper first and last sentences, so am leaving out things like dates and places (“New York, 1983") in the case of books that begin or end with letters, and I'm also ignoring the “hmmm”-inspiring epigraphs that so often appear at the beginning of a novel.
These are not meant to be my choices for "the best gay books." But most of my favorite gay novels are included and you will undoubtedly have read and loved many of them.
Actually...how many have you read?
If these tantalizingly brief samples don't make you curious to read some of these books, nothing will.
I would absolutely love to receive your contributions (title, year, author, first line, last line) so I can make this a living post...