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review 2018-01-21 00:29
Out in May
Queer City: Gay London from the Romans to the Present Day - Peter Ackroyd

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

 

                One of my closest friends is a gay man who is twenty plus years older than me.  Most days, we take a walk though the local cemetery, The Woodlands (where Eakins and Stockton are buried among others).  Early on in our ritual, we noticed a headstone for a couple, but the couple in this case were both men.  Sadly, it was one of those couple headstones where one partner is still alive, and the other has died years ago.   My friend said that it was likely that the husband had died of AIDS.  When I asked him why, he pointed out the death date and the link to the AIDS epidemic.  Seriously, after a conversation like that, you never look at tombstones the same way.

 

                I found myself thinking about that as I read Peter Ackroyd’s Queer City.

 

                Queer City is another entry into what I call Ackroyd’s London History series (London, The Thames, London Under), and, as the title indicts, follows the history of London’s Queer residents and culture.  Queer here meaning homosexual and trans, which dates further back than you would think.  Ackroyd’s Queer City is a bit close to a chronical history, in a way that the other London books are not, though much of the flow and hither and there is still present.  You are either going to love this poetic style or hate it.

 

                There is a level of almost catty gossip and sly humor to Ackroyd’s non-fiction books.  Even a massive tome that is London doesn’t feel anyway near that long because of his tone.  It engages the reader, moving the book far past a simple history book.  So, we have observations like, “They were a tribe of Ganymedes and he was their Zeus”.

 

                Yet, the book covers so much.  Ackroyd starts during the Pre-Roman/Roman era, detailing even how gladiators weren’t perhaps quite the men we think they were (apparently, they really like perfume).  He then moves to the advent of Christianity and the Anglo -Saxons.  He does discuss not only homosexual men but women as well, noting that society’s view of women was also reflected in how society (not law, but society) viewed homosexual relationships.

 

                Being Ackroyd, he is particularly interesting when discussing literature.  There is a detailed look at Chaucer’s homosexual pilgrims as well as the view of the erotic theatre of Elizabeth’s time (“the codpieces were padded so the cods looked plumper”).

 

                But he also doesn’t hesitate to describe punishment dealt out to those who did not fit the norm.  We learn not only of whippings and beatings, but also of women slicing off a penis of an accused homosexual.  We hear of what happened to two women, one of whom had married the other while disguised as a man.  We learn more about those women who Waters wrote so well about in Tipping the Velvet.  As well as certain Mrs. Bradshaw, who will get approving looks from Disc fans.  We learn about the view of homosexuality and the arrival of AIDS in Britain.  This last section of the book is perhaps the quickest and almost glossed over.  I found myself wondering if this time period was too personal for Ackroyd to comfortably write about, at least in times of his story (Ackroyd’s long term partner Brian Kuhn died of AIDS in the 1990s).

 

                It is this last section of the book that is at once the most hopeful and most touching.  In the same chapter where he discusses the AIDS epidemic, he looks at the legislation of gay marriage as well as the phrase “check our privilege”, and this too made me think about the differences between then and now.  How some younger members of queer culture (or transgender culture) are somewhat dismissive of those that came before.   A trans person was dismissive of older homosexual because of lack of awareness of what that generation had endured.  He was not aware of men and women being unable and even forbidden to attend the sick and death beds of loved ones.  The word Stonewall to this young person meant little more than a Civil War Reference. The student lacked awareness and inability to see beyond or outside his own pain/frame of reference. It is also possible that this young man (his preferred description) had been condensed to by older homosexual/trans population.  One can sense a missed discussion between groups.  It is case like this that Ackroyd seems to be thinking about when he talks about checking privilege.  He doesn’t claim immunity, but he is pushing towards an ability to talk, to discuss, to learn, to be better.  Ackroyd is making a cause of understanding each other, in a way that the city he writes so passionately about seems to understand its residents.

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review 2018-01-16 22:44
The Book of the Unnamed Midwife
The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (The Road to Nowhere 1) - Meg Elison

This book hit just the right note with me at just the right time. It was one of those rare books that made me want to drop everything I was doing just so I could read - in fact, I finished this book in my car after work because I couldn't wait until I got home to read the last ten pages. So yeah, it was that kind of a read for me. That said I can see this book not being to everyone's liking. It has the same sort of grim and violent outlook you find in something like the Walking Dead, which will put a lot of people off. This is not a feel good story. There is a lot of graphic sexual violence depicted, so know that going in.

 

At its core I read this as a book about gender roles and sexuality. With the world's population drastically reduced, women a rarity, and pregnancy a dangerous and fruitless prospect, how does that effect the way we behave? How does this free people, sometimes in very dark ways, and how does it bind them? With a cultural breakdown, and women so vastly outnumbered, humans become sexually "liberated" in the way other mammals are liberated - with no social constructs this changes the dynamic. Some men use this as an excuse to rape and hold women as property. Some women use this as a way to collect harems, trading sex for protection. Some people feel free to choose their partners as they see fit without the societal judgement they might have previously experienced. Some people hide their gender in order to walk through the world unhindered. It's an interesting meditation on how the human animal might adjust gender roles, sexuality, and morality if society, balance, and pregnancy are removed from the equation.

 

In addition to having some interesting themes to chew on I quite liked the character and world building. All the characters felt distinct from one another, and their voices felt unique. The representation of bisexuality was some of the best I've ever read, and I really appreciated that as well. The world felt both real and terrifying, the feeling of constant threat looming in every encounter. This book scared me in the same way as White Horse by Alex Adams, or Children of Men. At the same time it had some hope and beauty sprinkled in (sparingly), to offset the horror of the world. For me it was meditative, haunting, frightening, and a little empowering.

 

If you're looking for a great read about the end of the world with a feminist bent this is a rare jewel. If grim futures, violence, or sexual trauma put you off of a read don't pick this one up. For me the food for thought far outweighed any of the ugliness.

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review 2018-01-14 23:24
Queer Magick (Queer Magick #1) by L.C. Davis
Queer Magick - L.C. Davis

After years of being imprisoned, used and abused by his father, Holden is finally settling down in Stillwater, a small New England town. He's been on the run for a long time, trying to cover his tracks by changing his name and moving from one place to another as far away from his home state as possible. 

A happy protective bubble of Stillwater seems like heaven. It has a few quirks, of course, but which town does not? Everyone knows everybody and people are mostly friendly. That is until Holden meets Daniel, a local vet (who is a veteran). An injured cat and the severity of the injury make Holden a catnapper when he refuses to surrender the poor kitty for euthanization and flees the clinic. 

Daniel knows what Holden is and confronts him shortly after catnapping. From that moment on the town secrets and the mysterious creatures start coming out of the woodwork full force. Every time you turn the page, there is a surprise. Every time you think you finally know who/what the person is, you are proven wrong. Things, people, situations turn and twist; there is humor, there are pockets of darkness and despair; there is an amazing diversity of characters (not going into details on the characters' subject, cause - spoilers! ;))

I could not get enough of the book and really wanted to give it five stars, but here is this:

- it ends smack in the middle of things. I can't even call it a cliffhanger, more like the author roughly separated the manuscript in two without much thought. 

- the story lost its momentum around 80%. Instead of fast paced it became stagnant with characters sitting around in one spot for weeks, waiting for the next full moon, reflecting, eating pizza and even (finally) having sex, since there is literally nothing else to do. But it looks like things are going to pick up with a vengeance in book two :D

Otherwise, an excellent read and pure pleasure :) Highly recommended

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review 2018-01-06 22:53
A book of stories about the female experience with a powerful voice
Her Body and Other Parties: Stories - Carmen Maria Machado

I finally read this celebrated book, and it’s quite a read. It’s all at once devastating, complicated, weird, queer, scary, sometimes funny, and the writing was always beautiful. Machado has written about the female experience in a number of different stories, some I enjoyed vastly more than others, some captivating me, a couple dragged on a bit. But this is unlike anything I’ve read before. A book YOU should probably all read! 

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review 2018-01-04 22:31
Winterglass
Winterglass - Benjanun Sriduangkaew

I am really not certain how to review this book - it's unlike anything I've ever read before. The setting blurs the lines between sci-fi and fantasy in some really interesting and unusual ways, which kept me off-balance as I read. The world building is intricate, and lovingly conceived, but since you are thrown into the deep end and very little is ever explained it, again, left me feeling off-balance. It's a very slippery little book.

 

The writing is artful and lovely, and the imagery is striking and fresh. I also enjoyed how unapologetically queer it was. Yet, I could never quite connect to the story nor characters. I think it might be a case of me trying too hard to riddle out all the rules of the world when it was more like being emerged in dream-logic. You are bombarded with so many fascinating little pieces of setting, character, and mood, but they are rarely expanded upon (it is a novella after all). This is one of those reads that's going to be very appealing to people who can relax and float through the painting Sriduangkaew has rendered, but off-putting to people who want to examine and make sense of the canvass being used. It has a strong style, and I think overall this one is going to come down to whether or not it suits your particular tastes and reading style. I remain glad I read it, but still uncertain how I feel about it.

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