The Lesbian Edition
Volume 1 Number 7
Prose & Poetry & Pulitzers
our Pulitzer Prize winning authors, Alice Walker and Mary Oliver, have new
years ago Alice Walker swore off writing – at least for publication. But with
two books of poetry and a novel in 18 months, all I can say for sure is that it
seems to have given her a clear space from which to begin again: Absolute
Trust in the Goodness of the Earth: New Poems is recently out in paperback. ($13.95, Random House) and A Poem Traveled Down My Arm: Poems and
Drawings came out last October ($12.95, Random House). It’s easy to think
new novel, Now Is the Time to Open Your
Heart, is autobiographical, featuring, as it does, a well-published,
multiple-relationshiped author on a quest to learn to heal the earth and her
many inhabitants. Now Is the Time
follows the adventures of one Kate Nelson Talkingtree as she navigates the Colorado River with women friends, seeks the wisdom of
the grandmothers in the Amazon, and finds her way in a relationship. A lesser
thread follows Kate’s current partner (this time a man), Yolo, as he navigates
her absence, relationships past, and the sometimes tenuous connection between
them. Some readers might prefer a more strictly autobiographical account, but
fictionalizing clearly gives Walker
a necessary freedom. $24.95, Random House.
somehow, you missed Walker’s
1999 novel, By the Light of My Father’s
Smile, check it out. An excellent, if sometimes challenging novel, it offers
paths of resolution (even with the dead), explores passion as a necessary part
of healing, and demands that Magdalena's father learn, albeit after his death, to bless her relationship
with the woman she loves to compensate for the rigidities he imposed on her as a
child. It is, I think, a good example of what Walker means when she speaks of the necessity
of healing the ancestors, so they can bless us as we move forward. Only Alice
Walker would dream so courageously. $13.95, Ballantine.
Oliver is, many would argue, our finest writer on the natural world and our
place in it. And her writing offers solace and a resting place in these
troubled times. Long Life: Essays and
Other Writings – an excellent place to begin if you’re new to her work – uses
both essays and poetry to offer an intimate look at the world and world-view
that shape Oliver’s life and writing. The front-cover photo, of Oliver with
Molly Malone Cook – the “M” of the essays – would be worth the price of
admission. $22, Da Capo/Perseus.
"M. and I
have plagued each other with our differences for more than forty years. But it
is also a tonic. M. will hardly look at a bush. She wants a speedboat. I want
to sit down on the sand and get all dreamy; I want to see what spirits are peeking
out of the faces of the roses. Years ago M. took flying lessons
Oliver’s Why I Wake Early includes 47 new poems,
all written in the last two years. Oliver, of course, writes with exquisite
grace, whether about the local dump or crickets, trout lilies, or the necessity
of everyday happiness. These poems offer that necessary moment of renewal at
the end a long day of fighting the good fight. An excellent bedside or dinnertime
companion. $22, Beacon Press.
Her New and Selected Poems: Vol. 2 has been
rescheduled for Fall 2005; Why I Wake
Early was published in its stead.
of four booksellers I talked to in June recommended Luna, Julie Anne Peters’ not-just-for-young-adults novel that
starts, “Yeah, I loved her. I couldn't help it. She was
my brother." It’s not easy having a transgender brother even when you
love her fiercely: buying underwear and make-up, covering for her when the
parents appear, helping her dress for a mall stroll. Regan does it all, and
gladly, but sometimes, just sometimes, she’d rather focus on her own life....
Peters uses the “as seen through the eyes of” motif brilliantly to convey Luna/Liam’s
struggle for self-identity and acceptance while also maintaining Regan’s needs
and conflicts. Also worth checking out: Peters’ well received lesbian YA novel Keeping You a Secret. Both books: $16.95,
cloth, Little Brown.
Hickok’s tale of coming out in the 40’s, Against
the Current, reads a lot more like autobiography than fiction and Hickok
(b. 1919) acknowledges that it’s based on her own efforts to acknowledge and
accept her lesbianism, and to find friends, lovers, and a place in the world –
and a suitable career in a world with few options for independent women. It was
a pre-Stonewall, pre-Daughters of Bilitis community – but there was a network
of bars (Mona’s!) and books passed hand to hand (The Well of Loneliness, read standing up in a bookstore when it
first came out, and later Diana: A
Strange Autobiography, and Gale Wilhelms’ novels, We Too Are Drifting and Torchlight
to Valhalla) and much more. Essential reading for any woman who cherishes
lesbian history. That Hickok had to turn to Xlibris to get it out is more of
a commentary on the state of lesbian publishing (both mainsream and indie) than on the quality of the book. $21.99,
Hegland’s Into the Forest, which
was originally published by Calyx Books and then sold to Bantam as part of a $500,000
multi-book deal, was one of the literary sensations of 1996. The two young
women in this post-apocalyptic dystopia haunt the edges of my memory as if, perhaps
through friends of friends, I might yet get word of how they’re faring
won’t happen but the long wait for Hegland’s
second novel is over: Windfalls
is a worthy, if unexpected, successor, looking at the dystopian reality of
contemporary motherhood with such grace and perception that even those least
interested in “mothering” will enjoy it. In Windfalls, Hegland asks if women are defined by our choices, by our
circumstances, or by our hearts – and then gives us two women, both young and
single and facing unexpected pregnancies in vastly different circumstances. And
what a journey it is. I have to wonder if the literati who so cherish road-tour
books as “universal experience” will be able to get over themselves to see these
mothers’ journeys of mothering as equally universal. Look for Windfalls on next year’s Orange Prize
Windfalls, $25, Atria/Simon & Schuster. Into the Forest,
girls on the road are closer to your core interests, there’s a girl on the road
to Runne (North Dakota)
in Susan M. Brooks' She’s the Girl,
the tale of a 30-something woman looking for love in all the wrong places who
thinks maybe it’s in Runne, in the body of a recently remembered high school
sweetie. But life is the journey, right?
not the destination, and the
journey will mess with your mind, your sense of self, and certainly your sense
$14.95, Small Dogs Press.
rave review from a Book
Garden staffer at http://www.smalldogspress.com/press/Reviews.html
first chapter at http://www.smalldogspress.com/excerptspopup.html
But if it’s
the road to self-discovery you want, consider Desilicious: Sexy. Subversive. South Asian which explores the
relationship between sensuality and culture via a medley of arousing and innovative
short fiction and poetry designed to explode existing notions of cultural
“norms.” And it works. It’s not so much the inclusion of the wealth of lesbian-
and gay-positive stories that is so unexpected in this collection, it’s the
sex- and self-positive images of both older and young women that shatter
stereotypes and break new ground – such as Reena Sharma’s “Mrs. Gupta Visits
the Gynecologist” and Roohi Choudhry’s study in contrasts, “Truth in Real-Time.”
– Not, mind you, that I would have skipped the wonderfully lesbian stories, the
subversions of arranged marriages, or even the tender musings of the gay boys
whose desireds (if not their intendeds), lack the necessary courage
is a Punjabi word meaning, “of one’s own people,” and in this case, well over
half of the people are women. Edited by The Masala Trois Collective – Deborah
Barretto (whom many readers will know from her years at The Women’s
Press/Canada), Gubir Singh Jolly, and Zenia Wadhwani.
$16.95, C$21.95, Arsenal Pulp Press.
friend reminds me that a decade (or two) ago, I postulated that when lesbian characters
started showing up as bit parts in straight people’s books, we would stop
needing feminist bookstores and the women in print movement. It seemed so
unlikely then, but it seems nearly normal now that almost everybody (or at
least every writer) knows that they know some lesbians and gay men
. But, being
a little older and a little wiser, I’ll renege on the
it-would-be-OK-to-dismantle women’s bookstores and publishers part. Let’s wait
until the number of lesbian bit parts – and main characters – parallels our
representation in the general population and then reconsider.
this section celebrates some wonderful books that are aimed at a mainstream
reading public, rather than specifically to lesbians, which integrate lesbian
characters. Drop me a line if you have other favorite novels with lesbian bit-parts.
Henley’s excellent In the River Sweet integrates
a lesbian daughter into a midlife crisis (getting that dreaded/hoped-for email
from the child given up for adoption a lifetime ago) in an otherwise lucky
existence. Catholic by upbringing and choice, neither her daughter’s deviations
nor her own sit well with Ruth Anne Bond, but life is rarely limited to what
sits well, and Henley does a wonderful job of weaving together a difficult
childhood, recollections of Viet
Nam, mother-daughter (and father-daughter) friendships
– and difficulties – and the difficult job of forging a life of one’s own. A
great book to pass on to your mom or dad. I hope P-FLAG has a book of the year
and that this is it.
A Chicago Tribune Best Book of the Year and a
National Book Award Finalist. $14, Anchor/Random House.
you’ve read it, check out Henley’s autobiographical
lot less action – and drama – in Karen
Joy Fowler’s NYT bestseller, The Jane Austen Book Club. Fowler is
reported to have seen a notice in a bookstore for a Jane Austin Book Club and
was so disappointed that it wasn’t a novel that she sat down and wrote one. Fowler’s
book group features a circle of mid- and later-life friends, the lesbian
daughter of one of the mainstays (mother and daughter are both recovering from
bad endings to their respective relationships), and one young man. It’s
wonderfully full of ruminations on life (and, of course, relationships), on the
connections between women, between women and books, the complications of
friendships, and the way books (or their readers) change with each reading. And,
of course, reflections and discussions on Jane Austen’s novels. (Never read
them? No problem. It’s still a great read and there’s a cheat sheet in the back
should you want to check a detail.) $23.95, Putnam.
"My husbands weren’t any of them bad men. I
was the problem. Marriage seemed like such a small space whenever I was in it.
I liked the getting married. Courtship has a plotline. But there’s no plot to
"Allegra liked to describe herself as a garden-variety lesbian, she knew that
the truth was more complicated. Sexuality is rarely as simple as it is natural.
Allegra was not entirely indifferent to men, just to men’s bodies. She was
often attracted to the men in books; they seemed, as a rule, more passionate
than the women in books, though actual women seemed more passionate than actual
men. As a rule."
Piercy offers a cautionary tale in The
Third Child. Piercy seems to have had a hard time warming to her
conflicted, confused lead character, the youngest daughter in a politically
ambitious family. However Piercy’s political vision is wonderfully intact:
women’s lives, even (or especially) in wealthy Republican families are
impossibly demanding and conflicted, the sins of the fathers return to haunt their
families and, there among the cautionary themes: cover your back – if they’ll
do it to the family queer (in this case a lesbian aunt), they’ll do it to
anyone. $24.95, Morrow, look for the paperback in late fall.
Berg writes “heart-warming” books about lucky, basically happy white suburban
women in good marriages who encounter bad things that happen to other people.
And she often writes of women’s friendships. I find myself wanting her
characters to go further, deeper – but they do what they can do without rocking
their own boats more than they can stand. Berg’s recent Art of Mending hasn’t a lesbian in sight, but it’s a good tale of a
woman coming to terms with learning that her kind-of-difficult sister was
physically abused in the “happy” family they grew up in – and learning to
support that sister, albeit not as fully as that character might wish. Still,
an interesting tale featuring the non-targeted siblings in scapegoat-based
families. $24.95, Random House.
1997 Talk Before Sleep – again
presented from the view of the mostly happily married Ann (loves her husband
and daughter but often hates the whole confining institution of marriage) – portrays
a circle of women, one of them lesbian, who form a support circle around Ann’s
best friend, a recently separated artist, after she is diagnosed with terminal cancer.
And of course it’s the lesbian who always thinks outside the box, pushes
boundaries, and refuses to give in to what the others see as inevitable. I
don’t recall if she was clearly identified as a lesbian or if it’s all in the
subtext – but she’s clearly there, and is clearly a friend that every woman
. But I have to admit that Berg adds to my theory that a single lesbian
(in fiction or in fact) makes for an interesting anomaly, whereas a lesbian
with a community changes the entire landscape. $13.95, Dell.
my favorite lesbian bit parts show up in Spokane
writer Sherman Alexie’s stories (and films). They’re quirky, unexpected, never
tokens, and always an essential part of moving the story forward. Years ago,
Paula Gunn Allen famously wrote, “Dykes Are Like Indians.” Maybe Indians are
like dykes, too. In any case, Alexie always gets it right. I use his stories,
like sorbet, between longer works ‘to cleanse the palate.’ For deeply
satisfying stories, when you don’t have time for a novel, try Ten Little Indians ($13, Grove) or The Toughest Indian in the World ($12, Grove). If you need a good
video, look for The Business of
Fancydancing, (written and directed by Alexie), about a gay man who is
called back to the reservation for a funeral. His earlier film, Smoke Signals, was based on short
stories in The Lone Ranger and Tonto
Fistfight in Heaven $13, Harper/Perennial.
And David Leavitt (Lost Language of Cranes, While England Sleeps) explains how it
happens that a woman, stuck perhaps in a fifties sensibility and identity, is
the gay character of his new novel, The Body of Jonah Boyd: http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/ARTICLE.
Sex & Passion
In Box Lunch: A Layperson’s Guide to
Cunnilingus Diana Cage tells a girl (or a guy) everything s/he might want
to know about ‘going down’ on women in this celebration of giving (and getting)
oral sex. Good and useful information – whether or not you believe in tops,
bottoms, or that painting your toe nails “a bright slutty red” is a turn-on – for
even skilled practitioners of the art. $13.95, Alyson.
Cage’s On Our Backs: The Best Erotic
Fiction, Vol. 2, which promises to be “a new crop of lesbian porn stories
culled from America’s #1 lesbian sex magazine
that celebrate dyke sex in all
its forms – vanilla, sex between longtime lovers, hot spanking tales, group
sex, kink, and more” should be hitting the bookshelves as you read this.
Contributors include Cara Bruce, Nicole Foster, Lucy Jane Bledsoe, Thea
Hillman, Lee Lynch, Hanne Blank, Red Jordan Arbateau, and Sacchi Green. $14.95,
Once Upon a Dyke: New Exploits of
Fairy Tale Lesbians
is the latest offering in the Bella After Dark series. Racier than your average
Naiad, but still a bit pleasantly shy of On
Our Backs extremes, it asks “What’s so charming about Prince Charming,
anyway?” and proceeds with four re-visionings of standard fairy tales from
(horny) dyke perspectives. I preferred the stories with less focus on the
erotic – less being more, most of the time – and more focus on character
growth: Julia Watt’s (Finding H.F.) “The
Belle Rose” and Karin Kallmaker’s “A Fish Out of Water.” But others will prefer
Therese Szymanski’s “A Butch in Fairy Tale Land” and Barbara Johnson’s “Charlotte
of Hessen.” Definitely not Disney-approved. $14.95, Bella.
Lives To Watch Out For
Veaux’s Warrior Poet: A Biography of
Audre Lorde just arrived at BTWOF and I can’t wait. Lorde, even a decade
after her death, is still the consummate hero/poet/inspiration and push to
think more widely and act with more courage. And she’s such a volatile mix of
seeming contradictions and multiple truths that I suspect it will take many
biographies to capture it all. But this is the first and we’ve been waiting
such a long time
. $29.95, Norton.
Reading to the Kids
serious Judy Horacek fan – if one can be remotely serious about her hilarious
visual takes on the world. From the graphics that grace Books To Watch Out For to her new read-to-the-kids book Where Is the Green Sheep? Horacek
offers a sweet relief to the trials of daily life. I’d have bought Mem Fox’s
primer for adults, Reading Magic: Why
Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever, just for
Horacek’s illustrations if I hadn’t gotten totally caught up in the message:
to kids will change their lives. Any kids – from newborns to adolescent
boys – and yours, too. This is a book that should be sent home from the
hospital, along with a small stack of books, with every newborn. But it isn’t,
so it’s a superb gift for anyone who has (or is going to have) a kid. ($12,
Harvest/Harcourt.) And it showed me why Where Is the Green Sheep? (written by
Mem Fox) is a perfect read-to-the-kids book. Though I have to admit that my
favorite was the “bed sheep” who, of course, is reading in that bed, not
sleeping. $15, Harcourt in the US,
Penguin in Australia.
more-for-adults collection, Life on the
Edge, will be released in the U.S. in the Fall. $13.95, Spinifex.
fun on her web site http://www.horacek.com.au/.
She offers a mood-lifter any day of the week. Sign up for her e-reminder to
check her site when she posts new cartoons.
Never known for waiting for permission – and certainly not
legal approval – lesbians have been busily making babies for decades:
In Baby Steps: How
Lesbian Alternative Insemination Is Changing the World Amy Agigian offers a scholarly look at the lesbian
baby boom, considers the ways both reproductive medicine and family law
discriminate against lesbians, how lesbian AI challenges our culture’s most
basic assumptions about families, the effects of class, race, sexuality and
economics on lesbian reproduction, and suggests new legal (and philosophical)
approaches designed to improve the lives of lesbian family members. $29.95, Wesleyan University Press.
Coming in September: The Family of Women, based on extensive interviews with and
observation of the dynamics in thirty-four lesbian co-parent families where the
children were conceived via donor insemination, looks at the workings of this emerging
family form, and provides a theoretical understanding of how lesbian families
are quietly shattering the existing gender order. Author Maureen Sullivan is a
visiting Assistant Professor of Social Studies at Harvard. $21.95 paper, University of California Press.
interviewed 60 lesbians living with sexual abuse experiences for Can’t Touch My Soul: A Guide for Lesbian
Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse and integrates their stories and experiences
with information about every aspect of healing from childhood sexual abuse.
Rafanello offers a wealth of information about childhood sexual abuse, about
its long-term effects – both emotional and physiological – and a variety of
strategies for recovery as well as lesbian-specific and lesbian-affirming
information. Its 400+ pages may feel a bit overwhelming at first, but most
lesbian survivors will find their experience represented. Next edition I’d like
to see more specific experiences of lesbians of color – and an index. $16.95,
complaint about The Fire This Time:
Young Activists and the New Feminism is that it didn’t seem quite angry
enough to live up to the title. Inspired by frustration with the feminism they
encountered, Third Wavers like the book’s editors, Vivien Labaton and Dawn
Lundy Martin, and Rebecca Walker (who wrote the foreword), set out to create
their own institutions that would do a better, more inclusive job of
broadcasting a feminism that addresses all power imbalances, whether based on
race, gender, economic disparity, or globalization. The essays in The Fire This Time teach recent
feminist history and tackle issues as diverse as misogynist rappers, funding a
movement, the growing incarceration of women, changes in women’s work under
globalization and new technologies, and building effective news networks. The Fire This Time insists that the new
feminism must be multi-issue, multicultural, and multi-visioned. It’s enough to
give hope to even the most jaded old – or young – feminists. $14.95, Anchor.
more ammunition to dispute Bush’s “compassionate” conservatism? Pick up Laura
Flanders’ The W Effect: Bush’s War on
Women for the update on Bush’s intentional, cold-blooded and punitive
virtual war on women. Amber Hollibaugh, Cynthia Enloe, Jill Nelson, Barbara
Ehrenreich, Katha Pollitt, Gloria Steinem, Gail Sheehy, Vandana Shiva, Farai
Chideya and other furious women cover the range of the Bush administration’s
attacks on women including preaching abstinence while withholding birth-control
funds, “women’s rights” bills that cut women’s wages and freedoms, the increase
in violence against women in U.S.-occupied countries, and much more. $15.95, The Feminist Press.
never too late to have a good time at the prom – at least vicariously. David
Boyer uses a school-yearbook motif to document who took who to the prom over
the last 75 years in Kings and Queens: Queers at the Prom. Photos include lesbian
prom queens, a transgender king, and gay high school sweethearts – as well as a
lot of straight-looking young people – but additional photos tell the real stories
of who they really are – and who they grew up to be. $24.95, Soft Skull Press.
Green offers a readable mix of personal experience, social and political
analysis, and basic education for anyone seeking further insight into the FTM
experience in Becoming a Visible Man,
a not-fiction-at-all account of Jamison’s journey through a childhood in a
girl/woman’s body, twenty-some years as a lesbian feminist, grappling with the
concepts of gender vs. sex, a growing understanding of herself as (bisexual)
male, surgical transition, a hormone-induced second adolescence, coming
into a male adulthood, and an adult life as a transman activist. Insightful,
moving, and occasionally irritating – as when Green refers to “the
lesbian-feminist doctrine of male evil,” a cheap shot in a book that otherwise
strives to validate a wide range of sexual, gender, and political identities
and experiences. $24.95 paper, Vanderbilt University Press.
Press is publishing a series of three queer encyclopedias, all extracted from
the wealth of info at www.glbtq.com, the
online encyclopedia of GLBTQ culture. The Queer Encyclopedia of the Visual Arts
is just out, The Queer Encyclopedia of
Music, Dance, and Musical Theater will be published this Fall 2004, and The Queer Encyclopedia of Film, Theatre, and
Popular Culture in Spring 2005; all three are edited by Claude J. Summers.
The Queer Encyclopedia of the Visual
Arts seeks to place
portrayals of same-sex desire in historical context, to provide accurate
biographical info about artists who have contributed to queer artistic
traditions, and to explore important questions about the presence of
homoeroticism in the world’s artistic legacy. It’s a great beginning and there’s
a wealth of information here – it would be easy to spend hours wandering among the
entries. And, print fiend that I am, I’m always glad to see online resources
documented in that presumably longer lasting and more stable format, ink on
(and I think the editors would agree), the information here barely scratches
the surface, especially with regards to women, people of color, and
non-Euro/American art. Centuries of discrimination against all of these groups,
of course, impacts when and where we appear in the traditional canon
but in a
discussion of queer art, I want much more access to womanist and even (gasp!)
feminist ideas and images which, I would posit, affect lesbian representation
in art and its making, as profoundly as homoeroticism affects male imagery, and
that simply plugging women into the concepts that define male experience (and
art) does us all a disservice. The whole project is very much a work in
progress and I expect it to grow in all of these directions.
is also the editor of The Gay and Lesbian
Literary Heritage which was named one of the best reference books of 2003
by the New York Public Library. $29.95 paper, 375 pages, 120 b&w
illustrations, Cleis Press.
do lesbians and gay men have a good time? Turn to The Gay & Lesbian Atlas to find out. Gary Gates and Jason Ost
mine the 2000 Census data for the characteristics of the 594,391 reported same-sex
“unmarried partner” couples to find out where we live, with whom (turns out
we’re more likely than heterosexuals to live in racially and ethnically diverse
neighborhoods), where lesbian & gay parents live, and where to find
concentrations of African-American and Hispanic couples. State and city maps also
break some of the information by male and female couples, ethnicity, and the
presence of children. Could be a real asset in choosing where to buy or rent
when moving to a new town. $49.50 paperback, The Urban Institute.
freaks might also want Joni Seager’s The
(Penguin) Atlas of Women. $20, Penguin. [This is not a title-match/recommendation
you’d find on Amazon.com. A.com’s suggested reading for The Atlas of Women is a not-so-near miss, “Meet (single) Women in Michigan.”
Hmmm. Meet women at Michigan,
.but I don’t think they have quite the right demographics in
More on Marriage
We Do: A Celebration of Gay and
Lesbian Marriage, a
photo essay celebrating and documenting the joy in San Francisco’s 4000+ lesbian and gay marriages
earlier this year. It also includes photos from Portland, New Mexico,
and New Paltz. Written and edited by SF newly-weds Amy
Rennert and Louise Kollenbaum, it starts with Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon’s marriage
(just another adventure in their 51-year partnership and quest for rights for
lesbians and all women) and goes from there. A pleasure for the already
convinced, an excellent coffee-table book for supporters, and an excellent gift
and conversation-starter for opposed-but-still-deeply-human relatives and
acquaintances as Bush does his best to whip up a frenzy of anti-gay sentiment
as a way to distract voters from his real agenda. Actually, I wonder if even
the most hardened homophobes could page through this book without being deeply
moved. Kudos to Chronicle Books for getting behind this title and going from
concept to finished books in less than four months. $19.95, Chronicle Books.
by the We Do group autographing
session at Books By the Bay to visit with the gals on page 64, Pat Holt (long
term book critic, champion of independent bookselling, publishing and thinking,
and brain behind Holt Uncensored)
and Terry Ryan (The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25
Words or Less.) Filming has
just started on the movie version of The Prize Winner. It stars Julianne Moore, Woody Harellson,
Laura Dern, and 30 child-actors, portraying the family at three different ages.
Look for it in 2005.
Beacon has republished E. J. Graff’s What Is Marriage For with a new
foreword. It’s the perfect book to throw at anyone who starts up with the
“sanctity of marriage” routine outlining, as it does, the history of marriage
in the west, how marriage law has always
been a battle-ground, and how marriage law is rewritten to fit each era and
economy – and how the prophets of gloom and doom have predicted that every push
for equality (women’s suffrage, reproductive rights, interracial marriage,
etc.) heralds the end of civilization. What did those erstwhile protectors of
the sacred institution of marriage have to say about nineteenth century laws
that gave women control over our own property and wages?
If any single thing should remain
untouched by the hand of the reformer, it [is] the sacred institution of
–a New York
legislator in the face of defeat.
Contrary not only to the law of England,
but to the law of God, –British Parliamentarian.
That they would lead ‘to infidelity
in the marriage bed, a high rate of divorce, and increased female criminality’
while turning marriage from ‘its high and holy purposes’ (from a 1844 New York legislative
Gee, that all sounds strangely
. And it’s a good read, too. $16, Beacon.
Marriage: The Personal and the Political, by Kathleen A. Lahey and Kevin
Alderson, is two books in one: Lahey’s section, the first hundred pages or so,
looks at the political and legal struggle for marriage around the world. She
pays particular attention to the seemingly sudden legalization of gay marriage
which, she stresses, is built on 30 years of civil, legal, and human rights
work which culminated, for gays, in being defined as “persons” under the law.
Anderson’s longer section offers interviews with 16 couples revealing the
interesting and complex people behind the legal challenges including a
San Franciscan who feels more accepted in the Netherlands than where she was
born, Americans who left the U.S. to resist the American war in Viet Nam and
stayed, Americans who turn to Canada for civil rights not yet available here, a
Chinese couple eager to take their Canadian marriage home to Hong Kong, and several
of the Canadian couples whose efforts opened up the marriage laws in Canada.
Lahey (Are We ‘Persons’ Yet? Law and Sexuality in Canada, University of Toronto) was
the lawyer for three of the couples who won the right to marry from the B.C.
Court of Appeal on July
8, 2003. Alderson (Beyond
Coming Out and Breaking Out: The
Complete Guide to Building and Enhancing a Positive Gay Identity for Men and
Women, both from Insomniac Press) is a counselling psychologist in Calgary. $16.95, $21.95
OK, rights are one thing, but some want
the whole traditional wedding, too. If that’s you – or if you want some advice
on the same-sex deviations in wedding planning check out Gay and Lesbian Weddings, which advises coming out
before you send the invitations, checking what the limo driver will wear, and much more.
by David Toussant with Heather Leo. $16.95, Ballantine/Random House.
(More) Marriage Books To Watch Out For
I Do/I Don't, an anthology from Suspect Thoughts Press, will (finally!)
address the ambivalence many of us feel about this most conservative of social
institutions. Edited by Greg Wharton and Ian Philips. $16.95,
Looking for something different? The M Word: Writers on
Same-Sex Marriage, edited by Kathy Pories, will include essays by both gay (Dan Savage, Stacey
D'Erasmo, David Leavitt, Alexander Chee, and Jim Grimsley) and straight writers
(Francine Prose, George Saunders, and Wendy Brenner) – just as if this was an
important issue for, well, everyone. Hmmmm. Look for it in October from Algonquin
Why Marriage? The History Shaping Today's Debate Over
Gay Equality, by historian George Chauncey, will be out in August from
Spring’s line-up includes The Survival Guide to Gay
Weddings by the gay brother/lesbian sister team K.C. David and Dawn Kohn from
St. Martin's Press and Green Party Mayor Jason West’s political memoir Another
World Is Possible about, among other things, performing same-sex marriages
in New Paltz. Miramax.
Now in Paperback
Monica Truong’s excellent The Book of Salt, a wonderful look at expatriate France from the
perspective of the (gay) Vietnamese cook for Gertrude Stein & Alice B.
Toklas. If you’re looking for a brilliantly written, insightful yet entertaining
summer read, this would be it. What did we say about it in BTWOF: Lesbian #2?
“An exquisitely written novel that begs to be read aloud: the sentences are as
savory as the food Binh prepares.” $13.95, Mariner/Houghton Mifflin.
Robert A. Schanke’s
wonderful (see BTWOF:
Lesbian #4) That Furious Lesbian: The Story of Mercedes de Acosta
is out in a $25 paperback. Southern Illinois
Andrew Wilson’s look at the difficult and troubled life of Patricia Highsmith.
Most of Highsmith's work (with the exception of her very early – and sweet –
non-mystery, The Price of Salt) – as
well as her biography – are much too noir
for my reading pleasure, but others will be interested in the rest of the life of the
woman Marijane Meaker profiled in Highsmith
($14.95, Cleis Press), her memoir of their mid-fifties affair and/or in
the woman who wrote Strangers on a Train
and The Talented Mr. Ripley. $18.95, Bloomsbury.
Word is that Highsmith’s just-published final novel, Small
g: A Summer Idyll, might have
benefited from one more revision
. still, it’s Highsmith incorporating gay
(male) characters, gay bashers, and (women) homophobes
. $24.95, Norton.
What They're Reading at
In Other Words
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 Sue Burns, the manager at In Other Words in Portland, Oregon, what she'd been reading:
* Books with lesbian content.
Without a Net edited by Michelle Tea
Heartfelt experiences of working-class women growing up. Riveting and
insightful. $14.95, Seal Press.*
Gay and Lesbian Weddings by David Toussaint
Over three thousand same-sex couples were
given marriage licenses in Portland this past spring. Waiting for the state
to legitimatize these unions doesn't stop us from having the party. This
is the perfect guide book. $16.95, Ballantine Books.*
Warrior Poet: a Biography of
Audre Lorde by Alexis De Veaux
I'm not sure
anyone could tell Lorde's life any better than she already has, but I'm
devouring this book anyway. $29.95, W. W. Norton.*
The Fat Girl's Guide to Life by
Portland is home to
FatGirlSpeaks - A Celebration of Size, Self, and Sexuality and so, thanks
to Stacy Bias, we have almost eradicated fatphobia from the Pacific Northwest.
It is good to know the rest of you have a comparable guide book. $23.95, Bloomsbury Press.
A Girl, In Parts by Jasmine Paul
When this book was still a galley, we passed it to almost all of the 30
women who volunteer at In Other Words. We all loved the eloquent, painful return
to our adolescence. $14.95, Counterpoint.
Windfalls by Jean Hegland
I used to say Into the Forest was my favorite novel. Now I
can say Jean Hegland is my favorite author. She writes so beautifully, and
yet realistically, about timely and important issues. $25.00, Atria Books.
Girls Rock: Fifty Years of Women Making Music by Mina
Carson, Tisa Lewis, and Susan M. Shaw
These three women, rock fans and academics, wrote this comprehensive
analysis of women in rock by writing some, emailing it to the next one and so
on. That's feminist process! $29.99, University of Kentucky Press.*
Whatever, Mom! Hip Mama's
Guide to Raising a Teenager by Ariel Gore with Maia Swift
The only thing better than Ariel's revolutionary take on raising a kid is
her teenage daughter's commentary. Love this book. $14.95, Seal Press.*
Many thanks to Sue and to all the women at In Other Words for their help and for all the work they do to support our community. You can find In Other Words online at http://www.inotherwords.org, and a current list of women's bookstores at www.litwomen.org/WIP/stores.html.
What They Are Reading at Women & Children First
I was in
Women & Children First Bookstore in June, and was struck by these two staff reviews:
Bubon on Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s Referred
wonderful collection – stories that disturb and provoke and, most of all, make
you think. I’ve read all of Schwartz’s fiction (most of it unavailable,
unfortunately), and have never forgotten any of it.” $24, Counterpoint.
Christophersen on Edwidge
Danticat’s The Dew Breaker:
think I’ve ever used ‘amazing’ to describe a novel – but I find The Dew Breaker amazing. It’s a hard
story about a Haitian torturer and the lives he has affected, but it’s told
with such subtlety and skill and yes, even humor on occasion, that it is not
only powerful but a wonder of literary experience." $22, Knopf/Random House
Feminist Bookshop, a book store run by three lesbian sisters. They’re
celebrating thirty years of lesbian, feminist, and gay bookselling in Australia. Read
all about it at http://www.ssonet.com.au/display.asp?ArticleID=3380.
The Crime Scene
By Nan Cinnater
I'm traditional and conservative only when it comes to reading for
pleasure. I like the genres to observe their conventions, and I agree with the
Detection Club's rules for mystery writers, as set out by Dorothy L. Sayers.
Thus it's surprising that I was completely engrossed in a "whydunit,"
Commitment to Die, by Jennifer L. Jordan ($11.95, Bean Pole Books). Denver lesbian Lauren
Fairchild commits suicide, and part-time P.I. Kristin Ashe is hired by Lauren's
sister to find out why. Kristin uncovers a tangle of family dysfunction and
disability that resonates uncomfortably with her own issues. Her epileptic
brother is in a coma, while at the same time Kristin is dealing with her fear
of commitment to her lover of three years. ("Couldn't we keep dating?")
Comic relief is provided by her best friend Fran, a queer ex-nun with a can-do
attitude. First-time author Jordan is brilliant at capturing the dynamics of a
family with an elephant in the living room. Big issues about society's response
to disability are folded seamlessly into a surprisingly suspenseful, eminently
readable story. I'm so glad I didn't let the Detection Club keep me from it.
The name is Bond
Jane Bond, in Mabel Maney's silly sixties
spoof, The Girl with the Golden Bouffant ($14.95, HarperEntertainment).
Best known among lesbians for her Nancy Clue parodies, The Case of the
Not-So-Nice Nurse, The Case of the Good for Nothing Girlfriend, and A
Ghost in the Closet (all $14.95, Cleis Press), Maney turned to the ultimate
sixties icon with Kiss the Girls and Make Them Spy ($14,
HarperEntertainment) in which James Bond's lesbian twin sister was drafted to
impersonate 007 in the service of the Queen. Now Jane has become a double agent
for Girls in Europe Organized to Right Grievances and Insure Equality, a
G.E.O.R.G.I.E. girl. Her mission: to infiltrate an international spy convention
in Las Vegas
and steal a weapon so super-secret no one knows what it is. Like some of the
best SNL sketches, the premise is inspired but the execution goes on too long.
Set in the literally cut-throat world of cancer research, Cold
Steal by Carole Spearin McCauley ($16.95, Hilliard and Harris) introduces
bisexual medical writer Pauli Golden. Staff reporter at a genetics research
institute in Connecticut,
Pauli is having a passionate affair with her married and monumentally
insensitive boss, Dr. Stevens St. Steven. When he is murdered at a party
celebrating a million-dollar research grant, Pauli is in an ideal position to
investigate. Medical writer McCauley does a great job detailing the politics of
the "war" on cancer, including alternative therapies, but she can
also write sharply and movingly about people and relationships.
Last Call by Baxter Clare ($12.95, Bella Books) brings back her lesbian
heroine, Lieutenant L.A. "Frank" Franco of the LAPD homicide squad.
This is the fourth in a series consisting of Bleeding Out (Firebrand
Press -- out of print; check your library or used bookstores), Street Rules,
and Cry Havoc (both $12.95, Bella Books). When her fellow cop and
former partner Noah Jantzen is killed in a car accident, Frank compensates by
fixating on an unsolved child-murder case Noah left behind. With her emotions
shut down and her drinking out of control, Frank seems bent on
self-destruction. Written in terse, present-tense prose, Last Call is
gritty, streetwise, and so tough it's practically bullet-proof.
If you're more of a body-in-the-library cozy mystery fan, you won't
want to miss these two academic mysteries, with strong, feminist, but
heterosexual heroines. Orange Crushed by Pamela Thomas-Graham features
African American Nikki Chase, an economics professor at Harvard. Nikki travels
to Princeton to see her mentor Earl Stokes,
chair of the Afro Am Studies Department. Before he can announce his impending
(and controversial) move to Harvard, Earl is murdered. This is the third in a
series of Ivy League mysteries, which began with A Darker Shade of Crimson
($6.99, Pocket) and Blue Blood ($6.99, Pocket). A graduate of Harvard Business
School and Harvard Law
knows whereof she writes, and it's wonderful to get her outsider/insider take
on these institutions of the elite.
Joanne Dobson writes about another outsider academic in The
Maltese Manuscript ($6.99, ibooks), self-made, working-class literature professor
Karen Pelletier. At a conference on
the mystery genre at her liberal arts college, Karen
is stuck with entertaining the guest speaker, a bestselling author closely
resembling Patricia Cornwell. Expect wicked send-ups of post-deconstructionist
lit crit and, well, Patricia Cornwell. This is the fifth and, according to
Dobson, last in a series that began with Quieter Than Sleep ($6.99, Bantam).
One of the best thrillers of 2003 was Monkeewrench by
mother-daughter team P.J. Tracy, now in paper ($6.99, Signet; see BTWOF
Lesbian Edition #1). The sequel, Live Bait ($23.95, Putnam) brings
back Minneapolis detective Leo Magozzi and enigmatic computer maven Grace
McBride, but it's missing some of the feminist elements (a lesbian cop in a
minor role, an emphasis on a couple of beautiful, sexy plus-size women
characters) that made Monkeewrench so refreshing. In Live Bait,
someone is killing old people in one Minneapolis
neighborhood. The victims have nothing else in common, except history. A strong
plot and entertaining dialogue make it worthwhile.
Now in Paper
A Fountain Filled with Blood by Julia Spencer-Fleming ($6.99, St. Martin's/Minotaur -- See BTWOF Lesbian Edition #1). For more in this series
featuring former Army pilot turned Episcopal priest Clare Ferguson, there's Out
of the Deep I Cry ($23.95, St. Martin's/Minotaur).
The Book of Light by Michele Blake ($6.99, Berkley Prime Crime -- See BTWOF
Lesbian Edition #1). Another woman Episcopal priest in a taut adventure
reminiscent of The DaVinci Code, only with more accurate scholarship.
Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear ($14, Penguin) won the Edgar
Award for Best Mystery Novel of 2003. (See BTWOF
Lesbian Edition #5 for a full review.) Maisie is back in Birds of a
Feather ($25.00, Soho) which was well
reviewed by Marilyn Stasio in The New York Times Book Review. Apparently,
Maisie retains her unusual psychological approach to private investigation, and
her cases continue to deal with the traumatic aftermath of WWI.
Death of a Nationalist by Rebecca Pawel ($12.00, Soho)
won the Edgar Award for Best First Mystery. See BTWOF
Lesbian Edition #5.