I Can’t Think Straight: End of Summer Lesbian Reads

Thanks to everyone for sharing their experiences with e-readers and tablets. I decided to dive into the deep end and bought the most basic Kindle. It arrived about a week ago and so far I have read one novel on it (The Scottish Prisoner by Gabaldon) but have bought 10 which does not bode well for my bank account but woo hoo for one-click ease of purchase. A mixed blessing, yes, but do I like the instant gratification.

And, I actually like reading on it a lot more than I thought I would. It doesn’t hurt my eyes and it doesn’t feel like work. It is early days but I do feel like a little kid with a new toy.

We had a great book club meeting this week and while we did talk about The Young In One Another’s Arms by Jane Rule (I respect it and and Jane Rule am glad I read it but it failed my “I want to pass this to a friend now test”)  we talked a lot more about books we are currently reading or would suggest as summer wanes. A selection of those below, including Scorpion: Sting by June Sadler who was kind enough to bring it to my attention. Check out the website for the book, complete with an excerpt and audio as well as her blog.

Happy reading!

Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade By Justin Spring: this one has been on my list for awhile.

Santa Olivia By Jacqueline Carey: werewolves!

Black by Gaslight By Nene Adams: two women + romance + Jack the Ripper = next on my list.

Ship Breaker By Paolo Bacigalupi: “A gritty, high-stakes adventure set in a futuristic world where oil is scarce, but loyalty is scarcer.”

I Can’t Think Straight By Shamim Sarif: Tala, a London-based Palestinian, is preparing for her elaborate Middle Eastern wedding when she meets Leyla, a young British Indian woman who is dating her best friend. Also a pretty good movie.

The Dark Wife By Sarah Diemer: A lesbian re-telling of the Perspehone myth. Awesome. And one I have loaded on to my Kindle already….

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Hunting the Slipper: Bringing Back OP Lesbian Books

I love a good comeback story, a phoenix rising from the ashes if you will. So I sincerely appreciate the efforts of folks to bring back books that have gone out of print. Whether or not they should be brought back or are “worthy” enough to go back into print is pretty much beside the point to me—it’s subjective like everything else about publishing.  One person’s classic is another’s bland dreck.

It is about accessibility. I want the opportunity to decide about these books for myself and if I simply can’t get my hands on a copy, there’s no way for me to make up my own mind.

So thank you to Arsenal Pulp Press and Little Sisters bookstore in Vancouver for their Little Sisters Classics imprint, dedicated to reviving OP gay and lesbian books. The book club has read two in the last two months, The Young in One Another’s Arms by Jane Rule (still not sure how I feel about it yet) and Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller (so sorry it took me until now to read it!).  These are handsomely designed and thoughtfully edited editions, with new introductions and additional content to help but the book into context, including reviews and interviews published at the time of original publication.

There are 10 books in the series and I hope they keep publishing. Partnering with a successful LGBTQ bookstore was a really smart way to go as they have a direct line to potential readers and can hand-sell the heck out of them. (And, not just successful but heroic and badass: Little Sister’s was bombed three times in it’s earlier years when it was the only gay and lesbian bookstore in western Canada. More recently Little Sister’s legal battle against censorship and discrimination in the Supreme Court Of Canada continues to broaden and redefine the definitions of obscenity and tolerance in contemporary Canadian society.)

Also, a shout out to Virago Press in the UK, especially their Virago Modern Classics line, the Feminist Press especially their Femme Fatale pulp series (check out their most recent release, Stranger on Lesbos by Valerie Taylor–fun!) and Bywater Books who are all committed to bringing “forgotten” books back into press. Now, if only all of these titles were also available as ebooks, too.

Which is why I’m actually pretty intrigued by the crowd-funding and subscription model of a new sci fi-focused outfit that recently opened a bookstore in DUMBO, Singularity & Co.

“[We’ll] choose one great out of print work of classic and/or obscure sci-fi a month, track down the people that hold the copyright (if they are still around), and publish that work online and on all the major digital book platforms for little or no cost. Every month on this website visitors will get to vote on the next great but not so well remembered work we will rescue from the obscurity of the past.”

Anyone have a favorite lesbian book they’d like to see back in circulation? Did a little spot-checking and to my surprise—and pleasure—many of the lesbian titles I thought would be OP are very much in print. One I would like to see:

Hunt the Slipper by Violet Trefussis

Maybe it’s time to hunt this book….

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The Lesbian Lit is Online: To Buy or Not to Buy an Ereader?

After my post wondering where to find lesbian writers and their works, I was thrilled when several authors, like Paula Napier (Salt Spray) and Rachel Eyre (The Governess), let me know about their books. The problem? Their books are both only available as Kindles. And I don’t have one.

I like reading physical books, palming their heft and weight, feeling the grit of the paper.  Hardcovers are rather pricey but they have a sense of importance and permanence. Paperbacks are more affordable, portable, and easy to pass around and share. The books on my shelves are the contents of my mind (more or less) and each one tells a story. I always beeline to a new acquaintance’s bookshelf. You can tell a lot about a person by what they read.

So an ereader didn’t have much appeal. I like the idea of them—the lower prices, the ease and immediacy of purchasing, the number of books, magazines, etc., available on one small device—but I sit in front of a computer for work all day. Reading on a screen, even an e-ink one, felt a lot like work. Ugh. I’m also not comfortable pledging allegiance to a particular retailer.

But am I missing out? As digital publishing and self-publishing has boomed, there are so many more books only available as an ebook that I can’t access with any ease, particularly by new, little known, or as yet undiscovered lesbian writers.

To buy an ereader or not to buy an ereader?

For those of you who have ereaders, check out these suggestions from autostraddle for under $5 titles. (and most, like I Can’t Think Straight, are available as physical books, too!).

 

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Here are the Lesbian Writers: Novels, Erotic Thrillers, and More

After that shout out for lesbian writers, I was very excited to hear about the below 2 books. I haven’t read them because I don’t have an ereader (color me old-fashioned but I prefer paper to pixels) but I kinda wish I did now. If you read, let me know what you think! And keep the suggestions coming.

Salt Spray by Paula Napier (Kindle): Following the breakdown of her long-term relationship with her volatile partner Alex, famous crime writer Carrie Sinclair is exiled to the west coast of France to finish her latest novel. At a dinner party at the local village, she meets the beautiful Madeleine and is immediately captivated by her.

And one that really sounds up my alley: The Governess by Rachel Eyre (Kindle): An erotic thriller set in Victorian England. Miss Benson, a governess, is sent to teach Amy how to be a lady. Amy is discovering the joys of sex and suitors. Miss Benson’s unconventional methods lead to scandal, heartbreak and murder as she becomes obsessed with her young charge.

And I finally did read a book that’s been sitting on my shelf for years, literally: Red Azalea by Anchee Min.

I think I put it off because I’d heard such mixed things about it: not well written, not really lesbian, depressing. Well, all of those things are true but this book is greater than the sum of its parts and I couldn’t stop turning the pages. In part because it’s like watching a train wreck. Mao’s China is a brutal, ruthless, body, soul, and heartbreaking place but nothing can stop people from hoping and loving and I couldn’t stop hoping that somehow love would find a way. Yeah, I know, I am a hopeless romantic. The writing is raw and candid and confessional and perfectly matched the tone and mood of setting. It’s not a beach read, but I would recommend it.

We have book club on Monday to discuss Patience & Sarah that I am thoroughly enjoying. The voices are just pitch-perfect, especially when it comes to the rollercoaster of joy and insecurity that is a budding relationship no matter what century.

Thanks to M. who shared some fun video clips of the 1998 opera based on Patience & Sarah:

A clip from In the Life about the book and the opera http://www.viddler.com/v/e886ac4c

a clip on youtube of the most famous aria, “I Want to Live”:

Happy reading!

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Where are all the new lesbian writers?

“Where are all the new lesbian writers?” It’s a question I have been asked and have asked myself so many times I’ve lost count. Most recently, the Guardian’s book blog posted a piece asking the very same question:

“If I were to say to you that there seems to be a shortage of lesbian writers in Britain today, you’d think I was mad. ‘What about Jeanette Winterson and Stella Duffy?’ you’d say. You’d namecheck Ali Smith, Emma Donoghue, Sarah Waters, all of them Man Booker shortlistees. You might cite the phenomenally successful crime writer Val McDermid. But if I were to ask you to name the new generation of lesbian writers, the ones who grew up reading all of the above, I think you’d struggle. So where are all the new lesbian writers?…”

That question is actually one of the main reasons I started this blog though I’m not as focused on finding writers who self-identify as lesbian but books with lesbian content of some kind, like a lesbian protagonist.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem is mainly one of discoverability. I believe the books are out there somewhere but I can’t seem to find them. But shouldn’t it be easy? Google “lesbian fiction” or type it into Amazon and you’ll find tons of books, from publishers like Bold Strokes or self-published. And that in itself is awesome. But the problem for me and for many others is that these aren’t usually the books I’m interested in reading.

I’m not big into genre fiction of any kind and the mysteries and romances that dominate the “lesbian fiction” category aren’t my thing. (Though if someone did write a lesbian Game of Thrones, I would be all in.) I just want to read a good, non-genre, dare I say literary novel, like Fingersmith or Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. The rub is those books rarely contain the word “lesbian” anywhere on the jacket copy. I’ve seen phrases like “intense erotic bond” or “unorthodox sexuality” or “taboo relationship” to describe lesbian content but never the actual word “lesbian.”

Of course you and I can read between the lines of this copy and figure it out but I may never actually see that copy since these books simply won’t come up in my “lesbian” online search. There’s a shot if the publisher has used lesbian fiction as one of their bisac categories or some savvy retailer has decided to classify it as such but otherwise, no luck.

Why hide these books from their potential audience? Books with lesbian characters or themes are still considered niche and “small.” The publishers want to reach the largest possible audience for the book and not alienate any potential reader (because of course lesbians are a turn-off) and writers, understandably, want the same thing.

So, it becomes a game of shadows and mirrors for readers like me. And that’s why blogs, goodreads, the Lambda Literary website, your local bookseller (if you’re lucky enough to have one) and any forum connecting readers is so important. It’s through them that I’ve learned about books that otherwise would have completely flown under my radar.

The writers mentioned above have done a lot to open the door for books with lesbian acontent but until “lesbian” isn’t a buzzkill for a book, they are going to be hard to find. The more support we can muster for these “lesbian” books the better—when we prove there’s a vibrant audience willing to plunk down money for these books (ie, publishers and writers won’t lose money on them), the quicker that day will come.

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Mothers and Power: Winterson, Bechdel, and More

I have been ridiculously remiss in writing but I have been reading over the past month. And it seems the themes of the moment is mothers.

First up: Absent Mother and Abusive Mother: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson. I Loved it, capital L and could not stop turning the pages. It’s as much a coming of age memoir as it is about the development of a writer and reminded me a lot of one of my favorite memoirs on that subject, Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings. If you haven’t read much Winterson or wasn’t all that keen on what you did read, give the memoir a chance.

Then, Complicated Mother: Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel. How fantastic is it to have 2 major lesbian authors getting a tremendous amount of attention? Anyway, I really really wanted to love this since I am a huge fan of Fun Home but I just could not get into it or excited by it. Intellectually, I totally get all of the incredible praise and reviews and I know the work is thoughtful, exceedingly well-drawn and written and took an immense amount of work to create but damned if I just couldn’t get into it and found myself skipping and skimming lots of pages. Could just be the wrong book at the wrong time for me.

So from there, where to go but Dead Mother: Wild by Cheryl Strayed. It was just picked by Oprah for her Book Club 2.0 but don’t let that prevent you. A woman alone in the woods is pretty badass and so is confronting hardship, grief, and fear. It’s not Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods but if you’ve ever tramped in the great outdoors hoping to calm down, work something out, lose yourself, or remind yourself what really matters, you’ll find a lot to like here. And that opening scene–perfect.

Then, a break from mothers and a focus on pure power: Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. Wolf Hall ranked as one of my favorite books of 2009 and this follow-up did not disappoint. Cromwell is such a ruthless and cunning character filled with such love—he is an absolute a triumph. I cannot wait for book 3.

But I just can’t seem to stay away so now it’s time for Delusional Mother: Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain. More on that when I’m done.

I’ve also been somewhat socially reclusive so I did not attend this year’s Lambda Literary Awards. Sounds like it was a stellar event with many memorable moments—and Kate Clinton! I am chagrined to see that I have not read one of these winners. Zipper Mouth by Laurie Weeks is one I think I need to move to the top of the pile. It seems to be following me everywhere over the past year….And yes, awesome cover.

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Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit: Lesbian Coming of Age Memoirs and Novels

I like coming of age stories—fiction or nonfiction. They seem to be the order of the day lately and recently I’ve read:

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth. Among other things it made me want to visit Montana.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson. Such a vivid evocation of the people and places–the long stretchy street–of her youth. And while reading, I thought, hmmm, the religious aspect unfolds a bit like Miseducation of Cameron Post. Will have to discuss with book club further.

And I am very much looking forward to reading the non-fiction account of the above novelized version of her early years Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Here are some of my other favorites. Let me know what I’m missing out on!

Name All the Animals by Alison Smith. Love, death, and desire–the trifecta of a coming-of-age book.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. If the writing itself doesn’t thoroughly compel you, the art will.

and of course her next book, Are You My Mother? is coming out soon in May.

Aquamarine by Carol Anshaw. One of the first lesbian books I ever read, it still haunts me with the road not taken.

Stone Butch Blues  by Leslie Feinberg. Bold, raw, sad, triumphant. It’s a classic for a reason.

Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden. This is one I really wish I had read when I was a pre-teen.

And on the boy side, one of my absolute favorite, favorite books:

At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O’Neill. A lyric heartbreaker set in Ireland during the Easter uprising.

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