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LGBT Kiwis' Best Books 2006

Sat 16 Dec 2006 In: Books View at Wayback View at NDHA

From astrophysics to underground passions, Ayn Rand to Carlos Ruiz Zafon, the best reads listed by members of New Zealand's LGBT communities are nothing if not eclectic - and what's that about The L Word? Journalist turned bookseller turned editor Claire Gummer, who rates Sarah Waters' Booker-shortlisted Night Watch* and Jan Morris's transgender classic Conundrum among her own favourites this year, finds out which new and old books took pride of place by other people's beds in 2006. Titles likely to be easily obtainable are asterisked. Charles Chauvel - lawyer, former NZ AIDS Foundation chair, Labour List MP The Battle for Spain*: Antony Beevor has re-written his 'Spanish Civil War' with the benefit of archives from the former USSR, and with better access to other historical material. Apart from slightly tedious descriptions of battle deployments, the work is very well written - a good primer on the emergence of the modern Spanish State. It also gives context to the very considerable liberal social democratic transformation by the current Spanish Labour Government, which has meant an enormous improvement for gays and lesbians. The Shadow of the Wind*, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, was a gift from my father last Christmas. It still rates as the best work of fiction I have read this year. Hauntingly translated by Lucia Graves, it features a biography within a biography, is set in post-civil-war Barcelona, and contains touching mementoes of love, friendship and what it is like to be a boy growing up and away from the trusted and familiar. Stephen Denekamp - chair of Rainbow Youth This year I've been delving into a lot of spiritual books. My two favourites have been The Power of Now* by Eckhart Tolle (which showed me a new way of understanding my emotions), and the Conversations with God* trilogy by Neale Donald Walsch (a reminder of what is important in life - nothing!). They both encourage us to be whomever we choose to be and not to take life too seriously. And hey, both are queer-positive! Joanne Drayton - author, art historian I was inspired by the black but fabulously acted Capote to read Truman Capote's chillingly vivid In Cold Blood*, a non-fiction-fiction account of the senseless murder of a farming family on the lonely wheat plains of western Kansas. It is told with wonderful pace in what feels like a lugubrious southern drawl. It kept me spellbound, as did Gerald Clarke's exquisitely written Capote: A Biography*. In the wake of mass-murder and drug-addled young brilliance, it was Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit* that was most inspirational. Forgive me if I confess to being utterly unmoved by horses, but this story will warm even the coldest horsey-heart. Set on the racetracks of the economically desiccated 1930s, it is a story of extraordinary animal talent matched with remarkable human tenacity and teamwork. I learnt all the things I never thought I wanted to know about horses and much, much more. (Joanne Drayton's latest book is Frances Hodgkins: A Private Viewing* - 2005.) Gareth Farr - composer, drag artiste I'll start with the more obscure ones... an early sixties reprint of Mark Twain's Letters from Hawaii, written in the late nineteenth century - fascinating insight into a culture that I'm visiting in January - and the biography of the great NZ pianist Richard Farrell, who died at the age of 31 in a car crash in the fifties. I'm very grumpy at the US government after reading Michael Moore's Dude, Where's My Country*; delighted with Jeanette Winterson's gorgeous Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit; and in hysterics at Billy*, the biography of the inimitable comic genius Billy Connolly. John Hayward and Geoffrey Marshall - chairperson GABA Charitable Trust (Geoffrey), emeritus co-organisers of Heroic Gardens John: It is in the nature of addictions that one is often hooked before realising and so it is with Alexander McCall Smith. He has written several series of fiction but the one that has me in its grips at present is the Sunday Philosophy Club. Deceptively simple in style, the elegance of the language has you in a page-turning fervour as you get involved in the goings-on of the eccentric characters. The latest volume is The Right Attitude to Rain*. How's your 'Mockney'? Will Self comes with a warning that he makes demands of his readers. The Book of Dave* is no exception. A novel with two strands: one in the present and the other in an apocalyptic future based on London cabbies' 'knowledge' and the consequences of family breakdowns. Self's mastery of language and inventiveness make this a must-read. Geoffrey: Colm Toibin's latest novel, The Master*, a fictionalised life of author Henry James, is his best yet. The atmosphere of his life and milieu is captured superbly and the book is essential reading whether or not you are interested in James's novels. Andrew Greig never disappoints and In Another Light* is no exception. His settings vary widely but his exploration of character is always compelling. David Herkt - TV director, editor JACK magazine 2006 was a year of mid-twentieth-century gay diarists for me - nowhere else is being human revealed so fully as in a diary. Christopher Isherwood's The Lost Years: A Memoir 1945-1951* is explicit in its examination of the lives of handsome gay men in the sunshine of post-war Hollywood and Los Angeles. James Lees Milne's published twelve-volume diaries cover 50 years and are a whole insight into the seemingly essential bisexuality of the English gentleman, encompassing cold and disintegrating country houses and smouldering underground passions. The Journals of Denton Welch are unique for their closely-observed evocations of small objects and their vivid descriptions of how homosexual desire can overwhelm everyday life. Cecil Beaton's diaries are published in expurgated and unexpurgated forms. A well-known photographer, designer and brittle English queen, Beaton does not come out as likable but his encounters with the great, from Greta Garbo to the late Queen Mother and Mick Jagger, have a certain tart value. Sarah Lambourne - event organiser for women's club nights Flirt and Old Skool Disco I've read quite a few books this year and these two really stood out for me... The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices* by Xinran Xue - a collection of true stories from different women growing up in China, told by a Chinese journalist. Each story was touching and heart-wrenching. Lovely Bones* by Alice Sebold: this book was intriguing, sad and frustrating - I couldn't put it down. Rachael Le Mesurier - chief executive, New Zealand AIDS Foundation My best book reading this year has been led by being part of a classics book club so... wait for it... Tolstoy's Anna Karenina - I know it's a bit unbelievable but I really loved his writing and learnt so much about pre-revolution Russia. Also found it helpful in a very contemporary way to note the well-meaning intent of the liberal middle classes and the utter disinterest of the peasant class in being 'liberated'! Close runner-up was Voltaire's Candide. Then the next would be a brilliant cookbook on Sicily - Cucina Siciliana by Clarissa Hyman, which has the best recipe on swordfish with mint and capers. Lastly, can I cheat and say The L Word!? [Only because your initial choices were so impressively literary - Ed.] Whilst the script is crap and the continuity is worse, it is quite something to get to 44 before I first see lesbian lives treated as a viable storyline in a soap series - as close to my life as Friends is to my het friends, but at last I understand what they have been watching every evening since TV was invented. Tilly Lloyd - co-owner and manager, Unity Books (Wellington) We landed Wild Dogs* by Helen Humphries ($30) for the shop's annual GAP literary night (whereby 50 or so gays and lesbians present brief reviews over glasses of wine which may sound seriously highbrow but is always a great time to flirt afresh). Wild Dogs, co-winner of the Lambda Lesbian Fiction Award, concerns domestic dogs going feral and how a lesbian deals with this as she falls in love with the pre-lesbian biologist whose wolf leads the pack. Absorbing treatment, quite good subtext, and not highly demanding literature. The Lambda Lesbian Poetry winner was a gorgeous hardback - Directed by Desire* by June Jordan ($77), reviewed as a powerful addition to the entire canon of American poetry and the definitive overview of 10 volumes of June Jordan's poetry, and I wouldn't argue with that. Thirdly, on local politics, I was impressed by Nicky Hager's The Hollow Men* ($35): an unprecedented picture of a political party's internal workings, it provides a riveting study of modern politics - plenty of cautionary info for gay and lesbian readers (should anyone be veering to the right). The pick of them though has to be Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic* ($40), which is Alison dykes-to-watch-out-for Bechdel's autobiography-comic about her family and closeted gay father. It's the goods. Douglas Lloyd Jenkins - Montana Non-Fiction Medal-winner, design historian, manager of the Hawke's Bay Museum and Art Gallery For me 2006 has been about the dual pleasures of a new garden and of old books. It started with The Unforgiving Minute (1978), the autobiography of once famous, now forgotten British literary homo Beverly Nichols. This led me to Down the Garden Path (1932), his old-fashioned 'me and my new garden' tale. William Robinson's The English Flower Garden (1883) and Walter Wright's Beautiful Gardens (1907), neither of which you'll find at the local Whitcoulls, provided hours of inspiration. For a garden book that you can find new, try Gertrude Jekyll's Lost Garden, Rosamund Wallinger's tale of a non-gardener who finds herself the owner of an important, though neglected, garden. (Douglas Lloyd Jenkins' latest book is Forty Legends of NZ Design* - 2006.) Ema Lyon - co-founder and director, D.Vice (designer sex-gear retailer) My literary indulgence for 2006 has been predominantly focused around my 18-month-old son. It's true you don't get the time to read a novel when you have a toddler! Two daily reads in our house are my fave The Little Kowhai Tree* by Witi Ihimaera, where the wonderfully assertive little kowhai tree protects her baby brother from the dangers of the forest, and Poutama's fave The Little Yellow Digger* by Betty and Alan Gilderdale (title self-explanatory). I always reach for Ngahuia Te Awekotuku's fantastic Ruahine: Mythic Women* when I get a solitary moment, and most days I consult both the Ngata and the Williams Maori dictionaries. I was inspired to locate one of my favourite kupu in the Williams the other day. Shrouded by the Latin definition, Atuapikoikoi means Clitoris, or literally 'erect pinnacle of the gods'. Charmaine Pountney - former secondary principal, now partner in an organic land-based business, and a leadership and change consultant I was specially moved by four books: Chris Cole Catley's Bright Star*, stellar biography of Beatrice Hill Tinsley, our supernova woman who flared in the universe of astrophysics; Dr Jane Gilbert's Catching the Knowledge Wave? a challenge to our ways of knowing, learning, teaching and schooling, and a must-read for anyone in education in Aotearoa; poignant first novel Let Me Sing You Gentle Songs* by Linda Olssen; and punchy political Pacific poems, Dream Fish Floating*, from Karlo Mila. Tony Simpson - author, NZ Reviewer of the Year (2005), Montana Book Awards convenor of judges (2004) Dennis Cooper's The Sluts*: This novel won the Lambda Gay Fiction prize this year and deserved it. It's a graphic exploration of the darker side of gay s also Be Near Me* by Andrew O'Hagan, a beautifully written, edgy novel in which a queer English priest moves to a parish in Scotland and through a friendship with two fifteen-year-olds, a boy and girl, is seduced into a kiss and out of the priesthood into humanity. Claire Gummer - 16th December 2006    

Credit: Claire Gummer

First published: Saturday, 16th December 2006 - 12:00pm

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