415 Sister Outsider

bsisteroutsidery Audre Lorde, 1984

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: Read an LGBTQ+ history book.

I’m not certain that this book truly qualifies as a history of LGBTQ people or the movement, but as Audre Lorde was certainly one of the most outspoken voices on sexuality, race, and gender and, therefore, highly important to the movement, I feel this book fulfills the spirit of the task, if not the specifics of it. I was first introduced to Audre Lorde when I was in grad school, but I sadly remember nothing of what I read, and she has remained a blind spot in my knowledge of feminist writers. When I saw this book as a suggestion for the task on the Goodreads thread, I jumped at the chance to get to know more about this pivotal writer and what her teachings could offer us today. The book is a collection of essays and speeches, spanning from 1976 through 1984, and covering a wide range of topics that deal with blackness, womanhood, lesbianism, motherhood, classism, and the need for allyship among all who are oppressed. Much of what she says is surprisingly still relevant, as we continue to deal with the same problems of inequality that have plagued us for centuries.

Continue reading

401 The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

sevenhusbandsofevelynhugoby Taylor Jenkins Reid, 2017

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: Read a historical fiction with a POC or LGBTQ+ protagonist.

At the age of 79, 60s “It Girl” Evelyn Hugo has decided to auction off some of her most cherished gowns to raise money for breast cancer research. Every media outlet naturally wants access to one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, so it’s a surprise when Hugo’s team reaches out to the magazine Vivant. Not only do they want to give the magazine an exclusive interview, but Evelyn is specifically requesting one writer, Monique Grant, to do it. Monique has been at Vivant for less than a year and hasn’t exactly been given the hard-hitting stories. She’s not terribly satisfied with her writing efforts, but the opportunity to work for a media institution grabbed her. She’s shocked to know that Evelyn requested her and only her, and she’ll be even more shocked when she meets with Evelyn and finds out that she’s not interested in a magazine interview at all: she wants Monique to write her biography, in which she will reveal everything. At the top of Monique’s list of questions is the one the public has wondered for decades: Of her seven husbands, who was the love of Evelyn’s life?

Continue reading

388 Just Above My Head

justabovemyheadby James Baldwin, 1978

In his final novel, James Baldwin tells the sprawling tale of gospel singer Arthur Montana through the eyes of his older brother Hall. As the book begins, Arthur has been dead for two years. Hall remembers that he had been found in a pool of blood in the basement of a pub in London. The death still weighs heavily on Hall, who is never quite sure how it happened. In the present day, Hall and his wife and two children are preparing to go to a barbecue at his old friend Julia’s house. This offers Hall’s son the opportunity to ask about his uncle, namely, whether the rumors that he was gay are true. Hall explains that his brother slept with a lot of people in his life, mostly men, but that he was always proud of him. So begins the portrait of young man growing up black and gay in a country where neither of those identities was deemed acceptable.

Continue reading

381 The Song of Achilles

songofachillesby Madeline Miller, 2012

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: Read a fanfic.

Hubris. That’s the name of the game in this retelling of a two-millennia-old story that reimagines the bond between the greatest warrior of Greece and his constant companion as one of romance, sex, and undying love. While the book has gotten a lot recognition for its homosexual spin on the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus, focusing solely on that element reduces its reach. Sure, this rescues the epic poem from the largely straight, cisgender, white male canon of Western literature to suggest that it could exist beyond the boundaries we currently place around it (even though we recongize that the ancient Greeks weren’t exactly know for their adherence to modern standards of heterosexuality), but it also mines the reasons for violence and posits that pride eventually comes to ruin all men. This is Achilles’s great downfall, and he doesn’t give a thought as to who he takes with him.

Continue reading

365 Giovanni’s Room

giovannisroomby James Baldwin, 1956

Giovanni’s Room is one of Baldwin’s most celebrated works for its examination of masculinity and sexuality, particularly bisexuality. Our protagonist is David, a young man who has shirked his father’s desire for him to attend college and has  gone to France to find himself. During this time, he becomes engaged to his girlfriend, Hella, but she takes a trip to Spain to ponder whether she really wants to get married. It is in her absence that David enters a gay bar with his friend, Jacques, and strikes up a conversation with the bartender, Giovanni. The meeting will prove to have consequences neither of them will forget.

Continue reading

332 They Called Us Enemy

theycalledusenemyby George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker, 2019

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: Read a graphic memoir.

In our rush to proclaim all the greatness that is America, we often forget all of the terrible things we’ve done. This fact is no surprise to many, but even those of us who are brutally aware of the country’s inequities look over groups who have been victimized in the name of “freedom.” George Takei’s (yes, that George Takei) graphic memoir recalls a time when the US declared all inhabitants of Japanese descent, regardless of citizenship status or how long they had lived in the country, to be political enemies. Just a young boy at the time, Takei, his parents, and his younger brother and sister were shipped to an internment camp in Arkansas, where they lived through brutal, air-conditionless heat, in barracks made of paper-thin walls without indoor plumbing, under constant surveillance by the military. America was at war with the Axis powers, but so too were they engaged in an unjust war with their own people.

Continue reading

318 Guapa

guapaby Saleem Haddad, 2016

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: Read a debut novel by a queer author.

While Guapa might be categorized as a coming out or coming-of-age story, it’s best described as a coming-to-terms-with-identity story. The protagonist, 27-year-old Rasa,  wakes up in shame, remembering the night’s previous events when his grandmother, with whom he lives, saw him and his lover Taymour through the keyhole in his bedroom door. He’s desperate to receive reassurance from Taymour that their romance will continue, but his frantic text messages are met with silence. Life for Rasa in this unnamed Arabic country is clearly stifling, as he bears not only the pressure of existing in a culture that does not accept his homosexuality, but also that of sharing a house with his traditional grandmother after the loss of both of his parents, one to death due to cancer and one to abandonment due to mental illness. For Rasa, Taymour represents the one opportunity to be true to who he is, but it remains to be seen whether Taymour will allow it.

Continue reading

301 The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

longwaysmallangryplanetby Becky Chambers, 2014

Rosemary Harper has just boarded the Wayfarer to join its motley crew of space adventurers and serve as the ship’s administrative clerk. Among the ragtag band of travelers are fellow humans Captain Ashby Santoso, mechanic Kizzy, short-statured engineer Jenks, and algae specialist Corbin. The non-human shipmates include a scale-clad, feather-adorned, physically affectionate Aandrisk named Sissix who pilots the ship; a multi-limbed, caterpillar-like Grum who serves the ship in ways both medical and culinary and goes by the a propos name of Dr. Chef; the blue-furred navigator Sianat Pair Ohan; and the ship’s artificial intelligence system Lovelace, whom the crew fondly refers to as Lovey. Their mission: to punch tunnels through space to create easier modes of transport between different galactic territories. Call them a sort of road construction crew, but on a much grander scale and with greater danger awaiting them. While the plot centers around the team building a tunnel to the capital planet in Toremi Ka territory in effort to further unify the Galactic Commons, this is actually the least interesting part of the novel. Sure, the group faces invasions by enemies, tense bomb disarmings, and unexpected resistance in warring space territories, but this is really just a structure upon which to set a much more important story.

Continue reading

276 Freshwater

freshwaterby Akwaeke Emezi, 2018

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: A novel by a trans or nonbinary author.

I have never read a story like this before. In fact, I feel ill-equipped to even discuss it because it is so far outside my realm of experience that I don’t really know what to say. But, perhaps that is why I loved it so much, for it exposed me to a world and a state of being so different from my own that I could do nothing but sit back and absorb the pages in front of me. I did not know much about Freshwater going into it. I’d only heard about it on one of Book Riot’s podcasts, though I didn’t remember what was said by the time I read it, and I knew it had been nominated for some major awards, including this year’s Women’s Prize and the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35. I think that ignorance of what the story dealt with made it much more affecting for me, so I will try to write about it without revealing too much of its content.

Continue reading

273 Don’t Call Us Dead

dontcallusdeadby Danez Smith, 2017

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: A collection of poetry published since 2014.

I’ve been wanting to read this poetry collection since it was shortlisted for the National Book Award in 2017. The cover is just so striking, the dark bodies against the pristine, white background, one floating up as if to heaven, but holding onto a balloon, child-like, the nudity that is evident but not sexualized. I just really wanted to know what sort of poetry a cover like that could represent. It turns out that the contents are just as remarkable as the image that precedes them.

Continue reading