20 Books of Summer Reading Challenge

A pile of 20 books stacked on top of one another, a mixture of novels and poetry collections (list below)

I never take part in reading challenges, but I’ve decided to have a go at 20 Books of Summer this year, mainly because I really need to make a dent in my book pile before we move house in August. This seems like a good opportunity to make myself do it, so I’ve also set myself the rule of hard copy books only.

I’ve grabbed a random pile off my book shelf (apologies for the terrible photograph). Here we go:

  1. Mary Dorcey, Kindling
  2. Mary Oliver, Red Bird
  3. Ruth Ware, The Woman in Cabin 10
  4. Amy Bloom, White Houses 
  5. Jo Shapcott, Her Book 
  6. Daphne Marlett, The Gift 
  7. Amistead Maupin, The Night Listener
  8. Christopher Isherwood, Mr Norris Changes Trains 
  9. Alice Munro, The Moons of Jupiter
  10. Sarah Schulman, Maggie Terry 
  11. Emma Donoghue, Frog Music
  12. Neil Gaimen, Fragile Things
  13. Jackie Kay, Fiere 
  14. Neil McKenna, Fanny & Stella 
  15. Vonda McIntyre, Dreamsnake 
  16. Adrienne Rich, Dark Fields of the Republic
  17. Elizabeth Lynn, Watchtower
  18. Alastair Reynolds, Aurora Rising 
  19. Sarah Schulman, The Cosmopolitans 
  20. Theodora Goss, European Travel for Monstrous Gentlewomen 

EDIT: I’m too old and cranky to force myself through books I’m not enjoying, so if I “nope” out of a book, I’ll replace it with another one of similar length.

The “Nope!” List  

Roger Levy, The Rig  (replaced with no. 20)

my-post

A Tribute to Ursula Le Guin

I missed this at the time it was published, but want to flag up Vandana Singh’s lovely and moving post, True Journey is Return: A Tribute to Ursula K. Le Guin

The best tribute I can give Le Guin, as a writer, is to honor her teaching and be conscious of what messages I’m putting out into the world.  Am I asking the hard questions?  Are there hard questions I’m avoiding?

The Novels of Joseph Hansen

Michael Nava has published a thoughtful article in LARB about the author Joseph Hansen Gay Noir Pioneer

I recommend reading the Dave Brandsetter mystery novels if you can get your hands on them. They feature an openly gay detective and offer a fascinating window onto the lives of gay men and, to some extent, lesbians in the 1960s and 70s. Hansen also has a really interesting writing style.

The Left Hand of Darkness at Fifty

Charlie Jane Anders, The Left Hand of Darkness at Fifty

The Left Hand of Darkness was published fifty years ago, but still packs as much power as it did in 1969. Maybe even more so, because now more than ever we need its core story of two people learning to understand each other in spite of cultural barriers and sexual stereotypes. 

Nancy Kress, Yesterday’s Kin (2014)

Image shows the cover of Nancy Kress's novel Yesterday's Kin. The spherical alien ships hover over the river hudson with a DNA double helix superimposed in the front

The aliens have arrived! But then they just stay inside their spherical ship, sending out a repeating message saying that they are on a “peace mission” to make contact with humanity. After two months of this suspense, genetics researcher, Dr Marianne Jenner, is surprised to be invited aboard the ship for a meeting with these elusive aliens. When she and a handful of other chosen scientists arrive and discover the ‘Denebs’ true identity, they are in for a big surprise (hint: it’s in the title).

They have come with horrific news, an interstellar spore cloud is on its way towards Earth and, when it passes through the atmosphere, everyone will die a horrible, painful death. The Denebs say that they want to help develop a vaccine, but they are up against what seems to be an impossibly short timescale.

The story alternates between Marianne’s point of view and that of her youngest son, Noah, who develops a deeper relationship with the Denebs. This enables Kress to explore two very different and conflicting perspectives on what’s really happening. As the months pass, and social unrest increases, the scientists begin to question the aliens’ motives and Noah must make a choice.

Yesterday’s Kin is a pacey, entertaining sci-fi thriller. The story is gripping, and the characters feel like real human beings, especially the middle-aged, flawed, but determined, Dr Jenner. I like first contact stories and I thought this was a good one, plus there’s a nice twist at the end.

However, I did find it a bit rushed and plot-driven, and thought it lacked the character development I’ve seen in some of Kress’s other novels, such as Steal Across the Sky and Crossfire. In terms of the content, I was irritated to see the “dead gay best friend” trope again. It pops up in Steal Across the Sky as well and is used both times to push forward a straight protagonist’s emotional journey. Not cool or necessary in my opinion, although there are decently written gay characters in Crossfire.

Something else I would say is that after reading several of her novels and short stories, I get the impression that Kress thinks the worst of humanity in general. Some individuals might be okay, but on the whole, she seems to believe that we’re going to fuck things up and behave badly in a crisis. This “vibe” may not be to everyone’s taste!

Yesterday’s Kin is followed by a trilogy of books and I probably will read them when I get around to it.

Lesbian/Queer Women Link Love #8

Queer Bible, U.A. Fanthorpe

LGBTQ Nation, Meet the Harlem Renaissance dancer who made sure lesbian history wasn’t forgotten

Queer Bible, Natalie Barney

Autostraddle, All Bones and Blood and Breath: Remembering Barbara Hammer

Quill and Quire, The 88-year-old creator of mystery’s first lesbian detective reflects on the character’s return

Lambda Literary, review of My Butch Career by Esther Newton

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, Poppy Jenkins by Clare Ashton