The books that highlight our lives

Last week on NPR’s Tell Me More, Michelle Martin spoke with Loriene Roy, President of the American Library Association, about books that highlight the LGBT experience. Roy suggested a few novels and some memoirs, most of which have been recently nominated for Stonewall Book Awards — the ALA’s annual awards for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered authors.

One of Roy’s recommendations was the children’s story And Tango Makes Three, which happens to be the most banned book in the United States right now. (It has held that place since 2006.) And Tango Makes Three is the true story of two male penguins, Roy and Silo, who became a same-sex couple in the Central Park Zoo. Together they tried to hatch a rock that resembled an egg. Once zookeepers realized the two male penguins wanted a child, they gave them an egg of their own. The couple hatched and raised a healthy female chick named Tango.

Talk about a story to keep away from kids! That’s almost as threatening as the elderly lesbian couple that got hitched in California two weeks ago. Cuddly penguins and old lesbians are terrifying!

In the interview, Martin noted that “sometimes people of color feel invisible in the LGBT experience — or sometimes feel invisible in the discussion of LGBT issues.” She asked Roy if she’d found any books that spoke to that part of the LGBT experience. Roy suggested Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers, a memoir in which Chris Beam paints a portrait of transgendered teens living in the Los Angeles area. Roy called the book sharp-witted and says she found herself growing attached to all of the story’s teenagers.

Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice, by Janet Malcolm was another of Roy’s suggestions. The book takes a deep look at lesbian couple Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, two Jewish women whose tumultuous forty-year relationship survived even the Holocaust. Stein was an author and philosopher, Toklas was an author and cook. In their review of Malcolm’s book in 2007, The Washington Post urged readers not to be put off by the bland cover, calling it “a small perfect keepsake of a small, perfect book.”

The story of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas is at once beautiful and harsh, glorious and depressing as hell. To be honest, it would make a really good Lifetime Original Movie, if Lifetime ever decided to make a gay, period-film.

Last week I asked you about your favorite new classics. This week I’m asking you the same question Michelle Martin asked Loriene Roy: what are your favorite books that highlight the LGBT experience? And yes, Tipping the Velvet totally counts.

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