What I Read: July 2016

I read 7 books in July. 3 were non-fiction, 4 were fiction. 2 were on Kindle, 5 were in print. 2 were by writers of color.

How to Grow Up: A Memoir by Michelle Tea (2015).

I loved this book in a way that I think you only would if Tea’s earlier books had been important to you and you were so glad to see that she grew up to be totally okay. Tea is just a few years older than me and she was publishing books about being a broke, queer, 20-something feminist performance artist when I was in my 20s and also fairly broke and totally queer and going to a lot of spoken word performances. I’m older now and married and a mom and most days the only other queer person I see is my wife, but that history is still there and so to see this person who was (through her work) a part of that part of my life, a person who was struggling with addiction, whose life was hard be able to do things that are meaningful to her like go to Fashion Week in Paris, was pretty great. If you don’t have this sort of connection to Tea’s work though, I can see how the book would come off as sort of consumeristic. But like all of us, Tea deserves nice things. And I’m happy she’s got them!

Lumberjanes Vol. 3: A Terrible Plan by Noelle Stevenson (2016).

When you want to up the numbers of books completed for your library’s summer reading program, comics are really the way to go. I always enjoy Lumberjanes. This one did not disappoint.

SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki (2015).

Sort of weird, but good, but odd. Harry Potter, if Harry Potter was just about the general awfulness of high school and not about saving the world.

Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia (2015).

In the last book in the Gaither Sisters trilogy, they go to visit Big Ma in Alabama for the summer. A good mix of the freedom of a country summer, the annoyance of sisters, and the danger of being black in the South in the 1960s. The whole trilogy is great and I highly recommend it.

Drama by Raina Telgemeier (2012).

Do you like graphic novels and books for children/tweens? You should read everything Telgemeier has ever written. The end.

Water Tossing Boulders: How a Family of Chinese Immigrants Led the First Fight to Desegregate Schools in the Jim Crow South by Adrienne Berard (2016).

A slim but fascinating book that I got through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program about a desegregation case I knew nothing about – a challenge by the Lum family in the 1920s to school segregation in Mississippi. Berard does an especially great job of placing the case in context, tracing the line of Chinese immigration into the U.S. and to Mississippi, showing the changes attempted during Reconstruction and the crushing racism and segregation that existed in the South at that time. Really glad I read it!

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West (2016).

I loved this book SO much. As a feminist I sometimes find feminist books boring, because I don’t need convincing, I’m already there. This one was insightful and personal. Her ability to have both rightful feminist rage and to forgive makes her a total role model for me. I’ve loved Lindy’s writing since her Stranger days and this book made me love it more. You should read it. Yes, you.

What I Read: July 2016

What I Read: June 2016

So behind on my round-ups! I read 7 books in June. 5 were fiction, 2 were non-fiction. 5 were in print, one was an audiobook and one was on the Kindle. Four were by authors of color (making June the only month so far where I have exceeded my 50% goal)

The Truth About Twinkie Pie by Kat Yeh (2015).

There have been a lot of recent changes in 12-year-old GiGi’s life. First her sister and guardian won a million dollar prize in a baking contest, then they up and moved from SC to the North Shore of Long Island and GiGi started a fancy new school. Soon enough she is making new friends and unraveling family mysteries in this middle grade novel.

Negroland: A Memoir by Margo Jefferson (2015).

An interesting memoir from critic Margo Jefferson about growing up at the intersection of race and privilege. A glimpse at a black upper middle class childhood in Chicago in the 1940s, 50s & 60s. Well worth reading.

Superfluous Women by Carola Dunn (2015).

The 22nd book in the Daisy Dalrymple mystery series takes us to the countryside where Daisy is convalescing after an illness. While visiting a school friend, a body is discovered (of course). This series is fun and fluffy, just what the doctor ordered.

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (2012).

I listened to this one on audiobook. I loved Wolf Hall, although it was sometimes hard to follow all the Thomases, Marys and Janes, and I worried that I would be totally lost on audio, but it was really fine. Sometimes the names would float right over me, but mostly I kept up fine. I counted this one for Read Harder Task 15 (a book of historical fiction set before 1900).

The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber (2006).

I am always on the look out for a good food memoir, and this did not disappoint. Diana Abu-Jaber tells of her life, growing up in America (and Jordan) with a Jordanian father, American mother, and lots of really delicious Jordanian food. She has a new food memoir out and I can’t wait to read it!

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor (2011).

I picked this up because it was described as a read-alike for Harry Potter, and it did not disappoint! Sunny, a 12-year-old Nigerian girl with albinism, discovers she has magical powers and has to learn how to control them, while trying to stop a magical serial killer with her classmates. I CANNOT WAIT for the next book in the series to come out.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Volume 2: Squirrel You Know It’s True by Ryan North (2015).

Squirrel Girl is my favorite Superhero. If you want to read a comic that makes you smile (and is appropriate for all ages), pick up Squirrel Girl!

What I Read: June 2016

Books for Queer Families: Mom and Mum are Getting Married!

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I bet you can guess the plot of Mom and Mum are Getting Married! Published in 2004 (in Canada, not the UK as I assumed from the Mum), the book tells of Rosie and Jack’s moms’ wedding – and Rosie’s desire to be a flower girl. The books does seem a little dated now – both because of the clothes in the illustrations and because Moms getting married in the middle of their kids childhood (and not because they are creating a blended family) is from a particular two decade-ish moment in time. This is certainly still happening, but now that same-sex marriage is legal in the U.S. (and Canada and a dozen other countries), I think there will be less and less of two moms or two dads getting married after years and years together with several kids in tow.

Pros: Moms getting married is NEVER an issue. Yay! The only issue is Will Rosie Get to Be a Flower Girl/Ring Bearer, an issue that any kid who has been involved in a wedding will relate to.

Cons: I don’t love the illustrations. Not my favorite style (although I do really love Rosie at the wedding with a bandaid on her knee), and as mentioned, they look pretty dated now.

The Bottom Line: Worth reading, but you can totally just get it from the library.

Looking for more books about queer families? You can find the other books I’ve reviewed here.

Books for Queer Families: Mom and Mum are Getting Married!

What I Read: May 2016

I read 6 books in May. 5 were fiction, one was non-fiction. 4 were in print, 2 were on the Kindle. 3 were by writers of color – so I met my 50% goal.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson (2015).

Super fun graphic novel about a shapeshifter who apprentices herself to a villain (who is actually the good guy).

Saving Montgomery Sole by Mariko Tamaki (2016).

Picked up this YA novel by Mariko Tamaki (who has written some graphic novels that I enjoy) and was delighted to discover that Ms. Montgomery Sole had two moms. Best friends, cosmic mysteries, and homophobic ministers all play a part of this high school tale.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (2014).

Totally delightful, boy likes boy, nothing terrible happens YA novel. There should be more queer books with happy endings like this!

Fake ID by Lamar Giles (2015).

I’m probably not the target audience, but I enjoyed this YA novel about a teenaged boy whose family is in the witness protection program. Don’t know that I’ll read the next one in the series, but happy to have tried this one.

Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear (2016).

The latest in the Maisie Dobbs series brings our heroine to Germany on a quest to save a valuable British citizen from a detention camp. Good, as always.

The Chicken Chronicles: Sitting with the Angels Who Have Returned with My Memories: Glorious, Rufus, Gertrude Stein, Splendor, Hortensia, Agnes of God, The Gladyses, & Babe: A Memoir by Alice Walker (2011).

My mom had been recommending this book to me for a while, and while I can see why it appeals to her (my parents retired to become farmers and raise 150ish chickens), I super hated it. I read Walker’s daughter’s memoir many years ago, and this book does nothing to dispel the impression that book gave of the elder Walker being kind of a crappy mother (she never mentions her daughter in this book, but does call herself Mommy when talking to/about her chickens). Not my cup of tea.

What I Read: May 2016

Books For Queer Families: Real Sisters Pretend

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Real Sisters Pretend is a sweet and simple tale about two sisters pretending to be mountain-hiking princesses. In the context of pretend play, big sister Tayja tells little sister Mia that they don’t have be pretend to be sisters, they are real sisters “because of adoption”. Published in 2016, I discovered this on my public library’s “New Books” display. Yay, libraries!

Pros: I love that this is a book about adoption – and especially about transracial adoption. The author Megan Dowd Lambert is by her description: “a white, bi parent of six children in a multiracial, adoptive, blended family that includes two moms and two stepdads.” Yay for queer folks writing our OWN stories!

Nicole Tadgell’s illustrations are lovely. I especially love the illustration of the two sisters looking at the picture of their family on Mia’s “adoption day”, the first time we realize Tayja and Mia have two moms. I’ve probably made clear, that books with two moms that aren’t ABOUT having two moms are my favorite, so this is right up my alley.

Cons: I don’t really have any. It’s light on plot, but it’s just the sort of basic story, with a family that happens to have two moms that I am always hoping to stumble across. I would be interested in hearing what adoptive families think of this book – does the adoption discussion seem heavy handed? I thought it was great, because adoption is not something we had specifically discussed with our four year old, even though her aunt is adopted and she has a several friends with families created through adoption. I found it helpful to have it be so explicit. But I know that I often wish the Two Mom thing was less explicit, so I wonder if adoptive families sometimes feel the same.

The Bottom Line: Love this book! Definitely pick it up from the library or buy yourself a copy. So happy to have stumbled across it!

Looking for more books about queer families? You can find the other books I’ve reviewed here.

Books For Queer Families: Real Sisters Pretend

Grief

I am so sad today. But not for the reason you would assume. Or not just for that reason. Today is the one year anniversary of the death of my host mother. My sorrow over the 50 people dead in Orlando, members of my beautiful queer community, mingles with my grief over the death of my incandescent host mother, Susanne, grief so intense that I can only look at sideways. Every time I have thought of her in the past year, I have cried. Sobbing in the shower for days after I found out she had died. Walking down the street, something will remind me of her, and suddenly my eyes are full of tears and I’m trying to pull myself back together.

To call this grief feels melodramatic, like I am coopting someone else’s tragedy, but it is the only way I can describe this feeling. This desolate sadness that a 50 year old woman, a veterinarian, a Scrabble player, a lover of perfume and John Irving novels, a wife, a mother, an only daughter, a friend, a beautiful amazing wonderful human being is dead of cancer. She was the best and I cannot fathom that she is gone. I cannot make sense of it. There is no sense to cells, growing out of control. There is no sense to dead at 50.

It feels tragic. And unfair. And scary as hell. Your mind, selfish as ever, calculates. I am closer to 50 now than I am to 16, the age I was when I lived with her in Germany. If I were to die at 50, Frances would be 16. Not even out of high school yet.

Suse has amazing children, my host brother and sister, both in their 20s now. Early to mid. Not late. Not old enough to lose a mother. Are you ever old enough to lose a mother?

She has a husband. Had. I can’t, even on my most morbid melancholy days, imagine the death of my wife. How do you go on? My mind rejects it.

There is no sense to this.

At least a mass shooting makes some sort of sick sense. People call it senseless, but it follows a pattern: Man (and it is almost always a man) gets mad, has access to guns, takes that anger out on people he hates or resents (women, gay people, classmates, coworkers).

And here I go, back on the safer ground of national tragedy. How sad that a mass shooting is so common place to be “safer ground”. How privileged that I am so unfamiliar with this unrelenting personal grief.

With national tragedies, you can take strength in community, your anger has a place to go: public policy changes to support, money to donate. I have felt so alone in this grief. Unwilling to dump in to the circle of her family: husband, son and daughter whose grief eclipses my own, but with no one really to dump out to who knew her. Not really.

Is this how it always feels? That no one knew this person that you loved? Not really?

How scared I am that this is a preview. That this is my life now. As years go by, those that I love will keep dying. I will keep grieving. It will only get harder to shove that grief in a corner and look at it sideways. The seal has been broken.

How scary to love so much and hurt so much. How death can blindside you. You think it’s an ordinary day and then your wife says: “I got a Facebook message? From someone named Rabea?” “That’s my host cousin,” I say. “She says your host mom is dead.”

There is no solving this. No way but through.

She lived. She was loved. Not most by me, but most definitely not least either. She died. It makes no sense.

Grief

Read This! Two Friends

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D.C.’s Presidential Primary is tomorrow, so this seems the perfect time to share Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass by Dean Robbins. The book tells of Anthony and Douglass’s fight for rights, including voting rights – and also their friendship and planning over tea and cake. Sean Qualls & Selina Aliko (who also collaborated on The Case for Loving) are responsible for the great mixed media illustrations. A preschool-appropriate introduction to two very important Americans!

Read This! Two Friends