Another year is ending, and another year where I added more books to my to-read list than I scratched off. Oh well. New Years also means it’s time for the best of 2014. I didn’t read as many new books this year as I had hoped, so there are definitely a few queer books published this year I haven’t got around to yet that I’m pretty sure would be on this list if I had read them. In particular, two Canadian lesbian superstars, Dionne Brand and Ann-Marie MacDonald, both published new novels in the fall. I am definitely planning to pick up Brand’s Love Enough next year, though, as part of my year of reading only LGBTQ people of colour. More on that in a separate post!
I also didn’t manage to get the Topside Press tour zine when Casey Plett and Sybil Lamb were in Vancouver (staying at my house incidentally!) because they were in such short supply but that should be soon remedied with an online order. Or maybe a borrow from a friend. The zine, Where We’re Going We Don’t Need Roads, features some of Topside’s talented writers such as Imogen Binnie, Ryka Aoki, Red Durkin, Jeanne Thornton. Now that I’ve given you a gazillion hyperlinks, go check out these writers and Topside Press, which is doing a fan-fucking-tastic job of publishing some really unique and brilliant work by trans writers.
Now, enough about what I haven’t read, and let’s talk about some of the amazing books by queer women that were published this year. In no particular order, here are my favourite books that were published in 2014:
Full disclosure, the author of this book is a friend, but I know I would have really enjoyed this book regardless. Reviving the well-loved tradition of the campy, melodrama of 1950s lesbian pulp fiction, Don’t Bang the Barista gives it a modern, Canadian twist. If you’re looking for a book that is simultaneously a fun guilty pleasure and a smart, authentic look at dyke life in Vancouver, this is the novel for you. Although a slim book, it succeeds at being a page-turner while at the same time managing to address a multitude of issues and aspects affecting all sorts of queer women, most of which were so familiar to me it felt like I was reading about people I know. Polyamory? Check. Biphobia? Check. Dykes and their animal babies? Check. Vegan Potlucks? Check.
This is hands-down one of the weirdest, most challenging books I’ve ever read, and it’s certainly a hard one to describe. In some ways, it’s set in a post-apocalyptic dystopian North America, but the beginning of book really feels to me like it takes place in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Sybil Lamb, who is an Ottawa-born trans artist—literary and otherwise, has written a truly unique novel. There is absolutely nothing else like this that I have ever read. The main character Sybil—whose name randomly changes throughout the novel—is on a kind of perpetual road trip throughout the US and Canada. It’s a surreal journey, a disorienting ride, and a challenging read. Lamb’s writing is experimental, but in a fun, not pretentious way and the story of Sybil, a bisexual trans woman hanging out with a lot of other trans women, remains accessible and is delightedly accompanied by occasional vivid illustrations.
Casey Plett’s debut collection of short stories is simply an unbelievably great book. Every word of Plett’s writing is understated but packs a walloping, forceful impact, just when you’re not expecting it. I think Plett has gone well beyond the call of The Collection editors to feature trans characters as agents of their own destiny–although she certainly has done that. She has written trans women as complex, fascinating but regular human beings–in both the good and the bad ways–with humour, passion, and intelligence. That’s the kind of people I want to read about and the kind of author whose work I look forward to.
Kobayashi’s debut novel is a quiet, powerful story set in 1970s rural Alberta. Your angle on this small town called (significantly) Bittercreek is not what you might expect: eight-year-old “Egg” Murakami is the limited perspective you get. Egg is having a rough time. Her teenage brother Albert died last summer, and her family are all grieving in their own way. Her older sister Kathy—in grade twelve—is trying to hold the family together, and is the only one really present for Egg, who is not only trying to make sense of her brother’s death but deal with the bullies at her school. It’s the awful stuff of the world—racism, death, homophobia, hate, heartbreak—that Kathy wishes to shield her sister from. If only Egg could shield Kathy too, whose teenage lesbian romance is witnessed through the eyes of an eight-year-old who doesn’t really get it, but at the same time intuitively kind of does.
Can you imagine a more beautiful and provocative beginning to a novel than this:
Surely it is a failure of our human design that it takes not an hour, not a day, but much, much longer to relay what flashes through the mind with the speed of a hummingbird’s wing.
As the title implies, Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab is not a straight-forward narrative; it is, however, an emotionally hard-hitting story of a parent and son, and the distances—literal and figurative—they have travelled to reunite later in life. This novel follows Sydney, an Indo-Trinidadian trans man, from Trinidad to Toronto and back, describing his life’s grief and joy in a dazzling, effortless way.
Added bonus! I highly recommend She of the Mountains by Vivek Shraya, which is an amazing, provocative illustrated book. I’ve never seen bisexuality addressed like this, and I don’t even remember when I last read a novel about a bisexual guy of colour. Maybe never? This book is not only a contemporary love tale set in Edmonton and Toronto, but also a beautiful (re)telling of Hindu mythology.
Added bonus number two! Favourite reads this year not published in 2014: Skin Folk by Nalo Hopkinson, Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me by Ellen Forney, With A Rough Tongue: Femmes Write Porn edited by Amber Dawn, and Dear John, I Love Jane: Women Write About Leaving Men for Women edited by Candace Walsh.