5 Canadian Queer Beach Reads

When I say “beach reads,” I mean books that are relatively light-hearted in content, have a writing style that isn’t dense, and are easy to pick up and put down (i.e., don’t have very convoluted plots). You may read these at the beach, lake, and/or pool as you see fit, or also possibly while travelling by car, bus, train, or airplane, or maybe just in your backyard! Wherever you are, you will enjoy these fun, summery books.

Huntsmen by Michelle Osgood

Lesbian werewolves, anyone? This urban fantasy blend with queer feminist romance is set in Vancouver’s lesbian community and starts with a scenario many queer women know all too well: running into your ex at a queer event. Kiara is at drag king night when she is stunned to see her genderqueer ex Taryn (Ryn) on stage. She doesn’t have much time to complain, though, because her friend spots someone with a tattoo of the huntsmen (humans who track werewolves). Since Kiara, her friends, and Ryn are all werewolves, they hightail it out of the club fast. Kiara and Ryn end up being in close quarters again as they hide out from the huntsmen and try to figure out how to deal with them, which, of course, leads to some relationship … reworkings. And some hot lesbian werewolf sex!

Don’t Bang the Barista by Leigh Matthews

Contemporary revamped lesbian pulp with all of the best things about the genre and none of the bad is an obvious strong contender for best queer beach read ever. Also set in Vancouver, Don’t Bang the Barista is wonderfully lighthearted and entertaining but also really smart. British ex-pat Kate is the main character; she’s still getting over her ex, she has a crush on one of the baristas at her favourite café, and she has a more-complicated-than-it-seemed-at-first kind of queer friendship with Cass, a Shane-like lady killer type. When Kate realizes Cass is acting weird about her barista crush Hanna, she can’t figure out where it’s coming from. Is her favourite café that sacred to her? Does Cass like Hanna too? Who will sleep with who? Who will end up with who? Where will the lesbian drama take them? Check out my full review.

This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki

This absolutely gorgeous graphic novel is set during the summer in Ontario lake country, giving it a wonderfully summery feel despite some of the heavier content (at least compared to the other books on this list). The book is about two Toronto girls, Rose and Windy, teetering on the edge of teenagehood.  Rose is slightly older than Windy, and is feeling that superior sense of maturity and know-it-allness that only someone who is young can so confidently exude. Rose is also starting to be interested in boys where Windy appears to maybe be a burgeoning little baby dyke. While enjoying their seemingly carefree summer, a lot of stuff is happening in the background of Windy and Rose’s lives, namely an unplanned teen pregnancy all the older teens are talking about and Rose’s mom’s depression. Read my full review here.

The Change Room by Karen Connelly

If your idea of a great beach read is a book with lots of hot lesbian sex but also smart, complex things to say about relationships, then The Change Room is for you. I mean, the blurb on the front cover calls it a “juicy peach of a novel,” after all. It’s a wonderful blend of literary realism and erotica, with just the right amount of both. The central character is Eliza, a Torontonian living a seemingly perfect white middle class life. But she wants more: specifically, sexual and erotic pleasure in her life is seriously lacking. Key a steamy affair with Shar, a younger woman Eliza meets at the community pool who’s fascinating in her own right and representative of so many of the things Eliza feels are missing from her life. In case you missed my recent review, here it is.

All Inclusive by Farzana Doctor

All Inclusive is one of those books that sounds like it couldn’t possibly work on paper but is an undeniably successful and moving novel. Doctor somehow manages to combine some serious questions about race, spirituality, terrorism, and death with a narrative that is also really fun and sexy. Ameera is our main character, a mixed race (Indian and white) woman in her late twenties who’s been working at an all-inclusive in Mexico for years. Since she’s been there, she’s discovered that she’s both bisexual and non-monogamous through sleeping with couples visiting the resort. Ameera’s journey of personal growth is inextricably tied to her sexuality as she also explores her feelings about her lifelong absent father and what she’s going to do with her career moving forward. Doctor doesn’t shy away from writing explicit sex scenes, happily. See my full gushing review here.

Do you have any queer (Canadian) beach reads to recommend? Add them to the comments below!

Bonus! Did you enjoy this post or find it useful? Consider supporting me on the Patreon for Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian! Patreon is a site where creators of all sorts of things can make some money via subscription payments from their readers/etc. It can be as little as a dollar a month! Help me continue to be able to devote time to this site and you can win stuff like queer books and postcards with personalized book recommendations! Click on the link for more details and to sign up.

 

Posted in Bisexual, Canadian, Erotica, Fiction, Graphic, Lesbian, list, Mariko Tamaki, paranormal, Queer, Romance, South Asian, Vancouver, Young Adult

Dignity, Love, and Community in Catherine Hernandez’s Unique Debut Novel SCARBOROUGH

Scarborough is an impressive, ambitious debut novel by writer—among other things—Catherine Hernandez. (She’s also, to quote her website bio, a “proud queer woman of colour, radical mother, activist, theatre practitioner, burlesque performer, the Artistic Director of Sulong Theatre Company and the owner of Out and About Home Daycare”). Set in the city of Scarborough, which is east of Toronto and a large, culturally diverse, low-income municipality, this novel is unique: it’s rare to see a piece of fiction focus on a place and people like those in Scarborough with love and respect. I don’t know if there are any other novels focused so intimately on Scarborough and its people, actually. So for that fact alone, this is a noteworthy Canadian novel. But it’s not only that that makes Scarborough a worthwhile book.

Hernandez takes on the elaborate task of representing the community of Scarborough in all its diversity and truth admirably. The novel is focused intimately on the lives of Scarborough residents, without flinching. In particular, our way into this community is through three children: Bing, a queer Filipino kid with a single mom; Sylvie, Bing’s BFF and whose Mi’kmaq family lives in a shelter; and Laura, a white girl severely neglected by one parent and then the other. Hina, a program facilitator who runs a literacy program out of a local elementary school, serves as a kind of anchor point with connections to these kids and to many of the other characters. It was her story, actually, that I felt the most drawn to, although Hernandez writes compelling narratives for all the characters.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it, just like the book doesn’t: Scarborough can be a really tough read. It’s raw, sometimes heavy, and often emotionally hard-hitting. It made me cry. All of the characters, to varying degrees, are struggling to thrive and often to merely survive. Poverty affects them all, as do many intersecting oppressions, including racism, Islamophobia, and sexism. All of this marginalization makes dealing with other struggles a huge uphill battle. For example, Sylvie’s younger brother has autism and their mother, who has the whole weight of her family on her shoulders while she is living in a shelter with a sick husband who can’t work and two young kids, has to work so hard just to get a diagnosis, and then to make the various specialist appointments using the inadequate transit system. When she finally, finally, is able to communicate with her son using cards with pictures on them after trying for months, it’s such a beautiful, triumphant moment because you know how unbelievably hard she has worked to get there. Hina’s later success in dealing with her patronizing, unsupportive, and Islamophobic supervisor feels similarly glorious.

However much all these issues are at the forefront in their lives—how could they not be?—none of the characters are defined by their marginalizations. It’s really a treat to Hernandez weave complex portraits of these people that include but aren’t limited to their identities. Probably the most touching scene in the entire book is also the queerest: we get to watch Bing do a drag karaoke performance of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” in front of his school through his mother’s eyes. It is SO BEAUTIFUL to see how proud she is of him and so affirming to see a mother embracing her child’s queerness so fully.

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Catherine Hernandez / Image via catherinehernandezcreates.com

I said this novel is ambitious, and mostly what I mean by that is that Hernandez sets out to tell this Scarborough story from many different perspectives. Each chapter begins with the name of a character and continues the many stories either in the first person or in the third person focused on that character’s perspective. Constructing a book from multiple perspectives is challenging for many writers; while I think overall Hernandez does a great job embodying the different voices—the writing of the emails between Hina and her supervisor are amazingly spot-on—the sheer amount of perspective changes made a disjointed reading experience for me. There were a few times where I was confused about whose perspective I was reading from and what had happened to them previously, despite the names at the top of the chapter. (There were so many characters that I couldn’t remember them all only by name; sometimes I was like, wait, who is so-and-so again?). I loved that so many different characters were included in the novel; it really added to the feeling of community that Scarborough represented. So I don’t think any characters would have been better left out, but some structural changes would have made a more cohesive story. I would have loved to interact with some of the more minor characters through the lens of the characters who get more page time if Hernandez chose to keep the multiple perspectives, or to see the lives of all of the characters represented through an omniscient narrator.

That said, I would still highly recommend Scarborough. It’s so amazing that this Canadian novel tells the stories of so many poor and/or people of colour with such dignity, respect, and affection. That’s something I hope to see so much more of in fiction from Catherine Hernandez and other queer writers in the future.

Bonus! Did you enjoy this post or find it useful? Consider supporting me on the Patreon for Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian! Patreon is a site where creators of all sorts of things can make some money via subscription payments from their readers/etc. It can be as little as a dollar a month! Help me continue to be able to devote time to this site and you can win stuff like queer books and postcards with personalized book recommendations! Click on the link for more details and to sign up.

Posted in Canadian, Fiction, Gay, Indigenous, Queer, Toronto

Sacred Sex, Bisexuality, and the Failings of Monogamy: A Review of Karen Connelly’s THE CHANGE ROOM

Well, the blurb on the front cover that calls Karen Connelly’s The Change Room a “juicy peach of a novel” certainly hits the nail on the head. Just imagine a woman biting into a fresh, ripe peach, with the juice dribbling down her chin, and you’ll have some idea of what to expect from this book and how it’s going to make you feel. That, and it’s going to get you to think about relationships.

The Change Room is a beautifully written literary novel with a lot of graphic, lovingly depicted sex—between women and between men and women—with a lot of attention to the emotional aspects of sex but also just pleasure for pleasure’s sake. In fact, the novel is about searching for erotic and sensual pleasure amidst the weight of mid-life middle class married life with young children. Eliza Keenan is a woman in her early forties who lives in Toronto with her beloved family. She loves her math professor husband Andrew—who is adorably described as “deliciously rumpled.” Eliza runs her own high-end floral business. They have two young sons who are five and six to whom both parents are tenderly dedicated. They own a house (plus a mountain of debt from renovating it). Eliza is on the go from dawn to dusk most days with her family, domestic, and business responsibilities. Really, she is living the middle-class dream. How could she possibly ask for more? Eliza thinks:

You take this peace and love for granted every single day. You abuse it. I don’t take it for granted. I help to create it every single day. I have dedicated my life to it. How self-righteous! You make family life sound like a religious vocation. That’s the smartest thing you’ve said in ages. It is a religious vocation. It requires the same level of dedication.

The “more” that she wants is the exploration of most of the book. And the novel lingers there over and over, unabashedly. The Change Room really got me thinking about the genre boundaries between what we consider “literary” or realist fiction and what gets shelved as erotica and/or romance. After reading the first of many sex scenes, I was astounded to realize that I couldn’t think of any other novel that explored sex in the same way that it delved into so many other aspects of life in minute detail. Why and how exactly did it become convention to fade-to-black or only mention sex briefly in this kind of fiction? The novel at the point of the first sex scene is still introducing you to the character of Eliza and her relationship with Andrew; the way that they have sex is crucial to your understanding of who they both are and the nature of their relationship. It seemed so natural to me to have this in-depth description of sex at that juncture in the story. At the same time, it was incredibly remarkable because it’s so rare in this type of book.

So the sex between Andrew and Eliza is an early, important glimpse into their relationship and characters, yes. But it’s also just really fun and titillating to read, as if it’s a testament to the focus on the importance of pleasure in and of itself throughout the book. And there’s plenty more as the novel goes on: damn, the sex between Eliza and Shar, the woman Eliza meets at the community pool and falls into an affair with, is incredibly hot. It’s wonderful to see a middle-aged woman portrayed as so shamelessly sexual and to see sexuality affirmed as important and, in a way, sacred. I don’t remember the last time I found a book simultaneously so arousing and thought-provoking. The novel is very sexy throughout, but it also doesn’t have that removed-from-the-“real-world” feel that you get often in erotica or romance (not that there’s anything wrong with that; this novel just isn’t that). The sex—lots of sex—is seamlessly integrated into Eliza’s life and the presence of all the sensuality and erotic doesn’t erase the ugliness out in the world either. It’s almost as if sex is part of the rest of her life! (I should mention the novel has some flashbacks to a scene of sexual assault and mentions of childhood sexual abuse).

Karen Connelly

Karen Connelly / image via banffcentre.ca

The Change Room reminded me a lot of Zoey Leigh Peterson’s novel Next Year For Sure, which I also loved. (See my full review of that novel here). This isn’t surprising, since the novels have superficial and deep elements in common. They’re both about middle class white people, yes. (Although Next Year For Sure is concerned with a particular crisis of meaning in your late twenties or early thirties, whereas The Change Room is distinctly focused on the middle age of your forties and fifties). But what the novels really share is an intense preoccupation with relationships and an investigation of the failings of heterosexual monogamy.

This is where The Change Room isn’t a racy, escapist story about a woman having a same-sex affair. Or maybe it’s that The Change Room isn’t only that. (Side note: I especially appreciated that Eliza had had another relationship with a woman when she was younger that her husband knew about, so that her queerness or coming out isn’t a focus in the novel at all). It’s a cliché but it’s true here: Eliza has an affair not because she doesn’t love and desire her husband, but because something is missing from the relationship. It’s a symptom that something isn’t working; for Eliza, it’s that her sexual and erotic desires aren’t being fulfilled. One of the major shortcomings of normative straight monogamous relationships is the assumption that one person—your partner—can meet all sorts of different emotional, social, sexual, and erotic needs. It’s nuts when you think about that: what one person can possibly live up to that? And where does that leave the individual’s responsibilities for their own well-being and happiness?

I’ve been focused so far on Eliza, who is the protagonist, after all. But Shar is a fascinating, complex character who could certainly merit being at the centre of her own novel. At first for the readers, like for Eliza, Shar is merely an enigmatic, glamorous, sexy woman. She’s younger than Eliza. She’s Iranian and French and speaks French, English, and Farsi. She’s lived all over the world. She’s a sex worker. She’s frank and open about all kinds of non-normative sexuality. She’s a beautiful fantasy of all the kinds of freedom and openness Eliza doesn’t have in her life. She’s perfect, like all new lovers feel before you really know who they are as a person. But Connelly smartly doesn’t leave us or Eliza there, turning the impulse to exoticization on its head by characterizing Shar in all her complexity and flaws and humanity. One of my favourite lines in the book was when Shar is contemplating her upcoming retirement from sex work to working as a therapist. Connelly writes: “Don’t be afraid, she told herself. It’s just a new life.” It’s an intensely profound yet simple statement, perhaps one that spoke to me particularly as I’m in the same kind of transitional time in my career.

Unfortunately I didn’t read The Change Room at the pool, beach, or lake, which is really too bad because this supremely smart and sexy book is a perfect beach read for the summer. A book to turn you on and get your brain thinking, what more could you want! Don’t be like me! Get yourself a copy of The Change Room, grab your swimsuit, and get yourself to a body of water and sunshine asap.

Bonus! Did you enjoy this post or find it useful? Consider supporting me on the Patreon for Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian! Patreon is a site where creators of all sorts of things can make some money via subscription payments from their readers/etc. It can be as little as a dollar a month! Help me continue to be able to devote time to this site and you can win stuff like queer books and postcards with personalized book recommendations! Click on the link for more details and to sign up.

Posted in Bisexual, Canadian, Erotica, Fiction, Queer, Sex Work, Toronto | 1 Comment

Two-Spirit Futures: A Review of LOVE BEYOND BODY, SPACE, & TIME: AN INDIGENOUS LGBT SCI FI ANTHOLOGY

Some books are just like a delicious treat that you want to savour for as long as possible. Love Beyond Body, Space, & Time: An Indigenous LGBT Sci-Fi Anthology is one of those books. It’s a slim volume of short stories that I could have powered through in a few hours, but I drew out my reading of it, reading one story at a time, managing to stretch the reading experience over three weeks. Alas, it finally had to end, but here I am writing this review to spread the word about this fabulous book, so all is not bad!

First of all, this is just a great anthology of stories. Of course I enjoyed some more than others, but there honestly isn’t a weak story in the bunch. Although the sub-title specifies the book is a collection of science fiction stories, I’d actually label the stories together under the bigger umbrella of speculative fiction, or at least say they’re science fiction and fantasy. Some of them—in fact, my favourites in the book—are solidly sci fi, with settings in space and play with fun, inventive future technologies. But others feel more like fairy tales or myth and a few feel like magical realism or a realism through a distinctly non-Western / Indigenous lens. So if you’re not into tech-heavy hard sci fi, there will definitely still be some stories in this anthology that you’ll enjoy!

Another thing to enjoy about Love Beyond Body, Space, & Time is the variety of author backgrounds represented: Anishinaabe, Lipan Apache, Cree, Cherokee, and more! All the authors are Indigenous, and most of them identify as LGBT and/or two-spirit. Two essays introducing some two-spirit history and what these writers find powerful in speculative genres precede the stories themselves; if you’re new to the idea of two-spirit and especially if you haven’t read other two-spirit anthologies like Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature, these essays might provide some crucial context and background for you. But don’t be put off by the academic tone, especially of the second one. If the essays don’t jive for you or you’re two-spirit yourself and already know lots, you won’t miss anything by jumping into the short stories!

Oh man are you in for a treat with these stories. Check out the beginning to Cherie Dimaline’s “Legends Are Made, Not Born,” a story full of dark humour and magic:

My mom was a Catholic halfbreed who named me after a pack of smokes, Semaa-tobacco. She died in a fiery blaze of glory winning a snowmobile race.

Have you ever read an opening to a story that intrigued you more than that??

“Né Le!” by Darcie Little Badger (Lipan Apache) was one of my favourite stories and is one of most science fictiony of the anthology. Dottie is a veterinarian from Earth on her way to immigrate to Mars. It was one of those desperate maybe not entirely wise decisions you make after a bad break-up. She’s supposed to be sleeping in a stasis pod for the months-long journey, but the pilot Cora has to wake her up early because of an emergency on board this spaceship involving dogs who are also being transported to Mars (pets are still important, even if you live on Mars!). After being awakened, Dottie realizes Cora is a fellow Indigenous lesbian. (Dottie is Lipan Apache and Cora is from the Navajo Nation, who have their own off-Earth space colony that’s sovereign Navajo territory called Diné Orbiter). This is an adorable queer romance story, with smart, interesting details about what women meeting and dating might look like in the not-too-distant future.

darcie little badger

Darcie Little Badger / image via darcielittlebadger.wordpress.com

“Perfectly You” by David A. Robertson (Cree) is another inventive take on the future of queer dating. Emma is a young queer Cree woman participating in the trial run of a ground-breaking new piece of virtual reality technology. Emma is kind of obsessed with this girl Cassie, who she has a crush on after sharing a table with her at a crowded coffee shop. Emma is paralyzed, though, in that stage where her crush is still this ideal, unknowable person; she has Cassie’s phone number, written on the back of a school photo of her, but she hasn’t called her. The VR, called a “vacation,” is supposed to be like a dream that feels completely real and feels like it lasts a really long time. What better opportunity to explore what it might be like to actually be with Cassie, without any of the risks or ruining the illusion? Except, as you might be imagining, the experiment doesn’t go exactly as it ought to…

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David A Robertson / image via darobertson.ca

“Imposter Syndrome” by Mari Kurisato (Cote First Nations Ojibwe) was my absolute favourite in the anthology. It’s a really great example of the power of science fiction to indirectly address so many of the social in/justice issue of “the real world.” The story is a brilliant interrogation of so many of the complex issues related to trans identities without ever indulging in simplification or drawing uncomplicated allegories. The story opens with this sentence: “Aanji almost passed for human.” What follows is the tale of Aanji, a “noncitizen” making her way through a surveillance state where “citizens” enjoy immense rights and privileges. She’s in the process of transforming herself, in a process that is at once a specific, unique invention in Kurisato’s futuristic world but one that has undeniable parallels to trans journeys of hormone replacement therapy and gender confirmation surgery. THIS STORY BLEW MY MIND in the way it sucked me into its world and simultaneously made me think about the one I live in.

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Mari Kurisato / image via murraynewlands.com

This is just a taste of some of the writing you can look forward to in Love Beyond Body, Space, & Time. If you’ve been reading my blog regularly, you’ll also recognize the name Daniel Heath Justice (Cherokee Nation), who’s the author of the brilliant high fantasy trilogy The Way of Thorn and Thunder. His beautiful story “The Boys Who Became the Hummingbirds” will tear you apart and then lovingly put you back together. Fans of The Lesser Blessed by Tłı̨chǫ author Richard Van Camp will also be thrilled to see that the collection’s opening story is written by him. If you’ve already read this book, let me know in the comments which stories were your favourites, and why!

[Trigger warnings for scenes of transphobic, homophobic, and racialized sexual violence in “The Boys Who Became the Hummingbirds” and “Imposter Syndrome”]

Bonus! Did you enjoy this post or find it useful? Consider supporting me on the Patreon for Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian! Patreon is a site where creators of all sorts of things can make some money via subscription payments from their readers/etc. It can be as little as a dollar a month! Help me continue to be able to devote time to this site and you can win stuff like queer books and postcards with personalized book recommendations! Click on the link for more details and to sign up.

Posted in Canadian, Fantasy, Fiction, Gay, Indigenous, Lesbian, magic realism, Non-Canadian, Queer, Romance, Science Fiction, Short Stories, Trans, Trans Feminine

July Patreon Update: Still Collecting Survey Answers from YOU on Your Thoughts and Suggestions about Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian

In last month’s Patreon update—click on that link if you don’t know what I’m talking about—I gave you a link to a very quick Google forms survey so I could get some feedback from you, dear readers, on what directions you think I should take with my blog in the future. I’ve got 26 responses so far, which is honestly more than I thought I would get since I did only the bare minimum of promotion for it. I’m going to leave it open for another month and put a little more effort into putting the word out there so I can hopefully get some more responses. So far there have been some really rad suggestions! There are only 4 questions that shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes to fill out, so if you have a few free minutes, I’d love it if you could take the survey. If you have thoughts about the kind of content that is already on the blog or if you have ideas for new stuff that you would like to see, this is your chance to tell me!

This month the winner of the queer book draw was one of my brand-new patrons! Congrats, Amy! Here were the choices this month:

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In case you missed them, my favourite posts from June were: “The 8 2017 Lammy Winners I’m Most Excited about, Including 3 Canadians!” “My Favourite Queer Books of 2017 (So Far”—featuring A Place Called No Homeland by Kai Cheng Thom, The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, Things to Do When You’re Goth in the Country by Chavisa Woods, and more!—and my review of Alec Butler’s 2spirit, trans, intersex book Rough Paradise, which reminded me a lot of queer classic Stone Butch Blues. Also, did you know I had TWO articles on Autostraddle last month? I had my usual Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian column, 8 Books That Feature Bisexual Women (And Don’t Focus On Their Sex Lives), AND I did a combo book review and author interview with SJ Sindu about her debut novel Marriage of a Thousand Lies. It’s an amazing book and Sindu had lots of interesting, smart things to say. Check it out!

And as always I want to individually thank all of the people who’ve signed up to be patrons. You lovely humans are: Danika, Leigh, Anna Marie, Kim, Jane, Jakelene, Emmet, Madeline, Heather, Carla, Naz, Laurita, Kirsten, Jason, Jillian, Anton, Shelagh, Priscila, Allison, Ang, James, Seed, Julie, Katherine, Rachel, Samuel, Amy, and Sarah! If any of you new (or old) folks are interested in being a part of the Interview with a Queer Reader series, write me at stepaniukcasey [at] gmail.com.

Posted in Patreon

Interview with a Queer Reader: Julie Thompson Talks Lesbian Pulp Novels, Queer Book Awareness Overload, ANNIE ON MY MIND, and More!

julieJuly’s queer reader of the month is Julie Thompson, who describes herself as a “thirty-something, Jane-of-all-trades, bisexual/queer librarian in the Pacific Northwest (US).” She grew up in small towns in the Pacific Northwest and always enjoyed weekly trips to the local library. She was lucky that, despite living in an evangelical Christian household (among other things), books, movies, and TV shows that she borrowed were never restricted. As many queer people know, that is one thing to be appreciated when you’re young. For Julie, who was “a quiet kid who loved sports and studied hard, but didn’t really have many close friends,” books were her gateway to other worlds and experiences. But her first exposure to anything LGBT came from TV: namely, Willow and Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as well as free HBO weekend showings of the movie Gia. She says: “I remember feeling excited when Willow and Tara smiled at each other before joining hands to fend off The Gentlemen in ‘Hush’; and flushed when I saw “Gia”. If I had to say how I felt (and still feel) about my sexuality is that it’s…well, complicated.”

julie recordsObviously, Julie is a voracious reader. She likes historical fiction, contemporary romance, hard science fiction, and a wide swath of nonfiction subject areas. She also has a queer book blog, Omnivore Bibliosaur, where she writes a few posts a month (I LOVE the name of her blog, much cleverer than mine) and she also contributes to the fabulous Lesbrary. As a commuter, Julie is an especially avid devourer of audiobooks, and just submitted her first review for AudioFile Magazine! Like any librarian who knows her stuff, she lives for books and “actively advocate[s] for the power that they have to expand and change lives.” Keep reading to hear about Julie’s experiences reading 50s lesbian pulp fiction, Annie On My Mind, and how knowing about so many of the queer books coming out these days can be a little overwhelming.

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?)

Two of the first LGBTQ2IA+ books I read were reprinted lesbian pulp fiction novels: Spring Fire by Vin Packer and Twilight Girl by Della Martin. The Babeland store near my college campus was selling them and their colorful, sordid covers pulled me in. After reading these books, I wanted to know more about the authors behind the pseudonyms and the history surrounding queer culture in the 1950s in the United States. Whenever I finally make it to New York City, I plan on visiting The Lesbian Herstory Archives. It sounds amazing!

What is/are your favorite LGBTQ2IA+ books and why?

This is my shortlist of absolute favorites. They are the stories that I re-read over and over again. I’m leaving a bunch out, but then I’d be writing until the …

Curious Wine by Katherine V. Forrest (1983)         

I’m plagiarizing from myself since I’ve written about this book a couple times on my blog. The first copy I acquired was via a forum on AfterEllen.com.  Someone was trying to interest people in free lesbian fiction and, surprisingly, there were no takers.  Free + Lesbian + Books, arguably one of the most tantalizing equations ever constructed. I love Katherine V. Forrest’s use of language.  She paints a vivid, textured world with her descriptions of the setting, choice of words, and rich, fluid dialogue.  It’s beautiful and genuine. The story takes place in the late 1970s and was originally published in 1983 by Naiad Press.  Diana and Lane find themselves at a cabin in Lake Tahoe, as part of a small gathering of women, most of them either strangers to or acquaintances of the two protagonists. The story is also full of subtlety – a look, a touch, an observation made in the moment…  Diana and Lane bond over “their poet”, Emily Dickinson,  Peggy Lee’s Pretty Eyes, and shared humor. It’s my warm blanket (be careful, though, because there is a rape scene) and I try to read it every year around December. I’m a little bummed that the audiobook version is narrated with an English accent, since that pops me out of time and place. This book makes me all wordy.

Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden (1982)

Annie and Liza came into my life after I had graduated from college. I was in the midst of devouring all of the lesbian novels that I could find, via online booklists and the public library where I worked. I have read (and listened) to it countless times. The girls live in New York City in the early 1980s and meet one day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As they fall in love, they grapple with what it means and face a blow-up at Liza’s private school, Foster Academy, when they’re discovered. Garden creates an atmosphere that is warm and rich and sweet and poignant, with memorable characters and dialogue. It’s a book that I wish I had known about in high school… The audiobook version is perfectly narrated by Rebecca Lowman and features a recorded interview with Nancy Garden about her experiences as a lesbian in the 1950s and her thoughts on the book.

I Know My Own Heart, edited by Helena Whitbread (1992)

I stumbled upon Anne Lister’s journals several years back (though I can’t remember where, all I know is that it was one of those serendipitous moments!). Anne was an 18th/19th century English woman of land and means in Halifax, West Yorkshire, who kept a series of diaries, the more private portions written in what she called “crypthand” (a code she devised using a combination of algebra and the Greek alphabet). It amazes me that these journals survived time and censorship! That’s one of my favorite things about history: all of the layers and nuances that have existed all along and are breaking through the dominant narratives.

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

Dear John, I Love Jane — I can’t remember if I came across this book at work or if I searched for it because I needed it. … Probably a little bit of both. The personal essays reflect so many variations of women’s experiences as they fall in love with women and acknowledge facets of their sexuality that they suppressed or discovered for the first time. I also really value how the stories show a range of outcomes. Some women create new stories with their partners and some end up in polyamorous relationships, as well as other paths. This book is important to me because it illuminates possibility and hope, even when hearts are breaking open.

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

For me, I think it’s more a case of I haven’t read the books yet, rather than they don’t exist. Based on some of the essays from Dear John, I Love Jane and Diana Jean’s novella The Warrior, The Healer, and The Thief (a fantastic fantasy adventure story set in the Old West with three badass women), I would like to read more stories about women involved in polyamorous relationships in which discovery of other parts of themselves doesn’t automatically spell the end for their relationships or aspects of their identity. I definitely want to read more bisexual stories.

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

Since I work at a public library and participate in the online queer book-o-sphere, there are more books than I have free time to enjoy. Scouring new and used bookstores is one of my favorite kinds of treasure hunting, too. Most of the time I feel like Templeton at the fair in Charlotte’s Web, singing about the smorgasbord of culinary delights to be found! As a kid, I had no awareness of LGBT books. Now, as an adult having taken a bite of the apple, I have awareness overload.

Do you know other LGBTQ2IA+ readers or participate in any LGBTQ2IA+ reading communities (in person or on the internet)? Why or why not?

My work schedule and commute leave me with precious little free time. I’ve signed up for a Meetup.com group that discusses lesfic once-a-month, but I haven’t attended yet. Their book club selections always end up on my TBR shelf, though! I’m also a member of two Facebook groups, “The Lesbian Review Book Club” and “Lesbian Audiobooks”; and a (mostly) nominal member of a handful of Goodreads groups, “Mostly Lesfic”, “Queereaders”, and “Lesbian Mysteries”. I’d like to figure out a way to participate more, but I’d also like to discover more hours in a day for sleep, WNBA basketball, hiking, chilling with my cats, …

Thanks for sharing with us, Julie! I can definitely sympathize with the queer book awareness overload problem. I wish the misguided idea that all librarians do all day is read were true!

Posted in Bisexual, Fiction, Interview with a Queer Reader, Lesbian, Non-Canadian, Non-Fiction, Queer, Young Adult

3 Queer Poetry Collections for Tough Times

There’s nothing better than poetry for tough times. Here are three queer poetry collections to get you through.

bodymap

Bodymap by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

This visceral, evocative collection is Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s writing at its finest. Lyrically these are an incredibly tight set of poems, filled with gorgeous, haunting images and precise, expertly used language.  They’re tough and soft, just like the hard femmes some of the poems are about. A lot of Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s writing in this book is emotional, raw; she writes about hard times, but there are also some really inspiring, comforting poems.  The kind of words that you could put on your fridge to look at and remind yourself that you’re going to get through things, that you’re strong. Playing off other queer poets like Amber Dawn and Qwo-Li Driskill, Piepzna-Samarasinha writes tough ideas about love, relationships falling apart, mental and physical illness, disability through a queer lens, queer brown femmeness, being poor, and friendship. She writes about queer brown femme friendship:

the gratitude that is rust brown laughter and a million hair flowers and a million broken beautiful bitches in a clothing swap, stripper heels and space heaters on high and yes girl, get that, you need that, yes. it’s the taco truck and the tea garden, it’s homegirl laughter on a couch is where you can always come home.

And she tells it to you straight but also gives you hope in the closing poem “the worst thing in the world”:

    this is the truth: every worst thing you can imagine will come true.

you and your ex bff will be asked to keynote a conference together,

and both of you will say yes.

your daughter will indeed hate you. mothering and living are

both losing propositions. that’s

no reason not to do them. the answer is in what comes after. what

you answered the worst thing in the world with. already in the

afterfuture. breathe in breathe out. everything is not going to

stop changing on you.

hey you sicksauce survivor stunner

you who asked a lot will not always have the right answer.

we’ve always come on boats. we’re going to keep coming. we

know the waves and rough water.

bless the rough water and the small boats.

bless the worst thing

FOR-YOUR-OWN-GOOD-med

For Your Own Good by Leah Horlick

For Your Own Good by Leah Horlick is full of the kind of writing that inspires superlatives.  It’s one of the best books of poetry I’ve ever read. This is not because For Your Own Good is in itself prone to any grandiose gestures or excess, but because it is truly a near-perfect, devastating collection of poetry. I do not say devastating lightly.  These poems are about an abusive lesbian relationship, violence in a supposedly safe queer space.  There is plenty of triggering material: racism, colonialism, physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.  But there’s a lot more than that, too. The poems follow a kind of trajectory, moving from misunderstanding to healing, sometimes back and forth.  What I loved was how Horlick speaks from a calm, present moment to her past self.  She is gentle, kind, while possessed by a quiet strength, honesty, and poise.  As if she’s tenderly whispering, it’s okay. There’s coming back into herself, into trusting new people, into magic:

You don’t ask questions, unless

I want them, and I want anything

but these red eyes that look out

 

from mine like the forest, anything but

this silence. When you tell me that this

looks like strength to you, how you love this

 

about me, I almost hate you. Why do you

have to be so good? This has to be magic, how

you hold me while I turn into a snake and fire

 

and grief itself beneath you. Good magic,

you tell me, and don’t ask questions

until I want them.

The collection ends with the most gorgeous, hopeful poem.  She has healed but not forgotten:

    Anniversary

It has taken five years and fifteen hundred

kilometres to get away, and closer

 

to the mountains. I can see them—

every day, like I always wanted. Near,

 

and distant. Every day I can ask people

not to touch me—

 

on the bus, on the beach, or in my new kitchen.

Or, I could ask them to—

 

which, lately, is harder. How can it still

feel so soon? She has never been

 

near this new body of mine—

short-haired, tattooed, very strong

 

and very, very fast, now. I carry a chunk of rose

quartz the size of my thumb for safety.

 

I have sworn to myself a life of people

who know when to stop. I promised—

 

and spent my first night in the new apartment drawing

circles in salt and rain, whispering

 

to my old self, come here. I built this

    for you. I promised.

where the words end and my body begins

Where the Words End and My Body Begins by Amber Dawn

Have you ever heard of something called a glosa poem? If you haven’t, you’re like me when I picked up Amber Dawn’s debut poetry collection Where the Words End and My Body Begins, which is comprised of these things called glosa poems. So what are glosas? It’s a cool concept, an explicit acknowledgement of the intertextuality of all writing and poetry in particular. A glosa starts with a four-line quotation from another poem. The poet, then, incorporates these four lines into their own poem, but not all at once: the borrowed lines are used as the final line in ten-line stanzas of the new poem the poet is writing, losing their original context and becoming part of their new poem home.

If you’re at all familiar with 20th century queer, lesbian, feminist, and survivorship poetry (especially from Canada), you’ll recognize a lot of the poets Amber Dawn has chosen for her glosas: Trish Salah, Gertrude Stein, Rachel Rose, Lucille Clifton, Adrienne Rich, Leah Horlick, Sina Queyras, Jillian Christmas, Lydia Kwa, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarashinha, and more! I love the idea that Where the Words End and My Body Begins is an ode to being a reader and writer, and a conversation between women poets. Despite the fact that writing can be about as isolating as work can get, these glosa poems create a kind of community on the page. Reading the collection makes you feel soothed, less alone, and a part of the community too. One of the most powerful poems is “Queer Infinity.” It’s a queerifesto of sorts and a testament to the power of queer art:

Queer grief is a blueprint. We got this shit wired tight.

Maybe we’ve become too good at losing? Are we trauma

bonded? I can’t speak for the whole, only myself

I’d sooner howl at a wounded moon, yes, I might

swoon at a questionable light

 

but at least I still swoon—my scabby kneecaps

may always weep pink, I’m so often floored.

I’ll never be a two-feet-on-the-ground girl. Let me guess

age didn’t temper your passion either? Your passion, like mine,

only became more strategic.

 

Posted in Amber Dawn, Canadian, disability, femme, Jewish, Lesbian, Poetry, Queer, Sex Work | 1 Comment