> Queer Books Please: February 2013

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

genre chat 2013 part 3 YA

Third and final post in a series about categories and genre. Part 1 here. Part 2 here. 

I've talked about YA books on the podcast a little bit, I will continue to. I suppose I’ve thought about doing a YA specific episode, but I don't really see a reason to draw many distinctions between YA and adult fiction. I’m far less interested in the age of the characters than I am knowing what genre the book is in, and what sort of queer content it might feature. And if I’m in the mood for a particular type of story—sometimes I just want some science fiction in my life, sometimes I just want to read about someone coming out--I likely don’t care if it’s YA or adult.

For me, YA generally means a faster read. That’s it! And that can be a positive or a negative.

So the attitude I take and the attitude you’ll see on this blog is this:

1) Read what you want. I may prefer some genres to others, but I also believe all reading is good reading. It engages your mind in a way that other mediums do not, and so if what you want read is mostly romance novels, or YA fantasy, or nothing but mysteries, I say go for it. Doesn't matter your age. You don't owe the world an obligation to switch to adult novels just because you turned 21 or whatever.

… on the other hand!

2) Sometimes try and read a title outside your comfort zone. Yeah, I’m saying that if you only read YA or adult fiction, there’s a really good chance you’re missing out on something you might enjoy. Whether you’re a teenager or an adult reader, YA is great, but there’s certain things that YA publishers just won’t let happen in those books, so adult fiction is always going to offer a wider range storytelling possibilities. If you never read YA—especially if you primarily read queer fiction—I think at the very least you’re missing out on a great way to track how perspectives on queer issues are changing. Not to mention that many YA books can be just as compelling (well-written, thoughtful, exciting) as adult fiction.

The conclusion to all these posts is this: my view on queer literature is broad and welcoming. I tend to think that restricting yourself to certain genres may lead you to miss out on great books that you might love. So the blog reflects this. For the time being I’ll continue to list the books I discuss on the book list, alphabetically, with some genre information. But I think what they have in common—a queer presence—is more important than the things that make them categorically different.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Categories! part 2: genre

Part two in a three part series about categorizing the books I read and talk about here. Part one here.

If I were going to make fiction genre master-lists, I would be sorely tempted to combine some common genres. They’d probably look like this. 

1. Let’s Go Somewhere! (fantasy, historical fiction, science fiction) Many of the things I like about historical fiction are the same things I like about science fiction and fantasy. I guess it’s specifically the feeling of world building. I like being transported to a world where I don’t necessarily know the geography or societies rules and norms. While plot and conflict are important in these books, it’s less important than rich details and the feeling that you’re learning about a whole new world. 
If you’ve only ever read historical fiction, like Sarah Waters’ excellent novels, think about picking up Ammonite by Nicola Griffith.  
2. Winning Formulas (romance and mystery) These two genres have something big in common—they both are constrained a certain amount by a formula. For romance it generally goes, girl meets girl, terrible/overwhelming circumstances keep them apart, until they don’t and they live happily ever after. Mysteries are a little less linear, but you still have a framework that your reader is expecting, a crime or mystery, a protagonist working to solve said mystery, clues and suspects, and discovery of the truth. Most but not all mysteries also require some amount of justice to be done in the end. Successful mysteries and romances are good for the same reason—they use the formula to their advantage to give the reader something familiar, while still offering surprises and finding ways to defy expectations. I’d tell anyone who reads primarily in one of these genres to check out the other—I think there’s a good chance you may find your reading options expand by quite a bit. 
When I was younger, I remember transitioning quite smoothly from Karin Kallmaker’s romance novels to Katherine V. Forrest mysteries, and I think those are good examples of how closely these two genres track each other
3. Coming out novels. These books are so important for people who are still struggling or learning about their identities. I still find myself gravitating towards coming out novels when I need something comforting to read. In particular, I think the themes of love overcoming obstacles tend to stand out in these books, and it’s a theme I always want to go back to. Now, sometimes mysteries and fantasy and whatnot can have coming out themes. But generally, I would probably only categorize these as books about coming out in familiar, mostly contemporary societies.  
4. Everything Else! I guess this category could conceivably have everything from supernatural urban fantasy to entirely straightforward contemporary fiction to older classics. On the other hand, we’re still seeing so many coming out novels, maybe this everything else category needs some support and needs to grow. 

Are you reading this list and thinking to yourself, hey, what about YA? Yeah. That's what I thought when I finished writing it. More on my feelings on YA later.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Thoughts on categorizing books, part 1

Writing this blog, one thing that occurs to me is how artificial it can feel when trying to categorize and group different books together. Looking at issues like genre, or YA versus adult fiction, or even just how “gay” or “queer” a book might be. This is part one in a three part series where I try to explain some of my thoughts on this issue.
The benefits of trying to categorize books are obvious—it helps the publisher market titles and it helps us, the reader, find what we want to read. Obviously when it comes to categories like lesbian fiction, there may be some drawbacks as well. I often see concerned musing on the internet that categorizing a book as gay or lesbian or queer will turn off straight readers.
I guess that’s part of the reason I’m working on this blog, trying to group books together as interesting to queer readers, whether the publisher and author have tried to make that distinction or not.
What is required to label a book as lesbian fiction—besides, of course, explicit labeling by the publisher or author? Does someone need to identify as a lesbian? Does that need to be romance—or at least, sexual attraction? Personally I don’t need sex and I don’t need explicit identification or labeling in the text to be interested in a book as a piece of queer fiction. (I hope people don’t mind the use of the word queer. A part of me worries that the word has sort of radical implications. And I know my mother still can’t say the word queer because it feels rude and shocking to her. But for me it isn’t meant to be politically aggressive, but rather a better way to be inclusive when describing my tastes.) I’d say any book that allow for the possibility of queer genders and sexualities is at least queer enough that I’ll consider talking about it here on the blog. That’s a pretty big net to cast.
I hope it’s not too big a net. I’ve wondered if even though my own scope is wide, if I should to categorize what I’m reading for the sake of the readers who are here looking for the next thing they might want to read. And specifically try to categorize the queer content. I know that sometimes I want to read a book where I know two women are going to have a romantic relationship, and sometimes I just want to read about a bad ass lady who might be a little bit queer. Sometimes a concept sounds interesting, and the fact that there’s a queer secondary character will help to decide to pick it up. But how do I quantify that for the reader? And should I even try? I guess I could try to use some sort of spectrum, but even then you have differences—what if there’s a lesbian characters who is out, but no romance? What if there’s a same sex romance, but they don’t identify as lesbian?
Obviously, I haven’t come to a conclusion on this. Perhaps once I have a larger book list to play with, I’ll consider trying to categorize them, but at this point I’m inclined to just stay inclusive, and try to give you the information you might need in the review itself.
Tune in tomorrow for some thoughts on genre. Do you only read genre fiction? Or do you NEVER read genre fiction? Either way you’re depriving yourself of some good readin’ and I hope make some connections between genres that may seem different, but actually do similar things.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Episode 6 - More Historical Fiction Please

After recording this episode, I realize that all I'm really trying to say is that I want more quality queer historical fiction in my life. Before I get there, though, I talk about two mainstream, contemporary novels, and your romance novel of the week.

Show notes, embedded audio file, and a direct download of the episode below the break. You can also download the show on iTunes.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Do lesbians like Stieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy?

I can't think of another series of books that have left me so confused about simple questions like: are these books any good? did I enjoy them? Simple questions, you'd think, but when I was reading them I often found myself laughing out loud at long digressions on coffee and horrible sounding sandwiches, weird product placement, bizarre pacing choices. And then there's basic concerns about what the book is actually about, the horrific violence, the rape and revenge plot line, and what I can only characterize as general batshit insanity. 

That being said, one of the ways I gauge my enjoyment of a book or books is how quickly I read them, and I burned through GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE and GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST like wildfire. I also like to use re-readability as a measure of my enjoyment--will I still like the book even if I know all the twists and turns? And a key thing that can get me to reread something is a character that I love.

 Lisbeth Salander counts as a character I love. I know that she's basically a wish wrapped in a dream, a kick ass, hypersexual, genius, bisexual hacker superhero. I know that when I read these books, I thought about the fact that they were published after Mr. Larsson's death, and I wondered if he'd been alive if an editor might have called him up and said "Hey do you think Lisbeth is a little too awesome?"

But there's something about her--the abrasiveness and the complete dismissal of society, perhaps--that's just captivating. And yeah, writing this little piece makes me want to go reread the series, so I guess in that sense I'd say I enjoyed these books.

I have been wondering, though, if most lesbian readers feel the same way, or if the bisexuality and the violence against women make this not such an appealing choice for queer readers.

The Lesbrary has a lot of reviews for lesbian type books, and I did find a review for GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Reviewer Laura Mandanas writes a mostly positive review, also rightly pointing out that the book might be triggery due to murder, animal abuse, sexual violence, etc.

I tried using google and scanning through some of the other lesbian review sites I could find, but couldn't find any other reviews coming explicitly from a lesbian point of view.

I did hop onto goodreads and checked out the ratings and reviews by readers who specifically shelved the book as either queer or lbgt--those readers aren't necessarily gay or lesbian themselves, but if they are categorizing the book as queer that says something about their point of view. The average rating of those readers was 4.13--which is pretty good! No reviews lower than a 3. I don't use the goodreads reviews much, but I do tend to take note of anything with an average higher than 4.

There were three written reviews in my queer/lgbt sample and I noticed that two of the three specifically mention the character of Lisbeth being what drew them in.

Can I draw any conclusions from this research? I certainly didn't find any strong condemnations of the book from lesbian and queer reviewers, which makes me think that I can recommend checking this series out if you haven't all ready. With the caveat that it's violence and weirdly paced and not edited very much and kind of bat shit crazy! But if those sound like the kind of things that you might find entertaining rather than off putting, give the books a try.