2011: My Year in Reading!

Friends, here is my 2011 year in reading! (Not counting all of the children’s books I read when I was a nanny,  various zines, magazines, newspapers, online articles, and blogs I read.)  I wanted to write a blog for every book I read in 2011 but that didn’t exactly happen. Out of the 31 (almost 32!) books I read this year, I only wrote blogs for 13 or 14 of them…  Better luck next year I suppose.  I had hoped to read more like 36 to 40 books in 2011, but that’s okay. In 2012,  I am setting my goal at reading 35 books, with the knowledge that I will be in school and will not have as much time to read for pleasure.  Also in 2012, I would like to broaden my reading spectrum and include more non-fiction books and more classics, as the majority of what I read this past year was either young adult or contemporary fiction. So friends, here is my year in books broken up by category. In color is my favorite book I read in 2011 from that genre, followed by a brief synopsis. Oh, and I also tried to include the month I read the book, (although the months may not be entirely accurate…)  Oh, and I made a section for all the LGBT books I read this year even though the books are listed by other genres as well.  Enjoy! And feel free to ask me questions about any of these!

Young Adult Fiction

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan (July)

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (February)

Forever and Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume (February)

Crank by Ellen Hopkins (March)

Catching Fire, Hunger Games, Mockingjay (series) by Suzanne Collins (April and May)

Amazing! Highly rated by many “best of” 2011 book lists and not without cause.  Many people that I spoke to about these books had to run right out and get the next book after finishing the first one.  These books are set in a dystopian society in the future where kids are picked from each family to fight against each other to the death in a giant arena filled with traps. It’s the government’s fucked up way of keeping control of the people.  We follow the heroine, Katniss, as she is chosen to be one of those who fights in the arena and how she comes to win “the games” as they are called.  Thrilling and a must read if you are into young adult fiction or dystopian fiction. Disclaimer: The third book isn’t quite as good as the first two.

Uglies/Pretties trilogy (series) by Scott Westerfeld (April-July)

Matched by Allie Condie (December)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (August)

Empress of The World (March)

Read the rest of this entry »

The Inverted Gaze by Francois Cusset

In his new book, Francois Cusset says that: “We need to learn to take the text, turn it over, penetrate it, play with its sex, slip ours into it, follow it to the end of its fine ambivalence, and force it along the way to assume a position.”  Finally a writer who shares the same queer biblio-lust as myself!  With “The Inverted Gaze” Cusset presents a new addition to the study of queer theory, dissecting the French literary classics from the point of view of what Cusset calls a “QC” or queer critic.

It must be noted that this is not a book for the faint of heart and is a highly academic read.  I have read a few authors who belong to the French canon that Cusset discusses, (most notably Proust and Balzac) but I was not nearly as familiar as I would  like to be with the authors and works discussed.  I think this book would be most enjoyed by someone who is well versed in the French literary canon.  I could also see it being a valuable resource in an academic setting for a class about queer theory, especially in regards to French texts.

The subject of theory can be somewhat dry but Cusset queers his discussion of theory by inserting such metaphors as the use of glory holes to illustrate what it means to look at literature through a queer lens.  He says “We are looking for the details that have been ignored, but then take on the sudden tumescent vigor of that which passes through the glory hole.”

One of the things I found most fascinating about the book was Cusset’s take on what makes a work of literature queer.  Rather than focusing on what is explicitly queer such as the actual acts of sodomy or lesbian affection, Cusset says that being queer is about the loss of the self, “the art of being where nothing awaits you” and that “the queer approach… loudly proclaims lack of definition as its major virtue.”   One of the French authors that Cusset discusses is Baudelaire who has a quote which I particularly enjoyed: “To fuck is to aspire to enter another, whereas the artist never leaves himself.” (from “My Heart Laid Bare”).

Particularly interesting was Cusset’s pondering of what makes queer sex queer: “…The multitude of sophisticated caresses not involving penetration, not to mention the ecstatic pain of unfulfillment– and “To keep inside oneself, at the tip of the penis or the base of the perineum, that primal itch without trying to scratch it (or destroy it) with a harmony of bodies, with the illusion of another: that is the program of queer erotics, perisexual or even masturbatory; a painful caress…”

I also appreciated  Cusset’s discussion of what makes for a queer reading of a work rather than a more traditional gay or LGBT interpretation.  Cusset says that a traditional gay approach looks at what is most easily understood as being overtly gay and attempts to put it in the category of hetero-normativity while a queer approach to literature looks at what is seedy and underlying in a text, what is inferred and undefined as opposed to the observable and plain.  He says that traditional gay studies try “to establish a homo counter-corpus, as canonic in the end as the official corpus” whereas queer studies “does not limit its field of investigation to any pre-established criteria, explicit thematic, or author biography, preferring not the celebration of difference, but rather the insinuation of constant doubt, and the political, playful, and insatiable erosion of the usual borders between homo and hetero.”

Altogether a highly intriguing and academic text which left me pondering over such sentences as: “A finger in your nose, as Roquentin could tell us, is sometimes richer in queer meaning than an entire session of fist fucking.” Amen!

Kiss & Tell: A Romantic Resume, Ages 0-22 by Mari Naomi

I first heard about Mari Naomi through Sister Spit, a group of  feminist and queer writers lead by Michelle Tea who travel and read their work.  I love graphic novels so I was excited that Sister Spit had chosen to feature Mari Naomi, a bay area comic book artist.  Kiss and Tell is Mari Naomi’s first graphic novel and is also one of the most interesting graphic novels I’ve read in a while.  I would highly recommend it to any who are fans of Michelle Tea. 

The books content is pretty much described in the title and is a catalogue of all Mari’s romantic and sexual encounters between ages 5 and  22.  She includes stories of silly childhood infatuation along the lines of “if you show me yours I’ll show you mine.”  However, the book later becomes more serious as she illustrates the thrill, heartache, and experimentation of her later relationships.  While the events in the book may be shocking to some, she exposes her encounters  in a very honest and matter of fact fashion.  This is something I appreciated, because it just notes her encounters for what they are, without judgment. The book contains a very intimate portrayal of Mari’s experiences which include losing her virginity, having an abortion, her first love being sent to jail, and also follows her experimentation with women and with open relationships.

Although many will not have quite the experience that Mari had as a teenager, I think the book is easily relatable because of  its themes of first love, first lust, and first major heartache.  Its descriptions of what it is like to be young are also right on point with the recklessness, thrill and naivety of being young and feeling bulletproof.

Raised by traditional Japanese American parents, Mari rebels and as a teen even runs away from home.  She quits high school and moves in with her boyfriend until he is sent to jail.  She experiments with drugs and drinks and questions her identity.  One thing I appreciated about the book is her feminist stance on her sexuality.  She doesn’t seem to regret or feel guilt about her many sexual encounters and sex is a topic in the book that Mari is empowered by and chooses.  Some of her experiences are merely hook ups or make outs but the two main stories in the graphic novel tackle her experiences with falling in love.

The only thing that left me dissatisfied about this graphic novel was its ending.  She breaks up with her long-term, live in relationship and moves away.  At the end is a drawing of her with descriptions of what she has become, including married and monogamous.  I would be interested to see what she learned and what happened between where the graphic novel leaves off and her life at present.  Luckily though, I believe she is working on a second book that may shed some insight.


 

The Passionate Mistakes and Intricate Corruption of One Girl in America by Michelle Tea

Michelle Tea is now well-known for being a San Francisco based writer with works based on the city such as the infamous queer novel Valencia.  However, Passionate Mistakes is from a much earlier time in Michelle Tea’s life when she was a goth high school kid who lived in Chelsea, a suburb of Boston.  It follows her through her teenage years and early twenties in Provincetown and ends with her move to Tucson, Arizona.  This is Michelle’s experience with growing up but it is also contrasted with the larger story of our generation of queers as well as the new generation of feminism.

The memoir follows Michelle through various expressions of  sexual orientation and identity. At the beginning of the book, she starts out as a straight girl who endures boring and awful sex with her boyfriend.   She then explores a little bit further and starts to hook up with girls while still having a boyfriend.  Finally, she comes out with the courage to let her boyfriend go and starts dating women intentionally.  She explores open relationships and is in and out of love triangles and finally has a long-term girlfriend.  And all of this is told with the (intricate) innocence of a Michelle who existed in a time before she even knew what the terms “butch” and “femme” meant and way before she was known as a queer icon of our generation.

The last part of the book chronicles Michelle’s relationship with her prostitute girlfriend, a career which Michelle also chooses to pursue.  Some of Michelle Tea’s experience as a prostitute is chronicled in Rent Girl, her graphic novel which I would highly recommend.  From my understanding she became a prostitute not really because she needed the money but mainly out of her desire to alleviate boredom and lead an unconventional life.

I think Passionate Mistakes is a book that many can relate to because in some sense I think we all have the desire to both find ourselves (Michelle coming out as a lesbian) and the desire to lose ourselves (Michelle choosing to prostitute, even though she loathes it).  I think sometimes that we learn just as much in  losing ourselves as we do in finding ourselves.  I can appreciate this duality and often find myself  living inside the duplicity of lost/found, broken/unbroken, bored/entertained, fulfilled/nihilistic.  Although sometimes being lost can damage I think surrendering to uncertainty and mystery is sometimes necessary in life. Read the rest of this entry »

Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi

When Ellen DeGeneres started seeing someone new a few years back, all I knew about this person, Portia de Rossi, is that she was the fierce icy blond on Ally McBeal.  I used to watch Ally McBeal with my Mom back in the day, as silly as the show was.  I later found out she also had a character on Arrested Development.  I’ve since read articles in various magazines about how happy she is to be married to Ellen.  In these brief glimpses of Portia de Rossi, I never would have guessed that she had a severe struggle with coming out as a lesbian and an even worse struggle with anorexia and bulimia which almost killed her.

Unbearable Lightness talks about de Rossi’s dark past, being an early 20 something newly in Hollywood from Australia and her downward spiral into anorexia.  Portia de Rossi really surprised me as a writer.  She is very poetic in her descriptions and the story she is weaving becomes completely engrossing.  We can actually watch the subject, de Rossi, become consumed by her illness to the point in which all she thinks and obsesses about is food and her weight.  She feels an intense pressure to be perfect, having just scored a major role on a hit TV show, Ally McBeal.  She actually does not talk too much about the show though except how much she hated it and how  the actors or actresses on the show barely spoke to one another outside of shooting a scene.

Portia de Rossi also speaks about how hard it was to be this person who was supposed to the object of mens desires when inside she was a lesbian, afraid to come out in an industry that almost destroyed the career of someone whom she had really admired, her later wife, Ellen Degeneres.  At the same time de Rossi was terrified that someone would find out that she was a lesbian, part of her battle with anorexia was caused by that same issue, not feeling like she could come out and be herself. Read the rest of this entry »

The Adventuress

Ok, so I’ve read this graphic novel probably more than ten times but I re-read it to my friend who was in town in January and it’s one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors so thought I would include it on this blog.

This graphic novel is strange and wonderful and the only tattoo I have is actually from this book; a picture of two women embracing who are topless but wearing long black skirts and long opera gloves.  The tattoo represents self love, my astrological sign, Gemini, and also represents being an LGBTQ person.

This book reads like a dream and is the story of an alchemist’s daughter and her strange adventures which include fleeing from her husband, wrapping herself in a cocoon and becoming a moth, giving birth to a cat and transcending the tragedy she has left behind.  The prose is sparse but inventive and much of the story is told through aquatint etchings, an elaborate process that is becoming outdated and is explained at the back of this book.  The words and the etchings give the book a unique, antique feel.

And the first book of the New Year… “Lez” classic, “Rubyfruit Jungle”

So the very first book I read this year was Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown. It’s one of those classics of lesbian fiction that I’ve never gotten around to until now.  When I was back home for Christmas my Dad gave me a big box of books that his (formerly) lesbian friend gave him.  As she knows I’m also a queer, she told my Dad there were a bunch of lesbo books in the box that I might like. I went through it but there wasn’t much that struck my fancy except for Rubyfruit Jungle, because I knew it was considered to be one of the classics in regards to books written by lesbians and about lesbians. Read the rest of this entry »