My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Wow, what a fantastic tribute to the power of literature to broaden people’s minds and to inspire and change lives.
What struck me again and again was how so many of these gay authors, writing about literature that had a seminal impact on them, recounted how encountering a specific book in a bookshop, library or even garage sale at a specific time had a crucial effect on their socio-sexual development and identity.
I wonder if this is something we have lost in the age of ebooks: that sense of walking into a library or bookshop, the smell of the stacks, the reverent silence, and the incredible sense of discovery and empowerment when you find a particular book that seems to speak to you directly in a language you understand.
Of course, ebooks have also revolutionised both publishing and reading in that a lot of out-of-print titles can be revived economically for a new generation of readers. The Lost Library clearly represents a vanguard of this movement.
Indeed, the book ends with Philip Clark’s ‘A History of the Reprinting of Gay Novels’, which recounts how specialist presses and dedicated small publishers have revived some of the out-of-print authors celebrated in Cardamone’s book.
What also struck me was the incredible depth and range of gay literature. I was astounded to learn that “travel writer Bayard Taylor’s Joseph and His Friend (1870) is generally considered the earliest example of a consciously gay novel.”
Many of the themes we take so for granted today, such as the coming-out novel, were pioneered by writers who were generally well ahead of their time, and who wrote and published in very difficult cultural and political climates. There were gay novels written in the time of WWII and the Vietnam War; the first YA novel saw the light of day in the 1960s.
This is by no means a comprehensive history of gaylit. What Cardamone does instead is stitch together a living document from other writers’ experiences and memories. This is an incredible read, alive and rich in the best possible way. May this book itself never be lost.