The queer-identified community in Brooklyn loves to read. As a queer-identified staff member of The Feminist Press, a bookseller at Greenlight Bookstore, and someone who enjoys the written word, I am delighted to suggest a few queer reads to end the summer season with, or at least make a nice transition into fall. While there are numerous titles that I could recommend, for now I want to give a diverse list, ranging from classic literature to more contemporary works of fiction and non-fiction for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!
The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall
Hailed as the lesbian novel, The Well of Loneliness was incredibly controversial when it was first published in the 1920s. Hall’s writing is exquisite. There are parts where I stopped to reread sentences and admire her prose. In this novel we are introduced to Stephen Gordon, a feisty, somewhat tortured character. The reader follows Stephen from her precocious childhood to adulthood where Stephen comes into her own as a successful writer. However, Stephen knows that her “sexual inversion” makes her different. I think that this book is so wonderfully complex in how and what Stephen has to negotiate, both within herself and with those around her. This book takes a commitment to get through (at times it can be a little slow) but it is well worth it!
Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde
If you have not read this memoir, or “biomythography” as Lorde called it, then it is time to get with it! I cannot tell you how many times I have revisited this book. Lorde writes about her childhood growing up in New York City as the daughter of West Indian parents; how they attempted to make a life for themselves during a time when overt racism was the norm. This biomythography gets even better as Lorde talks about what it was like trying to survive as a black lesbian when it was not only hard to be black but also queer. Lorde writes with a confidence and self-love that I admire and mainly what made this book so thrilling to read.
Hers3: Brilliant New Fiction By Lesbian Writers Edited by Terry Wolverton and Robert Drake
I love a good anthology of fiction and aside from specialized stores the selection of gay and lesbian fiction has been sparse with only gay and lesbian erotica being offered. While I have nothing against racy literature, there are so many good stories featuring lesbian, gay, and transgendered characters that do not get written or talked about. Hers3: Brilliant New Fiction by Lesbian Writers is a part of a series titled Hers as well as a version for the guys called His. Admittedly, the anthology titles are not that appealing, but the stories in this particular anthology are really well-written. Starting with a couple fighting over a french press –which later speaks to a bigger issue –to a young woman who is reconnected to a lover just released from prison; the array of characters, from different backgrounds and lifestyles, make this collection very engaging.
Like Son by Felicia Luna Lemus
Frank Cruz, born Francesa, is one of the most interesting characters that I came across on the page. Upon his death, his father leaves Frank with a photo of a striking woman named Nahui Olin, a bohemian artist from the early Mexican avant-garde era. Throughout the novel Frank grapples with being himself, solving the connection between Nahui and his family and the bittersweet experience of tumultuous love. Lemus is an extremely talented writer and crafts a great story. I highly recommend this book.
Southland by Nina Revoyr
Nina! Oh, Nina! What a novel! I loved this book! With a captivating plot and well constructed characters, I was so eager to find out what happened next. Set in Los Angeles's Crenshaw district, a once racially mixed community, Southland tells the story of Jackie Ishida, a young Japanese-American woman, who learns of some startling news regarding her family and bringing to light an incredible secret. Jackie embarks on a quest to find out what happened and enlists help along the way. Revoyr provides an interesting historical account on the Crenshaw district, and at the same time commenting on race, nationality, and the idea of the "other."
Blue Boy by Rakesh Satyal
I had the pleasure of reading this book last summer and seeing Satayel read at Word Bookstore in Greenpoint. This novel is about a 12 year-old, South Asian boy, who also happens to be gay, named Kiran who is coming of age in the Midwest. He loves to put on his mother’s make-up, dream up (and construct) elaborate costumes and practice his dance moves to popular songs at the time. He soon believes that the reason no one understands him is because he is the reincarnation of Krishnaji, a Hindu deity –who is often portrayed as a young boy and who also happen to be blue. There are many times that I laughed out loud throughout this novel due to Kiran’s antics and Satayel’s great writing.
The Book of Salt by Monique Truong
I was really intrigued when I read the synopsis of this story: a gay, Vietnamese man who ends up answering an ad requesting a cook. However, the position as a cook takes him to 27 rue de Fleurus which happens to be the home of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Tolkas. At first I had to get used to Truong’s ethereal and poetic prose –but it is a novel that I came to enjoy and found quite charming on many levels, especially as Binh or “Thin Bin” as Stein calls him relays stories of the famous, artistic salons that were often held by Stein and Tolkas.
King Kong Theory by Virginie Despentes
Filmmaker and author, Despentes, provides crass, provocative and intelligent commentary on the way sex and gender are discussed and shaped in our society and how they mold other facets of our lives. This mini ‘manifesta’ can be read relatively quickly, but I guarantee you will want to revisit it again and again. This book is for anyone who enjoys cerebral stimulation and challenging the "rules".
I hope this list proves to be a good starting point for some and maybe a return to excellent works of writing for others.
Greenpointer Natalie Peart is a Caribbean-American publishing industry rookie living in Brooklyn. With a degree from the University of South Florida in Women's Studies and a double minor in Spanish and Public Health she works as a bookseller at Greenlight Books in Fort Greene and for The Feminist Press.