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These Books Are Queer

These Books Are Queer

LGBT+Recently I have been thinking a lot about queer books and their visibility. Just like how I want to read as many books by women as I possibly can, just so I can put them in the spotlight, I am also doing the same with queer books.

The thing is, I sometimes wonder if I mention often enough that certain books have queer content. I feel like I mention it. I always tag my posts as LGBT+, and I regularly post for LGBT+ reading events. But I guess sometimes I don’t mention it (especially in more general posts/lists) for whatever reason. And that’s not logical. To me it matters that books have queer content, to me it is important. And I know so many people are looking for queer books and have trouble finding them, and I want my blog to be a good and safe place for anyone to find these books.

And while I know to some people it does not seem important and they will read books regardless of queer characters and content, not mentioning it just isn’t fair to these books. This actual post was triggered by a post at the Gay YA: Let’s Take Queer YA Out of the Closet. And I agree with it, I notice many readers doing this especially to mainstream books with queer content – they do not mention in any way that a book has queer content. Why? Perhaps they are afraid to scare off other readers, are ashamed, or simply do not think it is important?

So here is what I’m going to do, not just with YA books but with any queer books: I vow to never, never stick a queer book back in the closet. I hope everyone else will do the same. I want visibility for these books, I want diversity in books.

Let this post be a Queer Masterpost on this blog, a post I hope makes the road to discover more LGBT+ books an easier one. If you have any questions or want personal recommendations, don’t be afraid to ask/comment. Or use my contact form if you don’t want to post openly 🙂
And of course I am open to your recommendations too!

Books I Recommend

Classics

  • Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
  • Forbidden Colours by Yukio Mishima
  • Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
  • Maurice by E.M. Forster
  • Orlando by Virginia Woolf

Contemporary

  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (YA)
  • Ask the Passengers by A.S. King (YA)
  • Hardboiled & Hard Luck by Banana Yoshimoto
  • How to Repair a Mechanical Heart by J.C. Lillis (YA)
  • Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
  • The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth (YA)
  • Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (YA)
  • Stir Fry by Emma Donoghue (YA)
  • Weetzie Bat (Weetzie Bat, #1) by Francesca Lia Block (YA)
  • Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan (YA)

Fantasy

  • Love in the Time of Global Warming (Love in the Time of Global Warming, #1) by Francesca Lia Block
  • Huntress by Malinda Lo (YA)
  • Pantomime (Micah Grey, #1) by Laura Lam (YA)
  • Princess Princess by Katie O’Neill (YA, graphic novel)
  • The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Historical fiction

  • Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
  • Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley (YA)
  • Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin (YA)
  • Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
  • Under the Poppy by Kathe Koja
  • We, Two Boys by Aline Sax (YA)

Science fiction & dystopia

  • Adaptation by Malinda Lo (YA)
  • China Mountain Zhang: A Novel by Maureen F. McHugh
  • More Than This by Patrick Ness (YA)
  • Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis (YA)
  • The Vintner’s Luck (Vintner’s Luck, #1) by Elizabeth Knox
  • The Angel’s Cut (Vintner’s Luck, #2) by Elizabeth Knox

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Discussion: Writing about someone who is not like you

Discussion: Writing about someone who is not like you

Yesterday I finished reading Robin Talley’s Lies We Tell Ourselves. The book definitely left an impression on me. For those who do not know, the book is about two teenagers – one black and one white – and is set in 1959 at the time of desegregation of a high school in Virginia. Not only does the book deal with desegregation, but on top of that the two girls fall in love with each other. I know a bit about the situation of (de)segregation in US history, but not as much as I would like (not having grown up in the US with US history). I am very happy to have read it and can recommend it to everyone (the book is also a real page turner, btw). When I put it down, I thought Talley had done a great job.

Then I read some reviews on GR, and one reviewer mentioned (this is me paraphrasing) she was uncomfortable with a white (although queer) author using the voice of a black character, to comment on desegregation and black politics. That got me thinking.

I completely get where this reviewer is coming from. Would this book have been different if it had been written by a black author? I am 100% sure that yes, it would have been different. Very different. So yes, I do think it matters who writes a book like this.

I have mixed feelings about this issue myself. As for Talley’s Lies We Tell Ourselves, I think it was a really good book and it’s clear she did her research. I will leave off commenting on it any further as I do not think I am the best judge (queer but white).

However, I read plenty of books with queer characters, some of which have been written by (assumed) straight authors. The verdict? I have absolutely adored many (not all) of these books and it did not necessarily bother me that they were written by a(n assumed) straight author. (I have to say I do carefully pick my LGBT reads, so I probably managed to avoid the real train wrecks.) But I do think the trick is in the way the author deals with a topic. The successful books were clearly written by good authors who can empathise with characters different from them. They were respectful, the queer characters were well developed characters and not mere stereotypes.

It can also go wrong (sometimes horribly). For example, books (by assumed straight authors) that are happy to go into queer politics or that are trying to be emotional coming out stories, but somehow they get it all wrong. Especially books told from a straight person’s POV. Not necessarily bad, but there have been cases where these types of books just give me the shivers.* Sometimes, these books get praised by a large (mainstream) audience. This bothers me especially because I know queer authors are not getting the same kind of attention most of the time – and it’s a reason why I would pick books by queer authors about queer topics over books by straight authors.** At the same time, the same thing sometimes happens with books that I do think are well written, and in that case I am at least happy people get to read (good books) about queer characters, no matter who the author is.

I am divided. Do I think it’s cool that these diverse books exist, and are being read? Hell yes. Does it matter who writes them? I feel mixed. Yes… probably. But not necessarily. Not always. Uhm, maybe?

What do you think? Always wrong, sometimes wrong, doesn’t matter, better than nothing?

*) And an entirely different situation, but: I am sure many queer readers are familiar with certain LGBT (mostly M/M) romance books&stories written by straight authors for a straight audience, and they make me feel really queasy (and wanting to punch someone in the face, to be frank). The same goes for a significant part of fanfiction (where being queer is okay as long as you’re hot and famous, and as long as it’s for the sake of a straight audience).

**) This rightfully is an ongoing topic in the Diverse Books debate, no matter which minority is involved.

Thursday Thoughts: eReaders

Thursday Thoughts: eReaders

Thursday Thoughts Soooo this week’s Thursday Thoughts is actually a different one, namely Cover Changes. A while ago I wrote a post on book covers so I’d like to direct you to that.

This week, instead of talking about covers again, I’ll be going back to an old Thursday Thoughts topics that I missed (because I wasn’t participating yet back in May): eReaders.

Do you own an eReader (or a tablet that you read on)? Do you prefer eReaders or physical books and why? Do you think it is wise to invest in an eReader? If you could only read physical books or an eReader for the rest of your life, which would you choose and why?

I own a Kindle and I love it. I wrote a post about my Kindle experience shortly after I got it, back in 2011. Now, three years later, I still absolutely adore it.

Sure, I prefer physical books. They are pretty and collectable, and the reading experience is different. I love reading physical books and I own more physical books than I want to think about and I’m totally in denial about it

But when travelling, physical books are incredibly inconvenient! Heavy and they take up space… and when you expect to finish your book you have to bring more than one, which is more space and weight and what if you didn’t bring an extra book? What will you read?! *panics* Back in the days we had no choice but to bring physical books on vacation. If you weren’t in the mood for a book: sucks. And if you ran out of books to read, you ran out. Too bad, and then you’d spend the rest of the vacation suffering infinite boredom (or perhaps these were just the vacations of my childhood).

These days however, I rarely even consider bringing physical books and I usually only bring my Kindle. Because a) the Kindle is light-weight and conveniently sized and b) there’s so many books on my Kindle that there will always be something I want to read!

Would I recommend buying an eReader? YES! At least… if you read fiction or other linear literature. While I’m sure there are ereaders out there that handle reference works and text books better, the Kindle for sure doesn’t. For example, in that post I wrote in 2011 about the Kindle, I mentioned reading PDFs on it. Well… reading PDFs is a pain on the Kindle 3G. And imagine browsing a text book! Nope nope nope…

Discussion: I’m going to read more women

Discussion: I’m going to read more women

I have decided. I will read more books by women. I will consciously pick up more books by women. This is actually something I decided at the start of the year.

You may wonder why. You may ask why it matters. You may ask if it matters.

I think it does. So why am I suddenly writing about this? Actually, it’s not so sudden. This post has been in my drafts since January. I know! Somehow, it’s such a sensitive topic.

There are many, many reasons why I’ve decided this. Long story short: in an ideal world there would be no gender bias, but this is not an ideal world, and there is gender bias.

For example, the yearly Dutch Book Week gift novella will be written by a man for the 13th time in a row (and out of 90 authors so far, only a little over a dozen were women). J.K. Rowling’s name is a pen name because the publisher was afraid young boys would be wary to read a book by a woman. We see more men than women translated into English or almost every other language. Follow any course on literature anywhere, and literature written by men will almost definitely outnumber that written by women (unless you are following a class on ‘Women’s Literature’). And while people – both men and women – keep suggesting male authors are more successful because men ‘simply write better’, we’ve got a problem.

Now, why am I going to read more books by women? I felt unable to explain this – I wish there was no need to consciously do this – until I read a wonderful piece titled Women in Fantasy: Thoughts on Disrupting the Circle. Seriously, read it!

I want to disrupt the circle.

Essentially, if I read more books by women, I can talk more about books by women, I can review more books by women, and I can inspire more people to read these books. To read these books not because they are by women, but because someone is talking about them. Someone needs to be talking about them.

Anyway, I also figured I’d examine my own reading stats. I went into this not really knowing what to expect, but my suspicion was sadly true.

In 2012, I read:
21 books by female authors versus 38 books by male authors
16 different female authors versus 31 different male authors

In 2013 I read:
16 books by female authors versus 37 books by male authors
14 different female authors versus 25 different male authors

Not happy with the results. This year is somewhat better, so far I’ve read:
19 books by female authors versus 25 books by male authors
18 different female authors versus 23 different male authors

Why still more men than women this year? Remember that MOOC that I’m taking? Yep… For this year I am aiming at 50-50 though.

Now, not all is bad out there in Bookland. Lately there is – thankfully – a lot of attention going out to the topic of gender bias, but also diversity in books (both author diversity as well as character diversity). We get beautiful hashtags like #WeNeedDiverseBooks, and reading events like LGBT Month and Mental Health Awareness Month. The book community on the whole is pretty amazing, if you ask me! And thanks to a colleague I am stumbling into articles such as the aforementioned Women in Fantasy, and this round table discussion. The two articles focus on sci-fi & fantasy but are relevant to almost every genre imho (read them, they are good!).

Finally, let me say: I don’t think anyone should feel forced go around picking female over male authors in order to ‘set things right’. And I don’t necessarily think the reason for this gender bias is because people consciously choose NOT to read female authors. But I do think it’s important to at least be aware of what’s happening.

So, what do you think? Do you notice any bias? Do you think there should be a distinction, like with special ‘women’s prizes’? Do you consciously pick what you are reading, and do you read more male or female authors? 🙂

(Disclaimer, in case anyone is having doubts: I am not against books by men, I am not avoiding books by men and men are not the devil. I have to state this silliness because I’ve had this discussion before.)

Thursday Thoughts: Rating Systems

Thursday Thoughts: Rating Systems

Thursday Thoughts This week’s Thursday Thoughts topic is one I submitted 😀 yay!

Do you use a star rating system when you read/review books? What are your opinions on star rating systems? Are there any other forms of rating books that you use? How do you think rating systems could be improved? Along that same line, do you see any problems with the way Goodreads’ rating systems work?

I have a mixed opinion on star ratings, but on the whole, I think they are useful. For example, in reviews I like to see at first glance what to expect. Reviews without star ratings I tend to unconsciously avoid (unless written by one of my favourite bloggers) – I just don’t have the patience.

I know star ratings can be problematic. Everyone uses them differently. For me 3 stars is ‘it was quite okay’, for someone else it’s ‘I liked it’ and yet someone else might give high star ratings and so a 3 star book was a massive disappointment. And more extremely: apparently there are people who give 1 star to books they love and 5 stars to books they didn’t enjoy (or so I’ve been told, I haven’t see this happen yet thankfully).

On Goodreads I like to use the average rating for books to see if a book is worth my time. This is again just a ‘first glance’ kind of thing. Books with 4 stars or higher and lots of ratings do attract my attention, but some of them I really don’t like (i.e. Divergent, with a shocking 4.35 average!). Anything under 3 stars I would probably avoid, shallow as that sounds. But on the whole, the average rating on GR doesn’t necessarily mean much, as for example Dutch and Japanese literature usually get a very low average rating. Then there’s the case of sockpuppets so if a book doesn’t have enough ratings you have to be careful. And of course you’ve also got plenty of people who rate a book before it is even published.

Honestly, I don’t mind how anyone else uses star ratings. I just make sure to pay a little extra attention when looking at other people’s ratings.

One thing that would be better than star ratings imho would be grades on a 1-10 scale (or percentages, or whatever). But since this function doesn’t exist on GR, or in the UBB Plugin, and I’ve rated far too many books so far… star ratings it is.

Now, as for my own star ratings. I do give books stars – I LOVE GIVING STARS – but often find myself adjusting them slightly over time after I’ve read many other books. Sometimes your outlook on a book simply changes over time, and you have more books to compare.

I have two slighty different systems: one for Goodreads that doesn’t support half-stars, and one for my blog.

Goodreads
Goodreads 5 stars This book was amazing and exceptional and wow because it was written very well AND/OR it was outstanding in its genre AND/OR feelings
Goodreads 4 stars I reeeallly liked this book, more than the average book
Goodreads 3 stars This was quite alright. Not crazy about it but overall… alright.
Goodreads 2 stars Meh. Not very good. (Can be a DNF)
Goodreads 1 star Waste of time. Need those hours of my life back. (Can be a DNF)

My own blog gives me a little more wiggle space because I can actually give half stars..!
This book was amazing and exceptional and wow because it was written very well AND/OR it was outstanding in its genre AND/OR feelings
This book was amazing and almost exceptional and deserves more than 4 stars but not quite 5 stars
I reeeallly really liked this book, more than the average book
I liked and enjoyed this and/or it was good. Just not as good as 4 star books.
This was quite alright.
It wasn’t absolutely terrible but I didn’t like/enjoy it either.
Meh. Not very good. (Everything from here on can be DNF)
Ugh, bad.
WASTE. OF. MY. TIME.
I don’t encourage book burning, but…