This is an adapted list that I used last year to have a look back at what books I had read, originally stolen from Danika over at the lesbrary! I did a reading challenge this year where I only read books by LGBTQ+ people of colour–more about that in a separate post–so get excited to hear about lots of those as I review all the awesome books that I read last year!
1. Best book you read in 2015
I read so many books that I loved this year, so this is a really hard question! I think I would have to pick Nalo Hopkinson’s short story collection Falling in Love with Hominids. Funnily enough, her other short story collection Skin Folk was one of my two favourites last year. I love love love Hopkinson’s freaky imagination and that collection was full of mind-blowing gorgeously written diverse science fiction and fantasy stories. Second place goes to Anchee Min’s amazing memoir Red Azalea about growing up (and falling in love with another girl) in the last years of Mao’s reign in China.
2. Book you were excited about & thought you were going to love more but didn’t?
I was really pumped to read Jewelle Gomez’s historical black lesbian vampire epic The Gilda Stories, but I ended up feeling kind of underwhelmed by it. I think I associate lesbian vampires with sex / eroticism, and this book didn’t have much of that in it, which is fine, obviously, but just wasn’t what I was expecting or wanting. I think there was something else missing for me too, maybe that I felt the vampire motif was only mostly used in that it made the character live a really long time. I wanted more vampirey stuff!
3. Favorite new author you discovered in 2015?
I have two new (to me) authors that I’m excited to read more from: Helen Oyeyemi and Benjamin Alire Sáenz. I loved Oyeyemi’s gorgeous, fairy-tale like writing and narrative style. It reminded me a lot of Jeanette Winterson, like all these timeless truths just fall out of her pen as she’s writing. The words have this mythical quality, like you’re reading the Bible or something. Sáenz’s YA about two Mexican-American boys was also gorgeously written, in a very different way: sparse prose with these sudden emotional punches. It matched the story of a teengage boy keeping all his feelings bottled up so well.
4. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?
I’m not normally a non-fiction reader, except for memoirs, but I loved Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me. I guess it’s part memoir, but it’s also history, philosophy, and theory on race and being black (a black man) in the US. The writing was passionate, powerful, beautiful, and I’m so glad I listened to the audiobook, which was wonderfully read by the author in his gorgeous voice. Maybe audiobooks are the way to go for me for non-fiction.
“The dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves. The stage where they have painted themselves white is the deathbed of us all. The dream is the same habit that endangers this planet. The same habit that stows away our bodies in prisons and ghettos.”
5. Book you can’t believe you waited until 2015 to finally read?
The Color Purple by Alice Walker! It’s such a classic of queer women’s literature and I was always ashamed I had never read it. Now I have, and it was kind of nothing like what I was expecting. I had no idea it was an epistolary novel before I picked it up, and I had no idea there was a whole sub-plot that took place in Africa. It was great. I’ve never seen the movie, but I’ve heard that it’s pretty straight-washed, which seems unbelievable to me having read the book! What would be left if you took out all the queer parts?
6. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?
Definitely Saga Volume 5. This was a cheat from my year of reading people of colour–there are definitely lots of POC featured in this comic, but the creators are neither queer nor POC. This is kind of an unexplainable book set in a science fiction universe full of robot royalty, a giant cat who can tell you when you’re lying, and a pair of star-crossed lovers with a young child on the run from their respective warring governments’ authorities. It is so weird and wonderful. Shout-out to Daniel Heath Justice’s queer Native fantasy trilogy for second place here!
7. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2015?
I love the whimsical type, I love the classic red truck under the desert sky, I love the Mexican design around the title, I love the cover of Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s YA novel.
8. Most memorable character of 2015?
This one’s gonna go to Benjamin Alire Sáenz again. I haven’t read about teenagers in a way that reminded me so strongly of being a teenager in a long time until I read about Aristotle and Dante in Artistotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. They both felt so real to me. Aristotle’s anger, and his struggle to feel really struck a chord with me.
9. Most beautifully written book read in 2015?
Red Azalea by Anchee Min was so so beautifully and strangely written. English is actually her second language, which she learned fairly late in life, and I don’t think a native speaker of English could have come up with much of the phrasing in this memoir. When I say this book is beautifully, uniquely written I especially mean the way Anchee Min writes about her growing love for Yan, another woman doing forced labour at a communal farm in Mao’s China. It’s Yan who makes her feel this: “I stood in the sunshine, feeling, feeling, the rising of a hope.” A hope like this:
She asked me to feel her heart. I wished I was the blood in that chamber. In the hammering of her hearbeat, the rising and falling of her chest. I saw a city of chaos. A mythical force drew me to her. I felt the blazing of a fire inside me.
10. Favorite passage/quote from a book you read in 2015?
I had to pick more than one here:
I am not to go the way of the two people I long for in the thick terror of the night. The first man I love and the first woman I adore, my father and my mother with their Spanish words, are not in these cards. The road before me is English and the next part is too awful to ask aloud or even silently: What is so wrong with my parents that I am not to mimic their hands, their needs, not even their words?
-Daisy Hernández, A Cup of Water Under My Bed
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
-Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Bodymap
Work the skin off in a ragged spiral,
separate flare from the pale sunrise within.
Gather up the long curl of rind,
turn it tight and snug, boy center peeking out
from swirled petals. Make a Clementine rose,
leave it like a love letter on the table.
Let your thumbs find the top dimple, apply pressure.
Not sudden, not hesitant, but cleanly.
Know the joy of secret compartments.
Raise the Clementine’s luminous body
on the tips of your fingers, moist, undressed:
with your strong teeth, neatly pluck the first
sacrificial half-moon from its sisters
with dreamy dedication:
tongue this plump flame till it bursts,
a lush firecracker in the dark.
-Deborah Miranda, “Clementines,” in Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature
11. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2015?
It’s a tie between Alana Quick, the main character and bad-ass sky surgeon / space ship mechanic in Jacqueline Koyanagi’s space travel adventure story Ascension and the Brand in Saga, a newly introduced and then cruelly killed butch assassin with a rough front and a soft interior. Alana and the Brand are both that combination of vulnerable and tough that I love. Both of these books are awesome science fiction stories with great, complex characters and lots of adventure, by the way. The hot girls are just the icing on the cake.
12. Best worldbuilding/most vivid setting you read this year?
Daniel Heath Justice spends three novels in his trilogy The Way of Thorn and Thunder building a fantasy world to rival all those straight white dudes like Tolkien, but with LGBTQ2 and/or Native characters! I loved this Indigenous-, Feminist-, Queer-centric magical world. Like, there are nations and worlds, and spiritualties, and history, and animals, and languages, and epic battles, and Justice has created it all in colour and it is amazing. I would absolutely love to see this great series made into movies, because it would be so amazing to see the world Justice has built brought to life (outside my head).
13. Book that made you cry or nearly cry in 2015?
Oh man, I cried in multiple parts of Dante and Aristotle–for happy and sad reasons [trigger warning there is a homophobic hate crime in that book, as well as a mention of a transphobic one, but neither are described in detail]. The Color Purple made me cry too. Also, I re-read Anne of Green Gables for comfort food when I was really sick, and I cried when Matthew died, even though I’ve read that book and seen the movie so many times. I will never not be sad about Matthew dying.
14. Hidden gem of the year?
I had never heard of Red Azalea or Anchee Min before doing a bunch of research to find books written by queer people of colour, and I was totally blown away by that book. The writing and the (true) story were just incredible. I also can’t believe more people haven’t heard of Daniel Heath Justice’s trilogy. But I have to say the best unexpected book I read this year was an strange, older novel from the 80s by Vikram Seth called The Golden Gate that a friend recommended. The description–a novel about a group of California yuppies–makes it sound unremarkable, when it is anything but. This is a novel written in verse people–in rhyming sonnets, in fact–in a way that poetry hasn’t been written in a hundred years (in English, anyway). It was so fun to read; plus, it features a bisexual man which is such a rare treat!
15. Best 2015 debut you read?
Red Azalea was Anchee Min’s first book (she’s since published a bunch of fiction) and I still can’t believe it was her first book, and written in English after only learning that language when she was close to thirty. Other than that, I don’t think I read any debuts–definitely not any 2015 debuts.