The first time I read Giovanni’s Room I couldn’t help but feel that the novel was reading me. Every few pages, I’d come across a passage of James Baldwin’s writing that reached through time and rang so impossibly true to my own experiences and the conversations I was having with the gay men in my life. “Confusion is a luxury which only the very, very young can possibly afford and you are not that young anymore,” Jacques says to David during a polite spat at a bar. When I read that sentence, I threw down my copy of the book, yelled “Shade!” in my empty bedroom, and burst out laughing. A deep, good laugh. A species of laughter usually reserved for brunch with best friends and bitter queens, respectively.
What a moment — to feel that a novel was as interested in speaking to my life as I was in searching for a reflection of my life in its pages. I’ve read Giovanni’s Room three or four times in the last few years, always with the sense that I’m catching up with a friend I love but know better than to loan money to.
If you’re a black gay guy, or a woman, or pretty much anyone but a straight white man, I imagine you understand just how powerful — and rare — it is to feel that a classic work of literature relates to your life. Rather than eavesdropping on “One Of The Greats,” you’ve been invited into the conversation itself. That is why I read; those are the kinds of books I return to again and again.
No title in literature is quite as shady as “classic.” And so, knowing that, I guess when I say “classic gay books,” I mean “books that, decades, and sometimes even centuries later, would still love to sit down with you, spill tea, and tell you about yourself.”
Last night, after putting together the list of books included below and agonizing, frankly, over the fact that I surely have left some great books off, I went home. The wind was raging outside, so I pulled the covers up to my neck, grabbed my paperback copy of Andrew Holleran’s Dancer From The Dance, and turned to a dog-eared page: “Go out dancing tonight, my dear, and go home with someone, and if the love doesn’t last beyond the morning, then know I love you.”