One of my favorite places in New Orleans is the FAB Bookstore, a little hole-in-the-wall place on Frenchman Street in the Marigny. Otis, the owner, has his shelves crammed with queer lit and where there aren’t books, the paintings and framed photographs are stacked to near tipping height.But what really sets a book-romantic like me salivating is the smell—the dusty aroma of book-musk.
You can smell it from the street, a heady printer’s perfume that lures you through the door and won’t let you back out until you’ve dropped at least fifty bucks on out of print, dog-eared treasures. It’s the musty scent of wisdom, wit and passed-on wealth of knowledge that has enabled queer culture to survive. And it rises addictively like pollen of crack cocaine from the pages of Tom Cardamone’s The Lost Library: Gay Fiction Rediscovered.
This most marvelous book-about-books is an informative, fascinating look at 28 little-known queer classics and how they affected some of today’s best and best-informed authors. You’ll hear from such terrific writers as Christopher Bram, who lauds Allen Barnett’s The Body and Its Dangers, a Lammy award winning collection of six powerful short stories, Sean Meriwether, who shares his own coming out process hastened by Lynn Hall’s YA classic, Sticks and Stones and Aaron Hamburger’s ruminations on J.S. Marcus’ opus about Berlin, The Captain’s Fire.
You’re sure to find much common ground with these fine writers. Myself, I was drawn to the essays about three books I also fell in love with: Neil Bartlett’s Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall (Philip Clark), Agustin Gomez-Arcos’ The Carnivorous Lamb (Richard Reitsma) and Christopher Coe’s Such Times (Jameson Currier). Having had my own experiences with these works, reading the assessments of others is absolutely fascinating.
But beyond reinforcing the worth of what you’ve already read, these essays help build a list of what you should be reading next. High on that list for me is the first black queer detective novel by George Baxt, A Queer Kind of Death (lovingly critiqued by Larry Duplechan), Kyle Onstott and Lance Horner’s horny Roman epic Child of the Sun (backhandedly complimented by Michael Bronski) and Paul T. Rogers’ challenging Saul’s Book (gauntlet thrown down by Paul Russell).
All of the contributors are wonderful writers on their own,who to a man manage to explain the importance of their subjects while piquing your interest in them. That’s no small feat. Editor Cardamone has assembled a great collection of interesting, well-told stories about stories, and if that doesn’t stoke your fire, then you’re not a book lover.
And if you’re not, what are you doing here?
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler