In this issue
Books to Watch Out For publishes monthly e-letters celebrating books on various topics. Each issue includes new book announcements, brief reviews, commentary, news and, yes, good book gossip.
The Lesbian Edition
The Gay Men's Edition
covers both lesbian books and the whole range of books lesbians like to read . It covers news of both the women in print movement and mainstream publishing. Written and compiled by Carol Seajay.
» Click here to subscribe.
» Click here for more info.
» Click here to tell a friend
about the Lesbian Edition.
announces and reviews new books by and about gay men as well as other books of interest and gay publishing news. Written and compiled by Richard Labonte.
» Click here to subscribe.
» Click here for more info.
» Click here to tell a friend
about the Gay Men's Edition.
More Books for Women
will launch in 2004.
» Click here to be notified
when it launches.
Advertising & Sponsorships
Q. How does BTWOF define "a lesbian book?"
A. We think that any book that belongs to a lesbian is a lesbian book, just as any bike that belongs to a girl is "a girl's bike."
BTWOF: The Lesbian Edition covers a wide range of books likely to be of interest to our readers as well as books with lesbian content and books by lesbian writers.
BTWOF is financed by subscriptions, rather than advertising or book sales. Publishers and individuals who wish to help launch BTWOF are invited to sponsor any of the first 12 issues. Write to Mozelle Mathews for sponsorship information.
If you want to change your BTWOF email address or other contact information, click here to update:
» your subscriber profile
» whatever has changed.
The Lesbian Edition
Volume 1 Number 4
to TLE #4.
This issue starts with news of lesbian publishers and feminist
bookstores, then moves into the Find of the Month, Fiction, Lives, and takes a quick look at sex and romance and Gay Marriage books, before checking in to see what they’re
reading at the Toronto Women’s Bookstore and The Crime Scene Short
stories and essay collections – perfect for people who are “too busy to read”
– are a sturdy sub-theme running throughout the issue. The scoop on the current
batch of literary awards (Lammy nominations, the Stonewall Awards, and a couple
more) – and a little commentary – follow the book columns. This issue also
premieres our new feature, “What Are You Reading?” a question BTWOF is likely
to ask whenever we encounter book people. Last – and perhaps least – the non-news
that The New York Times Book Review covers almost three times more
books by men than by women
the tech side, the innovation this issue is a link to a Super Printer-Friendly/Plain
Text version for people whose printers can’t handle the lightly-formatted
(but much more aesthetically pleasing) Printer-Friendly version. You’ll find
both immediately below the table of contents. If neither printer-friendly version works for you, please email info@BooksToWatchOutFor.com, and we'll try to help you out.
This issue also features click-through
pages for the Lambda Literary Awards short list and for the complete list
of all the books nominated. If you’re printing this issue out to read off-line,
you might want to click up to the Table of Contents, then click to the Lambda
Lit Shortlist and the Nominations list and print them out as well. There’s
a lot of wonderful reading in those lists, and we encourage you to check them
in spreading the words,
New Lesbian Presses
Building on a friendship that evolved from years of working together,
mystery writer J. M. (Jean) Redmann, novelist Marianne K. Martin,
and publisher/bookseller Kelly Smith are launching a new lesbian
publishing company, Bywater Books. Their Fall list will include
Under the Witness Tree, a new novel by Martin, and a reprint
of Redmann’s third Micky Knight mystery, The Intersection of
Law and Desire. I’m not at liberty to tell you what they have
lined up for 2005, but it looks great!.
Bywater’s priorities are to publish well-written commercial
fiction for lesbians and other discerning readers, to nurture emerging and
established writers, to build community, to operate with extreme fiscal responsibility,
and to have a rollicking good time. Bywater, by the way, is a neighborhood
in New Orleans, “probably the neighborhood where Micky Knight lives.”
And, yes, they are looking for additional titles. Check
out the web site for submission guidelines.
Consortium will distribute Bywater titles. Bywater Books, PO Box 3671, Ann Arbor MI 48106-3671; email: Bywaterbooks@aol.com.
Watch for their forthcoming web site at www.Bywaterbooks.com.
Books, the heir to the Naiad Press publishing dynasty, is back on track and
on schedule with an awesome 39-book publishing schedule for 2004. “That’s
two new books and a reprint every month, plus a few irresistible additions,”
proud Bella publisher Linda Hill points out.
is also launching a new series, Bella After Dark (BAD), featuring books that
are a bit edgier and offer more risqué sexual adventures than fit Naiad’s
strictly vanilla, implement-free tradition. The first title in the series, Back to Basics: A Butch-Femme
Anthology edited by Therese Szymanski, will be published later this month.
Bella team is now Linda Hill, Terese Orban, and, staffing the Havana, Florida
office, Becky Arbogast and Stefy Bau. www.BellaBooks.com.
'Live' from Amazon
– that’s the original Amazon Bookstore, thank you very much, not the
online imposter – has streaming video on their web site. I think that’s a
first for women’s bookstores. Amazon is moving to a great new (and more affordable)
space two blocks from their current location but in a very up-and-coming little
shopping district with some great restaurants, a movie theater, gift shops,
and lots of foot traffic. Of course moving takes cash and, if Amazon was rolling
in it they wouldn’t be moving, so the video is a fundraising appeal for donations
to help cover the moving costs.
to the Amazon volunteers who made this, the oldest feminist bookstore in the
US, the first in this techno-innovation. Check it out at http://www.fourthcanyon.com/kate/bookstore/amazon4.mov.
More details on Amazon’s Web site.
Find of the Month
in the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit, before I review this book,
that I spent many a childhood Sunday in Three Rivers, Michigan, visiting my
(great) aunt and uncle, Grandma Van Horne, and crushing out on my bad-girl,
older cousin, Sherry. Having abandoned all of that for the queer left-coast
decades ago, I still suspect that there is a deep current of humor running
through, oh, say, the greater Mississippi River valley, that is inaccessible
to those raised on either coast. I hope not. I wouldn’t wish anyone to be
deprived of the laugh-out-loud humor of Cheryl Peck’s Fat Girls and Lawn
Chairs. It’s nothing serious – just a series of short vignettes – addressing
the everyday realities of life, growing up in a family where children are
routinely sacrificed to protect flowers from escaped cows, and, of course,
the dangers of lawn chairs. Warner Books is touting Peck as “the new female
David Sedaris” and a “gay Erma Brombeck”, but she’s neither – she’s Cheryl
Peck, slicing life down to manageable bites and giving us the drama and humor
of daily life. Not that she treads lightly over things that need to be said,
mind you. She has more than a few bones to pick and her aim, when she throws
them, is all any athletically inclined dyke could wish for. Maybe it’s a Three
Rivers thing, but she makes me laugh and nod even when I disagree with her.
Or maybe it’s just that the purple-wigged cat on the cover sets you up for
the ride. In any case, move over Ellen, move over Lily, move over Kate, and
make room for Cheryl: We need this midwestern poignancy to round out our laughter.
Originally published by Flower
Press, the home of that ecological (and lesbian) classic of vermicomposting,
Worms Eat My Garbage, Warner picked it up, cover and all, and stands
ready to make a killing on one supersized dyke’s take on life in Three Rivers,
Michigan. Give it to your sweetie, give it to your Mom
for Mother’s Day. Save it for yourself for a rainy day. $12.95. Warner Books
Peck on gym life:
happened again this morning. I was sitting there, half-naked on a bench when
a fellow exerciser leaned over and said, “I just wanted to tell you – I admire
you for coming here every day. You give me inspiration to keep coming myself.”
is the gym.
have become an inspirational goddess.
grinned at the very image of it: here is this woman who probably imagines
herself to be overweight – or perhaps she is overweight, she is just not in
my weight division – sitting on the edge of her bed in the morning, thinking
to herself, ‘There is that woman at the gym who is twenty years older than
I am and has three extra people tucked under her skin, and she manages to
drag herself to the gym every day . . . ‘
is not my goal here to be unkind to myself or to others. Perhaps I am an inspiration
to her because I am easily three times her size and I take my clothes off
in front of other women. Being fat and naked in front of other women is an
act of courage. . . .
“Queen of the Gym”
on professional football – for either gender:
don’t learn the difference between personal victory and team victory or personal
loss and team loss. Girls learned that if you don’t do it yourself, it doesn’t
get done. Girls were never asked to fight the war in Vietnam or in any other
war. But if they had been, girls would have won. Girls would have felt guilty
for not winning it sooner, and girls would have restored all of the roads,
rebuilt all of the bombed homes, adopted all of the orphans, established daycare
centers, domestic violence shelters and homeless shelters, and girls would
have processed endlessly what we could have done to have prevented war and
what we still can do to prevent it from happening again.
“The Southwest Michigan Jaguars”
more good reads by and about fat women, check out Susan Koppelman’s latest
anthology, The Strange History of Suzanne Lafleshe and other stories
of women and fatness. Koppelman is a world-renowned
scholar of U.S. women’s short stories, and here she uses her considerable
resources (including her own archive of 3,500 short stories) to compile these
gripping, poignant, sly, funny, disturbing, surprising, brave, and illuminating
stories that celebrate bodies deemed transgressive or that simply acknowledge
that fat women exist in life and in literature. The stories span 100 years;
the authors range from Mary E. Wilkins Freeman and Edna Ferber (1913 and 1910
respectively) up through the Fat Liberation classics. Contemporary writers
include J. California Cooper, Roz Warren, Leslea Newman, Susan Stinson, Judy
Freespirit, and Elana Dykewomon. Alix Kates Shulman introduces the collection
while an afterword by Koppelman puts the stories in historical and political
context. $16.95 paper, The Feminist Press.
life long labor of love has been researching and preserving women’s short
stories and collecting them into anthologies that reclaim and validate women’s
lives: Old Maids, Between Mothers and Daughters, Women’s Friendships,
and Two Friends (which focuses on nineteenth century lesbians). To
ensure that her gift endures, the Feminist Press has launched the American
Women’s Stories Project which will, under Koppelman’s supervision, create
an online catalog of stories by women writers and will also reprint some of
her hard-to-find collections and publish several new anthologies as well.
it fact or is it fiction? – and where do lesbian writers draw the line? That
was Lynda Hall’s question when she edited Telling Moments: Autobiographical
Lesbian Short Stories. The stories – from the likes of Gloria Anzaldúa,
Marie-Claire Blais, Emma Donoghue, Karla Jay, Anna Livia, Minnie Bruce Pratt,
Rothanne Robson, Sara Schulman, Peggy Shaw, Carmelita Tropicana, and others
– range from poignant to hilarious, from grief-filled to joyful. And the brief
commentaries following each story, sorting out the facts from the fiction
– where that’s possible, add an interesting layer to the reading experience.
It’s too bad that Wisconsin has priced it so far above standard trade paperback
prices. $26.95 paper. (Ouch!) Terrace Books/The University of Wisconsin Press.
never understood the allure of those contests where the prize is a celebrity
date, but I’d be all over any contest where the prize was a good conversation
with one of our community’s best thinkers. But ten long lunches with Queer
Ideas might be even better. Queer Ideas collects the first ten
annual David R. Kessler lectures – an ongoing series organized by the Center
for Lesbian and Gay Studies (CLAGS), which invites some of our best and brightest
to talk about their work, their concerns, and our community. Beginning in
1992 with Joan Nestle’s “The Life of Mabel Hampton as Told by a White Woman”
all the way through Judith Butler’s 2001 lecture, “Global Violence, Sexual
Violence,” the lectures – many of which read like a relaxed conversation –
are interesting, stimulating, entertaining, and excellent. Check out Edmund
White’s 1993 perspective on gay publishing during the height of the “gay publishing
boom,” Barbara Smith on excavating African American Lesbian and Gay history,
Esther Newton on the importance and sometimes-unpopularity of butch identity,
Monique Wittig reading what she couldn’t write in the U.S., John D’Emilio’s
“A Biographer and His Subject: Wrestling with Bayard Rustin,” Cherríe Moraga
(“The fiction of our lives – how we conceive our histories by heart – can
sometimes provide a truth far greater than any telling of a tale frozen to
the facts….”), Samuel R. Delany speaking for the importance of interclass
contact while mourning for the banished sexuality of Times Square, and Eve
Kosofsky Sedgwick on love. What a treat! What luxury. $17.95 paperback, The
of the most essential books of 2004. .–Richard Labonte
Love, Sex, and Romance
not giving up my sex life until I die!” Renate Stendahl vowed at a recent
reading. And she forswears lesbian bed death for all time in True Secrets
of Lesbian Desire: Keeping Sex Alive in Long-Term Relationships.
the truth – the hard, difficult, lovely, challenging, endearing truth – about
what you want sexually and in the relationship, she advises, is the secret
to ongoing passionate intimacy. It’s that simple and that challenging. Stendhal,
a sixty-something counselor, also writes about cycles of lesbian relationships
and draws on her 18-year relationship as well as her experience in the passionate
days of the early feminist movement in Paris in the late 60’s and early 70s.
Read it, even if you’re not in a long-term relationship, for the sheer pleasure
of a writer who uses the F-word while talking about a very active and passionate
sexuality. Originally published in cloth as Love's Learning Place: Truth
As Aphrodisiac in Women's Long-Term Relationships by Edgework Books, it’s
now in paperback from North Atlantic Books with a new foreword by Jewelle
Williams (Girl Walking Backwards) takes the opposite approach in The
Wrestling Party, a raucous mix of essay, cultural crit, erotic tell-all,
memoir, and internet journalism. Stalking The Girl through a lot of angst,
riot grrrl music festivals, Trash Discos, and that new performance art, oil
wrestling, while only occasionally telling a truth (or even remembering
that she already has a girlfriend) would seem to be the point here.
Does she ever actually get the girl? Not exactly. But then, that wasn’t really
the point. If you followed that – and enjoyed it – it’s your book. $12.95,
the other end of the age and literary spectrums, Aynda Merchant, our oldest
living lesbian writer and publisher, has just published O, Mistress Mine
under her nom de plume,
Sarah Aldridge. I haven’t seen it yet, but it promises to address the far
right, organized religion, same-sex marriage, adoption, abortion and discrimination
– as well as being a love story. This is Merchant’s fourteenth Sarah Aldridge
novel. Now 92, she and her partner of 55 years, Muriel Crawford were the quiet
(though never silent) partners when Naiad Press was launched. They now publish
as A&M Books. Fifty-five years! Now that’s a Valentine story! $15, A&M
Books, PO Box 283, Rehoboth Beach DE, 19971.
it was a mistake to read True Secrets of Lesbian Desire concurrently
with Karin Kallmaker’s Maybe Next Time – I kept wanting to yell, “Just
talk to each other!” at the longing and tortured young musician and her beloved.
But the gals in Kallmaker’s more recent One Degree of Separation do
a better job – eventually – of passing the Truth Telling test. One Degree
is centered in a close-knit midwestern community; Maybe Next Time is
set in Hawaii and in the surreal world of a constantly traveling classical
musician, but bad things happen to good women in both books, and walking through
it is the only way out. Both are classic Kallmaker – steamy, erotic romances.
$12.95, both from Bella Books.
Weddings Bell Blues & The Law
you’re itching to get to the alter or whether you’re a smash-patriarchy-and-destroy-the-nuclear-family
kind of gal – or both – lesbian and gay marriage is shaping up to be one of
the key political issues of the 2004 presidential campaign. It’s going to
be quite a donkey-and-elephant road show, in a campaign with more than a few
gay children of politicians. Here are a few books to read along the way.
just-married cohort, Richard Labonte, writing in The Gay Men’s Edition
of BTOWF, highly recommends David Moats’ Civil Wars: Gay Marriage in America:
“The most gripping of
the recent reads. Moats, whose editorials in support of Vermont's civil unions
legislation won him and his newspaper a Pulitzer, has a good journalist's
insatiable curiosity…. [T]he book – touted appropriately by the publisher
as "a remarkable drama of democracy at work on a human scale" –
is packed with mesmerizing detail. Moats focuses almost totally on the Vermont
story, but his quietly epic examination of how civil unions came to be the
law of that small state has wider implications for the freedom-to-marry forces
in America, both in the wake of the pro-wedding ruling by the Supreme Judicial
Court in Massachusetts a few months ago, and also in the face of what's sure
to be the virulent demagoguery around gay marriage by George W. Bush's handlers
in election year 2004.
"... it was also by chance that I happened to witness the
story of civil unions in Vermont. I did not come to the issue
as a gay man. I came to it as a journalist discovering the most
extraordinary story I had ever covered," Moats writes in
his prologue. $25, Harcourt.
Just Married: Gay Marriage
and the Expansion of Human Rights, by Canadians Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell, is
a first-hand account of their January, 2001 wedding in Toronto's Metropolitan
Community Church and the subsequent legal process which resulted in Ontario
Supreme Court approving same-sex wedding licenses in June, 2003. Published
by Doubleday in Canada, and by University of Wisconsin in the U.S. $26.95.
And watch out for these
books, all to be published in April:
Why You Should Give
a Damn About Gay Marriage by Davina Kotulski promises to be an easy-to-read guide outlining the
rights, benefits, and protections that legally recognized marriage guarantees.
It also outlines the impact of not having those rights on various gay
couples. Sounds like a good book for well-meaning straight friends and family
who think that domestic partner laws – or even civil unions – solve the problems.
$12.95, Advocate Books.
Why Marriage Matters by Evan Wolfson connects gay marriage
to other equality movements. $23, Simon and Schuster.
Journalist Jonathan Rauch
confronts conservatives on their own turf in Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good
for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America. He argues that it’s
good for society to have people taking care of each other, that it benefits
society as a whole, and that excluding certain groups of people from participating
is corrosive to the institution itself. $22,Times Books.
while we’re addressing things legal, the Fourth Edition of the American Civil
Liberties Union’s handbook, The Rights of Lesbians, Gay Men, Bisexuals,
and Transgender People by Nan Hunter, Courney Joslin, and Sharon McGowan,
is just out from Southern Illinois University Press. $19.95.
“Say what you will about Mercedes, she’s had the most important
women in the twentieth century,” was how Alice B. Toklas summed up the dashing
(and, at that time still married), Spanish American society girl in the years
before the two became friends. But it was true: de Acosta (1893-1968) was
obsessed with – and at times lovers with – Greta Garbo, as well as Marlene
Dietrich, Isadora Duncan, and theatre stars Eva Le Gallienne, Ona Munson,
Michael Strange, and Alla Nazimova, among others. But Robert Schanke’s “That
Furious Lesbian:” The Story of Mercedes de Acosta” also gives us the Mercedes
de Acosta who was a playwright, poet, and a novelist – a woman who got (and
lost) writing jobs in the emerging movie industry as easily as she found (and
lost) lovers. Her 1926 novel, The Arrow of Longing, if not ahead of
her times, was certainly far ahead of publishers’ mores, addressing as it
did lesbianism, the plight of single mothers and their bastard children (albeit
those with ambition and class), and unrequited love. The legal battles following
the publication of The Well of Loneliness, a couple years later, did
nothing to encourage publishers to risk publishing Mercedes. But Mercedes’
first love was theatre, and her plays (often written for her lovers) were
not an easy sell on Broadway, addressing as they did Sapphic love (successful
and otherwise) and anti-Semitism, as well as loneliness, rejection, and spirituality.
And, best of all, Schanke gives us a woman fiercely committed to loving women,
a woman who wasn’t afraid of the L-word – or its passions – despite the way
it compromised her writing career.
cloth, Southern Illinois University Press. Theatre aficionados will also want
to check out Women in Turmoil: Six Plays by Mercedes De Acosta, $40,
also edited by Schanke and published by SIU.
Fiction & Science Fiction
Lesbianism, as we practice it in twenty-first century America, presumes
that women are allowed to live independently, and that we can support
ourselves, rather than relying on fathers, husbands, family or clan.
But what of women who lack these essential luxuries? How do they
make their way? Nalo Hopkinson’s The Salt Roads and Ruthanne
Lum McCunn’s The Moon Pearl explore the possibilities – and
the creativity required – of newly enslaved women in the seventeenth
century America, of their descendents in Paris, and of young women
in China’s silk districts in the nineteenth century.
Guyanese, Trinidadian, Canadian writer Nalo Hopkinson (Midnight
Robber, Skin Folk, Brown Girl in the Ring) uses a twist of
science fiction (the creation of Ezili, born from hope destroyed,
who flits across continents and centuries, seeking a way to manifest
freedom and desire) to explore and connect the lives and determination
of brilliant, passionate, loving, and wonderfully sexual women
who love who they will (women and men) when they can, and who
love who they must when that freedom is in short supply. Jewelle
Gomez calls it “A raw, passionate adventure…grounded in women’s
senses: the sound of whispered desire, sweat’s salty taste, hands
catching a newborn baby.” Kirkus calls it “Sexy, disturbing, touching,
wildly comic. A tour de force from one of our most striking new
voices in fiction.” Jewell Parker Rhodes calls it “A fabulous,
wonderful, inventive novel…a fine celebration of African heritage.”
– To which I would add: “And of all women’s heritage.” Thanks
to Cecelia Tan of Circlet Press, for bringing this book to my
attention. $22.95, Warner.
Moon Pearl considers
the lives of “self-combers” – women who combed their own hair up rather than
waiting for marriage, lived in communities of women, renounced sexual intimacy
with men (but not women), and supported themselves in the labor-intensive
silk industry, a tradition that flourished in China’s Sun Duk province for
100 years. Ruthanne Lum McCunn grew up in Hong Kong, amidst the diaspora of
these independent spinsters who left China when the silk trade declined. She
was inspired by their example to seek her own fortunes in a wider world. Later
she began to wonder how the first of these women were able to conceive – and
initiate – lives of self-rule and build an alternate, woman-oriented community
structure. Eventually she went to China to interview elderly self-combers.
From that research, she realized that what made life possible for the independent
spinsters was their recognition that independence and community were not exclusive
states. The Moon Pearl imagines the lives of women whose defiance of
community tradition could launch women-oriented worlds in the midst of a fiercely
held patriarchy. Told with the deceptive simplicity of a folktale, it remains
one of my favorite explanations of how the world came to be. $14, Beacon Press.
Butch Blues, Leslie
Feinberg’s classic and compelling tale of politics, passion, butch identity,
and the transgendered life, is back in print – this time from Alyson Press.
What a relief! I’ve heard tales of desperate young women and trans kids paying
$30 and $40 to get their hands on a used copy. $14.95.
lesbian and Islamic scholar Irshad Manji demands cultural diversity, freedoms
for women, and her right to be a lesbian and leaves the wearing of hijabs
and chadors to Muhammad’s wives in her Canadian bestseller, The Trouble
With Islam: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith, which has
just been published in the U.S. by St. Martin’s Press. When asked if she’s
willing to be an international lightning rod for the cause of reform, she
responds, “I don’t fear the consequences of having written this book. God
gave me a thick skin, a big brain and, I’ll be the first to admit, an even
bigger mouth. And that’s a pretty good combination to take on a cause as ambitious
as this.” BTWOF says, “You go, girl! And maybe we’ll achieve peace in our
times yet.” $22.95
What Are You Reading?
asked mystery writer J. M. Redmann our favorite question:
Humphreys’ Leaving Earth," she answered. "Like Sarah Waters and Emma Donoghue, she
writes brilliant historical fiction. Leaving Earth, set in Toronto
in the 1930s, features an aviatrix, her plane, Moth, and her co-pilot as the
two women attempt to break the world flight endurance record. After Image,
which is gorgeously written, is loosely based on Julia Cameron’s life. Both
books have a clear lesbian sensibility.” Try libraries if your local bookstore
can’t get these books – both may be out of print. And see, “What They’re Reading,”
below, for a review of Humphreys’ new novel, The Lost Garden.”
publishing again. Issue #61, Women Loving Women in Prison, is just
out. Lesbians are, indeed, everywhere, and women are the fastest growing population
in prisons – in part because women get longer sentences than men for the same
actions, in part because women are often charged with “conspiracy” when a
male partner or acquaintance is arrested for drug-related activities, and
because so many women are imprisoned for problems that would be better served
by drug or alcohol addiction treatment or job training programs. Eighty percent
of the women in prison are there for non-violent crimes.
issue, comprised of writing by current or recent prisoners, including political
prisoners, looks at how constrained women’s lives are in prison, at the intense
discrimination against and punishment of lesbians, and also documents moments
of tenderness, passion, delight and love.
next issue is due out in June, and the lesbian literature issue is already
in the works. The last issue, “Love, Sex, and Romance” is also available,
so now would be a good time to subscribe or to renew if your subscription
has lapsed. $20/year, $34 for two years. Back issues are $6 plus $1.50 p&h
for the first issue, $.50 each for each additional issue. Free on request
to women in prison or mental institutions. The rest of us can send checks
to PO Box 3252, Berkeley CA 94703
caught up with Mary Ellen Kavanaugh, who was traveling around California after
having just closed My Sisters Words in Syracuse. What was she reading? BITCH:
A Feminist Response to Pop Culture. Of course we asked what she likes
“BITCH is the right magazine for anyone looking
for hip, right-on feminist analysis of the culture we live in. I look forward
to it the way I used to look forward to Ms. There’s always something
pithy and unexpected that I didn’t even know that I wanted to know before
I picked it up. Each issue has a theme (i.e. #23, Winter 2004 is "taste
& appetite") and an array of very smart women weigh in on how that
topic plays out in our lives. BITCH even has ads you'll want to read, for
very cool products that make sense in your life, whether you're 23 or 63,
straight, bi, or lesbian. If you call yourself a feminist, you need to check
this out. Look for it in any good independent bookstore or online at www.bitchmagazine.com or call 877-21-BITCH.
What They're Reading at
The Toronto Women's Bookstore
Each issue BTWOF asks the staff at a different women's bookstore what they're
reading and what they're loving. This issue we asked Anjula Gogia and the rest
of the crew at the Toronto Women's Bookstore. Not surprisingly, they read a lot
of Canadian books, only some of which are also published in the U.S. But never fear,
if something grabs your fancy, you can order it online or by mail from TWB or
many other Canadian bookstores. (Web site and mailing address below.)
The Swinging Bridge by Ramabai Espinet. A moving story of race and displacement,
The Swinging Bridge carries us effortlessly from nineteenth-century India
to the cane fields of Trinidad and then to modern-day Toronto. An exquisite
novel that explores the immigrant experience with compassion and humour. A
deeply feminist novel that explores history, exile, and longing for truth.
C$32.95, Harper Collins. – Anjula Gogia
The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys. New in paperback from the author
of Afterimage, this is the story of a shy, solitary young horticulturalist
who flees London during the Blitz and discovers a "lost" garden
on a country estate which helps her discover her capacity to reach for love,
even in the face of pain. Humphreys, a local lesbian writer, writes with the
subtlety and grace of a poet. C$28, Harper Collins; $13.95, US Norton. – Anjula
Quixotic Erotic by Tamai Kobayashi.* Superbly written erotic tales
that make you feel "dirty" in only the best of ways. These stories
turn you on while simultaneously subverting both old myths/folktales and new
realities with feminist sensibilities. This is neither the kind of erotica
that puts you to sleep nor the brand of bawdy porn that makes you cringe for
its lack of literary skill. Instead, it represents a new genre of incredibly
sexy, race-y (pun intended), one-handed reading that places lesbians of colour
front and centre as empowered sexual subjects. C$19.95/ $16.95US, Arsenal
Pulp Press. – Jin Huh
Salt Fish Girl by Larissa Lai. Salt Fish Girl intertwines the stories
of Nu Wa, a shape-shifter from Old China, and Miranda, a girl from Serendipity,
a walled city on the west coast of North America (circa 2044), who stinks
of durian fruit. This pleasurable and politically fantastical read reveals
a future where corporations, biotechnology, and capitalism rule the world.
Reminiscent of Marge Piercy's He, She, and It or a tale in which Donna
Haraway meets Chinese Canadian-style magical realism, Salt Fish Girl
is about love, gender, intrigue, and resisting the dark forces of biotechnology.
C$23.95, Thomas Allen. – Jin Huh
Small Arguments by Souvankham Thammavongsa.* Thammavongsa's poetry
gracefully achieves the book's epigraph: the power of philosophy to "...show
the strangeness and wonder lying just below the surface even in the commonest
things in daily life." The poems are precisely crafted with beautiful
and deceptive simplicity, exposing both the fragility and the immutable strength
of small things while creating a space in the world where they have an inalienable
right to exist. C$17.95. Pedlar Press. – Alex Macfadyen
Right to be Hostile:
A Boondocks Treasury by Aaron McGruder.
One of the hottest books at TWB this winter! For all fans of "Dykes To
Watch Out For," this rip-roaringly funny comic strip comments on black
suburban life, American politics, and BET [Black Entertainment Television]
among other things. I was constantly reminded of Mo with main character Huey's
endless cynicism and rants! C$25.95, Random House; $16.95 US, Crown. – Anjula
Carmen's Rust by Ana Maria del Rio. In simple, engaging prose, del
Rio describes repressive life under the Chilean dictator Pinochet via allegorical
metaphor. Carmen and her half brother (the novel's narrator) are sent to live
with their oppressive aunt and grandmother who maintain complete control over
their lives. In effect, it becomes a relentless struggle between the sexually
repressed teenagers and their merciless captors. Del Rio captivates the reader
with her flowing narrative and cleverly paints for us her beloved Chile under
tyrannical rule in the 80's. First published in 1986, and now available in
English from Overlook Press. C$29/$19.95 US. – Tammi Sulliman
Many thanks to Anjula
for compiling these reviews, and to all the staff at TWB for their help with
this column. Check out TWB's web site at http://www.womensbookstore.com. It's
a great site with new book and staff favorites, booklists by subject, and
online ordering. TWB, 73 Harbord St., Toronto ON M5S 1G4, Canada. Phone: 416-922-8744.
There's also a current
list of women's bookstores at www.litwomen.org/WIP/stores.html.
About international online ordering:
The good news is that it's easy – credit card companies take care of the currency
conversion and most bookstores will send you anything they sell, which means
you can get books that aren't (or aren't yet) published where you live if
you're willing to pay the shipping costs. If you haven't yet established a relationship with a particular store, it's often worth emailing ahead
to check shipping costs and to be sure they know how to mark the packages so you
don’t get stuck with import taxes. Then it's just a matter of placing the order and waiting (im)patiently for the package to arrive. -CS
The Crime Scene
By Nan Cinnater
prolific mystery writer Lawrence Block writes a series about a part-time burglar
who's also a bookseller, and his best friend, a lesbian named Caroline (The
Burglar in the Closet, The Burglar in the Library, etc., $6.99,
Signet). At one point, Caroline expresses her firm conviction that the character
Kinsey Millhone is a lesbian, but author Sue Grafton doesn't know it. In that
spirit, I offer you some ostensibly heterosexual mysteries whose heroines
display the toughness, independence, good sense, and feminist instincts that
we often associate with lesbians.
you haven't discovered New York Times best-selling author Nevada Barr's
mysteries, what are you waiting for? National Park ranger Anna Pigeon is just
the kind of flawed but fascinating heroine we love, and Barr is a master of
both nature and action writing. Plus, she takes you to a different National
Park in almost every book! The first book in the series is Track of the
Cat ($6.99, Berkley/Prime Crime) set in Guadaloupe Mountains National
Park. Hot off the press are Flashback ($7.99, Berkley/Prime Crime)
– Dry Tortugas National Park – and High Country ($24.95, Putnam) –
Yosemite. Sharp-eyed bibliophiles know that Barr's first novel was a superior
lesbian Western called Bittersweet ($13.95, Avon). Serious fans may
want to check out Barr's recent collection of personal essays, Seeking
Enlightenment ... Hat by Hat ($21.95, Putnam).
Farther North, Dana Stabenow
writes an atmospheric Alaskan series about tough, psychologically and physically
scarred Inuit private eye Kate Shugak. A full cast of quirky supporting characters,
a good grasp of state and Native politics, and lots of authentic details about
life in the bush give these books convincing local color. In A Fine and
Bitter Snow ($6.99, St. Martin's/Minotaur), Stabenow takes on the issue
of oil drilling in a wilderness preserve. Her most recent hardcover is A
Grave Denied ($24.95, St. Martin's/Minotaur). The first in the Kate Shugak
series is the Edgar Award winner, A Cold Day for Murder ($6.99, Berkley).
Note that Stabenow also writes another series, about state trooper Liam Campbell,
which shares the Alaskan atmosphere but not the same feminist appeal.
Linda Fairstein was a real-life
sex crimes prosecutor in the Manhattan DA's office and she has brought much
of her own experience to her books about assistant DA Alexandra Cooper. In
The Kills ($25.00, Scribner), Alex has two cases, a rape and a murder.
(Is anyone surprised when the two cases turn out to be connected?) The murder
victim is "Queenie" Ransome, a legendary dancer of the Harlem Renaissance,
who was once King Farouk's lover. The title refers not just to the murders,
but to the creeks and channels that separate lower Manhattan from several
small islands. Fairstein's new paperback is The Bone Vault ($7.99,
Pocket). The series began with Final Jeopardy ($7.99, Pocket).
1995 Lynn S. Hightower introduced Lena Padget, a private eye on a personal
mission to protect – or revenge – women and children who are victims of crimes.
Padget debuted in the pulpy but mesmerizing thriller, Satan's Lambs,
which won the Shamus award for best first private eye novel (out of print;
we can only hope some publisher will be smart enough to re-issue it). Hightower
has finally brought Padget back in Fortunes of the Dead ($23.00, Atria).
Now Lena has a boyfriend, a homicide detective who is working on the same
case Lena is hired to investigate – the disappearance of a college intern.
Enter the FBI, who believe Lena's case has something to do with the Waco debacle.
Not surprisingly, Lena does not take well to interference by male authorities....
prose is lean and mean, and she has an unflinching understanding of the violence
that ordinary women face. Her other novels are also worth checking out. Her
series about Cincinnati policewoman Sonora Blair consists of: Flashpoint,
Eyeshot (both published in paper by Harper, available used or from
the library), No Good Deed ($6.50, Dell), and The Debt Collector
($6.99, Dell). Her most recent paperback, High Water ($6.99, Pocket),
is a stand-alone novel about a suspicious suicide in a South Carolina family
with two daughters and a gay son.
Pen Press has made a brilliant move that other small presses could emulate:
publishing Libby Fischer Hellmann's mysteries in hardcover simultaneously
with mass market paper editions from Berkley/Prime Crime. Thus the hardcovers
garner the reviews, make library sales, and become collectibles, while the
paperbacks reach hard-core readers like us. In An Image of Death ($24.95,
Poisoned Pen, and $6.50, Berkley/Prime Crime), video documentarian Ellie Foreman
receives a mysterious package containing a surveillance video of a murder.
A little digging leads to intrigue in Eastern Europe during the collapse of
the Soviet Union. Hellmann's books are intricately plotted, with detailed
Chicago ambience and connections to Jewish history and culture. The previous
books were An Eye for Murder and A Picture of Guilt (both
$6.50, Berkley/Prime Crime).
O’Connell writes about one of the most enigmatic heroines in crime fiction,
policewoman Kathleen Mallory, a kid who grew up on the streets (literally),
who is now a brilliant but rebellious cop – also sociopathic, manipulative,
and obsessive/compulsive. In Dead Famous ($24.95, Putnam), Mallory's
latest case combines a dead FBI agent in Chicago, murdered jurors in New York,
a hunchbacked woman whose job it is to clean up crime scenes, an edgy shock-jock,
and an extremely mean housecat. Mallory first appeared in the Edgar Award-winning
Mallory's Oracle ($7.99, Jove). O'Connell's latest paperback is Crime
School ($7.99, Jove).
37th Hour ($21.95,
Delacorte) by Jodi Compton is a first novel that looks like it might belong
in this company. Minneapolis sheriff's detective Sara Pribeck is a missing-persons
investigator whose husband is missing. The title derives from the experts'
contention that the first 36 hours in a missing-persons case are the most
important. Publisher's Weekly called this "first-class, serious
word about violence: I am the most squeamish mystery reader I know. (To give
you an idea of my threshold for violence, let me say I can't stand to watch
"CSI," and I wouldn't go near the movie "Silence of the Lambs"
even for Jodi Foster.) Although I can't predict what might push other people's
buttons, I can tell you that Fairstein, Hightower, and O'Connell sometimes
push the edge of my envelope. Mysteries contain murders, so there will be
violence, but we can pay attention and try to respect each other's limits. –Nan
The Lammies, The Stonewalls, and a few inventions
Lambda Literary Award Season. Actually, its almost always is – the nominations
start in November, the shortlists start circulating soon after the beginning
of the new year, and the awards banquet is in June, followed by media flurries,
small and large bits of grieving from the didn’t-wins, and then the stickering
of the winning books with those nifty "Lambda Literary Award Winner" stickers. It’s almost a year-round phenomenon – as is critiquing
them. Anyone can nominate a book and more people should – the fee is only
$20 (which goes to help defray the cost of the awards). Everyone has an opinion
on what should have been nominated, shortlisted, and/or what should have won.
coaching is a national sport, and, in that spirit, BTWOF offers you both the
for the 2004 Lambda Literary Awards and the long
list of all the books nominated, all 300+ of them. Some nominations are well deserved,
some seem to be vanity trips but, all in all, reviewing the lists provides an interesting
look at what’s been published over the last year. Some categories are overflowing
with excellent books, many of which deserve shortlisting, and a few categories
seem to exist just to nurture a specific – and hopefully growing – segment
of our literature. Take a look and see what you think.
Looking at the breadth and depth of the books nominated,
it’s hard to give any credence to the idea that gay literature is in decline.
That’s the good news. After doing a bit of categorizing
and hair-splitting* (see below for details) we came to some further conclusions:
Only 30 of the 100 shortlisted books came from mainstream or corporate presses,
eight or nine came from university presses, 20 from miscellaneous small and
independent presses, and a whopping 40 or so from gay, feminist, and lesbian-owned
presses. That speaks well of GLBT publishing, it should be totally embarrassing
to mainstream publishing (especially if you take out the eight Kensington
nominations), and it confirms what we have been saying for a long time – that
the independent and university presses are where the bulk of exciting, challenging
ideas will be published once the corporations devour one another into profit-seeking
The news isn’t so good for lesbians, though. Lesbian books garnered 35 of the
spots of the 100-possible on the shortlist. Books by and about gay men, 60 spots.
(That leaves 5 books that don’t fit easily into either category.) That’s 37%
to 67% – a hell of a long way from gender-equity in this queered literary marriage.
Just to mix apples and oranges, we’re not doing a lot better – and certainly
not enough better – than the 28:72 ratio of women’s books to men’s reviewed
in the NYT Review of Books (see story below). Does this inequity
reflect what is written, the quality of what is written, what gets published,
who gets published, what gets publicity and visibility, who has the money and/or
who decides where it will be spent (or what interests those people most), or
just good old, traditional, all-American prejudice that what men do is more,
better, and more valuable? There are only two things I can say for sure: It’s
not that lesbians make up only 37% of the population, queer or otherwise, and
it’s not that this wave of lesbians doesn’t have a long and strong literary
tradition. OK, a third thing seems obvious, too: Merging what used to be
separate categories for lesbian and gay men's books has benefited the visibility
of men’s books at the cost of lesbian books’ visibility and recognition.
did the publishers stack up by gender?
Alyson gets the gender-equity prize with eight books on each side of the aisle,
as well as the grand prize for having twice as many titles on the shortlist
as any other publisher.
and Broadway both weigh in with two each in the trans categories.
the women’s side of the aisle, Bella and Cleis made out with three each, Red
Hen with two, Southern Illinois with two (Robert Schanke writing about Mercedes
de Acosta). And seventeen publishers (Akashic, Conviction, Curbstone, Firebrand,
Harrington, Manic D, Millivres, New Victoria, Soft Skull, University of Wisconsin,
Harper, Houghton, Knopf, Little Brown, Norton, Simon & Schuster, and University
of Pittsburgh) each had one title shortlisted on the lesbian side of the aisle.
the guy’s side, Kensington matched Alyson with 8 shortlists (but zip on the
women’s side), Cleis scored two (plus their three on the women’s side). Harrington and imprint Southern Tier had
four (plus one on the women’s side). Wisconsin, Houghton, and Norton each
garnered two nominations on the guy’s side (plus one each on the women’s side).
Knopf and Simon & Schuster both had a nomination on each side of the aisle.
St. Martins scored four on the men’s side (but none on the women’s side).
Fourteen independents and four mainstream presses had one nomination on the
men’s side, but none on the women’s side.
in hairsplitting: Is worker-owned Norton a mainstream press or an independent
press? (Mainstream, by history, we decided.) Kensington? That’s harder. Without
Kensington the mainstream has such a poor showing that we counted them in, just
to ease the corp’s loss of face. Where do you count Cleis? Transgender-oriented
books? Books by men about women, books about both – or all – genders? Hey,
this is a sport, not statistics! Which way the hair spit was rarely statistically
significant. These are my estimates. Other people would come up with other
totals. But the gist is still there. And I’d challenge anyone to also look
at how well we are or aren’t, as a literature, addressing and including other
kinds of diversity. Equality is rarely achieved by accident – it takes effort.
But it’s always worth it.
to Monique Truong and John D’Emilio, winners of the American Library Association’s
GLBT Round Table’s Stonewall Awards. The awards will be presented at the ALA
Conference in Orlando, June 24-30. Truong will take home the Barbara Gittings
Literature Award for The Book of Salt and D’Emilio will receive the
Israel Fishman Nonfiction Award for The Lost Prophet: The Life and Times
of Bayard Rustin.
Stonewall Awards also recognize four honorable mentions in each category.
Cutting Room by Louise Welsh
Keeping You a Secret by Julie Ann Peters
Lives Of The Circus Animals by Christopher Bram
Southland by Nina Revoyr
Beautiful Shadow: A Life Of Patricia Highsmith by Andrew Wilson
Before Stonewall: Activists For Gay And Lesbian Rights In Historical
Context edited by Vern L. Bullough
Intertwined Lives: Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict And Their Circle by
Lois W. Banner
Ridiculous!: The Theatrical Life And Times Of Charles Ludlam by David
hey, in Britain, The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories won the Diagram
Prize for the Oddest Title of the Year. Who says lesbians don’t have a sense
of humor? It’s a collection of – yes – humorous short fiction… (“Alisa Surkis
and Monica Nolan invite readers back into the curves of third-sex pulp fiction
where odd-girls-out now ride free….”) Published in 2002 by Kensington Books.
Book Promo Stunt
Metrosexuality (straight guys with a gay man’s aesthetic
for grooming and fashion) is the next big thing, well, for straight guys.
DaCapo press gets this issue’s promo award for distributing 200,000 coasters
to bars in seven cities to promote their book, The Metrosexual Guide to
Style: A Handbook for the Modern Man. I wonder how that would work for
lesbian erotica titles in women’s clubs and bars?
Newman is updating The Whole Lesbian Sex Book and is looking
for lesbian, bi, and queer women – young, old, partnered and single, trans
and traditionally gendered, sexually experienced and new to exploration –
to share their experience, teach others, and generally rant and rave about
their sexual experience. Email her email@example.com
for her survey.
Literature issue is accepting submissions until March 1. Email them to Fran
What?! Sexism in The NYT Book Review?!
in case you needed documentation: The NYT Book Review overwhelmingly
favors books and book reviews written by men. Feminist writer and psychologist
Paula Caplan and psychotherapist Mary Ann Palko analyzed 53 consecutive issues
published in 2002 and 2003 and found that 72% of the books reviewed were written
by men and that 66% of the reviews were written by men.
Charles McGrath claims that the situation (at least in terms of reviewers,
if not books reviewed) has improved during his eight-year tenure. Caplan and
Palko conclude that the Times’ over reliance on male authors and reviewers
is demoralizing to women’s psychological development.
BTWOF would add – to women’s reputations, publishability, sales figures, income,
and general ability to impact the world. Meanwhile McGrath is in the process
of shifting to a new job as Times writer-at-large and the paper is
searching for a new editor for the Book Review. Most of the people
reported to be under consideration are women. Let’s hope that whoever it is,
she or he is also empowered to remedy such blatant imbalances.
And, in closing, congratulations
to the workers at the Borders flagship store in Ann Arbor, who have not only
voted union, but who have also successfully negotiated a contract. Employees
at Borders’ other unionized store (Minneapolis) have been working without
a contract since 2002. Workers of the world unite: Vote union but shop independent.
Yours in spreading the words,
for Books To Watch Out For