I was inspired to write this post by Goodreads’ Your Year in Books feature, which is a really nice way of cataloging your reading, and is this the first year they did that for users? I hadn’t noticed it before. Though I am known to be unobservant at times!
Anyway, here’s my year as tricked out and analyzed by Goodreads. My less tricked out summary: I read thirteen books in 2017, which is strangely the exact same number I had for 2015 and 2016. So I’m pretty solidly a one book per month reader. I don’t know how I’d find time to do more than that without sacrificing my writing time.
This was probably my most purposeful year reading-wise. I wanted to read as many gay fantasy books as I could to expand my cred as somewhat of an authority in that genre. For a rather specific niche, there’s a huge universe of gay fantasy titles, but when you start digging into it, it’s kind of like nine out of ten are really romance, and really formulaic MM romance, where the story is about a relationship between two guys, with lots of titilating scenes, and the fantasy world and whatever quest the guys have to accomplish are much, much, much in the background.
Those kind of stories are not my scene, so the real challenge for me is finding gay fantasy titles that aren’t first and foremost romance and erotica. I get recs from Goodreads and Amazon and awards programs and LGBT sci fi/fantasy blogs, though it does take some additional research to try to gauge whether a title is going to be up my alley.
I didn’t read gay fantasy exclusively in 2017, so I’ll start with the non-fantasy titles.
I picked up Geoffrey Ryman’s Was because I thought it might be a bit like Gregory Maguire’s Wicked series (also based on The Wizard of Oz). Turned out: not so much. The story is reimagined and speculative for sure, but from the point-of-view of a realistic Dorothy Gale in late 19th century Kansas, as well as a young Judy Garland and an invented character who is a washed up actor, obsessed with The Wizard of Oz, and dying of AIDS. If all of that sounds depressing, you are right on the money! It’s a book with three, interwoven tragic stories, but I found it to be definitely worth the read. Ryman is an encyclopedia of knowledge about the history of Kansas, Judy Garland, and the filming of The Wizard of Oz. He’s an excellent writer, and the details about all three of those topics were engrossing. The characters — none of which could be described as likeable on the surface — have important stories to tell, and I love flawed heroes.
I also read Rahul Mehta’s realistic No Other World for personal reasons. It’s a coming of age story, set in upstate New York, in the 1980s, with a gay, Southeast Asian lead! Ding, ding, ding! You may not know this about me, but I’m really fond of Southeast and Near Eastern authors. Hanif Kureishi and Shyam Selvadurai are two of my very favorites. So, Mehta had big shoes to fill so to speak, and I ended up digging the book. Not a fan of the narrative structure (does every work of literary fiction have to play around with fractured storylines?), but overall, I thought it was quite a poignant and illuminating portrait of growing up with intersecting identities.
I had one oddball, esoteric title on my list: a translation of Petronius’ 1st century A.D. novel The Satyricon. From its description and the literary criticism I read about it, it looked like another ding, ding, ding! for me; really compulsory reading for any writer who espouses to have any gay fiction cred, or ancient world historical cred. And it’s described as high satire – the author’s irreverent answer to the treacly romance novels that were popular at the time. (Another disclosure: I have a book coming out that is a gay re-telling of Chariton’s 1st century A.D. Callirhoe, which I sped through while bursting with ideas for bringing the story into the 21st century).
For me, lightning did not strike twice. The Satyricon is a strange story, and it feels even strangely modern with its focus on a group of marginal, vagrant characters who drift from one illicit situation to the next, like drug addicts from the 1960s in a William Burroughs novel, or even a bit thematically like the work of Bret Easton Ellis, Jay McInerny and Joan Didion, a story of apathetic excess. That would seem to be perfect for me, but I just couldn’t get into the story. Similar to Callirhoe, and–from what I’ve read about the style of the era–most ancient Greek and Roman novels, there was very little development of the characters, and they didn’t hold my interest. I’m embarrassed to say I gave up on it less than halfway through.
Now, the gay fantasy titles I read in 2017…
Hands down, my favorite discovery was Daniel Heath Justice’s The Way of Thorn and Thunder. Epic fantasy inspired by Indigenous American folklore! Amazing stuff. I wrote a lot more about it on Goodreads which you can check out here.
Chaz Brenchley’s The Tower of the King’s Daughter was another happy find. I had to track it down through inter-library loan as it’s out of print. A punchy, high stakes adventure in a medieval, Crusades-like world. I liked it so much, I added it to my Intro to Gay Fantasy list.
I continued with Samuel Delaney’s Neveryona saga, whipping through Return to Neveryon and confirming that my literary life was nothing until I discovered Delaney.
And I read Steven Harper’s Iron Axe, two sci fi titles: Carol Holland March’s The Tyro and Hal Duncan’s Vellum, and a trio of books I wanted to read to see what all the hoopla was about: Jesse Hajicek’s The God Eaters, Mercedes Lackey’s Magic’s Pawn, and C.S. Pascat’s Captive Prince.
Plus one non-gay fantasy title. I had been wanting to read Guy Gavriel Kay for a while, and I dug in with Sailing to Sarantium this year.
I have a lot more gay fantasies on my TBR list, so I’m going to be staying with that genre in 2018. I’m always looking for epic fantasy and ancient world historicals with gay themes, so let me know about any books you think I should be reading!