Interview with a Queer Reader: Vigdis Talks Reading Boy-on-Boy Yaoi Manga as a Lesbian, Trying to Find Good Queer Books in Norway, and More!

Meet Vigdis, a lesbian reader and writer from Norway! She gave me a really lovely and detailed answer to my “introduce yourself question,” which I thought I would reproduce here:

Well, what can I say? Firstly, I didn’t ‘realize’ I was gay until less than three years ago. For a long time I considered myself bi-curious; I was interested in girls but never knew if I could actually fall in love with one. I fell in love with guys, but I was never comfortable with them, especially in intimate settings, and I guess my feelings wasn’t true love, but just the love you might get for, an actor you really like? Or just someone you find interesting. At the time I just thought I hadn’t found the right one. But then about three years ago I started actively to look for girls to date, and 2.5 years ago I met Siv, and I fell heedlessly in love. That’s when all the pieces fell together. I finally understood why it never worked with guys, and I realized I could never ever go back to them. I had found myself. That relationship didn’t last long though, but shortly after I found the girl of my life, and we are now engaged. My life couldn’t be happier than it is right now.

I’m not actually in any LGBTQ2IA+ communities even so. There was a gay setting where I now live we interacted with for a while, but they seem to have disappeared. I joined the Pride Parade one year and that was great fun, and I would like to do something like that again, and meet other queer folks, even though I do have a few queer friends.

I do not lack hobbies though. After I moved north with my girl, I realized how much I LOVE fishing. When it’s the season, we go fishing all the time. Sadly we have winter a long time up here, and practically go into withdrawal in the winter months as it’s not so easy to go fishing here then. We are however considering making a fishing blog, which would be great fun.

Obviously I also love to read. I’ve always had a huge collection of books, and wish I could have a whole library in my house – which is tricky now as we live in a smaller apartment. In addition to that I love to write, and want to be a published author one day. Even though I am Norwegian I read and write mainly in English, as I find this language so much easier and better. I’ve yet to finish something to publish though, as I’m not always motivated to write, and tend to start on new stories rather than finish other ones. But the hope is there!

As a last mention I’ll say I’m also a gamer. The game I go to the most is World of Warcraft, but I also play lots of other games when the time allows it, like Final Fantasy, Skyrim and Assassin’s Creed.

You can find Vigdis on Facebook and on Twitter.

vigdis.jpg

Keep reading to hear Vigdis talk about reading boy-on-boy (yaoi) manga as a lesbian, how hard it is to find queer books you’ll really like, looking online for book recommendations, and more!

What was the first LGBTQ2IA+ book(s) you remember reading? How did you end up reading it (i.e., were you searching for queer books or did you just happen across it?)

The first thing I read was actually a longer fan fiction a friend of mine wrote. It was yaoi (boyxboy), and my first introduction to that world. I loved it, and quickly looked up more yaoi stuff. What I mainly read was drawn yaoi, i.e. manga. Is it weird a lesbian girl likes yaoi? I loved it anyway.

What is/are your favourite LGBTQ2IA+ books, and why?

To be honest, I haven’t read many queer books. It’s not that I don’t want to, but I am not sure how to find any good ones. What I have read are mostly collections of short stories, and I haven’t found anything very good there (sadly I do not remember the name of them). So this is a question that is hard to answer. I would love recommendations though!

If we count Manga books though, I have read a lot. This is mainly yaoi again, as I find it so hard to find any good yuri (girlxgirl) manga.

One of my favourites here must be Crimson Spell by Ayano Yamane, a series that is sadly not finished as far as I know. Yellow by Makoto Tateno is also a very good one. Oh, and of course Gravitation by Maki Murakami. Lots of angst but I really like it.

Which LGBTQ2IA+ book have you read that best reflects your experiences as an LGBTQ2IA+ person?

As with the question above, I haven’t read much. I’ve written a few short stories/scenes though, that reflects my own experiences.

Which LGBTQ2IA+ book do you wish you could read but can’t because it doesn’t exist yet?

Maybe it does exist and I just haven’t found it yet? I guess I would want to read something where the queerness so to speak feels all natural. Where it’s not weird or looked down on. Something that is very enjoyable to read.

How do you find LGBTQ2IA+ books? How easy or hard is it in your experience finding the ones that you want to read?

In Norway, I do not think these books are exactly mainstream. I’ve found a couple in bookstores, but it’s hard to find good ones or any at all. I turn to Amazon when I try and find these books, but as I’ve mentioned before I find it difficult to find something I think I’ll enjoy. I read the reviews there, but the few I’ve tried do not meet my expectations. I think there are a lot of books there though, so if I get a recommendation I can download it to my Kindle, which would be very good.

Do you know other LGBTQ2IA+ readers or participate in any LGBTQ2IA+ reading communities (in person or on the Internet)? What’s it like? Why or why not?

I actually haven’t stumbled – or really looked – for any reading communities. I guess I would like to join one if I found a good place though. Of my friends – both queer and not – I don’t think many read these books, as far as I know. My fiancé loves to read, but I’ve yet to see her read a queer book. Though she did have one with short stories she considered throwing away when we moved, but I kept a hold on and am planning to read.

Thanks for sharing with us Vigdis! Okay readers, she is asking for your recommendations (especially ebooks available on Kindle)! Which books do you think Vigdis should read after hearing about her reading tastes?

Posted in Fiction, Graphic, Interview with a Queer Reader | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Looking Back at My 2017 Year of Reading: A Bookish Survey

This is a year-end reading survey I’ve been using for a couple years now that I stole from Danika at The Lesbrary in 2014. If you’re not following The Lesbrary, you’re missing out on a lot of rad queer women’s bookish content!

Enough with the preamble! Now, on with the survey!

  1. Best book you read in 2017

Okay I always cheat with this question, because, really, who can pick ONE favourite from a whole year of reading. In no particular order, these were my absolute favourite reads from 2017 (some published in 2017, some older):

The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin (including The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, and The Stone Sky)

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby

Things to Do When You’re Goth In The Country by Chavisa Woods

Next Year For Sure by Zoey Leigh Peterson

Meanwhile Elsewhere: Science Fiction and Fantasy from Transgender Writers edited by Cat Fitzpatrick and Casey Plett

A Place Called No Homeland by Kai Cheng Thom

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

I’ll talk more about all of these in the other answers!

  1. Book you were excited about & thought you were going to love but didn’t?

Rough Patch by Nicole Markotic: oh boy was this a disappointing read. I REALLY wanted to love this bisexual Canadian YA novel. It has the word bisexual ON THE FIRST PAGE! Unfortunately the front-and-centre bisexuality and some good characterization were the only redeeming qualities in this book that just felt like it needed tons of work to transform it into a good book: lots of telling instead of showing; uneven plot where nothing at all happens and then everything is squeezed in at the end; repetitiveness and recycled material; violent homophobia as the only significant plot point. Ugh, I feel depressed again thinking about the great book this might have been with big revisions. Check out my full review for more (sad) details.

  1. Favorite new author you discovered in 2017?

Samantha Irby!! I listened to the audiobook of Irby’s latest memoir/essay collection We Are Never Meeting In Real Life and I completely fell in love with it. Its hilarity was matched only by its unwavering frankness while Irby tackles topics as diverse as growing up poor, awkward strap-on sex, depression, reality TV, dating, race, her bitchy cat, being fat, her parents’ deaths, changing relationships in your 30s (ie, your drinking pals become suburban moms), etc. I found myself laughing out loud a lot but also wowed by how she gets to the heart of things and voices emotional truths. Also, how did it take me this long to discover Irby, since she’s a bisexual writer whose sense of humour is so up my alley??? I didn’t even realize she was queer until I was already listening to the book. Everything else she’s written now has a top spot on my TBR.

  1. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

A couple years ago I did a reading project of reading some mysteries since it was a genre I had never really read before; it turned out that I actually do like mysteries (mostly the cozy/classic variety), so I’m not sure if the genre really counts as out of my comfort zone anymore, but I want to talk about Strong Poison by Dorothy L Sayers, so here we go! Originally published in 1930, it’s the sixth book in the Lord Peter Wimsey detective series. What’s especially fabulous about this one is that it’s the installment that introduces Harriet Vane, who kind of feels like she should have been the protagonist in this series and very well might have been except for the damn patriarchy probably. She’s a mystery novelist and in this novel it’s Peter’s case is to prove her innocence in the murder of her fiancé. The fiancé in question was poisoned in a way that Harriet herself is intimately familiar with, having researched poisoning methods thoroughly for her books, of course. Peter falls in love with her, and you will too.

  1. Book you can’t believe you waited until 2016 to finally read?

I can’t believe I didn’t read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott until 2017 but I also can’t believe I couldn’t even force myself to finish it?? I even listened to the audiobook, which usually can carry me through a book I’m not loving. Why have I ever heard that this is the American version of Anne of Green Gables? It is not funny like AOGG, nor heart-warming, nor empowering?? It is one of the most boring books I’ve ever (mostly) read. As I wrote in my Book Riot article about Classics I Hated That I Thought I Would Love: “I’m sorry, but Louisa May Alcott can neither write an interesting character nor craft any semblance of an interesting plot. What happened at the end that I never got to? I can’t tell you how much I don’t care.” I’m actually surprised I didn’t get more hate for hating on Little Women.

  1. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

I read all three of the novels in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy in 2017 (a clever plan, since the last one came out in 2017 so I never had to wait for the next book to come out!). Oh. my. god. I was expecting this to be good, but damn, N.K. Jemisin! She has skyrocketed to the top of my list of authors, dead and alive, who I would want to have at my dream dinner party. The Fifth Season (and its two following books) is an incredibly unique, inventive fantasy with a cast of complex, fascinating characters (human and sort-of-human). I especially appreciated the degree of unlikable the main women character was. I almost hesitate to even call this series fantasy, since it’s leagues ahead and more innovative and imaginative than any other fantasy I’ve ever read that it’s hard to even compare to any of the run-of-the-mill medieval Europe inspired fantasy. It’s one of the few books I’ve read (Octavia Butler’s and Nalo Hopkinson’s are also among them) that makes me just marvel at the capabilities of the human imagination. Like, how did N.K. Jemisin come up with all the concepts in this book??

The story takes place on a continent where “Father Earth” is angry, very angry, and the people who live there are under threat of extinction via earthquakes, volcanoes, and other natural disasters often enough that the idea of apocalypse hangs over them like a cloud all the time. Some people in this world, including most of the main characters, have a gift or curse, depending on how you look at it, of being able to move and control the forces beneath the earth’s surface. They are the people in this world “who have to fight for the respect that everyone else is given without question” (Jemisin’s dedication). Also: significant characters include a trans woman, bisexual men and women, and a gay man, and the majority of the main characters are Black.

In the first novel, three interlocking narratives take place at different times and places, following different characters until the stories come crashing together and continue over the course of the next two books. Not only has Jemisin achieved incredible world building that continues to grow over the trilogy, but the plotting is so tight. Damn!! Somehow Jemisin manages to sustain the awesomeness through the second book (always the hardest) and finishes with a final book that is pretty much a lesson on how to end a trilogy in the best way. I could not gush about this series enough, just read it ASAP if you have not yet.

  1. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2017?

I LOVE the cover of Next Year For Sure, Zoey Leigh Peterson’s debut novel. It’s actually a painting by Jarek Puczel, so I guess this choice isn’t really highlighting book cover design in the way another pick would. But it’s just so beautiful and fitting for this book: those soothing yet melancholy colours and the faceless woman and man looking awkward and sort of facing each other but sort of not, everything is just perfect for this character-driven book about relationships, romantic, friends, poly, and otherwise.

next-year-for-sure

  1. Most memorable character of 2017?

I’ve already gushed about N.K. Jemisin’s books enough, but I do want to mention that Essun, the main character in the Broken Earth trilogy, is one of the most fascinating and complex characters I’ve ever encountered. But I also want to talk about Jared, from Eden Robinson’s Son of a Trickster. Oh, Jared. I just want to give him a big fucking hug.

Son of a Trickster came out in 2017 after too many years without any new fiction from Eden Robinson, who’s one of my favourite authors. This novel is SO worth the wait and it’s very much driven by its complex, fascinating main character. It’s about Jared, a sixteen-year-old burnout who drinks too much and smokes too much pot and lives with his mom, who he can’t trust to not bail on him and the bills or to not beat up guys who admittedly deserve it. His dad’s no better, and his grandma thinks there’s a dangerous trickster spirit in him. But Jared is not a culmination of the “youth at risk” factors that would seem so clear cut on paper. He is not what an outsider would think: he’s an incredibly compassionate person, to the point that others take advantage of him, and a person simply in search of not wanting to hurt or be hurt. He’s completely in love with his constantly farting dog, Baby Killer (“Baby” for short) and is devastated when she dies.

Jared’s coming-of-age story (which is really just beginning because this is the first book in a trilogy) is incredible in and of itself, but the small magical touches that Robinson has sprinkled throughout the story suddenly burst to the forefront of the narrative in a totally unexpected way at the end. In other words: the fact that Jared is stoned does not explain why ravens are talking to him.

I wrote a whole article at Book Riot last year about Eden Robinson, in order to convince everyone of the writing goddess she truly is. If you haven’t read her, definitely check it out.

  1. Most beautifully written book read in 2017?

Oh my god, Kai Cheng Thom’s poetry debut A Place Called No Homeland is just a fucking phenomenal collection of poetry. I can’t even believe it’s her debut! Hers are poems with strong roots in oral traditions and spoken word; you can really hear them in your mind and heart. They’re tough, tender, and incredibly powerful meditations on family, race, being trans, femininity, trauma, relationships, community, sex, books, and love. She writes:

someday they’ll cut this body open
and discover that my flesh is made of sky:
azure, sapphire, cerulean, turquoise, ultramarine
indigo
violet
black
cirrus and cumulus clouds stirring behind my eyes
cumulonimbus, alight with lightning,
crackling through the capillaries of the heart.
i am oh so full of rain
you could fall through me forever.
please,
dear scientist, mortuary explorer, search me thoroughly
tenderly catalogue all my wayward parts.
find somewhere in me
the forgotten moon, the faded stars.
re-member, reassemble, this tattered heaven, this
shattered
celestial thing

Read my full glowing, gushing review here.

  1. Favorite passage/quote from a book you read in 2017?

From Things to Do When You’re Goth In The Country by Chavisa Woods:

“There is a moment, for every child, when the adults around them…decide that the child’s dreams must be obliterated. Adults do this so that they can replace the noble and ridiculous aspirations of children with the ignoble and ridiculous aspirations of grown-ups. They do this because they too, in a moment where they were on the other end of this awful thing they are doing, were taught that only the most ignoble and ugly things are attainable. For this reason, disappointment with one’s life becomes a much more believable outcome. And, as Americans hate failure, this actually becomes the grudging goal of how one’s life should be lived–passing time with hated tasks, thankful and even possessive of the most basic aspects of survival: family, roof, clothing, food.”

“Since she was young, she’d believed. But also, she’d questioned, and when her husband died, it was like someone had struck her in the face with the knuckled back of a strong hand made of nothing but that question.”

From Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson:

Close your eyes. Concentrate on your breath. Remember that you were not always earthbound. Every living creature, every drop of water and every sombre mountain is the by-blow of some bloated, dying star. Deep down, we remember wriggling through the universe as beams of light.

  1. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2017?

Idris-Elba-e1498800417218Innon from The Fifth Season! He’s a charismatic man who somehow manages the impossible, like making characters who are awkward / kind of hate each other—ahem, Syenite and Alabaster—somehow end up together in a poly marriage of sorts. He’s first introduced as a “big man, black-skinned like most of the Meovites, built more like a Strongback than a Resistant and with personality enough to outshine any Yumenescene Leader” which is a description that will only make sense if you’ve read the book, but it basically means he has all the best parts of all sorts of different kinds of people. He’s one of those very big and tall and strong people with a sweetness to him that belies his tough looking exterior. Also, he’s bisexual!! (PS: I will probably imagine him as Idris Elba from now on due to this great Fan-casting The Fifth Season article).

  1. Best worldbuilding /most vivid setting you read this year?

Becky Chambers and N.K. Jemisin have a tie here, but I’ll talk about A Closed and Common Orbit since I don’t want to repeat myself. A Closed and Common Orbit is the second novel set in Chambers’s Wayfarers universe (although it’s fairly stand-alone, since it focuses on secondary characters from the first book). I had almost forgotten how much I love her world-building.

The future universe (“the Galactic Commons”) she has created somehow feels totally humanly familiar and mind-blowingly imaginative at the same time. Centuries into the future, humans have left Earth and have made contact with other intelligent life across the galaxy. In fact, humans have only survived due to the grace of one particularly altruistic species who rescued them essentially from destroying themselves. This isn’t hard science fiction by any stretch, but it also feels like a completely believable future, for the technology, yes, but more for the continuation of and subtle changes in 21st century Earth cultures. It’s a universe where spaceships tear apart time and space to create wormhole tunnels from one galaxy to another and artificial intelligence has developed to a point where legislation tightly regulates its use and human-appearing cases for AIs are illegal. But it’s also a universe where relationships between sapient beings and quests for purpose in life are at the forefront.

Chambers’s unique alien species are a big part of the world-building and they provide fascinating contrasts to humans in a distinctly anthropological kind of way. There are obvious physical differences between the species, such as whether they have fur or scales and how many limbs they have, but the more interesting contrasts are between their fundamental worldviews and assumptions. In addition to aliens, in A Closed and Common Orbit we get the perspective of an AI named Lovelace. She was built to be housed in a spaceship, but due to a tragedy that happens at the end of the first book she wakes up in an approximation of a human body. Chambers approaches her characterization the same way she does the non-human species: diving deep into the truths of what makes her ‘species’ unique, while at the same time underscoring her fundamental ‘humanity.’

  1. Book that made you cry or nearly cry in 2017?

Ugh, there are a few 2017 books for me to recount for this question. Actually, three: They Both Die At The End by Adam Silvera, a particular story in Meanwhile Elsewhere edited by Cat Fitzpatrick and Casey Plett, and A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers. I think the reason Silvera’s queer YA book (which I listened to as an audiobook) made me cry is probably obvious, given the spoilery title. A Closed and Common Orbit has such a beautifully happy and up-lifting ending that I cried, but in a good way. But the short story “Imago” by Tristan Alice Nieto in Meanwhile Elsewhere. I’m just going to plagiarize myself and take out an excerpt from my review of the collection:

This story wrecked me, breaking me apart but then putting me back together, albeit in a bittersweet way. It is one of the best stories I’ve ever read. Tabitha lives in a future world where an epidemic that came to be known as the “White Death” has decimated humanity. A wonder drug called “Revivranol” was at first heralded as a miracle in response to the White Death and other kinds of dying, extending

viability for cardiopulmonary resuscitation from thirty minutes to twenty-four hours, and allowed the body to function in spite of massive physical trauma…But soon the promise gave way to reality. Those we revived came back broken, cold and distant…it was usually a confused and perverse confrontation as people tried in vain to locate a tiny fragment of the person they once knew within the talking pile of human remains that wore their lover’s skin.

This is the setting for this remarkable story, which integrates tidbits of butterfly biology, superstitions about and prejudice against people with albinism, grief over lost love, the impossibility of conceiving of your own death, the peculiarities of memory, and the cruel directions capitalism leads people in dire circumstances as well as those willing to capitalize on the miseries of others. Midway through the story Tabitha thinks.

I can’t shake the feeling that I should feel something more than mild disappointment at the thought of being dead. I think about all the things I never got to do, all the people and places I’ll never see again, but it doesn’t stir anything. Perhaps it’s a blessing, perhaps I’m protecting myself from the immeasurable cognitive weight of truly comprehending my own death.

You will weep and be forever changed by “Imago,” I promise. Honestly I’m getting a little teary just thinking about it.

  1. Hidden gem of the year?

I know poetry in general doesn’t get a lot of spotlight, and this is a debut poetry collection at the intersection of multiple marginalizations and with a few factors against it (written by an Asian Canadian trans poet published by an indie press), but I wish I could somehow push A Place Called No Homeland onto everyone in the world, because it deserves to be so much more than a hidden gem! I’ve already quoted an entire poem above, and you should really go read my review if you haven’t already.

  1. Best 2017 debut you read?

Next Year For Sure is a beautiful book, one of those novels that keep me up reading it, and kept me up for weeks after thinking about it. I’m still thinking about it. It’s one of the longest reviews I wrote last year. I love character-driven, thought-provoking novels about relationships like this, and Zoey Leigh Peterson’s first entry into this literary sub-genre is so sure-footed and pitch-perfect it’s hard to believe it’s her first novel. Also read this book if you’re looking for represetation of asexual spectrum characters and if you’d appreciate a very Vancouver setting.

Posted in Anthology, asexual, Black, Canadian, Fantasy, Fiction, list, memoir, mystery, Non-Canadian, Non-Fiction, Poetry, Queer, Science Fiction, Short Stories, Trans, Trans Feminine, Trans Masculine, Transgender, Vancouver | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Interview with a Queer Reader: Lara Talks Getting Queer Books in Small Town Eastern Europe, FINGERSMITH by Sarah Waters, and More!

Meet Lara, who is a 22-year-old nonbinary lesbian from Europe! She is currently a computer engineering major who likes linguistics as a guilty pleasure; this means she doesn’t have a lot of free time on her hands! When Lara was a kid she watched a lot of Xena Warrior Princess, which led to her practising a bunch of different martial arts when she was younger. This is probably the reason she still owns a sword today! These days in her limited spare time she plays with her dog, watches TV, and plays video games. Lara also runs a sapphic book blog on tumblr, which is a big motivator to get reading done. You can also find her personal tumblr here.

lara

Keep reading to hear about what it’s like trying to find queer books when you live in a small town in Eastern Europe, Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, hosting an online Sapphic book club, and more!

What was the first LGBTQ2IA+ book(s) you remember reading? How did you end up reading it (i.e., were you searching for queer books or did you just happen across it?)

The first LGBTQ book I’ve read was Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. I live in a non-English speaking and sadly pretty homophobic part of Eastern Europe so there was (and still is) no way for me to be exposed to LGBTQ books anywhere in public. It only dawned to me just a few years back that I’d never actually read a book with two women who fall in love (admittedly, my need for those up until then was satiated by fanfiction). Thankfully by then I had been able to safely purchase books online so I did a quick search for a book that was among top rated books that I’d still find interesting plot wise, and I have to say it did not disappoint.

What is/are your favourite LGBTQ2IA+ books, and why?

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters is definitely one of my favorite books, and not just because I’m biased since it was my first. It’s just a well written book that reminded me of books I was forced to read in lit class, but this time infinitely more enjoyable.
One of my recent favorite reads is Enchanters by K.F. Bradshaw which I really loved since I can’t resist a good YA fantasy books with magic and women loving women.
I’m one of those people who can’t stand contemporary books, and I try but end up disliking almost any I read, but I picked up Out on Good Behavior by Dahlia Adler and I was pleasantly surprised.

There’s also a novella called Concordant by Izzy Almaz (it’s also free on Lulu!) which was the first book I read where I actually felt represented in both as a lesbian and a female aligned nonbinary person. I had a chance of talking to the author who was the loveliest person and I also got a signed copy so it’s one of my prized possessions.
And I feel like I’m cheating with this one, but the graphic novels in The Wicked + The Divine series are such a fun read and have a bunch of different LGBTQ characters and crazy plot so there’s something for everyone in them!

Which LGBTQ2IA+ book have you read that best reflects your experiences as an LGBTQ2IA+ person?

Besides just characters that reflect parts of me as a person, I don’t think there are any that fully represent me. And I do believe that as a community we have infinite amounts of similar experiences, be it coming out or dealing with homophobia and/or transphobia, but ultimately I think all of our experiences are unique. But if anyone ever writes a book about a nonbinary butch lesbian growing up in a small town in Eastern Europe, trust me I’ll be the first one to read it!

Which LGBTQ2IA+ book do you wish you could read but can’t because it doesn’t exist yet?

Something set in a dystopian/fantasy setting, dragons or other mystical creatures are a bonus, where the majority of the characters are nonbinary people (and obviously by default no one is straight). Also with diversity in other aspects too, such as people of color and neurodivergent people.

How do you find LGBTQ2IA+ books? How easy or hard is it in your experience finding the ones that you want to read?

I run a book recommendations blog specifically for f/f books (so books with lesbian/bi/pan women, nonbinary and trans inclusive) called Sapphic Literature so it’s sort of my “job” to be good at finding LGBTQ books. And trust me, on my lists I have a good few hundreds of them so never think there’s no books for you out there. That said, I am personally only able to find them online (and here I would briefly like to thank all bookstores who have free shipping) since there aren’t any in libraries and bookstores where I live.

Do you know other LGBTQ2IA+ readers or participate in any LGBTQ2IA+ reading communities (in person or on the Internet)? What’s it like? Why or why not?

I do! I’m actually a host of the Sapphic Book Club on discord and we currently have over 300 members. Since I’m the host I’m biased but I do think it’s fun to have a safe space to talk about books you’ve read (especially for younger kids who don’t have that at all) plus sometimes we get free books to read from authors so I think it’s a win-win for everyone who joins.

Thanks so much for sharing with us Lara! I’m sure other people can sympathize with living in a place where there’s nowhere in person to be exposed to queer books. But it sounds like you’ve done a lot to compensate for that with your online queer bookish networking! I hope one day you get to read about a nonbinary butch lesbian growing up in a small town in Eastern Europe!

Posted in Butch, Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic, Interview with a Queer Reader, Lesbian, Non Binary, Non-Canadian, Queer | Leave a comment

Interview with a Queer Reader: Estlin McPhee Talks LOTS of Queer YA and more!

Estlin McPhee is a writer and collective organizer living on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh land in Vancouver. They work with youth and live with cats. For five years, they co-organized REVERB, an anti-oppressive queer reading series. Estlin’s writing can be found online at their website and their infrequent tweets are located at @estmcphee.

estlin mcphee

Keep reading to hear Estlin talk about LOTS of queer YA, At Swim, Two Boys, queer poetry, Fans of the Impossible Life, Malinda Lo, and more!

What was the first LGBTQ2IA+ book(s) you remember reading? How did you end up reading it (i.e., were you searching for queer books or did you just happen across it?)

The very first LGBTQ2IA+ book I read was “Hello,” I Lied by M.E. Kerr, which came out in 1997, and which I read probably in 2002. I wasn’t exactly searching for it, except of course I was and just didn’t know that that was what I was looking for. I grew up in a small town with a very small library (which I later worked in as a teenager) and I pretty much read every book on the shelves there, so I initially picked up “Hello,” I Lied because I’d read everything else. Then I promptly read every other M.E. Kerr novel I could find in search of more queer content. Those novels—“Hello,” I Lied, Night Kites, Deliver Us from Evie, along with Nancy Garden’s The Year They Burned the Books and Annie on My Mind—were my initial entry into queer lit, and they were deeply important to me, though very depressing. Alternatively, I sometimes consider Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad series the first queer books I ever read when I was just a wee one.

What is/are your favourite LGBTQ2IA+ books, and why?

I’m a big YA reader so most of my favourites are YA, with a few notable exceptions. Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan will always hold a special place in my heart because it totally changed the game for queer YA when it came out in 2003. Reviews initially described it as a fantastical utopia because it mostly took place in a town that wasn’t full of deadly homophobia and because it had a happy ending. I had never read a queer book with a happy ending before that one. I was sixteen when Boy Meets Boy came out so that amounts to sixteen years of zero happy queer stories. Ouch.

But my actual favourite LGBTQ2IA+ book is At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O’Neill; it’s neither YA nor has a happy ending, but I also read it when I was sixteen and it transformed my world. Writing just opened up for me as a result of reading that book. It’s dense and full of very specific (and sometimes newly invented) Irish dialect and a whole lot of Irish history, which means it can be challenging for parts of the first read but it unfolds a little more with each reading. Reading At Swim, Two Boys is like falling headlong into a landscape that is also a poem that is also a spiritual experience. That’s what it’s like for me, anyway, every time I read it. It’s been quite literally transportive for my life, taking me to places in the world and putting me on courses of study that I wouldn’t have embarked on otherwise.

I also would be remiss to not mention how powerful LGBTQ2IA+ poetry has been in my life. Poetry is a whole different kind of storytelling that I’m grateful for every day. Saeed Jones’ Prelude to Bruise is a book that I basically just carry around with me. I once tweeted how much I liked that book and he tweeted back to say thanks, which essentially made my life.

Which LGBTQ2IA+ book have you read that best reflects your experiences as an LGBTQ2IA+ person?

I don’t think I’ve read that book yet. The closest thing would be some combo of The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth and Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa, both of which I love very much but aren’t quite my life. I really haven’t read something that feels close to my experience of gender, reflects some other piece of my life, and is a book that I enjoy the experience of reading. But maybe that lack is something that keeps me writing.

Which LGBTQ2IA+ book do you wish you could read but can’t because it doesn’t exist yet?

A summer time YA story with queer trans and gender-variant characters who spend most of their time eating ice cream, making art, swimming in the river, redefining friendship, and falling in love. That’s all I ask for! In literature and life.

How do you find LGBTQ2IA+ books? How easy or hard is it in your experience finding the ones that you want to read?

I have always been really good at finding LGBTQ2IA+ books in the library or bookstore, which admittedly is fairly easy now that there are Rainbow stickers and Pride booklists and all kinds of online resources to find the gay stuff. But before those things became commonplace, I used to be able to dependably retrieve at least one queer book from the shelves using nothing more than my sixth sense (my homo intuition). Finding ones that I actually want to read is another story, especially now that I’ve been reading queer lit for over fifteen years and have gotten much pickier. I do use a lot of online resources to find books to request at the library—in particular, Malinda Lo’s amazing personal blog and her joint project, Diversity in YA, which is sadly on hiatus now, are my go-to resources for what to read, as well as your fantastic blog. I’m also not above regularly Googling “Queer YA Books” and have found some good results through that.

Do you know other LGBTQ2IA+ readers or participate in any LGBTQ2IA+ reading communities (in person or on the Internet)? What’s it like? Why or why not?

I know a lot of LGBTQ2IA+ people and I know a lot of readers; the overlap is luckily pretty strong in my life. I don’t participate in any official reading communities but am part of a loose network of friends who are always trading books back and forth, so I have a lot of opportunities for queer lit conversation, which is great. I also frequently get asked for queer YA recommendations, so I’ve started a living list of my absolute favourites on my website. Some of my friends have been working their way through that list, which is fun for me! I love knowing that they’re reading books I adore and have recommended, with the added bonus of getting to talk to nice people about those books after.

What a wealth of queer YA knowledge! Y’all should definitely check out Estlin’s list, which includes some of my personal favourites too. And don’t miss Estlin’s writing too!

Posted in Canadian, Fiction, Gay, Interview with a Queer Reader, Poetry, Queer, Vancouver, Young Adult | Leave a comment

Reading and Re-Reading FALL ON YOUR KNEES by Ann-Marie MacDonald

Honestly where should I start with this devastating masterpiece, Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald, originally published in 1996? I recently read this book — or rather listened to the audiobook — for the second time after first reading it in my early twenties. Actually, that’s not the first time I encountered the book. I have a distinct memory of getting a hold of a copy sometime when I was in high school and sitting down on this grassy area facing the ocean behind the grocery store in the small town I grew up in (it was a really nice stretch of impossibly green and perfect looking grass that my friends and I used to call “the movie grass”). I know I didn’t make it very far into the book, because it gave me an icky and creepy feeling right from the beginning; it turns out this feeling was entirely warranted, so good job teen me on the close reading skills.

I think when I finally read it through the first time I already knew that there were queer characters or a queer plotline of some kind, which is maybe what allowed me to persevere. I probably was also more steeled against reading books with disturbing content by that time. At any case, I read it and honestly I can’t really remember now much of anything about that reading experience. I think I probably just thought it was very good “literature” (imagine that with a posh British accent) as my English honours undergrad degree that taught me to assess.

Having read the book years and years before starting this blog, I had had it on my to-reread-TBR for a while, since I felt that I needed to re-read it before reviewing it on Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, which I felt was necessary because it’s such a big book not only for queer Can Lit specifically but Can Lit in general and perceptions of Can Lit outside Canada (thanks, I guess, to Oprah for that??). And what better way to revisit a book than to encounter it in a different form: audiobook.

The audiobook is performed by Cassandra Campbell. (There’s also another audiobook version with Nikki James, but I decided I preferred Campbell after listening to excerpts of both readers. If you’ve listened to the other audiobook, I’d love to hear what the whole thing was like!) Cassandra Campbell does really an INCREDIBLE job with the audiobook adaptation. It’s not often that you have one voice actor doing the narration and all the different character voices and they really nail it. This book in particular requires various different accents and dialects (Nova Scotia Scottish, New York jazz age African American, Lebanese Canadian Arabic speakers, and others).

Campbell does a perfect job that makes you realize just how much skill is behind the seemingly effortless way she pulls it all off. She also had just the right touch of foreboding and mystery in her voice that also wasn’t without its humour that brought MacDonald’s prose to life. Like all of the best art, Campbell excels to the extent that you forget you’re even listening to an audiobook with one person doing everyone’s voices and you just fall right into the story. If you’ve been thinking about re-reading this book or reading it for the first time, I would HIGHLY recommend Campbell’s audiobook version. (But don’t say I didn’t warn you that it’s over 20 hours long; this is a long-ass book).

I don’t often read this kind of dark literary fiction these days, to be honest. For whatever reason, my taste for the depressing lit fic that I used to gobble up when I was younger is largely gone. So reading this kind of book again was hard, harder than I thought it would be. I don’t know how Ann-Marie MacDonald writes beautifully about such dark things, telling the intergenerational story of this fucked up family.

For anyone who hasn’t read it, or for whom it’s been a long time, here’s the official blurb:

They are the Pipers of Cape Breton Island — a family steeped in lies and unspoken truths that reach out from the past, forever mindful of the tragic secret that could shatter the family to its foundations. Chronicling five generations of this eccentric clan, Fall on Your Knees follows four remarkable sisters whose lives are filled with driving ambition, inescapable family bonds, and forbidden love. Their experiences will take them from their stormswept homeland, across the battlefields of World War I, to the freedom and independence of Jazz-era New York City.

I didn’t think I remembered Kathleen, Frances, Mercedes, and Lily (the four sisters) until I had made my way through the first parts of the novel, which focus on their parents, at which point everything about these young women — their complexities, their sharp personalities, their joys, their mistakes — came rushing back. At the same time as this novel is a distinctly epic, sweeping look at a certain period of the late 1800s and early 1900s that has a very bird’s eye historical view, it’s also a deeply character-driven story, and not only of the four girls at its centre. I was especially struck this time around by complex and honest secondary characters like Adelaide, Leo, and Teresa Taylor and the father of Materia (the girls’ mother).

(Be forewarned, it’s difficult to talk about this book without spoilers, and since it came out 20 years ago, I’m assuming many of you have already read it. This review from now on includes MAJOR spoilers. Also, content warning for incest and sexual assault).

Reading Fall On Your Knees a second time was perhaps worse than the first time. I mean, the first time is awful, to be sure; and I don’t mean the reading experience is awful, because MacDonald does such an amazing job somehow weaving beauty out of darkness. But overall this is a dark book, full of people making horrible mistakes with gigantic consequences and making difficult choices and living under tough circumstances, not including the gut-wrenching reveal near the end.

The way MacDonald has structured the book made reading it for the second time, for me, REALLY hard. First time readers gradually get tidbits of what happens to Kathleen; you find out her father brought her home from New York, you find out she fell in love there, you find out she was really pursuing her career as a singer despite her music teacher being a jackass, you find out she was pregnant, you find out she died in childbirth back in Nova Scotia. Honestly, that story itself is sad enough. But the shock readers get at the end, where MacDonald reveals that it was Kathleen’s father who raped her and was the father of the child(ren) who were the cause of her death is just unbelievably devastating. It’s devastating even when you know the whole time he’s a fucking creep. I can’t believe I don’t have a memory of discovering that when I read it ten years ago.

But knowing that fact, the whole time that MacDonald is building up the narrative, releasing small bits of information about Kathleen, and especially throughout the final sections of the novel that take the form of Kathleen’s diary while in New York and falling in love with Rose is fucking heartbreaking. My knowledge of what happens tainted everything in the book, especially the Kathleen and Rose sections, which in and of themselves are so beautiful and lovely. Their first bristly interactions, Kathleen’s startling realization she’s attracted to Rose, their musical collaborations, Rose’s pointed comments about Kathleen’s naivety about race, everything about their friendship and romance that is so amazing and real and wonderful. Ann-Marie MacDonald, why did you want to break my heart this way??

Ultimately revisiting Fall On Your Knees made me think about what kind of stories get praised and what kind of stories get published by big publishing houses by and about marginalized voices, particularly people of colour and/or LGBTQ2IA+ people. Perhaps this is just a function of literary fiction in general; I mean, it does have a reputation for being a sad genre, as if sadness and horribleness are the stuff of serious literature but joy and wonder are not. But the heartbreaking stories also seem to be so much of the work praised by the white/straight/cis majority, as if stories about queer, trans, and people of colour are only worthwhile if they are about their suffering.

I don’t know if I can stomach stories like this about queer characters anymore. I don’t know if I want to stomach them. What I want is a book in which Kathleen and Rose live happily ever after in NYC and have fabulous music careers. Why can’t I have that?

I’m not saying I don’t still agree with my opening statement, that Fall On Your Knees is a masterpiece. It is, in print and audiobook format. It’s not that I think you shouldn’t read it, if you can stomach it. But fuck is it ever dark. And I don’t know if I want that kind of darkness in my reading life anymore, you know?

Posted in ann-marie macdonald, Black, Canadian, Fiction, Lesbian, Queer, Rural | 2 Comments

Queer Canadian Book Gift Guide for Everyone On Your Holiday Shopping List

The title says it all; I do mean a queer Canadian book gift guide for everyone.

For the cynical, ironic millennial in your life:

Everything is Awful and You’re a Terrible Person by Daniel Zomparelli

This collection of interconnected short stories by Vancouver gay author and poet Daniel Zomparelli should go directly to the heart of someone in their 20s or 30s at this moment in time. In the stories, gay men look for love (and hookups and possible threesomes with ghosts) on Grindr, Instagram, and through text messages; they also do stuff like steal office supplies from their jobs, deal with their mental health at their therapists’ offices, and bake pies. This book is funny and sad and snarky and sweet and very queer and will undoubtedly profoundly speak to anyone trying to be a young or a new adult in 2017.

For someone who needs to escape:

City of Strife by Claudie Arsenault

Sometimes the world we live in is garbage and we need to get away for a while. If this applies to anyone you’re shopping for (and c’mon, how can it not?) City of Strife by Québec City asexual and aromantic-spectrum author Claudie Arsenault. It’s about a magical city (of strife) called Isandor and one inhabitant Arathiel’s return to it in search of belonging. Of course nothing is that easy and he soon finds himself in the middle of a political assassination scandal. This is the first installment in fantasy trilogy that features a big LGBTQIAP+ cast, as well as strong friendship, found family, elves, and magic!

For anyone who’s concerned about refugees:

The Clothesline Swing by Ahmad Danny Ramadan

This 2017 novel by gay Vancouver author Ahmad Danny Ramadan is a great present for anyone who’s interested in the tide of refugees who have been arriving in Canada and other places in the world in recent years. In particular, it’s about a gay Syrian couple’s journey told from the perspective of one of the men, a Hakawati (meaning storyteller), when he is elderly and looking back on his life as his partner is dying. The stories go back and forth in time, taking place in Canada, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Turkey. It’s a haunting and nostalgic novel, but life-affirming and healing at the same time. See my full review here.

For your mom (or anyone who is a mom, or grandma):

Adult Onset by Ann-Marie MacDonald

This book is really for anyone who’s ever been a stay-at-home parent (still overwhelmingly women) and had someone tell them that isn’t damn hard stressful work. Mary-Rose aka MR/Mister is a semi-retired writer trying to balance creative endeavours with mostly solo parenting her two young kids as her partner is a busy theatre director. Lesbian Toronto author Ann-Marie MacDonald dives deep into the character of Mister as she struggles with the debilitating weight (and boredom) of motherhood and lingering symptoms from a childhood illness she thought was long behind her. Eerily reminiscent of “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

For the (pre-school and elementary age) kids:

The Boy and The Bindi by Vivek Shraya and Rajni Perera

This children’s picture book with illustrations by Rajni Perera and words by Vivek Shraya is a tender story about an Indian boy who’s fascinated with his mother’s bindi. Instead of shutting down his curiosity or restricting its use based on gender, his mom teaches him about the bindi’s cultural significance and lets him wear one. It’s a beautifully affirming story about a parent accepting their child’s gender difference and about a child finding joy in being able to express their gender difference. The illustrations are gorgeous, full of rich, deep colours and the words — “Ammi, why do you wear that dot?/ What’s so special about that spot?” are both playful and profound.

For a t(w)een, especially for one who doesn’t fit in:

Saving Montgomery Sole by Mariko Tamaki

I’m quite Tamaki’s superpower is nailing teen and tween dialogue like no other writer and it’s in full view in this YA novel about Montgomery, a 16-year-old girl with gay moms and a gay friend and sexist boys at school. She feels angry for lots of legit reasons about hate. She’s also a weirdo who has a ‘mystery club’ with her friends Thomas and Naoki where they investigate anything strange and unexplained. Monty is a young 16 who’s going through a big learning curve about learning not to simplify complex stuff like people, which makes it a perfect read for young teens or tweens reading up. See my full review here.

All the above book titles and covers are linked to amazon.com; if you click on the link and buy that book (or something else) within a day, I get a small referral fee! This money helps me be able to dedicate time to the blog and ensure quality content! If you’re using amazon.ca for holiday or everyday shopping, here are those links for the books:

Saving Montgomery Sole by Mariko Tamaki

The Boy and the Bindi by Vivek Shraya and Rajni Perera

Adult Onset by Ann-Marie MacDonald

The Clothesline Swing by Ahmad Danny Ramadan

City of Strife by Claudie Arsenault

Everything is Awful and You’re A Terrible Person by Daniel Zomparelli

Are there any other queer Canadian books you’d recommend as holiday presents?

Posted in ann-marie macdonald, asexual, Canadian, Coming-of-age, Fantasy, Fiction, Gay, Lesbian, list, Mariko Tamaki, Queer, Short Stories, South Asian, Toronto, Trans, Trans Feminine, Transgender, Vancouver, Young Adult | Tagged | Leave a comment

Vancouver’s LGBTQ2IA+ Library Out On The Shelves’ Holiday Book Drive Is The Perfect Gift This HoliGay Season

Wondering what to get a queer book lover in your life, especially one who seems to have already read every book or who’s already drowning in unread books on their shelves and doesn’t need any more? I have the PERFECT solution for you! But first a bit of backstory…

Some of you (many of you, hopefully!) know that in addition to running this website and being a public librarian, I co-coordinate an LGBTQ2IA+ library in Vancouver called Out On The Shelves. In the words of our official mission, we’re “a special, non-profit library built and cared for by volunteers, librarians, and librarians-in-training who are committed to anti-oppressive social justice work. Although we are located on UBC’s West Point Grey campus, we are not officially affiliated with UBC or its libraries.” In other words, we function very much the same way a public library does — free library cards for anyone who wants one! lots of rad stuff to borrow for free! — but we have ONLY LGBTQ2IA+ books and DVDs and are staffed by volunteers who are super knowledgeable about LBTQ2IA+ materials. Isn’t this like a library of your dreams?

OOTS_logo_transparent_

The library was in some dire straits about a couple years ago when it lost its space and needed to pack up and find new real estate in the very expensive city of Vancouver. We were very fortunate to have amazing co-coordinators before my time who managed to find us a new space on UBC campus, which we are newly moved into and set up in. In the library’s previous incarnation, it relied solely on donations and wasn’t allowed to fundraise. So the collection we inherited and set up at UBC had some areas that were in desperate need of updates, particularly books by authors of colour; books by and about trans, bi, intersex, two spirit, asexual and aromantic folks; and just plain new LGBTQ2IA+ books. Many hardworking volunteers and I have already done a lot of working soliciting donations, donating our own books, and scouring used book sales in an effort to fill these gaps. But there are still so many books we don’t have that our library really isn’t complete without.

Those gaps are where YOU and your holiday (or should I say holiGay) shopping come in. We’ve organized a holiday book drive! What do we mean by that? It means you buy a book off our wishlist (or grab it off your shelf if you already own it and are willing to donate it!), give it to us and tell us who you’d like to dedicate it to, and you (and your friend or loved one) get the satisfaction of knowing queer readers in need have access to an amazing queer book! Some examples of books we’re looking for are Nevada by Imogen Binnie, Blood, Marriage, Wine, and Glitter by S. Bear Bergman, A Two-Spirit Journey by Ma-Nee Chacaby, 100 Crushes by Elisha Lim, Pantomime by Laura Lam, This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids by Kristin Russo and Danielle Owens-Reid, and so many more! We’ll be making custom book plates to put in the inside covers of each book donated so that people know who donated it / in whose name it was donated. We’re also planning a fun little “open our book presents” get together that we will film and share on social media.

preview-full-OOTS Book Drive Flyer (1)

If this sound interesting and worthwhile to you, please consider donating! It would mean SO MUCH to us volunteers and more importantly, our patrons. The steps to participate again are:

  • Peruse our wishlist
  • Buy a book from the list at your place of choice
  • Mark off your purchase on the wishlist so other participants don’t buy the same book
  • Drop the book off at Out On The Shelves:
    • Room 2112
      AMS Student Nest
      6133 University Blvd,
      UBC Campus
      Musqueam Territory
      Vancouver
    • or mail the book to Out On The Shelves, 6133 University Blvd, Vancouver, British Columbia, Room 2103, V6T 1Z1.
  • To make your donation more special dedicate it to a friend or loved one with a custom bookplate!
    • Email us at outontheshelveslibrary@gmail.com to tell us which book you bought and who you’d like to dedicate it to.

And if you live in Vancouver, I would LOVE to see you in the library in person! We had a bit of a soft open in October and are planning a big launch party in January after being closed for the holidays from December 18th to January 1st. Stay tuned for info on my website for news about the launch! You should also follow Out On The Shelves on social media to stay updated: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr. If you’re coming to visit in person, know that our hours are a bit variable since we have a new volunteer schedule every four months, so make sure you check our website before coming!

Posted in Canadian, News, Queer, Vancouver | Leave a comment