Danika reviews Inseparable: Desire Between Women in Literature by Emma Donoghue

I don’t think I can properly express how much I adored this book. As I was reading it, I wrote down the page numbers where there were quotes I wanted to post on my LesLit tumblr, as well as books I wanted to add to my TBR list, and thoughts/comments I had. Typically when I do this, I end up with half a page of notes. This time, I ended up with 5 full pages.

When I posted a quote on tumblr, I suggested the subtitle of Inseparable should be Or: How All the Authors You’ve Ever Heard of Wrote Lesbian Love Stories and No One Told You and I stick by that. Ovid? Shakespeare? Apparently every author who was anyone wrote lesbian love stories and I was somehow not aware of it. We are taught that lesbian literary history begins with Radclyffe Hall, with Sappho a distant anomaly. That’s not true at all. Desire between women has always existed, and it’s been written about throughout time. It’s just that somehow our history has been hidden from us.

Emma Donoghue excavates this masterfully. The breadth of works covered is astonishing, and it clearly took a huge amount of work. There are even passages in the novel that Donoghue translated from the French herself! And it is meticulously arranged. The book is divided into sections: Travesties (cross-dressing), Inseparables, Rivals, Monsters, Detection, and Out. Some are brief, and some have subsections of their own (the cross-dressing section is the most detailed), but it flows together very organically.

Inseparable is a fantastic academic resource for les/bi/etc literature, but it’s not written in an academic voice. It’s extremely easy to read. If you’re looking for a casual read, there are no footnotes to distract you, but if you want to go more in depth, the notes at the end are packed full of information (they note the page they are referring to), as well as gems like this note, referencing the introduction to the book: “In the ongoing controversy known as essentialism vs social constructionism, both extremes seem to me to verge on silliness (“Joan of Arc was a dyke” vs “lesbianism was invented in the late nineteenth century).”

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. If you like les/bi/etc literature (and why else would you be here?), check Inseparable out! You’ll be amazed at the explicit f/f romances in literature going back more than a thousand years! And it will give you plenty of ideas for more lesbian books to find. This is definitely now my favourite nonfiction book, and one of my general top five!

Lesbrary Sneak Peek: Nonfiction

Lesbian nonfiction! Now, I’m going to be honest, the first book on that stack I only picked up because I got it for free. I am not a parent. It will be interesting, though, to hear about it from the other side. I’ve heard so many horrible stories about parents’ reactions to coming out (I luckily have a life that may be one of the most ideal to come out in) and I just can’t wrap my head around it. It was published in 1997, which you may say makes it outdated, but I say it makes it an interesting view into the attitudes of the past. These are based on interviews with PFLAG parents, so they should have a positive tone overall.

This article on glbtq literature (which I highly recommend, by they way) has a quick overview of the importance of coming out stories in the queer community. In fact, one of the first things queer people do once they get together is to tell our coming out stories. This collection is from 1980, and looks like it was one of the first of its kind. I’m looking forward to reading it.

Lesbian (Out)law was published in 1992 and tackles the relationship of lesbian to the law. According to the author’s website, “Robson argues that the law’s traditional categories and themes sacrifice and damage lesbians. She reveals the centuries of legal punishment of lesbians, hidden behind the myth of lesbian impunity.” I know that the law has changed in eighteen years, but with same sex marriage and DADT continuing to be big issues, I imagine a lot of this will still be relevant or at the very least interesting.

Now this one I was definitely happy to find. A lesbian nun! A lesbian nun in renaissance Italy! If that is not automatically a draw for you, we have very different tastes in books. I honestly can’t think of anything to say to improve on that. This is a true story and also looks like it will be a pretty easy read, too.

Hidden From History looks absolutely fascinating. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I’m a fan of nonfiction and fiction alike, and this looks like it will be particularly good. It, as far as I can tell, attempts to sift through the past and bring up gay and lesbian narratives that have been forgotten or, as the title states, hidden. It also covers some non-Western history, which is refreshing. It’s a collection of essays, so there should be some variation. I’m very glad I could snap this up.

I’m not a historian… at all. I’m terrible with names, dates, and places. And yet, these queer history books are some of the finds I’m most interested in. Making History is more of a modern history than Hidden From History, focusing on the gay rights movement. I think it’s incredibly important, especially for someone like me, who’s had it pretty easy, to recognize and attempt to understand the struggles that lead us up to this point. This looks like it will be a good overview for me. Maybe I’ll pass it on to my girlfriend after so she no longer horrifies other lesbians by not knowing what Stonewall is.

Have you read Beyond Acceptance, The Coming Out Stories, Lesbian (Out)law, Immodest Acts, Hidden From History, or Making History (or its updated version, Making Gay History)?What did you think of them? Do you recommend any other lesbian nonfiction?

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!