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Rediscovering 1967’s Northern Cookbook – recipes from Canada’s Far North

The Northern Cookbook was last published in 1999

We recently came across an obscure 1967 out-of-print cookery book called the Northern Cookbook edited by Eleanor Ellis and published by Canada’s Indian Affairs and Northern Development department, which has since been renamed as Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

It’s a curious but valuable record of cuisine from Canada’s Arctic and sub-Arctic regions that comes with a real 1960s flavor.

The book is worth hunting down just for its wild game section. Recipes include barbecued bear, roast polar bear, rib roast of caribou, baked stuff caribou heart, elkburgers, and roast leg of dall lamb (a dall is a mountain sheep), lynx stew, jellied moose nose, sweet pickled beaver, fried muskrat, and broiled squirrel. There is a warning against eating the liver of polar bears due to toxic poisoning.

The wild fowl section includes a series of ptarmigan recipes. The sea mammal sections include six recipes for seal, and the jams section features eight rose hip recipes.

The influence of the 1960s is shown as traditional dishes are given a “cosmopolitan” makeover – Hawaiian caribou (yes, there’s pineapple in there), moose chili con carne, reindeer goulash, and prairie chicken in cream. It also contains traditional European recipes with no relevance to Canadian aboriginal cuisine such as rice pudding, French bread, custard, and cheese and onion dip.

Although the Northern Cookbook was intended to preserve and record traditional Far North dishes, the influence of white Canadians, most probably from Toronto, is evident.

The edible wild plants section is surprisingly long and detailed considering the short duration of the summer in Canada’s Northwest Territories. The list includes scurvy grass, willow tips, and alpine bistort.

The Northwest Territories is a huge but sparsely populated area of Canada. It borders Nunavut to the east and Yukon to the west. Its summers are short and cool, while winters are long and hard with daytime lows typically around  −40 °C. First Nations and Inuit peoples account for close to half of the population.

To some people, the idea of eating seal, whale, bear, beavers and other reindeer may seem cruel and unappealing. But these animals have been part of the First Nations and Inuit diet and culture for thousands of years.

The Northern Cookbook has a section where recipe tips appear to have been submitted to book’s publisher.

“Boiled porcupine: Make a fire outside and put the porcupine in the fire to burn off the quills. Wash and clean well. Cut up and boil until done.”

This section has some of the simplest and most genuine recipes – boiled frozen fish, boiled bone grease, and cabbage in blubber fat – where there are no ingredient amounts or cooking times, just simple instructions.

Dried and canned vegetables are frequently mentioned due to the lack of fresh vegetables in this part of the world. There’s a detailed section on hunting regulations.

The book uses the term ‘Eskimo’ (who are now known as Inuit) and illustrations of First Nations people that may be considered stereotypical today.

The Northern Cookbook is out-of-print. It was reprinted several times in the 1970s and then McClelland & Stewart reprinted it in 1999. Only 30 copies are listed for sale on AbeBooks.com, making it a rather obscure title. An updated version, without the dated illustrations, surely deserves to be brought back into print. Prices start at around $20.

Barbecued bear – one of many recipes featuring animals from the Northwest Territories.

Every calorie counts when the summer is so short

One of the recipes submitted for publication

Savoy Cocktail Book podcast

A 1930 first edition of the Savoy Cocktail Book

White Lady, Corpse Reviver, the Rattlesnake…. Our latest podcast is about the Savoy Cocktail Book and cocktail mixing. Published in 1930, this legendary Art Deco-style recipe book was written by barman Harry Craddock, who never wrote anything else. Discover Harry’s tips for making a decent cocktail and how he poured drinks for three of London’s poshest hotels.

Jamieson’s Heavenly Celestial Atlas from 1822

Sagittarius: Archer in Latin, and this constellation is usually represented by a centaur firing an arrow

Alexander Jamieson was an 18th century schoolteacher who wrote textbooks on the side. His books included A Grammar of Universal Geography, A Grammar of Logic and Intellectual Philosophy and the Mechanics of Fluids for Practical Men, and you can be excused for giving these three a miss. But you cannot turn your back on Jamieson’s Celestial Atlas from 1822.

Born on the Isle of Bute, the son of a Scottish wheelwright, Jamieson became a member of the Astronomical Society of London and is chiefly remembered for his beautiful depiction of the heavens in a celestial atlas. The book’s full and lengthy title is A Celestial Atlas, Comprising a Systematic Display of the Heavens in a Series of Thirty Maps, Illustrated by Scientific Descriptions of their Contents, and Accompanied by a Catalogue of the Stars and Astronomical Exercises.

Cost forced Jamieson to produce a small atlas

Jamieson’s Celestial Atlas contains 30 engraved illustrations by a firm called Neele & Son. The star maps are overlaid with imagery from the Zodiac and ancient mythology. The latest scientific knowledge is combined with artistic craftsmanship. Jamieson wasn’t the first to mix art and astronomy, but his atlas, which was allowed to be dedicated to King George IV (quite the honor), remains memorable to this day.

Twenty six of the plates are constellation maps. Jamieson only displayed stars visible to the naked eye, making it widely accessible to anyone who looked at the heavens.

Pictorial star atlases were popular at this time but these impressive books were often large and expensive. Jamieson’s Celestial Atlas was much smaller and cheaper. Each chart was approximately 9 inches by 7 inches in size. Jamieson explains in the preface that he had originally wanted larger charts, but used smaller ones to reduce production costs.

He printed black and white and hand-colored versions which were offered for £1 5 shillings or £1 11 shillings and 6 pence respectively. These books are now scarce and only one copy can be found on AbeBooks (for $3,200) but individual prints are available.

Orion was a hunter in Greek mythology who was sent to the heavens by Zeus.

Jamieson produced a second edition of the star atlas just four months after releasing first, almost certainly due to demand.  In 1824, he published a follow-up called An Atlas of Outline Maps of the Heavens but it did not sell well.

Jamieson’s original Celestial Atlas was so popular that his artwork was copied and used in a book called Urania’s Mirror, which was published anonymously (since it was blatantly plagiarized) in 1824. Urania’s Mirror contains hand-colored cards depicting mythological figures while strategic pinholes indicate the location of the stars, allowing a viewer to visualize their appearance in the sky when held up the sky. Apparently, these cards had a tendency to catch on fire. It was books like Jamieson’s Celestial Atlas and Urania’s Mirror that helped popularize the idea of the heavens being a blank piece of paper for artists.

Find Jamieson’s Celestial Atlas

Auriga: This constellation was identified as early as the 2nd century AD by the astronomer Ptolemy. Its Latin name means ‘charioteer.’  Illustrations traditionally show a chariot and its driver, who is holding goats and reins.

Cancer: The fourth sign in the Zodiac. This constellation is usually represented by the crab, based on Karkinos, a huge crab that harassed Greek hero Heracles during his battle with the Hydra.

Cetus: A whale-like sea monster in Greek mythology slain by Perseus in order to save Andromeda from Poseidon.

Ursa Major: Also known as the Great Bear, this constellation is in the northern sky and has been known for eons. It was one of the original 48 constellations listed by Ptolemy.

Hydra: The largest of the 88 modern constellations and commonly represented as a water snake.

Perseus: A constellation in the northern sky, named after the Greek hero Perseus. Andromeda is also in the north and named after the daughter of Cassiopeia. She was chained to a rock to be eaten by a sea monster.

Cygnus: A northern constellation lying on the plane of the Milky Way, deriving its name from the Latin and Greek for swan. Cygnus contains Deneb, one of the brightest stars.

Taurus: A large constellation in the northern hemisphere’s winter sky. Stargazers have looked up to this constellation since the Bronze Age. The association with a bull dates back thousands of years.

A guide to collecting vintage menus

We’ve all handled a restaurant menu but have you ever held one worth hundreds of dollars? Even though vintage menu collecting is a relatively inexpensive pastime, there are numerous antique menus worth four-figure sums and a handful worth thousands. The challenge for all menu collectors is finding surviving copies that are in good condition – by their nature, menus are stained, torn, and thrown away once the dishes and prices change.

But some survive, and in remarkable condition too. Vintage menus are collected for the following reasons:

  • A menu’s design and visual appeal,
  • A menu’s historical record of the food served and the prices,
  • A menu’s association with a person or people of significance,
  • A menu’s association with a significant restaurant or place, such as a cruise ship or royal palace, serving food.

Menus have not been around for many years. They may have originated in the stately homes of British aristocrats who would have provided handwritten instructions for what to serve. During the 19th century, banquets and events also saw the use of menus to help guests understand what was being served in the ‘à la russe’ service style where dishes are served sequentially.

Some collectors also prize of ‘bill of fares’ where ordinary establishments like pubs or hotels would document all their required food for a particular period of time – “one roasting pig, 27 ducks, 200 mince pies…” Victorian menus are hard to find. However, 20th century restaurant menus are easy to locate, especially from the 1960s onwards, and are probably going to be the starting place for any collector just starting out.

Restaurants and hotels serving food in a formal way exploded once travel became cheaper and easier. People needed somewhere to eat because they were away from home for longer. Restaurants gravitated towards travel centers, such as railway stations and harbors. Twentieth century menus show the changing style of art and fashion. Art Deco and Art Nouveau designs are common. Pictorial menus, with blank spaces for the dishes to be typed or handwritten in, were produced on a large scale.

Many restaurants were regionally themed and still are, of course. Their menus often used racial stereotypes of Mexicans, Chinese, and Polynesians. Also right into the 1960s, men were almost always paying the bill so imagery of women on menus could sometimes be sexual.

The expansion of America’s road network in the 1930s and 1940s, and the increase in ownership of cars generated numerous roadside diners and restaurants, which sometimes produced quirky low-cost menus that showcased American dining culture. Novelty menus, produced in odd die-cut shapes, are common. On the whole, menus are designed by little known artists. The exceptions being Alphonse Mucha, Charles Dana Gibson, HM Bateman and Edward Ardizzonne.

Menus increase in value when signed by a famous person. Restaurants in London and Hollywood commonly ask visiting celebrities to sign menus, which are then displayed on their walls. And don’t forget wine lists and cocktail menus – any menu from an early cocktail bar is going to be prized.

Collectors have so many options. There are also cruise ship menus, railway dining car menus, airline menus, banquet menus, and menus associated with particular regions, or periods of time. Bon appetit.

Examples of Vintage Menus

Beau Cedre menu, 1893 – $400

Most probably a menu for a Swiss restaurant. The lettering is almost modernist (but too early) while the military figures hint that a barracks could be located nearby.

Alphonse Mucha worked extensively on commercial projects such as menus

Various Alphonse Mucha postcard menus, circa 1900 – $95 to $500

Mucha was a prominent Art Nouveau artist but he also designed many adverts, postcards and other commercial illustrations. His work often featured beautiful young women in classical gowns and surrounded by flowers.

Diners had to crack the rebus puzzle to identify the dish

Handmade Rebus menu, December 25, 1900 – $175

A Rebus puzzle-themed menu cut in the shape of a leaf with a ribbon tie. Diners have to guess the dish by examining the pictures. The first page has a verse by Robbie Burns beginning with “some hae meat that caan’ eat And some could eat that want it.”

The beautiful cover illustration is the main appeal of this cruise ship menu

Norddeutscher Lloyd Bremen Steamship menu, 1901 – $75

A dinner menu, likely from a cruise ship traveling the New York to Northern Germany route. The dishes appear in German and English.

His Majesty’s Dinner from February 3, 1901

Royal Banquet at Windsor Castle for Edward VII, 1901 – $725

Note how the courses are described in French. This was common in Britain right until the 1950s. Queen Victoria had died on 22 January 1901 and her monogram is displayed. Since this menu was used on 3 February, it must have been printed prior to the Queen’s death.

Royal Hawaiian Hotel menu, 1929 – $75

The Royal Hawaiian, which is still going strong, and Moana Hotels on the beach at Waikiki. The menu includes a note “to our patrons” stating that “a visit to the Hawaiian Pineapple Company’s cannery can be arranged through the front office.”

“The restaurant that captivated California in 5 months….”

Lucca menu, Los Angeles 1933 – $100

A pictorial menu from when America’s dining culture was rapidly expanding. Lucca’s was on the corner of Western Avenue and Fifth Street in Los Angeles (a location now occupied by a Carl Jr. drive-through).  The last page features uplifting messages from Calvin Coolidge and Franklin D. Roosevelt, and also this reassuring message from the management: “If you are a steady patron of Lucca’s you will notice the complete absence of common gastric disturbances.”

SS Exeter became a troop carrier in World War II and was sunk by enemy action

SS Exeter menu, 1938 – $125

Fabulous Art Deco cover art. The Exeter was part of a four-ship fleet of passenger-cargo liners originally built for American Export Lines.

A World War II era menu from China

Chinese Restaurant Union Menu in Jiang Su Province, circa 1940 – $200

Printed on heavy card, this menu is printed in English and Chinese, so most likely for an officers’ club or similar location.

Ernest Doelter’s specialty was abalone

Pop Ernest Seafood Restaurant menu, 1943 – $158

“Pop” Ernest Doelter was an entrepreneur and restaurateur at the turn of the last century. He is famous for turning Abalone into an American delicacy, discovering its many uses and creating an entire industry around the food. Pop subsequently opened his “Abalone and Seafood Restaurant” and enlisted illustrator Jo Mora to create his menus.

A menu from the first restaurant in Los Angeles’ airport

Mike Lyman’s Flight Deck menu, circa 1950 – $82

The first restaurant at LAX, located on the airport roof of what was then the main terminal building. It hosted numerous celebrities including Groucho Marx, Clark Gable, Bob Hope, Joan Crawford, heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, and countless other figures from sport, entertainment, politics, and business. Dishes include Hamburger Steak De Luxe ($2.10), Half Broiled Lobster, Butter Sauce, French Fries ($2.85) and beers for 65 cents.

El Morocco began as a speakeasy before becoming one of New York’s top nightclubs

El Morocco menu, New York circa 1950 – $1,250

El Morocco was a New York nightclub that attracted the rich and famous from the 1930s until the late 1950s. It was famous for its blue zebra-stripe motif, designed by Vernon MacFarlane.

Regional imagery was often incorporated into menu design

Aloha menu, circa 1950 – $47

A stunning menu from an unknown restaurant, probably in Hawaii.

A collection of menus signed  by the stars of London’s stage and screen

Collection of signed Cafe Au Pere de Nico menus 1956-1974 – $6,850

Eighty menus from this London restaurant, signed by visiting luminaries who dined in the Chelsea cafe for two decades between 1956 and 1974. Signees include Winston Churchill, John Gielgud, Mick Jagger, Laurence Olivier, Rex Harrison, Alec Guinness, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Marlene Dietrich, Omar Sharif, Louis Armstrong, Vivien Leigh, Richard Widmark, Susannah York, Sidney Poitier, Vincent Price, Richard Harris, Glenda Jackson, Anthony Quayle, and John Betjeman.

A menu from when the King of Iraq visited Britain

King of Iraq luncheon menu at London’s Guildhall, 1956 – $340

A dinner in honor of Faisal II. The intricate artwork on the cover shows the importance of this event. Faisal was executed in a revolution two years later.

The cocktail prices are appealing in this highly visual menu from the 1960s

Fish Shanty menu, Los Angeles, circa 1960 – $104

This LA establishment was on La Cienega Boulevard’s ‘Restaurant Row’, whose facade – an open-mouthed whale whose jaws surrounded the main entry doors – was made famous in the 1965 film The Loved One.  A lovely example of a simple eye-catching cover design from the 1960s.

A San Francisco landmark since 1914

Alfred’s menu, San Francisco, 1963 – $26

A steakhouse restaurant. Filet Mignon cost $5.25 in 1963. Opened by Italian immigrant Alfredo Bacchini.

A luncheon menu (left) for people with a head for heights and an embossed coaster (right)

Space Needle restaurant, Seattle, 1963 – $125

A menu from Seattle’s famous landmark. The menu identifies Kurt Wuest as the chef and features “luncheon selections” in the $2.50 to $3.50 price range. A folding flap on the menu features a golden embossed image of the Space Needle with, on the back, a drinks menu (Mixed Drinks $1.25, Highballs $1). Rear of menu states: “Opened on April 21, 1962.” This is a souvenir menu mailed off to potential customers, hence it’s remarkable unused condition.

A taste of 1970s Sydney nightlife

Les Girls Theatre Restaurant, Sydney, Australia, 1970 – $23

No subtlety in this menu and wine list from Les Girls, which was an important part of Sydney’s lesbian and gay scene in the Kings Cross district.

A menu from a Casablanca-themed restaurant

Casablanca Souvenir Menu, circa 1985 – $82

A souvenir menu from the Casablanca movie-themed Mexican restaurant in Venice, Los Angeles, founded in 1980 by Carlos Hara, Sr. and still in existence today. Included on the menu are “Play It Again Carlos.” The menu is affixed to a fan made of woven grass.

A bookselling podcast: interview with Russell Books

For the latest Behind the Bookshelves podcast, we visited Russell Books – a bookshop just up the road from the AbeBooks office. Situated in downtown Victoria, BC, this store is well known to us, being one of the first three sellers to appear on AbeBooks when our marketplace was launched in June 1996. Many of our staff buy from Russell Books, which offers new, used and rare books. We spoke to Jordan and Andrea Minter (pictured above), the husband and wife team who run Russell Books. Discover how the shop originated in Montreal, the odd things that customers ask for, and the strangest thing they have ever found in a used book – think of Jaws!

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A shelf in the vintage section of Russell Books

Still loved today: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Frances Hodgson Burnett is best known for three children’s novels – Little Lord Fauntleroy, A Little Princess, and The Secret Garden.

This just sold for $850. It’s a UK first edition of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, published by William Heinemann in 1911. It has illustrated endpapers, and eight full-page tissue-guarded color plates by Charles Robinson. Published in the same year as the first American book edition, Hodgson Burnett’s classic story for children was first serialized, starting in autumn 1910, in The American Magazine, a publication aimed at adults.

Our latest podcast: Detroit Bookfest

The latest AbeBooks podcast features an interview with Ryan M. Place (pictured above), organizer of the Detroit Bookfest, which takes place on Sunday July 15 between 10am and 4pm in Detroit’s Eastern Market, Shed’s 5 and 6. This festival of books is heavily focused on used and rare books, with many specialist sellers in attendance.

Ryan describes how Bookfest began in 2017, details how the event also features music and beer, and sheds light on Detroit’s vibrant book culture, which includes the presence of John King’s legendary used bookshop. Visit the festival’s site for more detail.

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High School Yearbooks of the Rich and Famous

If you graduated from high school with someone who went on to become significant, then your high school yearbook could be valuable. Printed in small quantities, only a small fraction of student annuals reach the collectors market. Most people keep them for sentimental reasons and because they record family history.

Dolly Parton, now aged 72, in her high school yearbook

Yearbooks featuring famous people are popular with collectors because they offer a glimpse into the celebrity’s past when they were humble students.

Genealogists and history buffs are the next biggest collectors of yearbooks. Both are interested in the past but their collecting habits and reasons for collecting differ greatly. History buffs want to find yearbooks pertaining to a notable historical event such as the first African American to graduate from Harvard. Genealogists on the other hand are interested in the history of a specific person or family. The subject of their study may be an important figurehead or a simple tradesman but no matter who they are the yearbooks are collected to trace family lineage or migration. Sometimes family members wish to replace lost or damaged yearbooks that feature a loved one.

It’s possible to obtain the 1942 issue of the Chieftain from the University High School, West Los Angeles, which features a single small grainy picture of Marilyn Monroe. Norma Baker, as she was then, didn’t finish high school. If only they knew what was to come.

Previous sales of vintage yearbooks on AbeBooks include the 1913 Howitzer (Annual of the Corps of Cadets featuring Dwight D. Eisenhower and Omar Bradley) by the United States Military Academy for $500, the 1964 issue of The Sevierian featuring singer Dolly Parton for $500, and the 1948 issue of the Fairmount High Black and Gold yearbook featuring actor James Dean ($450).

“He thinks, he acts, ’tis done.”

Neil Armstrong

The Retrospect, 1947, Blume High School in Wapakoneta, Ohio – $6,326. The first man to walk on the Moon participated in band and the student council.

Bob Dylan, with greased back hair, surrounded by school mates

Bob Dylan

The Hematite, 1957-1959, Hibbing High School, Hibbing, Minnesota – $6,000. Mentioned by his real name of Robert ‘Bob’ Zimmerman, Dylan is instantly recognizable from these photos.

Janis Joplin died in 1970

Janis Joplin

Yellow Jacket, 1960, Thomas Jefferson High School, Port Arthur, Texas – $3,500. Joplin appears in cap and gown looking cheery, with her credits listed as the art club, the Slide Rule Club, both the Future Teachers and the Future Nurses. This book includes former Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson.

The Boss… at school.

Bruce Springsteen

The Log, 1967, Freehold Regional High School, Freehold, New Jersey – $3,000. Born to study, the Boss in a suit and a tie.

High schooler “Billy” Clinton meets John F Kennedy

Bill Clinton

Old Gold, 1964, Hot Springs High School, Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas – $2,500. Includes a famous photo of Clinton shaking hands with John F Kennedy. Clinton also played saxophone in the All-State band, and appeared in various clubs and societies.

Kurt Vonnegut never lost that fine head of hair

Kurt Vonnegut

Shortridge Annual 1940, Shortridge High School, Indianapolis. The hair is the same. Slaugherhouse Five author Vonnegut was a member of the student council and an editor on the newspaper.

Football player, choir boy and eventually Meatloaf


The Document 1965, Thomas Jefferson High School, Dallas, Texas – $375. Meatloaf, using his real name, M.L. Aday, is pictured in a photo as a tackle on the football team. He also sang in the choir.

Nellie Lee is, of course, Harper Lee

Harper Lee

The Corolla, 1947-1948, University of Alabama – Two copies, $800-$1,000. The Corolla was Lee’s university yearbook. The 1947 edition includes a shot of Lee as the editor of the student humor magazine ‘Rammer Jammer’.

The World’s Dullest Postcards

More than a million vintage postcards are listed for sale on AbeBooks showing everything from pre-revolution Cuba to Zaire. Spectacular buildings, stunning views, and amazing natural wonders are easy to find. But we were drawn to the picture postcards showing some of the dullest imagery imaginable. Empty rooms, administrative buildings, views of busy highways and parking lots. Take our tour of 10 incredibly dull postcards – wish you weren’t here, love AbeBooks.

Le Racou hotel and restaurant in France, or at least the unremarkable street running alongside it. We’re not sure which building is Le Racou or where it is located in France although it appears to be in a seaside town.

Memorial Field House at Westminster College, New Wilmington, Pennsylvania. This place is still going strong but the excitement of its numerous basketball games isn’t conveyed by this postcard. There appears to be a classic convertible on the far left of the Field House’s large parking lot.

Greetings from the Riviera Motel in Sudbury, Ontario in Canada where the average low temperature in January is -7° F  / -20° C. This motel has long gone but in the 1960s it offered wall-to-wall broadloom carpet according to the flip side of this postcard.  Look at the spectacularly huge automobile in the parking lot.

This is the Stroh Brewery Hospitality Center in Detroit but the party hasn’t started yet. Not a soul or a beer to be seen.  Note the ashtray on every table. The Stroh family began brewing beer in Germany in the 18th century.

This is the lobby of Vivian Beaumont Theater in New York’s Lincoln Center for Performing Arts offering views of its floor, stairways, railings and walls. This venue has staged countless theatrical productions but its lobby isn’t the attraction.

The Hanover Shoe Company Factory in Hanover, Pennsylvania. This building still exists but it’s been converted into apartments. The Hanover Shoe Company left for West Virginia in the mid-1990s but it used to be the biggest thing in this small town.

The Purple Tree cocktail lounge in Savannah, Georgia, doesn’t seem to exist anymore. Its décor is similar to a set from the original 1960s Star Trek TV show. It was probably a great place to sip gin and tonics but the postcard fails to convey excitement.

This is the business department in Bliss College in Columbus, Ohio. An educational institution that doesn’t exist anymore. Its amenities included a telephone exchange and dictaphones. Row upon row of empty tables and chairs.

The Westgate Motor Hotel in Calgary, Alberta. This roadside building, with its box-like apartments, is no more.  It lacked curb appeal.

This is Romford town hall in Essex on the outskirts of London.  It’s still there, administering to the London Borough of Havering. This building is rarely found on tourist routes but useful if you need to apply for a building permit.

20 Pioneering Novels that Paved the Way for Today’s LGBT Literature

Today’s LGBT genre is vibrant, accessible, accepted and intertwined with the likes of memoirs, young adult fiction and graphic novels. It was a long journey to reach this point. At first, homosexuality had to be hinted at and could never be explicit.  It was disguised in everything from vampire tales to philosophical fiction. Countless gay authors had to hide their own sexuality when writing about this subject. Many books with gay themes were banned or (worse) simply ignored and allowed to fade into obscurity. When LGBT plots and characters became more common in 1950s pulp fiction, the narratives had desperately unhappy endings,  same-sex relationships were portrayed as tragic, and the cover artwork was lurid. Two recommended reads on this subject are Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America by Christopher Bram and the more academic The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature.

Our list is in chronological order

Probably the earliest gay novel published in America

.Joseph and His Friend: A Story of Pennsylvania by Bayard Taylor (1870)

Taylor was a prolific author of poetry and travel writing. This novel describes a relationship between two men without ever becoming sexual or doom-laden. Considering that it was written in the middle of the Victorian era, Taylor’s book was way ahead of its time.

First editions are very scarce and highly collectible.

Imre: A Memorandum by Xavier Mayne (1906)

An early novel about a homosexual relationship between two men that’s important because of its sympathetic portrayal of gay love. AbeBooks sold a first edition for $12,000 in 2009.  Only 500 copies were privately printed. The tale describes a love story between a 30-something British aristocrat and a 25-year-old Hungarian military officer who meet in a Budapest cafe. Xavier Mayne was the pen name of Edward Prime-Stevenson, who was an American author who turned away from a legal career to become a mainstream writer for magazines such as Harper’s and The New York Independent.  Prime-Stevenson also wrote a 1908 study called The Intersexes that defends homosexuality from numerous standpoints.

Not an easy novel to read due to the complex plots

The Counterfeiters by André Gide (1925)

A complex novel with multiple plots that made little impact on its publication due to its gay characters and their intertwining relationships. Today it’s seen as a book that paved the way for post-modern fiction.

A novel of campus life that is long forgotten.

The Western Shore by Clarkson Crane (1925)

One of the first novels about gay university life. Clarkson Crane (1894-1971) attended Berkeley and this novel probably resulted from his experiences. Cane served in France in the U.S. Army Ambulance Corps during World War I. He returned to France in 1923 where he wrote this novel, which quickly faded into obscurity. At this time, American university life was portrayed in literature as being nothing but heterosexual romance, parties, and sport.

A lesbian novel that sparked controversy.

The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall (1928)

Published by Jonathan Cape, the plot sees an Englishwoman find love with another woman while serving as an ambulance driver in World War I only to suffer social isolation. The novel portrays lesbianism as a natural state. It was hugely controversial and put lesbians in the newspaper headlines.

Gender is a fluid thing in this pioneering book.

Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf (1928)

This well-known novel is important because of the fluid way in which Woolf treats gender. The book describes the adventures of a poet who changes sex and meets important historical figures.

A novel about the challenges of coming out.

Strange Brother by Blair Niles (1931)

A platonic relationship between a heterosexual woman and a gay man is at the heart of this downbeat novel set in New York in the Art Deco era. It highlights many of the issues facing people afraid to reveal their true sexuality. Blair Niles was actually Mary Blair Rice, a novelist and travel writer, who made just this one foray into gay literature.

She is a he in this novel that features characters based on real people.

The Scarlet Pansy by Robert Scully (1932)

Horrible title. The main character, Fay Etrange, is referred to as “her” throughout but she’s clearly a man. This is a story of how the androgynous Fay has endless encounters after moving to New York and diving into the queer world of nightclubs, theaters, and street life. It has been surmised that Scully was actually publisher Robert McAlmon, who founded Contact Editions, and the book’s characters are based upon notable figures in the American expatriate community of Paris, ranging from Sylvia Beach to Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Hats off to Fordham University Press who republished this novel in 2016.

This novel was also titled Better Angel.

Better Angel / Torment by Richard Meeker (1933)

Richard Meeker is the pen name of Forman Brown. This novel was also published under the title, Torment. It describes a young man’s gay awakening between the World Wars and, importantly, shows that a homosexual lifestyle can be rewarding rather than tragic. The Torment edition cover blurb reads: “Kurt loved this woman. Did he love her brother more? Is it evil for one man to lavish affection on another?”

Early lesbian fiction.

Nightwood by Djuna Barnes (1936)

An early example of lesbian-themed fiction. Published by Faber and Faber, this novel did not end up forgotten and was praised by several notable authors for its prose. The main character, Nora Flood, is based on the author.

Janes Bowles was married to fellow author Paul Bowles.

Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles (1943)

This novel is about two women who break from their traditional lives. One of them visits Panama, where she meets women working in the city’s brothels. Bowles was the wife of Sheltering Sky author Paul Bowles.

James W. Fugaté had to write this novel under a pen name.

Quatrefoil by James Barr / James W. Fugaté (1950)

A landmark novel because it portrays gay men in a positive light. Two men become lovers and one of them has the choice of financial security or true love.  James W. Fugaté wrote the book under the pen name of James Barr. Fugaté served in the US Navy in World War II and rejoined the Navy in 1952 but he was discovered to be the author of Quatrefoil which led to his discharge.

Claire Morgan was Patricia Highsmith

The Price of Salt / Carol by Patricia Highsmith (1952)

First published under the pseudonym of Claire Morgan, this novel has been titled The Price of Salt and also Carol. The story concerns Therese Belivet, a young woman living in New York, who meets Carol, an elegant woman in her early thirties. It depicts a lesbian relationship in a relatively positive light, plus there’s the wonderful prose from Patricia Highsmith.  Cate Blanchett starred in a movie adaptation in 2015.

The characters in this novel were based on real people.

A Room in Chelsea Square by Michael Nelson (1958)

A British novel that was originally published anonymously because homosexuality was still illegal in the UK at this time and because the main characters were based on real people, including the poet Stephen Spender.

This is a collection of short stories.

The Keval and Other Gay Adventures by Harry Otis (1959)

A selection of gay-themed short stories spanning the world. One Incorporated, the publisher was a non-profit philanthropic organization that promoted homosexual literature through a monthly periodical called ONE and other ventures.

Author Christopher Isherwood was well traveled and lived in Berlin during the 1920s.

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood (1964)

Set in California, this novel depicts one day in the life of George, a middle-aged university professor, in mourning after the sudden death of his partner. Isherwood lived a full life in the UK and the United States but also spent time in Berlin at the height of its ‘Cabaret’ era of sexual freedom.

A lesbian novel set among the casino culture of Reno in Nevada.

Desert of the Heart by Jane Rule (1964)

Originally published in hardback by Macmillan Canada, the hardcover binding was a landmark because most lesbian novels were being printed as pulp fiction at this time. Set in the 1950s’ casinos of Reno, this novel’s plot concerns two women, one waiting on a divorce, who meet and begin a relationship that becomes complicated.

A lesbian novel about the difficulties of coming out.

Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing by May Sarton (1965)

A novel about a lesbian relationship that sunk like a stone in the 1960s before being rediscovered by the women’s movements of the 1970s. Sarton, an established writer at the time, revealed her own homosexuality by publishing this book which deals with the difficulties of coming out.

This gay novel bucked the trend and became a bestseller.

The Lord Won’t Mind by Gordon Merrick (1970)

A gay novel on New York Times bestseller list in 1970? Yes, this one was popular. Charlie Mills and Peter Martin meet and fall in love. The book follows Charlie’s path from being a closeted gay man. Merrick was an actor who wrote a number of gay-themed novels in a mass market style. Merrick’s first novel, the autobiographical The Strumpet Wind was published in 1947 and concerns a gay American spy in France during World War II.

This novel was published until a year after EM Forster’s death.

Maurice by E.M. Forster (1971)

Written in 1913 and 1914, but not published until 1971, the year after Forster’s death, Maurice is a very English story of homosexual love in the early 20th century. Forster never attempted to publish it because he thought gay love had too many taboos. This novel, also featuring class strife and blackmail, was turned into a film in 1987. Unlike many gay novels from the early decades of the 20th century, Maurice is now widely available and frequently read.