The Birth of a Gay Book Club

Maurice  The gay district of Seattle, once clustered on Capitol Hill, is disintegrating. Broadway, the colorful centerpiece street, has been swallowed up by supermarkets. The Gay Pride parade has been diverted from its historic street and transplanted into Seattle Center. Rents have skyrocketed. Bars and gay social services have had to close their doors to make way for condos.

Among the endangered is Dunshee House, the oldest Seattle HIV/AIDS support group, founded in 1986, now barely afloat financially. It’s a grand old house with a round front porch and white columns, its living rooms and bedrooms converted into meeting rooms and offices. Every day of the week support groups gather there. Thanks to pharmaceutical advances, the bequests from AIDS deaths that formerly funded social services like Dunshee House have dwindled to nothing. Dunshee House’s big annual Christmas tree sale tries in vain to fund the entire year. Following the trend of other HIV services, Dunshee House has branched into support groups for those wrestling with substance abuse to qualify for government grants. Which is some help, but not enough. Every year the doors nearly close forever.

Dunshee House is seeking new ideas. I offered one. What about a community-oriented reading group for the gay classics? Once a month Dunshee House could open its doors to discuss one of the gay masterpieces that define us. Isn’t there money out there somewhere for literacy and community education?

Maurice 2  I got the idea from the Dalai Lama. In his recent visit to Seattle I found myself baffled as to why he was making such an effort to reach out to children. Then I got it. If you have any kind of spiritual legacy to leave behind, you leave it with the young. Well, at my age, the young are everyone else. What do I have to leave? My passionate love and respect for good books. Does my crumbling gay community here in Seattle know about the literary heritage that unites us? Maybe not. Maybe that’s my gift to them, the very best books ever written about people like us. Maybe the way to keep social services alive for HIV is to invite the rest of the gay community into discovering and celebrating our common literary tradition.

I’ll need help. At the University Book Store, the head buyer in Used Books is a short, witty, amply-sized autodidact with a Santa-sized beard and Google-sized recall of literary history named Brad Craft. Brad is able on demand to provide instant thumbnail sketches of all major and minor literary figures, with colorful opinions included. He enthusiastically signed on as my historical background expert for each of the titles we discuss.

Which brings us to the most important decision of all: which titles?

Death in Venice  Easily found online is the famous Triangle list of the 100 best gay and lesbian books. Some of titles included are hilarious (Little Women!) but most of the important gay masterpieces are there. I decided not to go back to those wonderful early dialogues of Plato or the fragmentary delights of the Satyricon. Due to sheer size, I regretfully omit Marcel Proust and Armistead Maupin. I haven’t quite got it down to the top twelve yet, but I managed to choose a top fifteen. Brad was an enormous help, but I take full blame for this first list, the best fifteen reading experiences I can offer to the gay community:

1. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann

2. Maurice by E. M. Forster

3. Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet

4. Orlando by Virginia Woolf

5. Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown

6. Becoming a Man by Paul Monette

7. A Boy’s Own Story by Edmund White

8. If It Die by Andre Gide

9. Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

10. Young Torless by Robert Musil

11. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

12. Falconer by John Cheever

13. Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal

14. Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mishima

15. The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith

16. The Story of the Night by Colm Toibin

A literary feast! Next up: how do we fund the project? Looks like it’s grant writing time.

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About the Author:

Nick DiMartino is a university bookseller in Seattle, WA. He was a Booklist contributor from 2007 to 2009 and is the author of Seattle Ghost Story (1998) as well as numerous plays.

1 Comment on "The Birth of a Gay Book Club"

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  1. mbutler002@nycap.rr.com' M. V. Butler says:

    I would like to suggest sending pr matieral on my new book to my publisher. What is your mailing address?
    Thanks,
    Michael Viktor Butler
    (“MOON OF THE MAHATMA DONS”)

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