sisteroutsider

Audre Lorde is such an influential writer in lesbian, black, and feminist (and black lesbian feminist) literature and theory that frankly I felt embarrassed that I hadn’t read anything by her. I decided to finally rectify that by picking up her work that I’d heard the most about, Sister Outsider. This was an interesting read for me, partly because it’s a book that I’ve read many quotations from and paraphrases of, and partly because it’s a book for a specific period (1980s america) and audience (primarily other black women) that I don’t share.

This was the first book that I read by Lorde, and after reading a few essays and especially the interview, I regretted not starting with her poetry. I think Audre Lorde is known more now for Sister Outsider and Zami than her poetry, but she really self-identifies as a poet, and discusses poetry as basically her first language. Her theory and prose is inspired by and rooted in her poetry, and although I planned to pick up Zami after this one, I think I’ll be backtracking and reading a collection of her poetry first to get a better grounding in her work.

Much of what Lorde discusses is recent events and current politics at the time she was writing. Some of this doesn’t completely translates, but some is horrifyingly still current, such as her referencing recent shootings of unarmed black men by police, which could easily have been written yesterday. Overall, even if the examples that she offers are not current, the ideas are still very much relevant today. Some of it I felt like I was muddling through, and I knew I would need to reread it to fully absorb. Some ideas stopped me in my tracks. As a white reader, not all of the strategies and topics were meant for me, but I think that any reader will find Sister Outsider enlightening, even if they’re not able to engage with every subject.

This was a great mix of ideas and tones. I liked reading Lorde’s journal entry and interview alongside sharply honed essays. It’s clear that Lorde is a poet: she crafts lines carefully and I found myself noting many quotes that I wanted to post on the Lesbrary tumblr or just to remember for myself. Like this one:

We had to metabolize such hatred that our cells have learned to live upon it because we had to, or die of it. Old King Mithridates learned to eat arsenic bit by bit and so outwitted his poisoners, but I’d have hated to kiss him upon his lips! Now we deny such hatred ever existed because we have learned to neutralize it  through ourselves, and the catabolic process throws off waste products of fury even when we love.

If you’ve been inexplicably putting off reading Audre Lorde, I highly recommend you take this as your cue to pick up one of her books. Maybe start with some of her poetry, but either way, you’ll find a lot to consider in Sister Outsider.

 

eldermaid

“Death is never more than a breath away”

I binge read this book in a day! I had wanted to read this book as soon as I read the blurb, but, well, I was late for my review. It helped that it was a very enjoyable story that made you want to read more. This story is short and is a mixture of Fantasy and Adventure, but not the epic kind, more like the kind where the protagonists are always curious and searching for answers.

This story is told from the perspective of Hedda and spans from her childhood onwards. In this world, most deities left the Earth, but left in their stead countless spirits with different elemental powers. There are three types of spirits: maids, knights and jacks. Hedda bonds at a young age with an Eldermaid, although not the one she thought she would at first. When spirits bond with humans, it is not like a marriage or sexual in nature but similar to having a constant life companion and partner in crime.

Hedda lives with her mother, Augusta and her own spirit: a firemaid named Ember. I loved the names in this book, especially of the spirits! What I loved most about this book though, where the genders (not binary!), the relationships (a mixture! Even poly-relationships were hinted at), the pronouns (a variety, xirself serving as a neutral pronoun and ser as the neutral honourific) and the normalization of different races. This could seriously be a recommended piece of literature for people wanting to learn how to think and speak less binary and learn not to stereotype–for example in the story there is mentioned that not all those that bleed are females. There was also a variety of trans characters in the book and a variety of relationships–and they were not seen as strange.

“mixture of throne room and magpie’s hoard” p.51

Anyway, if I get started on how good it was in terms of representation in such few pages, I won’t be able to stop. Hedda, her Eldermaid, Augusta and Ember leave their village life to go to the city of Firehaven, supposedly to train further Hedda but there are other ulterior motives. We get to learn more about Augusta’s past and the secrets that she kept. It was interesting because I felt that this book did not have one or two protagonists but many: there were Hedda and Leaf, and even Luccia and Augusta and Sofiya.

The mysteries in the plot were tense, but we weren’t kept waiting too long before some pieces started to fall in place. Hedda has to fight, but she’s not the catalyst but just another character. There isn’t the waiting-for-the-saviour cliché. The world building wasn’t too quick or too slow or too much, but just right for the story. As Hedda said, most things were on a need-to-know basis. The chapters were short and the writing got better although I felt that there were too many commas in the prologue.

This book was a hope for literature and diversity for me. I love fantasy and I love discovering new books that cater for a variety of people. I think this book is truly LGBTQI+ because it had a variety of characters from the spectrums. I think this book is good if you want to learn how to use neutral pronouns or want to read about diversity or want to read a feel-good book if you’re queer–this is the book that you should read next.

aintgonnaletnobody   a-e-4ever   creamsickle

The Advocate posted 18 Must-Read LGBT Books We Missed Last Year.

Autostraddle posted Lez Liberty Lit #70: These Libraries, Those Libraries.

Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian posted Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian #3: Taming Toxic, Self-Destructive Lesbians and Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian # 4: Young Adult Books Featuring Genderqueer / Non-binary Trans Characters.

Women and Words posted

acupofwaterundermybed   RoseofNoMan'sLand   Orangesarenottheonlyfruit

“10 LGBT-Themed Novels That Every Student Should Read” was posted at Flavorwire.

“Tipping the Velvet to be adapted for stage” was posted at The Guardian.

“Sleeps With Monsters: More Lesbian SFF Romance” was posted at TOR.

“5 Books Written by Queer and Trans Women That Set Me Free” was posted at Everyday Feminism.

apocalypse   SovereignErotics   Ruby-Fruit-Jungle

Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown was discussed at Uncovered Classics.

Cinder and the Smoke by Geonn Cannon was reviewed at The Rainbow Hub.

Apocalypse Baby by Virginie Despentes was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature edited by Qwo-Li Driskill, Daniel Heath Justice, Deborah Miranda, and Lisa Tatonetti was reviewed at Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian.

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan was reviewed at Romance Novels for Feminists.

Fried-Green-Tomatoes-skillet-background3-380x540   bodymap   nototherwisespecified

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg was discussed at Uncovered Classics.

Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller was discussed at Uncovered Classics.

Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz was reviewed at Bisexual Books.

Bodymap by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha was reviewed at Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian.

Black Iris by Leah Raeder was reviewed at LGBT YA Reviews.

BrandedAnn   turningforhome   howtogrowup

Branded Ann by Merry Shannon was reviewed at The Lesbian Review.

How To Grow Up by Michelle Tea was reviewed at The Rumpus.

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters was reviewed at Worcester News.

Turning For Home by Caren J. Werlinger was reviewed at The Rainbow Hub.

This post, and all posts at the Lesbrary, have the covers linked to their Amazon pages. If you click through and buy something, I might get a small referral fee. For even  more links, check out the Lesbrary’s twitterWe’re also on FacebookGoodreadsYoutube and Tumblr.

endofapril

Tor Cross is a special kind of private Investigator: one who is trained to authenticate and preserve documents. Her great aunt—an Oxford professor—hires Tor for both of her skills. Not only does and want Tor to validate the authenticity of handwritten Victorian-era erotica, but also to investigate a series of threatening messages received by a law student at Oxford—a beautiful law student, named April Tate. But April dismisses the threats and Tor has to go into overdrive to make sure that April’s complacence doesn’t get her killed. And that means finding whoever is sending the notes.

The setting conjures up Dorothy L. Sayers’ Gaudy Night. In fact, one of the characters even mentions that iconic title. But it also brings to mind other books in this side-genre of lesbian mysteries: murders in the halls of academia. A few come to mind: Report for Murder by Val McDermid, Angel Food and Devil Dogs by Liz Bradbury, Hallowed Murder by Ellen Hart, and even Agenda for Murder by Joan Albarella. I happen to like this motif; the educational settings seem to give the books a grounding in the literary.

The End of April is constructed differently than many other lesbian mysteries in that Tor gets the girl right away—without having to wait until near the end of the story when the mystery has been wrapped up and the love interest is no longer a suspect. And unlike the relationships in some books—in Stoner McTavish, for instance—the attraction between the two women is easy to understand. Both Tor and April are intelligent, outgoing, and immersed in their own special talents. It is a rather spare, easy-to-read novel and because Tor is likable, her first-person narration makes the novel smooth and enjoyable. The writing is always adequate, but in places—like when Tor thinks she has lost April for good and waxes poetic about love—it is both exquisite and wise.

One problem, though, is that it is a chore to remember the actual perpetrator even a day or two after finishing the book. This seems to indicate that the criminal was not really a major character. That’s all right; I don’t believe that the criminal even has to be part of the story at all. What I argue with is that, if the criminal is present, he or she should be memorable. Another small peeve is that Tor’s job transcribing Victorian-era porn gets a way-too-brief mention. Neither the job nor the author of the manuscript she is transcribing is adequately described. It is not impossible that Sarah Waters, in her dazzling Fingersmith, took it upon herself to finish what Sumner started. Kudos to Waters but not to Sumner.

This 1992 novel is part of the second wave of Naiad Press mysteries. As such it has historical significance in the LGBT publishing world. It was even edited by two of Naiad’s shining lights—Katherine V. Forrest and Clare McNab, who wrote the popular Kate Delafield and Carol Ashton series of mysteries respectively. The End of April is a better-than-average mystery with better-than-average characters. Give it somewhere between 3 and 4 stars and add it to the burgeoning list of mysteries set in academic surroundings.

 

sphinx   thatcertainsomething   WhereWordsEnd

Lambda Literary posted New in April: Larry Kramer, Mark Doty, Roz Kaveney, Sassafras Lowrey, and Dale Peck.

The Lesbian Review posted 10 Best Lesbian Books.

Over the Rainbow Books posted March 2015 nominations.

Alison Bechdel‘s Broadway musical adaptation of Fun Home was reviewed at Okazu.

fortheloveofcake   webs   funhomemusical

The Bookworm Literary Festival’s panel Rainbows in the Night: Chinese Contemporary Queer Writing and Filmmaking was discussed at VCinema.

Batwoman, Volume 5: Webs (The New 52) by Marc Andreyko was reviewed at GLBT Reviews.

For the Love of Cake by Erin Dutton was reviewed at read all about queer lit.

Forever Faithful by Isabella was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

This post, and all posts at the Lesbrary, have the covers linked to their Amazon pages. If you click through and buy something, I might get a small referral fee. For even  more links, check out the Lesbrary’s twitterWe’re also on FacebookGoodreadsYoutube and Tumblr.

Ash

Oh, wow! I’ve finally gotten to my first Malinda Lo book. It will not be the last. Ash is a retelling of Cinderella. It’s twisty, it has a fair amount of the fair folk, and it has some great love interests. It’s also one of those books I knew would already have been reviewed a couple times here. I looked at Katie Raynes’ review and appreciated her take on the story’s roots in the wild hunt, and in Lo’s vivid evocation of landscape. Laura Mandanas’ review focuses more on relationships and a little gender theory. What can I add or emphasize? I was surprised that this was a retelling of Cinderella where the prince isn’t even really a thing. He’s barely a plot device (and a sulky, sullen one at that).

One of the lovely things about this book is that it fully realizes the progression of Ash’s journey from beloved daughter to maligned stepchild. Too often, this feels rushed or glossed over, and hence unbelievable, but I could buy this. Another lovely thing is that we as readers actually get a sense of Ash’s mother as a character, and the mother is an integral character even after her death. Her influence is woven into the plot. There: The prince doesn’t matter, the dead mother does.

In this homophobia-free world, homosexuality is like being left-handed. Perfectly natural, but generally, people aren’t. Ash’s slow realization of her attraction to Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, is all the more lovely for being tinged with nothing but wonder and curiosity. Meanwhile, although the sulky human prince isn’t a contender, Ash is indeed attached to a prince. He’s a brittle, glittery Jareth who takes the word “glamorous” back to its original meaning. Old, old magic against real, young love: so there’s the excellent internal conflict against a backdrop of a fabulous world, and in living conditions that are fairly awful (though not all of the stepfamily is painted with the same broad strokes).

On a final note, the fun factor of this book was through the roof. It was tremendously enjoyable. If it’s been on your long list, maybe bump it up?

acupofwaterundermybed

2014: what a year for bisexual memoirs by people of colour!  Among the fabulous Lambda award nominees fitting this category—including Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Charles M. Blow, which I also highly recommend—is A Cup of Water Under My Bed by Daisy Hernández.  Don’t both of those have amazing, intriguing titles?  I simply loved Hernández’s book, on so many levels, for both its form and content.

It’s a memoir, but, interestingly, not structured linearly.  Instead, Hernández arranges the material of her life in three thematic sections, divided into chapters that are self-contained essays.  This structure allows you to see different facets of her life as they exist at different stages of her life, making links between events in childhood and adulthood that you might not otherwise.  Although it feels a bit jarring to move ahead and back again at first, after a while I really enjoyed the way she organized the memoir; it felt tangential in the same way that a conversation does.  One result of the organization, interestingly, is that you don’t actually hear anything about Hernández’s queerness until the second section, although the jacket refreshingly makes her bisexuality explicit.  That shouldn’t be notable, but unfortunately it is, and I was super pumped to see the ‘b’ word right there on the inside flap of the cover.

One other thing that is unique about this book’s format is that the entire thing is peppered with Spanish, always in italics, now and then whole sentences, often just a single word.  Like, there isn’t a page of the book that doesn’t have at least one Spanish word on it.  Sometimes you can guess the meaning of the word from the context, or a translation or paraphrase is fitted seamlessly into the text.  Other times, though, Hernández just lets the Spanish word sit in the English sentence, sin explanation.  Given that she devotes a lot of the memoir to discussing the role of language in her family and her sense of self, I found her decision to include a fair amount of Spanish in a predominantly English book fascinating.  This insistence on her mother tongue seemed to me a distinctly feminist Latina strategy, and a really cool way to illustrate the powerful and sometimes alienating effect language can have.  Anglophones aren’t used to having their easy understanding thwarted, and I thought the Spanish in A Cup of Water was a thoughtful way to draw attention to that privilege.  Also, if you’re learning español like I am, it’s really cool and helpful.

So what does Hernández write about?  In a nutshell: everything.  The first section is devoted to her family and cultural/spiritual background.  Growing up in New Jersey with a working class Colombian mother and Cuban father and a smattering of aunties constantly coming and going certainly gives her a lot to discuss.  Some of my favourite parts were about the intrusion of English in her life as her parents send her to English Catholic elementary school, despite her growing up speaking Spanish at home.  Having only ever heard English in cartoons on TV, she describes her first day of school like this:

Sitting in my classroom, I wait for Mrs. Reynolds to start talking like my mother.  In Spanish.  Surely it won’t be long now.  An hour passes.  Two hours.  An entire day it feels, and still it is all Mighty Mouse… It’s like being forced to watch the same cartoon all day long.  

Later she realizes devastating effect of this linguistic erasure:

I am not to go the way of the two people I long for in the thick terror of the night.  The first man I love and the first woman I adore, my father and my mother with their Spanish words, are not in these cards.  The road before me is English and the next part is too awful to ask aloud or even silently: What is so wrong with my parents that I am not to mimic their hands, their needs, not even their words?

There’s a stark honesty in Hernández’s writing, which is especially striking when she’s talking about the complicated stuff of life, like discovering and naming her bisexuality in the second section:

There isn’t a good verb for what begins happening to me in college.  Yes, I am meeting lesbians, but I am not one of them.  I still find men attractive; it is that I am thinking of women in a new way.  It is as if I am learning that I can shift my weight from one leg to the other, that I have a second leg.  Kissing women is like discovering a new limb.

Hernández also addresses racism in all its ugly complexity: for example, her Latin American family’s use of the word india (meaning an Indigenous person) as a threat when she’s misbehaving as a child, their fixation on light skin, prejudice against Black Americans, and the slipperiness of racial categories.  Like how her aunt’s dark-skinned Peruvian husband isn’t “indio” because he drives a nice car and has a good job.  How the white Southern editor at the New York Times where Hernández is working admits to  giving a young African American journalist who turned out to be plagiarizing one chance too many.  How her aunt said she was so dark as a child, “as if the colour of [her] skin had been an illness.”

One unexpected thing Hernández writes about in a startlingly candid way in the last section is money, as well as the related topic of class.  An especially poignant story called “Only Ricos Have Credit” (ricos means rich people) examines her relationship with credit cards, chasing the kind of white middle class lifestyle she dreams of but can’t actually afford.  In “My Father’s Hands,” she writes powerfully about the economic impact of NAFTA, her father beginning a job as a janitor at age 63 after doing factory work his entire life and her mother continuing to work, but sometimes without a paycheque at all, at her factory.

I’m pretty sure I’d have a hard time wrapping up such a gorgeous, far-reaching book, but Hernández does it eloquently in a short, final story in which a new chapter of her life on the west coast is beginning.  No mistaking it, she is a talented queer writer whose first book is, I think, only the dawn of the rosy career to come.  Don’t miss A Cup of Water Under My Bed.

everythingleadstoyou

Sometimes falling in love is easy.

Emi knows a lot about love. She loves movies, she loves her job as a set designer. She loves her brother and her best friend Charlotte. She loves L.A. and helping people and solving mysteries.  She even loves the ex who keeps breaking her heart. All these loves come together one summer when Emi and Charlotte are given the keys to a fantastic Los Angeles apartment and told to make something wonderful happen. Easier said than done, but Emi is determined and has Hollywood magic on her side.

At the estate sale of an iconic film cowboy, Emi and Charlotte find a letter from the man to the daughter he never knew and set out to track the woman down.  The daughter is gone, but the girls find a granddaughter, Ava, a tough and beautiful girl who has no idea of her glamorous roots. Emi falls hard for her, and thinks the feeling is mutual, but as all three young women begin a collaborative film project, everyone has to reevaluate her ideas about how people become who they are really meant to be.

On the surface this story is nothing. Love and romance and Hollywood and dream jobs that fall right into your lap. There are struggles and troubles and disappointments, but nothing insurmountable nor earthshaking. It’s fluffy and romantic and sweet and fun and that’s the very best part. Sometimes we just need a book about pretty girls getting together and having fabulous lives. That’s what this book delivers, delightfully, and for that reason I highly recommend it.

bodymap

I loved poetry as a teenager, but post-college I’ve hardly read any. As an adult, I read novels largely for escape and relaxation, and nonfiction for information and/or work and grad school. Poetry is a different animal, grounded in emotional truths, ideals, and sensations. It’s not something I make time for much anymore, but I jumped at the chance to review Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha‘s new book of poetry, Bodymap. I picked it up not because it’s poetry, but because it’s Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. I first read her work in Colonize This! as a college student. Her essays have popped up in many anthologies I’ve liked over the years, and I’ve admired Piepzna-Samarasinha for more than a decade now. Once I saw her at Femme Conference and it felt like seeing a celebrity. After you read this book, I think you’ll feel the same way.

Like her other writing, Bodymap is deeply personal and political. The poems are mostly short, rooted in her life as a Tamil/Burgher Sri Lankan and Irish/Roma disabled queer femme. Her life, love, activism, sexuality, identity, body, and family all tangle through pages. As in previous writing, she explores the difficulties and joys of chosen family and community, and brings generosity and maturity to the subject. In many ways, this was the book I wanted How to Grow Up to be. Piepzna-Samarasinha wrestles with real, difficult topics with emotion and intelligence. By the end of this book of poems, she is a parent with an impressive career, meaningful relationships, and more than a little insight into how to care for herself and those she loves. This book is wise without being preachy or self-aggrandizing, and loving without being cliche or saccharine. The writing itself is straight-up gorgeous.

The first night I read it, I intended to skim this book but got sucked in right away. Piepzna-Samarasinha’s descriptions are evocative, and at times made me cry. It also made me wonder if I should call my ex-best friend and try to talk things out. It made me want to read tarot cards and cook vegan food and whip up homemade beauty treatments. Reading this slim book was a wonderfully emotional experience that connected me to my values and priorities.

Normally in my reviews I suggest who might and might not be interested in a particular book, but I think just about everyone should read Bodymap. If you read poetry, this book is a reminder why you love it. If you don’t read poetry, you should read Bodymap because it’s accessible and beautiful, written with deep maturity and open-hearted honesty. If you’re a long-time fan, you won’t be disappointed as she covers familiar topics with precise and vivid language. If you haven’t read Piepzna-Samarasinha’s work before, Bodymap is an excellent place to start.

Elinor Zimmerman is sometimes on tumblr at http://elinorradicalzimmerman.tumblr.com/

fly

Among our most memorable literary experiences, can any truly compare to the excitement of discovering a new voice, most notably one that is capable of surprising, enlightening and toying with her reader to the extent that we are left to teeter on the cusp, craving each successive insight, nuance and twist in the plot? Having come to Fly and Other Stories by Anneliese Poelsma with no prior knowledge of her writing style or other works, I was pleased to find myself enthralled by the collection, primarily for  the way in which the author skillfully presents the macabre as just another variation on the day-to-day experience of those who, like us, are more than a little bit broken.

Given that madness is identified by behaviors that fall outside the norm, which is in and of itself a slippery slope as this often has more to do with the norms themselves than the individual exhibiting abnormal behavior, it makes sense that the characters who appear within the collection would not think to question their reasoning, much less their sanity. In fact, I’d contend that it is this assumption of normalcy that makes each story incredibly captivating. Whereas the husband in “I Live in the Bathroom” is painted as deranged for locking up his wife, her decision to drown their child is mentioned as a mere afterthought; all the while, Georgia, who steals a young couple’s baby in “Where Maisy Went,” believes her means of satisfying the desire for a child to be completely justifiable, especially in her elation to join the local mother’s group.

Beyond the tales of broken hearts, babynapping and infanticide, the piece I found to be by far the most intriguing and well-crafted is revealed as a hidden treasure midway into the collection. Entitled “Jennifer,” the story is offered as one woman’s account of deeply-held friendship, which the reader understands is in reality a most haunting obsession. Whereas Jennifer views herself as well-liked and popular with co-workers, the story’s opening paragraph alone assures us that her self-concept is not simply inflated but downright delusional, a truth confirmed as she interprets her captive officemate’s revulsion as a reciprocated expression of caring. Given the authenticity in the narrative’s depiction of mundane workplace dynamics, all unlikeliness is superseded by a sense of the completely plausible, which makes “Jennifer” so irresistibly creepy.

In spite of the disturbing elements which seep and ooze from the page, each story ultimately addresses a basic human need, whether it be the the search for true love, the quest for freedom, the desire to be appreciated, the attempt to self-soothe or the need to belong. The oddity, from my perspective, resides simply in the degree to which fulfillment is pursued as well as a dramatic skewing of perception. As much as we might attempt to keep each of these characters at arm’s length, it is their humanness that captures our imagination and begs us to question just how removed we truly are from telling our version of the very same story.

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