As I arrived in West Hollywood in 2008, A Different Light was dying. I don’t have any memories of the queer bookseller other than its closure. It had been a chain store with enormous swinging power and meant a ton to everyone in town. I would have liked to have seen the little bookshop in its warm heyday, banned books culling together gays for a variety of social inclinations. The shop then became no longer vital; five years ago, it surrendered and was swept out to sea.
As a bookseller at one of the largest Barnes & Noble’s in the country, I was understandably guilty.
The BN at the Grove mall is second in traffic only to some store up in Alaska where I assume it’s the hottest ticket in town for families tired of huddling around a lamplight for warmth. My store boasted three floors, each with a balcony circled by Featured Book tables. Many of these featured titles were preset by publishing houses and the head office, but on occasion, booksellers and managers could select their pick. June approached, and a Gay Pride table was decided upon. When it finally came together, I was nonplussed (a word I proudly know how to use correctly, even in the heat of being nonplussed). The table slanted heavily in a, let’s say, porn-y direction. A straight manager had been told to assemble a Gay Pride table and, knowing nothing and slightly thunderstruck at venturing into the bottommost shelves of the “Cultural Studies” section, grabbed armfuls of random MM and FF erotica and called it a day.
Let me establish my non-prude bona fides: I’m aware erotica was and remains a vital driving influence in queer bookshops and publishing houses. I was miffed by the lack of variety – the slapdashery of it all. At A Different Light, queer customers often came (heh) for Tom of Finland but stayed for Armistead Maupin. Or, honestly, the other way around. This table wouldn’t move any copies because there wasn’t the same care and thought put to the consumer as the Beach Reads table received. Gay Pride: The Table would likely serve its civic purpose as quota-filled and then vanish July 1. I asked the straight manager if I might have a crack at selecting some titles. I was given a non-verbal response somewhere between “Sure thing” and “I don’t give a rat’s ass.”
Gay Pride stuck around as a table (and later an endcap) for two years. It averaged about 20 titles sold a month; meager, considering an average table moved hundreds, but the number wasn’t zero. The key was variety of interest: erotica mixed with David Sedaris with Gore Vidal with David Levithan’s YA with E. Lynn Harris’s Down-Low page-turners.
But I’m most proud of Gay Colossus. For a brief, faboo run, Ultimate X-Men re-imagined their steel-shelled Russian mutant as a big ‘mo and thrust him into a tumultuous, short-lived romance with always-gay Northstar. Colossus and Northstar’s love affair was a mix of Glee-esque Very Special Coming Out and ultra-exciting revenge fantasy when the French-Candian gets abducted. Their multi-issue arc in Ultimate X-Men #19 never stopped selling from my table.
Did a readership exist that would be interested in gaywad comic book antics AND Gore Vidal AND porn? I’m lucky that in the two years that table stood, no manager ever asked me. That is progress. Long may our reading interests remain so unquestioned.
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Written by Adam Sass
ADAM SASS begins all his writing in Sharpie on dozens of Starbucks pastry bags. This may cause him to be late making your cappuccino, and he sincerely apologizes. His Writer’s Digest-honored story “98% Graves” appeared in the anthology STARTLING SCI-FI: NEW TALES OF THE BEYOND. He lives in New York City with his husband and two dachshunds.
Find Adam at AdamSassBooks.com, his pop culture writing at GeeksOut.org, or keep up with him on his (over)active Twitter @TheAdamSass.