Kathryn Hoss Recommends Lesbian Beach Reads

Every summer my entire obnoxious/lovable extended family rents a beach house in the Carolinas for a week, and every summer I end up scouring Goodreads, Amazon, and the Lesbrary for “lesbian beach reads.” Usually, that phrase yields zero-to-few results.

I’m here to change that.

funhomemusical   unbearable lightness portia de rossi   PriceofSalt   FriedGreenTomatoes   the-miseducation-of-cameron-post-cover-final

Looking for a juicy tell-all for the drive down?
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel is one of my all-time favorites. The graphic memoir explores Bechdel’s fraught relationship with her closeted gay, perfectionist father and his unexpected suicide. Despite the subject matter, Bechdel’s tone is more thoughtful than ruminating, probing for the truth in a situation with many sides. As someone who was a baby butch at one time, it was a breath of fresh air to see myself reflected in child- and college-Alison. This read can be accomplished in a few hours.
Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi is another quick read, but it is not light. The memoir recounts de Rossi’s lengthy struggle with bulimia and anorexia, her journey from rock bottom, when her organs nearly shut down, to a very nice life with Ellen Degeneres and their horses. I will say it brought back eating-disordered feelings from adolescence that I didn’t know I still had– de Rossi’s devastating internal monologues can be triggering– but it’s an important story and an engrossing read.

The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith might be the perfect road-trip story, straddling the line between pulp novel and classic literature. You’ve probably already seen the 2015 movie, Carol, but I’m gonna say the book is worth reading too. Highsmith’s prose tends to maunder in details that I thought not at all necessary to plot or characterization, but I found it interesting on an anthropological level to see Therese and Carol’s relationship unfold in 1952. Elements of the story are lifted straight out of Highsmith and her friends’ lives, adding to the realism. For the romance crowd, if you like the “Oh no, there’s only one bed and we have to share it!” trope, you’re gonna love this.

Looking for something profound so that when your relatives ask what you’re reading, you don’t have to feel ashamed?
I actually haven’t finished Fried Green Tomatoes by Fanny Flagg, only because the prose lends itself to be read slow as molasses. There is definitely a lot in this book that would not be considered politically correct. I don’t know how many times I’ve thought, “Is this a White Savior narrative?” The romance is also only one thread in a rich tapestry of family and food. But Fried Green Tomatoes feeds my soul because it depicts a lesbian-headed family living in the south, in the 20s and 30s, and no one ever says a word about them being different or wrong. I actually tried fried green tomatoes (the food) the other day. Spoiler alert: They were delicious.

I was going to do a separate YA section, but then I was like, nah. The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth is Literature. Set in small-town Montana in a fully-fleshed out fictional city, The Miseducation is so hyperreal, I kept thinking, “This has to be autobiographical, right? No way someone could make up that much detail.” And yet, danforth did. Right down to watching the girl you like skid her flip flop a little too far away and lunge to pick it up with her toes. A bittersweet story of parental mortality, thwarted teenage love, and coming of age, I couldn’t bring myself to read this one on the beach because it made me feel like my heart was in my throat.

secondmangocover   LoveDevoursbySarahDiemer   ClimbingtheDatePalm-200x300   BrandedAnn   olive conspiracy

Looking for adventure, romance, and fantasy all rolled into one beautiful escapist mess?

Not gonna lie– this is what I consider a Certified Lesbian Beach Read. Sitting ankle-deep in the surf with wind sand-blasting my face and the sun encroaching ever-closer to my beergarita, I’m not exactly looking to think too hard. I want to see some salty pirate pansexuals, some transcendentally beautiful trans mermaids, and some lesbian ladies in full 16th-century attire making out on a tropical island.

First off, I can recommend Love Devours: Tales of Monstrous Adoration by Sarah Diemer. You can download “The Witch Sea” for free on Amazon separately, but my favorite story in this collection is “Seek.” I don’t want to give too much away, but I’ll say this: Mysterious sea woman. Girl-knight seeking to win the hand of a beautiful princess. Sultry enchantress. Intrigue! Also check out The Monstrous Sea by Sarah and Jennifer Diemer for its trans girl YA mermaid story, “True if By Sea.”

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention The Second Mango by our own Shira Glassman for its lesbian princess, her woman-knight BFF, her bisexual long-lost love, and the tropical, vaguely Floridian setting in which they frolic.

Finally, Branded Ann by Merry Shannon was a recent standout, well-plotted with a careful balance of romance and adventure. This is the lesbian Pirates of the Caribbean– a search for lost treasure, threats of mutiny, mayyyyybe some kind of supernatural being?? I also came away feeling like I learned something about 16th century piracy, all while enjoying sizzling hot sexual tension. My only gripe is the character description. I felt like had no idea what most of the characters looked like, except the two main characters, who were described in frequent and florid detail. Still, this was all I ever wanted, all I ever needed in a pirate romance novel. (This one comes with a trigger warning for sexual assault mentions.)

What are your favorite LBT beach reads? Let me know on the Goodreads list! (https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/100656.Lesbian_Beach_Reads)

Kathryn Hoss is an aspiring author and singer-songwriter from Ohio. She can be found at kathrynhoss.tumblr.com.

Erica Gillingham reviews The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel

TheEssentialDykestoWatchOutForDTWOF

I had heard of Dykes To Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel long before Bechdel published her first graphic memoir, Fun Home. But, not being one of the cool kids, I didn’t read it. Fast-forward many years, some Christmas money and one gay bookstore later and I finally had my very own copy of The Essential Dykes To Watch Out For in my lovely lady hands. The fun was to begin!

A collection of strips chronically the DTWOF series, published from 1987 to 2008, The Essential DTWOF is an incredible gift to those of us born too late to enjoy them in their initial incarnations. Bechdel opens the collection with a graphic introduction that not only gives insight into the origins and ethos of DTWOF but a smidgen of Bechdel’s wonderful madness. An intelligent, intense attention to detail that is necessary in order to so skillful combine personalities, identities, community, love and politics in comic form.

Like the opening of any novel, I carefully watched as these independent characters began to take on their full personalities: refractions of lesbian identities embodied in myriad guises, ticks, and quirks. But, unlike the plain written word, I also got to witness as Bechdel refined each character, moving from strength to strength in the comic: Mo and Toni’s quaffs reach nuanced status, Lois’s swagger oozes, and newspapers offer rotating headlines of the week.

Halfway through DTWOF I kept making excuses in avoidance of my daily life—“Emails can wait, right? I didn’t want to do dishes today anyway.”—in order to carry on reading. I thoroughly enjoyed the twists and complications and emotional freak-outs of these devoted heroines with each turn of the page. Politics and life become inextricable when the Bush years hit at the turn of the 21st century and reading gets a bit heavy. If I ever I needed a reminder of what it was like to live under the Bush administration, this comic reflects some of my biggest worries from that time. But, the characters continue as their engaging selves and the way Bechdel handles 9/11, well, let’s just say it’s pitch perfect.

For those that are looking for a tidy ending to an elegant series, you won’t find it here.  The comic ends as it begins: mid-moment in a community of messy, human lives. That said, there is a kind of relief in the final moments of The Essential DTWOF: it’s as if the video feed from the dykes’ world has been simply closed off with Mo, Sydney, Lois, Clarice, Toni, Ginger, Sparrow and the others carrying on without our watchful eye and it is our job, as the readers, to remember all that they taught us.

Casey reviews Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel

Alison Bechdel’s second graphic memoir Are You My Mother? (2012) certainly has an huge mountain of success to live up to: unbeknownst to Bechdel herself and all her leftist, alternative lesbian Dykes to Watch Out For fans, her first memoir Fun Home (2006) became a best-seller, was named Time magazine’s number one book of the year, and was deemed a best book of 2006 by a ton of other prestigious—and, significantly, non-queer—publications like The New York Times.  I absolutely loved Fun Home in all its neurotic glory, literary nerdiness, and heartbreaking exploration of the connections between Bechdel’s queer sexuality and her father’s—latent and closeted as it was.  I thus had high expectations for Are You My Mother?, which I’m sad to say weren’t exactly met, although perhaps that was inevitable.  Like Fun Home, Bechdel’s new book is an examination of her relationship with a parent, this time her mother.  Bechdel’s mother is certainly a worthy character to study: eccentric, artistic, complex, and troubled in many of the same ways Bechdel’s father was.  Are You My Mother?, however, doesn’t have the same urgency as Fun Home because it lacks anything close to the burning question that preoccupies Bechdel’s first memoir: is Bechdel’s coming out as a lesbian causally related to her father’s (assumed) suicide just four months later?  This isn’t to say that Bechdel doesn’t explore some intellectually fascinating questions about the nature of the mother-daughter relationship in this book, such as the kinds of misogyny that mothers inherit from their own mothers and pass onto their children.  In a heartbreaking scene, Bechdel’s mother Helen tells her that the main thing she learnt from her own mother was “that boys are more important than girls”; Helen admits freely that she carried on this pattern of favouring male children, to the obvious detriment of her daughter.

Are You My Mother? follows a circular pattern, as did Bechdel’s first memoir: each section begins with a recounting of an important dream, then meanders through a dizzying narrative moving back and forth in time, recalling different eras of Bechdel’s life, doing close readings of psychoanalytic texts and thinkers, and returning to previously examined scenes and thoughts.  The incidents of her life that she chooses to focus on are, obviously, often momentous—at least in psychological terms—events with her mother from her childhood as well as adulthood: one telling such scene is when Helen abruptly tells her daughter, at age seven, that she is “too old to be kissed goodnight anymore.”  Here and in other scenes Bechdel expertly captures the rawness and immediacy of childhood emotional injury: when her mother leaves her tucked in bed with a mere “goodnight” Alison feels as if her mother has “slapped her.”  The drawing shows Alison shocked and still tucked in her bed with wide open eyes; a thick line of wall divides the two and her mother’s back faces the reader as she walks away.  The black and white, red-accented drawings here and everywhere in the memoir are truly exquisite.  They’re beautifully expressive, and do a fantastic job of illustrating a narrative that is largely an introspective, inward journey.

Other than her relationship with her mother, the other theme around which Are You My Mother? revolves is Bechdel’s therapy sessions, linked to her obsession with psychoanalysis.  Again like Fun Home, this memoir is a highly allusive text: instead of the literary references, like the Icarus and Daedalus myth, however, we have psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott’s works.  I have to say I agree with Danika’s review that I simply didn’t enjoy these allusions as much as the ones in Fun Home.  I’m a huge fan of Bechdel’s work and have taken graduate-level courses in psychoanalytic theory and literary and queer theory, but some of the psychoanalytic discussion took a fair amount of concentration for me to follow.  Moreover, I found a significant part of it simply not that interesting.  A student of psychoanalysis would have a field day with this memoir, as will English and Women’s Studies professors.  I’m not sure, however, how much fans of Dykes to Watch Out For and Fun Home, or queer women readers in general, will really enjoy the psychoanalysis and the concentration on Bechdel’s therapy sessions.  I found myself feeling impatient with the amount of the book that focused on these topics.  Maybe I’m not a child of the 80s enough to sympathize with the impulse for obsessive and life-long therapy (I’m reminded of a Dykes to Watch Out For strip where Sydney tells Mo “I know it’s so 80s, but you have considered therapy?”).  I wanted to know more about Bechdel’s “serially monogamous” adult relationships and more about her mother as an individual; Bechdel seems to have made peace with Helen, reconciling herself to the person her mother is by cathartic means of the book, but I left the memoir still unsure as to what exactly made Helen the woman  she was (and is).  Ironically, Bechdel dedicates the book to her mother, “who knows who she is.”  Maybe this dedication means that Bechdel had to let go of any desire she had to know who her mother is, something that readers have to relinquish as well. Cathy Camper at the Lambda Literary site seems to feel left without answers by the memoir as well.  Despite my mixed feelings about Are You My Mother?, I would still recommend it to readers who like Bechdel’s other work; I would just advise them to put on as much of an academic, intellectual lens as they have available to them when they pick it up.

Danika reviews Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel

I’m going to be honest, I have no idea how to review this book. I loved Bechdel’s first comic memoir, Fun Home, so I was very excited to pick up Are You My Mother? And it definitely does have some of the best elements from Fun Home: the writing is amazing, the art is beautiful, and the entire book is intricate and complex. I feel like I’d have to read this at least four times before I can really feel like I “get it” at all.

Where Fun Home used the family house as a framing device for the story, Are You My Mother? relies on psychoanalysis, dream analysis specifically. Fun Home also had literature references throughout, and Are You My Mother? does reference Virginia Woolf several times, but most of the books mentioned are psychoanalysis books. It also revolves around Bechdel’s visits with her psychiatrist(s). (This is, of course, not to mention the central theme of her relationship with her mother.)

Bechdel’s relationship with her mother is more complex than her relationship with her father, partly because they can’t just be compared based on sexuality or gender roles, and partly because Bechdel’s mother is still alive, and resists being rewritten into one narrative.

I didn’t enjoy Are You My Mother? quite as much as Fun Home because a lot of the psychoanalysis went over my head, and I enjoyed the literature references in Fun Home more than the dream analysis in Are You My Mother? That isn’t to say the Are You My Mother? isn’t fantastic, however, and I expect that I will enjoy it more after a few re-reads.

Bi & Lesbian Book Recommendations

If you’re not sure where to start with queer women books, here are some of my favourites.

The Classics

1) Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae BrownRubfruit Jungle

This 1970s novel is not only a lesbian/queer women classic, it also entertaining and challenges social norms even to this day. I still remember the day I realized I needed to read more queer women books. It was when my mother found out I had not read Rubyfruit Jungle and said “And you call yourself a lesbian.” I’m glad she shamed me into picking it up. Lesbian author.

2) Patience and Sarah (or A Place for Us) by Isabel Miller

Written in 1969, but set in the early 19th century, this queer classic also manages to tell a romance between two women without being depressing. It also influenced my very author’s work: Sarah Waters.

3) Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall

Do not let this be the first lesbian book you read! If I was doing this list by order of which is most classic, I would start with this one, but it violated my cardinal rule: don’t be depressing. I recommend Well of Loneliness because it’s a classic (published in 1928), because it was actually surprisingly not very difficult to read, and because it was judged as obscene although the hot lesbian love scene consisted entirely of “And that night they were not divided”, but it’s not a pick-me-up book. In fact, if it wasn’t such a classic, I never would have read it at all; I refuse to read books that punish characters for being queer. I also got the suspicion while reading it that the protagonist was transgender, not a lesbian. Lesbian (or transgender?) author.

Young Adult

Aaah, what is more lesbian than the coming-out story…

Hello, Groin1) Hello, Groin by Beth Goobie

I found this book after my teens, but I still loved it. Hello, Groin deals with the protagonist’s attraction to women as well as censorship at her school. A book theme inside a lesbian book? I’m in love. It also is well-written and optimistic. I highly recommend this one.

2) Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden

The classic lesbian teen book. I read this a while ago, so all I really remember is that I thought they fell in love awfully fast, but I enjoyed it, and it’s definitely a must-read for the well-read lesbrarian.

General Fiction

1) Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

This is my very favourite book, queer or not. Sarah Waters has a writing style that I can just sink into, and despite the fact that I rarely seek out historical fiction, I fell in love with Tipping the Velvet. The ending is such a perfect representation of the odd, complicated nature of love. Plus, this is a coming-out story, that classic trope. Fingersmith is a very close second, which also has lesbians, but includes an absolutely killer, twisting plot. If you’re not shocked by the direction this takes, you are much more clever than I am. Lesbian author.

2) Pages for You by Sylvia Brownrigg

This is an odd book for me. In the beginning, I thought, “this is sort of clumsily written”, but by the end I was blown away. I’m not sure what it is, but I really loved this book.

3) Oranges are not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

This isn’t my favourite of Winterson’s books, but it is, again, a classic. Jeanette Winterson has a beautiful, dream-like way of writing, and I plan to read all of her books eventually, though she is quite prolific. This one is rumored to be semi-autobiographical, and it’s definitely worth reading. Lesbian author.

4) Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue

I have a soft spot for fairy tale re-tellings, so it wasn’t surprising that a lesbian fairy tale re-telling made the list. What is surprising, though, is not only Donoghue’s readable writing style, but her ability to weave each story into the next, creating a whole tapestry connecting some of your favourite fairy tales. Lesbian author.

Memoirs/Biographies

1) anything by Ivan E. Coyote

Coyote is not exactly woman-identified, but ze’s not man-identified either, so that’s good enough for me to make the list. I love Coyote’s style, and the stories including in any of the collections (One Man’s Trash, Close to Spider Man, Loose End, The Slow Fix) are short, to-the-point, and always affecting. Queer author.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel cover2) Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Bechdel is the creator of the famous lesbian comics Dykes to Watch Out For. In her graphic autobiography, she illustrates her childhood, constantly drawing comparisons to her father. It may violate my “don’t be depressing” rule, but the comics alone are worth reading it for, and perhaps the uneasy feeling you’ll get afterward. Lesbian author.

3) Aimée & Jaguar: A Love Story, Berlin 1943 by Erica Fischer

I actually read about half of this thinking it was a really elaborate fictional story, so that should tell you how well it was written. Plus, a lesbian love story in Berlin, 1943? You know it’s going to be interesting at the very least.

That’s all I can think of for now, but I hope to get some real reviews up soon! Feel free to start sending in reviews (more lengthy than these general recommendations, hopefully).

Thanks for reading!