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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.
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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.
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covers the finest in thinking women's reading, plus mysteries, non-sexist children's books, and news from women's publishing. Written by the owners and staff at Women & Children First, and friends.
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The Lesbian Edition
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From Ann Allen Shockley,
author of the lesbian
classic Loving Her,
comes a tale of an Historically
Black College on the brink of its One Hundredth anniversary
– while internal academic conflicts and a shocking discovery
about an admired faculty member create a fascinating maze
of gender and racial identity issues.
Volume 2 Number 4
The Lesbian Edition Returns!
The Lesbian Edition has been silent for too many months while I’ve been
doing the background work of launching Books To Watch Out For’s third publication,
More Books for Women - resolving many of the ongoing technical challenges
of inventing this kind of book review and literature support scheme, changing
credit card service providers to one with an excellent security record (our old
provider wasn’t in the top rankings any longer and we aren’t content with anything
less than stellar ratings on credit card security), and sorting out the odd health challenges.
As much as I hated to take time from The Lesbian Issue to do any of
these things, they were all essential to TLE and BTWOF’s continued long-term
survival. I knew when I launched TLE and The Gay Men’s Edition that
it would take all three publications to build a financial base solid enough to
give them the support they need to flourish and I’m thrilled to have all three
publications up and running. It took a little longer than I’d expected, but still,
launching three publications in two and a half years is a huge success. Financial
stability is a rare and lovely thing for lesbian publications and I’m trusting
that this structure will create it.
The next step, of course, is to make sure that all the readers who love lesbian,
feminist and gay books know about Books To Watch Out For. For that we rely
on our readers as well as continually doing outreach in new directions. To
help with that, I’ve hired Leigh Davidson, long time managing editor with
Down There Press and before that with Volcano Press, as Assistant Publisher.
Her hats include chief publicist, issue production, operations and admin management.
It was a long hard summer after Suzanne left for a full-time job - remind
me not to try to manage this publication without staff support, should I ever
be foolish enough to try that again! Once Leigh’s up and running, I look forward
to actually having time to read (and review!) books again.
In the meantime, please accept my apology for the long delay between issues,
and for the books not covered in 2005. We should be publishing regularly (10 issues/year)
in 2006, and plan a few bonus issues toward making up for the lost time.
In This Issue
Inspired by Richard’s popular “Favorites and Bests for 05” article in the November
issue of The Gay Men’s Edition, this issue of The Lesbian Edition features
“Best Reads of 2005” from a variety of lesbian editors and writers. We’ll have
more next issue, too. The issue also includes four reviews that had been written
for issues of The Lambda Book Report that were never published. We selected
reviews of books that hadn’t been covered, or were only briefly covered, in TLE.
We’ll run more in the next issue. And, of course, the issue includes a few of
our favorite books, The Crime Scene, and a great “What They’re Reading at Charis”
column, and news from around the lesbian publishing scene.
Our New Year's Resolution is to publish The Lesbian Edition early and often. And we wish you the best in the new year, and peace to us all, all around the world.
Yours in spreading the words,
PS: A quick reminder that nominations for the Lambda Literary Awards are open
until December 31. For details: http://www.lambdaliterary.org/awards.html
Favorites and Bests for '05
BTWOF wrote to 70 lesbian writers and editors and asked what their favorite
reads of 2005 were. "Preferably but not necessarily books published in 2005, – preferably but not necessarily lesbian books, and a few words about why you like them," I wrote, and added that I was more interested in their favorites than a "best book of the year" conclusion.... Here are the first responses. We'll feature the rest next issue. -CS
What Lesbian Writers and Editors are Reading
a quick response because I'm off for Antarctica tomorrow - got a gig on an Australian
"voyage" as a "lecturer” but I have a definite choice: The Letters
of Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf edited by Louise DeSalvo and Mitchell
Leaska. Cleis reissued it a few of years ago. It's such an amazing read because
the letters are so passionate and funny and human. Who would have thought that
brilliant and poetic Virginia Woolf could be whiny or jealous and even silly?
Their freely expressed passion for each other is a joy to read. And Vita's endless
dalliances are intriguing, as are Virginia's responses to them.
(Lucy Jane writes for both adults and middle schoolers. Her adult novels include
This Wild Silence and Working Parts. Her kids' books include The
Antarctic Scoop and Hoop Girlz. Forthcoming: The Ice Cave: A Woman's
Adventures from the Mohave to the Antarctic and, for the kids, How to Survive
My favorite book of 2005 was Petty Treason by Madeleine E. Robins, a
wonderful historical mystery that's so entertaining it almost qualifies as a guilty
pleasure. I reviewed it in TLE#
(Nan writes the mysteries columns for The Lesbian Edition and for More
Books for Women. She co-ran Provincetown’s wonderful mystery and gay bookstore,
Now Voyager, for many years.)
I spent a lot of the summer sipping Terry Castle's
phenomenally delicious Literature of Lesbianism. Every queer person interested
in history and literature should own a copy. Go and buy it now!
I was rattled by Oran Pamuk's Snow, a difficult book but well worth
the effort. Orhan Pamuk said in February in an interview with a Swiss newspaper
that certain topics in Turkey were off limits for writers. He cited the genocide
of the millions of Armenians and Kurds during WW1 as an example. He now faces
prison for defaming the Turkish state. His timing (Turkey is lobbying to join
the European Union) is impeccable.
I just re-read J.M. Coetzee The Life and Times of Michael K and
am, once again, blown away by the power of Coetzee's writing.
The Master was extraordinarily absorbing
- I have been reading Toibin's other books this fall.
I had fun with The Man Who Invented Rock
Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus series is fab.
Happy Baby by Stephen Elliott knocked
my socks off.
I am just reading Stet by Diana Athill
(famed editor of Andre Deutsch) and loving it!
I look forward to Alison Bechdel's forthcoming
novel and the republication of The Illusionist by Francoise Mallet-Joris.
(Sorry this one is a plug for a Cleis forthcoming book but it really is excellent.)
I’m on my way to Paris this Christmas where, inspired
by the wonderful biography by Judith Thurman (Secrets of the Flesh), I
will be reading Colette.
(Frédérique is a visionary, a publisher, and the
co-founder of Cleis Press.)
Helen Humphreys’ Wild Dogs - about a group of people whose dogs have
run off to the woods - is a ravishingly written novel about the contrary pulls
of danger and home, by a Canadian lesbian novelist who deserves to be an international
(Emma is an Irish writer living in Canada; her books include Life Mask,
The Woman Who Gave Birth To Rabbits, Slammerkin, Kissing The Witch, Hood, and
Stirfry. Touchy Subjects, stories about contemporary controversies
and embarrassing topics, comes out from Harcourt in June.)
My favorite book this year is from another year: Tipping the
Velvet, by Sarah Waters. I was on the Olivia Writers Salon
Cruise with her in the spring, so decided to re-read her novel.
I was as moved and impressed as I was the first time around, the
year it won the Lammy. -It made me want to rent the DVD. After
that I was still craving her words so I read her second novel,
Affinity. Wow, she can write!!!
(Jewelle’s books include Don't Explain and the very, very, very wonderful
Lesbian Book - Sleep With Me by Joanna Briscoe -
It’s a dark and chilling tale of love, lust, madness, delusion
and deception. The novel is told alternately through
the eyes of Richard, a literary supplement editor, and his fiancée
Leila, an academic. The book opens with the giddy conception of
their first child and a post-coital scramble to a friend's party.
At that party is Sylvie, a somewhat mousey woman who seems to
fade into the background so much that Richard and Leila barely
notice her. Over time Sylvie seems to crop up everywhere and strikes
up separate friendships with both Richard and Leila and her influence
Briscoe weaves the different strands expertly into a genuine
page-turner and the mounting tension is superbly executed. It's
a difficult book to pin down and indeed this is part of its strength
- it's a thriller, it's a love story, it's a darkly erotic book
and it's got a strain of gothic horror. The writing is by turns
beautifully delicate and then shockingly brutal, and Briscoe skillfully
conjures many memorable scenes. Sublime.
Non-Lesbian Book - The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey
Niffenegger - I think most people probably know what its about by now but for
the uninitiated: Henry suffers from Chrono-Displacement Disorder which means that
periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself pulled suddenly into
his past or future. He meets his future wife Claire when she is 6 and he is 36;
they get married when she is 22 and he is 30. Henry's time travelling is spontaneous and sometimes
he has great fun adventures, but other times his experiences can be painful and
harrowing. The novel follows Henry back and forth to chart his relationship with
Claire and the events are related alternately by both of them.
Hugely original and unbearably moving, this book doesn't feel like a debut
novel at all. Niffenegger writes with immense confidence and her prose is both
lyrical and raw. Not many books have made me cry but this one did several
times and it wasn't necessarily because something was sad, it was also because
of its beauty.
(Seraphina manages Libertas - the British lesbian bookstore that morphed into
an online-sales site, www.libertas.co.uk, and edits its magazine
Dykelife. Both the website - which features a marvelous selection of interviews
with lesbian writers - and the magazine are great resources that aren’t well enough
known on this side of the big puddle.)
I was lucky enough to be invited to be part of the York Lesbian Festival held
in York, England in late October. There I met Diana Souhami. I had long admired
her biography of Gluck, but here she was with another biography,
Wild Girls, this one about Natalie Barney and Romaine Brooks. Diana Souhami
is such a pleasure to read. She combines lesbian wit with fine scholarship, great
readability and a wonderfully dry sense of humor. So taken was I, that I have
also since read Gertrude and Alice with its appreciation of the
combined strengths of these two famous lesbians. And after that, The
Trials of Radclyffe Hall. I walked away from this with more admiration for
Radclyffe Hall's courage and stamina than I'd had before, but less taken with
the character of Lady Una Troubridge. I recommend all of her books to readers
On my list of summer reading (I'm in Australia): Jeanette Winterson's Weight.
And a couple from our own press (which will celebrate 15 years of independent
feminist and lesbian publishing with a big bash in February). Jenny Kelly's
fabulous book on lesbians and menopause, Zest for Life provides a great
model for how menopause could be regarded in the mainstream. Lesbians have
developed strategies for dealing with this life shift. Diane Bell's novel,
Evil, is a great read for lesbians and feminists who want a book that
might reflect their own experiences of the last decade.
(Susan is the Publisher at Australia’s Spinifex Press and is also a poet, novelist,
and theorist. Her books include The Butterfly Effect - to be released in
North America in April, The Falling Woman, and Wild Politics: Feminism,
Globalisation and Bio/diversity.)
Paul Simon once sang, "When I think back on all the crap I learned in
high school / It's a wonder I can think at all." Having gone to high school
in a backwater New Jersey suburb in the cold-war 1960s, I know exactly what he
means, and relearning history, in particular, has become one of the projects of
my adult life. Bury The Chains by Adam Hochschild, about the British antislavery
movement, is terrific "people's history" - a story of courageous organizing
on all levels, from working "within the system," to boycotts, slave
rebellions - and media campaigns, 19th century style. The famous diagram of the
interior of a slave ship is so recognizable now because it was a widely distributed
abolitionist poster. The book is eye-opening, inspiring, and thrilling - I couldn't
put it down.
I also recommend Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost about the looting
of the Congo and the killing and enslavement of its people by Belgium's King Leopold
II in the late 19th century.
Amy is Editor in Chief of the newly revived Women's Review of Books and
the author of Hospital Time. Her prequel memoir-in-progress, An Army
of Ex-Lovers, is about being an editor at the Boston weekly Gay Community
News in the late 1970s.)
My favorite book of 2005 was the wonderful biography of Tallulah Bankhead,
Tallulah! The Life and Times of a Leading Lady, by Joel
Lobenthal. As a film and theatre lover as well as someone curious about lesbian
life back when, the book was a treat. While it sometimes provided more detail
about the films and scripts than I could absorb, it was grand to hear that there
was a whole lot of serious Sapphic canoodling going on backstage and behind the
cameras - and lots of famous folks involved. The book names names and gives a
fantastic peek at lesbian life as far back as 1920. And Tallulah herself was scandalously
(Fay is author of As I Lay Frying: A Rehoboth Beach Memoir.)
Things No Longer There: A Memoir of Losing Sight and Finding Vision
by Susan Krieger is a series of poetic meditations/essays and a novella on the
changing nature of the outer world - landscapes, relationships, and perhaps most
importantly, the author’s shifting, diminishing sight due to a rare condition known
as birdshot retinochoroidopathy. Only our inner experiences - memories and emotions,
for instance, have a crystalline stability. As someone who has also lost my own
sight recently, I was inspired by Krieger’s ability to enjoy her present, to re-evaluate
her past, and to connect both to her lesbianism. The book is also available in
HTML format and in audio format for the print-impaired. Though the recording is
a bit amateurish, I was grateful that it exists at all for there are few recordings
made of lesbian material.
(Karla is the Vice President of the Lambda Literary Foundation and has written,
edited, and translated ten books, the most recent of which is Tales of the
Lavender Menace: A Memoir of Liberation.)
With limited time for reading pleasure, the fact that I got to read aloud,
savor, study and outright wallow in Pride & Prejudice as legitimate
work research made my summer.
(Karin is the author of the recently released Just Like That, a.k.a.
Pride & Prejudice: The Lesbian Edition).
Here are some of my faves, and thanks for asking me!
1. Everyone Into the Pool: True Tales by Beth Lisick - She’s the best kind
of storyteller - utterly original, naturally hilarious, wisely observant, and
completely down-to-earth. Those who like David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell, Marjane
Satrapi or Julie Doucet will absolutely love this book.
2. Colors Insulting to Nature by Cintra Wilson - My co-worker turned me
on to the sassy Cintra Wilson and now I'm hooked. This perfectly hilarious novel
tells of Liza Normal's coming-of-age among queers, punks, hippies, drama queens,
and coke-heads in 70s-80s Northern California.
3. Entering Fire by Rikki Ducornet (City Lights ) - "Rikki don't lose
that number . . . " Yep, she's that Rikki and her novel, Entering Fire,
is absolutely lush and sensual.
4. The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq by Christian
Parenti - Daily casualty reports in Iraq do not shed light on what's really happening
there - this book does. Christian Parenti bravely travels with American soldiers
on tours of duty, interviews Iraqi resistance fighters who do not accept U.S.
intervention, and talks to Iraqi civilians whose distrust grows as relatives and
friends are killed, and food, water and electricity - basic infrastructure - erodes.
5. Atomik Aztex by Sesshu Foster (City Lights) - Don't bother heading to
the movies this holiday season. The one created in your head by this book is so
action-packed and mind-blowing, you'll need some spiked cider before and after
the read to make sense of it all. Enjoy!
6. I'm lucky enough to have gotten my hands on an advance copy of Michelle Tea's
forthcoming novel Rose of No Man's Land (February). It will surely land
on my list of favorites for next year as well as this.
(Stacey is Publicity and Marketing Director at City Lights Publishers.)
My favorite of 2005 was A Seahorse Year, by Stacey D'Erasmo, (even though
it came out in very late 2004) simply because it’s so beautifully written. Well
crafted prose, believable characters I’d actually want to know, a moving plot
(so rare!) and probably the best description of a dress I’ve ever read.
I was pretty fond of Katherine V. Forrest’s Lesbian Pulp Fiction,
(Joy reviews for Publisher’s Weekly and the weekend book sections of several
dailies throughout North America. In 2006, her short fiction will appear in collections
from Bella, Alyson and Arsenal Pulp.)
If you missed A Seahorse Year in its hardcover release last year, as
I did, you'll be delighted to know that the paperback is freshly out. So you now
have no excuse for not picking up this Lambda Literary Award winning novel by
Stacey D'Erasmo, who's also the author of the novel Tea. A Seahorse
Year is that rare book - a beautifully written and sophisticated novel by
a lesbian author which includes gay characters, but transcends the boundaries
of what we sometimes consider lesbian fiction. It's the story of a family living
in San Francisco - gay father Hal, biological mother Nan, her partner of seven
years Marina, and the 16-year-old boy at the book's heart, their son Christopher.
As Christopher descends into schizophrenia, those around him, including his parents
and girlfriend Tamara, must come to terms with his condition, with their relationship
to him, and to each other. I was particularly impressed with the author's handling
of the delicate trio that the biological parents form with the mother's live-in
partner, a portrayal that is quite a rarity in our community's literature. The
City by the Bay also takes its rightful place in the story, and D'Erasmo gets
her details just right - the weather, the native plants, the East Bay's artists'
lofts, the Mission district's lively coffeehouses, even the house purchased cheaply
by Hal from a gang of Hell's Angels now worth a fortune, all are sketched by someone
who clearly did her research and cared enough to get it right. Most impressively,
D'Erasmo gets easily inside all her character's heads, even capturing what it's
like as Christopher battles the demons that threaten to bring heartbreak to his
whole family. If you've been looking for a wonderful lesbian-themed novel to read,
make it your New Year’s resolution to start off 2006 by reading A Seahorse
(Rachel’s tell-all and guidebook, The Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy for
Lesbians, was just released in a new edition. She’s been a bookseller
at Women & Children First and A Different Light and owned the late, lamented
Alice Munro has always captured life in a way that is breathtakingly simple
yet elegant. In her latest book, Runaway, Munro waltzes into worlds of
conflict, turmoil, seduction, temptation, loss - worlds of emotion with words
strung together that make readers dizzy with pleasure. I read this book as if
I were sipping expensive wine, holding it in my mouth for a very long time, and
then swallowing it slowly. The short story collection is not lesbian focused but
her stories land solidly on the heart of every woman. I usually read fast. I often
swallow books whole and digest them quickly. The writing in Runaway is
so beautiful and rich I read each story slowly and then literally slept with the
book under my pillow. I now keep it next to my computer and look at it, sometimes
just touch the cover, when I write every single day. It's one of the best books
ever written. Read it. You will sleep with it too, and your girlfriend won't
even be jealous.
(Kris is the Bantam Dell bestselling author of The Elegant Gathering of
White Snows and Dancing Naked at the Edge of Dawn. Her third novel,
Annie Freeman's Fabulous Traveling Funeral will be released in January;
The Sunday List of Dreams is scheduled for 2007. Tour details at:www.krisradish.com.)
My favorite reads this year were: Madame Bovary, Rent Girl by Michelle
Tea, Veronica by Mary Gaitskill, Sarah Bernhardt: The Art Of High Drama.
All of these books are eccentric and about eccentric powerful personalities persevering
against absurdities invisible to the more homogenous. Mary Gaitskill, in particular,
has always been one of my favorite writers. She's a deeply singular stylist, which
(Sarah’s forthcoming publications include a new novel, The Child, a
new play, Carson McCullers, and a reprint of Empathy; titles currently
in print include Girls, Visions, and Everything, My American History
I loved The Beautifully Worthless by Ali Liebegott, a book length poem
that (to highjack one of her images) races down the road toward the last light
in a late sky with an urgency that made me think it really might be quick enough
to let the driver, the writer, the reader and a Dalmatian named Rorschach squeeze
through on our stomachs, out of this world and into the next. How could I not
love a book that cares this much, looks this hard, and counts its pennies like
a runaway waitress counting spilled salt stars?
I also loved the 1994 title, Our Own Snug Fireside: Images of the New
England Home: 1760- 1860 by Jane C. Nylander. Although it is a work of nonfiction
using women's diaries and letters to provide information about domestic life in
this place and time, the fact that the book dwells with tender exactitude on things
like the white sand that New England women used to sweep in herringbone patterns
across their wooden floors gives it unexpected common ground with The Beautifully
Worthless, although the history is about being grounded in daily life and
the poem is about flight.
(Susan’s novels include the beloved Fat Girl Dances with Rocks and Venus
of Chalk. She is at work on Spider in a Tree, a novel based on the
family life of the eighteenth century theologian Jonathan Edwards.)
June Thomas weighs in, on Slate.com, with I Didn't Do It for
You: How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation, Michela Wrong's history
of Eritrea, and Alison Bechdel's Invasion of the Dykes To Watch Out For,
which inspired her to go back and read the ten previous books as well.
(June is currently Foreign Editor at Slate.com. She has a long history of work
with various feminist presses and periodicals in both the U.K. and the U.S.)
Thanks to everyone who contributed to this feast. We'll be
back in the next issue with more Favorite Reads in 2005. -CS
Find(s) of the Issue
There’s a lot to be said for Mary Anne Mohanraj’s Bodies in Motion – vivid
writing, good story telling, the pleasant
intrigue of tracking characters as they move across continents and
oceans, marry (or not), and age.... But what lingers is her exquisite
success at writing gay family members back into the immigrant story
as well as Ceylonese history. She gives us a new lens with which
to see a late-night (life-changing) meeting between an “ugly sister”
(“too short, too-plump Mangai with her coarse hair and flat chest”)
and her brother’s new bride, a new way to think about “all those
women’s card games,” and a glimpse into the cracks between tradition
and reality where women make their own way. Mohanraj’s interlocking
stories affirm what we have always known – that women-loving women
have always been everywhere, no matter how oblivious others may
be. The women (and men) in her stories make difficult choices as
they wrestle through life’s opportunities, limitations, and conflicts,
be they the modern generation in America or an aging woman in a
fishing village continuing on after her “servant” (ahem: look again)
dies.... But all decisions have ramifications and Mohanraj is even
better at portraying those than she is at portraying her characters’
passions – which is saying a lot. $22.95, HarperCollins.
Ana Castillo (Peel My Love Like an Onion, So Far from God,
The Mixquiahuala Letters, Loverboys, My Father Was a Toltec)
offers us another immigration epic – this one a novel written
in verse – in Watercolor Women/Opaque Men. Richer in image
and context than plot, perhaps, it begins on the shifting sands
migrant communities as a young girl tries to make sense of her
parents love for each other, meanders through the winter “vacation”
trips “back home” where only the members of her extended family
have to share a single outhouse, then swerves north to Chicago
(with her rebellious Aunt Renata) on what seems to be a wonderful
adventure until her aunt abandons her there. Castillo isn’t a
writer to let anyone (or any institution) off easy, nor are there
any easy answers here: education, marriage, lovers (both male
and female) fail to provide salvation – or even much security.
Ultimately a woman, or at least the she/ella of this tale,
must find wholeness, integration, and peace within herself. Best
read slowly, letting each chapter sink in before moving to the
next. I found myself impatient at times, wanting the conventions
of plot while I was reading it. But months later, many of Castillo’s
images, characters, and situations still resonate in the clear
contexts she conveys, and I wouldn’t want to be without them.
$15, Curbstone Press.
I was so eager to read Diana Souhami’s Wild Girls: Paris, Sappho &
Art – The Lives and Loves of Natalie Barney & Romaine Brooks
that I almost ordered the British edition last year. The cloth
edition has just been
released in the U.S., while the Brits and Canadians are already
reading paperback editions. Erg! Where is globalization when you
In the version of the story that I first heard, Romaine Brooks
left Natalie Barney, after 50-some years of non-monogamy, when
Barney brought home a woman she’d met on a park bench. Diana Souhami
offers an even richer version of their lives in Wild Girls.
Natalie Clifford Barney, with her Paris salons, her passion for
life, women, love (and many many lovers), and her attempts to
(re)create a Sapphic idyll in her own time, has long been the
stuff of lesbian and feminist legends. It’s an irresistible piece
of lesbian history. $29.95, St. Martin’s Press
The big manga (Japanese comics) craze has nothing on the lesbian community:
we’ve had Alison Bechdel penning the hysterically funny, frighteningly
profound Dykes to Watch Out For for 25(!) years. Bechdel
is one of our country’s most insightful commentators, though most
of the media is too lesbophobic to see it and publish Dykes
as widely as they should.. She’s in top form with her most recent
collection, Invasion of the Dykes to Watch Out For.
Our intrepid, incorrigible, indefatigable, and, yes Mr. Bush,
Mr. Limbaugh, and Mr. O’Reilly, inevitable heroines tackle our country’s
absurd politics, fight for gay marriage rights (if they believe
in marriage or not), fall in (and out of) love, maintain their
relationships, raise the kids, strive to make a living in this
economy, fight to save a deteriorating democracy, and provide
us all with desperately needed laughs and perspective on it all.
No sanity-based lesbian (or gay or queer or straight) household
should be without one. $14.95, Alyson Books.
Not convinced? Read some scripts online at:
Read the blog:
Celebrating Shockley – and Hotchclaw
Ann Allen Shockley burst into the lesbian publishing world in 1974 with Loving
Her (published by Bobbs-Merrill, published mass market by Avon
in 1978, currently in print from Northeastern University Press)
with our first novel about
an interracial lesbian relationship written by a black woman. It
was gutsy, it was good, and it was erotic and I used to sell it
in stacks to women who bought copies of the mass market edition
to give to all their friends. She followed it with a collection
of short stories, The Black and White of It (published by
Naiad in 1980) and then, in 1982 with the outrageous (and sadly
out of print) Say Jesus and Come to Me, which featured charismatic
revival preacher Myrtle Black, her passion for social justice (which
leads her to organize a march to protest the murder of two prostitutes),
and her growing attraction for singer Travis Lee, who looks to religion
– and Myrtle – for solace after that last wretched night with her
It’s been a long wait, but Shockley is back with Celebrating
Hotchclaw, published by A & M Books. And she’s once again
exploring the boundaries of attraction and sexuality, addressing
the banality of racism, and now exploring gender identity – all
while giving a painless crash course on the history and financing
of Historically Black Colleges. Hotchclaw, a fictionalized HBC,
is preparing to celebrate its 100th anniversary. The place is as
teeming with personalities, conflicts (professional and otherwise),
and financial problems as you might expect. I hate to give anything
away, so I’ll only say that lesbian readers will, ultimately, find
the book satisfying, but that contemporary gender-queers might have
to consider that the book is set in the '80s and that it has, indeed,
taken another twenty years for one of the premises to manifest in
our culture. $17, A&M Books.
Welcome back to publishing, Ann Allen Shockley. We have missed you and hope
you have a few more books up your sleeve, ready to be published.
A&M, which publishes the Sarah Aldridge novels, as well as Fay Jacob’s
As I Lay Frying, doesn’t have wide distribution. Look for all their books
at your neighborhood women’s or gay bookstore (or call or order online if your
“local” store is more than driving distance away) or order directly from the publisher
Dyke Eye on the Straight Guys
Nora Vincent offers a “Dyke Eye on the Straight Guys” in Self-Made Man: A Woman’s
Journey into Manhood and Back Again.
Researcher/writer/journalist Nora Vincent is a
lesbian and isn’t at all afraid to say so. Indeed, that’s part of
her book so interesting: Dykes rarely get such a clearly dyke-identified
perspective on the male 50% of the population. – And it’s clearly
her detached, “outsider” perspective on straight men that informs
her sharp perspective while it also offers a certain comforting
detachment for straight women reading the book. Ironically, I suspect
it’s her lack of sexual interest in the guys she’s studying that,
ultimately, makes the book safe and accessible for straight men.
Struck by how totally differently the men on her block related to her one
night when she was dressed to accompany a friend to a Drag King show, Vincent
found herself wondering what men’s lives were really like and set out to find
out. A tall woman who is occasionally “sir-ed” in public, she worked out to build
upper body mass, learned to paste on a five o’clock shadow, bought the clothes,
got some voice coaching, practiced walking the walk and talking the talk, then
set out on an 18-month exploration of men and men’s worlds. Passing as “Ned” she
joined a bowling team, worked a number of jobs, dated women, and checked out the
company of men in strip clubs, on a retreat in a monastery, and in a men’s therapy
group modeled on Robert Bly’s “Iron John” groups.
In Self-Made Man, she writes about her experiences, insights,
the friendships she develops, the reactions she gets when she “comes clean” to
guys who know her to be a man, and about the impact the experiences had on her.
Ultimately it’s her willingness to put all the contradictions on the page, and
her deep sympathies for men, women, lesbians, and herself in these situations
that make the book both fascinating and engaging.
And, for once, the media and I agree. Look for Vincent on 20/20 (Jan.
23) and on Good Morning America, (Oprah are you listening? Ellen?),
for an excerpt in People (January), and an interview in Time. This
might be one of the rare occasions when national media actually credits a dyke
perspective. Stay tuned to find out. Viking claims an 80,000-copy first printing.
A Girl on the Road
Katia Noyes turns the girl-on-the-road narrative inside out with Crashing America.
Instead of running away to the big city, seventeen-year-old Girl
is too busy with a new family to raise her, whose Grandad is too
busy staying sober to cope with her shenanigans, and whose mom has
long since lost her life to the tarnished tinsel of Girl’s San Francisco
hometown), loses it entirely the night her girlfriend dies an electrical
death while crashing in a BART tunnel and runs away to America’s
heartland where she hopes to find some kind of salvation amid the
wide blue skies and the greens of growing corn.
Salvation is easier dreamed of than found, but a Christian dancer-girl,
a stint of corn detasseling, lovers and friends she makes (and loses) along the
way, and her own wits hold her together while she finishes the job of raising
herself. It’s an insightful and compelling coming-of-age novel set in difficult
times, a very good read, and a sometimes scary glimpse into the worlds of lesbian
youth. $14.95 Alyson.
Not a lesbian in sight, but Kit Reed’s Thinner than Thou will take you
on a riotous tour of a dystopian near-future where work-out palaces
are the new churches, AfterFat has replaced Heaven as the ultimate
goal, and people will modify their bodies right into oblivion (literally)
to maintain the illusion of youth.
It all starts innocently enough: Betz’ sister, Annie is “in trouble”
(in this world, that’s bulimic, not pregnant) and when her parents
send her off to a clinic for troubled teens, Betz and Annie’s boyfriend
smell a rat and set off to find her. Their journey takes them into
the heart of a not-so-far-fetched world of evangelical corporate
capitalism run amok.
Two of Reed’s earlier books, Little Sisters of the Apocalypse and
Weird Women, Wired Women, were Tiptree Award finalists, and her YA novel,
The Ballad of T. Rantula, made ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults list.
Publisher’s Weekly calls her “One of our brightest cultural commentators.”
If you like Reed’s pessimistic humor, check out her new collection of short
stories Dogs of Truth, $14.95, Tor.
In her novel The Last Days of Dogtown, Anita Diamant (The
Red Tent) takes us to a backwater community that’s already being abandoned
in the early 1800s. Who’s left? Widows, orphans, spinsters, free Africans, a few
prostitutes, and others too poor to escape to a more prosperous community or who
would be unwelcome in the new environs for other reasons. Diamant is a consummate
story teller and here she includes among the Dogtownians two lesbians (who live
by that one profession that’s always available to women), an African woman who
dresses as a man to ply her stonemason’s trade, and a white woman who – sometimes
– dares a relationship with an African man, amid several other memorable women.
Back in Print
Three cheers for Insomniac Press for bringing Jane Rule’s Contract with
the World and her classic of classics, This Is Not for You, back into
In Contract, set in Vancouver in the mid-'70s, Rule writes of the
intersections between artistic motivation, personal fulfillment, and sexual politics
as experienced by a painter, a sculptor, a sound musician (a '70s version of performance
artist), and a would-be writer as each does her or his best to find a home in
But it’s Rule’s This Is Not for You that always steals my heart –
even more than her better-known classic, Desert of the Heart. In part,
undoubtedly, because I read it during my very impressionable youth when I, too,
was in love with a girl who wanted to be a nun. Readers now, (myself included)
will want to throw the book across the room and yell, “Just do it, already, and save
the poor girl from having to leave the convent later!” Published as literary fiction
in 1970, but finished in 1965, and set in the early fifties, it’s a difficult
tale of a young woman, very much in love with her more naive best friend, but
trapped in a double standard that forgives her own lesbianism but that doesn’t
allow her to “inflict” her desire on Esther. It is, perhaps, the lesbian version
of Brokeback Mountain’s line, “If you can’t fix it, Jack,
you gotta stand it.” Rule did a brilliant job of presenting the restraints of
the era, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who's willing to look at a version
of the fifties and sixties that is a bit more somber than the lesbian pulps of
the era portray. And it’s a rather remarkable measure of the distance we’ve traveled,
as a community and a society, in the last fifty years. $16.95 paper ($21.95 in
Canada), Insomniac Press.
Patience & Sarah, that first sweet, self-published lesbian historical romance,
is (finally!) back in print. Many thanks to Arsenal Pulp and the Little Sister’s Classics series for putting
it back into our hands. Alma Routsong (aka Isabel Miller) self-published it as A
Place for Us in 1969 in a 1000-copy edition and sold it out of a shopping
bag at Daughters of Bilitis meetings. McGraw Hill picked it up, then Book-of-the-Month
Club, and the rest is history for one of the best selling books in the dykedom. This edition includes a wealth of supplemental material - Emma Donoghue on P&S's place in literary history, an afterward by Elizabeth Deran, Alma's lover while she was writing the book, program notes from the opera version, a wonderful obituary/biography and more - that put the novel in context and offer some fascinating glimpses into the writing of the book and the woman who wrote it. If you've ever had a warm spot in your heart for P&S, find a copy of this new edition to read all the additional materials. If you've never read it – indulge yourself. Set in the 1800s and inspired by a painting in a folk museum, it traces
the growing love between the spinster daughter of a prosperous farmer and a cross-dressing daughter of a poor farmer and their flight "west" to escape convention and
build a life together. $16.95, paper, Arsenal Pulp Press.
An Emergence of Green, Katherine V. Forrest’s 1986 classic tale of coming-out
in the ‘burbs, of men threatened by all that feminism offers women, of domestic violence,
and of women finding their way into an increasingly feminist – and lesbian – future.
This edition features a new introduction by Katherine Forrest and an afterward
by Victoria Brownworth. $16.95, Alice Street Editions/Harrington Park/Haworth
Just Out in Paperback
The Literature of Lesbianism: A Historical Anthology from Ariosto to Stonewall,
edited by Terry Castle. – An 1100-page compilation of everything written about
or by lesbians from the sixteenth century to the twentieth, with introductions
and commentary. It’s a feast. No lesbian home should be without it. $29.95 paper,
Columbia University Press.
Some Books to Watch Out For
2006 is shaping up to be a promising year for lesbian literature. Here are
a few Books To Watch Out For:
A new Sara Waters novel: Night Watch, an engrossing tale of relationships set
in war-torn London, (March) $24.95, Riverhead.
A coming-of-age novel from Michelle Tea, Rose in No Man’s Land (February
14), $22, MacAdam/Cage.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, Alison Bechdel’s long-awaited tale of
growing up with a closeted, distant father in the family funeral parlor..... (June)
$19.95, Houghton Mifflin.
A Few Reviews
When the Lambda Book Report suspended publishing last summer,
a number of reviews had been commissioned – and written – were left without a
publishing venue. We’ve picked up some of the reviews of books that haven’t already
been covered in The Lesbian Edition. Some are below; others will be published
in future issues.
The Straight Girl’s Guide to Sleeping with Chicks
by Jen Sincero
reviewed by Marissa Pareles
sex is very popular. Even straight girls fool around with each other and with
us - in high school and college, on the sly from boyfriends and in bed with boyfriends, and even at their own bridal showers, according to anecdotal evidence. Jen Sincero’s
The Straight Girl’s Guide to Sleeping with Chicks confirms what many dykes
have always suspected: Yes, Virginia, it does turn them on to sleep with us.
Some straight girls, suggests further anecdotal evidence, have surprising natural
talent in this arena.
Some don’t. “They don’t need a guidebook to screw us over,” says a lesbian
friend of mine about Jen Sincero’s The Straight Girl’s Guide to Sleeping with
Chicks. But her straight ex-squeeze certainly needed a guide to the screwing
Sincero’s straightforward, energetic manual delivers, slogging only briefly
through identity politics (suffice it to say that her use of “straight” is overwhelmingly
broad) before sliding into detailed basics at a (somehow non-annoying) PR pitch.
A self-proclaimed Kinsey 1.5 who’s also a booster for dyke sex, Sincero instructs
other straight girls in a girls-only technique she says “sends me through the
roof” and “is so hot I can’t even tell you how hot it is.” That’s just the introduction.
Sincero preps her readers well for dyke sex, telling bi-curious readers
to locate their desires, ignore any omniscient moms or deities, purge homophobia,
fantasize, cut their nails, and masturbate - all great advice, and accompanied
by detailed, accessible anatomical diagrams and information that any non-gynecologist
should review. It’s here that Sincero’s talent for explicit instruction shines:
subsections devoted to finger, water play, humping, sex toys, and no-contact masturbation
feature lists of positions and variations, along with cute, inspiring stories.
It’s not one of those Cosmo first-orgasm tipsheets that send dykes into
tailspins of pity and depression.
Sincero gently takes her readers through meeting girls, evoking
some porno fantasies - “have a slumber party/kegger at your sorority house, complete
with…group sleeping area” - and plugging butch seduction power: “You may feel
more turned on by the fact that [boots] make you feel masculine in a way that
attracts chicks…It’s very subtle, but it’s totally hot.” Safer sex instruction
precedes foreplay, a surprising sensible move.
Sex instruction is the meat of the guide, laid out just like the masturbation
section with a huge focus on creative techniques and positions. The gem of a cunnilingus
section matter-of-factly quells first-time squeamishness, then hands out uniquely
sophisticated menstrual sex (or not) tips. Each implement in a girl’s “god-given
toolbox” - tongue, lips, fingers, teeth, and face - gets its own list of techniques.
The positions get really adventurous and obscure, some of the more difficult ones
illustrated by photos of a tattooed Barbie doll going down on her brunette counterpart.
If dykes need a guide to straight-girl sexual psychology, this is it. Apparently,
they’re a lot like us. What makes this book really stand out for dyke and bi-dyke
readers, though, is that while other guides seem ponderous, unsexy, or vague at
times, Sincero makes lesbian sex ed simultaneously erotic (“Rub baby oil all over
the tits of the other girl….Get on all fours and eat one person out while the
other does you from behind”), instructional, and encouraging with one master stroke.
She oughtta brush up on her cultural research, though; I can take blithe talk
about “experimentation,” but not Sincero’s inclusion of out lesbians Cynthia Nixon
and Sinéad O’Connor in a box called “Famous Straight Women Who’ve Dabbled”! $12,
by Helen Walsh
by Chelsea Jennings
Walsh will not waste your time with exposition. By page three of Brass,
the novel’s main character is coked up and having sex with a prostitute in a graveyard.
This is where the book begins, and it’s a good indication of where it’s going.
Walsh has created a relentlessly grimy, sprawling novel that has sex and substances
in dizzying quantities, a book that goes ninety miles an hour from start to finish
and leaves a good amount of carnage along the roadside.
In many respects, Walsh has taken cues from Henry Miller’s Tropic of
Cancer and given readers a contemporary version, centered around Millie, the
book’s feisty protagonist. The narration in Brass alternates between Millie’s
own voice and that of her friend Jamie, but Jamie’s portion of the story revolves
almost entirely around his relationship with Millie. On one hand, this leaves
Jamie’s character less developed than it could be, but it succeeds in painting
Millie as both charismatic and self-involved, and provides a more rational lens
for viewing her various exploits.
The unraveling of Jamie and Millie’s friendship is one of the book’s primary
conflicts, but Millie also struggles to manage her relationship with her father
and to deal with the absence of her mother while halfheartedly finishing her university
education. She also runs into a lot of trouble finding female prostitutes who
will accept female clients.
Outside of Jamie, Millie has very few meaningful relationships, and her
whirlwind through Liverpool often finds her alone on a quest for drugs, sex and
self-discovery. Because so much of Brass is about Millie’s psychology,
much like Tropic of Cancer, one of the main “characters” in the novel is
the city itself. Millie’s enthusiasm for the roughest and dirtiest parts of Liverpool
is unwavering, and she often launches into descriptions of the city that correspond
with her mood, such as the following:
“Along Princess Avenue the barrio falls silent as we pass through rows and
rows of derelict houses with haggard roof tops...but as we cross the junction
that throws us into Catherine Street and away from the Toxteth cavity, it suddenly
comes alive with brass, their johns, drunks and looting teenagers running from
unknown locations in to the lawless, demented night. I love this city. I do. I
fucking love it.”
Walsh often writes in rambling, stream-of-consciousness run-ons or sentence
fragments and this, combined with her heavy use of slang, gives the whole book
a very “spoken” feel. Millie and Jamie describe their observations and emotions
in the present tense, as they occur, and because of this immediacy, their thoughts
and feelings are often contradictory and startlingly human.
Part of what makes Millie so compelling is that she’s smart - even when
her choices are anything but sensible she’s able to reflect on them and the people
around her with great insight. She is constantly looking below the surface, to
get “a glimpse of the girl behind the whore,” for example, and to see the complexities
of Liverpool’s underworld. She’s also an excellent liar and shamelessly manipulates
even the people closest to her, and it’s both fun and heartbreaking to watch her
charm her way out of tight situations.
However, as the novel progresses, Millie’s free-fall into drug abuse and
hedonistic sex is so constant and direct that it can become tedious. There are
only so many ways a cocaine binge or a liaison with a prostitute can play out
- although to her credit, Walsh seems to have thought of them all. Perhaps the
book’s greatest flaw is that it is written more like a short story, barreling
towards its conclusion without much of the relief or variety that well-integrated
But the end of the novel makes the 200-page barrage of drug-induced sex
scenes worthwhile. After braiding Millie and Jamie’s voices together, Walsh resists
the temptation to tie them neatly off at the end, and instead gives a series of
plot twists that are both surprising and believable, and an ending that is satisfying
without being simplistic.
Millie is a wild and charming protagonist who consistently does the inexcusable,
then finds a way for the other characters - and the reader - to forgive her. But
to get caught up in judging Millie, in either condemning or glamorizing her exploits,
is to miss the point. Brass, in the end, is about redemption, and about the lengths
we go to get there. $14 300 pgs., Canongate.
Chelsea Jennings is a writer and teacher living in Washington DC.
With or Without You
by Lauren Sanders
reviewed by Elisabeth Flynn
Award-winner Lauren Sanders' second novel, With or Without You (following
Kamikaze Lust) gives us an anti-heroine of the first order. Lilian (Lily)
G. Speck is a confessed murderer biding her time in a New York state women’s
lock-up, enduring psychiatric evaluations, scanning the headlines in the prison
library, keeping tabs on her own press. The bulk of the narrative unfolds as Lily’s
diary, written as part memoir, part pained love letter to the young actress she
shot to death.
The setting is the Reagan 80s: Iran-Contra and Bernie
Goetz are making headlines, alongside MTV, parachute pants and 'Say No to Drugs.'
It’s the decade of runaway greed and throwaway culture; of cheap celebrity, drugs,
money, status; a world where the greatest achievement of all is "to end up
on television" - regardless of how you get there.
In Lily’s case, how she got there is a bit of a mystery.
Her dad’s a successful advertising executive, and mom’s a real estate whiz. Successful,
attractive, and perennially inaccessible figures, Jack and Nancy (as Lily refers
to them) are too enamored of their good fortune to pay much attention to Lily.
Instead they smoke, drink, and stay out late, farming their daughter out to her
grandparents and occasionally the next door neighbor, Blair - a boozy, melancholic
stewardess on whom Lily develops a doomed early crush.
Young Lily doesn’t relate to the other kids in her Long
Island suburb. By high school she has few friends and no apparent interests outside
of her sketch pad and her favorite television soap opera, “World Without End.”
Lily’s real obsession turns out to be the show’s hot young star, Brooke Harrison.
Through most of her adolescence, Lily’s own life co-exists with a fantasy world
in which Brooke is the center, and the two of them share an unshakeable bond as
best friends, confidants, and perhaps lovers, although it’s never made clear.
In an ambitious but somewhat uneven approach, Sanders
jumps between Lily’s present-day prison narrative, the painful childhood that
led her here; and third person observations of her victim’s mother as she watches
her talented but inscrutable daughter's ascent to stardom with an anxiety that
proves well-founded. These alternating voices juxtapose the rise of the self-possessed,
apparently golden girl, Brooke, with Lily's own distinctly troubled adolescence.
Their one brief, actual meeting will have tragic consequences for all.
Lily’s sharp and cynical take on the world around her
makes for some trenchant dark comedy, but it feels nearly too broad a target at
times - the social climbing, pill popping, suburban melodrama - to address without
invoking cliche. (“The cruelest joke is you can have everything you want and still
be miserable. Money cannot buy happiness," Nancy tells Lily at one point,
as if this weren’t abundantly clear).
At times it’s hard to know just who is the real
Lilian - the seen-it-all, wisecracking convict or the lonely, vulnerable girl
desperate for some sign of affection. The truth seems to be a little of both.
Most things in Lily’s ‘real’ life seem to her to be phony
- her father’s ads; her mother’s high-flying lifestyle; even their eventual attempts
at reconciliation. During one of her prison visits Nancy appears overcome and
starts to reach for a tissue, but Lily remains unconvinced. “Make no mistake,
she’s not crying but the gesture seems to comfort her. A million miles away on
Planet Recovery, Nancy can’t see that I’m still lying on the ground after falling
off a roof. Still waiting for a mother who won’t touch me or talk to me. A mother
who can’t see me without seeing herself.”
The intensity of Lily's loneliness and isolation are palpable
here and the moment, in a novel of missed connections, encapsulates a great deal.
When her mother finally rises to leave, Lily feels a moment of fleeting sympathy
and almost-remorse: “A jolt of longing for the life I’ll never have shoots through
me. Then I remember my mother’s face and understand what few people ever acknowledge:
it’s not so great out there, either.”
Early in the book there's a reference to John Lennon's
murder, and later to John Hinckley Jr.'s shooting of President Reagan (for 'that
actress,' as Lily notes). With Lily’s act of desperate, misdirected violence,
Sanders seems to be drawing some kind of parallel. She's a talented writer with
something to say about teen angst and the dark side of our celebrity-obsessed
culture, but with so few light moments to offset the darkness that seems to pervade
Lily's narrative, it’s hard not to find this warped fairy tale of Long Island
Elisabeth Flynn is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia.
Her work has appeared in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Bay Area Reporter
and American Art Review.
The Bermudez Triangle
by Maureen Johnson
by Nancy Garden
not what you think.
No one really disappears in The Bermudez Triangle the way people and ships
do in its near namesake, and the triangle in question doesn’t involve two people
in love with the same person, or one person in love with two people.
This triangle is made up of three best friends, Nina Bermudez, Avery Dekker,
and Melanie (Mel) Forrest, seniors in high school. For years the girls have “triangled
off” periodically, forming a triangle pattern and chanting a verse ending with
a cry of “Triangle power!” - hence the book’s title. They don’t do that much any
more, but their friendship is still as strong as ever. When the book opens, the
three are about to be separated for the first time. Avery and Melanie are going
to be waitresses at a local restaurant and bar, but Nina is going away to take
part in a summer “precollege” program.
While Nina is away, she meets and falls in love with fellow precollege student
Steve. Back at home one morning after a drunken party, Mel wakes up with Avery
after a sleepover and kisses her. As it turns out, Avery has been thinking about
kissing Mel, too, but much as she loves Mel, she isn’t sure she loves her
as she would if she were gay. Mel, however, has “known for a long time that this
was going to happen someday;” she’s pretty sure she is probably gay.
So begins this engaging young adult novel, part romp, and part serious exploration
of the developing sexualities and changing emotions of three feisty, witty teenage
girls. It’s funny and charming, suspenseful and sad, and seems very much on target
in the fluidity and changeability of the teens’ complicated relationships with
one another and with others, including a few boys. The three best friends care
deeply for one another and are intensely loyal, but even so, as one might expect,
conflicts and misunderstandings do arise. Johnson shows their triangle breaking
apart and joining together as the girls’ relationships with one another and with
outsiders ebb and flow. She has managed to tell each girl’s story separately while
at the same time weaving it skillfully into the stories of the other two. I ached
for each girl’s pain, rejoiced in the depth of their caring, and laughed out loud
at their clever repartee.
At 370 pages, this is long for a young adult novel; Nina comes back from
her summer program on page 77, and the story continues well into the school year.
Although it is entertaining and absorbing for the most part, and although Johnson
is a good writer, I think the story could have profited from some tightening,
for at times, the pace seemed to lag. There are no scenes that are “bad” or that
seem in themselves expendable, and yet I’m not sure that all are necessary or
really add to the story. Perhaps culling a few and making numerous small cuts
of words, phrases, and sentences throughout would have tightened the book and
speeded up its pace.
Also, although the teen characters are very real, and although their banter
is clever and fun, I couldn’t help but wish that Johnson had given them more distinctly
individual voices. Yes, we’re told they look different and have different talents
and interests; yes, it’s clear that Nina’s striaght, Mel’s gay, and Avery is probably
bi - but when they talk, they pretty much sound the same. In fact, all the teenage
characters tend to sound the same, all equally clever. Although the dialogue is
fun to read and sounds authentic, and although real-life teens do tend to express
themselves similarly, the absence of any variations, even slight ones, in these
characters’ voices tends to diminish their individuality, even to the point of
sometimes making it difficult to distinguish among them, and especially to distinguish
between Mel and Avery.
Still, The Bermudez Triangle is a good read, both fun and poignant,
and the sweet ending is a just about perfect resolution to the drama of the lives
of these three likeable girls. $16.99 cloth, 370 pages, Razorbill/Penguin
Nancy Garden was one of the first to successfully publish lesbian and gay
YA books, including the beloved Annie on My Mind and Good Moon Rising,
The Case of the Stolen Scarab (for middle-schoolers), Molly’s Family
(for the pre-school set) and Nora and Liz, for the adult set. Look
for her new YA novel, Endgame, an exploration of bullying, its devastating effects,
and blame, in April.
Tango Has Two Daddies
And another review, from one of BTWOF’s favorite librarians, of a truly delightful
book for the inner kid in us all. -CS
And Tango Makes Three
by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell,
illus. by Henry Cole
reviewed by Kathleen T. Horning
A groundbreaking picture book, based on the true story of a penguin
chick being raised by two male penguins in the Central Park Zoo. Back in 1998, workers at the zoo
noticed that two male penguins, Roy and Silo, had become a couple. They did all
of the things that pairs of male and female penguins typically do – building a
nest together, sleeping together, and spending all of their time with each
other. When zookeeper Rob Gramzay observed that the
two were sitting on an egg-shaped rock, he got an idea: he took an abandoned
fertilized egg and placed it in Roy and Silo’s nest. The two took turns sitting
on the egg until it hatched, and then they shared responsibility for taking
care of the chick, named Tango by Gramzay. The
straightforward narrative lends an understated eloquence to the story, which
wisely refrains from humanizing the penguins. Henry Cole’s subtle use of ice
blue contrasts nicely with the requisite predominance of black and white, and
his shifting perspectives underscore the drama inherent in the story. The book
concludes with an authors’ note that provides some additional information about
the key players, although it was published before the highly publicized break
up of Roy and Silo. Quite
simply, this is the best picture book that's been published to date dealing
with same-sex parents, and every gay/lesbian family - and every other family
who celebrates diversity - will want to own a copy. For ages
3-7. $14.95, cloth, Simon & Schuster.
KT is the director of
the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at UW-Madison.
What They're Reading
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 the women at Charis Books
and More, Atlanta’s awesome and wonderful treasure of a bookstore, what they’re
reading. Here's what they said:
Sara Luce Look
Living Islam Out Loud: American Muslim Women Speak edited by Saleemah
Abdul-Ghafur - The women in this collection, who have always been Muslim and also
American, were chosen because they were willing to tell the truth about their
lives. Saleemah traveled the country, looking for women who had claimed Islam
for themselves. She deliberately sought out women who would represent the diversity
of experience within Islam - including a lesbian who is under death threat for
being who she is and claiming Islam for herself. This is a rich, respectful, enlightening
book for all of us. $15, Beacon.
New and Selected Poems, Volume Two by Mary Oliver - Mary Oliver is one
of only a very few poets whose new books we always know we will be able to sell
at Charis. This volume, like all of her books, is dedicated to her partner, Molly
Malone Cook. It features 42 new poems, along with selections from several previously
published volumes. Oliver’s poems are full of nature, simple and beautiful, yet
unsentimental: seeing the hawk and its prey as clearly as the tiger lily on the
shore. The joy of reading Mary Oliver is the way she opens the reader’s eyes to
see the world and its wonder in such an everyday sort of way. $24.95, Beacon.
In her new memoir, Leaving the Saints, Martha Beck continues the compelling,
powerful story she began in Expecting Adam ($13.95, Berkley). When Adam
was a baby, Martha and family relocated from the intellectualism of Harvard back
to their roots in Mormon Utah. Martha was prepared to enter into Mormon life wholeheartedly,
with faith, and hope, and a kind of relief as they welcomed her and completely
accepted Adam, who had Downs Syndrome. Intertwined with this very personal story,
Martha learns and teaches the history of the Latter Day Saints. Though she leaves
the Saints, as the title indicates, she does so with sorrow and love and offers
the reader insight into a growing religion with gifts as well as enormous unsolved
problems. $14.95, Three Rivers Press.
A Seahorse Year by Stacey D'Erasmo - Now in paper, I loved this work
of literary lesbian fiction about a "modern" family (lesbian mom, partner,
and gay dad) and the mental breakdown of their son. $13.00, Houghton Mifflin.
Invasion of the Dykes To Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel - Who can resist
this latest collection? I never get to read them in the paper these days, so it's
fun to devour the whole book in one sitting (and be left wanting more!) $14.95,
I've also been reading lots of galleys lately - Sarah Water’s Night Watch
(March), Michelle Tea’s novel, Rose of No Man’s Land (Feb. 14), and
a novel called Labyrinth, by Kate Mosse (March), that I loved. - None of
them are out yet, but they’re all coming soon.....
Gourd Girls by Priscilla Wilson - A wonderful memoir of two women who
come out in rural North Georgia and their journey as they start an unusual business
and find themselves creating community along the way. $11.95, Mt. Yonah Press.
Urgent Message From Mother: Gather the Women, Save the World by Jean
Shinoda Bolen -This is a call to action for all women to help save our planet
and ourselves. With endorsements from the likes of Gloria Steinem and Alice Walker,
this little book is a quick and thought-provoking read. $16.95, Conari Press.
Bliss by Fiona Zedde - A Jamaican American woman travels back to Jamaica
and reconnects with her family, as well as falls in love with a beautiful woman.
This is a highly erotically charged first novel, with a fast-moving plot that
keeps you hooked. $14, Kensington.
With a Rough Tongue: Femmes Write Porn edited by Amber Dawn and Trish
Kelly - Some "good, clean lesbian smut" that's smart and sexy! $16.95,
Many thanks to Sara Luce Look for collecting this list, and to the women
at Charis Books and The Charis Circle
for all they do to support women’s literature.
Charis celebrated 31 years of bookselling
to women all over the South this fall.If you’re in Atlanta, stop and see them.
If you can’t get there in person, you can always order online or by phone - which
is a great way to thank them for their work.
Think Globally, Read Frequently,
and Shop Politically -Spend your money where it will build community, not destroy
You know that lesbian RV-ing is a true cultural phenomenon when it has spawned
its own small sub-genre of lesbian RV mysteries. First there were two by Ann Seale,
Packing Mrs. Phipps (See TLE #6)
and Finding Ms. Wright (both $13.95, Alyson; see TLE
#15). Now there's Murder on the Mother Road by Brenda Weathers ($12.95,
New Victoria), an atmospheric mystery set at a Bates-like motel on old Route 66
in the California desert. Libby Merchant is a fifty-something travel writer with
good sense and a good rig; in fact, she's good company altogether. At the Knight's
Rest Motel she runs into an old sorority sister, who is unable to speak and whose
brother lies dead in their decrepit mobile home. From this promising beginning
Weathers spins an enjoyably gloomy tale that veers between zaniness and dysfunction
- much like old Route 66 itself.
Halfway through Relationships Can Be Murder by Jane DiLucchio ($12.95,
New Victoria) amateur sleuth Dee DelValle remarks to her sidekick, "Miss
Marple would have this figured out by now." Dee may not be a lesbian Miss
Marple, but DiLucchio is clearly aiming to be a lesbian Agatha Christie, with
a light touch and a non-violent plot full of red herrings, numerous suspects,
and multiple motives. Dee is a grade school teacher who recently had a fling with
the murder victim, a television anchorwoman in LA, and that makes Dee one of the
chief suspects. Dee's multicultural crew of lesbian friends rally round to help
solve the murder and keep Dee out of jail. The friends are amusing (especially
femme fatale Tully, short for Tallulah) and the plot sufficiently twisty to keep
the reader guessing.
Ellen Hart created the template for a Christie-style lesbian mystery back in
1989 with Hallowed Murder ($13.95, St. Martin's), and she is still the
master. The Iron Girl is the thirteenth entry in Hart's series featuring
Jane Lawless and Cordelia Thorn, one of the great sleuth/sidekick teams of all
time ($24.95, St. Martin's). In The Iron Girl, Jane is finally cleaning
out her late girlfriend's things, and she is shocked to find a gun - linking her
ex to past secrets and long unsolved murders.
African American writer Penny Mickelbury is a gem - a polished, sophisticated
writer with great crossover potential. I'm happy to see that she has a new book
out, Two Graves Dug ($25.95, Five Star), introducing New York PI Phil Rodriquez
and his partner, computer whiz Yolanda Aguillera. I was even happier, however,
to see that Kings Crossing Press has made available all of Mickelbury's lesbian
mysteries featuring Mimi Patterson and Gianna Maglione: Keeping Secrets, Night
Songs, Love Notes and Darkness Descending (all $14.95). Mickelbury's
fictional police detective Gianna Maglione heads up the Hate Crimes Unit in Washington,
DC, so all these books deal to some extent with the politics of hate. In the latest,
Darkness Descending (published in December 2004), the hate crimes are directed
against AGs and Doms (short for aggressive and dominant), a Black/Latina lesbian
subculture that I knew nothing about. Mickelbury manages to educate about difficult
issues and to create characters we care about while still maintaining taut suspense.
Mickelbury has also written a non-lesbian series about attorney Carol Anne Gibson,
consisting of One Must Wait ($6.50 St. Martin's), Where to Choose
($22, Simon & Schuster), The Step Between ($17.95, Simon & Schuster),
and Paradise Interrupted (published in hardcover by Simon & Schuster,
now out of print). It's worth checking libraries and used bookstores for these
Sometimes a girl just wants to walk the mean streets with a tough, plain-spoken
private eye for company - even if the mean streets are in Manchester and the private
eye is a British dyke with menstrual cramps. Dead Reckoning by Jenny Roberts
($14.95) is the third mystery featuring PI Cameron McGill, following Needlepoint
and Breaking Point ($13.95, all published by Diva). In typical PI tradition,
Cameron is balancing two cases here, one professional and one personal. In spite
of her aversion to domestic cases, Cameron is following a presumably cheating
husband, who turns out not to be dating another woman but transforming himself
into one, on a transvestite's night out. Meanwhile, her best friend is in prison,
having been set up on a charge of deadly assault. In her own way, Roberts does
as neat a job as Mickelbury in educating about queer issues while keeping us turning
the pages of this literate thriller.
Sandra Scoppettone has long been a favorite with lesbian mystery fans, notably
for her witty series about New York lesbian private eye Lauren Laurano. (For details,
#11.) Now she goes back to the source - the noir private eye literature of
the Forties - for a non-lesbian novel featuring spunky secretary Faye Quick on
the homefront in New York City, circa 1943. In This Dame for Hire ($21.95,
Ballantine) Faye is working as a private investigator, filling her boss's shoes
while he is at war. You can almost hear the gum snap in Faye's pitch-perfect first-person
narration, but occasionally you can also hear the scenery creak when Scoppettone's
Forties ambience fails to convince.
Why is it that historical mysteries seem to offer more play than contemporary
novels for authors' feminist impulses (witness Anne Perry, Elizabeth Peters, and
Miriam Grace Monfriedo, among others)? Perhaps it's just the contrast between
what we think of as "woman's place" in history and the strong feminist
characters these authors create. In any case, Shirley Tallman joins the ranks
with The Nob Hill Murders, about nineteenth century San Francisco attorney
Sarah Woolson, followed by The Russian Hill Murders (both $23.95, St. Martin's/Minotaur).
In The Russian Hill Murders, Sarah becomes involved in Chinatown intrigue
when the Chinese cook at a charity dinner is accused of poisoning a society matron.
The plot also involves such progressive issues as sweatshop conditions and health
care for unwed mothers, but the historical atmosphere is a little thin compared
to the richly detailed work of the authors cited above.
Lambda Literary Foundation:
Nominating Books for The Lammies
Reorganized and Raring to Go
Nomination forms for the 2006 Lambda Literary Awards are due December 31.
must be accompanied by a $20 nomination fee, and four copies of each title nominated
will need to be sent to the Foundation.
This year the Awards will be organized a bit differently: A new category,
Belles Lettres, can include memoir, autobiography, collections
of essays, literary criticism, letters, travel writing, graphic novels, and anything
related. The LGBT Studies category has been renamed LGBT Nonfiction and will include
history, politics, and cultural studies. The fiction and nonfiction anthology
awards have been combined into one Anthology award. Visual Arts/Photography and
Drama are no longer categories.
Mail nomination forms, fees, and four copies of each book to: Lambda Literary
Foundation, Old Chelsea Station, P.O. Box 1957, New York, NY 10113 or UPS to 16
West 32nd St. Suite 10E, New York, NY 10001. 646-239-9790; email@example.com.
After much soul-searching, some chaos, and a summer and fall of reorganization,
The Lambda Literary Foundation hired poet, writer, editor, and literary organizer
Charles Flowers as its new Executive Director, launched a new web site, and is
fundraising to re-launch The Lambda Book Reportas a quarterly publication
Charles Flowers has served as chair of the Publishing Triangle, founded
and edits Bloom, (“The most exciting new queer literary publication
to emerge in years,” -Edmund White), and has been Associate Director of the
Academy of American Poets since 2001.
Details, a link to make donations, and a survey are all on the new web site
Alyson Escapes to New York
Alyson Books, after hiring new publisher (Ms.) Dale Cunningham last summer,
has moved operations to New York’s Chelsea district. The publisher’s all-new staff
include Executive Editor Joseph Pittman, Editor Shannon Berning, Marketing &
Publicity Manager Jeff Theis, Managing Editor Richard Fumosa, and Publishing Assistant
Anthony LaSasso. Look for them at 245 W. 17th St., Suite 1200, NY, NY 10011. 212-242-8100.
Alyson Press is owned by LPI Media. Shared corporate services remain in Los Angeles.
PlanetOut Buys LPI Media
LPI Media, in turn, was recently purchased by PlanetOut.com. The $31.1 million
agreement joins the country’s two largest gay media forces. The acquisition seems
to have been driven by PlanetOut’s desire to become more attractive to advertisers
by extending its reach.
PlanetOut.com claims 5.4 million unique visitors per month. It went public
last year, and is using the cushion that created to purchase LPI.
LPI Media publishes The Advocate, Out, Out Traveler, HIV+ magazines,
owns Alyson Press and Advocate Books, and had recently announced a partnership
with LOGO, MTV’s new gay channel. The Advocate claims a monthly circulation
of about 130,000. LPI Media publishes 8.2 million magazine copies per year.
PlanetOut and LPI Media first discussed merging in 1999, but the merger was
called off when the Internet industry - and online advertising - started to tank.
The acquisition is expected to nearly double PlanetOut’s revenues, which were
a reported $7.6 million last quarter.
Feminist Bookstores: Use It or Lose It
Ah, it breaks my heart to say, but Sweet Violets, the feminist bookstore in
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is closing in February. The fact that it flourished
there, in what seems to me one of the unlikeliest places to find a feminist bookstore
(ranking right up there with Fargo North Dakota and Gulfport Mississippi), for
well over a decade, celebrates the fact that we are everywhere - and that we read.
During the course of the year we’ve also lost A Woman’s Prerogative (Detroit),
and Denver’s Book Garden, which changed its name to Sisters Books and became
an online-only store.
Meanwhile Charis just celebrated 31 years
with a move to 1189 Euclid Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30307, but the store is under siege
by the contradiction between what people say (“We need Charis!”) and where
they spend their money. If you cherish Charis and other women’s bookstores, spend
your money there. It’s just as easy to order online from a feminist bookstore
as from a megalomaniac store.
The Feminist Bookshop, Australia’s
sole remaining feminist bookstore, just celebrated 30 years. It’s owned and run
by three lesbian sisters, staff, and friends. When it was founded, male homosexuality
was still illegal in Australia, discrimination against lesbians and gay men was
not, and a newly elected MP tried to close the shop down claiming that lesbian
and feminist literature was pornographic.
David Rosen, the guiding force behind the successful gay and lesbian
InsightOut Book Club has left Bookspan to become VP, Editorial Director at Abrams
and to head up a new imprint, Abrams Image. He was at Bookspan for 16 years and
launched InsightOut, and helped to launch and shape One Spirit, Black Expressions,
HomeStyle and QPB....
John Scognamiglio, who edited Kensington’s popular gay and lesbian books,
has been promoted to the company’s Editor-in-Chief.
Alexis de Veaux won the non-fiction Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Warrior
Poet: A Biography of Audre Lorde. The prize carries a $10,000 purse.
BTWOF in the News
For the Women's eNews article on the loss of intellectual
community centers as feminist bookstores close:
Publishers Weekly ran a great story on us in their online daily.
As did Bookselling This Week.
And so did Curve in their December 2005 issue.
Finally, but not least, The Women's Media Center helped spread the word.
Our thanks to them all!
Women’s Journals Online
Metaformia: Judy Grahn, whom I often call “Another Mother of Us
All” for her image shattering poetry in the seventies, (Edward the Dyke,
The Common Woman Poems), for co-founding The Women’s Press Collective so
women could publish our own books and say whatever the hell we wanted in them,
and then for claiming all manner of gay, lesbian, and women’s history in Another
Mother Tongue and Blood, Bread, and Roses, has launched Metaformia:
A Journal of Menstruation and Culture. Read it at
Grahn's evolving Metaformic Theory returns women to a crucial place in cultural origin stories,
histories, rituals and religions. “We think the world needs fresh new approaches
to questions on the origins of culture, why humans differ from animals, why
we are the marvelous, amazing, terrible, peculiar, cruel, kind, dangerous, and
occasionally constructive beings that we are,” says Grahn. Metaformia will include articles on race, class and caste, on violence and peace, cosmic energies and money, gender and evolution, roles of women and men in creating culture, aspects of religion and anthropology, and more.
TRIVIA: Voices of Feminism is an online relaunch of TRIVIA: A Journal
of Ideas, an international feminist literary magazine that was published out
of Montague, Massachusetts from 1982 to 1993. TRIVIA publishes literary
essays, experimental prose, poetry, translations, and reviews and encourages women
writers to take risks with language and form so as to give their ideas the most
original and vital expression possible.
Forthcoming issues include: The Love and Lust Issue (Deadline: January
6) and The Resurrection Issue which will be dedicated to the lives and
work of feminist writers, artists and activists who are no longer with us (Deadline:
Read the current issue, which features work by Harriet Ellenberger, Lise
Weil, Lee Maracle, Louky Bersianik, Deena Metzger, Kay Hagan, and Juliana Borrero,
Out on the 'Net
Jhoanna Lynn B. Cruz asks where Filipina lesbians can find their literary foremothers:
A new website for Susan Krieger's Things No Longer There: A Memoir of Losing Sight
and Finding Vision (which will be available from The National Library Service, Talking
Books Division, on 4-track tape in Spring 2006) includes information about the book’s
various accessible formats as well as a fascinating glimpse at the technology
one woman uses to keep the written word accessible:
For an article on making the book accessible:
Novelist, playwright, poet, and Science Fiction Reviewer for Feminist Bookstore
News for many years, Susanna J. Sturgis is shopping her new novel. Details at:
We'll be back soon with the next Lesbian Edition.
Yours in spreading the words,
for Books To Watch Out For
© 2005 Books To Watch Out For
Graphics © Judy Horacek
Books To Watch Out For
PO Box 882554
San Francisco, CA 94188