Six Sapphic Books for Long Winter Nights

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When the weather starts to turn cold and the dark draws in early, it’s the perfect time to catch up on some lesfic. So here are six Sapphic books for the long winter nights.

America is Not the Heart

A doctor, a revolutionary, and now an immigrant, Geronima De Vera is on her third life. Though she has left her home country for a fresh start in a small town near San Francisco, Hero cannot escape her painful injuries or the trauma that accompanies them. Though ties of family and her Filipino community prevent Hero from leaving her past fully behind, those connections are what enable her to build a new future. But it is Rosalyn, “make-up artist and bruha in-training”, who gives Hero the incentive she needs to live in the present.

America is Not the Heart deserves all of the lavish praise heaped upon it. This book is so shockingly profound that, if it had been written by a bearded white man, the novel would be taken as a commentary on the human condition. Generations of family lore woven together add texture to the story, making Hero’s world totally immersive.

If I Stay Right Here

Thabiso Mahlape Shay is a naïve journalism student with the assignment of interviewing a prison inmate. And Sippy is more than she bargained for, in turns charming and challenging. During their interview, Shay becomes so flustered that she forgets to bring her notebook back out with her – a notebook that contains her home phone number. Charismatic Sippy gets into Shay’s head and under her skin, to the point that Sippy moves in with her after being released from prison. But Sippy begins to change. After securing a place in Shay’s life, Sippy monitors her behaviour and checks her laptop, policing where Shay goes and who she spends time with.

Fast paced and thrilling, If I Stay Right Here is not always a comfortable read. But it is an important one. There are few stories about abuse in lesbian relationships – writers tend to shy away from the subject, perhaps to avoid fanning the flames of homophobic stereotypes. Yet Chwayita Ngamlana is deft in her handling of difficult themes. The author manages to highlight patterns of abuse without othering lesbian sexuality.

The Price of Salt

The Price of Salt is to lesbians what A Christmas Carol is to the rest of the population – though sadly the Muppets have yet to do a film adaptation. A lesbian romance set during the festive season, it’s the perfect book to keep you warm this winter. Therese Belivet, a young woman trying to find her place in the world, is working in a department store in the run up to Christmas. It is there she meets Carol Aird, a glamorous and unfulfilled housewife. The two share an instant connection, making contact on the flimsiest of pretexts: a pair of lost gloves. And so begins a glorious love story.

The Price of Salt continues to be loved by lesbians for several reasons. Plenty of lesbians find Therese, seduced by the charms of a beautiful older woman, more than a little relatable. Cate Blanchett’s captivating performance as Carol didn’t hurt – it has brought a new generation of readers to the story. The Price of Salt was also the first lesbian novel to have a happy ending. In a time when lesbian stories were defined by tragedy, this was groundbreaking. The bittersweet truth is that The Price of Salt still beats a lot of the shoddy representation we’re offered in more contemporary books and films.

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name

There is never a bad time to read Audre Lorde’s writing. Full of wisdom, poetry, and spiritual nourishment, a copy of her autobiography should be given to every woman who finds the courage to claim the label of lesbian. And now that Penguin has republished Audre Lorde’s autobiography, it’s easier than ever to get your hands on a copy. In a time when the politics of fascism and isolation are gaining fresh momentum, the adventures of a Black lesbian feminist make comforting reading material.

A fusion of literal and emotional truths, Zami tells the story of Audre Lorde’s early years – from her anxious days a short-sighted schoolgirl to her travels in Mexico as a bold young woman. At the heart of the story are Lorde’s relationships with women – her dignified mother, the scrappy band of misfits who are the companions of Lorde’s youth, dykes who don’t fit in with the Black community or white-dominated lesbians spaces, and even a few fascinating lovers. It’s a story of empowerment through love and connection between women.

Tell it to the Bees

Tell it to the Bees is a story of forbidden love. Set in a rural Scottish town during the 1950s, the tight-knit community thrives on tradition. But there is nothing traditional about Jean Markham, a woman who has resisted the pull of domesticity in order to become the town’s new doctor. Standoffish and clever, Jean’s main pleasure in life is beekeeping. Until she meets Lydia Weekes, whose young son Charlie takes an interest in caring for the bee colony. Unnoticed by Charlie, the two women begin a romance that will change the course of their life – and his.

A proper page-turner, Tell it to the Bees is the perfect book to break a reading slump. Fiona Shaw perfectly captures life in a small town, where people make a point of getting into everyone else’s business. More than that, she writes an uplifting story about women finding love in a time when female sexuality was relentlessly policed.

Ash

Malinda Lo’s Ash is a subversive retelling of Cinderella. After the death of her father, Ash is left in the care of a step-mother who treats her more like a servant than a daughter. Ash’s only comfort is revisiting the fairy tales her mother once told her, their magic an escape from her grim reality. She longs to be spirited away by the fairies – and when she meets Sidhean, Ash believes that her dreams have come true. And yet the more time Ash spends with Kaisa, a powerful Huntress of the King’s court, the more she comes to realize that real life might just be better than a fairy tale.

A quality work of Young Adult fiction, Ash captures the imagination from start to finish. It’s exciting, well written, and contains a powerful message for readers of all ages. And at the center of Ash is a love story more charming than any prince.

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