Amos Lassen’s Top 11 Books of 2010 (so far)

Amos Lassen doesn’t think of himself this way, but he is one of the most influential Amazon reviewers in the nation — especially when it comes to the categories for gay romance, gay fiction, gay and lesbian erotica, DVD, and documentary. An Amazon Top 50 Reviewer and a member of the Amazon Vine Program—a highly-coveted, invitation only badge—he has reviewed 3,683 products to date and receives hundreds of review submissions a month. He was kind enough to share a summary of his favorite titles for 2010. From indie publishers to top houses, from romance to poetry to literary fiction, Lassen’s carefully curated list is as diverse as his evolving tastes.—AG

1. MY LIFE AS ADAM by Bryan Borland Sibling Rivalry Press ISBN: 9780578051178 March 12, 2010There are seventy poems that introduce us to the poet and all of his joys and sorrows. Bryan is a young man who writes with style and elegance, with sadness and with humor and his poems tend to remind you of what it was like growing up, coming out and becoming an adult and they are filled with the boyish charm of a young writer who, I feel, at least, is destined for a big, big future in literature. In a world where so many try to break into literary circles, we are all aware of how difficult it is to do so. Mark my words, Bryan Borland has taken the leap into the pool and comes up a winner who I am sure we will hear a great deal from. He manages to touch on so much--religion, sexuality, Southern life, self-acceptance. Full Review Via Amazon

by Emanuel Xavier
Queer Mojo/Rebel Satori
ISBN: 9781608640324
April 2010

Xavier writes to the emotions and he can make you laugh and he can make you cry. Almost every poem deals with love, lust, sadness and memory and they are all brutally honest. He holds back on nothing and says what he feels. His frankness may catch you off guard but it will make you think about things that seem to be quite ordinary but in reality are a bit more. I felt that the poems were both personal and universal at the same time and as gay men most of us share common experiences. He moved me with his profanity and uplifted me with his sanctity. What overrides everything, however, is Xavier’s originality and ambition. He has dared to put on paper that which burns within. Full Review Via Amazon

3. GAY BAR: The Fabulous, True Story of a Daring Woman and Her Boys in the 1950s by Will Fellows and Helen P. Branson University of Wisconsin Press ISBN: 9780299248505 October 7, 2010The 50s were a time when California law prohibited "inverts" from gathering in bars, and vice squad entrapment of "deviates" was usual. We meet a woman who was well ahead of her time and who believed that being gay was more than just sex and that gay couples who lived together considered themselves to be married partners. Basically, "Gay Bar" is about a straight women who owned a gay bar and I agree there is nothing special there—yet. What is special is Helen Branson who gives us this primary source text of what gay life was like "back in the day." As far as we know, the 1950s were an infamously anti-gay period in American history and this was when Helen decided to open her bar. Because of this she decided to provide a place for her gay friends to meet and socialize even though the gathering of gay men was prohibited by California law. The book is an invaluable look at an anxious time in our history and how gay men saw themselves and how they were seen by others. Here is a book that should be the centerpiece of every gay man's library—it is that important. Full Review Via Amazon

Biblical, Medieval, and Modern Jewish Stories
by Andrew Ramer
White Crane Books
ISBN: 9781590211830
June 3, 2010

The beauty of traditional religious literature is that it is open to interpretation and we are constantly finding new meanings to what was written centuries ago. Andrew Ramer looks at alternative versions of the texts and his inspiration comes from a large tradition of commentators. He looks at the texts and incorporates the works of Jewish feminists and rabbis of yore to give us some beautiful stories that show that there have always been LGBT people in the history of the Jews. It seems that there has been a resurgence in looking at Jewish tradition so in terms of LGBT studies. We have had two new prayer books published that are inclusive to our community but not exclusive to the rest of the world. I have been looking forward to this book since I first heard it was coming and it is all that I had hoped it would be—and then some. What it gives us is the beauty of his written word and the wisdom of his mind. I will always feel indebted to him for that. Full Review Via Amazon

The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade
by Justin Spring
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
August 17, 2010

Samuel Steward was a professor of English, a novelist who wrote gay porn and literary fiction, a friend and confidant of Thornton Wilder, Alfred Kinsey and Gertrude Stein, a man with a taste for what was known as “rough trade”, and was into the sado/masochistic scene. He was known as Peter Sparrow and as the official tattoo artist of Oakland, California. Spring rebuilds the man and he does so from Steward’s journals and sex diaries, or his “Stud File,” which had notes about sexual liaisons that included Valentino and Rock Hudson. Spring’s biography is both entertaining and sympathetic and shows the marginalization of homosexuals during periods of Steward’s life. On the other hand, he celebrates the daring and creativity of the man who although closeted to a degree, dared to be who he was—he tested society to see how far he could go. This is one of those books that you cannot stop reading and Spring has given us a wonderful work of research and writing. Many have never heard of Steward but I have a feeling that could change with the publication of Spring’s biography. We get an in-depth look at gay life before Stonewall and before liberation. Few of us have any idea that gay life was ever like this. Steward’s life shows us what is was like to be an outsider in a world where he was not allowed to exist and yet managed to do so. Full Review Via Amazon

6. MUTE By Raymond Luzcak A Midsummer Night's Press ISBN: 9780979420863 April 1, 2010Raymond Luczak is one of the most amazing men I have ever read and I am very proud to read whatever he writes. I always know that something by Raymond is a treat. You see, Raymond is deaf and he manages to do very well in a world that hears. We feel what he feels in this powerful collection of his poetry as he takes us to places of both confusion and clarity. With his disadvantage, he has written more than ten books and he has been celebrated for his writing. I cannot imagine what it would be like not to hear what is going on around me. Raymond takes me there, in his own special way and he does so with caution and knowing that I can't experience what he does. I feel his pain and I ache his aches but I return to the world of sound and he does not. Every poem is a gem and the poet is the setting for a diadem that sparkles with wit and love. It is not just a book to be read—it is a book to be cherished and read and reread. Full Review Via Amazon

Dylan’s Story
By Ruth Sims
Dreamspinner Press
ISBN: 9781615815333
July 12, 2010

Dylan Rutledge is eighteen years old and feels that he is destined to become the greatest composer of the twentieth century.  Laurence Northcliff, a history master at the Venerable Bede School for Young Gentlemen, feels that Dylan has the talent and he encourages him but he does not realize that Dylan is in love with him and at the time this happened, this kind of love was forbidden and “dare not speak its name.” Set in England and in Paris, Sims has recreated the nineteenth century in great detail which provides a gorgeous background for the story. We also get a look at life and the sexual mores of the nineteenth century. Because homosexuality was both condemned and illegal, the characters aren’t regarded as members of society. Sims knows her literature and her research of the period shows. It is the characters that Sims has created that make this novel so special. They are totally human and the problems that they have are results of themselves and their flaws. You love them and you hate them and you cry with them and you laugh with them. This novel is perfection all around. The characters, the story, the writing are all excellent. Full Review Via Amazon

8. SAWDUST CONFESSIONS The Pleasures are Guilty as a Diva Disappears from Florida's Gayest Campground by William A. Sievert CreateSpace ISBN: 978-1450553032 February 3, 2010Philip and Franklin innocently move to Sawdust Pines, a gay/lesbian campground and trailer park in Green Swamp, Florida and all hell breaks loose. Living there is Rusty Rhodes, a drag queen cabaret singer who wants to be his alter ego, Dusty Rose. He/She has lots of grief from the camp director, Diana and Dusty disappears in the middle of a special performance. Since they are new to the place, Philip and Franklin are suspected of having something to do with this. Mary Angelique, a former nun, implicates the guys and everyone at the camp does not want the cops to come to see what happened. The members of Grape Court (aka the Sour Grapes) hide information from the deputy sheriff and they are aided in doing so by a group of make believe policemen who arrive and begin to worship each other. Here is where the fun begins and this may be the queerest, craziest book I have ever read—so, how about a sequel? I need to laugh some more. Full Review Via Amazon

by Michael Cunningham
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
ISBN: 9780374299088
September 28, 2010

As the book opens, Peter Harris and his wife, Rebecca, are stuck in a cab in Manhattan at night. Representatives of New York success, Peter is an art dealer and Rebecca edits a literary magazine. Peter has spent his life trying to find “the eternal.” He has been married for twenty-two years and has had an easy life but he has, of late, begun to feel a sense of disappointment. When Ethan, Rebecca’s younger brother comes to say with them, Peter finds his routine changing. Twenty-three-year-old, Ethan is exceptionally handsome, bisexual, but has a drug problem. In his work, Peter deals with beauty all of the time and he must decide, as he searches for new talent, what is beauty and how it can be promoted but when Ethan comes to stay, Peter begins to question his concept of beauty as well as his own sexuality. We also learn that Peter’s brother, Matthew, died from AIDS some twenty-five years before the novel begins as did his lover and many of his friends and Ethan reminds Peter of all of this. It was Matthew’s death that drove Peter to want to create something that would last and show the world that we are important in life and in death. Full Review Via Amazon

10. TALES MY BODY TOLD ME By Wayne Courtois Lethe Press ISBN: 9781590212479 May 3, 2010We meet Paul Lavarnway, a middle-aged gay man who has decided that it is time to settle down and lead a domestic kind of life. His husband, Eric, agrees to do the same. They soon find themselves at East Oak House in Two Piers, Maine with four other men. What makes it all so strange is that Paul has no memory of how he arrived there. He understands that he is in some kind of group therapy session designed to help him change his gay sexuality to straight. As time passes, Paul sees that there are four other men with him and the group leader and mentor is Brian who leads them to look at their pasts and their futures with no reference to the present. As Paul begins to remember, he discovers truths about himself, his partner, about the man who had come between them, and about a possible murder. Courtois does not just write a story, he writes literature that is easily read and devour. Full Review Via Amazon

by Armistead Maupin
ISBN: 9780061470882
November 2, 2010

We met Mary Ann Singleton in the first “Tales of the City;” now, 20 years later, Mary Ann left her family and moved to New York to pursue her career. She came back to San Francisco because of personal problems and the gang was waiting for her. Mary Ann has been separated from Shawna, her daughter who has become a sex blogger and who is seeing Otto, a professional clown. Mary Ann is now almost 60 years old and she has important news that she can only share with Mouse and when she goes to tell him, she is forced to deal with her past and why she left her husband and daughter for her career. I think what I love the most about Maupin and the “Tales” books are the various subplots that go on simultaneously and the come together. Of course, Maupin’s characters are wonderfully drawn and the reader often finds himself right in the middle of the action. His stories are multi-layered and he uses irony to explore the human psyche. “Tales of the City” has entered the new millennium with a bang and they are just as wonderful and irreverent as they always were. Full Review Via Amazon