gender roles

Best Reads (and Book Gifts) for the Rest of Us - 2018

Best Reads (and Book Gifts) for the Rest of Us – 2018

This year I set out to read only books by womxn and focused on #OwnVoices books by BIPOC, TGNC, LGBTQ, and international writers.  

I’m on track to read 50 titles and have really enjoyed most of them. I even read a few by men (still #OwnVoices) that I would recommend (you can read those reviews here, here, and here).

In this post, I want to share with you my favorites, by womxn, just in time for gift-giving season! All of these would be great ideas to give to your friend or family member who enjoys reading #OwnVoices.

First, my favorite book of the year:

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

Best Reads (and Book Gifts) for the Rest of Us - 2018

One of the first books I read this year, Freshwater blew my expectations away and set a high bar for my reading during the rest of 2018. Complex and unique, this coming of age story is set against a backdrop of Nigerian spirituality and tradition. With strong themes of gender, sex, relationships, identity, health, violence, and more, Akwaeke Emezi shares their journey and I am here for it.

Read my review here!

Gift to: Friends who enjoy literary fiction, creative memoirs, or symbolic and layered stories; queer or TGNC friends; those who like reading African writers and just magnificent writing.

And to round out the Top 5:

Best Reads (and Book Gifts) for the Rest of Us - 2018A Little in Love with Everyone by Genevieve Hudson

I adore this little book! I’ve read it three times already; it is my book girlfriend. It just really resonated with my own experiences in many ways and I dig Genevieve Hudson’s writing style. The book is genre-defying in that it is part history lesson, part memoir, part biography, part book review, part manifesta, and all homage to Alison Bechdel.

Read my review here!

Gift to: Writers, readers who enjoy memoir, creative friends, lesbian friends, fans of Alison Bechdel’s work.

 

Black Queer Hoe by Britteney Black Rose Kapri

Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot

I didn’t write reviews of these books (yet?) but LOVED them. I am skeptical that I could write reviews that could do them justice. I was so ready for the (often very different) tones of these books. Juxtaposing them makes sense to me; I feel both – sometimes in the same day.

Gift Black Queer Hoe to readers who like poetry, readers who don’t like poetry, fans of spoken word, queer friends, your best girl friend from waaay back who is apologetically strong and takes no shit. Also consider pairing this with José Olivàrez’s Citizen Illegal, which is equally amazing.

Gift Heart Berries to friends who enjoy creative memoir, poetic writing, and deep or emotional books; those looking to hear Indigenous womxn’s voices; those who don’t mind books that make them cry.

 

Best Reads (and Book Gifts) for the Rest of Us - 2018Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

This is a beautifully written book; Ingrid Rojas Contreras is just a fantastic storyteller. Her characters are fully and meticulously developed and I felt invested in them, their lives, and their survival. It inspired me to learn more about Colombia, its past and present, especially regarding womxn’s roles and rights.  An amazing debut based on the life the author.

Read my review here!

Gift to: Friends who enjoy historical fiction, creative memoirs, rich character and plot development, coming of age stories. Those looking for Latina/x voices and great writing will not be disappointed.

 

And the remainder of the Top 10:

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

I read this book very early in the year and was excited by its brave girl lead characters. This alone is reason enough to read the book but I knew it was important to push myself past the initial awe at this story of strength and resiliency. When I did, I experienced an even deeper story of multidimensional characters navigating their lives and attempting to balance tradition with self-realization.

Read my review here!

Gift to: Those who like international stories, stories of resilience and friendship; friends with girl children; those who appreciate rich characters and holistic plots.

 

Suicide Club by Rachel Heng

Despite the premise of the book, I found this one fun! One of the strengths of Heng’s writing – and there are many – is her commitment to detail. Her ability to describe this near-future world is rivaled only by her presentation of it; while she is descriptive in her storytelling, Heng also trusts her reader to put the various pieces together.

Read my review here!

Gift to: Those who enjoy dystopian and speculative fiction and books that make you wonder what you would do in that situation; those who like family dramas, strong character development, and unique plots.

 

Unpologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements by Charlene Carruthers

I haven’t reviewed this one (yet?) but it is an amazing resource. Accessible and pragmatic, the book explains the Black Queer Feminist (BQF) framework and provides examples of it at work.

Gift to: Your activist friends and your academic friends;  your friend who runs a local non-profit org doing imperative, yet largely invisible, work for amazing, yet largely invisible, people in the community;  you funder friends (with a card stuck inside the cover of your friend who runs the non-profit).

 

Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires

This is another one that I loved and didn’t review. Another one that I honestly got stuck trying to figure out how to do it justice. This book was not written for me and I am sure some of the nuances were lost. But it was one of the most important reads of the year for me. It deserves a second and third reading.

Gift to: Busy readers who dig powerful, witty short stories with meaning; those who enjoy really good writing; readers who like literary fiction with sharp corners.

 

Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes on the Disaster Capitalists by Naomi Klein

While Naomi Klein’s book explores only one facet of the effects of Maria on Puerto Rico – disaster capitalists setting their sights on Puerto Rico in its vulnerable post-Maria state – it is an imperative issue to address. Only a brief (although necessary) introduction, the book offers a firm foundation to understanding disaster capitalism, the shock doctrine phenomenon, and how Puerto Rico was susceptible to more than just hurricane damage when Maria struck.

Read my review here!

Gift to: Anyone interested in Puerto Rico, the effects of colonialism, capitalism, and/or natural disasters, or the empowerment of local people to lead the efforts of rebuilding how they see fit.

 

Honorable mentions:

I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya

I hadn’t planned to read this one but when I received a copy from the publisher at a conference, I couldn’t help but race through this short but powerful work that feels like having a meaningful and candid conversation with a girlfriend.

Gift to: Queer or TGNC friends, accomplices who appreciate reading #OwnVoices books, friends who like reading memoirs, friends who want to understand more of the nuances of gender identity and non-comformity to established binary norms.

 

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

This was the biggest surprise of the year for me. I knew it was going to be good but as one who doesn’t read reviews before I pick up a book, I was pleasantly surprised by the unexpected turns, the complex lead characters, and the surprising plot twists.

Read my review here!

Gift to: Those who enjoy historical fiction, engaging or epic plots, full character development, and underdog stories; science-y, adventurous, or fantastical friends.

 

And last, but certainly not least: 

When a Bulbul Sings by Hawaa Ayoub

I wouldn’t have known about this book if it wasn’t for the author herself reaching out to me and I am so glad she did! This is a case of self-publishing that succeeds. Based on Hawaa Ayoub’s own life experiences, this book is a brave retelling of a girl’s coming of age against a backdrop of forced child marriage in Yemen.

Read my review here!

Gift to: Friends who like creative memoirs, stories from international authors, tales of resilience and family drama; those who are passionate about gender equality and interested in understanding (or resisting) traditional gender roles; those who appreciate detailed character and setting development.

 

Have you read any of these? What are your thoughts?

What were your favorite reads of 2018?

 

This post contains affiliate links; I write what I like.

Leaving the Queer Desert: A Review of Genevieve Hudson’s A LITTLE IN LOVE WITH EVERYONE

Can one be in love with a book?

Like, have an ongoing relationship with it in which you spend time with it, learn new things from it, appreciate and value it, grow from it?

And I’m not talking about being in love with a book like some of those women are in love with, like, bridges or the Eiffel Tower. (You know you watched that show too, don’t lie.)

I feel as bibliophiles, we are touched by books, especially those handful of favorites. Our understanding of them, ourselves, and others evolves each time we read them – and we read them many, many times over.

I think I had my first romance of this type with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I mean, I had many favorite childhood books such as A Wrinkle in Time, Island of the Blue Dolphins, and (like every other young, eager-to-be-grown-up white girl?) all the Judy Blume books, but this one was different. Perhaps it was because it was the first time I really understood Shakespeare. Or maybe it was spritish Puck. I don’t know but for some reason, I just loved it.

On the Road by Jack KerouacBut my longest and most in-depth book relationship is probably with On the Road. There is something about the way Jack Kerouac turned a phrase that perfectly captures my own desire for freedom and getting lost and finding my own way in the midst of an anxious and overactive mind. I can’t imagine how many times I’ve read it and will read it again.

I’ve never met another person whose heart melts for The Grapes of Wrath as mine does. Damn, I love those Joads. Jane Eyre and The Color Purple and The Awakening and Native Son…I have ongoing relationships with these stories and each time I revisit them, I pick up something new. I see a glimmer of some layer that I had previously missed. Perhaps it’s some small detail or the way a previously ordinary passage stands out to me when I read it again years later.

Life is So Good by George DawsonBut books certainly don’t have to be canonical “classics” to steal your heart. And just because one pulls at my heartstrings doesn’t mean it automatically will for you. In my adulthood, I sat down with Life is So Good by George Dawson and fell head over heels. I am full of gratitude every time I read it.

This is what I love about reading. I can get lost in almost any book with a rise and fall, a couple of complicated characters, and a setting I can envision. Simple, right?

But with really good books, I mean books that I really fall in love with, I don’t only want an escape. I want it to have meaning in my real life. I want to be there with it, with all it offers. I will stick with it through good and bad. I will visit and revisit it. I will read specific passages over and over and ruminate on them from different perspectives. I keep it for years…on my writing table for inspiration, next to the bed to annotate the margins when the feeling strikes, or even on the highest shelf of my wall of books because I know I will never part with it.

That’s the power of a really great fucking book. It endures. I give and it gives back. Over and over again.

I think this is the type of relationship that Genevieve Hudson has with Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home. And likewise, it’s the relationship I am growing with Hudson’s A Little in Love with Everyone.

Little in Love with Everyone by Genevieve Hudson

Simply put: I adore this book. It is a slim, adorable volume of only 142 pages which includes a kick-ass bibliography but by goddess, it packs a punch. It has all the facets I look for in a lasting book relationship and then some; I’ve already read it three times. And yes, it keeps on giving.

The book is genre-defying in that it is part history lesson, part memoir, part biography, part book review, part manifesta, and all homage to Bechdel. How Hudson included such variety in this one little book is a testament to her writing skills and is just, well, interesting as hell. Her examination of Bechdel and Fun Home is imbued with a curiosity and understanding that is enlightening and refreshing. While I have read Fun Home and really enjoyed it, it’s been a little while and sometime I’d like to read it again and then re-read A Little in Love with Everyone ; just to see Fun Home through Hudson’s eyes.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

 

 

As a memoirist, Bechdel’s job is to tell the truth about herself, and her father’s suicide and sexuality are intrinsically bound up in her own story. To read Fun Home is to see Bechdel wrestle with the question of truth – how well her father hid his, and what it means for her to tell her own (pp. 17-18).

 

 

As I mentioned above, Hudson is just a good writer. Her instincts are magical. She gives you glimpses into her life growing up questioning and exploring her sexuality and then eventually, her coming out as a lesbian. While using Fun Home and Bechdel’s life as a backdrop, Hudson examines not only her own life experiences but also topics such as embodiment, gender, truth, visibility, self-acceptance, and more. Her vulnerability spoke to me and I appreciated her risk-taking throughout the book.

I wanted to make out with S by accident. I wanted us to end up kissing without anyone having to consciously make the decision to kiss or be held accountable for it. I wanted the kissing to just start happening (p. 3). 

Clearly, any book that waxes poetic on the power of reading and storysharing to change lives automatically scores points with me. But Hudson does this really well, just sort of dropping bell hooks and Dorothy Allison and Maggie Nelson throughout. She also points to bookish details in Bechdel’s cartoons, such as specific book covers being drawn in panels where Bechdel is having sex or hearing life-changing news. The influence of amazing literature by womxn on Bechdel and on Hudson and their writing is gratifying and exhilarating.

In the corner of one panel, Bechdel has drawn the book Sappho Was a Right-On Woman, filling in the small queer details that had begun to infuse her life (p. 21).

Of course, the reader will understand her admiration of Fun Home and Bechdel more generally, but Hudson also explains her appreciation for reading lists provided by other authors. What I love is that in doing so, Hudson herself leaves us with her own illuminating reading list (the titles of which I quickly added to my own TBR list).

As bibliophiles (and the author clearly is), we get the importance of reading but Hudson teeters on the edge of full-fledged librarianhood when she discusses the importance of telling, sharing, and archiving our own stories. BIPOC, queer people, disabled people, women, and people of other underrepresented populations must tell their own stories.

Representation matters. Voice matters. And having heroes in whom you can see yourself is imperative.

There was no one to talk to about what I was going through. The only thing that seemed to know anything was books. In books, everything seemed to have happened to everybody already. There was peace in that, a kind of solidarity. Literature holds power (p. 125).

I love this about Hudson’s book. Clearly in Bechdel’s work, Hudson found stories in which she could see herself, in which she received validation and clarification, and in which she witnessed hope and celebration.

Genevieve Hudson

Genevieve Hudson

 

 

Are we, as queers, necessarily educators? Are we called to tell our truth by virtue of our identities? Are our bodies radical, our identities political, our work archive-able? Are we heroes just by existing?

I think the answer is yes (p. 105).

 

 

Hudson has paid it forward with A Little in Love with Everyone and she will undoubtedly inspire and comfort others as Bechdel did for her.  

 

Find Genevieve Hudson online at https://genevievehudsonwriter.com/ and on Twitter @genhudson. Her new book, Pretend We Live Here (Stories), will be published by Future Tense Books and released in July. 

Summary:

Little in Love with Everyone by Genevieve Hudson

 

Title: A Little in Love with Everyone
Author: Genevieve Hudson
Publisher: Fiction Advocate
Pages: 156
Publication Date: February 20, 2018
My Rating: Essential

 

 

 

 

A Little in Love with Everyone: Alison Bechdel's Fun Home



Disclosures:
I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Genevieve Hudson and Fiction Advocate!
This post contains affiliate links. Please support independent booksellers!

Review of Shobha Rao's Girls Burn Brighter

The Light Within: A Review of Shobha Rao’s GIRLS BURN BRIGHTER

Shobha Rao’s Girls Burn Brighter is an intense story of survival and sisterhood. 

And so much more.

Set in India against a backdrop of a strict caste system, arranged marriages, and harsh poverty, the two main characters of Rao’s poetic story develop an unlikely friendship that proves to be an enduring constant on which they build the strength needed to endure the violence and powerlessness they experience. This alone is reason enough to read the book but I knew it was important to push myself past the initial awe at this story of strength and resiliency. When I did, I experienced an even deeper story of multidimensional characters navigating their lives and attempting to balance tradition with self-realization.

The book begins with a story about a temple in the village of Indravalli and the old childless woman who was responsible for growing the trees whose wood was used to build it. Referring to the trees as her children, the old woman is complimented on her good fortune to have so many sons. At this, with “her eyes on fire,” the woman quickly gives the correction that the trees are not her sons but her daughters. This story and its subtle emphasis on fire, wholeness, and the girl-child sets the tone for the book and these recurring themes.

As the book continues, the reader witnesses Rao’s distinct talent for detailed descriptions of the surroundings of her main characters, Poornima and Savitha. She offers us a vibrant, albeit stark, picture of life in Indravalli and the ever-present gender inequities women face. Both characters experience trauma that forces them apart and drastically changes the trajectories of their lives.

Shobha Rao

Shobha Rao

 

 

There was a door, she remembered, a hidden one. Where all her treasures lay. And it remained closed, through the tea stall and the concrete room and the drugs, through the men and the men and the men. And it was through this door that the words found their way. 

 

 

 

In her book, as in her BookPage “Behind the Book” article, Rao challenges her reader to reflect upon what a girl is worth.

A brown girl. A poor girl. A disabled girl. An uneducated girl. An ugly girl.  

A girl in Khayelitsha, South Africa. A girl in Aleppo, Syria. A girl in Indravalli, India.

Any girl.

What is she worth, anyway? And why should we care?

Throughout Girls Burn Brighter, we must keep these questions in our minds. We must answer them honestly, then interrogate and re-interrogate those answers as well as our biases to get to the truth. The truth may be uncomfortable and unexpected. But to go through this process by reading this book and others like it, is one place to begin to explore the worth of girls. To see their light, their wisdom, their energy, their complexities, their fire, their spirit burning brighter.   

For further reading:

Summary:

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

Title: Girls Burn Brighter
Author: Shobha Rao
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Pages: 320
Publication Date: March 6, 2018
My Rating: Highly recommended

Girls Burn Brighter: A Novel


Disclosures:
I received this ebook from NetGalley. This review is honest and my own.
This post contains affiliate links. Support your local independent bookstore!

Purity Myth

The Purity Myth – A Brief Review of the Documentary

The Purity Myth (2011) – Jessica Valenti’s documentary (based on her 2009 book of the same name) unraveling the myth that virginity is the ultimate measure of a woman’s character. Not only does abstinence-only education not work but it actually can do some major damage to a girl’s sense of agency and self-worth. The purity movement is really about restoring traditional gender roles and reinforces the notion that women must be passive, submissive, and under the protection of a man, be it their father, brother, or husband. This movement would have us believe that women can’t be moral on their own terms by means of their own agency. This doc isn’t winning any filmmaking awards but Valenti’s message is spot-on. It’s starting to look dated but still would be a valuable addition to any GWS-focused class and is available via Kanopy streaming video platform.

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