Danika reviews Gender Failure by Rae Spoon & Ivan E. Coyote

genderfailure

 

Ivan Coyote is one of my favourite authors, and this is actually the ninth book edited or written by them that I’ve read. Rae Spoon was already one my most listened to musicians before their first book, First Spring Grass Fire blew me away. So it’s no great surprise that I loved this book. I was actually lucky enough to attend one of their shows during the Gender Failure tour. Both Ivan and Rae are fantastic performers, and they played off each other really well. It made me even more eager to pick up the book.

The performance and the book obviously have a lot in common. I liked that Gender Failure attempts to recreate some of the visual aspects, including lots of black-and-white photos, illustrations, and even hand-written lyrics. Many of the stories included were performed during the show, but there are still lots more that weren’t, so it’s definitely worth the read even if you were able to see the performance. I was surprised to see that the first essay included in the collection was the story that I found the most powerful and painful of the show.

Both Rae and Ivan are extremely talented storytellers. Ivan writes very much like they speak, and it feels like someone you know is sitting across the table from you, filling you in on their life since they talked to you last. It’s casual, but very personal, giving the stories a vulnerability that makes the emotional punches even stronger. Ivan and Rae explore different aspects of being a “gender failure”, from their childhoods to their everyday lives now. I especially appreciated Rae’s contrasting of performing as a country singer in both small-town prairie bars and big-city queer clubs, and pointing out that they weren’t more likely to get called the correct pronoun in either place.

I found myself tearing up while reading Gender Failure more than once. It’s emotional, but there’s also a lot to think about here. Rae and Ivan bring up some powerful questions, and examine gender in different ways and contexts. I appreciated that though this is a collection of personal essays by two AFAB “gender failures”, Ivan includes several essays that focus on a trans woman friend of theirs, and the transmisogyny that is different from Ivan’s own experiences with being a “gender failure”. This is an accessible book, even if you haven’t read a lot of trans narratives, but it also has a lot to offer if you’re more familiar. This is a book I would hand to almost anyone, whether it’s to broaden someone’s mind or offer comfort in knowing that you’re not alone.

As a side note, this isn’t a lesbian book, to be clear. I started the Lesbrary to have a queer book blog that wasn’t focused on men, so I’m happy to showcase nonbinary authors as well.

Link Round Up: April 30 – May 8

1   aFTERdELORES   Maxie

Autostraddle posted Lez Liberty Lit #19: Strong Coffee, Stronger Bourbon and Mariel Cove: A Masturbation Month One-Handed-Read Review and Interview.

Bonjour, Cass! posted Queer Library: New Additions.

Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian posted Rachel Rose’s Song & Spectacle Wins the Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry; Also, Feelings about Alison Bechdel and Jeanettte Winterson.

The June Mazer Lesbian Archives posted a quick tour of the archives.

Lambda Literary posted New in May: Dan Savage, Michelle Tea, Amber Dawn, and Martin Duberman and Saints and Sinners Literary Festival, 10th Anniversary Edition.

Lesfic Insomniac posted Selecting your next Lesbian Fiction Book accurately!

FeministQueerCrip   IfYouCouldBeMine   ChaChing

Over the Rainbow Books (of the American Library Association) posted OTR April 2013 Nominations.

Queer Books Please posted Episode 16 – Apocalypse books!

The Rainbow Project (of the American Library Association) posted 2014 Nominations: And we begin with 8 titles.

Sistahs On the Shelf Promo Blog posted SOTS Books 2 Check Out – May 2013.

UK Lesbian Fiction posted about several UK queer lit festivals and Special Feature: 4th Annual Bold Strokes Book UK Festival, by Victoria Oldham.

KickedOut   DarkbySarahDiemer   ReportofMurder

Alison Bechdel posted an update on her upcoming events.

Ivan Coyote was interviewed at Xtra! and written about at Writers Festival (“Nipple Clamps and Pot-Holders: Shifting identities with Ivan E. Coyote and Tagralik Partridge”).

Sarah Diemer posted Aphrodite Has a Daughter, a Free YA Short Story — Part of Project Unicorn (A Lesbian YA Extravaganza)

Sassafras Lowrey won the Lambda Literary 2013 Emerging Writer Award.

Lynette Mae posted Owning Your Authentic Voice.

Val McDermid will be doing a book signing at the new Kirkaldy Library on June 8.

MermaidinChelseaCreek   FearintheSunlight   TheFirstDays

The As The World Dies series by Rhiannon Frater was reviewed at Queer Books Please.

Backwards to Oregon by Jae was reviewed and discussed by Nikki and Cheri at C-Spot Reviews.

Incidental Music by Lydia Perović was reviewed by Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian.

The End of San Francisco by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

Beyond Innocence by Carsen Taite was reviewed at Out In Print Queer Book Review.

Mermaid in Chelsea Creek by Michelle Tea was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

Fear in the Sunlight by Nicola Upson was reviewed at Unabridged Chick.

 

For even more links, check out the Lesbrary’s twitter pageWe’re also on Facebook and tumblr

This post has the covers linked to their Amazon pages. If you click through and buy something, I might get a small referral fee.

Danika reviews One In Every Crowd by Ivan Coyote

Note: I found this post saved as a draft instead of posted! It was supposed to be posted in September! Oops!

Ivan E. Coyote was one of the first authors I ever recommended on the Lesbrary, and she continues to be one of my favorites. I was, of course, really excited to hear that she was writing a new book, and intrigued by the idea of it being her first young adult book. I was interested to see how this book would differ from her others, since I discovered Coyote’s writing in high school, and I think that her books are well suited for a high school audience any way. As I should have expected, One In Every Crowd does not differ dramatically from Coyote’s other collections. It is, of course, marketed differently, and the stories are well chosen for a young audience. Many of the stories talk about her own childhood, while others feature other teenagers and children she has met, and more are just stories that appeal to everyone, like stories about her family. One well-loved character that gets a lot of space in One In Every Crowd is Francis, the charming, dress-wearing little boy that features in several of Coyote’s books.

Like all of her books, One In Every Crowd is easy to read and, well, comforting. Ivan E. Coyote is often described as a “kitchen table” storyteller, and you definitely get that sense in these stories. It’s as if you’re getting to hear all of uncle Ivan’s stories while gathered around your grandmother’s table. Coyote has a fantastic blend of queer and small-town northerner that makes it seem like those two are not at all opposing. Even re-reading some of these stories for the second or third time, I still found myself tearing up at places or grinning while reading.

Speaking of re-reads, however, that is the only complaint I have with this collection. I am used to many of Coyote’s stories being printed in several collections, so I didn’t expect all the stories to be new, but I didn’t expect the majority of the stories to be ones that had already been included in other collections. (The back cover promises “Comprised of new stories and others culled from previous collections”. Technically, two new stories is plural, but…) Maybe I am just remembering stories that Ivan E. Coyote told at readings that hadn’t actually been printed before, or maybe I’m used to her writing style and incorrectly assume that I’ve read a story before, or possible they’re stories that were in her newspaper column, but by my count, there was only one story included that I didn’t recognize, as well as a reprinted email that was written to Ivan E. Coyote by a teenager. I guess that I assumed that appealing to a new audience would mean new material specifically for that audience, not a repackaging of other material. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think One In Every Crowd is valuable; I think it’s a fantastic collection of some of Coyote’s best stories, and I think it’s a collection and arrangement that really makes sense to introduce a teenager to her writing. I just wish I had known beforehand, so I wasn’t expecting a lot of new material. Again, though, I’m fairly sure reading Ivan E. Coyote’s column and going to readings has something to do with this, so it could be just me personally.

One more note: I don’t know what to think of that email. I’m not sure why it’s included in the collection. It is titled “Letter Fr Grammar Wizard” and includes all of the many grammatical and spelling errors that were in the original email. The email itself is about the email writer’s ideas about how to stop bullying, as well as a little bit about their own experiences with bullying. They are good suggestions, but I didn’t find the email to have anywhere near the same power as Coyote’s stories. I just felt vaguely uncomfortable by the title and the decision to leave in all the errors. It almost seemed mocking, which I know wasn’t the intent, but it still struck a weird chord.

I still would definitely recommend One In Every Crowd, especially as a young person’s introduction to Ivan E. Coyote’s work, but I would caution against expecting a lot of new material from this collection.

Link round up: August 15-21

      

AfterEllen posted Batwoman #12: Happy anniversary, lesbian superhero! Here, have a Wonder Woman!

Autostraddle posted

      

Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian posted New Stories by Mariko Tamaki and Zoe Whittall; Plus, Queer Feminist Read Dating in Toronto!

Lambda Literary posted

      

lesbian meets books nyc posted Hunting the Slipper: Bringing Back Out of Print Lesbian Books.

The Outer Alliance posted Coming Out #8: Barbara Ann Wright on The Pyramid Waltz.

Sistahs on the Shelf Literary Promo Blog posted Sistahs on the Shelf featured in reSOUND magazine! and SOTS Books 2 Check Out – August 2012.

Women and Words posted Upcoming event in the UK for LGBTQ readers & writers!

      

Ivan E. Coyote will be at the Vancouver Writers Fest (October 16-21 2012).

Malinda Lo posted Presenting…the official trailer for Adaptation!

Catherine Lundoff posted The Highs and Lows of Promoting Lesbian Fiction by Catherine Lundoff.

KG Macgregor was interviewed at Lambda Literary.

“Kung Fu Lesbian – Book Trailer” was posted at One More Lesbian.

      

Gossamer Axe by Gael Baudino was reviewed at Good Lesbian Books.

OMGQueer edited by Katherine E. Lynch & Radclyffe was reviewed at Good Lesbian Books.

Sidecar by Ann McMan was reviewed at Good Lesbian Books.

Everything Pales in Comparison by Rebecca Swartz was reviewed at Winnipeg Free Press.

 

As always, check out even more links by following the Lesbrary on twitter!

Danika reviews Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme edited by Ivan Coyote and Zena Sharman

I’ve been a fan of Ivan Coyote for years, so I had high expectations for this collection. It absolutely delivered.

It’s hard to sum up Persistence other than using its own subtitle. It contains a huge array of different kind of butches and femmes (and a futch, and some switches, and…), embodied by many different genders and sexualities.

The writing it top-notch, and there are a lot of big names:  Ivan Coyote, Jewelle Gomez, S. Bear Bergman, Joan Nestle, Sinclair Sexsmith… The content ranges from academic essays to poem and short stories. Some are incredibly personal, and some are political declarations. I really appreciated the amount of essays that approached how race intersects with butch/femme, and a few that also address class.

If I could guarantee one thing, it’s that at least one entry in this collection will piss you off. There are opinions all over the spectrum in this collection, and there is a lot to be debated. For example: do butch and femme constitute each other, or can you be a butch without a femme and vice versa? Are femmes more privileged by having “passing privilege”, or are they invisibilized, or are people just not looking hard enough for femmes? Is the concept of “butch” too tied to whiteness to be used in an antiracist way? Can other sexualities and genders by butch or femme, or only lesbians? Where do butch and femme fit into the trans* spectrum, or vice versa, or are they unconnected? It is the trans* questions that are particularly divisive. But I think this range is the strength of the collection: it is a good attempt to encapsulate a broad-ranging community that is entirely in flux. And the voices are strong, so even the essays that were actively angering me were still compelling.

I definitely recommend Persistence, even (especially?) if you’re not butch or femme or know very little about butch and femme. It is an important part of the queer community as a whole today, and lesbian history as well. There are quite a few contributors that I will now be seeking out in a longer format.

Lesbrary Review by Danika

Missed Her by Ivan E. Coyote.

Ivan E. Coyote is one of my very favourite queer writers. When giving recommendations for les/bi/etc books, Sarah Waters and Ivan E. Coyote are at the top of the list (though their styles are pretty different). Ivan is often described as a “kitchen table storyteller,” and it’s true. Her stories read as if one of your good friends is relating an anecdote to you, if your friends are really good at telling stories. If you ever get the chance to see Ivan perform in person, I highly recommend it. In the meantime, pick up her books.

Missed Her is a collection of semi-autobiographical stories–Ivan treads the line between memoir and fiction. Some common themes run through the stories, including being queer in a small town. I find this especially interesting, because when the “It Gets Better” project was getting a lot of coverage, there was some criticism about how many of the stories talked about getting out of small towns, and how it didn’t address how rural communities can change, or the positive aspects of them, or even how constantly moving queer people out of rural environments and into urban ones just perpetuates any bigotry in hostile towns (not that anyone has an obligation to stay in a threatening environment, I want to clarify). We’re used to queer stories being set in the big city, so it’s interesting and pertinent to have another narrative. (Ivan currently lives in Vancouver, so it’s not all small town, but growing up in the Yukon made a strong impression on her.)

Ivan presents a different image of being queer in a small town. Her family was supportive, and she appreciates that the peoples she meets in these towns are more likely to simply ask what they’re thinking instead of skirting around the issue. She has a story set in a small town in which a bunch of men gather around so she can teach them how to properly tie a tie. She does still acknowledge the disadvantages and even dangers of some of these small towns, however, especially when she describes trying to find a rural doctor accepting of her gender presentation.

Ivan’s stories have all sorts of variety, though. There’s some heart-breaking ones and some hilarious ones, though usually it’s a bit of both. (Some topics: looking for an old-fashioned barber in Vancouver, teaching memoir-writing to seniors, repeatedly being mistaken for a gay man, stories about her family, and musings on her butch identity and the policing of the label.)

There’s not much more to say than that I highly recommend it!

– Danika

General Recommendations

If you’re not sure where to start with Lesbrary (queer women) reading, 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 Lesbrary 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. Once upon a time, any books that had queer content had to demonstrate that they were not actually advocating for queerness, so they had to either go straight, die, or go crazy. Often a combination of these three. 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 transgendered, not a lesbian. Lesbian (or transgender?) author.

Teen

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 BrownriggPages for You

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 rumoured 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 Home2) 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). Just click on Guest Lesbrarians at the top.

Thanks for reading!