July’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.”
Obviously, 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!