Fall: that wonderfully crisp, clean time of year where the nights get cool and the leaves turn brilliant sunset colours. It’s also the time for new book releases. If you’re looking for some brand new queer Canadian books to read while wearing a cozy sweater, there are a few ones you should definitely check out. I’m especially excited about Mariko Tamaki’s (You) Set Me on Fire, a novel about a woman’s first year of university. Quill and Quire summarizes the opening of the novel like this: “after one failed romance with her sexually confused friend Anne, and two unfortunate accidents involving fire, 17-year-old Allison Lee is looking forward to a new start.” That’s right, there’s fire both in a literal and a figurative sense. Heart be still! Of course, Allison’s post-secondary ‘new start’ is going to be anything but a smooth ride: she’s going to have to deal with her queer sexuality and that irresistible someone who just about takes over her life. From what else I’ve read by Tamaki, she is deadly good at nailing an authentic young person’s voice, and it looks like this novel is, if anything, even better than what she’s done before. It’s being marketed as a young adult novel, which I find quite interesting since it takes up that precise year when you’re supposed to suddenly stop being a teenager and ‘grow up.’
Trans indie country-turned-electronica musician Rae Spoon also has a new book—their first one!—that has recently arrived on the Canadian literary scene. Published by Arsenal Pulp Press, First Spring Grass Fire is an account of a queer person growing up in a Pentecostal family in Alberta. Seeming to straddle and play with that fine line between fiction and non-fiction in much the same way that Ivan E. Coyote’s work does, the book’s narrator is named Rae like the author; Rae has to deal with not only the obvious contradiction of being a non-gender conforming and woman-loving person in a strict religious environment, but also family mental illness, and the discovery of music as a different kind of salvation than the one promised in the gospel. First Spring Grass Fire has already earned praise from Zoe Whittall, Ivan E. Coyote, and S. Bear Bergman; can you ask for a better recommendation than that? I am eagerly awaiting my review copy of this book! Do you think it’s a coincidence that both Spoon and Tamaki’s book titles involve fire? I’m inclined to think there’s something blazing in the queer air.
London, ON-based, Irish lesbian author Emma Donoghue is another amazing queer writer with a new book coming out this fall. In fact, the short story collection Astray—a “sequence of fourteen fact-inspired fictions about travels to, in and from North America”—was just released in Canada a few days ago (it’s out in the US, UK, and Ireland at the end of October). Literally all over the place historically and geographically (everyone is ‘astray,’ after all), Astray looks like a fascinating collection of stories. I love the concept of “fact-inspired fictions.” Donoghue has taken snippets from newspapers and other artefacts about misfits such as Murray Hall, a New York politico who died in 1901 and was discovered to actually be female, and a “hard-drinking, cross-dressing eccentric in 1870s Arizona” and imagined the lives behind these briefly mentioned characters. Astray also includes stories about zookeepers, adoptive parents, slaves, and Irish emigrants. You can read an excerpt here of “Daddy’s Girl,” the story dealing with the gender disguised (proto-trans?) New York politician. It’s from the perspective of his daughter, who apparently refused to use female pronouns when referring to her father during an inquest about his birth sex. Frankly, I’m not sure which of these three rad-sounding books I want to read first!
Also in fall queer Canadian book news, Anne Fleming is launching her latest book with possibly the best title ever, Gay Dwarves in America, in Kelowna, BC on October 4th at the downtown library. If you’re in the Okanagan, she invites you to come on by and promises that she’s working on how to include the ukulele in this event.
Which fall books and events are you especially excited about? Which of these books would you like to read first?