I haven’t read quite so much stuff all in one month since August— so it goes, it’s autumn, my brain wants to hibernate — but I did pass 52 books, which is an absurd and unbelievable number of books for one human to read in a year, if the human is me. I don’t know what brought my reading juice back this year; the move to another country? the 8 years that have now passed since I was last a student? but I am very glad about it.
So maybe we’re a week into September already, but I was busy being very gay on holiday in Berlin last weekend, and didn’t have time to finish this post then. I’ve decided to try out these monthly little („little“) roundup posts, to keep track of things I’ve read that I might have opinions about and want to recommend. Let’s see how it goes. 📚💫
There will be:
- Short Fiction/Poetry
- Articles and Interesting Tweets
I’ve been down a gay histoical romance well recently, and I blame Vice’s gaming site Waypoit for all of it.
Let me explain.
(I went to the theatre last weekend and I have some Thoughts! I will give them im German, though, because that was what the piece was in and I could use the practice, anyway.)
Letztens war ich im Schauspiel Hannover, um mir Die Edda anzugucken.Ich war zufällig auf den Trailer gestoßen, der mich sehr neugierig machte. Besonders die Bühnengestaltung, dieses rohe Gerüst mit der vermischten Ikonographie… 👌👀 Am Ende war ich aber leider eher etwas enttäuscht vom ganzen Erlebnis. Trotz der positiven Aspekte hat es in mir eher ein Gefühl von verschwendetem Potential hinterlassen.
I keep making lists with five entries! It isn’t on purpose, I swear. I think pretty much everyone’s finished with their 2018 retrospectives already, but I’ve been busy with moving and starting a new job, and I still want to tell you my favourite books I read in 2018. These are the books that most grabbed me by my feelings and refused to let go.
📚 The Only Harmless Great Thing – Brooke Bolander
I picked up this little novelette at Nine Worlds, where someone had left a few copies of it on the leaflets and freebies table. I kept it aside for a few months before reading it, because it seem very dark. And it is, it’s about a woman slowly dying of radiation poisoning without even the compensation she’s been promised, the enslaved circus-elephant she’s training to replace her, and the men and institutions that torment them. But it’s also about memory, solidarity, and vengeance, and I found it really cathartic to read. Also there’s some sweet science fiction worldbuilding woven through the whole thing like a beautiful architectural construct holding up the plot. It never overexplains or gives you more detail than you need.
I think there’s a criticism to be made about the enslaved people being sentient elephants when human enslaved people presumably existed in the history of this alternate world, and people of colour presumably exist within it, as much as I love the elephant folktale and the nod to ray cats. But I’m not the person to make that critique, and I haven’t found one so far in my cursory googling, so maybe I’m overthinking, but it raised a question mark for me.
Anyway this is a book extremely worth reading if you want to be validated in your anger at capitalism and men, and it’s Tor’s free ebook this month, apparently, so go forth.
📚 Autobiography of Red – Anne Carson
I was given this book as a present and had no idea what to expect from it, but it lodged itself in my brain and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for weeks after I’d finished it. I think I’d have to re-read it to give a proper summary, because the beginning of 2018 already feels like a different century, but it’s a gorgeously weird mixture of mystical fictional non-fiction, dreamlike vividness and harsh realism, queerness and monstrosity and brightly saturated colours. Honestly I don’t understnd how it burrowed its way into my ribcage so thoroughly but I’m glad it did. I’m gonna reread it soon.
📚 Revenant Gun – Yoon Ha Lee
Thank god for the Machineries of Empire series and for YHL’s continued willingness to just put his entire self out there with the fanficcy tropes, because I love every one of them with my entire heart. This final book of the trilogy somehow managed to ramp up both the gay suffering, the horror, and the weird worldbuilding to increasingly beautifully absurd levels, and I was suitably emotionally destroyed. Do you like to be gay and suffer, for fun, in space, unashamedly? While occasionally being slapped with the horrors of war and also making friends with robots? This book is for you.
📚 The Traitor Baru Cormorant – Seth Dickinson
Do you like to be gay and suffer, in a fantasy archipelago? But no, the suffering in this book actually feels a lot heavier and more real than that in Revenant Gun. While the Machineries of Empire series definitely confronts you with the horrors of war in some shining gems of uncomfortable scenes, nobody is particularly likely to ever be faced with the teenage cloned self of their dead mentor whose ghost they ate in real life. Plenty of people have witnessed their culture assimilated into empires and been faced with the dilemma of how to interact with violent systems.
It does have a delicious romance in there for the emotionally satisfying suffering amongst all the genuine discomfort though. It’s an interesting tension, and I don’t know quite what I think about it, but I am interested in where it takes the themes in the next book, and I did love all the characters intensely and had to lie down on my living room floor furiously texting the friend who recommended it to me to process my emotions as I read the last few chapters of ever more rapidly spiralling awfulness.
📚 Weight of the Earth – David Wojnarowicz
I think this is the book that set me off on the non-fiction kick I’ve been on recently. I picked it up at an art gallery gift-shop on a whim, mostly because I liked the cover, and it really paid off. I love reading about the thought processes and experiences of artists (and people generally tbh–I still miss LiveJournal a bit for that reason honestly), and David Wojnarowicz is very relatable in his questions about relating to people and being understood; whether it’s possible at all, or desirable if it is. Even the sections where he just describes his dreams are weirdly relatable. They’re not interesting to read, maybe, but compelling somehow. I also don’t think I’ve ever come as close to understanding what it might be like to be living with a fatal disease as I did reading the entries set after his AIDS diagnosis.
So there you go, a selection of good books to read! I’ve been slowly writing and editing this post on my phone and it’s honestly a painful process, so I’m releasing it into the world with any awkward writing & whatever weird formatting problems the wp app decides to throw in there intact. Be gone from my drafts.
After eating my fill of audio drama podcasts while putting together my Nine Worlds rec list this summer, autumn and winter found me in more of a non-fiction mood. I picked up a handful of new (to me) queer history podcasts in the last few months (podcast backlogs having the unfortunate habit of running out, forcing the listener to find more or wait), so I thought I’d write up a list of my current favourites. You know, in case you need some help researching the queer fanfiction you’re gonna write me after last week’s post, because you love me. 😘
(a note: I use „queer“ and „gay“ as pretty much interchangeable fuzzy umbrella terms. This is another of those things I don’t really feel like explaining, it turns out.)
(another note: if you want to page down through my–albeit high quality and correct–Thoughts and Feelings about queerness and fanfic and just see the extremely good list of recs, click here)
A little while ago while clearing out my inbox I found an email from myself sent back in 2017, that I had no memory of, containing a list of links I’d apparently meant to look at again. (I actually just did the same thing to empty out the 20-odd tabs I had open on my phone, so: enjoy, future Hauke.) The bulk of them were Sherlock Holmes and Jeeves & Wooster fanfics, which is a particularly mysterious gift from past me as I don’t remember reading any of those since around the end of high school, 12 years ago. Since finding that email, though, I’ve been intermittently immersing myself in a warm and delightful 19th/20th century English novel fandom nostalgia pool. Almost every Jooster fic still follows the exact same emotional beats it turns out, and I love it.
In my (re)exploration of this particular corner of Ao3, though, I’ve discovered a few fics that were unusual pearls, and they brought home to me that the things I read fic for have been changing a lot in recent years. Or maybe they just showed me what I’ve been missing in the fics all along. Don’t get me wrong, I have always appreciated some good fraught dramatic gay romance and/or good porn, but the thing that’s been missing, which I didn’t notice was missing until I found the handful of fics that had it, was: queerness.
It’s not enough for me anymore for fanfic to be gay, I want it to be Gay. So often fic that has ostensibly queer romantic pairings depicts the characters in a way that makes them feel like they’re floating in a void, where their non-straight-ness means absolutely nothing to their life beyond the person they love and/or fuck. I hear there are some gay people who live like that but I’ve never been able to relate to it at all. I want characters to have feelings about their queerness and weirdnesses of sexuality and gender, and most imnportantly I want there to be queer spaces for them to exist in and explore.
At most a fic might include some homophobia, setting-appropriate or not, for a quick angst hit. But I don’t want the hurt of gay-bashing if you’re not going to counterweigh it with the real-life comforts of gay mutual support and family and community, of carving out a space in the margins and making it beautiful. I’m not even particularly linked into offline LGBT communities right now, but I know the feeling of recognising other gays in the wild, I seek out or make my own small gay spaces and I talk to my gay friends about my gay life. Seeing those interactions in fic is so satisfying and comforting.
Now that I’ve experienced fic where characters have queer friends and experience queer spaces and resilience and suffering in context, I can’t quite get the same warm glow from ones that don’t include it anymore. Please give me more! There’s so much untapped potential here. Obviously I’m biased as a history and worldbuilding nerd, but I feel if you’re writing a historical fic and don’t use some of the amazing historical information and annecdotes out there you’re doing the world and yourself a disservice— there’s so much good stuff there. And if you’re writing in a fantasy or scifi setting you have the freedom to extrapolate and invite your own queer spaces and culture! That sounds absolutely amazing to me, are you kidding, why isn’t everyone all over this.