Interview with a Queer Reader: Julie Rak Talks Women’s Bookstores, Gay Biker Books, Finding Your Own Queer History in Books, and More!

Julie Rak describes herself as a “cisgender white settler-supporter lesbian.” She came out later in life, leaving her Baptist minister husband of ten years. This ended her life of faith as she was stripped of membership in the Baptist Union of Canada. She’s now married to a life partner, but doesn’t “think that marriage or monogamy need to be the only or even are the most important ways to show that we are connected to those we love.” She also shares her home with two cats!

Julie is a Professor in the English and Film Studies department at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. Her research and teaching here is centred on non-fiction and Canadian literature. Outside of work, Julie is a keen amateur poker player. At her level, she’s one of the few out cis queer women players! Other interests include gardening, the outdoors and of course reading, both print and online! Julie’s been a reader since age five. Reading is part of Julie’s job, of course, but it’s also just an important part of her life generally!

This next part I’d like to quote directly from Julie, because it’s a fascinating and heartfelt description of the past and present of queer culture from someone who’s seen a lot of change:

I am from a time in North America when we most of us had to be closeted and when it was really dangerous to be who we were in most places. It’s amazing to me to see how much things have changed and I think it’s for the better, but inevitably mainstream life means that we are losing some of the great institutions that helped us make alternative culture. I’m sad to see those go (I miss women’s bookstores, GLBTQ+ creative protest like ActUp, gay clubs and bars where all the freaks could just be themselves, pride parades without corporate branding). But if the price of amazing subculture is continuous oppression, I don’t want that for my community.

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Keep reading to hear Julie talk about finding a gay book about a priest and a biker in her high school library, finding out about her own queer history through books, what losing women’s bookstores has meant to her, and more!

What was the first LGBTQ2IA+ book(s) you remember reading? How did you end up reading it?

When I was about 15, I read a paperback coming-out story about a gay priest and his first affair with a leather jacket-wearing biker. I have no idea what the title was. The book was in my high school library on one of those wire carousels and now, I have no idea if it was actually in the library or had just been put there. I was fascinated with it, but I never checked it out. I just went and read it in the library. I never told anybody I was reading it. Because it was about gay guys, I did not realize at the time that this could be about me too!

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

Alison Bechdel, Fun Home: because it’s such an interesting book and I love comics.

Nicole Brossard, Mauve Desert: Brossard for style style style.

Daphne Marlatt Ana Historic: because she showed me possibilities from the past.

Sara Waters Tipping the Velvet: because it’s so much fun and the historical material is great.

Lillian Faderman, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: because I needed to know my own history.

Extra shout-out to Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal (Winterson because she told my story too) and Gayle Rubin, anything she ever wrote, because she’s genius and badass and uncompromising.

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

Probably the collection From Wedded Wife to Lesbian Life, for obvious reasons!

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

Queer mountaineering memoirs. Where are they all? I was a climber and I write about it as an academic, but I want to see some creative work out there.

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

It’s harder to find things now, because I used to just go to my local women’s bookstore and everything would be there. Bookstores don’t have enough edgy or artistically interesting material where I can actually find it. There’s the internet…and that’s not queer specific enough. I rely on the excellent advice of Casey and other bloggers now.

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?

I know other readers because of my job and my interests, mostly in person. I’m older (born in 1966) so ALL the lesbians I know in my age group were and are readers, so it was a given that everyone read everything. I am not part of any official reading communities because I don’t have time for that, but I just participated in a UK queer theory reading group, and it made me miss GLBTQ+ book clubs and groups.

Thanks so much for sharing with us Julie, especially for mentioning more than one older Canadian lesbian classic, which I think don’t get enough attention. (I’m talking about Daphne Marlatt and Nicole Brossard). Anyone out there a queer mountaineer? Get on writing that memoir!

Posted in Canadian, Daphne Marlatt, Fiction, Interview with a Queer Reader, Lesbian, Queer | 3 Comments

“I believe in dangerous stories”: A Review of FIERCE FEMMES AND NOTORIOUS LIARS by Kai Cheng Thom

There aren’t many books in my lifetime that I’ve read that I would truly consider a work of genius, the kind of book that feels timeless and like it should be read and discussed far into the future and that is really doing something unique and ground-breaking. But debut novel Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars by Kai Cheng Thom is one of those books. (By the way, I also loved Kai Cheng Thom’s debut poetry collection, A Place Called No Homeland, so you can count me among her top fans now, eagerly awaiting whatever she does next).

Fierce Femmes is a funny, dark, innovative story that completely takes apart the genre of the trans memoir. The subtitle, A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir, is only the first clue that you are about to read a mind-blowing breakdown of genre and gender.

I can’t introduce the book any better than it introduces itself:

I don’t believe in safe spaces. They don’t exist. I do, however, believe in dangerous stories: the kind that swirl up from inside you when you least expect it, like the voice of a mad angel whispering of the revolution you are about to unleash. Stories that bend and twist the air as they crackle off your tongue, making you shimmer with glamour, so that everyone around you hangs on your every intoxicating word… The kind of story that doesn’t wait for you to invite it to enter, but bursts through the doors of your rat-infested house like a glittering wind, hungry, hungry, to snatch up the carpet and scatter your papers and smash every single plate in the kitchen…Where are those kinds of stories about trans girls like you and me?

A few things are clear on this first page (which, honestly, I wanted to copy in full, but that just seemed excessive): 1) Kai Cheng Thom’s writing is the kind of beautiful that grabs you by the throat; 2) She’s writing explicitly to trans femmes; 3) It’s completely, wonderfully unclear how the book you’ve just picked up might fit into conventional book genres.

After this perplexing and gorgeous introduction, the voice of this young Chinese Canadian trans woman brings you right into the story, although perhaps not without your doubts about her reliability in a traditional sense. In a description that seems a thinly veiled picture of Vancouver, she tells us “I grew up in a crooked house in a placed called Gloom, where the sky is always grey and the rain is always falling. Gloom was built on the edge of the sea, on land that was once inhabited solely by several Indigenous nations.” She doesn’t stay there long, however; the name of part one, indeed, is “Runaway.” She heads east. She heads to “the City of Smoke and Lights.”

kai cheng thom new

Kai Cheng Thom / photo via http://www.carriejade.com/a-woman-speaks

But it’s not too far into her story that she suddenly breaks the narrative abruptly, and says “Wait. Sorry. That’s not what happened. Here is what happened:”

This is the first time of many where Thom playfully dangles that idea of truth in front of the reader. Not only does the protagonist contradict herself in the main narration, we also see different perspectives in the letters to her sister and the poems she writes for herself that are included. What kind of ‘trans memoir’ is this? It’s not the one that going to satisfy anyone looking for ‘what really happened,’ nor is it going to satisfy cisgender readers looking for a simplified, exploitative tell-all about the sensationalized details of transgender life. You are, however, going to love this if you want a book to complicate the ideas of truth and selfhood:

Sometimes, to become somebody else, you have to become nobody first. You have to let go of your mother and father, the crooked starving house you grew up in that wanted to devour you and digest you whole. Forget, if you can, all the promises you’ve made and the lies that you’ve told. Forget the scars you left one, two, three times on your left wrist. Forget flowers and killer bees and everyone you’ve ever known…I’m going to find the place where my shadow ends and my body begins. Close your eyes. I’ll see you there.

She arrives at the Street of Miracles, she falls in fast with a group of trans sex workers. Mentors Kimaya and Rapunzelle—a great and complicated power lesbian couple—in particular help her find her first little crappy apartment:

Little cocoon apartment, I love how you rattle and shake in the wind. You are mine like nothing has ever been before. Someday you’ll tear open, and I will fly out with the wings I have grown inside you. Still shimmering. Still wet.

Oh my god, isn’t Kai Cheng Thom’s writing amazing?

In this new external environment, our confabulous trans girl has time to confront some of her internal demons, most of all: “why I hurt people when what I really want is for them to love me.” She also becomes involved with their girl gang the Lipstick Lacerators, which rises up to strike back against the violent transmisogynist men.

At first, this girl gang is nothing but success. And I can’t deny that there is something so deeply cathartic and just plain fun in part three of the novel, “girl gang.” It’s so satisfying to read about / watch women beating up shitty dudes. It was a bit like watching a particularly great episode of Buffy. But, of course, this fever dream of ass-kicking and empowerment can’t last. And it’s then that our protagonist realizes things can’t go on like this. But neither can she go on another path of privilege, which is briefly offered her by a rich trans guy who wants to date her. (What ultimately convinces her that she can’t live in his fancy apartment that his parents pay for is that the toilet paper is so soft and luxurious. It finally hits her: “I don’t belong here.”)

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The novel has a fascinating blend of magic and gritty realism; I guess that makes it magical realism, but this is a magic whose ways are both unpredictable and powerful and a realism that doesn’t shy away from the hard realities of transmisogyny, racism, and anti-sex worker violence. It’s the kind of magic that might make the corrupt police officer chasing them disappear, but not the lingering trauma that rears its head in the form of anxiety and paranoia. At one point, our protagonist has this conversation with a magical healer:

“You will be able to stop hurting people when you can stop hurting yourself.”
“But how do I do that?”
“If I knew that magic, I wouldn’t be here anymore.”

Magic helps, but it doesn’t solve everything, especially the really big stuff. For that, she must escape again; that is where the book ends.

In the way it deals with magic, as well as others, Fierce Femmes reminds me a lot of Amber Dawn’s Sub Rosa but it’s also very much its own thing, particularly as an ode to trans sisterhood and an interrogation of the trans memoir. If you like Amber Dawn’s writing, as well as other fiercely strange and wonderful writers like Sybil Lamb and Megan Milks, definitely pick up this book. It’s also simply one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read. Here’s to many Fierce Femmes readers today and far in the future, as this brilliant novel takes its place among other books of sparkling genius.

Content warnings: self-harm (cutting), police brutality/violence, suicide, transmisogynist violence.

Posted in Asian, Canadian, Coming-of-age, Fiction, magic realism, memoir, Queer, Sex Work, Trans, Trans Feminine, Transgender, Vancouver | 6 Comments

Heck Yes, Queer Femme Romance!: A Review of Band Vs. Band, Volume 2 by Kathleen Jacques

If you aren’t already reading Vancouver-based cartoonist and designer Kathleen Jacques’s queer femme Band Vs. Band comics series, you are SERIOUSLY missing out. Let me help you rectify that situation. This review is of Band Vs. Band Comix, Volume 2; it you aren’t up to date on the webcomic and/or haven’t read the first volume, you should definitely do that. (See my glowing review of Volume 1 here).

So if you clicked that link, you know I loved the first print installment of these comics. I loved volume 2 too! What an amazing collection of comics! If you need some pure, happy, hopeful magical queer femme goodness in your life (and who doesn’t??), you need to get your hands on this comic asap.

While the first volume introduces the two rival / frenemy bands that comprise the title of the comic—it’s the Sourballs Vs. the Candy Hearts—the second volume gets deeper into the personalities of all the band members, as well as—squee!—further develops the burgeoning romantic relationship between the respective lead singers Turpentine and Honey Hart. In case you’ve forgotten how these two bands seem like they couldn’t be more different:

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Sourballs.jpg

The great thing that Jacques does in this new volume is investigate how, despite appearances, the two bands may have more in common than they think. The shenanigans around each band trying to figure out how to deal with their financial woes, and their disappointment in some folk band named “Forest Elk” winning local band of the years are oddly similar. (Although only the Sourballs deal by turning over a table and stealing the trophy right from the hands of Forest Elk at the ceremony. The Candy Hearts are characteristically very good sports.)

How do you keep your band going into your twenties? How do you balance your day job with your true passion, the band? How do you keep band members motivated and eager to stay with the band as they get older and times get tough? As the leads of each band, both Honey Hart and Turpentine are trying to answer these questions.

They’re also trying to answer the long-standing question of how to deal with that ever-increasing lesbian sexual tension between them! I love a slow-burn romance, and is this ever a great one. I can’t help but feel giddy just thinking about it, because it’s soooo cute! The pages detailing their first kisses (and more!) and their shy vulnerability are just unbelievably sweet and heart-warming and squeal enducing. But also, SEXY:

Turpentine and Honey Hart sex

I think we are all feeling exactly like Princess Bunny, am I right? I’m fanning myself right now.

It’s also lovely to see both of them bring out other sides of the other: bad-ass Turpentine softens a bit; do-gooder Honey Hart cuts a little loose. Queer femme opposites attract! Actually, the fact that they’re both femme but in very different ways is one of my favourite things about this comic. Punk hard femme and wholesome 50s vintage femme have never looked so good as when they’re together.

Honey Hart tries to impress Turpentine's friends

This might be one of my all-time favourite panels. Honey trying so hard to impress Turpentine’s friends by bringing cue cards with edgy conversation topics on them? Turpentine reassuring her? Atomic Domme being sweet to Honey? Atomic Domme talking historical trans women and “experimental occult machines?” Atomic Domme just being?? Arsenic’s little quip “I liked those first topics, tho”? I LOVE IT ALL.

As if Turps and Honey’s romance isn’t enough, there are also so many more things to love: the never-ending hilarious jokes! The beautifully retro and stylistically unique drawings using pink, blue, and black tones! The casual, lowkey way the comic deals with diversity (featuring multiple characters of colour and L,G,B, and T characters)!  The unique quirks and personalities of each member of both bands! I admit: Atomic Domme from the Sourballs is my favourite—see above panel for a great example of why. There’s another fabulous strip where, in response to the idea of summer fashion, Domme just says “no,” while sitting there sweating in an outfit made almost entirely of black leather.

Seriously, this entire comic is so funny and spot-on, often in little subtle ways that you might miss if you read the panels too quickly. This is your reminder to slow down! For example, the name of the band “Forest Elk,” as a Pacific West Coast folk band? It’s almost too true to life, hitting that edge of realism and parody that Jacques does so well, without ever being mean or petty. And check out what they look like in this epic scene:

Forest Elk

In fact, Jacques making up band names and songs is another one of my favourite parts of the comic. Here’s a whole panel of them! The best is obviously “The Adam Daveson Band,” with their song “Unattainable Girl (Just Ignores Me at the Party)”, with the “Scene Weekly”’s astute assessment: “Buddy. You’ve miscalculated here.” The queer feminist satire is just gold.

Funny fake band names and songs

Well, what are you waiting for? Read it online now! I dare you not to binge it all.

Posted in Asian, Bisexual, Black, Canadian, comics, femme, Fiction, Graphic, Lesbian, Queer, Trans, Trans Feminine, Vancouver | 4 Comments

The Small Town Lesbian Survivor Ghost Story of Your Dreams: A Review of Amber Dawn’s SODOM ROAD EXIT

If you haven’t already read this book and looking at this review you’re thinking TLDR, just know this: Amber Dawn’s latest novel Sodom Exit Road is a brilliant blend of family drama, a queer homecoming, and a good old fashioned haunting. In other words, the small town lesbian survivor ghost story of your dreams!

For those of you who want the glorious and spooky and hilarious details, here we go: Amber Dawn’s second novel is set in the summer of 1990, in a has-been Ontario town called Crystal Beach. It’s the perfect setting for both a haunting and fraught queer-person-returning-to-their-small-hometown journey. Starla Mia Martin has been living in Toronto, where she’s racked up significant student debt despite never having actually graduated. Both the 90s time frame and the extent of Starla’s crushing debt are obvious from the first scene, where Starla is awakened by repeated early morning calls from a debt collection agency on her landline. (Remember those, and how the only way to stop someone from calling you was to yank the phone cord out of the jack in the wall? Good times.)

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Amber Dawn / photo via amberdawnwrites.com

When you first meet Starla she is also waking up hungover with a one-night stand whose name she cannot remember. I was immediately enamoured with Starla, and I’d challenge anyone not to feel the same way. Here are the opening lines of the novel:

The anonymous woman in bed beside me adamantly shakes my shoulder. She had a name last night. She must have; as part of my hook-and-line, I complimented her ‘pretty name’ and said, ‘it suits you.’ Unless a woman’s name is Mavis, I normally compliment her pretty name.

For the rest of the scene, Starla refers to her date as “Not-Mavis,” and also treats us to many other hilarious observations. When Not-Mavis tells Starla that Starla’s friends Josie and Zed warned her not to try to get a second date out of Starla, Starla thinks “where do Josie and Zed get off? What am I, the dregs of casual sex, bottom-feeder of blind dates? I swear I’m never having another threesome with those two again.”

Starla’s rapidly falling apart Toronto life—in more ways than one—is clearly unsustainable, which is the jumpstart of the plot. After the low point of having to exchange a blowjob for a taxi ride when her credit card is declined (verified by car phone when Starla was hoping the cabbie would just use the old sliding imprinter device with the three-layered piece of paper), Starla reluctantly decides to take her mom up on her offer to move back in with her in Starla’s sleepy hometown, Crystal Beach. Enter mother-daughter drama, resurfacing childhood trauma, a new love interest in the form of an old classmate, and a ghost.

We’ve seen many of these themes before, sometimes in queer lit, but have we ever seen them all queerly together? This was one of the things I loved about this novel. Sodom Road Exit is a wonderful blend of different storylines and genres that you’re probably familiar with, all while making interesting changes to your usual expectations of those stories. In particular it’s the queer survivor perspective in Sodom Road Exit that makes everything feel fresh and new.

Sodom Road Exit is very much in the vein of the wonderful anthology Fist of the Spider Woman that Amber Dawn edited. (Check out my glowing review of Fist of the Spider Woman here). In that collection as well as this novel, the slippery boundaries between fear and (queer) desire are explored intimately. When the hauntings in Sodom Road Exit begin, they share a lot with horror films you know and love (or, maybe, like me, that you know and can’t watch because you’re too much of a chicken). But instead of screaming and running away in horror when she is confronted with the supernatural, Starla is drawn to it. She feels lust. She feels curiosity.

Crystal Beach is the perfect place for a haunting, because as a result of economic downturn, it’s already a bit of a ghost town. What Crystal Beach used to be known for was an amusement park; decades earlier, it was a hot vacation spot. Where people used to scream on thrilling roller coasters and laugh at goofy distorted mirror versions of themselves in the funhouse is now a creepy, abandoned space, devoid of people but still full of the falling apart relics of the past. One of those relics is Etta, a ghost whose perspective Amber Dawn shares with readers by devoting chapters to her, written in the first person. When was the last time you read a book about a haunting that gave you the ghost’s point of view?

While a queer ghost trying to deal with her unresolved issues in Crystal Beach reaches out to Starla, Starla herself is also confronting unfinished business. Being back in the house she grew up in and spending time with her mom is triggering Starla’s memories of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of one of her mom’s old boyfriends. There is love there between Starla and her mom, but it is deeply complicated and laced with hurt and resentment. Sodom Road Exit feels as much a book about being a survivor of sexual abuse as a book about being a queer woman. It’s a story of a healing journey as much as it is a queer homecoming.

Speaking of the queer homecoming part, I want to talk about Tamara, who Starla meets at an ill-advised lunch ‘date’ at a strip club with a teenage boy she meets on the bus. After totally stealing this job as a night manager an RV park that she only knew about because the teen boy told her he was on his way to apply to it, Starla agrees to hang out with him afterwards to assuage her guilt. She is not expecting to run into her old classmate, a formerly popular girl named Tamara who now works as a stripper at said strip club. She is also not expecting to find out that Tamara is also a lesbian.

I loved Tamara! I just love the story of two people who weren’t out in high school meeting again as queer adults in their hometown. And Tamara is very funny, totally out of fucks to give, badass, and takes the whole Starla being haunted thing in stride. After their first date, Starla looks around nervously after she and Tamara kiss goodnight on Tamara’s porch. Tamara’s response?  “Who’s going to see us? If you’re embarrassed about what people will think, then you probably shouldn’t be dating the town stripper.” She also later sarcastically comments about some of Starla’s worries about truck-driving asshole guys, “If I worried about what assholes think, I’d never leave my house.”

I’ve honestly only scraped the surface of this book so far, but I think that’s a good thing because you’re going to have to read it to find out how all these plot threads are resolved. Will Etta the ghost finally rest in peace? How are Tamara and Starla going to make it work? Can Starla and her mom form a working adult relationship? Friends, Sodom Exit Road is the novel about survivorship, queer love, and ghosts that you need in your life, whether you realize it or not. Get it here.

Posted in Amber Dawn, Canadian, femme, Fiction, Lesbian, paranormal, Queer, Rural | 1 Comment

A Romance about Love and Grief: A Review of the Graphic Novel FORWARD by Lisa Maas

Forward, the first graphic novel by Lisa Maas, is a great reminder of the great work that can be made when authors and artists represent what they know intimately. Set in Victoria, it’s a story about two women both trying to move ahead in their lives in different ways. The first is Rayanne, the kind of woman whose life revolves around her work (and her cat). Although it was years earlier, she’s never been able to open herself up again after the horrible way her last relationship ended. She lives a carefully controlled, regimented life, where her crushes on women only ever go further in her imagination. Ali is also having trouble moving forward (get that reference to the title?), but from very different circumstances: she is still grieving the death of her wife from cancer a year earlier.

Are these two going to meet each other? Well, of course they are. And in that way, this story is very much a romance. But like the best romance narratives, it’s also just as much about the individual journeys of each person as it is about their growing relationship. It’s a second chance love story of two people who didn’t imagine that they would ever get another chance. So while it is definitely a romance, it might be a little sadder and/or have more crying than the last romance you read. (I don’t know, maybe your romance tropetonite is stories about widows and other sad people finding new love and you read romances like this all the time). But while Forward is sad in many parts, it’s also sexy and, ultimately, hopeful. So there’s that.

Lisa Maas | image via arsenalpulp.com

Lisa Maas | image via arsenalpulp.com

Back to the idea that I opened with: the authenticity of reading a book about a sub-culture by someone who clearly knows it so well, in a way of course that no outsider could ever know it. Forward felt soooo authentic to white west coast middle age lesbian culture. I think only an author representing their own culture could do this. Wow. I don’t think I’ve read any other book that hits the good and the bad so on the nose.

I’m almost not even sure what to describe since there were so many details in this book that I didn’t realize were a part of that specific subculture until I saw them here and felt so much recognition. For one, there is a hella lot of lesbian processing in Forward. There’s even some hippie-tinged processing with a psychic! There are cats, Indigo Girls, and more than one of those awkward lesbian dating scenarios where both women obviously like each other but neither of them makes a move. Sigh. Almost all the queer ladies have short hair, except one who has kind of a mullet!? It was really great to see multiple women presenting on the masculine end of the gender spectrum, especially when you literally get to see them drawn in a graphic novel!

The world in Forward was so recognizable to me. Although they’re too fairly dissimilar books, Forward strangely reminded me a lot of Zoe Whittall’s Holding Still for as Long as Possible, in the way that it paints such an insider picture of a particular kind of queer culture that I had never seen depicted in fiction before.

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And yeah, there isn’t really a focus on them, but some not-so-great aspects of this lesbian subculture are in the book too. The two ones that stand out the most to me are that almost everyone is white and all the characters use the word lesbian to describe any woman who might be or is attracted to women, as if bisexual women don’t exist. For the record, both of those things are true to my experiences in communities like this, so I’m not even sure if those are criticisms (but it sure would be nice to have some more inclusion!).

To be honest, it’s a bit hard for me to separate my experience of this book from my personal history in communities like the one represented in Forward: it made me both sad that I’m not a part of that lesbian culture anymore and also kind of mad at the norms of biphobia and racism of that culture (biphobia being one of the things that drove me away). It’s weird that the book is bringing up these things, because Forward is not about those issues at all. It’s a story about love and grief set in this context so naturally and elegantly. I know there will be many readers who will seem themselves and their communities in Forward, and for any queer person that is such a rare and beautiful thing. I guess what I’m saying is that for me that feeling of familiarity was a little more complicated. Just know that if you’re a bi woman and/or a woman of colour who’s felt excluded from lesbian communities, this book may stir up some of those feelings like it did for me!

More stirred up feelings: Forward made me really nostalgic for the time when I lived in Victoria. This is such a Victoria book! There were a few scenes where I thought, aha! I know exactly where those characters are taking a walk! And, I know restaurants exactly like the one in downtown Victoria where Rayanne and Ali have their first date. Fiction set in Victoria is pretty rare, let alone queer fiction, so it was really cool to get to see that beautiful place in a graphic novel. I think anyone who has a soft spot for Victoria like I do is going to love that aspect of the book.

Some of you are maybe wondering, but what about the art? Isn’t this a graphic novel? It is, indeed! I didn’t love the art, unfortunately. It reminded me of Maggie Thrash’s Honor Girl, both in the actual style and also that I liked the story a lot and wished I liked the art more. The colour is subdued, with a water-colour kind of feel. (Is it actually watercolour? I don’t know since I don’t know anything about art!). I felt like the people’s faces looked too similar to each other—it’s probably a bad sign if I’m glad so-and-so and so-and-so have different colour hair because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. I did, however, really like a few of the panels where Maas was showing the passage of time. Like this one:

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Has anyone else read Forward? I haven’t heard much buzz around it and I would love to know thoughts and reactions from other readers. Some of my reservations related to personal experience aside, I really enjoyed this book and felt like it was a bit different from everything else I’ve been reading lately.

Posted in Canadian, comics, Graphic, Lesbian, Queer, Romance, Victoria | Leave a comment

“I love them dancing, dancing”: A Review of the Poetry Collection ALL VIOLET by Rani Rivera

As I was just saying to a group of fellow librarians at our little poetry club, I often feel like my feelings for poetry are one of two extremes: 1) this is awful, why am I reading this, I understand why so many people hate poetry and I think I may be joining them, and 2) wow, this poetry is amazing and life-changing and makes me so happy to be alive and why haven’t I been reading more poetry. Luckily, the collection All Violet by Rani Rivera, which the publisher Dagger Editions generously sent me for review, is definitely in the latter category.

It’s a slim collection that completely took me by surprise. WOW. It is an incredible, stunning book. I hadn’t heard of the poet Rani Rivera and reading the back cover with a statement from Lynn Crosbie—which reads: “A star student and sweet friend, Rani’s death hurts in a way only she could describe with beauty and grace: ‘I love them pretty / with their ugliness. / I love them all violet / and blue.”—made me sad to hear that she has already passed away. What an incredible gift this posthumous collection of poems is!

Rani Rivera

Rani Rivera | image via caitlin-press.com

I loved the feel of Rivera’s words. Her poems are the kind that occasionally alluded me as to what exactly they were ‘about,’ but they were also often the kind of poems where I didn’t care whether I understood what was happening because I was so enamored with the language. For example:

“A Dereliction of Line”

All I see now
are tuck shops full of ginsengs,
the preliminary ‘g’ pronounced hard
and false by a friend who thought
me fearless.
Announcing guturally, it’s time
to clear the detritus,
too many hours have passed
tableside over a paltry purchase
she’s spent and the lights are giving way.

One red
two black

starts a lazy, exquisite corpse,
lying unfinished in a haze
of the recognizable smoke and scent
of hard-topped construction cut
with digestives and filler.
Inclined to rush out
with trusted PIN codes and
newly acquired phone numbers.
Quashing old allegiances
and established sponsorships of
rehabilitated behaviour.

Do I grasp the ‘aboutness’ of this poem? No. Do I care? No.

Of course, there were also many themes that touched me as well. Rivera writes about fleeting moments of connection in an anonymous urban environment, bisexual dating and crushes, drug / alcohol use and addiction, music, depression, and the humanity of people dehumanized by society.

I love how Rivera creates this beautiful unique imagery throughout the collection, pulling especially from Toronto and QTPOC culture. “Drag Queens with a Side of Mash” is a wonderful, delightfully queer poem, where Rivera writes

My memories are distilled
in a bottle of fine Russian vodka
smooth to taste at first, then leaving
a dangerous bite in my palate,
whether it’s gulped down heartily in the Caucasus
or seeped in ennui with a tart lemon garnish.

Perhaps the most Torontonian poem is “Night and Day,” which is full of images of the streets and sights and sounds of the city. I’ve only spent a bit of time there, but her images took me back, immediately. They also evoke effortlessly that feeling of naïve confidence of a young queer person walking around a big city feeling like they have arrived, both at their own sense of self and at a world of new urban possibilities. That poem begins:

I’m getting off the 501 streetcar
and stomping my big, black boots into the sidewalk.
Surprisingly, my posture is perfect,
unburdened by a knapsack full of poems
and one vintage men’s Burberry trench coat.

I’m heading home on Queen West West
in an asymmetrically zippered coat
and a Northbound Leather shopping bag in tow.
Carrying war wounds and forgotten accessories.
Feeling confident, cocky even, assured.

The tone, as you can see in the poems I’ve quoted so far, is often sad and raw, but also occasionally very funny. The best example of funny is definitely “How Not to Become a Homicidal Ex-Lover,” where Rivera gives tongue-in-cheek break-up advice to side-splitting results:

Take advantage of that sudden burst of energy and hit the gym.
Not to look good when, by chance, you bump into that infidel on the
streetcar
but to avoid diabetes and hypertension.
Drink shots of wheatgrass daily to detoxify.
This will be a suitable replacement for Stoli and JD.
Remind yourself that vodka makes for bad decisions,
that’s how you got here in the first place.
Don’t switch teams out of vengeance, you’ll only end up
breaking another girl’s heart.
Chassé wine and kickball-change yourself into a pottery class.
Mold and sculpt a phallic ashtray to pound your cigarettes into
in disgust.

Not only is that poem hilarious, I love how wonderfully that poem integrates the intricacies of bisexual dating. “Don’t switch teams out of vengeance!”

Now that I’ve shown you how this poetry collection is going to make you laugh, let me show you how it will also make you cry:

“For an Hour or Always”

I love them
broken and beaten badly,
pock-marked and toothless,
spent and riddled with rue.

I love them lying
with sleep in their eyes,
the sunlight curdling
in sweet bellies
heaving with an unrest of a few
too many.

I love them motherless
and taunted. Violent
and entitled.

I love them on fire. I love them on ice.

I love them hairy and unclean.
Hearts pierced and sagging.

I love them old. I love them new.

I love them mean.
I love them talking and talking.
I love them destructed and
pinned with little needles,
smokestacks of inconstancy.
Nailed to the wall and stuck on
with glue.

I love them dancing, dancing…

You should get this poetry collection, and get it now.

(Content warnings for depression, alcohol and drug use/addiction, suicide ideation, and physical violence).

Posted in Asian, Bisexual, Canadian, Poetry, Toronto | 3 Comments

May Update: Don’t Forget You Can Win Queer Books from Me Each Month!

Yes, did you know that if you’re a patron who gives at the $3 level or more on Patreon you get one entry per month in a draw to win a queer book? It is very fun and exciting to get to send you all these books in the mail. I thought a reminder was maybe needed since the patron who won last month hasn’t answered my email yet! Mandy, did you know you won a free queer book? Check your email for the details.

This month’s winner was Kate. Congrats! Check out which books Kate got to choose from:

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I know I haven’t been posting a lot lately and I’m really sorry! My precarious librarian job is kind of wrecking havoc on my writing schedule, and I’m also still working on backlogged writing work from when I was on vacation in April. Did you see my announcement last month about changing the number of posts per month I’m aiming for? I think it’s going to make keeping this blog going a lot more sustainable and also make sure my posts are high quality!

I have been reading a lot of really great books recently and I’ve got five (yes, five!) books sitting on my Goodreads shelf which is titled” “read-need-to-review.” So look for reviews of Forward by Lisa Maas, Little Fish by Casey Plett, Sodom Road Exit by Amber Dawn, All Violet by Rani Rivera, and What the Mouth Wants by Monica Meneghetti in the near future!

Interview with a Queer Reader is still going strong! Check out April’s interview where Sophia talks about ace representation, Jeanette Winterson, queer YA, and more! If you’re interested in participating in one of these fun and short email interview sessions, send me an email to stepaniukcasey [at] gmail.com.

Have you seen any of the queer content I wrote at Book Riot recently? I wrote an in-depth article on the importance of Annie On My Mind and its history as a frequently challenged book. I also wrote a list of 7 Must-Read Bisexual, Gay, and Lesbian YA Novels for if you’re new to the coming of gayge genre.

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, Laurita, Jason, Jillian, Shelagh, Priscila, James, Seed, Julie, Katherine, Samuel, Amy, Sarah, Daniel, Sarah, Chantelle, Al, Undertheteacup, Karen, Nicole, Leora, Loretta, Mandy, Kate, Elisabeth, Skye, Jes, Carla, Vigdis, and Gail!

Last but not least, are you following me on the social media of your choice? Find Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian (or the ‘real me’) on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram!

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