2012: The Year in Lesbian/Bi Books

AfterEllen.com Writers Do Good

To pat ourselves on the back for a moment, because who doesn’t enjoy a good pat on the back, some AE writers past and present have also published some quite noteworthy work this year. Former managing editor Malinda Lo released her third novel, following the successes of Ash and Huntress. With Adaptation, she steps away from the fantasy realm and solidly into the science fiction/realistic fiction world, and I loved it. Without a doubt, the sequel, slated to come out in the fall of 2013, is the book I’m most anxious to read next year.

Herself When She’s Missing, by Sarah Terez Rosenblum was also met with high praise from reviewers and readers alike. Candace Walsh, author of the In Good Taste column, released Licking the Spoon, a memoir about her journey of leaving her husband for a woman, and the food she made along the way. I’ve just started this one and am already enraptured by it; I’ll post a full review when I’m finished. Elaine Atwell just released The Music Box, a World War II romance full of espionage and lesbians. Even better, you can purchase it for your Kindle now for only $3.99!

Getting Graphic

In the world of graphic novels beyond Bechdel territory, Batwoman continued to kick ass, as well documented by Heather Hogan. In related news, the writer for the also highly successful Batgirl series in the New 52, Gail Simone, was just recently given the boot by DC. The controversy is covered well by the wonderful people of The Mary Sue. One of the biggest bummers plot-wise for the series is the idea that the transgender character she was planning will be nixed, as well.

Other interesting books in the world of queer comics released this year include No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics by Justin Hall, the all-gay superhero comic Spandex: Fast and Hard by Martin Eden, and a collaboration of awesomeness in Womanthology, Volume 1: Heroic. One more round of high fives to Heather Hogan for keeping all of us informed about these things.

Ellen Forney also released Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me, and everyone’s lesbian heart rejoiced at the news that Terry Moore will be releasing a new Strangers in Paradise next year.

Best of the Indie Presses

While many of the books I’ve already mentioned were released by small publishers, I sometimes have mixed feelings about independent presses or self-published books. I support the idea of them full heartedly, but I also really, really value the editing that comes with mainstream publishers. Although with the news this year that Random House and Penguin are going to combine, the corners of my brain that store knowledge from AP History in high school call out, “DING DING, MONOPOLIES ARE BAD,” and I understand the desire to go your own way even more.

Regardless, I read other some gems this year from indie presses that are somewhat under the radar but just as deserving of attention. Sassafras Lowrey’s Roving Pack is a semi-autobiographical novel about what it’s like to be a gutterpunk homeless queer kid, giving a voice to segment of our community that’s still too often voiceless and ignored. M. Craig’s The Narrows (Papercut Press) is unique from anything else I’ve read before, combining a realistic hipster bike-and-beer atmosphere of Brooklyn or Portland with a steampunkish fantasy world.

While not as under the radar, as this author also stands as one of queer lit’s legends, in my opinion, Ivan Coyote’s collection of stories in One In Every Crowd (Arsenal Pulp) was one of my absolute favorite books of the year. Coyote has been tweeting that they’re working on a new novel at the moment, although a release date is still unclear. Also from Arsenal Pulp this year was transgender musician Rae Spoon’s memoir about growing up in a strict religious home in Canada, First Spring Grass Fire.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

In non-exclusively-queer literary news, official goddess J.K. Rowling released her first adult novel, The Casual Vacancy, which reviewers generally reacted to in a “but this isn’t Harry Potter and I am confused” type of shock. Smutty fanfic was also brought to a new level when all of our moms and grandmas apparently read Fifty Shades of Grey, to the point where author E.L. James landed a spot on Barbara Walters’ 10 Most Fascinating People of 2012.

In fancy schmancy award news, Hilary Mantel won her second Booker Prize for Bring Up the Bodies, the follow up to her 2009 winner Wolf Hall, and Louise Erdrich won the American National Book Award for The Round House, a novel that follows a crime in a North Dakota Ojibwe reservation. The Pulitzer committee, meanwhile, gave a big “eff you” to fiction by awarding a prize to exactly no one.

The Nobel Prize for literature went to Chinese novelist Mo Yan, who sparked controversy by defending his government’s use of censorship, calling it as necessary as airport security. He also refused to take a stand on China’s other current Nobel winner, Liu Xiaobo, who remains in jail even though he was awarded the Peace Laureate award in 2010. After reading about a tearful interview with Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, who remains under house arrest as well and says that “Kafka could not have written anything more absurd and unbelievable than [this situation],” it’s hard for me to not also feel frustrated with Yan’s comments.

In the young adult realm, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars received high acclaim throughout the year, and landed at the #1 spot on Time’s Top 10 Books of the Year, what I believe is a first for a young adult novel.

My Personal Top Five (YA) Novels of 2012

To end on a personal note, I have been reviewing young adult novels in my Your New School Library column for a year now. While I read many older books as well this year, I’ve been thinking a lot over the last few weeks about what my top picks are of the ones released in 2012. Just in case anyone is interested, I’ve come up with this.

5. Adaptation, Malinda Lo

Like a bisexual episode of the X-files filled with dead birds and a healthy dose of making out.

4. The Difference Between You and Me, Madeleine George

So. Much. Kissing. And politics! And bittersweet heartache!

3. Ask the Passenger, A.S. King

A sophisticated take on sexuality and identity, the protagonist’s heart is both open and closed off at the same time, making her relatable to pretty much everyone.

2. One In Every Crowd, Ivan Coyote

Ivan Coyote’s stories wrap around me like a warm blanket and I never want to leave.

1. The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Emily Danforth

Cameron Post is the Montanan best friend I never knew I had.

So What About You?

I don’t know about you, but my brain is now hurting from all the books that were published this year that I still need to read. But it’s a good kind of pain. So bring it—what was YOUR favorite book you read this year?

In Memoriam

It’s that part in the award show when the sad music starts to play and you get ready to cry. And there is much to cry about this year, although they are happy, grateful sort of tears. We lost one of the biggest names in literature, and when I say that I mean not just feminist literature, and not just lesbian literature, but literature plain and simple, the art devoted to the power of words. Adrienne Rich passed away in California this spring at the age of 82, and oh, the power she had. One of the most important poets, thinkers, and feminists of our time, the influence of her decades-long career cannot be fully described in one brief paragraph. She won a National Book Award for her 1973 volume of poems, Diving Into the Wreck, considered to be one of her greatest, but she published an impressive myriad of works throughout her life, from her first in 1951, A Change of World, to her last in 2010, Tonight No Poetry Will Serve. She also once declined to accept the National Medal of Arts in an eff you move to Newt Gingrich, who served as the Speaker of the House of Representatives at the time, and their vote to end national arts funding, a story that really encompasses her defiant wonderfulness. Her all-too-important eloquence and rage inspired the New York Times to describe her in passionate terms in their obituary, saying that she possessed “an unswerving progressive vision and a dazzling, empathic ferocity.” Whether we realize it or not, all of our lives were made better by Adrienne Rich, and we mourn her passing.

This year also saw the death of Tereska Torres, an author perhaps less well known but still important in the annals of lesbian fiction for her 1950’s novel Women’s Barracks. This fictionalized account of her time in the French forces during World War II and the sexual romps that occurred there—between both men and women and the women themselves—ignited a nation full of shocked North Americans to yell “Oh my!” and cover their traumatized eyes. It simultaneously started the beautiful tradition that is lesbian pulp. Torres, who went on to publish many other works, remained somewhat bewildered by the lesbian fame until she died, remarking that there was only one and a half lesbian characters out of five so what’s the big deal, and making this amazing comment to Salon in 2005: “I thought I had written a very innocent book. I thought, these Americans, they are easily shocked.” True story, Tereska. She died in Paris this fall at the age of 92. Lesson learned: write lesbian pulp, live forever.

While not as important in the strictly lesbian realm, we also felt the loss of Nora Ephron, a writer best known for penning the scripts for such classic films as When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle. Ephron’s talents went far beyond just those hits, though. She was a prolific journalist and essayist, and novelist and playwright, as well as producer and director, throughout her life, one of those people who is somehow good at everything that you wish you could be. She left behind many famous people who will attest to her warm, witty personality, and her words will stand up for smart, funny women for a long, long time to come.

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