September Patreon Update: Check out Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian on Tumblr!

Happy fall! Why does September always feel like New Years to me even when I’m not going back to school? Anyway, not a ton of news to report Patreon-wise, but I am currently at $96 a month which is pretty darn exciting. Almost a hundred dollars, holy cow!! Thanks so much to the new patrons who joined us last month and this month (and if you just joined, you’ll get your chance at rewards and stuff at the beginning of October)! You’re the reason I’m able to keep dedicating so much time to my blog.

Blog-related exciting news is that I finally started a Tumblr! If you use Tumblr, please find me there as Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian. I’m still sort of getting the hang of it and figuring out how Tumblr works! Also, I don’t have very many friends yet (wait, do you call them friends on Tumblr??) and I would love to connect with any readers of my blog who are on there. Hopefully see some of you there?

Amy is the lucky winner of this month’s draw for a free queer book. Congrats, Amy! Check out the options she had to choose from:

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Check out some of the August content you might have missed! I did a review of Jane Ozkowski’s debut YA novel Watching Traffic which I loved. It’s kind of a perfect little, quiet book. I wrote about the awesome Vancouver publisher Arsenal Pulp Press twice, because they are just that awesome. First of all, they have some rad queer books coming out this fall, including a long-awaited novel from Lydia Kwa, new dystopian fiction from Kristyn Dunnion, a trans picture book, and a graphic novel by the author who wrote Blue Is The Warmest Colour! Also, along with Vivek Shraya, Arsenal is launching a new mentorship and publishing program for young BIPOC writers in Canada; deadline is September 15th, so you still have time to apply!

Speaking of writers of colour, I also wrote a post in August about the importance of supporting authors of colour in the face of white supremacy. I included a bunch of tips for supporting those authors even if you can’t afford to buy new books, as well as a list of my favourite books by authors of colour that I’ve read this year. If you’re especially interested in Asian Canadian authors, definitely have a look at my list of 8 Awesome Asian Canadian Queer Books. (Actually if you like awesome books, you should read that list!).

And as always I want to individually thank all of the people who’ve signed up to be patrons. You lovely humans are: Danika, Leigh, Anna Marie, Jane, Jakelene, Emmet, Madeline, Heather, Carla, Naz, Laurita, Jason, Jillian, Anton, Shelagh, Priscila, Allison, Ang, James, Seed, Julie, Katherine, Rachel, Samuel, Amy, Sarah, Daniel, Sarah, Chantelle, Al, Undertheteacup, and Karen!

Reminder that if any of you new (or old) folks are interested in being a part of the Interview with a Queer Reader series, write me at stepaniukcasey [at] gmail.com

Posted in Patreon

Queer Books Coming in Fall 2017 from Arsenal Pulp Press

As always, Vancouver’s wonderful Arsenal Pulp Press is about to publish some great books. These ones, slated to come out this fall, all have queer themes and/or are by queer authors.

Oracle Bone by Lydia Kwa

Lydia Kwa is a Singapore-born Vancouver writer (and psychologist) and it’s been far too long since she’s put out a novel—over ten years. Oracle Bone sounds AMAZING. It’s both historical fiction and magical realism, a tale that plays with Chinese mythology from a feminist perspective. I don’t think I can do the book description justice except quoting it in its entirety:

Life in seventh-century China teems with magic, fox spirits, and demons; there is a fervent belief that the extraordinary resides within the lives of both commoners and royalty. During the years when the empress Wu Zhao gains ascendency in the Tang court, her evil-minded lover Xie becomes obsessed with finding and possessing the oracle bone, a magical object that will bestow immortal powers on him. Standing in his way is Qilan, an eccentric Daoist nun who rescues an orphaned girl named Ling from being sold into slavery; Qilan takes her uder her wing, promising to train her so she may avenge her parents’ murders. In another part of the city, a young monk named Harelip questions his faith and his attraction to other men as he helps the elder monk Xuanzang to complete his translation of the Heart Sutra, the sacred Buddhist scripture. Meanwhile, as the mysteries and powers of the missing oracle bone are revealed, it remains to be seen whether Qilan will be able to stop Xie from gaining possession of the magical bone, and at what cost.

For a bit more on Lydia Kwa, check out this interview with her in Poetry is Dead’s “Queers Fail Better” series.

Tarry This Night by Kristyn Dunnion

You might recognize Kristyn Dunnion’s name from this very website; I’ve reviewed two of her other books and talked about them a few times: her amazingly weird and inventive queer punk dystopian YA novel Big Big Sky and her excellent short story collection The Dirt Chronicles, which features characters who are, among other things, anarchist punks, dumpster-diving freegans, First Nations lesbian teenagers, queer brown kids in foster care, trans sex workers, and middle-aged ostensibly straight men with intense homoerotic bonds. Her latest novel out this October is also dystopian; it sounds like The Handmaid’s Tale, but with attention to racism:

In this dystopian, eerily relevant novel, a civil war is brewing in America. Below ground, a cult led by the deluded and narcissistic Father Ernst is ensconced in an underground bunker, waiting out the conflict. When “The Family” runs out of food, Ruth, coming of age and terrified of serving as Ernst’s next wife, must choose between obeying her faith and fighting for survival.

In this unsettling modern Lilith tale, spirited women resist their violent, racist culture and, in so doing, become outlaws. Family members navigate a secretive and deadly arena where faith eschews autonomy and righteousness precludes mercy. With an unwavering eye, Tarry This Night dares to imagine the unthinkable that is present-day America, offering a place for resistance and hope for a new and better world.

From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea by Kai Cheng Thom, Kai Yung Ching, and Wai-Yant Li

If you’ve been paying attention at all to the Canadian LGBTQ2IA+ book scene, you’ll definitely recognize Kai Cheng Thom’s name. Winner of this year’s Dayne Ogilvie Prize for Emerging LGBTQ Writers, she has also released two books in the last year: a stunning collection of poetry A Place Called NO HOMELAND (check out my review here) and a genre-defying novel Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir. She’s diving into a new genre and format with this picture book illustrated by Kai Yung Ching and Wai-Yant Li. It sounds like just what queer and trans kids need:

In the magical time between night and day, when both the sun and the moon are in the sky, a child is born in a little blue house on a hill. And Miu Lan is not just any child, but one who can change into any shape they can imagine. The only problem is they can’t decide what to be: a boy or a girl? A bird or a fish? A flower or a shooting star? At school, though, they must endure inquisitive looks and difficult questions from the other children, and have trouble finding friends who will accept them for who they are. But they find comfort in the loving arms of their mother, who always offers them the same loving refrain: “whatever you dream of / i believe you can be / from the stars in the sky to the fish in the sea.”

In this captivating, beautifully imagined picture book about gender, identity, and the acceptance of differences between us, Miu Lan faces many questions about who they are and who they may be. But one thing’s for sure: no matter who this child becomes, their mother will love them just the same.

Body Music by Julie Maroh

If Julie Maroh’s name isn’t familiar to you, the name of her debut graphic novel and/or the controversial French film version probably are: she wrote Blue is the Warmest Color. Although the storytelling in Blue is the Warmest Color was clearly done by a teenager cramming in as much drama as possible (Maroh was only 19 when she started writing it), the art was beautiful and subtle, just as it looks in her newest graphic novel Body Music. Translated from the French by Canadian David Homel, Body Music

marks her return to the kind of soft, warm palette and impressionistic sensibility that made her debut book so sensational. Set in the languid, European-like neighbourhoods of Montreal, Body Music is a beautiful and moving meditation on love and desire as expressed in many different forms—between women, between men, between women and men and gender non-conformists alike, all varying in age and race. In twenty separate vignettes, Maroh explores the drama inherent in relationships at different stages: the electricity of initial attraction, the elation of falling in love, the trauma of breaking up, the sweet comfort of a long-standing romance. Anyone who’s ever been in a relationship will see themselves in these intimate stories tinged with raw emotion. Body Music is an exhilarating and passionate graphic novel about what it means to fall in love, and what it means to be alive.

Posted in Asian, Canadian, Fiction, Graphic, Kristyn Dunnion, list, magic realism, Non-Canadian, Queer, Science Fiction, Vancouver | 2 Comments

Lovely Writing, Interesting Moments, and Well Drawn Characters, But No Narrative Tension: A Review of Eva Crocker’s Debut Short Story Collection BARRELLING FORWARD

You know what’s the worst? Being really excited about a book and then being disappointed when you actually read it. Alas, such was my experience with the debut short story collection Barrelling Forward, by Newfoundland writer Eva Crocker. The weird thing is is that everything about this book was really setting me up to love it.

First of all, both Zoe Whittall and Heather O’Neill have glowing blurbs on the back cover. I LOVE both of their writing and would consider one of their endorsements a big selling point, let alone both of them for one book! Second, I was excited about Barrelling Forward since it was the publication that led to Eva Crocker being shortlisted for this year’s Dayne Ogilvie Prize (an award for emerging LGBTQ Canadian writers). Third, the descriptions of the book sound exactly like the kind of stuff I love: a focus on the everyday and mundane, featuring ordinary people. The publisher’s blurb got me really excited:

Financial uncertainty leads to interpersonal insecurity as an assortment of youthful protagonists navigate the everyday challenges of life — and making a living — on the island. What happens when the man interviewing you for a job takes you on a date to see a hypnotist? How do you get rid of a psychosomatic case of bedbugs? What’s the best way to get rid of a beaver dam? How do you tell someone you just started seeing that you didn’t know you had scabies when you hooked up? In the Cuffer Prize–winning story, “Skin and Mud,” two boys have an intimate encounter as they wander through the barrens one day after school. Barrelling Forward is packed with unforgettable characters, vibrant humour, and acute insight into the overwhelming anxieties of new adults living their lives in the midst of a crumbling old economy.

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Eva Crocker / image via thestar.com

Doesn’t it sound awesome? Aw man, I’m sad all over again that I didn’t really like this book. The thing is, there’s actually a lot to admire in Barrelling Forward. It has some lovely understated writing, well drawn characters, and many interesting moments. The characters felt very real, messy, and complex. Crocker doesn’t flinch in her portrayals, whether it’s a creepy landlord hitting on one of his tenants who’s late on her rent, a young feminine gay guy dealing with his macho dad, or an aerobics instructor dealing with the death of the boyfriend she didn’t really love anymore. The descriptions are crisp and minimalist, elucidating lovely, clear images of familiar feeling east coast locales and people (who are mostly twenty-something and middle aged working class Newfoundlanders).

My problem is that none of the stories had a narrative arc or tension. I LOVE short stories that are snapshots of everyday life. I could read them all day. But the writer has to add significance or the stories fall flat. As I said, the stories had really interesting characters and moments; but they didn’t have interesting stories. The ending of every story felt abrupt and arbitrary. Abrupt endings can be a really effective tool when used intentionally, but in this collection it felt more like each ending was simply a random cutting off point, for no particular rhyme or reason. The abruptness didn’t add anything to the story, nor did it feel deliberate. Each time a story ended, I found myself asking, “Is that it?” and “But where was the story?” I was left feeling unfulfilled, like I needed more of each story for it to make sense as a narrative, and simultaneously exhausted by the end of the collection and wanting it to be over. In short: the stories felt incomplete. It probably would have been less frustrating if I hadn’t liked so many other aspects of the book! And I probably would have been more generous with some of the later stories if I hadn’t been feeling so exasperated near the end.

I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on Eva Crocker’s work in the future. But for now, I have complicated feelings about this book. Has anyone else read Barrelling Forward? If you read and liked it, I’d be especially interested in hearing your thoughts!

Posted in Canadian, Fiction, Gay, Queer, Short Stories

8 Awesome Asian Canadian Queer Books

These are some of my favourite books, and I bet they will become your favourites too once you read them. These books are all written by queer and/or trans Asian Canadian authors AND all feature queer and/or trans Asian Canadian characters. Other than that, there’s quite a variety, including genres and formats like historical fiction, fantasy, realism, graphic novels, memoir, and more! What are you waiting for? Read one of these books tonight!

Fierce Femmes and Notorious LiarsFierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir by Kai Cheng Thom

Kai Cheng Thom’s genre-defying debut is “the highly sensational, ultra-exciting, sort-of true coming-of-age story of a young Asian trans girl, pathological liar, and kung-fu expert who runs away from her parents’ abusive home.” Playing with the genre of memoir, the only way mainstream publishers have ever offered trans writers a chance to publish, Fierce Femmes interrogates and turns on their head all of the tropes common to the “trans memoir.” It also plays with magic, weaving it amongst the realism. The main character Dearly finds herself a family of trans femmes after striking out on her own, but when one of their number is murdered, she and her sisters form a vigilante group to fight back against the cops, johns, and transphobes who harass them. When things in the group go terribly wrong, Dearly is forced to finally stop the violence and find her own truth.

Prairie Ostrich by Tamai Kobayashi

This quietly powerful historical novel is set in 1970s rural Alberta. Eight-year-old “Egg” Murakami is the narrator of story whose limited perspective is the only one you get on the troubled Murakami family. Her brother Albert died last year and all the family members are grieving in their own way: her dad hides in the barn, her mom drinks. Her older sister Kathy is barely managing to hold the family together while trying to shield her little sister from the worst of the world: racism, death, hate. She even changes the endings of famous books (Charlotte’s Web and The Diary of Anne Frank) to make them happy when she reads to Egg. Kathy is also dealing with her own stuff, a teenage lesbian relationship with a girl in her class. It’s fascinating to see the relationship through Egg’s eyes, since she doesn’t really get it, but intuitively kind of does? Read my full review here.

She of the Mountains by Vivek Shraya

In the beginning, there is no he. There is no she.Two cells make up one cell. This is the mathematics behind creation. One plus one makes one. Life begets life. We are the period to a sentence, the effect to a cause, always belonging to someone. We are never our own. This is why we are so lonely.” This is just a beautiful, poetic novel that I think everybody should read. It tells two stories, reimagining more than one Hindu mythological tale and combining that with the contemporary narrative of an unnamed bisexual protagonist “he.” It’s an exploration of queer identity, but also the body and emotions, and how all of these are tied together. What does it mean to love who we love?, the book asks. The illustrations by Raymond Biesinger (see the cover for an example) are delightful and add so much to the experience of reading the book.

Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

In the spirit of the Wiccan protagonist, I declare Mariko and Jillian Tamaki’s Skim to be utterly magickal. It’s dark, and beautiful, and heartbreaking, and sad, and perceptive. Skim has a wonderful balance of teenage angst, earnestness, and heightened emotion. And although it takes the classic form of a teenage girl’s diary, it is also a graphic novel, drawn by the immensely talented Jillian Tamaki. The main character Kim, aka Skim, is a high school student at a girls’ school in Toronto; she’s not cool, she’s not skinny, she’s sad, she’s an aspiring Wiccan, and she just might be falling in love with her quirky, hippie English teacher, Ms. Archer. For a book that takes on subject matter such as teen suicide, the effects of racism and sexism on girls’ body images, depression, the complexities of discovering queerness amidst a homophobic environment, and that cruelty particular to teenage girls, Skim is surprisingly fun to read. It’s also very darkly funny. Read my full review here.

All Inclusive by Farzana Doctor

If someone had told me, hey, Farzana Doctor’s All Inclusive is a critical look at all-inclusive resorts, bisexuality, swinging and polyamory, spirituality, death, and terrorism, I probably would have said, are you kidding? That sounds like a disaster. But Doctor manages to make her third novel a huge success. As always with Doctor’s novels, there’s her trademark sharp insight into the human psyche and this gentle, calming, empathetic lens as she explores her characters. Ameera is the late twenties biracial (white and Indian) main character. She works at an all-inclusive in Mexico, where she’s discovered since arriving that she’s bisexual and enjoys having sex with (mostly man-woman) couples. But just when you’re settling into her story, the perspective shifts, and we get someone named Azeez, but back in 1985 instead of Ameera’s 2015. You guess immediately that Azeez is Ameera’s father and you know that he’s never been a part of her life. But you’ll probably never guess what his story is, and why he disappeared… (Full review here).

When Fox Is A Thousand by Larissa Lai

Who wouldn’t want to read a novel that is part folklore, part fairy tale, part historical fiction, and part contemporary urban story? This complex and beautifully crafted book is told from three perspectives: Yu Hsuan-Chi, a real-life Chinese poet who lived in the ninth century; the mythological figure Fox, approaching her 1000th birthday; and Artemis, a young Chinese-Canadian woman living in contemporary Vancouver. The politics—sexual, queer, gender, culture, and otherwise—of each time period are explored skillfully as Lai investigates what it’s like to be a queer Chinese ‘woman’ (Fox isn’t exactly human, after all) in different places and times. Some things are different, of course, but some things, despite the distance between the mythological world, the Tang dynasty, and contemporary Canada, are remarkably similar. Danika over at the Lesbrary wrote in her review that this book should be considered a lesbian classic.

small-beauty_cover_rgbSmall Beauty by jia qing wilson-yang

This quiet, unassuming book completely won me over. Small Beauty is a quiet, meditative, introspective book. I read a lot of it when I was in the bath, and that seemed like the perfect place. The main character is Mei, a young, queer, mixed-race (Chinese and white) trans woman dealing with some big stuff: her cousin—who was like her brother—recently passed away and now she has to deal with all of that aftermath of a relative’s death, including leaving the big city she lives in and going to the small town where her cousin and aunt (who had passed away previously) used to live. While Mei is at her cousin’s house that she has now inherited, she is slowly unravelling some of the details of his and her aunt’s life, including unearthing some secrets that show she’s not the only queer person in the family… (Full review here).

Half World by Hiromi Goto

Melanie Tamaki is a lonely girl shunned by her peers. Her only friend is an eccentric old lesbian named Ms. Wei who runs a convenience store (she turns out to have a much more interesting vocation as well…). Melanie’s not exactly the kind of person you’d expect to be the heroine in a young adult fantasy novel. But, lo and behold, it is Melanie who is the star of Vancouver queer author Hiromi Goto’s dark Japanese Buddhist-inspired Half World, which has a lot of surprises for you. One day, Melanie comes home from school and discovers that her mother is missing. As it turns out, her mother has not been taken somewhere unknown, but has been taken back to where she came from, a mythical place called Half World. Melanie, of course, sets out to rescue her beloved mother in what turns into an epic quest that has significance not just for her small family, but for the entire universe… (Full review here)

Posted in Alberta, Asian, Bisexual, Canadian, comics, Coming-of-age, Fantasy, Farzana Doctor, Fiction, Graphic, Hiromi Goto, Lesbian, list, magic realism, Mariko Tamaki, memoir, Queer, Rural, South Asian, Trans, Trans Feminine, Young Adult | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

“The whole world is breaking open just for us”: Jane Ozkowski’s Quiet, Powerful YA Debut

Sometimes it’s the books with small ambitions and seemingly dull subject matter that really wow you. Watching Traffic, a debut novel by queer Torontonian author Jane Ozkowski, is one of those books. In fact, Watching Traffic is kind of a perfect book; I don’t mean that it’s a book for everyone, but it is a book that does what it sets out to do in a seemingly effortless, quietly powerful, nearly flawless way.

The main character Emily lives in small town Ontario, the kind of place where literally people just drive through coming from Toronto on their way to cottage country. The town has been split in half by a big highway and one of Emily and her friends’ favourite pastimes is to walk over the overpass to watch the cars, and sometimes spit on them (there isn’t much else to do). Emily is haunted by her mother’s suicide when she was three. Everyone in the town has a hard time seeing her as anything else than “poor Emily,” the girl whose mom abandoned her in the most horrible way possible.

The novel is set at the end of the summer after Emily’s last year of high school. Do you remember that time? That feeling of promise, that expectation that everything is supposed to be new and different now. That sadness that the ways things have been for a long time are changing. That disorientation of officially arriving at ‘adulthood,’ which you’ve been waiting for forever, but that now it’s here you have no idea what to do with. Emily works at a local catering company that makes stuff like little sandwiches cut into triangles for weddings and funerals, and now that high school is over, she is wondering if she’s going to be working there for the rest of her life. Her two best friends have plans: Lincoln has booked a plane ticket to Australia, all ready to go backpacking, and Melissa is getting ready to leave for university in Halifax. Emily … has no idea what she is going to do.

Maybe this description doesn’t sound very interesting. I mean, that description doesn’t include any real plot, at least not like fans of mystery novels and action movies define plot. But Watching Traffic isn’t that kind of story; it’s quiet, it’s contemplative, it’s complex. The feeling and the atmosphere are more important than anything that happens. Even the parts of the book that could have fallen into those regular tropes of teenage coming-of-age plot—a new guy Tyler from the city moving to town and showing interest in Emily, her best friend Melissa’s coming out—resist the drama and simplicity those narratives usually embody. Meeting Tyler doesn’t solve any of Emily’s problems; he doesn’t even make any of them go away. Emily doesn’t magically become a different person. It’s so refreshing to see a teenage boy-girl romance not treated as the be-all end-all, especially for the female character.

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Jane Ozkowski / image via twitter

Emily finally realizing Melissa is a lesbian, and has in fact been trying to tell Emily that she’s gay (and that she likes Emily) for while, is almost anti-climatic. When Emily arrives on Melissa’s doorstep, she blurts out “You’re gay, aren’t you?” Melissa drily replies, “Congratulations … You’re the last person on earth to know.” This feels true even outside the fiction of the story, as any queer reader has likely seen Melissa’s impending dykedom from a kilometre away. The quiet walk the two friends take together after the revelation, neither of them having the right words to express what they are feeling or thinking, feels eerily real.

There are a lot of things like that Ozkowski captures perfectly in this short, understated novel. Another is that uncanny sense of invincibility so rampant in teenagers. In one scene at a party, Emily narrates:

Even though it’s dangerous to swim drunk in the dark like this, nothing bad can happen tonight. The whole world is breaking open just for us, and we are jumping into it again and again. Tyler and Lincoln are at the diving board trying to do back flips into the water. They keep landing on their stomachs with loud smacks that echo above the trees, but they’re laughing and laughing because no one can feel pain anymore, and all of us will live forever.

The novel also nails that feeling the suffocation of living in a small town as a young person trying to find who you are when everyone around you is sure they already know exactly what kind of person you are. How can Emily explore who she might be and who she might become, when so many people only see her as “suicide baby?” As she tells Tyler when they’re talking about their relationship: “That story ruins everything… Even now, it’s ruining this. It’s ruining my whole life.”

Certainly part of the way Ozkowski captures life and its everyday revelations in such an evocative way is that her writing is gorgeous, full of expressive, eloquent similes and images, like:

“I keep looking at Lincoln and thinking, Remember this moment and remember how he looks, but it feels like I’m grabbing fistfuls of water out of a lake.”

“I stumble into the living room where most of the stuff my grandma has collected has piled on top of itself like everything that’s ever happened to her is still happening to her.”

“I feel a headache starting at the front of my scalp like tinfoil unraveling through my brain.”

Another thing I loved about this book was that Emily is a genuinely weird character. And I don’t mean weird as in a mainstream adorkable way, like when they put glasses on conventionally hot white girls in movies and this somehow is supposed to transform them into nerds. Emily is really weird. In one scene at someone else’s house she takes some potpourri from a bowl in the living room and eats it, just because she’s curious if it tastes good (it does not). When her grandmother—who’s a hoarder and possibly even weirder than Emily—gives her a box of her old teeth that all have gold fillings in them, Emily finds it strange, but not so strange that she doesn’t take them to a pawn shop to see if she can get money for the gold.

Jane Ozkowski’s bio at the back of Watching Traffic says she is working on “an adult novel set in Toronto during the apocalypse.” I can’t wait for that book, and everything else that she writes, after reading this stunning debut.

Posted in Canadian, Coming-of-age, Fiction, Lesbian, Toronto, Young Adult | 2 Comments

Read, Buy, and Promote Books by People of Color: Tips, Plus a List of 11 Favorite Books by Authors of Color

One of the things I’m committed to doing in the face of white supremacy is uplifting and supporting the voices of people of colour. This includes buying, reading, and promoting books by people of colour! Three years ago, I was disappointed when I looked back at all the books I had read that year and noticed that I had read a dismal amount of books by authors of colour. Fellow white readers, I urge you to have a look at what you are reading; you may think you are “reading diversely,” like I did, when you are in fact reading a majority of books by white people. We already know that the publishing industry is racist: in the numbers and types of books that are published by authors of colour, in the lack of people of colour working in the publishing industry, and in the amount of money that is put behind books by white authors for promotion. We also already know that it’s impossible for white people not to be affected by racist ideology when they grow up in a racist society. But it’s possible to make positive changes in your reading habits; in fact, it’s pretty easy!

Here’s what I did: after one year of reading only books by QTPOC as a special project, I set a goal of having at least half of the books I read every year be ones by authors of colour. So far I have found this to be really awesome for my personal reading experiences, because a) I have discovered a ton of rad books that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t specifically sought them out, and b) I have learned so much about other races, ethnicities, cultures, and racism. Also: it’s simple but it’s the truth: buying books by authors of colour puts money in the pockets of people of colour, which is extremely important when economic disparity is a major result of systemic racism.

If you don’t have the funds to buy new books, there are also other ways to support writers of colour: namely, promote their books! There are lots of ways to promote books that don’t cost you a thing:

  • Write Goodreads and Amazon reviews (Also, reading and sharing reviews by readers who share the identities with the author and/or characters is great and will help you not to talk about stuff you’re not qualified to talk about in your review!)
  • Talk about and promote the books on social media; use the #WeNeedDiverseBooks tag!
  • Recommend the books to family and friends, and not just when the topic is race or when someone specifically asks for a book by an author of colour
  • If you belong to a book club, actively choose books by authors of colour and pay attention to the ratio of white vs. authors of colour that you discuss
  • Check out books by authors of colour from your library. Libraries keep stats of how often books circulate, so checking them out shows the library there is an interest in these books and encourages them to keep them (and books like them) on the shelves.
  • If your local library doesn’t already own a copy of a book by a person of colour that you think they should, ask them to order it! Most libraries should have an online form on their website for this (often called a “suggest a purchase”), or you can ask someone at the library in person.

Here are my favourite books by authors of colour that I’ve read this year, in case you need some starting off suggestions. These are all over the map genre- and style-wise but they are all amazing books. Please add your favourite books by authors of colour in the comments!

Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

I LOVE Eden Robinson (and wrote at length about her on Book Riot earlier this year). I was super pumped when I found out she had a new book coming out in 2017. This novel is SO worth the wait. It’s about Jared, a sixteen-year-old burnout who drinks too much and smokes too much pot and lives with his mom, who he can’t trust to not bail on him and the bills or to not beat up guys who admittedly deserve it. But Jared is not a stereotype and not what an outsider would think: he’s also an incredibly compassionate person, to the point that others take advantage of him, and a person simply in search of not wanting to hurt or be hurt. All this coming-of-age story is incredible in and of itself, but the small magical touches that Robinson has sprinkled throughout the story suddenly burst to the forefront of the narrative in a totally unexpected way at the end, making you glad this book is the first in a new trickster trilogy. Here’s an excerpt of hilarious dialogue from when Jared is still a little kid:

“Where’s Jim-Bob?” his mom said.

“Whoring,” Nana Sophia said.

“Jesus, Mother.”

“He’s a walking dick these days,” Nana Sophia said. “Thank you, Viagra. I hope his heart pops like the cancerous zit it is.”

“Jared’s right here,” his dad said.

“Fine. No cookies and no unpleasant truths. Dry toast and stern lecture for everyone.”

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

I almost hesitate to even call this novel fantasy, since it’s so leagues ahead and so much more innovative and imaginative than any other fantasy I’ve ever read that it’s hard to even compare to any run-of-the-mill medieval Europe inspired fantasy. It’s one of the few books I’ve read (Octavia Butler’s and Nalo Hopkinson’s are also among them) that makes me just marvel at the capabilities of the human imagination. The Fifth Season is set on a continent under the constant threat of apocalypse via natural disaster. Some people in this world, including the main character, have the gift or curse—depending on how you look at it—of being able to move and control the forces beneath the earth’s surface; in other words, they can stop or … cause natural disasters like earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, etc. The story follows one such woman as she grapples with the aftermath of the biggest apocalypse of them all. The world-building is amazingly inventive and complex, the cast is full of complex, fascinating characters (human and sort-of-human), and the plotting is deftly crafted, with a few brilliant twists. This is the first book in a trilogy, but good news is both the second book The Obelisk Gate and third book The Stone Sky are out as of August 15th, so you can binge read them all now! Bonus: there are also casually included trans, gay, and bisexual characters.

A Place Called NO HOMELAND by Kai Cheng Thom

I mean, if you read my blog and you haven’t got your hands on this book yet, I’m not sure what to say. HAVEN’T YOU BEEN PAYING ATTENTION? It is the best book of poetry I have read IN YEARS. A Place Called NO HOMELAND is a fucking phenomenal collection of poetry featuring tough and tender meditations on family, race, being trans, femininity, trauma, relationships, community, sex, books, and love. Her poems have strong roots in oral traditions and spoken word, making it so you can really hear them in your mind and heart. They’re tough and tender meditations on family, race, being trans, femininity, trauma, relationships, community, sex, books, and love. She writes: “dear white gay men: / you are neither the face / of my oppression / nor the hands /of my salvation.” She also begins another poem with: “All i want is to turn my lungs into a glass instrument and let them sing glory to my sisters”; singing glory to her sisters is exactly what Kai Cheng Thom has done in this collection, and it is beautiful. You can read my full review here.

small-beauty_cover_rgbSmall Beauty by jia qing wilson-yang

This debut novel was one of those glorious reading experiences for me where I had no real expectations and wasn’t even sure what the book was about and I ended up loving it. Small Beauty is a quiet, meditative, introspective novel, that I read a lot of when I was in the bath, and that seemed like the perfect place. Small Beauty invites you to be in that kind of space, because that’s exactly where the main character Mei is. Mei is a young, queer, mixed-race trans woman dealing with some big stuff: her cousin—who was like her brother—recently passed away and now she has to deal with all of that aftermath of a relative’s death, including leaving the big city she lives in and going to the small town and living in the house she has now inherited. While Mei is at her cousin’s house, she is slowly unravelling some of the details of his and her aunt’s life, including unearthing some secrets that show she’s not the only queer person in the family. She especially reflects on being trans and on having Chinese and white ancestry. Flashbacks also take us to her city life. It’s a beautifully authentic, natural, own voices story about the kind of person who isn’t the protagonist of a piece of fiction nearly often enough. Read my full review here.

Rose’s Run by Dawn Dumont

I first discovered Dawn Dumont last year when I was doing a project on Indigenous women writers and was thrilled to discover this gem of a writer whose first book Nobody Cries At Bingo had me killing myself with laughter. This second novel is just as fabulous and funny as her first, but this time it comes  with a magical realist twist. The main character and plot synopsis is: “Rose Okanese, a single mother with two kids, has been pushed into a corner by Rez citizens to claim some self-respect, and decides that the fastest way to do that is to run the reserve’s annual marathon. Though Rose hasn’t run in twenty years, smokes, and initially has little motivation, she announces her intention to run the race. One quality Rose doesn’t lack is spontaneity which sometimes clashes with her iron will and, though she has initial regrets about opening her mouth, her life begins to dictate that she must follow through.” At first the supernatural turn at the end of the novel surprised me—in a gloriously feminist revenge scenario, Dream Woman comes to possess the women of the reserve and make them turn on the men. But then I looked back and saw to my delight the signs all along. Above all it’s a story about a mother in her mid-thirties in a moving but hilarious struggle to re-invent herself after her dirtbag husband leaves her and she loses her job. There are some really tender moments alongside lots of laugh out loud ones. For example: “It was a bad sign when people spoke confidently of your husband’s dick size” and “His upper body was firm and muscular, and his butt was as perky as a Christian at a church picnic.” Dumont also has a brand-new book called Glass Beads out that I am super excited to read!

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

A total delight from start to finish, Ghost is a deceptively simple story about 13-year-old urban Black kid Castle Crenshaw, aka “Ghost.” One day while killing time in the park, he stumbles upon a track practice and ends up racing one of the fastest kids on the team—and winning. Impressed, the coach offers Ghost a spot on the team. Kind of against his better judgement—he’s always thought of himself as a basketball player even though he’s not on a team—Ghost joins up. He soon discovers that the other newbies on the team and his new coach are pretty cool, and that he’s actually really into running. But it’s not that simple. Ghost has a lot of other stuff going on in his life that are obstacles to his success: the reason his dad’s in jail (for shooting at him and his mom), the fact that his mom’s overworked and they’re still poor, and a whole lot of anger. It turns out his nickname is pretty apt, given how haunted by the past he is. This is a sensitive, realistic look at a young person dealing with trauma and trying to avoid the crushing effects of racism, poverty, and abuse; but the novel is never preachy or heavy. It also doesn’t provide easy answers, or present sports as a magical solution for Black teen boys, and it resists tropes associated with this kind of narrative. It shows how powerful the influence of supportive, understanding adults can have on so-called at-risk kids. The audiobook narrator Guy Lockard is superb, delivering authentic voices especially for Ghost and the coach. The sequel Patina focusing on a different character is also out now!

Chorus of Mushrooms by Hiromi Goto

I finally picked up this novel as part of my project this year to read all the amazing books I already own, and I couldn’t believe I’d had this book just sitting on my bookshelf for years unread. What a beautiful novel! It’s quite amazing to know that it was Vancouver writer Goto’s debut as well. It’s a magical realist tale set in Alberta sabout family, immigration, stories, food, the land, and culture, narrated from multiple perspectives. I loved Naoe the grandmother character, who was so funny and wise and unabashedly sexual. I ask you, when was the last time you read a book from an elderly person’s perspective that talked frankly about their sexuality? Probably never. The exploration of Naoe’s relationship with her granddaughter was particularly fascinating, as the younger and older generations come together to bond over Japanese cultural traditions and language that the middle generation has been compelled to discard with the pressure of assimilation into mainstream—read: white—Canadian society. Chorus of Mushrooms is a fantastic Canadian feminist classic that should definitely be more widely read. Check out this excerpt from Naoe’s point of view:

It’s sadly unfortunate that I was too angry to enjoy sex when I had it. Too bitter, too proud to fall into my flesh. Long after the divorce, I still wouldn’t let anyone touch the surface of my skin. Not even Keiko. Now I pay, I suppose. Eighty-five years old and horny as a musk-drenched cat. The only human contact I have now is when Keiko washes my hair. When Murasaki sometimes hugs me. I love them and their touch makes my old heart almost pain with emotion, but there is nothing for this dull beating ache I find between my thighs. Most unseemly, to be this age and horny, but it is funny after all. This muttering, old, lamb-haired Obāchan wearing elastic-waisted polyester pants, brown collarless shirt with pink flowers, grey cardigan and heel imprinted slippers. Just pulling out the waistband with one quavering hand and the other just about to slip into cotton briefs, toying with the idea of—
‘Obāchan! What are you doing?!’

The Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee

Along with The Fifth Season and its sequel, The Conjoined is one of my most un-putdownable books of the year (although that’s really a metaphor, since I listened to the audiobook version). It’s one of those deliciously genre-defying books: part family drama and part mystery. Here’s the basic premise: “On a sunny May morning, social worker Jessica Campbell sorts through her mother’s belongings after her recent funeral. In the basement, she makes a shocking discovery — two dead girls curled into the bottom of her mother’s chest freezers. She remembers a pair of foster children who lived with the family in 1988: Casey and Jamie Cheng — troubled, beautiful, and wild teenaged sisters from Vancouver’s Chinatown. After six weeks, they disappeared; social workers, police officers, and Jessica herself assumed they had run away.” The narrative jumps back and forth in time as Jessica explores her mother’s past and that of Casey and Jamie, uncovering more and more secrets. Lee immerses you in those tough moments, never failing to envoke the hard questions, like what effects supposedly good systems social welfare systems actually have on vulnerable populations. The characters were expertly drawn, all authentic and sympathetic, all far from perfect. Lee’s writing is incisive, thoughtful, and generous. I can’t believe this is only the first book by her that I’ve read. And it’s set in Vancouver! The audiobook voice actor was pitch perfect, by the way, if you’re into that format. This would be a great book for fans of Megan Abbott, especially Dare Me.

Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time: An Indigenous LGBT Sci-Fi Anthology edited by Hope Nicholson

Some books are just like a delicious treat that you want to savour for as long as possible. Love Beyond Body, Space, & Time: An Indigenous LGBT Sci-Fi Anthology is one of those books. It’s a slim volume of short stories that I could have powered through in a few hours, but I drew out my reading of it, reading one story at a time, managing to stretch the reading experience over three weeks. Alas, it finally had to end, but you can read it for the first you still, lucky you! This is just a great anthology of stories. I’d actually label the stories together under the bigger umbrella of speculative fiction, or at least say they’re science fiction and fantasy. Also, there is a nice variety of author backgrounds represented: Anishinaabe, Lipan Apache, Cree, Cherokee, and more. All the authors are Indigenous, and most of them identify as LGBT and/or two-spirit. Two essays introducing some two-spirit history and what these writers find powerful in speculative genres precede the stories themselves. My favourites were: a lesbian romance set in space aboard a ship full of pet dogs being transported to Mars; a tale with a powerful twist about the future of queer dating featuring a young Cree woman and VR gone wrong; a hard sci-fi story about Aanji, a “noncitizen” in the process of transforming herself, in a process that is at once a unique invention but one that has undeniable parallels to trans journeys. See my full review here.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

I cannot sell this book better than the official blurb can, which is what got me to say “Damn, I need to read this yesterday”:

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first she has to make it there, alive.

I LOVED the character of Binti and thought the world building in this novella was so rad! I also really appreciated how there was a strong presence of the natural world, so often ignored in sci fi in favour of technology. In fact, this book made me realize how much that is missing in SF. More nature in SF, please! If you’re into audiobooks, this is narrated by Robin Miles, who is a supremely talented voice actor and one of the best audiobook narrators out there. Also, if you love Binti and want more, there are TWO sequels already!

Marriage of a Thousand Lies by SJ Sindu

I was SUPER lucky to be offered a review copy of this book by the author and to get the chance to interview her for a piece on Autostraddle that I wrote about this debut novel. It’s a beautiful book about 20-something millennial freelancer Lakshmi, aka Lucky. Lucky is a lesbian; her husband Kris also knows he’s gay. They present their marriage of convenience to their conservative Sri Lankan families, but they each date on the side. Lucky isn’t sure how long she can hold up this façade, though; as the novel progresses, she becomes increasingly desperate to live out as a lesbian. This book is a no-holds-barred look at the supremely tough position queer women of colour like Lucky are put in: queerness is assumed to be white, so queer people of colour face racism in queer communities; but queer women of colour can also face homophobia and sexism from their racialized communities, giving them no place where they can be themselves. This is my favourite quotation from the book:

Let me tell you something about being brown like me: your story is already written for you. Your free will, your love, your failure, all of it scratched into the cosmos before you’re even born. My mother calls it fate, the story written on your head by the stars, by the gods, never by you.

(Note: All the book titles are linked to Amazon.com if that’s where you buy your books, but I encourage you to buy them at a local independent bookstore if you can!)

Posted in Asian, Bisexual, Canadian, Fantasy, Fiction, Gay, Hiromi Goto, Indigenous, list, magic realism, mystery, Non-Canadian, Poetry, Queer, Trans, Trans Feminine, Vancouver | 1 Comment

Interview with a Queer Reader: Anna Marie Talks Life-Changing Queer Books Like ORANGES ARE NOT THE ONLY FRUIT and Being Forced to Read Books by White Cis Straight Men

August’s queer reader of the month is Anna Marie! They describe themselves as a “mess of confusion always,” as well as a “red sick witch, a crip, a queer, a person who is very obsessed with nouns because they lack emotional/mental stability.” Anna’s not sure about their identity, but knows they have a lot of Sapphic queer feelings, that their favourite food is chocolate, and that they love making art. Anna’s also a survivor of sexual violence and a Capricorn in both their moon and sun signs. Connect with Anna on Twitter and on Instagram at @girlhowl.

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Keep reading to find out about Anna’s life-changing books, including Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, The Color Purple, and She of the Mountains, as well as their idea for a queer femme Rapunzel re-telling and being forced to read books by cis white straight dudes when you’re doing a literature degree.

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?)

I think the first book I remember reading that counts as a proper queer book (i.e the queer character is the main character rather than a side one) was Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson which my parents had a copy of! Both my mum and my dad loved books so I was encouraged to read – but I don’t think my dad quite realised what he had done when he introduced me to it! The book opened my eyes to these new possibilities of being: I just remember reading it with such ferocity and intensity. It has changed my life truly. I am so glad it exists; its a book so full of passion and resilience!!

What is/are your favourite LGBTQ2IA+ books, and why?

Okay so obviously we’ve been over Oranges, so I guess I would say The Color Purple by Alice Walker which is just an amazing, heart-bleeding book (massive content warning for sexual and physical violence though). This was another book that I read with an intense focus and an intense connection – I think I also didn’t quite realise how and why I connected with Celie whilst I read it until later on (although I could never entirely connect with Celie’s experience because I’m a white person) – so it’s a book that has unfurled more once I finished it.

Then last summer I read Trumpet by Jackie Kay which I just thought was absolutely incredible. It’s beautifully written, so poetic and vivid! It follows the story of a trans guy jazz musician who has just died and the fact he was trans gets out to the media. So the story has multiple points of view, from family members to this horrible journalist who wants to write an exploitative book about him. There is some transphobia in the book via the perspectives and parts made me uncomfortable in a very real way. There’s lots of misgendering and slurs in this book but I felt like Kay wasn’t agreeing with these viewpoints and the ending allows power and a voice to the right people! (Trying not to give away spoilers!)

I read She of The Mountains and it also probably changed my life! I love Vivek Shraya and it was wonderful and refreshing to read a book about bisexuality and biphobia (from both the queer community and straight people in general). The book is about identity, self love, relationships and it’s all told in parallel to a reimagining of Hindu mythology. The book also has really cool illustrations and a very experimental use of language. It helped me to start to untangle by own bi/sexuality/romanticism and the biphobia and shame I felt coming at me from all around.

Lastly I think I would pick Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde. First of all Audre is such an amazing writer, activist, person, poet. Secondly I just really enjoyed this biomythography of her life! Its so tender and bittersweet and it recounts her childhood memories up until I think when she is around 22. It’s a really touching, sensual, poetic and nostalgic book which just can’t help but fill me up with softness and queer feelings.

Also I wanted to write a bonus shout out to Power & Magic: The Queer Witch Comic Anthology!! It’s so full of queer witch goodness!!

Which LGBTQ2IA+ book have you read that best reflects your experiences as an LGBTQ2IA+ person?

seawitchThis is definitely something that fluctuates a lot to be honest! Because my identity and what is important to me shifts there isn’t really one book that bests reflects me! Especially cos my soul is so traumatised!  But I think a mix of She of the Mountains with one of the comics in Power & Magic called “Your Heart is an Apple” by Nivedita Sekar and with a bit of Sea-Witch Volume 1 by Moss Angel Witchmonstr mixed in.

Which LGBTQ2IA+ book do you wish you could read but can’t because it doesn’t exist yet?

A book about a sometimes sex-repulsed survivor of sexual violence who is queer and femme and has long hair and finds a beautiful girl who understands and they live together in a Rapunzel-like tower with a dragon who looks after them and it’s lovely, also they practice witchcraft and they grow their own food on the roof of the tower! When the dirt falls down villagers collect it because they know it is full of lovely Sapphic Power and it will nourish them and their lives too. (I think I should write this now I’ve written it out here!!)

And, a book about an aro ace dragon void girl. Where are you??? I need you!!!

How do you find LGBTQ2IA+ books? How easy or hard is it in your experience finding the ones that you want to read?

Booktube! Twitter!! Blogs like yours and Fuck Yeah Lesbian and Bi Literature! Goodreads!! Plus I’m always searching and on the hunt. If I had the choice I would only read queer and trans books but I do a literature degree that is full of boring old straight white men and I am forced to read their outdated, offensive, and overrated books. I think also for me, it’s quite easy to find queer books in general because I only have queer friends at this point and if one of us reads a book we love we will share it out to everyone!

Do you know other LGBTQ2IA+ readers or participate in any LGBTQ2IA+ reading communities (in person or on the Internet)? What’s it like? Why or why not?

As I said I mostly have queer friends some of whom also do boring literature degrees and love to talk about all the books we want to read that aren’t by, about, and for white straight cis men. I feel like the communities on Booktube and Goodreads and Twitter that I have found (like We Need Diverse Books and the Lesbrary) are really helpful and make participating really fun! I think it can be a little stressful that people might judge you or your identity on the books you consume but otherwise I really enjoy it!

Thanks so much for sharing with us Anna! It’s so great to hear about how life-changing queer books can be for queer people. It reinvigorates me to get out there as a librarian and match great queer books with the readers who need them!

Posted in Bisexual, Interview with a Queer Reader, Trans, Transgender | 2 Comments