What books are currently on your night stand?
There is only one book on my nightstand, which I read an occasional chapter from while reading other books. It is called “The Divine Guido: Religion, Sex, Money, and Art in the World of Guido Reni” by Richard E. Spear. It’s a wonderfully written book about the queer baroque artist Reni who did such wonderful Saint Sebastian paintings.
If you had to name a favorite novelist, who would it be?
My fave, if I must choose, is Jean Genet, without a doubt. Genet is a true poet, with depth and brilliance. He’s been a huge influence on my own art making.
What were your favorite books as a child?
I read the entire Dr. Doolittle series as a kid. It was wonderfully escapist for me coming from a fucked up family, and I just lived in that world through my fantasy. Strangely enough, having once wished to talk to the animals, I find that now at the age of 54 I do exactly this with my two dogs. And they sass back.
I also read Stoker’s “Dracula” at around 10 years of age, and that really became a huge favourite, which I read again and again.
What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?
I have several books on poisons and ways to commit murder, for a future project. Or husband.
How do you organize your books?
Mostly by theme. But I have so many art books that I’ve had to divide these into art historical periods, starting with ancient Greece and then Rome, then Byzantium, then Medieval, Renaissance, etc. It pretty much ends with contemporary art and beefcake gay porn. I think I enjoy the porn more. But I have around 2,000 books and it’s just ridiculous right now…. Piles of books on the floor. I’m such a book whore. A shameless literary hussy.
What books are in your kitchen?
Cookbooks of course. Lots and lots of cookbooks. I eat them when I’m hungry. Visually that is.
What book has had the greatest impact on you?
Without a doubt, “A Thief’s Journal” by Jean Genet had the greatest impact on my mind. Before reading it I never thought I had anything in common intellectually with anyone. After reading it, it opened up so much, especially in terms of dark poetics and negative symbolism. Then I went on to read everything by De Sade, at the goading of Lydia Lunch who pushed me into that around 1983. I love De Sade, but he’s not everyone’s cup of blood, because you have to learn how to read again with him. Reading him literally is madness. You have to read De Sade sideways, through the cracks, and under the covers….
What do you think is the best written book on Weimar-era Germany?
There is no “best” book on the Weimar period. No single book could ever encompass the entire culture, which was so vast and vibrant. A few that come to mind are “Weimar Culture” by Peter Gay, “Berlin Cabaret” by Peter Jelavich, but a good introduction is “The Weimar Years” by John Willett, which has just been reprinted. But to really understand Weimar, in my opinion, you have to read Nietzsche. His thought is the foundation to so many writers and artists of that period, and a little known fact is that he was the reason for creating the first Berlin cabarets in 1901.
Who do you think is the best gay author alive today? Ever born?
I don’t think in terms of “best” about anything. I think it’s pointless to think of something in culture as “the best.” Each author brings something different to the table. If you want to read interesting queer authors there are many out there, but certainly Gore Vidal and Christopher Isherwood come to mind. And I’m sure there are just as many great lesbian writers too.
If you could require all high school teachers to read one book, what would it be?
All of my high school teachers were imbeciles. Just tragic fuckers who drank on the job, sold the students pot, or in one case, even tried to rape a girl in my class. I doubt that most of them could read at all, so suggesting a book to them would have no end result. But if I was feeling bitchy and evil, maybe “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” by Nietzsche, and get them completely mystified. Then watch them have a meltdown.
If you could require all high school students to read one book, what would it be?
“Juliette” by De Sade. Then I’d be fired or imprisoned. But seriously, in the current political reality, everyone needs to read “1984” by Orwell and “Brave New World” by Huxley. And “The Communist Manifesto” by Marx and Engels. That would open up their eyes to the reality of their slave culture.
If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you want to know?
Gore Vidal I had the pleasure of getting drunk with once after arguing with him. We left as friends and he was very touched, as was I. Didn’t expect that. I also had the pleasure of eating dinner with Hubert Selby Jr. in San Francisco once with Miss Lunch, and was just in awe of him. So the two I wanted most to meet I have.
But I guess it would have to be De Sade I’d want to dine with and discuss politics with him. We’d get drunk and he’d try to seduce me into sodomizing him, and I would have to politely decline his offer, all while pouring us another glass of claret.
What do you plan to read next?
Honey, don’t get me started. “Allegory and the Migration of Symbols” by Rudolf Wittkower. I’m beginning research for a PhD so my head will be in that area for the next three years. Pray for me.
More about Tom and his oeuvre can be found at http://www.tomgarretson.com