I spend a lot of time during the winter months reading books. While I read many different genres, I tend to return to gay literature, mystery and suspense, and science fiction and fantasy most frequently. Below are a few recommendations of books I’ve recently read and enjoyed.
If you’ve enjoyed a book recently, leave it as a suggestion in the comments section. I am always looking for suggestions.
Less Is Lost by Andrew Sean Greer was published in 2022 and is a sequel to the much lauded 2017 novel, Less. I know that not everyone enjoyed the first novel, but I loved the story about the bumbling gay author of dubious fame, who brings us along on his wildly spectacular and comical midlife crisis. This book is a sequel and picks up several years later. Less is still living in his former lover’s San Francisco shack, but he is now with his new lover, Freddy Pelu. Freddy narrates Less’ latest attempt to escape dealing with his feelings after his former lover passes and he finds out that he could lose his home and maybe Freddy too.
I enjoyed this sequel but didn’t find it as laugh-out-loud funny as the first novel. Certainly, Greer has the ability to imagine the absurd and our protagonist lurches from one absurdity to another. One of my favorite moments was when Less finds himself naked in a New Mexico hot spring trying to talk to German tourists and eating what he thought were chocolate covered blueberries but turn out to be some sort of hallucinogens.
While the sequel wasn’t as good as the original, I still thought it worth the read and for anyone who enjoys Greer’s sense of humor, this is going to be a fun book to bring with you on a trip or to keep by your bedside to read at night.
The Magician by Colm Tóibín was published in 2021 and the paperback editions (which I read) was published in 2022. The historical fiction novel of Thomas Mann, one of Germany’s most celebrated authors and intellecutals of the 20th century was a really fascinating and easy read. Born into a privileged family in a sleepy German town in the late 1800s, the book introduces us to his exotic mother from Brazil, his distant father, and his uptight, extended family.
Not being familiar with any of Mann’s work didn’t make reading this book any less enjoyable. I liked the first person narrative that Tóibín used to great effect to paint a picture of what it was like growing up in Germany and describing the naivete many Germans (Mann included) had when the Nazis first emerged after “The Great War.” Mann’s fame and influence made him a target of the Nazis and his decision to leave Germany and eventually speak out against Facism put his family and friends at great risk. The novel does a great job of capturing his inner struggle of what to do and the turbulent dynamics / relationships that existed in the Mann Family, which included his wife, six children, in-laws and siblings.
I didn’t expect to read about Mann’s repressed sexuality and profound inner conflict grappling with his attraction to men but was really drawn into this ongoing storyline. Apparently, only after Mann’s diaries were shared in the 1990s (some fifty years after his death) did the world come to know about his struggles with his homosexuality or bisexuality.While the topic of the book may seem quite heavy (and there are some deep themes for sure), the book was a pleasure to read, and I enjoyed it immensely. It is making me contemplate reading Mann’s novel Death in Venice, which was inspired in part by his fantasies about a Polish teenager who the Mann Family met on a vacation. I can’t help but wonder if this might be a gay version of Nabakov’s novel, Lolita?
Swimming in the Dark is the debut novel by Tomasz Jedrowski and was first published in 2020. This is a love story that takes place in early 1980s in Poland when failed economic policies had crippled the country and many were becoming disillusioned with the promises of Communism.
Jedrowski opens the novel with Ludwick suffering a panick attack in his apartment in New York City. He quickly then begins to reminisce about the life he left behind and thinks about his first best friend and crush, Beniek, who he met when he was quite young in grade schoool. The book then fast forwards and picks up after he has completed his final university exam in 1980 and must attend a mandatory “work education camp” for several weeks in the spring. It is here that he meets the object of his affection, Janusz. Their interactions are initially stilted before blossoming into a summer romance. The secretive nature of their sexual awakening and feelings for each other is vaguely reminiscent of Elio and Oliver from Call Me By Your Name, except the backdrop in Communist Poland is far more threatening and frightening.
The two contine to see each other in secret after they return from their summer camping trip and appear as “good friends” to all who know them. The nature of their relationship must remain a secret because homosexuality is considered a crime and career limiting for Janusz who is keen on leveraging his Communist Party connections to get ahead. Ultimately, it is their opposing political views that forces the hand of Ludwik to end the relationship, although ironically it is a high ranking Communist Party member who will also save him by getting him a visa to leave Poland. The heartache both feel as this relationship first fractures and then breaks is beautifully written, and I found it difficult to put this book down. For those who grew up in the 1980s this may have added appeal but I think anyone who enjoys a good (albeit) doomed love story will like this novel.
If you’re interested in purchasing any of these books and open to supporting local bookstores, try one of the links I’ve shared. Alternatively, you can check your local library for copies of these books by visiting bpl.org.
Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner
Harvard Bookstore in Harvard Square
Porter Square Bookstore in Porter Square
Trident Bookseller’s & Cafe in Back Bay