Hello and welcome to the twelfth day of blogmas! Or in other words, the final day of blogmas! I just want to take a moment to thank all of you who joined me on this journey. Writing a blog post every day for twelve days was a lot of work, and definitely something I won’t be doing again anytime soon, but it was really fun for me, so I thank you for sticking around and reading them!
As I introduced yesterday, in my Fall 2021 semester I took two different English classes, and thus read a lot of books for class. One of these classes was a course on the Harlem Renaissance, and I reviewed all the books I read for that class on my post yesterday. Today, I am reviewing all the books I read for my queer studies class. The full title of the class was actually “Rainbow Republic: American Queer Culture from Walt Whitman to Lady Gaga” but that’s a bit of a mouthful.
I read a total of seven books for this class, to varying degrees of my enjoyment. Below, I review all of them.
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
My professor attempted to ease us into the semester by starting off with the well-known tragicomic. I definitely really enjoyed reading Fun Home. Fun Home is the first of Bechdel’s memoirs written in a comic medium. It covers her own identity as a lesbian and her relationship with her father, who commits suicide merely a few weeks after she comes out to her parents. It was overall pretty easy to read, it was an interesting story that kept me engaged, and I liked spotting all of the literary references. However, I didn’t necessarily agree with the choice of story structure. Instead of there being a linear timeline, it jumped around a lot, which I thought made it less cohesive. I also know that I didn’t connect to it as much as some people do. Nonetheless, I am glad that I read it, and would definitely recommend it since it’s a queer classic at this point.
Trigger warnings: suicide, death, homophobia, pedophilia, strained parental relationship
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
I read Giovanni’s Room months ago at this point, and I still feel like I haven’t been able to sort out my feelings about it. Giovanni’s Room follows David, an American expat living in Paris, and his relationship with Giovanni, another young man he meets there. Throughout the book, David struggles with his sexuality and his internalized homophobia; and their ultimately negative consequences in his life. The book is undoubtedly well-written. Baldwin’s prose and story-structure really shine. And there are some parts of the story that hit me incredibly hard. For example, there is a moment toward the beginning of the book where four queer men are together and alone, but none of them can actually bring themselves to broach any piece of queerness in the conversation that isn’t a euphemism. They just have to maintain plausible deniability, which is so sad. Although it’s a good and important story, it’s also the kind of book that leaves you feeling icky. It is definitely good, but also not the first book on this list I would recommend.
Trigger warnings: internalized homophobia, murder
A Queer History of the United States by Michael Bronski
This was the main secondary source that we read for class. I think the most important thing about it is to parse out what it is and what it isn’t. Rather than many queer history books which treat queerness as a subculture or counterculture in American history, Bronski attempts to unravel how queerness has influenced and shaped “mainstream” American history. Which is a good goal in and of itself, but also is a bit assimilationist at times. And although the book is called a “queer” history, Bronski mostly focuses on cisgender, white, gay men and sometimes on cisgender, white lesbians. The history of trans people, queer people of color, bisexual people, asexual people, and more are largely absent from Bronski’s narrative. It also pretty much stops before the 2000s, which means it misses a lot of more recent history. To be fair, there probably aren’t a lot of nonfiction American history textbooks that focus on queer people, so this is probably the best option. And there are many things to learn from the book, but again, it’s important to acknowledge where it falls short.
Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown
I’ll just say it up front: I did not like this book. It is definitely my least favorite novel on this list. The saving grace is that it was interesting to analyze. And since I was reading it for class, this was fine. It was a perfectly fine novel to read for class and analyze all the different aspects of it. However, if I had picked it up for fun I would almost definitely have DNFed it. Rubyfruit Jungle follows the life of Molly from her childhood and into her early adulthood. It explores her first sexual relationships, her relationships with her adoptive parents, and her struggles to live as an ambitious woman in a world that punishes her for it. I just did not enjoy Molly’s character at all, which is a big deal since the book is her story. More important than not liking her, I found her annoying. There are also some pretty weird things going on in the book, and some very 70s notions of gender and womanhood. It is notable because it was one of the first lesbian novels to become mainstream, but that doesn’t mean I recommend you read it.
Trigger warnings: emotionally abusive parent, homophobia, sexual assault, incest (adopted cousins)
Zami: A New Spelling of my Name by Audre Lorde
Zami is Lorde’s biomythography, covering her life from her early childhood up until her early thirties (I think). I have to say I was a bit disappointed in this one. I was really looking forward to reading it because I loved Sister Outsider. But Sister Outsider was all about her activist side and Zami is decidedly not about her activism. In fact, the narrative of the book ends before she really becomes the Audre Lorde that we all know. I found the part of the book that dealt with her childhood to actually be really interesting. All of my favorite stories came from the parts on her childhood. The parts in her adulthood were divided by her romantic relationships, which I was just not as interested in. Overall, I wouldn’t dissuade anyone from reading it, but I’m not necessarily sure I would recommend it either. Or I would just warn you to be prepared for the fact that it is all memoir and no theory.
Trigger warnings: mentions of suicide, racism, mentions of cancer, homophobia
Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai
I would guess that you maybe have at least heard of most of the other novels on this list, but not this one. However, let me tell you that I love it. I absolutely loved this book! Funny Boy is a bildungsroman following Arjie, a young queer boy growing up in Sri Lanka with his family. I just thought it was such a good story. It is incredibly readable, but also gives you so much to think about. It deals with gender and sexuality obviously, but also family, race and ethnicity, colonialism, and more. It’s a great book and I highly recommend it.
Trigger warnings: graphic violence, ethnic violence, fire, sexual assault, homophobia
Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg
I am not going to lie, before I started reading Stone Butch Blues I was under the impression that it was a memoir or nonfiction book. Turns out it is actually a novel! That being said, it’s a novel that incorporates plenty of very real queer history into it. Again, it is a bit of a coming of age novel, following Jess throughout the course of her life. Jess is butch, Jewish, and a labor activist, and we see how all of these identities interact with each other and influence Jess’s life. This book is so good and so important. I will admit that at times it was incredibly intense; I actually had to take breaks while I was reading because emotionally it was a lot. But there was so much raw emotion present throughout the text. Feinberg does an amazing job of capturing the time and place Jess was living in. It truly is the modern classic of queer history that everyone says it is.
Trigger warnings: graphic violence, police violence, rape, forced institutionalization, transphobia, homophobia deadnaming, major injury
Those are the seven books that I read in my queer studies class! In case you can’t tell, Funny Boy and Stone Butch Blues were definitely my favorite. Also, quick shoutout to the short stories we read: “Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather, “Martha’s Lady” by Sarah Orne Jewett, and “Felipa” by Constance Fenimore Woolson. They were all super interesting reads, and I would have reviewed them all if it wouldn’t have made this already long post way too long.
Also, before I go, I want to note that I couldn’t find a lot of other resources for trigger warnings on these, so they are all from my memory. Something I learned from reading these sources this semester is that nearly all queer novels are about childhood, but they also nearly all feature sexual violence. A lot of these include sexual violence of some sort, as well as homophobia, which can sometimes be intense. So take care of yourself if necessary.
Thank you for reading, and thank you again to all of those who have stuck with me throughout the entirety of blogmas! I will hopefully be back next week with a normal, regularly scheduled blog post. Until next time!