Welcome to the age of physical distancing. Has quarantine life got you looking for more books to fill your time? Are you worried about what you’ll do once Schitt’s Creek ends this week? Well, I hope this list helps!
Personally, I’ve already had three weeks of working from, and staying home. During that time trapped indoors I’ve managed to finish 9 new LGBTQ books worth sharing: 5 memoirs and 4 novels. (I’ll have some non-fiction to recommend soon!) All but one are Canadian. Seven were just released in 2019, with the other two not much older than that.
So, in no particular order, here goes:
Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian) – by Hazel Jane Plante
I said in no particular order, but put this one first for a reason. It is a beautiful book in every way; the cover, the layout, the illustrations, the writing.
It centres the story of a queer trans woman’s loss of her straight trans friend. The unique format is pulled off perfectly; an actual encyclopedia for a fictional tv show, where each chapter is a letter of the alphabet, creating a quirky yet hilarious look at grief for a lost friend and unrequited love. It perfectly captures love, friendship and the road to healing.
Hazel Jane Plante is clearly a genius, given the in-depth, imaginative world she has created inside this book. Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian) will charm you. Give it a go.
For more on this great book check out, ‘We need delight to keep us going’: an interview with Hazel Jane Plante.
The Nap-Away Motel – by Nadja Lubiw-Hazard
At a small run-down motel in Scarborough, a litter of kittens brings together three unlikely friends. We find Ori, a genderqueer teen (sometimes Orion and sometimes Orianthi), in search for their run-away twin brother, Suleiman, a man where his response to tragedy has torn apart his family, and young Tiffany, who attempts to create fantasy worlds to escape her mother’s boyfriends, addictions and neglect.
This is a character driven story, which touches on mental health, addiction, tragedy, grief and identity. It’s not all happy reading (obviously) but inside you’ll find a rich story full of heart and many touching moments.
The Nap-Away Motel uses the style of alternating between which character’s eyes you are seeing the story through with each chapter – so if you liked the flow and style of The Break by Katherina Vermette or Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez, you’ll probably enjoy this one too.
I should add that I appreciated a book with a genderqueer protagonist, where their gender wasn’t the focus of their story.
Under the Udala Trees – by Chinelo Okparanta
Ever since discovering Nigerian author Chinelo Okparanta’s short story collection Happiness, Like Water, I’ve been looking forward to reading Under the Udala Trees. This beautifully written novel from 2015 doesn’t disappoint.
Under the Udala Trees was written shortly after Nigeria’s government implemented some of the world’s most punitive laws against same-sex relationships, in hopes of adding to the voices of LGBTQ citizens through story.
A coming to age story beginning during the Biafran War in Nigeria and ultimately taking us into 2014. We follow the decades long journey of Ijeoma, a young lesbian in a country where homosexuality is illegal. We see how love, violence, religion, gender and family continually shape her life. It is accessibly written, a quick moving story over many parts, taking us back and forth through Ijeoma’s life. Once I started I didn’t want to put it down until I was done.
The Western Alienation Merit Badge – by Nancy Jo Cullen
They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but when I saw this cover I knew I had to get it. Set in 1980s Calgary under the shadow of the National Energy Program, we follow the struggles of the working class Murray family.
Following the loss of his second wife, and his job, Jimmy is left struggling to pay his mortgage. His two daughters Bernadette and Frances, move in with him, causing tension and conflict between them. We follow the family’s struggles to make ends meet, conflict when Bernadette’s long-lost childhood friend returns to the picture, and Bernadette’s queer coming-of-age story.
The Western Alienation Merit Badge is ultimately a story about class and queerness in 1980s Calgary. While much has changed in Calgary and Alberta since then, in many ways, this story as timely now as ever. Funny, yet heartbreaking, this is a strong debut novel that is worth a read.
I Hope We Choose Love: A Trans Girl’s Notes from the End of the World – by Kai Cheng Thom
After being blown away by reading Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars, I was excited to read Kai Cheng Thom’s non-fiction debut, a collection of personal essays released last year.
“So in the midst of despair, I have come to believe that love – the feeling of love, the politics of love, the ethics and ideology and embodiment of love – is the only option in this time of the apocalypse. What else do we have?”
Kai Cheng Thom never holds back, and I appreciate that. These essays are deeply honest and personal. They tackle tough, important issues while also pointing to a hopeful way forward. Given our new COVID-19 reality, in many ways, the title and theme of this book are even more timely then when it was written.
It is not contained in the book, but this recent COVID-19 piece in Xtra from Kai Cheng Thom is definitely worth a read too.
We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir – by Samra Habib
An uplifting memoir from Samra Habib. From growing up an Ahmadi Muslim in Pakistan, to the racism and discrimination she faced here in Canada, we follow Samra’s search for the safety and ability to be herself.
The title is apt. While I’ve seen many books from folks focusing on growing up queer and Christian, this was the first I’d read from a Muslim author. I hope it is the first of many more to come.
We Have Always Been Here is well told and well written. It is an honest and revealing memoir. There’s a reason this book was chosen to be a Canada Reads finalist this year.
First Spring Grass Fire – by Rae Spoon
Written back in 2012, I finally got around to reading the first book from the fabulous singer-songwriter Rae Spoon (I’m writing this while listening to their records as motivation).
Inside is a queer and musical coming of age. It is an autobiography told through their personal stories and experiences of growing up queer and trans in a conservative Pentecostal Alberta home.
This book was written in preparation for the creating of the feature film My Prairie Home, a documentary-musical looking at Rae’s life. You can watch it for free on the National Film Board website – another great place to find free entertainment during this time of physical distancing!
Angry Queer Somali Boy: A Complicated Memoir – by Mohamed Abdulkarim Ali
When I first picked up this book I wasn’t sure what to think. When I picked it up again and finally finished, I still wasn’t totally sure what I thought.
We follow Mohamed from childhood in Somali, being taken with his stepmother to the Netherlands, and ultimately coming to Toronto. This book is heavy. It’s blunt. There’s abuse, violence and trauma. Marginalization and racism. But some humour too.
I’d say the title, Angry Queer Somali Boy: A Complicated Memoir, sums up perfectly what you’ll find inside.
Double Melancholy: Art, Beauty, and the Making of a Brown Queer Man – by C. E. Gatchalian
Over a quick 135 pages, we follow C. E. Gatchalian on his journey from being a queer Filipinx-Canadian boy to adulthood; done through a combination of memoir and cultural critique of the works of art that inspired and captured him.
This is done through a unique format. Ultimately there are three voices written in this book: quotes from his childhood journals, the voice writing his personal essays, and his politically aware intellectual voice of decolonization – which critiques his own writing and the works of art.
For me, I felt at times that the academic writing was distracting from the vulnerability of his personal stories, but overall the experimental format provided a unique and needed perspective.