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The Boston Phoenix
June 1999

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The 100 best gay and lesbian books of the century

by Susan Ryan-Vollmar

John Mitzel, owner of the Glad Day Book Shop, recalls a conversation he had with Gore Vidal shortly after then-president Richard Nixon's notorious "enemies" list was published: "I said, 'Gore, you're not on the list,' and he replied, 'Oh, that's just their way of humiliating me.' " And so it goes with lists, of the best books, the worst enemies, or otherwise: who isn't included is often as significant as who is. A recently released list of the 100 best lesbian and gay novels is no different.

Sponsored by the Publishing Triangle, a professional organization for gay men and lesbians in the book industry, the list was compiled by a panel of 14 gay and lesbian writers (three of whom merited their own spots on the list). The line-up is quirky (Herman Melville's Billy Budd ranks 13), eclectic (works by Jane DeLynn, Willa Cather, Jean Cocteau, and André Gide are featured), and curiously incomplete (life-changing classics such as Patricia Nell Warren's The Front Runner and Andrew Tobias's The Best Little Boy in the World are absent, as is anything by David Leavitt).

The list was created to spark debate about just what defines a "gay book," according to Charles Flowers, chair of the Publishing Triangle. Panelists included Dorothy Allison (her Bastard Out of Carolina appears at number 29), David Bergman, Christopher Bram (his Father of Frankenstein ranks number 51), Michael Bronski, Samuel Delany, Lillian
Faderman, Anthony Heilbut, M.E. Kerr, Jenifer Levin, John Loughery, Jaime Manrique, Mariana Romo-Carmona, Sarah Schulman (her Rat Bohemia is number 59), and Barbara Smith. According to a press release from the Publishing Triangle, novels were judged on "their literary merit, influence, and significance to lesbians and gay readers and writers."

Still, literary mavens like Mitzel, who's been in the book business for decades, remain skeptical. "I just hope I've heard of all the books," he says. "These sorts of lists are silly. They're like the Academy Awards: you don't watch to find out who wins, you watch to see who falls down."

Giovanni's Room 1. Death in Venice, by Thomas Mann

2. Giovanni's Room, by James Baldwin

3. Our Lady of the Flowers, by Jean Genet

4. Remembrance of Things Past, by Marcel Proust

5. The Immoralist, by André Gide

6. Orlando,by Virginia Woolf

7. The Well of Loneliness, by Radclyffe Hall

8. Kiss of the Spider Woman, by Manuel Puig

9. The Memoirs of Hadrian, by Marguerite Yourcenar

10. Zami, by Audre Lorde

11. The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

12. Nightwood, by Djuna Barnes

13. Billy Budd, by Herman Melville

14. A Boy's Own Story, by Edmund White

15. Dancer from the Dance, by Andrew Holleran

16. Maurice, by E.M. Forster

17. The City and the Pillar, by Gore Vidal

18. Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown

19. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh

20. Confessions of a Mask, by Yukio Mishima

21. The Member of the Wedding, by Carson McCullers

22. City of Night, by John Rechy

23. Myra Breckinridge, by Gore Vidal

24. Patience and Sarah, by Isabel Miller

25. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, by Gertrude Stein

26. Other Voices, Other Rooms, by Truman Capote

27. The Bostonians, by Henry James

28. Two Serious Ladies, by Jane Bowles

29. Bastard Out of Carolina, by Dorothy Allison

30. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers

Mrs. Dalloway 31. Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf

32. The Persian Boy, by Mary Renault

33. A Single Man, by Christopher Isherwood

34. The Swimming Pool Library, by Alan Hollinghurst

35. Olivia, by Dorothy Bussy

36. The Price of Salt, by Patricia Highsmith

37. Aquamarine, by Carol Anshaw

38. Another Country, by James Baldwin

39. Cheri, by Colette

40. The Turn of the Screw<, by Henry James

41. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

42. Women in Love, by D.H. Lawrence

43. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott

44. The Friendly Young Ladies, by Mary Renault

45. Young Torless, by Robert Musil

46. Eustace Chisholm and the Works, by James Purdy

47. The Story of Harold, by Terry Andrews

48. The Gallery, by John Horne Burns

49. Sister Gin, by June Arnold

The Color Purple 50. Ready To Catch Him Should He Fall, by Neil Bartlett

51. Father of Frankenstein, by Christopher Bram

52. Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs

53. The Berlin Stories, by Christopher Isherwood

54. The Young and Evil, by Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler

55. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, by Jeanette Winterson

56. A Visitation of Spirits, by Randall Kenan

57. Three Lives, by Gertrude Stein

58. Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli, by Ronald Firbank

59. Rat Bohemia, by Sarah Schulman

60. Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov

61. The Counterfeiters, by André Gide

62. The Passion, by Jeanette Winterson

63. Lover, by Bertha Harris

64. Moby Dick, by Herman Melville

65. La Batarde, by Violette Leduc

66. Death Comes for the Archbishop, by Willa Cather

67. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

68. The Satyricon, by Petronius

69. The Alexandria Quartet, by Lawrence Durrell

Kiss of the Spider Woman 70. Special Friendships, by Roger Peyrefitte

71. The Changelings, by Jo Sinclair

72. Paradiso, by José Lezama Lima

73. Sheeper, by Irving Rosenthal

74. Les Guerilleres, by Monique Wittig

75. Child Manuela (The Novel of Maedchen in Uniform), by Christa Winsloe

76. An Arrow's Flight, by Mark Merlis

77. The Gaudy Image, by William Talsman

78. The Exquisite Corpse, by Alfred Chester

79. Was, by Geoff Ryman

80. Therese and Isabelle, by Violette Leduc

81. Gemini, by Michel Tournier

82. The Beautiful Room Is Empty, by Edmund White

83. The Children's Crusade, by Rebecca Brown

84. The Story of the Night, by Colm Tóibín

85. The Holy Terrors (Les Enfants Terribles), by Jean Cocteau

Lost Illusions 86. Hell Has No Limits, by José Donoso

87. Riverfinger Women, by Elana Nachman (Dykewomon)

88. The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon, by Tom Spanbauer

89. Closer, by Dennis Cooper

90. Lost Illusions, by Honoré de Balzac

91. Miss Peabody's Inheritance, by Elizabeth Jolley

92. Rene's Flesh, by Virgilio Pinera

93. Funny Boy, by Shyam Selvadurai

94. Wasteland, by Jo Sinclair

95. Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing, by May Sarton

96. Sea of Tranquility, by Paul Russell

97. Autobiography of a Family Photo, by Jacqueline Woodson

98. In Thrall, by Jane DeLynn

99. On Strike Against God, by Joanna Russ

100. Sita, by Kate Millet


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