Victor J. Banis’s Top 5 Books (not to be confused with Victor’s Five Tops)

I asked Victor to come up with his Top 5 books to rival Teddypig’s but of course he never does what I ask – he always has to top everyone else. <g> So here are Victor’s All Time Top 7 books

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Oh, boy, I love doing “top” lists, only I always go way over. If it’s top five, I come up with eight or nine. Top ten? I list seventeen. And I still always leave out something I love. I mean, when I got this list done, I realized it didn’t have Beyond Machu. What kind of a top anything list wouldn’t include William Maltese? Or, Rick Reed. His Bashed ought to be there somewhere. And Sarah Black, and Jeanne Barrack and…Maybe I’ll do 10 instead of five…

Oh, these are in no particular order, and I’m not sure they qualify as the greatest anything, these are just personal favorites, books I could happily go back to at anytime and read again. And do, as a matter of fact.

fire from heaven 2Mary Renault, The Fire From Heaven and its sequel The Persian Boy

Which I’m counting as one, but this is so arbitrary, I could replace those two with almost anything by this author and be happy with the result. The Charioteer, The Mask of Apollo, The Last of the Wine, The King Must Die and its sequel, The Bull From the Sea, with this stellar description: “He was slight and smaller than I; a Minyan, with some Hellene blood. He stood poised on the balls of his feet, like a dancer…I had never seen such a youth as this. At first sight he could have been a mountebank. But his heavy gold belt and loin-guard, were not gilded shams; he was wearing a prince’s ransom. His light-brown hair hung down in long curled tresses, groomed as sleek as a girl’s, and his eyes were painted. But with all this frippery, hethe persian boy was like a young panther, lean and spare and hard.”

Technically speaking, I guess none of these are really gay romances, the last two least of all, though you could certainly make a case for the two young men in The Last of the Wine, but Ms. Renault had the magical ability to transport you to those ancient and distant lands and bring them so vividly to life; and, in her vision of these worlds, it’s just as natural as breathing that men should love one another. I think reading her works when I was in my teens may have saved my life. Plus, they are just so wonderful — Bet you can’t read just one.

Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain.

I can’t think of another writer today who has so successfully captured the primal and white hot sexual energy that two men, not necessarily even homosexual, can share in the right moment.

I’ve known these guys. They broke my heart. The always do. The scene TP_BrokebackMountainwhere, after a long separation, Ennis and Jack get back together and, for the first time, kiss, went through me like a bolt of electricity. “A hot jolt scalded Ennis and he was out on the landing pulling the door closed behind him. Jack took the stairs two and two. They seized each other by the shoulders, hugged mightily, squeezing the breath out of each other, saying, son of a bitch, son of a bitch, then and easily as the right key turns the lock tumblers, their mouths came together, and hard, Jack’s big teeth bringing blood, his hat falling to the floor, stubble rasping, wet saliva welling, and the door opening and Alma looking out for a few seconds at Ennis’s straining shoulders and shutting the door again and still they clinched, pressing chest and groin and thigh and leg together, treading on each other’s toes until they pulled apart to breathe and Ennis, not big on endearments, said what he said to his horses and daughters, little darlin.” If I could write just one scene this good, I think I could die happy.

Alan Chin’s Island Song

This is such a beautiful book. Yes, the author has a few mis-steps in this, his debut novel. Yes, it goes on a few pages longer than itIslandSong should. Doesn’t matter. If you’ve got any trace of romance in you, you have to swoon over this tale of love and loss and redemption. It is a love story, but so far outside the boundaries of what that label suggests as to render that designation pointless. And, yes, some of the love is shared by men, but some of it too is the love between friends, and family, and love of nature and the mystical, even the love of a dog for his human partner.

The prose is magical and can turn from light to dark in a single heartbeat: “Scanning the clear water, he sees only the massive shadowy shapes of whales circling the boat…He spots Songoree above him, swimming beside a seven ton monster, performing an acrobatic dance that captivates him. With outstretched limbs and his long hair billowing outward from his head, Songoree moves through shafts of purple light filtering down from above. Awed, Garrett slowly ascends while enjoying the performance. Songoree is truly a creature of the sea. He seems as delicate as a seahorse and as graceful as a manta ray…Garrett’s lungs begin to burn, and he is still fifteen feet from the surface. Now he feels it…In a flash, the universe transforms. It comes straight up from the dark water below at horrifying speed. An immense shadow slides just below him…”

Alan has set his story in Hawaii, but in essence he is writing of the island within the heart of each of us, and it is there, like our wounded protagonists in his moving story, where one finds healing and peace. This is its song, and it’s a lovely one indeed.

victor deep water 2E. H. Kahn, Deep Water — A Sailor’s Passage

I don’t know if you can even find this. I did a search on Amazon just now and they no longer have it listed. That’s too bad, really. It is a wonderful piece of writing. Ostensibly about boating and about the loss of the author’s lover to AIDS, it is in fact a powerful and evocative love song to both. I am not a boating person but I felt as if I were on the sea with that beautiful young boy, savoring the wind and the salt spray and those fleeting but unforgettable moments of profound happiness, shared. It brought tears to my eyes, but not the maudlin, grieving tears that so many of these memoirs inspire. These were tears of joy, for the love these two young men had together, and gratitude to the author for sharing it with me. Alas, I loaned out my copy, and, yes…you know the rest.

Ruth Sims Counterpoint

I’m cheating. This book isn’t even out yet, (hence no cover) but I’ve just read the .pdf file, preparatory to writing a review, and this is one no one should miss who loves gay romance. Besides it will be out shortly, so it will give you something to look forward to. And, if you’re going to grumble about my including it here, then just X it out and substitute the same author’s The Phoenix, which is wonderful also. Like Mary Renault, whose writings this resembles, the author has that ability to transport you to another time and place – in this instance, England and France in the Victorian era – and make you feel that you’re there. And like all of the writers I’ve mentioned already, she brings her characters fully to life. Here, from Counterpoint in a passage that just sings, Dylan plays his great concerto, Prometheus: “The love theme began with lilting laughter made into tone …… Prometheus and his beloved, fragile human creations played beneath the warm Aegean sun. Clouds darkened, the wind howled, Night, black and forbidding, fell and Man became faint and filled with terror. Prometheus went to Zeus and demanded fire to give them. Angered, Zeus tore the heavens apart with his thunderbolts. Prometheus could not bear to see his children so terrified in the darkness. Stealthily he crept to the sacred flame and stole just a small part of it. He gave it to Man and the fire warmed Man and made him, like the gods, unafraid of the dark …

The violin played more and more frantically as the drums and horns exploded into the wrath of the gods as they descended upon the brave Titan, dragged him to the mountaintop, and chained him to suffer for eternity. Dylan’s left hand grabbed the off-beat accents as if to physically pull them from the trumpets. His right arm made horizontal arcing motions as if bowing an enormous contrabass. Abruptly he cut them off and the orchestra fell silent. The violin cadenza, Prometheus’ agonized and triumphant cry of defiance, wound higher and higher in its tortured frenzy, until it was joined by the oboe in fourths and finally broke in the agonized scream of Prometheus as the eagle descended upon him. The oboe dropped out. Four more high, shrill fourths broke from the violin. There was a final scream, a shrieking doublestop. The scream hung there for the space of a heartbeat. The violin caught with a sob and, accompanied by the muted orchestra, broke into the love theme once more as the tortured Prometheus cried out that his sacrifice was not in vain: Man lived and had fire.” Simply majestic!

William Somerset Maugham The Narrow Cornervictor the narrow corner

Still cheating. Maugham was too closeted (he grew up in an England roiling over the imprisonment of Oscar Wilde) ever to let his literary hair down, but in chatting with his gay nephew Robin, he called this “my queer novel” and it’s not at all difficult to read between the lines and see the relationship he really wanted to write for these two young men. If you don’t mind doing a little mental rewrite as you read, it’s quite beautiful. “‘I doesn’t know what it is, but when you’re with a chap like that everything seems different. I daresay he’s crazy, but I wish there were a few more like him.’ ‘You’ve taken quite a fancy to him, haven’t you?’ ‘Well, you can hardly help it,’ answered Fred, with a sudden attack of shyness. ‘You’d be a perfect damn fool not to see he’s as straight as a die. I’d trust him with every penny I had in the world. He couldn’t do anyone down. And you know, the funny thing is, though he’s such a big, hulking fellow and as strong as an ox, you have a sort of feeling you want to take care of him. I know it sounds silly, but you can’t help feeling he oughtn’t to be allowed about by himself; someone ought to be there to see that he doesn’t get into trouble.'” Yes, luv, I know that feeling well. It has gotten me into so very much trouble over the years…

victor kenny's backVictor J. Banis’ Kenny’s Back.

Now I’m really cheating, since this makes the list 7 instead of 5, and I don’t think I’m supposed to name one of my own. I certainly wouldn’t describe this as my best book, either, though it has always been a personal favorite. It’s an early one, from 1968 and I hadn’t begun to reach my stride as a writer, but it was my first serious attempt to write a gay love story, and I wrote it for a major paperback publisher who up to this point had no interest in gay fiction, and it changed his mind, so it has its own little niche in our history. Which is to say, it’s special to me. And, you know, when I reread it a couple of years ago, I thought it still held up very well. It’s steamy, plenty romantic, and a mystery to boot. What more could you want?

“He took it all without complaint and afterward he laughed and called me ‘Big Swede,’ but he didn’t mean it the way he had before. It never happened again. When my desire went, it was replaced by a river of guilt that suddenly separated me from him. I was ashamed of what we had done—of what I had done. It was wrong. I was sure of it, and crazy. We weren’t kids anymore, we were men, and men didn’t do things like this…Kenny didn’t have any guilt of his own, I’m sure of it, but some of mine rubbed off on him. The next day it was all different between us. He didn’t look straight at me when we were around each other, and we didn’t say anything more to each other than we had to. When I went to bed that night, I saw him give me a funny look. He wanted a sign, I know, or some word that told him everything was okay, but I didn’t give him any. He came to bed later and stopped at my room, opening the door and sticking his head inside. ‘Mar,’ he said in a whisper, ‘You asleep?’ I wasn’t, but I pretended I was. I never was a good liar. He knew I was pretending and that must have hurt most of all. He waited a minute or two and then he went on to his own room, and I spent the whole night staring up at the ceiling and wishing he were in bed with me, curled up in my arms.”

Well, there you are, I’ve gone over the limit once again. And as I say, I could easily go on for a lot longer, but that’s enough for you to think of for one day, kitties.

And now, back to Deadly Silence, featuring, yes, you know who…and guess who’s still screwing things up.

Author

I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball

11 comments

  • Victor, I love that you put excerpts in your list!! I might have to go shopping O_O
    I already wanted to read BEYOND MACHU and ISLAND SONG in particular. I’ve had THE PHOENIX on my shelf for years. It’s a lovely story. Heartbreaking, but yes, beautiful 😀
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    Have to agree with you on BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, btw. OMG. Every time I read it, I have to read it twice — once to be floored as a reader, and once to be floored all over again as a writer. Holy wow, the way that woman can put words together. I’d give a major organ to be able to do that.

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  • Oh, I love E. H. Kahn, Deep Water — A Sailor’s Passage and I, too, cry. I cannot remember what made me buy the book, but I’m sure glad I got it. It’s a lovely and heartwrenching tale of love, life and going-on.

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  • Thanks all for the comments – Of course, I’d no sooner seen this posted than I wanted to add…well, I could do that all day. I should explain, these are not my picks as the greatest books ever written, they’re just favorites that, as I said, I can go back and reread just about any time. The Maugham choice was odd; I love it, but it’s not my favorite of his – I included it in large part because he called his his “queer book” and it would be hard to say that about any of his other novels. Interestingly, though, considering how bold it was of him, he often included gay characters in his stories, but not as the lead character. As to my favorite Maugham, I’d be more inclined to pick The Razor’s Edge (a gay minor character). But, as I said with the others, you can pretty much pick and choose among the works of writers like these. I’m so looking forward to Alan’s newest.
    And, yes, if did the list over, I would include Beyond Machu. I loved that book, too, it’s everything William does superbly, combined in one book (doesn’t always happen.) But, then, I loved Bashed, and Bend in the Road, and…see, things do get away from me.

    Victor

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  • Victor. –Couldn’t help myself. Had to check in. ALWAYS interested in what you have to say, buddy, and I was pleased as punch to see my BEYOND MACHU mentioned in your opening paragraph. Certainly, we couldn’t agree more on some of your selections. Mary Renault remains one of my very favorites, of all time; and, of course, Ruth Sims’ new book COUNTERPOINT, of which I,too, have had the privilege of reading in pre-publication copy, isn’t one to be missed by anyone (I liked it even better than her THE PHOENIX, if that’s possible). –Of course, while I have my own personal favorites of your books, KENNY’S BACK is certainly among them. –You have a great day, ya hear? In fact, I insist! –Luv ya. William

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  • Victor, I’m speechless–and you don’t know how rare that is. Some of your favorites are also on my favorites list, especially The Charioteer and Island Song. As Alan says, it’s an honor to be on your list. And to have you compare my writing with that of Mary Renault is… well, I’ll be speechless for a very long time. Thank you so much!

    I’m dying to see your review of Counterpoint. It’s my favorite of everything I’ve ever written.

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  • I was putting together a top 10 list of my own, and my #1 is the same as yours — and those two books together really are one long story. I’ll have to check some of those others out!

    And hey, a writer should be allowed a bonus pick for “favorite book I wrote.” It’s pretty sad if, as a writer, you don’t have a favorite among your own books!

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  • Nice list. I too liked the excerpts. I have to say your excerpt at the end made my heart break a little. Hopefully there was a HEA. 🙂
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    I can never choose my favourite books, or movies, or cheesecake or anything. It’s like your kids, you can’t choose your favourite. They all have good things that you loved that are different. I can’t even choose my fave books of this year let alone my whole life but I love reading other people’s lists though. Thanks for sharing.

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  • Victor, I don’t have words to express how thrilled I am that you placed my Island Song on your favorites list. I’ve always loved the story, but to have someone of your experience and literary caliber think highly of it is an honor for me. Hell, it would be an honor for any writer.
    Thank you.
    alan chin

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  • Great list, Victor! I’m glad you included the excerpts to give us the idea about the writing (since I haven’t read some of the books, I’m sure others will find that helpful too). My TBR list just got longer, I must say. And Kenny’s Back is on the top of it, of course. ^^
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    My heart just skipped a beat at the mention of Deadly Silence. I can’t tell you how much I love Tom and Stanley (I often go back to the first book to reread the parts, Tom just didn’t know what hit him XD) and I can’t wait to read the book.

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