As John Waters once so eloquently put it: “If you go home with somebody, and they don’t have books, don’t fuck ’em!”
With that in mind, I am here to help curate your home library. And when this damn self-isolation is all over– and you are once again having gentlemen (or lady)(or non-binary) callers– they will know that you are, indeed, quite fuckable.
Listed below are 75 titles that range from the highest of highbrow to the trashiest of lowbrow. A little something for everyone. And not just LGBTQ writers telling LGBTQ stories, but a deeper dive into the super-queer/super-camp content that has defined generations of queens. Some will be harder to find than others, some will put a dent in your pocketbook – but you’ll love them all forever, I promise. My books are my best friends.
In no particular order:
75. The Warhol Diaries by Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett: Ultra-bitchy running commentary of ‘70s-era uptown/downtown society by the man who defined cool. Liza! Halston! Bianca! Truman! – Everybody’s here, and partying like there’s no tomorrow. A must-have for every queer bookshelf.
74. SEX by Madonna: It almost sunk her career, but Madge’s little side trip into fetish photography really moved the pop culture needle… and is still gaspingly gorgeous to look at. Just try finding a copy that’s less that $500.
73. My Way of Life by Joan Crawford: Always match the lining of your jacket to your handbag and other sage-but-loony life advice from Joan at her most Mommie Dearest.
72. Valley of the Dolls by Jaqueline Susanne: You can’t truly understand the ’60s without reading this lurid tale of SEX! and DRUGS! and WOMEN CLIMBING TO THE TOP OF THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY! Quotable beyond quotable. You’ll be screaming “Sparkle, Neely, Sparkle!” and “The only hit that comes out of a Helen Lawson show is Helen Lawson and that’s ME!” for the rest of your life.
71. Doll Parts by Amanda Lepore: The world’s most fabulous trans superstar lets you into her world. And what a world it is! Parties! Silicone! Fabulous outfits galore!
70. Edie by George Plimpton: The oral history of Warhol’s greatest superstar, Edie Sedgwick, is at turns thrilling and tragic; Her rise from pampered rich girl to druggy fashion icon is one for the ages.
69. DV by Diana Vreeland: Vogue‘s inimitable doyenne grabs the reader by the hand and whisks them through her improbably chic world: “Pink is the navy blue of India!” and all that…
68. Shock Value: A Tasteful Book About Bad Taste by John Waters: John Waters at his most watersy, gushing about the kitsch classics he loves and opening the world’s eye to a new way of camp living.
67. Confessions of an Heiress by Paris Hilton: Goofy “tongue-in-chic” advice from the über-it-girl of the early aughts. Most of it involves glitter and the color pink, but you weren’t buying it for high culture, were you?
66. Studio 54 by Ian Schrader and Bob Colacello: More stories and pictures from the people who were there. And oh to have actually been there!
65. Lachapelle Land by David Lachapelle: Some of the most indelible pop culture images from the last 30 years. The over-saturated colors! The cheeky compostion! The camp of it all! A must-have for your coffee table. STILL.
64. Sarah by JT Leroy: We were duped. JT Leroy was presented to the world as a dazzling sort of homogutterpunk wunderkind and the savior of street literature… but it was a hoax. He wasn’t real. He was a made-up character. BUT… that doesn’t take away from the elegance of the prose. And these achingly profound stories of hustling and drug abuse can be read now as fiction. (EXTRA CREDIT: The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things)
63. A Low Life in High Heels by Holly Woodlawn: The late, great Warhol muse candidly discusses the outlandish excesses of her life, from a childhood in Puerto Rico, to New York in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and her later years in Hollywood.
62. My Face for the World to See by Candy Darling: The random and slightly surreal diary entries of Warhol’s most glamorous ’70s trans goddess. (And it comes in an actual pink plastic diary, complete with lock and key!).
61. Superstar in a Housedress: The Life and Legend of Jackie Curtis by Craig B Highberger: The third in the holy drag trinity of Warhol superstars. Jackie wasn’t as glamorous as Candy or as charismatic as Holly, but Jackie had the heart of a true artist, and despite the drug abuse and mental issues managed an incredible output of plays and poetry. This book, a collection of remininceses from those who knew her, also contains a dvd of the documentary of the same name
60. A Truman Capote Reader: It’s all here: from the early short stories that shot him to fame (“Miriam”), to the later essays of his waning years. My favorite? “Beautiful Child” – A description of day-drinking with Marilyn Monroe at New York City dive bars that explains more about her than anything that’s ever been written.
59. The Portable Dorothy Parker Reader: The bitchiest member of the 1920s Algonquin Round Table wits, Miss Parker was known for her pithy poems and lacerating wit. (When told President Calvin Coolidge had died, she said “How could they tell?”). Read with one brow arched.
58. A Susan Sontag Reader: Start with “Notes on Camp,” of course, then just jump around. Her mind was an intellectual curio cabinet, and there’s something here for everyone.
57. Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita May Brown: It’s the revolutionary 1970s black lesbian coming-of-age story that is still packs a wallop. It’s been forty years since I read it, but I still recall the quote: “I don’t know what I am – polymorphous and perverse, I guess!”… and saying it to the kids at school when they asked if I was gay.
56. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins: Sissy Hawkshaw is born with enormously large thumbs and considers her mutation a gift. If you know what I mean. It might seem dated but think of it as a portal into the ‘70s, covering various topics, including “free love, feminism, drug use, birds, political rebellion, animal rights, body odor, religion, and yams.” And if you’ve never read Robbins’ ultra-vivid prose style, you are in for a treat.
55. The Naked Civil Servant by Quentin Crisp: Quentin’s a bit of a nutter, and old-school gay in a way that is likely to be off-putting to today’s youngsters. His whole schtick is essentially “Do what you like as long as you don’t scare the horses.” Still, nobody is quite as quotable as he is, and his harrowing early years as the gayest man in London make for a helluva tale. (EXTRA CREDIT: His etiquette book Manners From Heaven)
54. Death In Venice by Thomas Mann: The story of one man’s “voluptuous doom” while visiting the city of Venice, beset by an unknown plague. It’s probably a wee bit problematic these days (what with the stalking of the young boy Tadzio and all)… but, damn, Mann can write about sexual longing and loss of dignity that comes with age like nobody else….
53. Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet: Free-flowing, poetic novel written in prison, on the sheets of brown paper which prisoners were supposed to make into bags. Prison guards confiscated the first draft, so he started again. He snuck the second version out with him when he was released. It’s a tough read, but worth it, filled with astonishing pronouncements like: “My heart to my mother! My cock to the whores! And my neck to the hangman!” and “Faggots are the immoralists!”
52. Gore Vidal: You basically have three choices from Gore. For purists, I would recommend The City and the Pillar, a literary scandal when first published more than sixty years ago, and still a landmark novel of the gay experience. For something a bit… nuttier… there’s Myra Breckinridge, a messy relic of the ‘60s sexual revolution that still manages to shock… but for all the wrong reasons. Myra was one of fiction’s first trans characters, which makes her part of LGBTQ history, but a hero she is not. She’s a sadist, a rapist, and an extortionist. Then there’s Palimpsest – his often mean-spirited autobiography that skewers practically everybody he’s ever met. And he’s met practically everybody. (Watch out, Jackie O!)
51. Lettin’ It All Hang Out by RuPaul: The origin story of one RuPaul Charles alongside his wittiest aphorisms and choicest tidbits for living an extraordinary life.
50. Diva Rules by Michelle Visage: Mama Michelle lays it out for the children. Her voguing days on the West Village piers, her early recording successes, and most poignantly, her forever friendship with Ru.
49. New York Club Kids by Walt Paper: Seminal club kid Walt Paper details the rise of the club kids against a backdrop of ’90s music, fashion, rave and ballroom culture. Bursting at the seams with fab-beyond-fab, never-before-seen pics.
48. I Was a White Sex Slave In Harlem by Dame Margo Howard-Howard: Is any of this true? Did this drag diva really escape a privileged childhood in Singapore by hitching a ride on an English Navy ship on the eve of WWII?… Did she really support a drug habit through prostitution in the ‘50s and ‘60s… have sex with James Dean and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor… and end up being a kept woman by Harlem’s most notorious heroin dealer Leroy “Nicky” Barnes? Who knows, but it makes for a fantastic read, with names like Judy Garland, Madonna, Warhol, Queen Elizabeth, and Tallulah Bankhead being dropped on every page. Again, is this real life or is it just demented fanfic? You decide.
47. Camp: The Lie that Tells the Truth by Philip Core: An encyclopedia covering two centuries of camp: Erté, Garbo, Capote, Dali, and Duchamp you may know. But others that are probably new to you like Nancy Cunard, Barbey d’Aurevilly, Vesta Tilley, and Baron Willhelm von Golden. You won’t be bored.
46. A TIE!
Drag by Simon Doonan: A delightful history of drag, from the Greeks and Romans to RuPaul’s Drag Race. (EXTRA CREDIT: Other books by Doonan that are just as fun: Confessions of a Window Dresser, Wacky Chicks: Life Lessons from Fearlessly Inappropriate and Fabulously Eccentric Women, Eccentric Glamour: creating a More Fabulous You, and Gay Men Don’t Get Fat)
Drag: Combing Through the Big Wigs of Show Business by Frank DeCaro: The OTHER great drag history book that came out last year, Frank chronicles the history of drag in pop culture, from television shows like The Milton Berle Show, Bosom Buddies, and RuPaul’s Drag Race, to films like Some Like It Hot, To Wong Foo…, and Tootsie, and Broadway shows like Hedwig and the Angry Inch, La Cage aux Folles, and Kinky Boots… And includes interviews with legendary legends like Bianca del Rio, Miss Coco Peru, Hedda Lettuce, Lypsinka, and Varla Jean Merman, as well as stage icons Harvey Fierstein and Charles Busch.
45. Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim: A teenage hustler and a trauma victim (of an alien abduction… or something more sinister?) come together to help each other in this exquisitely rendered tale. The movie is also a must (with Joseph Gordon-Levitt giving the best performance of his career)
44. Frisk by Dennis Cooper: I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read this one. But I own it and when it was on my bedstand visitors would scream :”OMG FRISK! BEST! BOOK! EVER! SO INSANE!” All I know is that it’s “a macabre novel about the search for spiritual truth through physical desecration…” and “an electrifying study in carnage”… So I guess we need to put it at the top of our “to do” lists?
43. Party Monster aka Disco Bloodbath by James St James: A rollicking good read, if I don’t say so myself, and gives a little more context to the movie and the documentary. (Of COURSE I was going to include myself. Times are tough. Buy it here) (The Disco Bloodbath version is a collectors edition and a bit pricier. You can find it here)
42. Lexicon Devil: The Fast Times and Short Life of Darby Crash and the Germs by Brendan Mullen with Don Bolles and Adam Parfrey: Darby is a symbol of West Coast’s late ‘70s punk, alongside his seminal band the Germs. His struggles with homosexuality and drug use are the focus of this oral history, one of the greatest musical biographies ever written.
41. Beefcake 100%, Rare, All-Natural by Petra Mason with foreward by Lady Bunny: Just what you think it is: Vintage beefcake photos of ‘50s-era male nudes separated into chapters entitled “Gladiators,” “Lonely Sailors,” “Locker Room,” and “Rugged and Rough.” Hubba-hubba!
40. Mommie Dearest by Christina Crawford. A harrowing tale of child abuse at the hands of a ruthless, alcoholic, and controlling mother. That mother, of course, is movie legend Joan Crawford. The book (and movie) is camp beyond camp, of course, but for all the wrong reasons. So try to have a bit of pity for poor Christina as you scream “No more wire hangers!” and “Tina, bring me the axe!”
39. Tennessee Williams Short Stories: With Tennessee, it’s always tawdry, southern, and GAAAAAY. As he grew in fame, he sort of lost himself in his talent, genius, and excess. It happens. These stories are bleak and problematic, but capture a fabulous and sometimes wickedly cruel, moment in gay history. My favorites? “Two on a Party,” “The Killer Chicken and the Closet Queen” and the allegorical S&M/cannibalism story “Desire and the Black Masseur.” You’ve been warned.
38. Faggots by Larry Kramer: The 1978 novel that satirized the pre-AIDS New York gay community with its rampant promiscuity and drug use. Controversial at the time, it shocked both the straights AND the gays. HA! Fun to read today to see how much, and how little, has changed.
37. The Collected Novels of Ronald Fairbanks: Openly gay in Edwardian times, his riches allowed him to toss off novels on perfumed postcards to friends knowing they would be published later. It’s all very la-di-da and rah-sha-sha… I don’t know that you actually have to READ him, but just knowing about him is important and he does have a way with words. Of a courtesan of the period: “Untidiness, with her, had become a fine art. A loose strand of hair…the helpless angle of a hat… and to add emphasis, there were always quantities of tiny, useless, buttons on her frocks that cried aloud to be fastened, giving her an air of irresponsibility which the young courtiers seemed quite fascinating.” Yes, yes, I see it. So vividly. That’s how ya write.
36. Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara: The New York Times calls Lunch Poems “the little black dress of American poetry, redolent of cocktails and cigarettes and theater tickets”… and to be sure, there’s a definite glamour to his writing. O’Hare was wildly urbane, and his poetry often reads like diary entries, riffing on movie stars of the ‘30s, phone calls from friends, and his social life in Manhattan. This is an easy entry into poetry, for people who claim not to like it.
35. Rimbaud by Graham Robb: The bisexual wild child of 19th century poetry. Yes, read the poems (“A Season in Hell” is a good place to start) and watch the biopic “Total Eclipse” starring a ’90s-era Leonardo diCaprio (nude!). But to really understand Arthur Rimbaud, this biography is the be-all and end-all. What a life! And to think he GAVE UP writing at 20!
34. City of Night by John Rechy: Written in 1963, City of the Night shocked the public with its stark depiction of hustling in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New Orleans. Told in a dreamy, stream-of-consciousness style, it remains one of LGBTQ literature’s all-time greats.
33. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin: The groundbreaking 1956 novel by James Baldwin about an American ex-pat living in Paris and the relationships he has with the men he meets in a local bar… especially an Italian bartender named Giovanni. One of the first books to bring “complex representations of homosexuality” to a broader audience.
32. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan: Narrated by a Greek Chorus of gay men lost to AIDS—Two Boys Kissing follows Harry and Craig, two seventeen-year-olds who take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record.
31. Jackie Under My Skin: Interpretting an Icon by Wayne Kostenbaum: Dozens of short essays that explore in great detail (REALLY striking minutia) Mr Koestenbaum’s obsession with the late Jacqualine Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. Chapters dedicated to her oversized glasses – what do they mean? Her bouffant hair – what does it convey? Her breathy, baby-girl voice – what effect does it have on the listener? A little batshit crazy, but a stylish and sophisticated way to spend the day.
30. Leigh Bowery Looks by Fergus Greer: Containing 300 photographs of the ever-iconic fashion wackadoo – the fruit of his collaboration with British photographer Fergus Greer between 1988 and 1994 (the year he died). And so many looks to swoon over! You’ll suddenly see his influence everywhere!
29. The Glass of Fashion by Cecil Beaton: An elusive must-have. Hard to find, but worth the hunt. Cecil reflects on his Edwardian upbringing and the courtesans, stage actresses, and dance hall girls who inspired him. An education in long-forgotten it-girls.
28. Taken Care Of by Dame Edith Sitwell– Born into an old aristocratic family and blessed with highbrow ideals and florid talent, Edith is exquisitely camp. In the ‘20s and ‘30s, she dressed in medieval robes, turbans, and amethyst rings, and spewed forth precious pronouncements in her letters, diaries, books, and poetry. (Bonus points if you read her book English Eccentrics)
27. The Collected Stories of Collette: Radical in her day, and still a force of nature, this volume brings together 100 short stories of the French literary icon, 31 of them translated into English for the first time.
26. Gertrude Stein: “A rose is a rose is a rose” – Gertrude’s rhythmic and repetitive style can be wildly exhilarating or supremely annoying depending on how high you are when you read it. Might I suggest you start with the (rather) straightforward “The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas” (her life partner) before moving on to more experimental works like “Tender Buttons” in which she was basically trying to do with literature what Cubism was doing for art. I have a great “Selected Writings of Gertrude Stein” by Carl van Vechten that pretty much covers what you need to know.
25. My Son Divine by Francis Milstead: The mother of drag legend Divine tells the story of his childhood, their long estrangement, and heartwarming reconciliation just before he died. In other words, we see a whole new side to the outrageous, shit-eating queen from camp classics like Pink Flamingos and Hairspray.
24. The Plays of Joe Orton: Loot, Entertaining Mr Sloane, What the Butler Saw. Pioneering plays from the ‘60s-era gay playwright. You might also want to check out the book (and movie) Prick Up Your Ear chronicling his relationship with Kenneth Halliwell, who ultimately murdered him before commmiting suicide himself.
23. Zelda by Nancy Milford: F Scott Fitzgerald’s dazzling and tempestuous wife finally gets the biography she deserves. I mean: she practically INVENTED the Jazz Age, for God’s sake, and was possibly AS talented as her more famous husband. Then there’s the years spent in mental institutions and the GOD-AWFUL way she died. No, no, I’ve said too much. This is one you’ll want to devour in a single sitting.
22. Sal Mineo: His Life, Murder, and Mystery by H Paul Jeffers: Beautiful but doomed! The Rebel Without a Cause star was openly gay, which pretty much destroyed his career in Hollywood. It ends with his shocking stabbing death in a WeHo parking lot. Such a sad ending for such an incredible icon.
21. Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman: You got this. You know it. You don’t need me to pitch it to you.
20. Golden Girls Forever by Jim Colucci: Aaaaaaaand I’m pretty sure we all have this on our bookshelves already, so there’s really no need for me to sell you on it.
19 Wonderbread and Ecstasy: The Life and Death of Joey Stefano by Charles Isherwood: Another book most of us have on our bookshelves, the tragic story of ’90s porn superstar Joey Stefano. If you haven’t read it, it’s a cautionary tale for the ages.
18. Tab Hunter Confidential by Tab Hunter: A boy so beautiful he wasn’t allowed in the schoolyard at lunch period, as the girls would claw at him, pull his hair, and cry out that they loved him. He went on to become a wildly famous (but deeply closeted) movie star in the ‘50s and ‘60s (and dated Psycho star Anthony Perkins!). He then enjoyed a nice post-heyday comeback in the early ‘80s with cult director John Waters and his friend Divine. It’s a great read, and afterwards, be sure to stream the accompanying documentary.
17. Maurice by EM Forster: Written in 1914, but not released until 1971 upon Forster’s death, it’s the intimate portrait of a young man’s secret desire and the unspoken rules of class, wealth, and politics that thwarted him throughout his life.
16. Pierre et Gilles: 40: A collection that traces the 40 year collaboration between Pierre Comoy and Gilles Blanchard. Dazzling and often homoerotic, these highly stylized photos are infused with themes of religion, mythology, and beauty, and feature stars like Madonna, Naomi Campbell, Dita Von Teese, Kylie Minogue, and Karl Lagerfeld.
15. The World According to Wonder by Fenton Bailey: The first 20 years of the queer-themed production company that brought you Party Monster, Eyes of Tammy Faye, and (of course) RuPaul’s Drag Race. Loaded with hundreds of never-before-seen pics of “wowlebrities,” it’s another perfect one for the coffee table.
14. Fire In the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz by Cynthia Carr: An exhaustive biography of the legendary East Village artist/writer/performer/photographer/agitator whose angry battle with AIDs made him a polarizing – and pivitol – figure in LGBTQ history.
13. Keith Haring (Rizoli Classics) by Jeffrey Deitch: Gorgeously bound, this book contains a decade’s worth of research and a wealth of previously unseen drawings, photographs and journal entries.
12. We Are Everywhere: Protest, Power, and Pride in the History of Queer Liberation by Matthew Reimer and Leighton Brown: A dazzling photo history of the Queer Liberation movement from the creators and curators of the super popular Instagram account @lgbt_history.
11. Just Kids by Patti Smith: Punk poetess Patti Smith writes about meeting, befriending, and later losing her best friend Robert Mapplethorpe to AIDS. A love letter to a bygone era filled with rock-and-roll, art, and emerging sexual politics.
10. Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love, & So Much More by Janet Mock: The title says it all, doesn’t it? A fascinating look at gender and gender identity. Janet grew up multiracial, poor, and trans and writes eloquently of her quest to be “unapologetic and real.”
09. Queer by William S Burroughs: Guru of the Beat Generation and high priest of the avante garde, Burroughs is maybe more gossiped about than actually read. Reading “Queer,” it takes a moment for your brain to adjust to his diatribe-like shaggy dog stories, biting wit, and unflinching autobiographical details, but once you get into a groove, you may love it. Or not. He’s an acquired taste.
08. The Stonewall Reader edited by the New York Public Library: A riveting collection of first-hand accounts, diary entries, periodic literature, and articles from LGBTQ magazines and newspapers documenting the years leading up to and immediately following the Stonewall riots.
07. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust: Full confession, I’ve never made it past the dipping of the madeleine, but BY GOD I give it another go every few years. I’ll probably finish when I’m in my ‘80s. Still, it’s good to have the complete volumes on your shelves. (Pro Tip: Buy the Lydia Davis translation of Swann’s Way before switching to the classic Moncrieff/Kilmartin/Enright translations for the rest of them…)
06. Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran: Written in the halcyon glory days of pre-AIDS New York and Fire Island, Dancer from the Dance follows a young man searching for love among the gay bathhouses, after hours clubs and lavish orgies of the time. The prose is absolutely hypnotic, and like its contemporary Faggots (#38), it’s fun to compare and contrast the gay scene of the ‘70s to the scene today..
05. Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes by Tony Kushner: How to describe this monumental work by one of our era’s greatest playwrights? It’s about the Reagan-era AIDs crisis, sure, but it’s also about power, religion, sex, life and death… It’s a comedy, it’s a tragedy, it’s a political call to arms. It’s provocative, ambitious, and deeply unsettling. You need to just dive in and not come up for air until you’ve finished with this one.
04. Orlando by Virginia Woolf: Written in 1928, this is one of Woolf’s most accessible books, despite its “outrageous” plotline. It’s the story of Orlando (duh) an Elizabethan nobleman who, at one point during his 300 year life, wakes up as a woman, goes on to explore the roles of women in the 18th and 19th centuries, before then becoming a wife and mother in 1928. After reading it, watch Tilda Swinton’s magnificent performance in the movie of he same name (with a cameo by Quentin Crisp as Queen Elizabeth I)
03. The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall: Ah, the seminal classic of lesbian love. Once denounced as obscene and ordered to be burnt, it tells the story of a Victorian girl named Stephen who cuts her hair short, moves to Bohemian Paris, and becomes a writer
02. The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood: The basis for the play I Am a Camera which became the musical Cabaret. So it’s all here– the seedy debauchery of pre-WWII Berlin, the bars, the vice, the perversion, and the “divinely decadent” Sally Bowles (one of literature’s greatest characters – fight me on this),
.01 Tales of the City by Armisted Maupin: Well, of course it’s number one! For 45 years, the mythical stories of Mrs Madrigal and the residents of 28 Barbary Lane have captivated LGBTQ readers, first as a newspaper serial, then as a classic novel, and lastly as a TV series. It’s a indelible portrait of a bygone era, and one you need to have on your cultural radar. No ifs, ands, or buts.
So there you have it! Agree? Disagree? Have other suggestions? Let me know in the Facebook comments section and we can do another 75. Or a hundred. I could do this forever.