With less than two months left of 2012, Best of the Year Lists shenanigans have already begun. I know that these lists are inherently problematic, purporting to be “objective” when in truth they can never be anything but purely subjective. Even so, they have the ability to make me stupidly excited anyway. In terms of books, they add even more titles to my never-ending to-read stacks. And when one of my own personal favorites makes it on someone’s list, I feel somehow validated, which is perhaps silly, but satisfying nonetheless. Particularly, seeing more and more queer books included on these lists is the best validation of all.
Publisher’s Weekly, one of the most important publications in the book world, came out with their Best Books of 2012 lists earlier this month, and us lesbos were represented a couple times. Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother? was one of five entries in the Best Comics category, and A.S. King’s young adult novel Ask the Passengers, a wonderfully crafted and philosophical story about a girl contemplating her sexuality, is listed in the Best Children’s Fiction category. My own full review of this latter book will be posted on AfterEllen.com shortly.
Ask the Passengers was also included on another list I received recently, although not one that’s publicly published. Each winter I attend a nerdy workshop attended by both youth librarians and local teens to discuss some of the best books for youth published that year; in October, we all receive the list of ten books we need to read to be prepared for the workshop. I’ve done this workshop for a few years but have never seen a queer book included on the list. This year, there are TWO! And they are both about lesbians! It is 20% lesbian! In addition to Ask the Passengers, Emily Danforth’s exquisite The Miseducation of Cameron Post was also included in the required reading list. This is proof that not only is queer lit for youth evolving in its excellence, but it’s being recognized by the mainstream, too. And let me say again: the more easily accessible queer lit for youth there is in the world, the safer the world is for queer youth.
It makes me hopeful that when the big youth literary awards are announced by the American Library Association in January, for the first time, a queer book may win a prize or honor in a category that isn’t a Specifically Gay category. Not to say that we don’t still need the Specifically Gay categories and awards; I’m not fighting for complete assimilation into the mainstream or anything. But in a way, that’s when we’ll really start winning: when gay things win awards just for being good, not for simply being really gay. You know?
But as for those still-important gay awards! Right as we were discussing Jeanette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? for the AfterEllen.com Book Club this month, Winterson herself was receiving a Writer of the Year award from the British Stonewall organization, a prestigious prize which Sarah Waters has also won in the past. After discussing the complex emotions Winterson holds towards her mother with you guys, this last sentence in her Tweet about the award made my heart suddenly get stuck somewhere in my throat:
The Goodreads’ annual Choice Awards are also now open, if you’re looking for a chance to actually have a say in what was the best of the best this year. Bechdel, not surprisingly, is also included in the Best Graphic Novels & Comics section here, while Rachel Maddow’s Drift is a nominee for Best History & Biography. While I looked through all the rest of the categories, I was disappointed that I couldn’t find any more queer authors or queer subjects included. But maybe I missed something–check it out for yourself.
And to overwhelm you with one final list, the American Library Association has compiled their final tally of nominees for their Over the Rainbow list, representing the best in literature and non-fiction for the gays from the year. Looking for something to read? Well, this list has a whopping 163 titles on it, to be whittled down to the actual best of the best in January. Some highlights from my own perusing of it include Kate Bornstein’s memoir, A Queer and Pleasant Danger, Ivan Coyote’s One in Every Crowd (one of my personal favorites from the year), M. Craig’s The Narrows, and Winterson and Bechdel again. But wait, just kidding, there’s even more list/award mania! You can also glance through the list of nominees for 2013 Lambda Literary Awards.
Finally, here are some notable releases by or about queers for the last quarter of the year:
– Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me, Ellen Forney. Already read Bechdel and the latest Batwoman? Looking for another good graphic novel? How about a cheery tale about bipolar disorder? This is the one for you! Read an interview with Forney here, or if you’re in Seattle, check her out this Saturday, November 10 at their amazing public library. What a fantastic title, as well.
Speaking of fantastic titles:
– Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, Kirstin Cronn-Mills. It’s been way too long since I’ve read a book pertaining to trans issues, and with a title as great as this, I have high expectations for this teen novel. Here’s a small excerpt: “My birth name is Elizabeth, but I’m a guy. Gabe. My parents think I’ve gone crazy and the rest of the world is happy to agree with them, but I know I’m right. I’ve been a boy my whole life. When you think about it, I’m like a record. Elizabeth is my A side, the song everybody knows, and Gabe is my B side—not heard as often, but just as good. It’s time to let my B side play.” Play on, Gabe!
– Astray, Emma Donoghue. One of the best known queer authors today, Emma Donoghue already earned fame through her previous titles like Kissing the Witch and Room. This new novel focuses on a diverse cast of characters, in different times and places, and, well, even after I read summaries of it, I still don’t quite know what it’s about. Yet that makes me even more intrigued. Part of the dust jacket reads: “[Donoghue] transports us from Puritan Massachusetts to Revolutionary New Jersey, from antebellum Louisiana to a highway in Toronto, lighting up four centuries of wanderings that have profound echoes in the present.” Yeah. Simple.
– Coal to Diamonds, Beth Ditto with Michelle Tea. Have you read Trish Bendix’s review? No? Well, go read it! It’s Beth Ditto!
– And our very own Elaine Atwell is releasing a historical fiction lesbian love novel called The Music Box. We’ll keep you updated with more information and a review as the release comes closer. Her recaps alone make me more than excited for it.
And after all this Serious Book Talk, here’s a LOLZ piece of literary news to end with: Britney Spears is supposedly in talks to pen a novel, as well. Yeah, not a memoir–a novel. Now that’s sure to be a treat!
Even though we still have a month and a half to go, what are your thoughts on the best books of the year so far? Who are you voting for over at Goodreads? Queer or not, what have been your most engrossing reads?