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12 Queer Reads for Quarantine

12 Queer Books (this year's reading) by Sonja Franeta For quarantine time, here are some lesbian-themed books that I highly recommend, every one. The only one I haven’t finished is Fiebre Tropical but it has been talked about and recommended by people I trust. I hope you can find some books that appeal to you here. While this is a time of global reflection, I must say how proud I am that we queer people have been building such a strong literary tradition and culture. The novels I have read this past year that are in the queer category have been exceptionally wonderful. I have not included two books, also this year’s reads, by gay men that I greatly admire: Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We Were Briefly Gorgeous and the memoir by Saeed Jones: How We Fight for Our Lives. Besides being an avid reader and college writing teacher, I am also an author in these queer times, having published two books of my own both in Russian and in English: Pink Flamingos: 10 Siberian Interviews, and My Pink Road to Russia. As the global pandemic is raging, we are having to stay close to home. Therefore, besides watching movies and connecting with people by phone and on Zoom, a great thing to do is read. For those of you interested in queer themes, my recent reads are great possibilities. These are not all new books but the lesbian/queer books I read this past year. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo is so enjoyable and fascinating to read, after you get used to Bernardine’s innovative style of storytelling. The twelve women she pictures are all interconnected. They are not all lesbians but certainly all very interesting in their own way. Evaristo tells stories of life in Britain for marginalized women over the past fifty years in a very warm, economical way. I was surprised at how many similarities to our 70s culture the British culture of the same time had. (Believe it or not, living in England in 1977 helped me finally to come out at the age of 25.) Evaristo shared the Booker Prize last year, with Margaret Atwood, for this fine book. Bliss by Fiona Zedde is a lesbian erotic novel in the context of Jamaican life. The sizzling sex scenes are not the only pleasures in this excellent novel about a Jamaican woman who recently discovers her queerness in New York, only to take a trip back home to Jamaica and find a whole gay world she never knew about, including some surprises about people in her past. The neighborhood scenes and family dynamics are painted mistressfully. Even the lushness of the scenery and the descriptions of food are so delectable, as are the love scenes, of course. I loved this book. To Italy With Love and Other Stories. The inimitable Fiona Zedde does it again—a great erotic read and some very unusual stories. I don’t want to give anything away but there is a welcome toast to gender fluidity in these stories. Questions of identity go deeper than one expects, making this book of stories more than a great romantic/erotic read. Fiona has written over fifteen books of fiction. I love her writing. This book will not disappoint. Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn is another of my very favorite lesbian novels which also happens to be set in Jamaica mostly, and New York. A very unusual story about a mother and daughter and what happens after the mother goes to New York to find the love of her life, her best friend in childhood. I won’t give anything more away. I just want to say that the complexity of feelings and needs, the mother/daughter relationship, the issue of a woman’s role in society, and the way the daughter, Patsy of the title, evolves through her experience, is so worth reading this book for. Patsy is a very strong contribution to our queer culture. Cantoras by Carolina De Robertis. If you haven’t read any books by Carolina De Robertis, this will not be your last. A great queer writer whose background is Uruguayan sets this revealing portrait of the life and culture of queer women under the 1970s Uruguayan dictatorship. Carolina shows the five women cantoras on their own and together establishing their hideaway on the coast. How they relate to each other and how they work their identities with the backdrop of a brutal government is the story of this great book. A professional translator she is currently translating Cantoras into Spanish. I can’t wait. Other favorites are The Gods of Tango and Perla. Let the Lover Be by Sheree. L. Greer A well-paced story about a lesbian whose alcoholism is very much entwined with sex. It’s a fully drawn portrait of Kiana who is in the midst of her disease and luckily meets help along the way. I appreciate this courageous look at alcoholism among lesbians. Entertaining because it is well-written, readers also get the benefit of sexy scenes and a deep portrait of a lesbian struggling. “If only she could have this pleasure of coming together with another in a single moment suspended in time.” —which we find is an important reason for her drinking. But there is more behind what Kiana is missing and what drives her behavior. I highly recommend another novel by Sheree, A Return to Arms. Disorental by Negar Djavadi is a complex non-linear queer novel by an Iranian writer who herself grew up in Iran and feels in exile in Paris. Beautifully translated by Tina Kover, the novel jumps from a present day doctor’s waiting room to Kimia’s (the first-person narrator’s) childhood through Iranian history and the family’s escape to Paris and finally to Kimia’s experience of marginalization in Paris. Her discomfort with the condition of immigration, as well as the narrator’s confusion about growing up queer in Iran and within her family—this and more is so well-depicted with humor and even involvement of the reader (“you”). The voices of belonging as well as "disorientation” come through strongly. I wanted this book to go on and on because it was so rich with history and feelings and so finely written and translated. Excavation: A Memoir by Wendy C. Ortiz This is a memoir about a particular, painful period in Wendy Ortiz’s youth, care-fully written. It is unexpected in a way, full of mixed feelings, but so well-drawn, documenting how her growing up years became warped and damaged by an inappropriate male teacher. Wendy Ortiz paints an authentic yet uncertain picture of both how she was violated and “loved.” Was this love? Or was this some hook she couldn’t release herself from? It is a book by a queer woman worth reading. A Generous Spirit: Selected Works of Beth Brant by Janice Gould is an amazing read. It is rare to find a book by a Native American lesbian—stories and essay. “A Long Story” and “Turtle” were so thought-provoking and both stories brought me to tears. The essays are necessary reading because we get to hear the concerns and viewpoint of a Mohawk lesbian. Her discussion of racism and exclusion of Native people from literature, her affirmation of learning the ways of whites in getting her story out there are all there. Think what you can learn from this woman: “It is difficult to exorcise the predominance of the English language, but it is possible to understand that although we may share a common language, my definition is not necessarily one that is parallel to that of a Euro-christian culture.” Old Lesbian Memory Quilt: Stories told by Edie Daly on her 80th birthday by Edie Daly. “Women need an intergenerational space to be together now.” Edie Daly’s book Old Lesbian Memory Quilt celebrates our connections across generations! Full of well-told stories, it brings back my own memories. While I am 68 and Edie is 83, I am fascinated by our similar experiences and paths. I read hungrily to absorb her stories of turning from marriage to lesbian love and women’s activism. Based in U.S. culture, Edie broadened her reach to lend a hand in some of the most difficult times in 1993 Sarajevo, in the former Yugoslavia, the land of my own heritage, a place that I too contribute to later in time, in 1999. The cellist of Sarajevo, playing the Adagio “on a fire-scorched chair,” really happened—Edie connected him with Yo-Yo Ma. First kiss with a woman, children and husband, lesbian salon in St.Petersburg, Florida, Peace Train to Beijing, Alternatives to Violence Project—all are patched into the quilt. We have come so far and there is more to do. This book is a gift to us all. Fiebre Tropical by Juliana Delgado Lopera is a book I just received in the mail and intend to read very soon. It is another queer novel in which the narrator immigrates—from Columbia to Miami and then falls in love and comes out. Written in Spanglish (only a small percentage) and with humor, this also attracts me. I look forward to curling up and reading Fiebre Tropical. Sofia Parnok and Olga Tsuberbiller (out lesbians in Soviet Russia, 1930s)


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