There’s a lot to say about the importance of pride (and ‘Pride’), but there’s twice as much to read about it. Commemorating great, queer authorship throughout the years, bookshop.org, the website helping bibliophiles support independent bookshops, is opening a chapter on diversity and inclusion this month.
We really do love a good, gay read. Looking back on the past few years, we can’t quite recall just how many times we’ve found ourselves completely immersed in the oeuvre of a queer author whose work we very nearly missed if it hadn’t been for a good friend of a savvy bookshop employee to recommend a title they knew we’d enjoy. That’s the thing with recommendations; they tend to be a lot better when there’s a personal connection, or even just a brief conversation; something we’ve yet to experience with an internet algorithm. And the book worms over at bookshop.org seem to agree: hence, their site ditches algorithms for highly curated reading lists created by independent booksellers who are experts in their own field and – get this – actual people!
One of these is Nicola from Huddersfield’s Children’s Bookshop, whose bookshop.org list of LGBTQ+ literature for children (and those who stayed young at heart) includes such gems as Avocado Asks: What Am I?, a perfectly charming volume on an avocado finding itself amidst an identity crisis over the question of whether it’s a vegetable or a fruit (who would argue with an avocado’s right to identify however they wish, right?). ‘Every person needs to be represented in stories and books’, explains Nicola, ‘and by reading them, we all will gain knowledge and understanding, and in turn, empathy and acceptance’.
Meanwhile, Cardiff’s Shelflife Books & Zines also curated a bookshop.org LGBTQ+ History Month reading list in honour of Pride Month, with an emphasis on graphic novels like Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer: A Memoir, and non-fiction titles such as humorously named The Bi-ble: Essays and Personal Narratives about Bisexuality, edited by Lauren Nickodemus and Ellen Desmond. Other notable recommendations include those made by Edinburgh’s LGBT-owned and women-led Lighthouse Books, who curated both a bookshop.org Queer British History reading list, as well as an impressive catalogue of trans-specific titles – this is 2021, after all.
If all this inspiration isn’t quite enough, and you’re still looking for a gripping read to get lost in on your next vacation, the OutThere team is here to help – without further ado, here are some of our most prized, queer literary discoveries of the past few years.
Before Night Falls, Reinaldo Arenas
A book Arenas felt so precious about, he rewrote it several times after earlier copies were destroyed or got lost, Before Night Falls tells a story of poverty, a violent Cuban regime and a young gay poet rebelling against the status quo. It also is a work full of rampant sexuality, lust and loving under oppression and the joys awarded to those who manage to live a self-determined life against all odds. Available on bookshop.org, this incredible work on resistance and pride belongs on every bookshelf – though if you prefer the moving image, artist Julian Schnabel made a wonderful film about the book featuring Javier Bardem and Johnny Depp in 2000.
Close to the Knifes: A Memoir of Disintegration, David Wojnarowicz
In his most famous book, multi-disciplinary artist David Wojnarowicz reckons with the US government over its negligent lack of support for the LGBTQ+ community during the HIV/AIDS pandemic, whilst also calling out other forms of hatred and giving a voice to those living on the fringes of society. His language is often harsh and cutting, and Close to the Knives an open wound demanding to be healed. Despite Wojnarowicz’s arguably tragic life, there are moments of poetry, beauty and hope.
On Trails: An Exploration, Robert Moor
Whoever said gay authors only write about gay life? With On Trails: An Exploration, Robert Moor sets out to investigate what we can learn from trails, both ancient and continent-spanning, as well as tiny and made by insects. The book has won Moor plenty of recognition and awards, and we loved how seamlessly the author jumped back and forth between scientific and philosophical angles to bring the phenomenon of trail-making closer to the reader. Available through bookshop.org, On Trails is a terrific book to take you on a journey around the world.
Living and Loving in the age of AIDS, Derek Frost
Our editor Uwern devoured this book. Living and Loving in the age of AIDS is delightfully honest, personal and heartfelt; not to mention enriching, but gut-wrenching in parts. It gives readers a greater appreciation for the devastation that HIV/AIDS had on previous generations. And besides the challenging subject matter, the book takes you time-travelling to a London many will know little about, while telling the stories of the fascinating queer people who made it the city it is today. Tops, Derek himself is extremely well travelled and the memoirs of his journeys are beautiful snapshots.
Photography courtesy of Cannongate, Serpent’s Tail, Aurum Press Ltd, Watkins Publishing and via Unsplash