Entries Tagged as 'A Few of My Favorite Things'

Best of 2011 lists

Every Fall Band of Thebes asks for a short list of fav titles for the year. Here’s the long version of what I said:

Nina Revoyr’s Wingshooters gets my personal Novel-of-the-Year Award for its brilliantly accurate portrayal of the everyday racism of rural America. I put Mikey on that special shelf next to Bone and Scout.

Best lesbian sub-plot least likely to be found by American readers: Six Metres of Pavement by Farzana Doctor. Best portrayal of patriarchal idiocy and why lesbians need(ed) the feminist revolution: Carolyn Cooke’s Daughters of the Revolution. Sweetest collection: My Desire for History: Essays in Gay, Community & Labor History by Allan Bérubé (edited by John D’Emilio and Estelle Freedman). Wickedest read: Stella Duffy’s Parallel Lies, even if you think you’re not remotely interested in Hollywood and the lives of the rich and famous. Most unexpected lesbian character: Joseph Caldwell’s fine Irish tale,  The Pig Comes to Dinner. (But you won’t have nearly as much fun if you don’t read The Pig Did It first.)

Book I’m saving for a stretch of total indulgence: Jane Rule’s recollection of her first 21 years, Taking My Life, found as a hand-written manuscript among her papers after her death.

Book not yet written that I most want to read: A queer version of the brilliant The Warmth of Other Suns, which would name and honor the decades of lesbian and gay migrations away from ‘home’ to anyplace one could love, if not in peace, then at least with a lesser danger.

Best portrayal of patriarchal idiocy and its consequent cost to lesbians’ lives: When is a story one’s own (or one’s character’s own), and when is the story more accurately a tale of the forces of resistance against the very idea of her existence? See Carolyn Cooke’s Daughter’s of the Revolution. It focuses not on the (black, lesbian) female (!) student who integrates the previously all male prep school but rather on the forces of resistance to change: Those aging power-figures in the sixties and seventies who did everything in their power to keep women under thumb and to preserve the pleasures of power for men. As Judy Grahn wrote back in the day, it’s not lesbianism (nor even feminism) but rather the idea of ending domination “that makes everybody angry” (apologies for my paraphrase.)

Older books that I discovered this year: Shamin Sarif’s Despite the Falling Snow, a tale of love, betrayal, the cold war and, ultimately, hope. It haunted me for weeks. In Dodici Azpadu’s Living Room the very butch Carmen Khalise returns to Brooklyn and her very patriarchal family for her mother’s funeral. Throw in a few ex-lovers and too much alcohol. Both books from a 60-something perspective, looking back at the currents of one’s life. Hmmm. I could do with a bit more (a lot more?) of that persepctive.

For The Band of Thebes’ complete list of raves from 90+ queer writers and other literati go to: http://bandofthebes.typepad.com/bandofthebes/2011/11/the-best-lgbt-books-of-2011-1.html

For Richard Labonte’s Best of 2011 list go to: http://www.southfloridagaynews.com/arts-and-entertainment/book-reviews/5161-book-marks-my-10-favorite-fiction-reads-of-2011.html


Would you repeat that (again)?

There’s not much in Queer Lit Land that’s inclusive of hearing loss. So, just to remind myself that one can be both queer and hard-of-hearing, I keep a copy of Alyson Press’ 1993 anthology, Eyes of Desire: A Deaf Gay & Lesbian Reader on my reading stand. I think it was one of the last books published by Sasha Alyson, before the press was sold, and sold again, and sold again, alas.
But I’m not deaf, nor am I Deaf (culturally deaf). I have what they call “moderate” (What did you say?) hearing loss. It’s an amazingly common problem, but you wouldn’t know it to read our lit.

So I was thrilled to find Mean Little deaf Queer, Terry Galloway’s memoir about growing up in the fifties and sixties with fluctuating hearing loss, about making it through school (and not), about her theatre career, and, well, about growing up a dyke in the midst of it all. It’s fierce and wonderful and powerful on all fronts and is my go-to book for validating the anger that goes with hearing loss. I wish that everyone in the queer community would read it. It was published in 2009 and I’ve been eagerly awaiting a sequel. No luck yet, but I did see Galloway’s animated short film, The Performance of Drowning, at the gay film festival this year, a hilarious (and autobiographical and much too short) tale of the extremes a little queer girl will go to land in the arms of disabled-kid summer camp’s most beautiful swimming instructress.
I’m not the only one who liked it:

“This is a damn fine piece of work which is unbelievably powerful….true and passionate and fearless and funny as hell when it is not heartbreaking. I expect this book to charm the hell out of great numbers of people, piss off a few, and give hope to many more.” –Dorothy Allison. 

“Not your mother’s triumph-of-the-human-spirit memoir….. She’s also caustic, depraved, utterly disinhibited, and somehow sweetly bubbly, a beguiling raconteuse who periodically leaps onto the dinner table and stabs you with her fork.”–Alison Bechdel

More recently I found Brian Selznick’s brilliant Wonder Struck, a tale in text and illustration about two children, two generations apart, who experience their hearing loss differently, in their respective times. Ben’s tale of running away to New York to find his father is told in words; Rose’s story of running away (to New York) find her beautiful actress mother is told in pictures — the way she views the world. There’s no overt queer content (though I’d make a wager on young Ben’s future), but it’s richly informed by the author’s own outsider-queer worldview, and that works just fine for me. Writer and illustrator Selznick won the 2008 Caldecott Medal for The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Only $29.95 for 600+ pages. If you ever indulge in YA or late-grades lit, go for it!

But back on  the adult side, lacking lesbian lit that deals with hearing loss, at the moment I’m making do with the straight male protagonist in David Lodges’ deaf sentence, in which a recently retired linguistics professor, one Desmond Bates, runs smack into all of the frustrations (and isolation) of increasing hearing loss and more than a few critical misunderstandings when he can’t quite make out someone’s words. Spot on accurate on the travails of hearing loss and hilariously funny if you’ve ever found yourself in any of these situations. And even if you haven’t. Published in the USA by Penguin.

Mean Little deaf Queer
Terry Galloway
Beacon Press
$16, paperback

Brian Selznick
$29.95 cloth
Published Fall 2011, so a paperback edition may be out soon.

deaf sentence
David Lodges
$15, paperback



Hawaii – Aug. 2011

What I read on my summer vacation: 

State of Wonder – Ann Patchett. Harper. Cloth.
OK, I’d walk a mile in the middle of the night for a new Ann Patchett novel. This is my favorite woman’s adventure novel since Lucy Bledsoe’s Big Bang Symphony.

Once Upon a River, Bonnie Jo Campbell. Norton, cloth.
Whew! The world just stopped for a lttle while when I first read Campbell’s story, “Family Reunion,” (in her collection American Salvage) much the same way it did when I first read Dorothy Allison’s “A River of Names.” (Which I carried around with me, in my pocket or my backpack, for a good six months after I first read it, back in the 70s.) Unlike Allison’s characters, Campbell’s women are positively feral.
Once Upon a River is the expansion of that story, the story of a girl/young woman sorting out rape, loss of family, and striking out on her own, on, of all places, the Kalamazoo River. Not that I’m overly identified with these characters, but I did play on islands in the Kalamazoo when I was a kid (and it stank to high heaven with paper-factory waste) and then canoed it as a teenager when it smelled less bad.
It pushes the boundaries of women characters to a new edge, very much the way that Bastard Out of Carolina did. Dorothy Allison had a readership, and Bastard had a whole women’s movement to celebrate its publication. I can only hope that Once Upon a River finds its constituency as well. That seems scarier and less likely than a couple decades ago. Do what you can to keep this one from falling between the cracks.

Dreams of Joy, Lisa See
   Everything you expect from Lisa See…. And an engrossing look at the emergence of Red China, as well.

Sister Gin— June Arnold’s wonderful novel from 1975 about booze, and lesbians, and the advent of gut-level feminism. One of the most important books that Daughters Ink ever published. Currently in print from The Feminist Press.

The Warmth of Other Suns  – Isabel Wilkerson.  A wonderful telling of America’s Great Migration, 70 years of African-American exodus from the South to the North, told through the lives of three individuals.  Warm, personal, profound-and deserving of every award.  It explained a lot about my own childhood and the girls I loved in the second and third grades, as well.

Water Ghosts by Shawna Yang Ryan (Penguin, paperback).
I don’t remember who put me on to this or where I picked it up. A rich, complex story, set in Locke, a Chinese immigrant town on the Sacramento Delta in the twenties — mostly about the women — Chinese, and white, how they came to be there, and about their lives, loves, strictures, laws, and mythologies that inform their lives. Includes a lesbian sub-plot/theme. A version of lesbian lit that I haven’t read before. Not a light read, but totally worth the journey.

A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan, Anchor/Doubleday. paper.
Just as rich and complex as everyone is saying. Brilliant? Yep. The writing deserves all the awards it’s getting.  And a tale that explains its times. So why didn’t I enjoy reading it more? Because it’s a generation after me? Made me realize how little I read that’s primarily about white, middle-class (even seeking/avoiding) and/or glam worlds. Not my interest area. Nor is the (straight, white?) music industry.
      The opposite of Water Ghosts, having a queer character here just pissed me off. Felt classically token: Need a character who suicidal? drowning in self-doubt,  unable to realize himself? Ah! throw in a queer! This poor guy doesn’t even get to come out, but drowns in pursuit of the guy he loves (who later Gets The Girl).  Do I remember correctly that this is the only queer character in the entire book?  Sheese! Another Dead Queer award book. URGH!!! Why is that still socially acceptable?

From Bywater Books:
The Indelible Heart – Marianne K. Martin. I don’t read much genre fiction — but I always read Marianne Martin. This one offers a good reminder about the importance of activism.
I Came Out for This? Lisa Getlin

Sleeping Angel – Greg Herren.
Probably aimed at high school students suffering from queer-bashing/bullying, but a great read for anyone who’s been through it. Or who works with teens. Or who thinks that “words can’t hurt” or that homophobia in schools isn’t their business.  If I won the lottery I’d send a copy to every high school principal and teacher in the country.

American Salvage

Bonnie Jo Campbell’s American Salvage includes the best girl-getting-her-own-back (after sexual abuse) story I’ve read since, oh, Bastard Out of Carolina.

It’s a great collection. I picked it up because of its references to Kalamazoo, Plainwell, Comstock, and other small towns of my youth, references that, in another mood, would have sent me screaming from the room.

These are towns that don’t often make it into the pages of literature. And neither do Campbell’s characters, but they are so vividly realized and familiar that I found myself wondering if Campbell went to my high school. Except that if she did, it was a generation later — the drugs are more contemporary than the ones I remember; lesbians exist, and are visible on the fringes of these stories in a way they weren’t when I lived there. Women (and the male characters, too) have complex, difficult lives, and the complexity of their lives is well realized. These stories took me back to a life that I might have lived. They remind me that the expensive choice of leaving was a bargain. They remind me that the line between working poor white (Is it politically incorrect to say White Trash yet?) and escape into a kinder existence is as narrow as one good teacher, a scholarship, a pair of glasses, or the dumb Russian Roulette luck of not getting pregnant in a particular moment.

There are too many lesbian mentions in this book and they are too kindly for coincidence. Maybe, later in the collection, there’s a story with lesbians characters front and center, I’ll let you know if I find it.  But in the meantime, get your hands on a copy of the story “Family Reunion.” Circulate it among your friends and to all the women you know who survived some nasty something with adult male relatives back in their youth.

And someday, when someone puts together an anthology of girls-getting-(well justified)-revenge tales, let this be the lead story. I admit that it took me a good 24 hours after I read it to laugh. But I did laugh out loud when I went back to read it again. Campbell’s aim is that incredible, and her target is just perfect. 

PS: For another great, well justified (although much slower to arrive) rape revenge story, dive into Margaret Atwood’s Year of the Flood. It’s Atwood at her wicked, insightful, brilliant (and feminist) best.

Margaret Atwood signing 600 copies of Year of the Flood at NCIBA. Photo by Carol Seajay
American Salvage
Bonnie Jo Campbell
WW. Norton
$13.95 pb Dec 2009

The Year of the Flood
Margaret Atwood
$26.95 cloth Sept 2009

Margaret Atwood signing 600 copies of The Year of the Flood at the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association office. Photo by Carol Seajay.