Top 5 Summer Reads


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The Top 5 Wednesday prompt this week is to list quintessential summer reads, not what I’m actually planning on reading over the next few months. Which is good, because I’ve covered the latter list already (check it out here).

To me, a quintessential summer read must be sexy, accessible, packed with vivid detail and easily transportable. It should make me feel proud and strong, though tragic glamour is always acceptable. Bonus if it has a certain sun-baked quality.

Summer is also a poetry time for me. Some Sandburg in a warm patch of sun. Add gin, tonic and Frank O’Hara to taste. Perfect summer day.

This is a TFW! For more info, please see below.

5. Generation X

Genderation X is polarizing book. People who hate it seem to really, really hate it. I get it though: the term “Generation X” was in the 90’s what “Millennials” is today. Frankly, I would not readily pick up a book called Mellennials, even if (especially if?) it offered engaging, scabs-and-all character-driven stories with strong infusions of fantasy and drunken, sun-blasted ferocity.

I guess some people felt similarly about Generation X.

But I love it. The characters feel real to me, ravenous and textured and familiar. Pompous, sure. I don’t think they always smell fantastic or anything (after all, they’re a bunch of twenty-somethings living loose in the California desert). But I recognize the blended flavors of squandered potential, mistrust of society and over-education.

Pairs well with coffee and cigarettes or rum and cokes.

4. The Paris Diary and The New York Diary

I first read these two  diaries on a cruise. They were the perfect counterpoint to fancy drinks, sitting by the pool and ogling beautiful men. Ned Rorem is a charming, intelligent gay man and his scattered writings about his life are glamorous, funny and poetic. The Paris Diary  is my favorite of the two. Shock to no one, it is set in Europe and contains a smorgasbord of cosmopolitan cocktail parties, pleasure travel, shameless name-dropping and deep, searching thought about the place of the artist in society.

Rorem is a composer, among other talents. I haven’t listened to any of his music, but I understand the rhythm of his life, I think. His diaries make me feel that anything is possible and that the world is full of interesting and beautiful people. Plus, he was quite, quite handsome when he wrote these words. Beautiful men are like celebrities: you don’t have to know them to have opinions about them.

Pairs extremely well with fruity drinks, champagne and cigarillos (though I don’t recommend all three at the same time).

3. Howl and Other Poems

First published in 1956, there are now over 900,000 copies of Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” in print. Probably you’ve read this (maybe in high school English). But have you ever read it ragingly drunk? Have you “bared your brains to the heavens under the El”? Have you taken the poem downtown and read it while “angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo” park their bikes and pat their dogs around you?

For a poem that is over sixty years old, “Howl” still resonates deeply. The anger and the childlike naivete still touch me. And I hope that, at least once this summer, I get drunk enough to let loose a howl of my own. Sometimes you just gotta.

Pairs well with shots of anything.

2. All the King’s Men

all the king's men

When you buy this, be sure to pick out an old, beat-up copy. Don’t bring a shiny new edition of All the King’s Men to Barton Springs unless you’re willing to endure the quiet contempt of the louche, thin, hipster boys. Oooohh quelle domage. I couldn’t live.

I first read this masterpiece while working as a summer groundskeeper at a golf course in rural Arkansas. To this day, that is the worst job I’ve ever had. I’d get up at 4:00 AM five days a week and work in the summer sun for eight hours. I was surrounded by conservative men all day long. I had to take out my piercings. I accidentally knocked down part of the fence while refueling the tractor.

However, there were some definite silver linings. I got very tan and very muscular. I slept soundly each night and learned how to do some very butch things. And, since it was so hot, I spent my lunch hour every day reading All the King’s Men instead of eating. I can’t imagine a more appropriate book to read throughout a sweaty Arkansas summer than Robert Penn Warren’s masterful tale of the rise and fall of Willie Stark, a charismatic Louisiana politician who begins his career as a genuine representative of the people and ends it as a murderous and corrupt demagogue.

I’m not normally one for books about power, politics and corruption. I read the New York Times every week, okay? I get my fill. But this book is much more than that. It’s a love letter to the rural South, to Southern families and to the waved hot-weather mirages that spring up above concrete roads. The whole book is saturated with heat and grit and Southern perspective.

Pairs beautifully with an Old-Fashioned or some spiked sweet tea.

1. The Catcher in the Rye

I’m certain I’m not the only person who finds himself returning to The Catcher in the Rye once summer rolls around. Most of the book is set in winter, of course, but there’s something about the youthful madness and honesty of Holden Caulfield that makes me want to reread this classic while lying in the grass. And you know what? Every time I reread it, I feel something new or laugh at something I’d missed before or find myself laying the book down to inspect how I feel about Holden’s (often ridiculous) opinions.

I  didn’t like the novel when I read it as a teenager. But the older I get, the more that I find it rings true. The world we live in allows, even necessitates, a certain amount of “phoniness.” We all wear masks. We all disassemble from time to time. But when you’re sunning pleasantly buzzed somewhere, you don’t have to fake anything. Especially if you’re half-naked and alone for the moment, you can luxuriate in the fantasy that you are exactly the kind of person Holden would have liked: aware, honest and willing to let other people live unmolested around you.  The real challenge, of course, is bringing that certainty off the lawn and into your adult dealings.

Pairs well with: self-reflection.

By the way:
T5W (Top 5 Wednesday) is a weekly book meme created by gingerreadslainey and hosted by Sam @ThoughtsOnTomes. You find out more about T5W and the weekly topics on the Goodreads group here.

Top 5 ‘Books as Event Themes’


Book Love

Spreadsheets, and budgets, and color schemes, and costumes, and games, and tasty treats, and rearranging furniture, and perfect playlists, and PUNS galore:  I am a party planner.  More often than not I get overzealous about gathering my friends together because I need everything to be perfect.  Though I am accustomed to just ‘hanging out,’ I find the idea of having an event that is lackluster and un-themed heinous.  It’s practically a waste of time if some sort of dress code isn’t required (See:  Merry X-Messick Annual Ugly Sweater Party).  So, for me, I’ve been writing this blog post mentally for the last 10 years.  I am constantly thinking about the next party I’m gonna throw and crafting the perfect elements to bring the event together.  So, naturally, your preferred literary darlings are an obvious pairing for thematic parties. The only question is, which Picasso do you borrow from to complete your very own masterpiece?  Here are my top 5 Literary Event ideas that are on deck for the future. Continue reading

Podcast Episode 008: Westworld!

Westworld boy

“These androids aren’t real people!”

Have you been languishing in a television desert since the finale of Westworld? Have you been talking to toasters and seducing hand blenders while pining over Dolores and William’s tragic doomed love? Are you frankly not 100% certain what happened during the Season Finale?

Westworld is like Jurassic Park plus Blade Runner plus The Magnificent Seven plus soft core porn. Listen to our newest episode all about the HBO series and join us in throwing shade and reading each character to the floor. We let you in on all the rumors about Season 2 (premiering early in 2018) and fan theories about virtually every aspect of the show. We’re deeply guilty of not talking about Isaac Asimov or the Three Laws of Robotics, but the episode does include:


westworld maeve

  • an in-depth discussion of Episode 10, “The Bicameral Mind”
  • android anatomy
  • the path from Michael’s Crichton’s screenplay to book to movie to TV show
  • Westworld vs. Romanworld vs. Futureworld vs. Medievalworld vs. Samuraiworld?
  • Teddy/Cyclops
  • Why Hector and Armistice will grow up to be Death Eaters
  • The magnificent glory that is Maeve
  • Yul Brynner (and his bulge)
  • having sex with robots vs. killing robots
  • “Is that what you’re doing now? Practicing?” How humans are like robots
  • Reddit’s oracular power
  • why The Man in Black’s wife is afraid of him
  • Which One?
  • Second Opinions
  • and more!

Please let us know what you think:
on Facebook (
on Instagram (@bandbcast) (@Morgandalf)
via email (

And if you want to know more:
Discover Westworld and make a reservation today,
read Westworld, published in 1974,
watch Yul Brynner in the original Westworld movie that premiered in 1973,
sip a lavender cappuccino at Apanas Coffee and Beer, and
listen to Up and Vanished for your daily dose of true crime.

Thanks for listening bbs!!

Top 5 SFF Cover Art


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If I’m being honest, I have to admit that I judge books by their covers. I do. I also make split-second judgments about people and act decisively in emergencies. About 80% of the time, those gut decisions and first impressions are correct.

I think “don’t judge a book by its cover” should be “allow books to surprise you.” Same goes with people. Sometimes, it’s true, you can just tell. Maybe even usually. But works of art and people are both capable of containing surprising depth, even if on the surface they seem a shallow sea.

Anyway, this week’s TFW was easy to write (because there’s less writing involved, frankly), but my choices may be controversial. I like to think I have fantastic taste, you understand, but that taste does sometimes veer toward the spare and reserved. So, with one wonderfully tacky exception, most of my picks are somewhat conservative. What can I say? I’m a classic beauty. 😉

5. A Darker Shade of Magic

a darker shade of magic

I forgot I owned this book until a friend recently returned it to me at work. She took it out of her bag and passed it gently across the busy sales floor. It looks like something expensive that you would want to keep safe. The cover is seductive and sophisticated. It hums with danger and dark beauty and it made me immediately want to read A Darker Shade of Magic again. I especially love that the blurbs are incorporated into the style. I hate when a positive review is the main and only visual hook on a cover.

This might be an example of a book with more style than substance, though. The reason I want to reread it is because…I hardly remember my first read. A knife? A girl living in a bar? Doorways between worlds, for sure. A snooty king? Whatever. It’s beautiful.


4. Animorphs

Animorphs #8

Jake, Rachel, Marco, Cassie, Tobias and Ax use their amazing body morphing alien tech to transform themselves into animals and fight the disgusting, parasitic Yeerks who prepare to fully invade earth while piloting the bodies of parents, teachers and politicians.

I promise you I just recited all that from memory. Animorphs was my favorite book series in elementary school.

Do you remember, by the way, those Scholastic books fairs in the school library? I LOVED the book fair. We got out of class, first of all. Bonuses: the shiny, wheeled shelves, the light reflecting off the book covers, the dollars crumpled in my palm. The bookmark stand. The whole traveling shop had an air of newness and sparkle that made me wish I could buy books by the stack.

As an adult, I semi-annually walk into a bookstore and lose my mind. I wonder if those traveling book fairs have something to do with that? They shaped me as a consumer and as a reader.

Animorphs was my favorite series to buy there. They always had the newest books in the series (there are 54 total, with 10 companion books) and they were always under $10. I could never keep the individual titles straight (The Other, The Hidden, and The Unexpected are all real titles in the series) but I never had trouble identifying new books because the covers are so striking and distinctive. I mean, c’mon:

I was mesmerized by these as a child. Though often mildly horrifying due to obscene distortions of the human face and body, these covers are also stunning and enticing (to say nothing of the flipbook animation on the pages). Sadly, I tried to reread my collection recently and found that I’ve thoroughly aged out of the series. But I got to pass them on to my nieces!


3. The Lord of the Rings

This is a legitimate tie for me. My mom owned the series pictured above and I think the sere, detailed images capture the tone of Lord of the Rings perfectly. Though they’re admittedly not very colorful, the pen-work is beautiful. Plus, each title is different enough to match the contents of the book but similar enough to make sense together.

All that being said, the original editions above are stunning and modern enough to fit in and stand out (both) on a bookstore’s shelves today. I’m especially obsessed with the cover for The Two Towers. Hm. Similar color scheme to A Darker Shade of Magic, huh? I guess I have a type.

2. Incarnations of Immortality

Look, not all of the titles in this series are beautiful. In fact, near the end they’re downright ugly. But the first two in this (really fantastic) series are innovative and beautiful. They capture perfectly the tones of their respective books (the protagonist assumes the mantle of Death in the first and the mantle of Time in the second).

On a Pale Horse was my favorite book in eighth grade and the cover is burned into my brain. I probably read this book nine or ten times before loaning it out to a friend. Sadly, it was never returned and I’ve never come across it in a used bookstore (when I had money to buy it, that is). I think there’s probably a life lesson in their somewhere, but I don’t know what it is.


1. Chronicles of Narnia Box Set

Damn, I love a jewel tone. Give it to me wet, darling, and glistening. Deep. I’m bummed I couldn’t find a professional photo of this box set online. These lil dinky snapshots don’t really do it justice.

But anyway, this is the set I own. When I was little, my aunt had one and, even before I could read I would stare entranced at the bold designs and vivid colors on the box and covers. I remember wanting to learn to read so that I could discover all the secrets the pictures seemed to hint at.

Why is that woman snatching that girl’s wig?
Why is that man attacking his furniture?
What is that lion doing in the sky?

Now I’m thirty years old and can answer all of these questions. Somebody throw me a party.



By the way:

T5W (Top 5 Wednesday) is a weekly book meme created by gingerreadslainey and hosted by Sam @ThoughtsOnTomes. You find out more about T5W and the weekly topics on the Goodreads group here.

Top 5 Authors I want to read more from:


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When approaching this topic I had two perspectives in mind;

  1. What authors do I enjoy who have a whole swath of work I need to get to?
  2. What authors NEED to write more books I can throw my money at?

Either way, I have the same outcome:  I need to invent a time loop so I can relive Saturday mornings over and over again, so as to maximize my book intake ratio to my ‘having to be an adult and go to work’ ratio.  I know, I know- it’s a complicated platform supported by algorithms that don’t yet exist, buttttt if someone could invent that right-about-now, that would be great.

Another caveat to my reading more books by authors that I love is my desire to diversify.  It’s always good practice to try out new authors, and maybe find some new genres you didn’t know you loved.  Though, I’ll be the first to admit this is not my strong suit- I often choose something comfortable and familiar over trying out a new thing (Hmm.  This book about Magic and Adventure, or that Biography….?????!!!! Duh. Magic.)-though I should try to be a bit better about it.  But, as my grandfather always said “Want in one hand and shit in the other, see which one fills up faster.”

So, nevertheless, my top 5 list is going to be a big pile of the same ole amazingness that I’m addicted to.  Here are my (current) top 5 Authors I need to read more of:

5. David Sedaris 

Best known for his witty commentary on the highs and lows of life, David Sedaris is a treasure not to be missed.  His eccentric family life, affinity for story telling, and (often) dry humor can induce bright eyes and smiles in any Scrooge.  While he is well known for writing- he can also be heard on This American life, where he often contributes.  His dry humor and delivery bring joy to the most ridiculous of situations-I recommend always listening to ‘This American Life’, but especially when Mr. Sedaris is contributing.

As for his writing, I often find that his books make for good travel companions; his writing flow makes it such that you can read it on the go, stop, and pick it up again whenever.  Though I have read a few,  I have a long way to go.  He has written 9 books, and has contributed to other works ready to be consumed.  So, for the foreseeable future, I’m going to load up on Comedy, and tote a smile along with my suitcase.


David Sedaris

4. Bill Bryson

For those of you who have Wanderlust and are not familiar with Bill Bryson’s work, I recommend you stop what you’re doing right now and go buy one of his books immediately.  He is a prolific Travel-Adventure author, who also knows a thing or two about history and science (see:  A Short History of Nearly Everything).  Much like David Sedaris his prose has pronounced witticism, and a flare for self deprecating humor.  I have only read two of his books- A Walk in the Woods A Short History of Nearly Everything – but from what I have seen, I’m all in.  Almost all of his books are set on the road, dredging up my deepest desires to visit new places, every five minutes.  He writes honestly and openly about his experiences, the people he meets, and his failed expectations.  I am particularly excited to read some of his books covering England and his experiences there, as he called it home for many years.  His Ex-Pat perspective will no doubt leave us in stitches, aching for an adventure of our own.  I look forward to reading his whole collection (he has published over 20 books!), and stealing inspiration to write my own ridiculous tales of life abroad, and all around.




3. Barbara Kingsolver

I first found Barbara Kingsolver in high school.  Everyone was reading ‘The Poisonwood Bible’ (perhaps it was assigned?  I don’t remember…) so I hopped on board.  It was elegant, hard to read, engrossing, sad and different from so many other things I had read before.  I loved it; I loved her voice.  It is one of the sole reasons I decided to study Anthropology in College; I found the whole concept of immersing yourself in Culture fascinating.  Though I didn’t grow up to live among a tribe in Africa, I have continued my study on culture through reading and engaging experiences.  So many of her works are a study on humanity, in one sense or another.  She focuses largely on Arizona and Appalachia (as she has called both those places home), and she offers up beautiful characters and captivating stories.  She also has several non-fiction works, which are delicate and informative.  In ‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle‘ she gives all free spirits the notion that one can seek sustenance from the land, exist in harmony with family, and still live a cultured life. She certainly had me throwing away clothes, reading by candle light, and buying yeast to make my own bread.  I find her works very moving; there is always so much heart behind the story, making it all too easy to get lost in the journey.

She has written 14 books (a mix of fiction and nonfiction) and I need to read them all!  To be honest, I usually wait until I see one I haven’t read at a thrift store and pick it up, so maybe I’ll keep on the path.  Looking forward to my next find, and diving deep into the heart of humanity.



2. Lev Grossman

Lover’s of ‘Beauty and the Bitch’ know that we love Lev Grossman.  I think ‘The Magicians’ trilogy is going to be a part of Fantasy Pop-Culture for decades to come.  It’s a beautiful story centered on broken, relatable characters.  Their lives are tragically not fixed by the one thing they thought would make it better:  Magic is real.  Lev Grossman weaves his story with love, fear, sacrifice and homage.  He blends themes and ideas we know and love from well known Fantasy tales (The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings), but does so in a way that he honors them, borrows from them, and spring boards into an original story.

He has a few other writing credits to his name, but has spent his primary existence as a writer working as a journalist- most recently with Time Magazine.  He has an impressive career, and I am very excited to see where it goes next.  He has the unfortunate duty to follow up a popular fantasy series:  where will he go next?  My hopes are that he has some other crafted Magical tales to tell, but I’d be happy with a book of essays or something of the like.  Whatever he does, you can be sure the eyes of the world will be on him.  He has a whole new set of fans thanks to ‘The Magicians’, the adapted TV show on the SyFy network.  We’ll all wait with baited breathe until he publishes again- but in the mean time, BRB while I binge watch some Magicians and dream of Magic.



1. JK Rowling

So, unless you’ve been living under a rock for 20 years- you know a little about Jo Rowling.  (listen to our upcoming HP Episodes and learn WAY more than you wanted to know!)  She is the Mother of Modern fantasy for so many people; she brought magic to a whole generation of kids who grew up to voraciously consume other Fantasy as a direct result of her influence (It’s me!  It’s me!).  ‘Harry Potter’ is the best selling book series of all time, and will live on the become classics, influencing generations of children to come.

So.  To say the least, it must be pretty intimidating to follow up on it’s massive success.  She has since written one book under her real name-‘The Casual Vacancy‘ (Which every super fan has probably read [kinda good, a little boring, a little shocking, a little sad, very British])- and she has written a mystery series under her Pen Name Robert Galbraith – the ‘Cormoran Strike Series‘.  I personally love this series so far, though it can be shocking at times (think body parts in boxes, arriving through the post).  It chronicles a disabled Veteran turned PI who has become very broken.  He lives on the edge of poverty, is famous adjacent, and also works alongside a beautiful broken woman- who helps keep it all together when he’s not looking.  Needless to say, I am all caught up on EVERYTHING and I need more.  I know patience is a virtue, but I live everyday in a daze hoping she pulls a Beyonce and drops a novel on us (SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY).  Looking forward to more Mystery books, and anything and everything she wants to send our way.  Hoping she steps back into the fantasy realm – or maybe even a post-Potter Wizarding World book- but I can probably keep holding my breath.



So. Forever waiting for the next best Book,


By the way:

T5W (Top 5 Wednesday) is a weekly book meme created by gingerreadslainey and hosted by Sam @ThoughtsOnTomes. You find out more about T5W and the weekly topics on the Goodreads group here.


Top 5 Favorite Queer Reads


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You might think that this list, like the one I published last week on books that would make good video games, would be easy to write. After all, I’m deeply gay myself (SURPRISE!) and hungrily consume queer literature at every opportunity. But this, actually, was quite difficult for me.

I’ve decided to limit this Top 5 to works that feature an explicitly queer protagonist. This decision cuts out many books and plays that read as queer to me when I was a teenager (including Waiting for Godot and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, two of my favorite plays). One of the great joys of being queer is the ability to find a pearl of the gay experience in otherwise heteronormative works. Seeing ourselves in a fabulous heiress, bickering same-sex roommates or the agonized narrative of the shunned outsider is a superpower that many queer people possess. But I don’t know if that necessarily makes the work queer. That just makes us queer, I think! 😀

I’ve also agonized quite a bit over the fact that all of the works I’ve chosen are by and mostly about queer white men. Look, I know I’m supposed to love James Baldwin’s work, but I just can’t get into Giovanni’s Room. I’ve read it twice but I wouldn’t call it a favorite. I’m also very aware that there are no queer lady narratives here. Rubyfruit Jungle is on my TBR list, as is Stone Butch Blues. To my shame, I keep buying trashy fantasy instead of these two queer classics. 

Well, enough excuses! As a gay white man, I guess it’s not shocking that I primarily search for narratives that speak to my personal experience. And let me be clear: as a gay boy growing up in Arkansas, reads that affirmed my existence were extremely difficult to find. Each was a lifeline to me and I’m proud to list them. Perhaps consider all of the above works Honorable Mentions. This, by the way, is a TFW – see bottom of the post for more information!

5. How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship and Musical Theater

Marc Acito is my Facebook friend and, when I was a freshman in college, he responded very sweetly to a fangirling message that I sent him. It meant a lot to me – it was the first time that I had corresponded with a gay author.

First of all, this book is funny. Deeply, truly hilarious. It’s like David Sedaris plus Catcher in the Rye set in New Jersey in the mid-80’s. The protagonist, Edward Zanni, is a fabulous and talented seventeen-year-old with penchants for mischief and belting into song. He’s talented and good-looking, but his father, early in the book, remarries and decides that he won’t pay for Edward to go to Julliard and study theatre. What follows is a string of attempts throughout his senior year to finagle his way into the college of his dreams.

Edward’s best friend, Paula, is fabulous and catty, and his crush, horse-hung former athlete Doug (who has decided we wants to be a Play Person, aka a theatre kid) is drawn realistically enough to inflame all the passions I had for a similar boy in my high school. Edward’s sexuality is mercurial and evolves throughout the narrative (you could make an argument that he’s bisexual, but he’s definitely queer). The rest of his friends (gorgeous Kelly, cosmopolitan Ziba, nerdy Natie) initially seem like simple stereotypes, but by the end of the book they are textured and complicated people.

This novel means a lot to me because I saw so very much of myself and my friends in it. It is a slice of queer life seen through the eyes of a very funny, deeply complicated narrator.

4. Magic’s Pawn

Anyone who reads fantasy knows that queer characters are, sadly, pretty rare in this genre. There are none in Lord of the Rings. None in Harry Potter (except Dumbledore, off the page). None in…well, the vast majority of fantasy books written in the last fifty years. Mercedes Lackey published this book (the first of a trilogy called Valdemar: The Last Herald-Mage) in 1989 and I can’t give her enough credit for sensitively portraying a kind of character that many fantasy authors, even today, shy away from.

Not only are there gay characters in this series, but the protagonist is one of them. And the story of his tragic, aching romance (tragic because of magic, not because of his queerness) is one that stuck with me for years. I mean really, who doesn’t want to read a book about gay boys, teen angst and stunning blue-eyed telepathic horses? It’s a queer teen’s dream come true.

On the downside, the melodrama in this book is pronounced (and sometimes trying) and the writing is not some of the absolute best that Lackey has produced. But as a young gay man, it meant more to me than I can say to read a trilogy that doesn’t ignore that fact that boys like me (effeminate, bad at sports, awkward, bitchy) exist. If I ever have a queer nephew or niece, I will definitely be gifting this series to them.

3. A Boy’s Own Story

Look, Edmund White is a national treasure. I mean it. His books are classics in gay literature and if homophobia wasn’t so alive and well, even in literary circles, these books would be classics, period. A Boy’s Own Story is the first of a three-part autobiographical trilogy that White wrote over fifteen years. All three are brilliant, searching narratives that blend engrossing detail and delicate poetry.

But this one, the first, is my favorite. White’s depiction of his father, a man he both loves and fears, is heartbreaking and honest. And the story of the protagonist’s flight from his cruel peers into the worlds of literature and art is one that rings true to most queer people (well, most outcasts, in general). What I love best, though, is White’s examination of shame and guilt in its many nefarious contexts. Most (all?) queer people deal with deep societal shame on a daily basis. It’s a hard thing to explain to someone who isn’t queer. But if they don’t get it after reading this book, they never will.

2. The Swimming Pool Library

My god, I love this book. I think a fell a little in love with Alan Hollinghurst while reading it. The Swimming Pool Library, published in 1988, tells the story of an unlikely friendship between two gay men. One is 25 and the other is over 80. They meet in a public lavatory in 1983 while both are looking for sex. When William saves Lord Nantwich’s life after the octogenarian collapses from cardiac arrest, an unlikely friendship develops.

This book is important to me because it tells stories about gay life before the HIV epidemic. Please don’t get me wrong. Those stories are important. They are powerful. In fact, my next pick is partially about them. But reading about queer men and women before AIDS ravaged our community is akin to returning to childhood innocence. This book is a banquet of beauty, sex and sophistication. I return to it anytime I’m feeling down and I recommend it to anyone who needs a mega-dose of chic underground gay fabulousness.

  1. Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes

This pick might be a little bit of a cheat. But the topic is “Top 5 Reads…” and you can read a play. 🙂 I first read Tony Kushner’s masterpiece over the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. I was blown away by the sophisticated blend of diverse characters, including a gay Mormon and his (ex-)wife, a brilliant black drag queen and an estranged gay couple, one of which has HIV. Plus, you know, a series of angels. And, um, the notorious gay homophobe Roy Cohn. Obviously.

I could talk more about the sophisticated pacing of the dialogue or Kushner’s ability to bounce readers between tears of laughter and tears of grief or the brilliant inclusion of magic and religion, but I think it’s probably just best to let one of Kushner’s characters do the work for me. Belize is the black drag queen I mentioned earlier. He also happens to be a nurse, a wonderful friend, a radical and my favorite character. Louis is, well, a neurotic asshole who abandoned his boyfriend once he realized that his partner had AIDS.


‘Real love isn’t ambivalent.’ I’d swear that’s a line from my favorite bestselling paperback novel, In Love with the Night Mysterious, except I don’t think you ever read it.



I never read it, no.


You ought to. Instead of spending the rest of your life trying to get through Democracy in America. It’s about this white woman whose Daddy owns a plantation in the Deep South in the years before the Civil War–the American one–and her name is Margaret, and she’s in love with her Daddy’s number-one slave, and his name is Thaddeus, and she’s married but her white slave-owner husband had AIDS: Antebellum Insufficiently Developed Sexorgans. And there’s a lot of hot stuff going down when Margaret and Thaddeus can catch a spare torrid ten under the cotton-picking moon, and then of course the Yankees come, and they set the slaves free, and the slaves string up old Daddy, and so on. Historical fiction. Somewhere in there I recall Margaret and Thaddeus find the time to discuss the nature of love; her face is reflecting the flames of the burning plantation–you know, the way white people do–and his black face is dark in the night and she says to him, ‘Thaddeus, real love isn’t ever ambivalent.’

This bit is just the very tip of the iceberg, but I think it captures some  of the beauty and wit that infuses every second of Kushner’s play. If, perhaps, you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by your TBR list, you might check out the HBO miniseries, instead. It’s brilliantly performed (by the likes of Al Pacino, Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson, no less) and captures the magic of the original incarnation.


By the way:
T5W (Top 5 Wednesday) is a weekly book meme created by gingerreadslainey and hosted by Sam @ThoughtsOnTomes. You find out more about T5W and the weekly topics on the Goodreads group here.

Top 5 Books that Would Make Good Video Games


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Ahhh: all of those hours I’ve wasted staring open-mouthed at my TV screen and frantically mashing buttons are finally paying off! This list of books practically wrote itself. In fact, I am shocked that none of these books have been adapted into video games. In a world with games like SkyrimWitcher and Fallout, the sky really is the limit. And the introduction of interactive mobile games redefines what a simple algorithm can achieve. The future is now. Let’s play it!


5. Hyperion

Hyperion is a mind-bending and Hugo award-winning science fiction novel published in 1989 by Dan Simmons. It’s the first of the Hyperion Cantos series and, honestly, it’s so complex a masterwork that it is very difficult to summarize (especially without spoilers). Let’s just say this: there are seven pilgrims traveling to the world of Hyperion on the eve of the destruction of the known universe. Like Canterbury Tales, each pilgrim is given a chapter in which to relate his or her story and motivation for the pilgrimage. Each main character has a unique history, set of abilities and secret. Each fears the Shrike, the horrible god(?) covered in thorns who adorns the cover (read: an epic, epic final boss battle).

There are many reasons why this book would make a good video game. First, there are seven very different main characters to choose from, including a colonel with all the latest body armor and weapons, a hard-bitten female private detective and an immortal Catholic priest. A video game based on the book might allow the player to choose their character or switch protagonists between chapters, but I think I would most enjoy a tactical turn-based RPG that allows the player to control each of the main characters in the party. Even while reading this book for the first time, I was struck by the obvious tank, cleric and spy in the narrative.

But the main reasons I would want to play this game are the hauntingly beautiful worlds that each character inhabits and must travel through in order to reach the final stage of their journey. With today’s technology, the sea of grass featured on the cover, in which giant monsters prowl and chitter, would be stunning and horrifying. The various worlds of the protagonists could be huge, widely varied, full of sidequests and enthralling.

For the record, the SyFy channel is currently in the process of producing a miniseries based on Hyperion and its sequel, Return to Hyperion, but a huge, open-world video game would, in my opinion, be even better.

foundation trilogy

4. The Foundation Trilogy

This trilogy by Isaac Asimov is a classic of the science fiction genre (there are also sequels and prequels, but I haven’t read those, so I can’t speak to them). Epic in scale and heroic in imagination, these books chart hundreds of thousands of years of human civilization, leaping gracefully over decades and millennia to tell the story of Hari Seldon and the branch of mathematics that he created (psychohistory). By applying mathematics to the cosmos, Seldon finds that he can predict the future, though only on the largest of scales. He foresees the unavoidable fall of the Galactic Empire and a resulting 30,000 year dark age in which human beings all over the Milky Way suffer horribly and all our progress is undone. But he also foresees a way to minimize that dark age to just 1000 years. He creates The Foundation (a collection of artists and scientists) to preserve human history and knowledge. There’s a lot more to it, of course, but I don’t want to spoil any of the twists and turns (of which there are many).

I think that this series would make great inspiration material for an educational game (a la The Oregon Trail) that teaches math to middle school or early high school students. The themes of the work are complex (societal evolution and adaptation, historical hypothesis, individualism) and the plot is innovative enough to keep students interested. The game could function by doling out juicy plot twists only when students have successfully shown mastery of successive mathematical theorems and skills.

Hm. Maybe if this game had existed when I was younger I would not be so horribly, embarrassingly bad at math today.

Lies of Locke Lamora

3. The Lies of Locke Lamora

This series (The Gentlemen Bastards), of which three are currently available, is planned to be seven novels long before it’s finished. Scott Lynch is also planning a sequel series of another seven books. So: flavors of Edding’s Belgariad/Malorean series and Jordan’s Wheel of Time. Fantasy on the epic scale.

It’s strange, though, that Lies of Locke Lamora didn’t feel like the beginning of a series when I read it. It felt intimate. The story of Locke, an orphan turned master(?) thief in the island city of Camorr, is rich with personal detail but relatively limited in scope of characters and influence. That net is widened in books two and three, but there’s no large company of characters yet and Locke is still by far the most realized and fleshed-out character in the series. But the writing is witty and Locke is a seductive, interesting protagonist who fails almost as often as he succeeds (no Mary Sues here!).

Anyway, this would make a great Civilization-esque exploration game for mobile with lots of sea warfare and violence as well as a good dose of sex and plenty of snooty nobles. Would make my morning commute and search for booty (!) significantly more fun.


2. 1984

I’m think most people read this in high school, if not more recently. The story of Winston Smith, a sad and downtrodden man hiding from his totalitarian government and attempting to find love and freedom in a world in which those concepts (and even the words) are being aggressively snuffed feels just as prescient today as it did when George Orwell first published the novel in 1949.

However, this classic could be given new and horrifying life by adapting the main ideas into an interactive mobile game in the same family as Pokemon Go (I would call it Big Brother). The player is a rebel who must reach certain landmarks in his or her city in order to catalog (photograph) them before the government destroys them. Along the way, he or she must avoid TVs, computers and traffic cams (telescreens through which Big Brother watches you), any government buildings (renamed Ministries of Peace, Love, Plenty and Truth) and randomly chosen other players who are suspected of being Thought Police. If you get too close to any of these obstacles, the game declares you caught and brainwashed and the landmark is “destroyed”.

In addition to the basic game mechanics, Big Brother might include literary and trivia mini-games, real-time news updates translated into Newspeak and a chat function so you can meet up with other rebels. It’s actually pretty horrifying how easily our world, with just a few cosmetic changes through our phones, overlaps with the dystopia in 1984. 

house of leaves
1. House of Leaves

They should make this game in five or six years, once virtual reality has improved. I cannot imagine a more horrifying book in be inside of. In fact, I’m now so deeply upset by my own idea that I am going to quickly publish this blog and then go take a bath and attempt to wash away some of my fear sweat. For more info on why I think House of Leaves would make such a terrifying virtual reality game, please check out the blog I published on 4/1/17 (“Top 5 Future Classics in Literature“).

Did I miss one or two or twenty books that would make fantastic video games? Which of these would you most like to play? Please don’t hesitate to comment below and let me know!



By the way:
T5W (Top 5 Wednesday) is a weekly book meme created by gingerreadslainey and hosted by Sam @ThoughtsOnTomes. You find out more about T5W and the weekly topics on the Goodreads group here

Top 5 Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books I Want to Read


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I have a confession to make: I have been spending all my time watching video game playthroughs and now I have multiple stacks of books to read. By multiple I mean like five or six. Large stacks. But I made an ambitious reading list for the next few months, so hopefully I’ll go from poser to a genius in that time. Here are five fantasy or science fiction books that I can’t wait to dive into. This is a T5W – more information at the bottom of the post!


5. Dhalgren
I started this book about two years ago but was interrupted halfway through by a move. Honestly, I wasn’t disappointed to take a break. I’ve heard it called the best science fiction book every written, but Dhalgren is also a weird, Joycean ride through a hellish cityscape on the back of a schizophrenic wanderer. It is very violent and very dark. Also often confusing. But there are gay characters (the protagonist himself is bisexual) and the darkly poetic language, though unsettling, is also hypnotic. Samuel R Delany successfully creates a strange magical world in which anything seems possible. I’m excited to finish this up ASAP.


Two years...

4. Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights

I bought this book a few months ago as my introduction to Salman Rushdie’s work. I know his name, of course, but haven’t read Midnight’s Children or The Satanic Verses. Maybe I should have just started with those but Two Years… is described as a blend of “history, mythology and a timeless love story” on the front leaf. Funny, that’s often how I describe myself.

Two Years… is about the various descendants of Dunia, a princess of the jinn (genies, which live in a world that coexists with our own) and her mortal lover. Strikes me as Heroes plus Fable (one of the characters is a graphic novelist) and it’s less than 300 pages long. Hopefully I’ll enjoy it and have a new favorite author soon!


A discovery of witches

3. A Discovery of Witches

Okay. I have to admit to you that I was initially interested in this book because the author shares a last name with Agatha Harkness, my favorite Fantastic Four hero (she’s a witch who tutored Franklin Richards and The Scarlet Witch). I mean, check out those eyebrows. How could I not love her?

Agatha Harkness

And A Discovery of Witches is, in fact, about a witch (just not Agatha). This is the first book in the All Souls Trilogy, but all of them are out already. This is important because what I’ve read of the first book makes me think this is a very bingeable series. It follows the story of Diana Bishop, an alchemical history professor and talented witch who accidentally calls for a very powerful book from the library stacks at Oxford. I haven’t gotten to the part that explains why only she could call this magical tome, but I assume that will be addressed at some point.

The world that Harkness has created is interesting because it is heavily peopled with witches, vampires and daemons (think genius-level, slightly mad creatives). And I do mean heavily. Diana feels pins and needles when other magical creatures look at her and at one point she practically has a panic attack in the library because there are so many magical creatures staring at her. That seems to be a little out of the ordinary in this world  (it all has something to do with the book she called, I think), but I’m intrigued by the idea of a world that is both the one we live in and a deeply magical one. Mythical beings would have to be very, very good at keeping secrets for that to be true, though. Anyway, this is another good summer read. I just hope it doesn’t get too Twilight-y.


authority     acceptance

2. Authority


1. Acceptance

These are the second and third books in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy. I bought the first book, Annihilation, on a whim in BookPeople and was astonished by its creativity, eeriness and deft plotting. It was a hurtlingly quick read, often horrible and scary but blooming with unexpected moments of stark beauty.

This series feels like a blend of Cthulhu mythos, Brave New World and House of Leaves. In Annihilation, a team of four women (a biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist and a surveyor) from the not-too-distant future journey into Area X, a dangerous and abandoned parcel of land that has been reclaimed by nature. Almost immediately they find an “underground tower” that’s not on the map and their team, which has been carefully constructed by the government, begins to implode. The story is told through the biologist’s field journal, but she an extremely unreliable narrator. As the story progresses, the chaos increases. We’re left wondering if this is a journal chronicling supernatural forces or one charting a descent into madness. Seriously good writing. Lots of poetry and genuine chills. I’ll be buying these two for the beach this summer.

What do you think? Have you read any of these? Please comment below or on Facebook and let me know about your upcoming fantasy and science fiction reads!



By the way:
T5W (Top 5 Wednesday) is a weekly book meme created by gingerreadslainey and hosted by Sam @ThoughtsOnTomes. You find out more about T5W and the weekly topics on the Goodreads group here

Top 5 Future Classics in Literature


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The world of tomorrow is here.
This is a T5W. More information below.
It’s late.

Top 5 works of literature that will be considered “classics” in 50 years.
Obviously skewed by my interests.
They’re what you might call legendary children.

Just give them time.



5. The Wheel of Time 

This series spans 14 books and a prequel novel. Publication began with the Eye of the World in January 1990 and concluded with A Memory of Light, published January 2013. Over almost 23 years, 4.5 million words paint epic fantasy on a massive scale. The story of tragic Rand Al’Thor, The Dragon Reborn, and the machinations of the continent (!) around him is an intricate tapestry. There are many richly characterized women, some of who may be queer (depends on how you define a “pillow friend”).  All three protagonists are straight white men and there’s only one afterthought of a gay male character, but Jordan’s writing is otherwise sensitive and inquisitive. After the author’s death in September of 2007, the last three books were finished by Brandon Sanderson, who breathed new life into the works and finished The Wheel of Time according to Jordan’s copious notes.

This series is incredible and especially notable for its sheer bulk and scope. Reading them all is the fantasy version of reading War and Peace. Yes, it’s good. But it’s also a challenge and a test.

“Are you a real fantasy fan? Have you finished The Wheel of Time?”

It’ll be that kind of classic.


house of leaves

4. House of Leaves

People whisper about it at parties. Stutter over espressos about it. Their knuckles tremble and flex about it. It’s a work within a work within a work; House of Leaves. It’s about a family and about a hermit and about a drug addict who’s also a man and about a stripper named Bunny. Supposedly. It’s about a house that moves and grows, elongates madly down the space between atoms, becomes a labyrinth that should not be, a thing that is and can’t be but is still cold, cold. And it seems like there’s something in it.

House of Leaves is already a cult classic. Danielewski’s innovative use of typography and the tools of writing (footnotes, appendices, spacing, text size) to further the theme of the plot leads to a unique, intoxicating experience. You have to bend the book to read it. You have to search long pages of technical writing to find one asterisk that relates to a footnote that explains how she felt about him. But the main text you’re skimming is also connected to how she feels, maybe triangulated between a scientific theory and a scientific analogy. That sort of thing. It’s a powerful, affecting read.

As in: I was afraid, genuinely afraid, of the dark for two months while I read this book. I was afraid of the dark as a kid, but that’s because I was afraid there was some thing (a monster, a shark, my older brother) in it. When I read House of Leaves, I was 21. And I became afraid of the dark because of the very fact of its darkness. I became afraid that the two feet of carpet at the bottom of the stairs had actually disappeared and, instead of traveling on toward my bedroom, I would fall and fall forever. I would be swallowed up by the dark.

House of Leaves is number four because it will remain a cult classic with the weirdos and the horror freaks and the cool kids, the hipsters and the mad.


the magicians

3. The Magician’s Trilogy

Okay, I love this series. The characters still feel alive to me and I finished the last book years ago. But I should admit that this series included as a minor classic, important critically but perhaps not popularly. The Magicians is an important novel because it marks the taking back by an adult audience of childhood heroes. The Magicians is to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as The Batman movies (or even Deadpool) are to the Batman cartoons. They prove that fantasy and superhero stories are popular with adult audiences and that we’ll pay to see them, even if the kids can’t come. After all, about fifty years of us have been raised on them. These characters don’t have to be scrubbed quite so clean any longer. We’re too old to fully believe that.  They need to be chaotic, realistic, irreverent, violent. Adult heroes.

The TV version is doing well, by the way. Season two is good but it’s no Game of Thrones. And now the show has moved completely away from the plot of the books, which may be a good or a bad thing. 50 years from now, The Magicians could well be read by graduate level literature classes as indicative of a cultural current, a blip on the American zeitgeist. For more info on this series, listen to Episode 1 of Beauty and the Bitch!


name of the wind

2. The Name of the Wind

Please do yourself a favor by reading this book immediately. It’s incredible. Neil Gaiman has talked about how The Lord of the Rings begat the whole genre of fantasy. Before Tolkien published his masterwork, books that contained magic were just that – books with magic. It was only after his trilogy became a phenomenon that fantasy became a genre. Which was all well and good, until fantasy became enmeshed in the public eye with pulp novels, published frequently and with little regard for innovation and quality.

The Name of the Wind is a standout book because it’s not fantasy. It’s a novel with magic in it. And poetry, too. Well of course it’s technically fantasy. But I’m saying that it would be at home next to other coming-of-age classics like  Rabbit, RunCatcher in the Rye or David Edding’s The Belgariad. Patrick Rothfuss has an eye for detail and realism that makes even the most outlandish location or character come to life and feel real. There are deep currents and still waters, both.

Assuming that the third book…is published…eventually, and is well received, I believe The Kingkiller Chronicles will become classic fantasy, read in progression after Lord of the Rings and The Belgariad. They are the continuation by Rothfuss down a path toward completely humanizing heroes, showing their scabs and therefore peopling his scenes with emotionally accurate and heart-wrenching action.


east of eden

1. East of Eden

This last one (in fact, my #1), is a surprise, I know. For one thing, East of Eden is already a classic. About 50,000 copies are sold each year. For another thing, you probably thought, based on the picks above, that I was going to limit myself to fantasy. Well. I don’t just read fantasy. I read books with magic. And East of Eden has magic, but in the vein of Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides: ancestral magic and forces hidden underneath the surface. Biblical allusions and families out of myth interweave to add a similar magic/cursed glow to the Salinas Valley.

But I’m not here about East of Eden’s classic status. That’s a given. What I’m arguing is that East of Eden should be read more often and be more well-known than any other Steinbeck work. But because, I’m sure, of worries about dark sexuality and the whole demonic murderess that is Cathy Ames, I never even heard about East of Eden in school. Grapes of Wrath? Obviously. I think we read that in sixth or seventh grade. And watched the movie, too. Of Mice and Men I read twice, once in ninth grade English and once in eleventh grade drama.

Both of those are good. Great. Powerful. But East of Eden is Steinbeck’s magnum opus. It’s much longer than Grapes of Wrath but a quicker read. And it’s more than deep enough to power sustained discussion. Of course, it’s not specifically about an important historical event like Grapes of Wrath. And it’s not teeny and readable like Of Mice and Men. But it would be amazing summer reading between eleventh and twelfth grades. Or immediately before college.

And once you read the book, it’s time for the movie. It’s time for Jaaaames Deaaaaan. Did you say legendary? Did you say important? Did you say jawline of a generation?

I think we should trust young people more. Expect more of them. They’re capable of reading Steinbeck’s best work. It’s not fair to keep them in the waiting room with his shorter and earlier works until they graduate.



By the way:
T5W (Top 5 Wednesday) is a weekly book meme created by gingerreadslainey and hosted by Sam @ThoughtsOnTomes. You find out more about T5W and the weekly topics on the Goodreads group here.