Archive for the Summer Reading Category


Summer Reading: Chocolates for Breakfast (English)

October 20th, 2013

cfbWell into autumn as we are, I had one last Summer Reading choice on my plate.  Back in August, I mentioned the republishing of Pamela Moore’s mid-century novel about dissipated youth, Chocolates for Breakfast. AfterEllen.com discusses the author’s life and death and reprints the censored passages in which the main character thinks about her feelings for the  English teacher on which she has a crush. These passages are still not included in the text of the book as published, but Moore’s son discusses them in the afterword.

Despite those passages, perhaps because of them, I would not call this book a “lesbian” novel in any meaningful way. The crush is exactly that – a crush. It’s ephemeral, a fantasy of time and place, and lack of other stimulus.

However, in every way this book is something that should be read. In the same way we are asked to read The Great Gatsby or Catcher in the Rye, Chocolates for Breakfast stands as a piece of classic American literature, with insight to a time and place that was never quite real even when it was. For those of you still in school, being asked to read either of toese books, I’d suggest reading Chocolates for a unique subject for compare and contrast.

Trying to tell you what Chocolates is about is more challenging than you might expect. It’s a tale of dissipated privilege; the sex, drinking, and hopeless ennui than comes with having too much of everything and too little of anything with meaning. But don’t let that get in your way of enjoying it. ^_^ In fact, despite the fact that my childhood was nothing at all like Courtney’s, I was able to deeply sympathize with her disassociation and feelings of frustration at 15 that the adults around her were less mature than she. In many ways, we are all Courtney at some point, whether we were kids in the 00s or the 60s.

Ratings:

Overall – 8

My next “Summer reading” book will be Hild by Nicola Griffith. Feel free to read it as well and give your opinion in the comments! No deadline, I probably won’t get to it for a bit. ^_^

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Summer Reading Lesbian Novel: Maxie Mainwaring, Lesbian Dilettante

August 16th, 2013

MaxieMFrom Monica Nolan, the woman who brought you Bobbie Blanchard, Lesbian Gym Teacher and Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary, comes the eagerly-awaited Maxie Mainwaring, Lesbian Dilettante.

While I had visions of a spoof of The Fourth Sex in my head, Nolan has put together a fairly taught mystery novel which is wholly unfair of her. I didn’t expect to have to pay attention! But about the point where we learn that the Swedish Mafia runs the gay bars in the town and the milk trade, I finally caught up with the idea that I was actually going to have to be a little more invested in this story than I originally expected. ^_^

Maxie Mainwaring, debutante and playgirl in Bay City, daughter of the dairy company Mainwarings, is cut off by her mother after a…small indiscretion at a meeting of the Daughter of the American Pioneers Luncheon and for the first time in her life, has to actual work. In between her not-terribly-successful attempts at budgeting and finding a job, Maxie finds herself following mysterious women, falling for a gangster, dealing with police raids at the local gay watering hole and learning who was responsible for stealing the children’s milk at the local youth center. And if all this wasn’t enough, Maxie finds herself at odds with her on-again off-again girlfriend, Pamela, and the drama of her fellow residents of the Magdalena Arms.

If this sounds like at lot for one book – it was. And most of it ties in pretty neatly at the end. There were a few zingers though, which I won’t spoil.

Unlike Bobbie and Lois, Maxie isn’t naive about love, or lesbian life. Her naivete was firmly about the “get a job  to pay the bills” life most people have, and this is strung out pretty far, as Lois’ and Bobby’s naivete were. They don’t grow ’em very sharp in Bay City, apparently. ^_^ But for a summer read with action, adventure, thrills and a lot of girls kissing and having pulp-y sex, this was a really fun book. The book equivalent of a County Fair, with lots of colors, sound, flavors and fireworks at the end, ^_^

Ratings:

Overall – 8

I’ve already asked Ms. Nolan about the possibility of a (vaguely alluded to) military story, but she commented that the next one in the series is probably going to be the secret life of the Bay City lesbian bartender. I can wait. These books are a blast.  And perfect for summer reading. ^_^

 

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Summer Reading – No Girls Allowed: Tales of Daring Women Dressed as Men for Love, Freedom and Adventure

June 23rd, 2013

I picked up No Girls Allowed: Tales of Daring Women Dressed as Men for Love, Freedom and Adventure at TCAF from the KidsCan Press Table. It is exactly what one would expect and hope from a book with such an epic title. ^_^

The books tells the tales of 7 women who dressed (and mostly, who passed) as men in their lifetimes. From well-known names as Egyptian Pharaoh Hatshepsut and the Chinese Warrior Mu Lan to 19th century doctor James Barry and escaped slave Ellen Craft. Each story is told simply by Susan Hughes and Willow Dawson. No judgements are made, no lessons taught (except the obvious – if women are allowed opportunity, they can excel).

This book is suitable for a young audience, I’d probably go as low as 8 or 9 depending on the child.* (War, death and slavery are topics surfaced in the telling of these tales.) Of course, you may end up in long conversations about human society, gender norms and privilege as well. ^_^

Dawson’s art is neat with a simple chiaroscuro aesthetic, Hughes’ prose is straightforward without much embellishment; narration sets the scene and dialogue allows the characters to participate in their own stories.

Ratings:

Art – 7 – Easy to follow, not “sophisticated” but it doesn’t need to be
Story – 9 Inspiring and depressing at once
Characters – 10 Inspiring, full stop

Overall – 9

An educational and entertaining book about some well-known and lesser-known hidden women’s stories – totally worth taking a look at.

*At 8, I had read Huckleberry Finn and at 9, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Nothing in this book would have shocked me, honestly, by 8.

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Summer Reading Lesbian Novel: Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary

June 14th, 2013

Lois-LenzI adore lesbian pulp novels. Even more than the novels themselves, I adore the tropes of lesbian pulp. And I extra specially adore authors that adore those same tropes in all their absurdity and revel in them as I do.

Monica Nolan is one of those authors. She gets every trope and enjoys playing with them as one might a beloved stuffed animal. She writes with just enough dry humor to make sure her novels do not drag or drown themselves out in sarcasm. Her Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories was a work of genius. Since then, Nolan has embarked upon a series of character trope novels, The first, Bobby Blanchard, Lesbian Gym Teacher was an enjoyable romp at (quelle shock!) an elite private girls’ school. Well-worn territory here at Okazu. ^_^

Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary is a direct nod to  Ann Bannon’s Beebo Brinker series, which was a classic series about New York City in the 1960s. A tribute, in a way, to Bannon’s character sorority girl Laura who finds herself far from home in the big city with all sorts of desires she doesn’t have a name for.

Lois is a character much like Laura – a gay girl with no understanding that that is what she is, a manipulative lover at school, who is desperate to have her privileged marriage and her piece on the side – and a desire to do something Big and Important. With the help of a school mentor, Lois is given an opportunity to interview at a firm in the big city, and  a recommendation for an apartment in a boarding house.

Lois is thrown into the middle of a mystery…only it really isn’t *much* of a mystery. In order for there to be a plot, Lois has to remain naive to the point of pathological cluelessness throughout the entire book. Even the other characters begin to wonder if there’s something wrong with her. ^_^; When the coin finally drops and Lois clues in to the entire plot as we’ve seen it, it is a little excruciating, but only a little so. We, the readers, and the other characters nod, pleased that Lois finally gets what’s been going on.

In the end, it’s a sweet, sappy, predictably amusing look at “country gay girl comes to the big city”, “lesbian boardinghouse”, “lesbian hardass boss lady” and “gets caught up in a mystery” tropes all at once.

Ratings:

Overall – 8

In truth, this is actually the last “Summer Reading” book I read last summer, but then I completely forgot to review it, woops. Since Nolan now has a new book in the series, Maxie Mainwaring, Lesbian Dilettante (I so very much hope it’s an homage to the move The Fourth Sex, oh, please, please….!) and I’m about to start reading that now, I thought I’d get this one out of the way before I forgot again. ^_^

Dear Monica Nolan, please do a military story next. Pleeeaaaasssse, beg, whine.

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Summer Reading: The Big Feminist But and Drama

June 7th, 2013

Today’s summer reading is different ways to look at being a girl and being a woman, drawn by a whole lot of talented artists.

The Big Feminist But, edited by Shannon O’Leary and Joan Reilly, should be required reading for any and all people who ask questions that begin, “Why do feminists…” or “What do Feminists think about…”

As anyone who is a self-identified feminist knows, feminism is “a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women. Other than this, there is no over-arching philosophy attached to the word, despite what some people believe.

On the other side of the issue, those women who are aware that women ought to be given equal opportunities often have to face “The Big Feminist But” from younger women who have not had to fight for the opportunities they currently have. “I’m all for equal pay for equal work,” they say,” BUT I’m not a feminist.” What they mean, of course is they aren’t the media-manufactured man-hating, bra-burning Straw Feminist that we all know exists. (Kate Beaton has the Final Word on this with her comic, Straw Feminists in the Closet.) While we all “know they exist,” we rarely actually know one, because they hardly exist except as an object lesson. Yes, in the 70s (40 years ago now) some women burned their bras. Is it important? I’m a self-identified butch lesbian and I shave my legs. Gasp!?  The bottom line is,  if you’re for equal pay for equal work, you are a feminist, even if you don’t realize it.

In The Big Feminist But, in more than 30 stories, male and female comic artists explore the questions posed by life as a woman, as a man in a relationship with a woman, a woman in a relationship with a woman, and all sorts of questions about gender, sex, appearance, achievement, employment, motherhood and anything else that has to do with “Being a woman.” The Big Feminist But began life as a successful Kickstarter and is now available for purchase on Amazon. The list of contributors is too large to list here, but you can see them all on the Kickstarter home page

The main thing I am left with after reading this book is the fact that that there are no answers of any kind to “what do feminists think/do/feel/etc?” Just more questions. This book would be a terrific conversation starter for a woman in your life who was at a crossroads and was feeling perplexed about what she wanted out of life. It might not give her answers, but she’ll know she isn’t alone – and there is power in that.

***

Raina Telgemeier is, like so many comic artists I have had the pleasure to meet, incredibly nice. And her comics, which reach that practically invisible space of “good stuff for early teens” is approachable and absolutely un-cringe-making in the way so much for tweens unfortunately is.

In Drama, we meet Callie, a middle-school student who is passionate about theater set design, and is a kid I’d have over for lunch any day. Callie’s pursuing her interest with vigor and doing a good job of it and she is determined to make it even better. With the backdrop of the play, she deals with a relationship that isn’t going where she’d like to, followed quickly by another disappointment. As with all school plays, there is more drama behind the scenes than in front of them and not all of it is Callie’s. ^_^

Callie becomes good friends with twin brothers Jesse and Justin. While Justin is comfortably out to himself and to his friends, Jesse is bottling a lot of stuff up inside.  While Callie struggles with getting a special effect for the play to work, she also finds herself falling for Jesse. Until Jesse realizes that he can’t hide who he is, either. Callie suffers another disappointment in love, but is voted in as Stage Director at the end of the year.

What makes Drama so good is that it’s real without being harsh. Callie and her friends say, do and feel what anyone her age might do, say or feel, without any voyeurism, out of place nostalgia or dark grittiness that often takes the place of character development in western comics. What you do get is an – ultimately – pleasant look at middle-school drama. ^_^

If you know a tween girl who likes comic that don’t preach, or condescend, (and who doesn’t want that?) give them Drama and let Raina work her magic. ^_^

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