The title of this book just has to be problematic because of that “Must Read” injunction. I wonder if the editor has read all 50? Certainly some would be difficult to obtain while at least one is very definitely out of print. So, what do we have? This is a collection of essays (not reviews) of 50 texts diverse across time though less so across cultures; also less so across gender as there are markedly fewer lesbian entries. But then, if this is just such a collection of essays based on the tastes of the authors rather than a collection of set texts à la Lit 101, the fit is much more comfortable.
What we have are a series of choices some predictable, others less so, that give the reader an opportunity to either gain a fresh insight into an author and one of their works that may, or may not, have been encountered before. I found this function very helpful indeed. I had read my fair share of the choices (25 of the 50) and mostly enjoyed the attached musings. In a lot of other cases, I was introduced to something(one) new and have been stimulated to try them out when possible. I refer particularly to the last two entries “Ghost Dance” 2004 by Douglas Wright and “Burning Dreams” 2006 and the fact that I have never read any Ronald Firbank– note the publication date of 2009, so the last six years are not represented.
I found it refreshing that there were a variety of formats and styles but understandably disappointing that some of the authors who crowd my shelves were not represented.
In case you are interested in the cred of Richard Canning, he is the editor of the Between Men series and author of “Gay Fiction Speaks” and “Hear Us Out”. He is a lecturer in English and American literature at the University of Sheffield.