queerlit50


Queer Authors 50 Book Challenge


6. Kate Bornstein, My New Gender Workbook
cartoon wolf
lizw
I picked this up because, after years of identifying as femme, I was conscious that my sense of gender had shifted quite a bit, and I wanted to work through what that meant to me. I never read the old edition of this book, but from what I gather, the main difference is that the new one has a lot of discussion of intersectionality. I get the impression that the concept was still quite new to Bornstein when she wrote the revisions, and it shows a bit; it approaches intersectionality very much as something that may shed additional light on gender and never really looks at how some gender discourse might inadvertently contribute to other forms of oppression. That said, the theory section does explain the basics of gender theory pretty well and would be worth giving to a newcomer to the issue for that alone. Personally, given my objective in reading this, I probably got most out of the second part of the book, which consists of exercises to help you understand your own gender better; the third part, which offers suggestions for how to "do" your gender, assumes that the reader is trans and therefore didn't have much for me as a cis person. Normally I wouldn't mind this, because more stuff that isn't about the privileged people is generally a good thing; but there was more than a whiff of "everyone's trans really" about the way the assumption was presented, and that grated.

5. John and Carole E. Barrowman, The Bone Quill
cartoon wolf
lizw
This is the second in a children's fantasy trilogy written by John Barrowman (actor-singer, best known in the UK as Captain Jack Harkness in Doctor Who and Torchwood) with his sister, Carole. It's set on an altered-geography version of Cumbrae, an island I've been visiting almost annually since childhood. I read the first of the trilogy last year and enjoyed it, but had some concerns about some of the ethical implications of the worldbuilding that didn't seem to be fully recognised in the text. Briefly, this is a universe where a minority have psychic powers, some of which are dangerous, and the in-universe solution is to assign the dangerous ones a "Guardian" from amongst the "safe" ones who exercises a form of mental control over them. My problem is that this setup is presented as a good and even a romantic thing. I'd hoped that the sequel might explore some of the darker implications, but it didn't, and there was nothing lead me to expect that the final instalment will, either. Compared to the first in the series, I was also more conscious with this one of being nearly four decades older than the target audience. For instance, I think if I'd read this as an eight-year-old, I might have been less bothered by the lack of any real evidence of religion in the medieval monastery where part of the action takes place. Given all of that, I think I probably won't bother to read the third.

4. Gede Parma, By Land, Sky and Sea: Three Realms of Shamanic Witchcraft
cartoon wolf
lizw
Before I started this challenge, I read Parma's first book, Spirited - a 102-level book for Wiccans and Neopagans - and liked the writing style. I have recently joined a Druid organisation, and since Druidry tends to work with the Three Realms of Celtic mythology rather than the four elements preferred in Wicca and much ceremonial magic, I was interested to see what he had to say on this topic. Unfortunately, the title turned out to be rather misleading; there is very little reference at all to the Celtic background of the Three Realms concept, which is perhaps explained by the fact that not a single entry in the bibliography is a source that focuses on that culture. Although it does nominally have one section dedicated to each of the Realms, the assignment of topics to those sections seems a bit random. I also found the ordering of the sections counter-intuitive; Parma suggests that the Sky realm is the most alien to our ordinary experience, so it would make more sense to me to place it last rather than second. However, as a 201 book for Wiccans or other eclectic Neopagans - which in fairness is pretty much what it's intended to be, judging from the introduction - this probably isn't bad; it just wasn't what I was expecting from the title or from my previous reading of Parma.

ETA: I have a version of this review on my own journal, and oakmouse commented over there to say that the Druid Revival end of the Druidry spectrum does tend to use the four elements and not the Three Realms (unlike ADF, which is closer to the reconstructionist end, although it does not actually define as reconstructionist). I'm grateful for the correction.

3. Angela Y. Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete?
cartoon wolf
lizw
I see I didn't post this here when I first read it for some reason. I was a bit disappointed by it; I didn't really feel Davis answered the question of the title. She seemed to spend most of the chapters showing how racist and sexist the prison system is, which I kind of already knew, although I did learn some new detail about the US version. There was very little about restorative justice or other alternatives to prison. Pointing out the oppression that's endemic in the prison system is important, but I'd have liked to hear more about possible solutions too.

2. Tove Jansson, A Winter Book
cartoon wolf
lizw
This is a collection of Jansson's semi-autobiographical prose. I wanted to like this, because Moomins, but I just didn't get on with her authorial voice, at least as translated here. I'm not sure I can articulate my reasons any more than that.

1. Angel Kyodo Williams, Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living With Fearlessness and Grace
cartoon wolf
lizw
Starting this challenge a bit late, but better late than never! I reviewed this book on my own journal and on 50books_poc earlier this week, but delayed posting here because I wasn't sure whether Angel Kyodo Williams is queer. I've now found a post on her blog where she talks about being interviewed with a female partner for OUT magazine some years ago, so I feel okay to post. In this book, she interweaves episodes from her life with an introduction to Buddhist teachings and commentary on some ways that Buddhist insights can be applied in the context of black experience. She does not directly address homophobia; she mentions a partner a few times, but without specifying gender.

What Williams writes about Buddhism was not new to me, but the memoir sections were engaging. I'm not qualified to comment on what she says about Buddhism as a way of addressing one's experience of racism; if someone made equivalent suggestions about how I as a disabled bisexual woman should deal with my experience of patriarchy, biphobia or ableism, I think I'd feel that the experience was being trivialised, but of course different oppressions are experienced differently by different people.

David Levithan, "The Lover's Dictionary"
teapot
el_staplador
A beautifully spare love story, giving just enough detail, and drawing the reader in with clever use of second-person pronouns - and never, so far as I can see, revealing the gender of the other party, the more readily to allow identification. To Levithan's great credit, the dictionary conceit didn't pall (and I say this as someone who's tired of dictionary definitions popping up on flyleaves and elsewhere one might expect an edifying quotation or whatever). An engaging, bittersweet book.

ed. Jeanette Winterson, "Midsummer Nights"
teapot
el_staplador
I went into the library for something else entirely, and came away with this. Doesn't it always happen that way?

Something of a curiosity, this - a collection of stories by the great and the good of British literature today, plus a cartoon by Posy Simmonds, all commissioned to celebrate Glyndebourne's 75th anniversary. Each story takes an opera (or, sometimes, more than one) as a starting point and sees where it takes it. Here is Winterson:

"Opera has always needed a story. Some inspirations are direct - like Britten's Turn of the Screw, or Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, and others, like Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, or Verdi's Rigoletto, take a story and shift it. Why not take an opera and shift it?"

And this results in some very striking stories. From the fantastical ("First Lady of Song", riffing on The Makropoulos Affair) to the serious ("Freedom", drawing on ideas of race and identity and the life of John McCormack), the slyly self-referential ("To Die For"), the elegiac ("La Fille de Mélisande") - it's a lovely collection. What they all conveyed, though, was the sheer attraction of narrative, of story, whether translated into music or not.

I like this way of writing; I even thought about writing one myself. Largely, one didn't need to know the opera to 'get' the story, though there a few that I want to seek out now.

Nancy Garden, "Good Moon Rising"
teapot
el_staplador
Annie On My Mind for the nineties. Same author, and covering the same sort of themes - coming out at high school, experience of homophobia, vocation to the arts. The school is co-educational now, and the setting has moved from the city to the back of beyond, but there are definite echoes of Garden's earlier (and more famous?) work.

Which is not to say that this was not an enjoyable book in its own right. It contained many of my favourite tropes: coming out (to oneself, particularly), platonic female/male friendship, school... I particularly loved the theatrical theme (even if the parallels with The Crucible made me roll my eyes a bit). In places I found it too painful to read much at a time, but it's ultimately a moving, hopeful novel.

'Affinity' by Sarah Waters
sally - 30s dress headshot
annwfyn
Hrm.

This is the fourth Sarah Waters book I've read, and I think it's the first I'm really unsure about. It is a good book, for sure. I know it's a good book, it's an interesting book and it's an immaculately researched book, set in Victorian London and based in the world of Victorian spiritualism and women's prisons. It is about a 'Lady Visitor' at a woman's prisoner, Margaret, who meets Selina, a medium imprisoned for fraud and assault, who she finds herself strangely drawn to. Selina and Margaret are well designed and believable characters, and there is a carefully structured story which leads up to an almost inevitable ending. And yet I still feel ambivalent about it.

It's hard to explain why without spoilers. I suppose I can say that it is quite a dark novel - darker than Sarah Waters other novels (except maybe 'A Little Stranger'), with a lot of cruelty and not a lot of relief from this in the world she portrays. I also found myself really liking Margaret, and felt almost heartbroken watching her story unfold, with a miserable inevitability.

I do recommend it, but will say that in advance it is quite a downbeat novel, with nothing resembling a happy ending.

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