Feeling inspired by a recent podcast by Mary over at the podcast Queer Books Please where she recommended holiday book gifts and she unabashedly declared, “Yes there is a lesbian book for everybody,” I decided to write a post of book recommendations of my own. I’m just going to tweak that a bit and add ‘Canadian’ in there. Although I can’t claim to have a book recommendation in here for someone who voted for Stephen Harper as Mary did for a Republican uncle—I guess she’s a more forgiving person than I am.
For Your Mom: Six Metres of Pavement by Farzana Doctor. The whole time I was reading this book I was thinking that my Mom would love it. This is a really fantastic book to give your parents if you’ve recently come out as queer–especially if you have South Asian and/or Muslim or Portuguese background, since those are the backgrounds of the main characters. These characters, Ismail and Celia, are both straight and in their fifties, and the novel centres around a slow-burning and moving romance between them. Also key to the plot, though, is a twenty-something queer woman Fatima who becomes like a daughter to them. Given the death of Ismail’s own daughter at a young age and the way that Fatima’s parents are reacting to her coming out (not well), the novel really puts the idea of familial acceptance into perspective: when Ismail would give anything to have his daughter back, even a queer one with blue hair, how could Fatima’s parents reject the child they do have? If your mom is anything like my mom, she’ll probably cry, but in a good way.
For a reluctant reader, especially one who claims to hate poetry: How Poetry Saved My Life by Amber Dawn. The thing that’s great about Amber Dawn’s memoir is that it can’t really decide what it is. The book is a fascinating combination of poems, essays, stories, and erotica. In fact, the memoir ends with lesbian erotica, which is pretty awesome. At times it’s light-hearted: one essay begins with this killer opener: “It happened suddenly. It happened without warning. One day I woke up, and I was an old ho.” Other pieces deal with survival, suicidal thoughts, and the dangers of sex work. This book is always ready to surprise the reader with something new, which I think is great for someone easily bored by reading. Another thing I love about this collection is that it reclaims poetry for the masses and dismantles that idea that it’s for the elite and those stuffy old white guys up at the university.
For that (queer) book lover you can never pick out a book out for because they probably have it already: subscription to Plenitude. Ah ha, you can be sure they haven’t read the future issues of Plenitude yet! Victoria-based magazine Plenitude has been publishing awesome queer lit since it started: fiction, poetry, essays, by queer folks of all sorts of different strokes. They recently published an amazing short story by a new writer on the Can lit scene, Casey Plett. Stylistically and content-wise the story is just brilliant: it’s written in the imperative and is a play-by play of a six-months-after-you’ve-broken-up-and-come-out-as-trans dinner date with your ex. For example: “Let the next few slips go by. Don’t escalate and don’t be a nuisance. It’s like letting a dad drop some F-bombs without shaking the swear jar, like not confronting your drunk roommate when he doesn’t flush a shit. Wait. Swear jar. A pronoun jar! You could rattle it and say, “Quarter!” and flash a winsome goofy smile.” Guaranteed there will be lots more quality and diverse stuff in this literary magazine. Yearly subscriptions are only ten dollars!
For your Dad: Bow Grip by Ivan E Coyote. This book is particularly appropriate for your dad if he, like mine, comes from a working class and/or rural background. If he’s also from Alberta, like the protagonist of Bow Grip, well that’s just a bonus. Bow Grip follows Joey, a small-town mechanic in Alberta whose wife has recently left him for another woman. Joey is not a man to talk much, but he’s hurting from his break-up, and strikes an odd deal when someone offers to trade a cello for an old car in his shop. Bow Grip is a quiet, emotional story of a man moving on and finding himself, and even re-making a relationship with his ex-wife. This is one of my favourite books, filled with down-to-earth, authentic characters and beautiful prairie settings.
For a teenager who is angsty and might hate reading: First Spring Grass Fire by Rae Spoon. I think the unpretentious and straight-forward style of this book really lends itself well to a reluctant reader. It’s very easy to read, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot going on in this deceptively simple and slim book, which tackles Spoon’s evangelical upbringing, gender and sexual identity, growing up in Alberta, and the saving graces of music. Because Rae is trans and uses the pronoun they, I feel like this book would be really great to give to either a guy or a girl teenager—it might sidestep that unfortunate pattern of guys being reluctant to see anything from a woman’s viewpoint and it would really open up the perspective of any cis person.
For your cousin or sister or other young woman in her last years of high school or who has just started university: (You) Set Me on Fire by Mariko Tamaki. It’s hard to find novels set in this period of life, that strange time in between being a teenager and an adult. Luckily, an extremely talented writer, of graphic novel Skim fame, has taken this on. (You) Set Me on Fire is a biting, darkly funny tale of toxic friendships, falling for the wrong girl, and maybe, just maybe, kind of getting your shit together at the end of first year. The main character Allison shares pieces of wisdom like this: “for those of you who think girls who sleep with girls have it any better because they’re more familiar with the equipment, let me just say, that’s fucking stupid. It’s like saying having hair makes you a hairdresser or having a body makes you a masseuse.” As you can see, Tamaki has the late teens / early twenties vernacular down pat. Down to a tee. Down cold. You see what I mean.