Happy International Women’s Day! Here are Five Queer Women of Colour You Should Read

In honour of international women’s day, I decided to have a look at some queer women of colour writers and get excited about books I’ve read, and some that are coming up on my to-read list.  Here are five women I’m especially eager to (re)read.  I’m hoping that you haven’t heard of some of them or maybe just haven’t got around to reading them yet, and you need a reminder.  Pick up one of their books at the library or a (virtual or bricks-and-mortar) bookstore near you today!

rykaRyka Aoki is one of those artists who does so many things you just don’t know how she fits it all in: she’s a writer, performer, and educator (of literature, queer studies, and martial arts!).  Her latest book, He Mele A Hilo, came out last year from Topside Press and is set in Aoki’s native Hawaii.  Check out this amazing video of her reading from the novel.  I love how she reads the Hawaiian vernacular in the dialogue—it’s just something I can’t create while reading by myself, even in my head.  You will be scrambling to buy the book after seeing this clip, trust me.  Also, if you’re not already convinced, you can read her brand new story “Falafel” for free here.  If you’re more into poetry than fiction, Aoki also has a Lambda-nominated collection of poetry, Seasonal Velocities, that you can buy here.

daneDane Figueroa Edidi’s work was recommended to me by Tom Leger of Topside Press (thanks Tom!), and I was super excited to find out about her book Yemaya’s Daughters, which sounds like a beautiful, mythological tale of two women both engaged in spiritual revolutions while trying to preserve themselves amidst the chaos.  You can hear Edidi reading from the book here, where I’m sure you’ll be convinced to order the book like I was.  I’m really interested to see how the book goes further into spirituality, since it’s not something I read about a lot, and almost never in a trans and/or queer context.  Edidi also has a new book in the works, Brew, about a teenage trans witch, and it’s the first in an amazingly titled series called Ghetto Goddesses.  You can get a deal on the site if you buy Yemaya’s Daughters and pre-order Brew at the same time!  What are you waiting for?

hiromigotoHiromi Goto is a BC writer with talents in many forms: she’s written poetry, children’s and young adult books, adult historical novels, and done collaborative graphic novels with Jillian Tamaki (of Skim fame with her cousin Mariko Tamaki).  Goto also dabbles in different genres, including fantasy in her latest young adult duology Half World and Darkest Light which draws on Japanese mythology and features loner teens, accompanied by a cat and helped along by queer elders, on a journey into Half World, a limbo between our world and the afterlife.  If science fiction for adults is more your style, try her James Tiptree Jr. Memorial Award for Science Fiction winning novel The Kappa Child, a Japanese-Canadian prairie tale that features “the Kappa Child, a mythical creature who blesses those who can imagine its magic.”

achyAchy Obejas is another multi-talented woman who is a translator, as well as a writer of fiction, poetry, and journalism.  She’s Cuban-American and her cultural and linguistic background informs a lot of her work, including journalism like this piece about what the US and Cuba re-establishing diplomatic ties means for Cuban-Americans and in novels like Memory Mambo and Days of Awe, which both feature non-monosexual Cuban-American women (Days of Awe also investigates Jewish identity).  I read Memory Mambo years ago and although I don’t remember that much about it, I do know I loved loved loved it.  Her writing is really gorgeous, and an interesting mix of fiction, history, and memoir.

leah-lakshmi-piepzna-samarasinhaOkay, so maybe you’ve heard of Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha.  But have you read her work, poetry and non-fiction?  Did you know she has a new poetry collection, her third, coming out this month, called Bodymap?  It’s a look at disability through a queer femme of colour perspective, and Amber Dawn has this to say about it: “Sharp, yet remarkably compassionate, Piepzna-Samarasinha knows that the poem is no place for tidy inquiry and easy answers. She offers her own tenacious guts and veins on each and every page.”  I am super excited to read my review copy.  You can pre-order Bodymap here.   Not only is Piepzna-Samarasinha releasing a book of poetry this year, her first memoir, Dirty River, is being published in the fall by Vancouver’s Arsenal Pulp Press.  This is certainly a good year for her.

Readers, what other queer women of colour do you recommend?

Posted in Asian, Bisexual, Black, Canadian, Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic, Hiromi Goto, Indigenous, Lesbian, Non-Canadian, Non-Fiction, Poetry, Postcolonial, Queer, South Asian, Trans, Trans Feminine, Young Adult | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

There Sure Are a Lot of Great Canadians in the 2015 Lambda Literary Award finalists!

Is it that time of year again already?  The 2015 Lambda Literary Award finalists were announced today!  As I’ve written before, I have mixed feelings about the lammies, their policies (mostly past), and their decisions.  However, this year’s finalists include some pretty awesome Canadian offerings, and a lot of writers I had never heard of before reading the full finalist list here.  Here are the Canadian women nominated, as well as a few special non-lady Canadian writers.

9781551525600_SheOfTheMountainsShe of the Mountains by Vivek Shraya is up for the award for bi fiction and I am so pumped because I loved this novel.  When was the last time you read a book about a brown bisexual man from Alberta that was part love story and part re-telling of Hindu mythology?  Never, that’s when.  Did I mention this book also has really cool illustrations?  Have a look at the beginning:

In the beginning, there is no he. There is no she.

Two cells make up one cell. This is the mathematics behind creation. One plus one makes one. Life begets life. We are the period to a sentence, the effect to a cause, always belonging to someone. We are never our own.

This is why we are so lonely.

This is the future of bisexual writing and I am so excited for it.

adultAs was expected, Adult Onset by Torontonian Ann Marie MacDonald is included in the category of lesbian fiction.  Zoe Whittall published a fascinating piece in the Walrus about this book, and how she has “often thought that if any author could change Canadian publishing’s reticence to promote present-day queer stories, it would be Ann-Marie MacDonald.”  This book, about “a late-forties lesbian writer who lives in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood with her theatre-director wife and two young children, struggling to write her third book while dealing with the stresses of parenting,” just might be the one to break the lavender ceiling Whittall talks about. It’s also quite interesting to note that the description of the main character could be MacDonald herself, giving this book a kind of tongue in cheek, semi-autobiographical feel.

uncatholicUnCatholic Conduct by Stevie Mikayne is a nominee for lesbian mystery I had never heard of before.  Mikayne is based in Ottawa, and her book looks pretty juicy:

Private investigator Jil Kidd is sent to St. Marguerite’s Catholic School to investigate teachers breaking their contracts of Catholic conduct, her investigation takes a dramatic turn after a student winds up dead on campus. To further complicate matters, circumstances keep throwing her together with the hot blond principal, Jessica Blake, at the center of her investigation.

ceaseCease: A Memoir of Loss, Love, and Desire by Lynette Loeppky, another author I had never encountered before, is up for lesbian memoir.  Check out a CBC interview with her here.  This one really sounds fascinating, according to a review in the Globe and Mail:

Lyn and Cec tacitly understood that if anyone were to exit the relationship, it would be Lyn, and after 8 1/2 years with the dedicated but domineering Cec, Lyn is quietly but seriously considering exactly that. Then Cec falls seriously ill and suddenly Lyn becomes caregiver to the woman she was soon to leave. Many threads of interest run through this thoughtful and carefully woven memoir: Lyn and Cec’s discovery of their desire – Cec’s in midlife and Lyn’s in the midst of a Mennonite upbringing; their somewhat closeted relationship in “family-values” Alberta.

Janey_iconJaney’s Arcadia by Rachel Zolf, up for the lesbian poetry award, looks very experimental and strange, yet it is about an extremely important topic in contemporary Canada: the legacy of colonialism and its present day continuation. I’m not sure what to think.  Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

Janey’s Arcadia restages Canada’s colonial appropriations in a carnivalesque cacophony of accented speech, weather, violence, foliage and carnality. Rachel Zolf assembles a pirate score of glitch-ridden settler narratives, primarily from Manitoba. Clashing voices squall across time, flashing pornographic signs that the colonial catastrophe continues with each brutal scrubbing of Indigenous knowledges and settler responsibility.

MxT_Queyras_webI haven’t read anything by poet Sina Queryas yet, and I’m not sure why, since I hear about her work all the time.  Her latest book MxT (short for memory x time, Queryas’s method of measuring grief) is in the lesbian poetry category. It’s gotten a lot of praise, like “[t]his year’s most devastating and enlightening Canadian poetry collection” from Telegraph-Journal and “The energy is eclectic, even in its moments of stillness, of silence, there’s a tension of vitality. A strong, and confident collection, it has at its core a generosity of spirit” from the QWF judges Sue Elmslie, Sue Goyette and Daniel Zomparelli.

So, I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of Katheen Jacques, a Vancouver-based comic artist, before today! Band Vs. Band Comix Volume 1 is nominated in the the LGBT graphic novel category, and it looks like it’s a self-published collection of comics that she’s been drawing for years.  There are a ton of comics on her website, too, check it out.  The colours are all red, blue, and black, and have kind of a retro feel to them.  Look!

band vs band

100 crushesIt’s pretty great that the lammies have a LGBT graphic novel category at all, and there’s another Canadian nominee, 100 Crushes by Elisha Lim, a Montreal-based artist who use the pronoun ‘they.’  Check out their website for a taste of the awesome visual art they make.  100 Crushes is a compilation of five years’ worth of comics, including bios of all sorts of crush-worthy people.  As the Lambda review says, “One chapter, ‘The Illustrated Gentleman,’ is a butch fashion zine, featuring suave trendsetters, butch clothes, anecdotes and tips about creating your own butch wardrobe.”  I really need to get my hands on this book soon.  Check out this excerpt:

crush excerpt

child of a hidden seaChild of a Hidden Sea by Toronto writer A.M. Dellamonica is in the running for for LGBT SF/F/Horror (it looks decidedly like F, meaning fantasy).  I loved her bisexual magic novel Indigo Springs and I didn’t even know she had a new book!  The premise of this book sounds awesome:

One minute, twenty-four-year-old Sophie Hansa is in a San Francisco alley trying to save the life of the aunt she has never known. The next, she finds herself flung into the warm and salty waters of an unfamiliar world. Glowing moths fall to the waves around her, and the sleek bodies of unseen fish glide against her submerged ankles.
The world is Stormwrack, a series of island nations with a variety of cultures and economies—and a language different from any Sophie has heard.
Sophie doesn’t know it yet, but she has just stepped into the middle of a political firestorm, and a conspiracy that could destroy a world she has just discovered… her world, where everyone seems to know who she is, and where she is forbidden to stay.

safe girl to loveOf course, A Safe Girl to Love by Casey Plett is in the line-up for transgender fiction, and it’s a shoo-in in my humble opinion.  It was my favourite read of last year.  If it doesn’t win, I will be super pissed: especially if they choose one of the three out of five cisgender people who are nominated for the award.  It’s such a smart, funny, cynical, authentic collection of short stories about trans women.  The stories take place all over North America, including Winnipeg, New York, and Oregon, the writing is gorgeous, and the characters are so real. One story features a talking cat.   WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE?

mootooMoving Forward Sideways Like a Crab by cisgender queer artist Shani Mootoo is also up for transgender fiction.  I also really loved this elegiac beautifully written book, which is kind of a love letter to a trans parent from a long-lost child.  It’s a complex look at some complex issues, including gender transitions, racism and immigration in Canada, being an artist of colour, and the idea of home.  I was taken by this book right from the first gorgeous line:

Surely it is a failure of our human design that it takes not an hour, not a day, but much, much longer to relay what flashes through the mind with the speed of a hummingbird’s wing.

outer voicesBonus! Vancouver writer Jane Eaton Hamilton is featured in a collection edited by Mark McNease and Stephen Dolainski, Out Voices, Inner Lives, that is up for the LGBT anthology prize.  This is a pretty unique anthology, in that it includes only LGBTQ writers over 50.  Hamilton’s story is called “Just Be Glad You Have High Heels.”

Posted in Alberta, Asian, Bisexual, Butch, Canadian, Caribbean, Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic, Indigenous, Lesbian, Montreal, News, Non-Fiction, Poetry, Postcolonial, Queer, Rural, Shani Mootoo, Short Stories, South Asian, Toronto, Trans Feminine, Trans Masculine, Transgender, Zoe Whittall | Tagged , , | 14 Comments

Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian #2: Lesbian/Bi Dystopian YA Novels

Hi Casey!

I heard about this through the Lez Liberty Lit column on Autostraddle.com and I thought I would see if maybe you could help me out! I’ve been really into reading YA dystopian novels lately (e.g., Divergent series). I would love to read something along those lines with a lesbian major character…not sure if that even exists but it would be nice to read something that I can relate to a little better.

Thanks!

Mary


Hi Mary!

You’re wondering if they are queer dystopian YA (young adult) novels, but you’re not sure they even exist.  Oh Mary, of course they exist and I’m about to tell you right now that you’ve even got lots of choices.  You don’t need to read about straight ass-kicking women in a dystopian future ever again; unless, you know, you want to.  Katniss is pretty rad.

Dystopia literally means “not-good-place” in Greek, which is a pretty straight forward description of the settings in these books, although perhaps a bit euphemistic for the likes of the worlds in series such as Divergent and The Hunger Games.  There are actually a plethora of such books featuring queer women.  You said “lesbian” in your question, and I’m not sure if you’re using that as a catch-all term meaning LBQ women or if you actually just want to read about lesbian-identified characters, but I’m going to go ahead and assume the former, and include some books that feature bi and otherwise-identified girls.  This is also my own (secret) bisexual agenda, since I think it’s good for straight and gay folks alike to read about bi characters.

love globalOnto the books!  So the first one that comes to mind for me is Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block.  Her writing is really great, emotional and kind of pretty and fluttery like the butterflies on the cover of this book, which is set in the aftermath of a natural disaster in LA.  The main character is Penelope—yes, that’s an echo of The Odyssey—and she’s dealing with this world in ruins filled with strange giants with earthquake-inducing powers, while she and some friends are on a strange journey. There’s a romance too, with a trans guy (her past feelings with girls are mentioned, too).  Also, it turns out that only LGBTQ people survived the disaster, which is pretty rad.  This book also has a sequel, which I haven’t read yet and am looking forward to!

Unfortunately, Block’s book is the only one that I’ve personally read, but there are lots of others that sound really awesome.  Another expert lesbrarian Danika of the lesbrary  gave me a ton of suggestions, so thanks Danika!  Here are some ideas:

big big skyFirst of all, I haven’t read Big Big Sky by Kristyn Dunnion, but I have read one of her other books The Dirt Chronicles and it was awesome: tough, sexy, challenging, and gritty.  I’m sure Big Big Sky is great too; it follows four teen girls who are part of a “pod,” a group of female warriors “trained to be aggressive, quick thinking, obedient-though for what exact purpose they couldn’t quite tell you” in a highly gender-segregated future world.  I bet this book has a great rage against the machine, feminist sticking it to the man feel.  According to a review from The Montreal Mirror, the novel is “pushing the YA envelope about as far as it can go without being an actual mail bomb, [and] Dunnion has put together something like a mix between Mad Max and the new Battlestar Gallactica. From Loo’s first words, “Blaaty whafa, Rustle?!” the novel thrashes along with inventive invective.”  What’s not to love?

All the Devils Here by Astor Penn looks pretty interesting.  It follows a former boarding school student Brie caught in the aftermath of some inexplicable biological disaster.  The action takes place after Brie has already long been in the process of surviving and it mostly focuses on her relationship with a fellow survivor, Raven, as well as how surviving has changed her as a person.  Check out Danika’s review here, especially her worries about the descriptions of Raven, who’s black.

zazenZazen by Vanessa Veselka sounds amazing!  It takes place in a really not so distant dystopian future on North America’s west coast, where bombs are going off and no one is quite sure if war is happening or not.  The protagonist, a paleontologist/waitress, is different from other dystopian heroines, in that she is not exactly committed to rebellion: she’s more paralyzed than anything else.  Megan Milks, an author whose wacky writing I really respect, called this book a “queer feminist fight club, a million times more complicated and interesting” in her goodreads review.  Also check out this review in Paste Magazine.

Another book that seems fantastic is The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan.  It’s written in a Scottish dialect, which takes some getting used to, but the premise sounds fascinating: “Hendricks, fifteen, is in the back of a police car, headed for the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders. She can’t remember the events that led her here, but across town a policewoman lies in a coma and there is blood on Anais’s school uniform. Smart, funny and fierce, Anais is a counter-culture outlaw, a bohemian philosopher in sailor shorts and a pillbox hat.”  Is this a dystopian future or present?  Hard to say, but the panopticon (a circular prison in which prisoners have the illusion of being constantly watched) sounds awful enough to be either.  I’m pretty excited to read about this kick-ass bisexual character.

first 20The First Twenty by Jennifer Lavoie is a book being released this year from Bold Stroke Books, and was recommended to me by the publisher.  The world it is set in has been ravaged by multiple global disasters, but pockets of survivors exist.  Peyton is one such survivor, whose loyalties are tested when she meets “Nixie, … one of the few people born with the ability to dowse for water with her body. In a world where safe water is hard to come by, she’s a valuable tool to her people. When she’s taken by Peyton, they’ll do anything to get her back. As the tension between the groups reaches critical max, Peyton is forced to make a decision: give up the girl she’s learned to love, or risk the lives of those she’s responsible for.”  Sounds like a real page-turner, eh?  It comes out in May.

Nora Olsen has two books that fall into a lesbian dystopian vein: Swans and Klons and The End. Swans takes place in a future world without men, where people are grown in labs and there are two groups: Panna (women) and Klons (non-human slaves).  The main character and her girlfriend discover something amiss in their neatly ordered world.  The End seems to be a generic mix of fantasy and nuclear-war aftermath kind of science fiction.  It’s up to “five queer kids [to] save the world,” which, as Danika says in her review, is probably the best tagline ever.  Beware, for Danika these two were the kind of books you want to like more than you actually like, and Sarah at bisexual books says the depiction of disability is problematic.

butterflyBonus! The Butterfly and the Flame by Dana De Young sounds like a fascinating piece of fiction that features a trans teenage girl, Emily, living in 2404, in a post-America that has been taken over by fundamentalist Christians. I can’t for the life of me find out what the main character’s sexual orientation is, so she might be straight, but when did you last read dystopian YA fiction featuring a trans girl?  Never, that’s when.  If you check out this book’s goodreads page, you’ll see it has lots of positive reviews, especially from trans readers, one of whom (someone over at the Bending the Bookshelf blog) has this to say: “Delicately balancing heroism and tragedy, hope and despair, Dana takes the novel to a satisfying – if somewhat sombre – conclusion that lingers in your imagination long after you’re done reading, and which ultimately provides the hope for a better tomorrow.”  FYI, a few trans reviewers said some of the material was triggering for them.

That’s all I’ve got. I considered Malinda Lo’s science fiction duology (Adaptation and Inheritance), which I thought was fantastic, but I don’t think they can really be categorized as dystopian.  Things just aren’t that bad: (spoiler alert) the aliens who have secretly been ruling the earth are actually pretty awesome queer polyamorous wise beings, so…

Any other ideas, readers?

Posted in ask your friendly neighbourhood lesbrarian, Bisexual, Canadian, Fiction, Kristyn Dunnion, Lesbian, Non-Canadian, Queer, Science Fiction, Trans, Trans Feminine, Trans Masculine | Tagged , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian #1: Queer New Adult Books

Hey Casey,

Do you have any suggestions for young adult books that are past high school? I enjoyed The IHOP Papers and You Set Me On Fire but haven’t come across a ton of other books in that category.

Thanks!

Sophie


Hi Sophie!

Thanks for sending me my very first “Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian” question!  This is a very interesting topic you bring up, that of a so-called “new adult” genre/category.  There is some debate as to whether new adult is indeed a legit genre of literature and whether it’s necessary to label books as such.  The term was coined in 2009, according to good old Wikipedia.  Generally, books classified as new adult are said to be a kind of older YA, dealing with characters from ages about 18 to 25—or, as you put it, “past high school.”  It’s a fascinating transitional time, one that’s not too far behind me if truth be told.  You’re technically an adult, officially and all that, but your perspective and life experiences are pretty different from the 30-somethings.  So I think the new adult label can be really useful, just in the same way that labelling a book queer or bisexual or trans can be: it helps you know what’s inside the book and whether it’s what you’re looking for!

Also, traditional YA can sometimes be limited by publishers’, parents’, and schools’ ideas on what is “appropriate” for teenagers.  Of course, in some ignorant people’s minds, LGBTQ material falls right into the category of inappropriate.  Explicit sexuality of any kind usually does.  So do illegal drugs, sexual assault, drinking, and all sorts of other things that actual teenagers have to deal with.  Because the market is different for new adult books, they can avoid those at best unfortunate and at worst useless ideas about what is relevant to teenagers and what they should be reading.

(you) set me on fireRegrettably, there aren’t a lot of books out there being officially labelled new adult (let alone queer new adult), so they can be hard to find.  That’s where I come in!  You mention Mariko Tamaki’s fantastic novel (You) Set Me on Fire, a dark and hilarious book about a disastrous unrequited love story that takes place in an Asian-American girl’s first year of college.  It’s the first book that comes to my mind.  But you’ve already read it!  It seems like you enjoy a raw, darkly humorous voice in a gritty realist setting, since Tamaki’s book and Ali Liebegott’s The IHOP Papers both have that kind of first person perspective.  So here are some other books in a similar vein:

cormorant-BottleRocketHeartsFirst of all, you must read Montreal-born now Toronto-residing Zoe Whittal’s first novel, Bottle Rocket Hearts.  I actually think Whittall is doing what Liebegott and Michelle Tea are trying to do, but much better, and funnier.  Bottle Rocket Hearts follows a Montreal Anglophone, Eve, in her first year of university, learning about queer, feminist, and language politics, earning some street cred, and getting her heart broken by an older Francophone dyke.  It’s dark and cynical, but in a really funny way: Eve tells us things like “Intellectually, non-monogamy made complete sense; emotionally, it felt like sandpaper across my eyelids.”  It’s a wild ride along with Eve on her bike down Rue St. Catherine, wearing silver spray-painted Doc Martens, listening to the new Luscious Jackson CD, on her way to adulthood.

school for girlsSecond, I heartily recommend Miss Timmins’ School for Girls, by Nayana Currimbhoy.  The voice is definitely different from Whittall, Tamaki, and Liebegott, but it’s quite a page-turner, following a 21-year-old brand new boarding school teacher, really not that much older than the fresh faced teenagers in her classes.  Genre-wise, this novel is an awesome mix: it’s mostly a coming of age story for a middle class Indian woman, Charu, focused on her figuring out how to be an adult and being introduced to what her parents hid from her in her sheltered adolescence.  She’s also discovering that she’s bisexual.  But this novel is also a murder mystery, a romance, and a fascinating slice of historical fiction (it’s set in 1970s India).

Here are some ideas for books that I haven’t read myself, but that have been recommended to me in various capacities:

pages for youI first heard of Pages For You by Sylvia Brownrigg in this Autostraddle article, and I pretty much love everything that site produces, so I totally trust their positive review of this novel, which according to them is about “Flannery Jansen [who] is new to practically everything — college, the East Coast, masturbating and dating, to name a few. Anne is the older woman — beautiful, full of worldly knowledge. Aaaand action!”  Apparently you should “[r]ead Pages if you’ve fallen in love (hard), tried to smoke cigarettes to look mysterious (and failed), or dreamed of finally realizing your lesbian powers on a leaf-strewn campus far away from home.”

Laurie Weeks Zipper Mouth 2011Zipper Mouth by New York writer Laurie Weeks came to my attention because it won the Lambda award for lesbian debut fiction in 2012.  The protagonist seems to be similarly self-destructive like the woman in The IHOP Papers, and from the first few pages (I owe a copy but haven’t read it yet!) the writing is experimental but relatively accessible.  This novel has gotten some high praise from the likes of Eileen Myles, Dave Eggers, and Michelle Tea, who says it is “a brilliant rabbit hole of pitch-black hilarity, undead obsession, the horror of the everyday, and drugs drugs drugs.” I can’t confirm the age of the protagonist for sure, but from all the evidence I’ve gathered about her (im)maturity, she can’t be that old.

dreamI am super psyched to read The Dream of Doctor Bantam by Jeanne Thorton, whose vibe and style seem to be right on par with Whittall, Liebegott, Tamaki, Tea, and Weeks.  The main character Julie is 17, and is not in high school, although that’s because she dropped out.  Her sister has recently committed suicide, and she’s falling in love with an older woman who’s involved in a cult eerily reminiscent of Scientology.  Carmen at Autostraddle says “I was ready for romance, for hot summer nights, for a heart beating merely to continue looking for truth…just know it was all of that and more.”  Also, Thornton is trans, and everyone should be reading (more) trans women.

just girlsDanika at the Lesbrary reviewed Rachel Gold’s Just Girls fairly recently, and it falls neatly into the new adult category, following two girls living in a university dorm.  From her review, it sounds complex, thought-provoking, and authentic.  The premise of this novel is interesting, and definitely not without potential controversy: Jess, a cis lesbian who’s been out and proud since high school, deliberately “outs” herself as trans to combat some nasty transphobic gossip going around about a new trans girl in the dorms.  Jess figures she can take the heat off the target of this hate.  The woman who is actually trans is Ella (also, Ella is bisexual).  I can find nothing but positive reviews of this book, but just a disclaimer: none of them are explicitly by trans women and Gold is cis, so you may want to take the reviews with a grain of salt.  Also, trigger warning for mentions of transphobia and rape.

better off redLastly, you might want to check out Better off Red by Rebekah Weatherspoon, also about a girl in her first year of college.  This young woman is in the process of joining a mysterious sorority.  Of course, it’s no ordinary sorority: it’s comprised of lesbian vampires.  I have heard great things about Weatherspoon’s work, which is apparently fun and light like you want a paranormal romance to be, but also smart and well-written.  Oh yeah, and also sexy.  Danika has also reviewed this one.

That’s all I’ve got!  Readers, any other recommendations to add?

Posted in Asian, ask your friendly neighbourhood lesbrarian, Bisexual, Black, Canadian, Coming-of-age, Erotica, Fiction, Lesbian, Mariko Tamaki, Montreal, Non-Canadian, Queer, South Asian, Toronto, Trans, Trans Feminine, Young Adult, Zoe Whittall | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Announcing a Book Advice Column: Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian

This is a post to introduce a new part of Casey the Canadian Lesbrarain which I’m pretty excited about.  I’m going to call it “Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian” and here’s why.  I get asked on a fairly regular basis for book recommendations, LGBTQ and not.  Recommending books for your grandma or your sister who likes “chick lit” or to the really nervous looking teenager asking about lesbian books was the best part of my now long-ago job at Bolen Books (by the by, a great mother and daughter owned independent bookstore in Victoria, B.C.).  Some of my friends treat me as their own personalized book recommendation service, which I couldn’t be happier to provide.  I love recommending books, and I decided that it would be fun and beneficial to share some of my responses to these requests!

stages of text despair

Maybe you’re looking for something that’s funny and so real it hurts like Elisha Lim’s zine Favourite Dating Tales 2009-2013

Sometimes these recommendations can get pretty specific, and they’re usually the kind of thing only a person could recommend to you, rather than an algorithm-based thing, like when goodreads gives you suggestions based on what you’ve read.  Sure, you can do a google search for young adult novels with bisexual girls in them: but how are you going to know which ones are offensive, stereotypical representations, and which ones are awesome?  What about all the books with bisexual content that simply don’t label themselves or their characters at all, or mislabel them as gay or lesbian?  Finding queer content in and of itself can be really frustrating, as I wrote about in detail here and here.

Maybe you’ve recently read a great queer book and want to find more like it in a way that might be difficult to qualify.  Like a comparable style, or narrative voice, or a similarly kick-ass character, or maybe it’s just a feeling or a vibe that you get from the book that’s hard to describe.  Maybe you’ve read all the books by your favourite lesbian author and you want to find a new author who’s similar.  Maybe you’re looking for a parent-friendly book by a trans woman.  Maybe you really love a certain genre and wish you could find some books that combine that with some lady-loving-ladies.

This is my old cat, just looking for another book like Bottle Rocket Hearts.

This is my old cat Finley, just looking for another book like Bottle Rocket Hearts.

To answer all those questions and more, I give you “Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian.”  Please send me questions at casey@uvic.ca and put “Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian” in the subject.  If you want the challenge of 140 characters, feel free to ask me on twitter too: send it to @canlesbrarian. Anything queer and book related I will answer in a post on my blog for maximum benefit to all queer book lovers.  Your questions need not be limited to Canadian books, though of course Canadian related queries are very welcome.  If you have some kind of question about queer literature or LGBTQ book resources (like other blogs) that isn’t necessarily asking for a book recommendation, feel free to send that along too!  I do have half a PhD in Canadian and women’s literature, so if I’m qualified to do anything, it’s tell you about literature.  If I don’t know the full answer, I will be sure to ask some other authorities and give you all the info you need.

Look for the first post in this series soon!

Posted in Bisexual, Lesbian, News, Queer, Trans | Tagged , | 3 Comments

A Valentine’s Day Queer Book Gift Guide

Maybe it’s because I’m a crazy book lover, but to me there is no better present for any occasion than a book.  So, if you’re buying someone—lover, girlfriend, long-term partner—something this Valentine’s Day, consider one of these excellent options:

with a rough tongueWith a Rough Tongue: Femmes Write Porn edited by Amber Dawn and Trish Kelly

I really can’t recommend this book highly enough: it’s sexy as hell, diverse, smart—what more could you want in a collection of erotica?  And it’s all written by femmes! This anthology has something for most people, including stories featuring trans men, bisexual cis women, sex workers, drag queens, vampire BDSM, romance, cunnilingus while driving in a snow storm, and a woman taking revenge on the man who stole her panties at the laundromat.  You’re sending a pretty clear sexy message if you give someone this book on the 14th.

wintersonWritten on the Body by Jeanette Winterson

The message you’re sending with this Winterson book is perhaps less certain than With a Rough Tongue. But you’re undoubtedly showing that you have amazing taste in literature.  Written on the Body is a novel worth reading simply for the gorgeousness of the language alone. Not only is it a beautifully, beautifully written book, it’s a genderless/nameless love story and a philosophical meditation on love: its glory, its pain, its strangeness, its joy, its obsessiveness. That said, perhaps not the best present for someone you haven’t been dating for very long. It might be a tad much.  Wait until next year.

land to light onLand to Light On by Dionne Brand

Poetry, of course, is a natural match for love and romance and everything in between.  And in my humble opinion, there is no better poet writing in English today than Dionne Brand.  It’s kind of hard for me to pick a single collection of hers to recommend, because they’re all just achingly beautiful, showcasing a facility and artistry with language that I’ve just never seen elsewhere.  Land to Light On is an early book of hers, the first one I ever read, and it’s an homage to a failed revolution, praise to the people, and a prayer for the land.  It also contains this:

god, I watched you all, watched and watched and in the end

could not say a word to you that was not awkward and insulting,

there was really no way to describe you and what I wanted

to say came out stiff and old as if I could not trust you

to understand my new language which after all I had made

against you, against the shapes of your bodies, against your

directions, your tongues, the places your feet took you

wanting in arabicWanting in Arabic by Trish Salah

It’s hard to describe love, to write about love in any way, without resorting to tired clichés, metaphors, similes, everything that has been used before, and better, by other people.  In her genre-defying poetry collection, Salah manages to look at some of these old love-tinged images, like roses, and make them fresh.  Some of these poems are romantic, addressed to the beloved; some are sexy, the kind that might make you blush if you read them in public.  It might just be the book to merge the erotic appeal of With a Rough Tongue and the literary allure of Jeanette Winterson, if that’s what you’re going for.

Posted in Amber Dawn, Anthology, Asian, BDSM, Bisexual, Black, Canadian, Caribbean, Dionne Brand, Erotica, Fiction, Lesbian, Non-Canadian, Poetry, Postcolonial, Queer, Romance, Sex Work, Trans, Trans Feminine, Trans Masculine | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The Seeds of a Brilliant Writer: A Review of Shani Mootoo’s Short Story Collection Out on Main Street

out on main street

Beautiful cover, right?

Shani Mootoo is one of my favourite writers, but despite having devoured almost all of her fiction, until recently I had yet to read her very first book, a collection of short stories called Out on Main Street that was published way back in 1993 (I was only 8 years old!).  It’s one of the books that I’ve had a copy of for a while, but had never gotten around to reading.

So, Out on Main Street is definitely an uneven collection: it feels like someone’s first book, for better or for worse.  It’s not bad by any means, but it’s not amazing either.  For anyone who’s new to her work, I would suggest starting with another one of her books, the amazing Cereus Blooms at Night—her first novel—or her most recent, Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab.  Both showcase Mootoo’s talent much better than this book, where you can only see seeds of what makes Mootoo presently a really fantastic writer.  Mootoo is definitely testing the waters and getting her sea legs, as you might say, in this book of short stories.  A few of the pieces fell kind of flat for me: they didn’t feel fully formed, or felt like they were missing something.

That doesn’t mean, however, that there weren’t some standout stories in Out on Main Street.  In particular, the title story is great.  Written in an Indo-Trinidadian dialect, as if right out of the mouth of the narrator, “Out on Main Street” of course refers to “out” in more than one way.  It packs a lot into a small space, investigating the cross-overs of privilege and oppression and intersectionality way before that term was current.  Our precocious protagonist is a butch Indo-Trinidadian woman out in Vancouver’s little India with her femme girlfriend.  Alliances and enemies are made and remade inside an Indian sweet shop, the women quickly turning from outsiders to allies to outsiders again.

As Trinidadians, the women don’t fit into the mold of real Indians:

Another reason we shy to frequent dere is dat we is watered-down Indians—we ain’t good grade A Indians.  We skin brown, is true, but we doh even think ‘bout India unless something happen over dere and it come on de news.

Also, they’re a queer couple who stand out in the heteronormative environment.  But they momentarily bond with the women in the sweet shop over sexism, and with everyone when a couple of racist white guys come in and greet everyone with a butchered version of a Muslim greeting–“Alarm o salay koom”–despite the fact that they’re in a Hindu-owned store.

The story also investigates some really interesting gender dynamics in the women’s butch-femme relationship, especially about how to embody female masculinity without evoking misogyny:

I tell she I don’t know why she don’t cut off all dat long hair, and stop wearing lipstick and eyeliner.  Well, who tell me to say dat!  She get real vex and say dat nobody will tell she how to dress and how not to dress, not me and not any man.

There’s an invitation at the end, just like the narrator finished telling you the story at the kitchen table: “So tell me, what yuh think ‘bout dis nah, girl?”

Shani Mootoo

Shani Mootoo

“Nocturnals” is also stylistically a very interesting story, moving back and forth in time and from dream to reality.  Like “Out on Main Street,” this story also follows an Indo-Trinidadian immigrant to Canada, and the pain of being separated from family. The main character begins the story by telling us: “I cannot get to sleep at night without being plagued by the thought of my mother growing older in another country.”

“Sushila’s Bhakti” features an artist trying to sort out these issues of belonging.  She tells us:

For ten years she had been floating rootlessly in the Canadian landscape, not properly Trinidadian (she could not sing one calypso, or shake her hips with abandon when one was sung—the diligence of being a goodBrahmingirl), not Indian except in skin colour (now, curries and too many spices gave her frightful cramps, and the runs, and in her family a sari had always been a costume), certainly not White and hardly Canadian either.  Except in the sense that Canada was a country full of rootless and floating people.

The story is a fascinating meditation on the condition of so many Canadians, recent and not so recent immigrants.

If you’ve read some of Mootoo’s other work, and are thirsty for more, or if you’d just like to see where this now prolific writer started, I recommend checking this book out!

Posted in Butch, Canadian, Caribbean, Fiction, Lesbian, Postcolonial, Queer, Shani Mootoo, Short Stories, South Asian, Vancouver | Tagged , | 2 Comments