Books to Show Your Pride
June is Pride Month, and this year its an especially turbulent one at that. With so much heartbreak and turmoil across our country this week over the tragedy in Orlando, there’s no better time to find strength, solace, and community with some amazing queer voices and stories.
- •Stone Butch Blues by Leslie FeinbergWritten by activist Leslie Feinberg, this novel draws on her life experiences to tell the fictional story of Jess Goldberg, plagued from a young age by the feeling of not fitting in, particularly into the gender binary. Published 1993, it won the Lambda Literary Award and was an early work to deal frankly with the tension between transgender and lesbian communities, and the difficulties of gender expression when you don’t fit the “norm.”
- •Whipping Girl by Julia SeranoJulia Serano is an American writer and activist whose work has been highly influential on questions of trans rights and trans women’s issues. In Whipping Girl, Serano tackles transphobia from a feminist perspective, arguing that transphobia and transmisogyny in particular is rooted in sexism, and that transgender activism is a feminist movement. She deconstructs common narratives about trans women, both the academic and the popular.
- •Two Boys Kissing by David LevithanThis 2014 Lambda Literary Award winner by Levithan (also the author of Every Day and co-author of Will Grayson, Will Grayson) follows Harry and Craig, two seventeen year olds taking part in a marathon kissing session to break the Guinness World Record. The book follows the stories of several characters in a group of teens struggling with questions of identity and belonging.
- •Ash by Malinda LoThis bisexual retelling of the Cinderella story is a captivating new take on the old, familiar fairy tale. Ash, left at the mercy of her stepmother after her father dies, dreams of being stolen away by the fairies. When she meets the beautiful but dangerous Sidhean, it seems she might get what she wants — but then she meets the King’s huntress Kaisa, and she realizes there might be something in the real world worth having after all.
- •Written on the Body by Jeanette WintersonMany of Jeanette Winterson’s novels have explicitly lesbian themes. In this novel, the narrator is not given explicit gender; sometimes addressing the reader and sometimes addressing the beloved, this novel is something exceptional. The narrator is a lifelong philanderer who finds themself captivated by the unhappily married Louise. Sensual and erotic, this book’s language is especially rewarding.
- •If Not, Winter by Sappho/Anne CarsonThis new translation of Sappho’s fragments by poet Anne Carson presents the Ancient Greece and English texts as if on ragged papyrus, evoking the empty places left by time in Sappho’s work. Combining the beauty of Sappho’s ancient work with one of the most talented and innovative modern poets yields an exceptional new take on this millennia-old poetry, much of it addressed to a female beloved.
- •Another Country by James BaldwinSet in a variety of locations in the 1970s, master writer James Baldwin evokes the lives of many and varied individuals and their passions, exploring racial and sexual politics, bisexuality and interracial marriage. The downfall of jazz drummer Rufus precipitates the fraying of his group of friends.
- •Prelude to Bruise by Saeed JonesContemporary poet Saeed Jones’ book of debut poems is a powerful, searing collection, a coming of age narrative that centers the queer black experience and explores boyhood and challenges expectations surrounding conversations about masculinity and race. Widely praised and nominated for multiple awards (and winner of a Lambda Literary Award), Saeed Jones’ poems are lyrical and powerful.
- •Trans: A Memoir by Juliet JacquesThis memoir by Juliet Jacques tracks her life from youth to the present, working in the field of publishing and writing from straight out of college. Navigating a world in which transgender people are misunderstood, ignored, or worse, Jacques starts to become herself, and move toward the process of medically transitioning. She interweaves the personal with the political throughout, creating a memoir of unflinching honesty and frequent humor.
- •Tipping the Velvet by Sarah WatersThis mainstay of lesbian novels remains one of Waters’ best loved works. A young woman from a seaside town in England becomes enamoured of a “masher” or male impersonator, Kitty. Following her to London, she weaves her way through London life, finding various ways to support herself. Dickens-esque but beautifully sensual, this novel is a treat for the senses.
- •Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Charles BlowFrequently compared to James Baldwin, Charles Blow’s memoir of his childhood in a segregated Louisiana town, growing up one of five children. Blow’s writing digs deep into the intersection of sexuality and race, a book powerful and sometimes painful that ultimately moves into healing, touching beauty and hope as well as cruelty and despair.
- •The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna NorthNorth’s novel has five different perspectives on the titular character, a budding documentarian who moves to New York and finds herself fascinated with a young woman who allows Sophie to film her, making them both famous. Sophie is a complex and complicated character, and the reader is only allowed to see her through the eyes of others — including her lover, Allison. North dissects the cost of genius, the toll the pursuit of fame can take on people and the balance between morality and artistry.
- •The Ghost Network by Catie DiSabatoLayers of mystery and conspiracy abound in this novel, about the disappearance of famous singer Molly Metropolis and the personal assistant and journalist who team up to look for her, with only her journal as a clue. Dense with pop culture references and exploration of celebrity culture, The Ghost Network is also an engaging novel that will drop you down the rabbit hole — and make you glad you went.
- •Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo OkparantaThis debut novel by the Nigerian-born Okparanta tells the story of Ijeoma, displaced by civil war, only to meet and fall in love with another girl. Okparanta explores the political upheaval in the young republic of Nigeria through the lives and relationship of these two women, while also telling a personal story about love and selfhood.
- •Batwoman: Elegy by Greg RuckaVeering out of the literary a little ways — this comic focuses on Kate Kane aka Batwoman, a Jewish lesbian who was kicked out of the army when she was outed. Seeking to correct wrongdoing and pursue justice, she puts on her own version of the Batman costume and independently fights crime while negotiating a relationship with her detective girlfriend Renee Montoya.