As John Waters famously said, "If you go home with somebody, and they don't have books, don't fuck 'em!" It's a rousing sentiment that you've undoubtedly seen plastered across the souvenir section of The Strand or embroidered on the tote of someone at your favorite Brooklyn coffee shop. The truth is, the days of Reading Rainbow and the magic of walking into our elementary school's Scholastic Book Fair are gone. For most of us, these memories have become nostalgic while we busy ourselves with the newsfeeds of our go-to social media.
We say "most of us" because, tucked deep into the labyrinth of backstage fitting rooms, the magic of reading a good book has found a renaissance thanks to 24-year-old model Dane Bell. In the high fashion world of modeling, Bell has become as well-known for his stunning good looks and penchant for booking top designers like Gucci and Thom Brown as he has for his penchant for reading. As garments are pulled on and makeup is applied, Bell is rarely seen without a book cracked open.
For Bell, his obsession with reading outlasts his time spent walking the runway. When he was discovered in New Zealand by N Model Management, he'd been working towards his degree in Marine Biology after moving to the country from his hometown of Detroit, Michigan. Three years later, he's garnered agency representation in New York, Paris, Milan, London, Hamburg, L.A., Sydney, Tokyo, and Toronto, yet still reads more than most.
With another New York Fashion Week: Men's season behind him and September's NYFW schedule looming ahead, we got Bell to set his book down and, in his own words, recommended five of his favorite, LGBTQ-leaning books to help cure even the worst case of midsummer malaise.
Photo: Backstage at Robert Geller Fall '17 by Hatnim Lee
The Hours by Michael Cunningham
You'll likely have heard of this because of the movie adaptation, starring the iconic trio of Streep, Kidman, and Moore. If you cried during the movie, the novel--which is even richer than the movie, though somehow not spoiled by it--will leave you sobbing as it did to me. I distinctly remember clutching this modest novel as I stumbled around Brooklyn, a sniveling mess, weeping: "Oh, the hours... THE HOURS!" Cunningham's drama is written with enough restraint and poise to avoid the trap of overstatement. This, combined with his admiring attention to Virginia Woolf's biography (she being one of the three protagonists), an electric homoerotic undercurrent, and a conceptual backbone which, despite its bleakness, rings fresh and hopeful, make this the ideal novel with which to while away the hours until your demise as you boil alive in this hellish climate.
This is one of those novels that makes me feel better about my own laziness, as nothing much seems to happen. What makes this novel such a pleasure to behold is the deftness with which Woolf, a queer icon, transfers perspective from one character to another, almost unnoticeably, despite their disparate, and at times warring, countenances. For days after, you will find yourself attempting to do the same with anonymous passers-by, though, at the moment, most inner-monologues will likely take some form of "It's too fucking hot."
Photo: Backstage at Feng Chen Wang Spring '18 by Phoebe Cheong
A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
Isherwood's gay modern classic was made for the misanthropic summer moper. Isherwood's writing is as quiet and melancholic as its protagonist, a British university professor who is mourning the loss of his lover. The first-person POV succeeds in its solicitation of the reader's empathy as we follow the protagonist through a single day in his life after death. The contrast of LA sunshine and the university's youthful community with the character's sorrowful reminisces exaggerate his grief-induced detachment from the world around him, and makes this novel apropos for a read in the shade as you try to ignore the insufferable shouts of glee of the people around you.
The badass lesbian poet Mary Oliver is grandmother to us all. Oliver's muse is the natural world, and there is no time the earth's riches are more remarkable than during the obnoxious abundance of summer. She tends to focus her attention on the minute, a grasshopper in her palm, a wildflower, and with an understated but undeniable adoration she unfolds her darling subject for the reader into something larger and more beautiful than the object itself. This nearly always gives the reader a furtive but intended glimpse at Oliver's spiritual ethic, at the crux of which is an undying curiosity and loving gratitude. With Oliver's help, maybe you, too, can learn to appreciate the relentless insects and hay fever which have been plaguing you of late. Thank you, mosquito! Thank you, pollen!
Photo: Backstage at Thom Browne Spring '18 by Adam Katz Sinding
Bluets by Maggie Nelson
Maggie Nelson is most widely acclaimed for her recent work, The Argonauts, a keen probe into the convoluted contemporary and personal conceptions of queerness, gender, and sexuality. I have to say, though, that Nelson's Bluets is the book that stole my heart. Bluets is like a favorite restaurant. It's so delicious, it feels like a personal treasure that I want to keep it secret but can't because I'm a zealot for its beautiful genius. If you are a head-in-the-clouds clouds-in-your-head dreamer like I am, do yourself a favor and go pick up Bluets. Head to the park, lie on your back facing the big, blue summer sky, and soak in these words. I promise, afterwards you'll feel a little less blue.