June diverse book releases! Part 1

Sorry for not posting these sooner… I was at a conference and our housing woes have also been very woelike. Things might be looking up now. I am catching up: if you are on Patreon and backing with $5 or more, you can already read the July list of book releases too.

June has so many fascinating books, I need to do this in two parts again. Get your diverse beach reads now! Links are Amazon affiliate links.

I do not actually have advance copies of any of these, but these are the books I am looking forward to. (I do have a book coming in Part 2.) I am planning on doing roundups revisiting my lists in a few months once I have read the books: which one worked for me, which one was a BLOB. 😀 I might make these backers only because some books I DNF rapidly and it will be just “DNF because of (1 sentence explanation)”.

Sacred Era cover

Jun 05: The Sacred Era by Yoshio Aramaki [Adult] [SFF] [Translation]

This is a major Japanese SFF novel, examining topics of religion and spirituality. Finally available in English – might be easy to miss because it is published by a university press and marketed toward a literary crowd. My library just ordered it and I am very much looking forward to reading.

Dear Cyborgs cover

Jun 06: Dear Cyborgs by Eugene Lim [Adult] [SFF]

This looks nerrrdy and it features Asian-American boys in the MIDWEST. IN THE MIDWEST can you tell I also live in the Midwest?!? The only hype I saw for this book came from my library (IN THE MIDWEST) so, um, diversify your reading because some minority people live in No Coast USA too. 🙂

Art of Starving cover

Jun 11: The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller [YA/MG]

Sam J. Miller is a highly lauded short story writer and this is his first novel – an #ownvoices contemporary YA book about a gay teen with an eating disorder. The cover looks absolutely awesome.

Raven Stratagem cover

Jun 13: Raven Stratagem (Machineries of Empire II.) by Yoon Ha Lee [Adult] [SFF]

I loved the first book of this series – go read my review, then preorder this one? Asian-American trans man author with awesome poetic space opera style.

Saints and Misfits cover

Jun 13: Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali [YA/MG]

This is one of the new set of Muslim #ownvoices YA books I have been very much looking forward to reading! This one is contemporary, not SFF, but basically I want them all. This has been such a gap and I am so glad to see it filled – and not only that but also authors who had previous novels getting new contracts too (Randa Abdel-Fattah for example).

ME cover

Jun 13: ME by Tomoyuki Hoshino [Adult] [SFF] [Translation]

This is a good month for Japanese translations! I think this is near future SFF with crime elements, but some of the advance reviewers seem confused, so I’m not 100% sure. There will be another Japanese translation in Part 2 too. I am also very glad to see that other publishers besides Haikasoru and Kurodahan are also moving in this direction!

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[Comic reviews] Letting It Go, My Neighbor Seki, Cells at Work

For this Sunday afternoon, I have three comic books I got from the library. I am thinking of making Sunday the comics reviews day!

Letting It Go by Miriam Katin

Loved this graphic novel memoir about dealing with the aftereffects of the Holocaust, very Hungarian Jewish. It had a scene with Hungarian-Yiddish-English codeswitching (subtitled, but I could read the whole thing in its original shape), which was just the best. Also it was wonderful to see an older woman artist write and draw about her life with such straightforwardness and without sugarcoating. Really really relatable to me, I am so glad this book was published. I wonder if there is a Hungarian translation, because I’d love to buy it for my mom.

(I also got one of those newer-format reissued birth certificates for my marriage last year! And my passport looks like that! And! And!)

Now I feel a need to reread We Are on Our Own

Buy it:

My Neighbor Seki vol. 1 by Takuma Morishige

Short and immensely, impressively random. Has to be the most offbeat slice of life manga I’ve ever come across (and yes, that includes Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou). Seki is a schoolboy who makes weird creations in class when he should be studying, also distracting his neighbor Yokoi, the point of view character. That’s basically the plot. He builds incredibly weird things and never gets caught.

I found myself thinking “WTF am I reading” “why am I reading this” “should I pick up the NEXT volume??” I’m honestly not sure how long this can be sustained or what is even the point of reading it? It’s fun and sometimes even touching. Sometimes annoying too!

This is something that would work really well in, IDK, the Sunday newspaper? Or some subscription service? But when it is a bunch of chapters in one volume, I feel tempted to rush through the whole thing and I feel that’s a bit to its detriment.

The everyday sexism is a bit annoying and it appears in two different ways:
1. Seki never gets caught, but Yokoi (who’s a girl) often does
2. When Seki does something that is “girly,” Yokoi makes disparaging comments in her thoughts, like “You still call yourself a boy?”

I think the best parts are when the manga buckles its own self-imposed format: when they go outside for gym class and Seki plays with the line marker, when they have a fire drill in the school, and the bonus chapters – especially when Seki’s teachers discuss him in the teachers’ office. That’s really interesting and makes me have various thinky thoughts about composition as a writer.

Buy it:

Cells At Work vol. 1 by Akane Shimizu

If you are Hungarian and about my age, you have probably grown up watching the French cartoon Il était une fois… la vie, which teaches you about various health conditions by showing the adventures of anthropomorphized cells inside the body.

This is exactly like that, except gleefully throwing a bunch of manga tropes at the premise.

Now googling this, it turns out it was a French-Japanese-Swiss-Italian co-production, so maybe the author was familiar with it? In either case, this comic is significantly more violent and bloody. White blood cells are just brutal!

I was afraid the women characters would end up being oversexualized, but there were no panty shots and the like. People were busy fighting giant bloody battles. The characters were quite stereotyped, but I definitely got the impression this was done on purpose and with great abandon.

This volume was quite short (the book is a bit padded with advertisements with other series) but a fun ride regardless, I already reserved the next two volumes at the library.

Buy it:

 

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[Book review] A Gay Synagogue in New York by Moshe Shokeid

If I hear it once again that the American Jewish queer community was not hit heavily by the AIDS epidemic, I will consider whacking them with this book.

Of course I know where the bias comes from: most of American Jewish QUILTBAG writing is lesbian writing. (Gay men’s writing is second but the difference is still quite noticable IMO. There is much less trans writing, and any other letter in the acronym is barely there.)

But. In any case. You will want to know that this anthropological study introduces a gay & lesbian synagogue, how it is organized, how the members lead their religious and social lives, etc.

And then all the men start dying.

So. Just so you’re prepared for that.

In any case, it is a testimony to the earnest persistence of the synagogue members that the synagogue (Congregation Beth Simchat Torah) not only survived the AIDS crisis, but is now the largest LGBT synagogue in the world. (Though it spells its name slightly differently, but the book describes how much controversy was there around the name and how the synagogue basically ended up with it by fiat of a lawyer doing of a paperwork, so I am not surprised.)

The book has a strong descriptive style, it does not lean very heavily on theoretical analysis – so it can also be read as a history of the synagogue community up till the early 90s. I found myself wishing someone wrote up something similar for the synagogues I have been part of.

One big issue is right at the beginning, namely that at first the author didn’t disclose he was doing research, though it kind of reads like at first he wasn’t sure. But then he seemed to have made up his mind before telling most members. He did tell them eventually and some of them were angry. But then people (the majority of them at least?) ended up liking the project, voluntarily participated in detailed interviews, and some even demanded that they be named under their own names, not pseudonyms. I got the impression there was no one who was explicitly opposed to the book, in the end? I hope not. (I had a bad experience in a similar context, so I understand it’s really hard to know unless someone explicitly calls out the anthropologist, which is very rare.)

I honestly think this book is invaluable – there is very very little written about the lives of religious queer Jews in general, and especially in a synagogue setting, AND especially from a not so recent time period. It also documents the impact of AIDS.

(I read elsewhere that the synagogue chose a woman rabbi because all the men died and the women had more institutional power. But the book describes the process in detail, and in fact the rabbi was the choice of mostly the men, several of whom were terminally ill and knew it.)

It is hard for me to know about these things because I was born in the 1980s and in Eastern Europe, so I have no direct experience of the American AIDS crisis – and people don’t tend to talk about it. In the context of queer Jewish writing, the people who talk about it are often lesbian women who minimize it. I honestly thought that was true before I read this book – that Jews being somewhat insular, maybe they were relatively spared. No. It is heartbreaking how all these very determined and enthusiastic young men are introduced and then they all start becoming very sick and rapidly passing away.

But I don’t want to make it sound like the entire book is about AIDS. Most of it isn’t. There is a lot of everyday synagogue bickering (‘why are we named after a holiday, no synagogues are named after holidays’) and the typical hairsplitting discussions about nusach etc., who leads the prayers, who says the dvar Torah, who should preferably NOT be asked to say a dvar Torah. It is really heimish and nice. There’s also the typical tension of innovative groups about just how traditional they want to be in their religious services. They end up quite traditional, and even have a Talmud study group, though it is somewhat insular and set apart from the rest of the membership. (The author is a bit perplexed by this, but I personally would LOVE a queer Talmud study group locally, it would be exactly my thing.)

A note on minhag: CBST had the custom – I don’t know if they still have it – that the ‘big’ dvar Torah from the bimah on Friday night was said by a member of the community. I think that’s really cool, I’d love to do that. The book describes the related negotiations, the different kinds of divrei Torah and how they were received by various members of the community, etc. I found this really interesting.

Buy the book on Amazon:

Disclosure: My copy came from KU Watson Library. I don’t know the author and I’ve never been to this synagogue (though now I want to visit!)

 

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[Book review] So You Want to be a Robot – 21 Stories by A. Merc Rustad

Sorry there haven’t been many updates! Life has been tough :/

Today I have something really cool for you: the winner of my Patreon backer vote on which book I should review next. I already made a picture on Instagram:

This is A. Merc Rustad’s first short story collection, with mostly previously published work, and two original stories. It has several stories I previously recommended, so I will often be reiterating my various points.

Also: Today is the author’s birthday and they are currently running an emergency fundraiser for their sister. So if you are interested in supporting them, this is a good way and I’d recommend it, in addition to buying the book 🙂

As for the book…

To start with, I was missing a foreword! Or at least an afterword. I have read a lot of Merc’s stories previously, and I would have really liked to read their comments about their artistic vision, what they set forth to do with the anthology, how they organized it, and so on. To me those kinds of comments are some of the most appealing parts in a single-author collection. (If there are bonus story notes too, I am in short story heaven. Next time? 🙂 )

I felt that both the starting and the ending story were very well-picked and they rounded off the book. This is Not a Wardrobe Door, the first story, engages with portal fantasy tropes in a cheerful way that makes you want to dive into the collection. How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps (the quasi-title story) is probably the strongest piece in the book, an immensely powerful and personal take on robots, suicidal depression, queerness, asexuality.

There is a wide emotional range to these stories. There is cheerful and positive representation of many diverse groups, with surprising ensemble casts for such short pieces, but there is also gutwrenching grimdark and everything in between (often in combination).

There is a lot of really powerful work in this collection, and I am actually somewhat biased, which I did not know yet when I’d accepted a copy of the book. I will be reprinting a story that appears in it, in Transcendent 2: The Year’s Best Transgender Fiction 2016. (You will have to guess which, because the table of contents is not public yet! Obviously it will be one of the 2016 publications.)

The stories range from fantasy with fae and evil forces to superheroes and supervillains to space opera. There is no emphasis on science even when the setting is science fictional, the focus is more on the storytelling itself, and the emotions it evokes both from the characters and the reader.

Some of my favorites were  – in addition to the above-mentioned ones – The Android’s Prehistoric Menagerie, with robots and dinosaurs because dinosaurs; Finding Home, a family take on interdimensional travel; and When Monsters Dance. I also very much enjoyed reading Merc’s earlier stories I had somehow missed when they came out – especially Of Blessed Servitude and Thread. The former took the bits of Western I like without the bits I dislike, in an action-packed secondary world SF setting. The latter involved fighting alien oppressors who were – with an inversion of light/darkness tropes – a force of oppressive, overwhelming light. Solar and sunlight motifs appear throughout the collection and are fascinating to follow; especially the way how they are often related to an immensity of power.

I will say that not every story worked for me, though I did enjoy the vast majority of them and thought the collection was very strong. Yet I found it uncomfortable that when a kinky theme appeared (infrequently), it was generally in the context of nonconsent – slavery, nonconsensual objectification, violence (including, on occasion, sexual violence). The Gentleman of Chaos was probably one of the most salient examples. This kind of abuse was never presented as positive, but tying kinky themes to nonconsent was discomforting for me. (For a positive fantasy example, I really enjoyed Nalo Hopkinson’s Emily Breakfast.) Especially since the stories were often so unabashedly queer and trans otherwise.

Along the same lines, but not as markedly, I felt that Tomorrow When We See the Sun was possibly not the best pick for the second story. After the cheerful portal fantasy, I was surprised by the strong objectification themes in this novelette – which are addressed eventually, but it takes time to get there. On the other hand, I enjoyed that this story had a very sweeping backdrop, and a kind of Yoon Ha Lee-esque space opera grimdark approach, that could make for a solid novel. At novel length, the themes of oppression and dehumanization could also be explored in more detail.

Seeing Merc’s stories all together like this made the themes really stand out: not just the titular robots and alienation, but also a general approach of taking media tropes and… not quite dismantling them but rather approaching them with a kind of appreciative poking and prodding. These stories take genre elements and do not demolish or ridicule them, but rather present them with both an earnestness, thoughtfulness and an entirely fresh attitude. Portal fantasies. Western. Mermaids. Literally robots and dinosaurs. This makes the work eminently relatable even if you are not coming from a very detailed SFF background, because the stories refer to elements which are familiar to the general reader. It also gives the stories a cinematic quality, probably related to the author’s background in film, that works well with the dynamism of the storytelling and the strong emotional characterization.  (On occasion I did feel the stories slipped into melodrama; for instance in Once I, Rose. But there is a lot of individual variation in this and also I feel it is a possible downside of this kind of film vocabulary that otherwise has many advantages.)

Yet, even voracious SFF readers will find novelty here, because the attitudes toward these tropes are both unique and warmhearted. You get the familiarity and the new at the same time, and with a very diverse cast to boot. This is why I think the title works so well. So you want to be a robot? Have you ever wanted to be a robot? A little? Sometimes? If you ever wanted to be a robot, this is the book for you.

Buy it on Amazon:

Disclosure: I got the book from Lethe Press, but as a Patreon backer reward; so I paid for it, but not as much as I would have paid at the bookstore. I have also known the author for several years and we even met in person at the Nebulas last year.

 

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[Book review] Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

This is not a very recent review, but someone asked for it and I realized I hadn’t reposted it on my new site. So here goes…

Aristotle and Dante coverThis is a contemporary gay YA novel featuring Mexican-American teenage boys. It was a very fast read, with many many very short chapters – I have a weakness for short chapters, so I liked this a lot.

It had wonderful characterization, and angsty teens who came across as actual angsty teens and not some sort of novelistic cliché. I especially loved that (minor spoiler, decode with ROT13) bar bs gur punenpgref unq gb or pyhronggrq nobhg orvat tnl – I had that experience (with being trans) where other people knew before I did, and it is not something I see in fiction a lot. I also liked that the parents were well-rounded people and characters in their own right.

I also really liked the cover and the fact that 1. there was calligraphy on the cover 2. the calligrapher was credited (Sarah Jane Coleman).

But there was one part where I did feel that the book kicked me in the jaw, and not in a good sense. This is a major spoiler, and it is about anti-trans hate crimes (decode with ROT13): Gur pevzr gung gur cebgntbavfg’f byqre oebgure vf wnvyrq sbe vf erirnyrq gbjneq gur raq nf…. ur xvyyrq n genaf jbzna (“genafirfgvgr” – fvp) frk jbexre va jung frrzrq gb unir orra n “genaf cnavp” rcvfbqr. Abj. Vg vf znqr nzcyl pyrne guebhtubhg gur obbx gung gur oebgure pbzzvggrq n erny pevzr, fb V jnf tynq gung vg jnf erirnyrq gb or n erny pevzr naq ur jnfa’g vaabprag. OHG. Gur snpg gung n ybg bs gur cybg vaibyirf gur snzvyl pbzvat gb grezf jvgu uvf orvat va cevfba, NAQ gur snpg gung bhg bs NYY cbffvoyr pevzrf, gur nhgube unq gb pubbfr guvf bar, ernyyl znqr zr srry hapbzsbegnoyr. V jvyy nyfb cebonoyl abg cvpx hc gur hcpbzvat frdhry, orpnhfr V ernyyl qba’g jnag gb frr zber ‘pbzvat gb grezf jvgu’ jvgu gung.

This was just one paragraph in the book, but it really soured me on it. Without this paragraph, it would have been a clear recommendation… but this changed the interpretation of an entire plotline, and in a way that felt gratuitious to me, especially seeing as this was the only time trans people appeared in the novel.

My usual disclaimer about where I got this book: I bought this one with my own money.

Buy the book on Amazon:

 

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[Poetry collection] Bodymap by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

“we’ve always come on boats. we’re going to keep coming.”
(from the worst thing in the world)

I find it easiest to review books which I liked but had some issues with, because then I can discuss those issues at length. Truly awful and genuinely wonderful books can sometimes take a backseat, which then results in me not posting about some of my favorite books.

Bodymap was wonderful.

Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is a queer disabled nonbinary femme of color poet who writes a lot about the personal experience of these intersections – vividly, with great feeling and meticulous attention to the rich detail of everyday life. It’s revealing, relatable, I had so many yes this! moments that I lost count. Here’s one:

“white bois with eager butts
and nonprofit jobs you wanted
are just like whole foods take out:
when you are too tired
to cook your own food
you can pay too much
for a tasteless version of your culture
that promises it won’t kill you.”
(from every time I see you I think what the hell was I thinking?)

The collection is sorted vaguely thematically, grouped into e.g., disability poems, family poems and so on. But one of the key points is that these categories are impossible and frankly pointless to disentangle. For example, queer people can be sick and disabled, and their (our) experiences will be distinct from those of queer non-disabled people or disabled non-queer people:

“that’s me sitting in a straight-backed chair in business casual
saying yes, I’m his sister     yes, I’ll stay in the room
during the procedure

( from love you like a 7 am healthy San Francisco free MRI)

There is a lot of sensuality and sexuality, and yes, queer disabled sex poetry. This is something I see incredibly infrequently. (Xan West does similar things in short fiction erotica as distinct from poetry.)

“Of moaning and cajoling and coercing, yes, there, fuck me, oh yes sudden breaking into oh fuck! my hip! no, no! Being absolutely normal. (from crip sex moments 1-10)

I think it is telling that I am on the asexual spectrum (not sex-repulsed though) but I still cannot stop quoting these erotic poems, they are so on point:

“Texts were our favourite slutty adaptive device.” (…) “Your house was so cripped out you had a couch in every room!”
(from crip sex moments)

And there is an incredible, lengthy poem examining the fact that many young, talented, artistic people become very sick and/or disabled, and the possible reasons why – she writes specifically about queer people of color, but I was trying to think about all the people I know and it feels to me that this is in general true of multiply marginalized people. I’ll just quote the beginning:

“There’s an underground river flowing through every queer-of-colour community I’ve ever been a part of and kissed.
The underground river of kids who went away.

The girls and boys who got sick and tired, spent hours curled up sleeping.
An underground river swelling its banks
filling the riverbed
carrying us away”
(from dirty river girl)

There are just so many feelings that I have had at some point that are expressed in this book. Especially related to disability, illness, activism while being disabled, being in love while disabled, belonging to multiple cultures and as Germans would say it, having a migration background. I constantly had the thoughts: “This is a thing?! I thought it was just me but it is totally a thing.” For example this sentence, the situation and emotions that it depicts is not exactly the same as access intimacy and there might not even be an expression for what it depicts, but i could instantly relate to it:

“when you rubbed my arms with arnica
and said oooh, baby, you’re about to get what I have
(from RSI)

This book provided me with an amazing journey of recognizing that I am both similar to and distinct from someone. For example I’m not femme (I’m not very butch/masc either) but a lot of the femme poems, specifically the hard femme poems, were just so incredibly clear, incisive and well put. I felt like I was coming to an understanding that I did not have before.

“we heal with salt packets and microwaved motel water
we heal with youtube mixes named too blessed
we heal bleeding and pissing in the dirt outside my house”
(from because every brown femme needs / where you find homegirl medicine)

Then we progress through the collection to ethnicity, belonging, assimilation and dissimilation. Have you had these conversations with your relatives?

“even though yr grandmas whisper       keep a white name / for the passport      keep as many passports as possible” (wrong is not yours)

And what do you do when:

“It’s enormous fights on the internet on every page that purports
to be about Sri Lanka from a multicultural perspective”
(from what it’s like to be sri lankan in 2012 / for those of you who aren’t)

Really, what do you do? One possible answer is “Read the poem.”

Then there is activism and teaching and basically my aspirational goals right there:

“because you teach with your tits and your tie. your gender is one of your best gifts to your students. you show them another way to be girl or boy that is hope lodged right by their gallbladder.”
(from maestra teacher: a rebel teacher manifesta song in many parts.)

One thing where my experience differs from the author is that I am parenting a 10-year-old (who is my stepchild). As I was reading, I kept on wondering if she would discuss parenting while queer, disabled, a femme of color etc. and in the last few sections she actually does write about it. In a really breathtaking, going-all-out way, with sparkling fighting spirit:

“you know I’m gonna raise her to know how to smile
and give good cut eye, rock the library
and then go explode the whole known world
which is like explore but with just one letter different
you know.
(from you know I’m gonna)

Then there is beauty:

“yashna said she was coming back from new delhi
driving all her shit to oakland from durham
I asked her where home was
she stopped perfect silent in the middle of writhing screaming queers
smiled
said home? home is right here
and touched her chest light”
(from sternum)

Reading this book felt like coming home. Go give it a try if you can.

Source of the book: Lawrence Public Library (Oh my G-d my library has books like this one!! What an immense privilege to have.)

You can buy the book:

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Ask me anything!

Happy new week everyone!

I’m doing a thing over at Patreon where backers can ask me anything, while everyone else can watch in horror as I attempt to answer. (Or something along those lines!) Join the fun!

I have 49 backers now. I’m trying to come up with a thing to reward my 50th backer 🙂 And also we are getting very close to my next goal at $125 / month! Just $8 more to go. This will unlock a bunch of currently pay-only things for absolutely free consumption, including my poem “Trans Love Is,” which has been very popular with backers already. 😀

I have been wondering if anyone would be interested in weird housing-related things to unlock. What do you people think? I have a poem I wrote about our previous move that I didn’t send anywhere because I was busy trying not to think about moving ever again. Well, so much for that. I also have photos I took in the garden… sigh…

On a more cheerful note, the newsletter went out on Sunday, sign up for the next one! Many reviews, much love. I will do try to stick to the 2x / month schedule, it is nice for me to see too that I’ve actually done things in the preceding weeks.

 

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[Tiny reviews] Ronsino, Ito, Morrison

When I’m feeling down, one thing that cheers me up is going to the library and getting a bunch of short books. It gives me a sense of accomplishment that I’ve read something, and if I didn’t like the book, well, back to the library it goes. Here are some of my recent finds!

Glaxo by Hernán Ronsino, trans. Samuel Rutter. Melville House, 2017

Glaxo coverA tiny, somewhat experimental literary novel (novella?). The ambience worked for me, the unusual structure also worked [spoiler (ROT-13): gur zheqre unccraf bayl ng n irel raq, fb vg vf xvaq bs n erirefr zheqre zlfgrel?] but the book was also aggravatingly sexist and male-gazey. Women were only present as sexual objects, in the crudest sense. I would’ve enjoyed this book otherwise, but, not like this. (Please don’t even start explaining how this might make some subtle political point. The book makes political points otherwise just fine.)

Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu. Kodansha, 2015.

Yon & Mu coverThis was hilarious in a bizarre way – famed horror mangaka Junji Ito talks about his family cats. It has all the visual and textual horror manga tropes, except it’s a domestic slice-of-life story about having cats. He really plays into it for all its worth.

What annoyed me was that he didn’t seem to be on such good terms with his wife – I find it kind of offputting when I get that impression from reading a book. (He did mention in one of the Q&A segments that his wife complained!) But in the bonus chapter written several years later, they’re still together, now with more children; and the final section is actually written by his wife, so, OK I guess.

Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination by Toni Morrison. Harvard University Press, 1992.

Playing in the Dark coverThis was a short but very incisive read. Hard to believe it’s from 1992, it still comes across as current. Very important points, very well put. I am sad that her argument about how oppression is investigated heavily asymmetrically, focusing on the oppressed and not the oppressor, still does not read as dated. I mean now there are whiteness studies, etc. but I personally feel there’s not as much investigation as there should be, and also the results often do not make it into public consciousness or even into activist discourse…? It’s telling how I’ve read so many of her books, but had no idea this one existed.

My only issue was that sometimes she mentioned Native people in passing but did not elaborate, even when I felt it would have been very relevant to elaborate. And I was confused when she seemed to imply the character of Tonto was Black? She didn’t say that outright, but implied it so heavily that if I hadn’t known Tonto was Native, that’s certainly not how I would have read those passages.

Buy the books (why don’t they want to align themselves on a horizontal line, it’s a mystery):

 

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[Book review] Noon: 22nd Century by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky

Note that I read this book in the new Hungarian translation that just came out last year, but it exists in English too – I just cannot comment on that specific translation. (It’s sadly out of print.)

Noon: 22nd Century by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky

New Hungarian coverThis is one of the core works of the Strugatsky brothers’ fictional universe, the Noon Universe. It’s also one of the earlier ones, a programmatic utopian novel that shows various aspects of far future society in a series of connected short stories. It’s not as well-written as some of the later ones, and the pacing can be a little off sometimes too. I still found it an interesting read.

I read a much different version many years ago. I think this is the first uncensored Hungarian edition, it was released last year. It was interesting to revisit, and quite amusing to see that some of the predictions came true in the intervening time! Yes, it totally has Amazon Prime – including the part where from time to time it sends you some random weird thing that maybe should have been addressed to your neighbor or G-d knows who. (Once I got a box full of insecticide!)

This is a surprisingly relaxing book. Very dudebro and… well, straight and cis, but international and racially/ethnically diverse, though also kind of “well, international, but everyone is somewhat Russian, because it is the Communist future.” I was very surprised that one character berated another for mocking an Indigenous person’s accent. I totally did not remember that, but maybe it got censored too.

There is an earnestness and utopian aspect to this book that I really appreciate, but also emotional dynamism instead of a flat “everything is nice”. There are some real dilemmas in there even though there is no warfare (characters do have to deal with the aftermath of past warfare though, and there is also some violence). I kind of see this approach/attitude come full circle in very recent solarpunk.

The characters are very real, the afterword explains that they were based on the authors’ friends. Can someone write me in the cheerful Communist future?

It’s probably worth an entire essay that even in the future that is supposedly post-scarcity and post-oppression and post-all the bad things, some people still get a quite bad deal from life. Spoiler (ROT-13): Gur gryrcnguf ner abg sbeprq gb cnegvpvcngr va rkgerzryl obevat rkcrevzragf cre fr, ohg gurl ner xvaq bs oebjorng vagb vg jvgu crre cerffher, naq fbzr bs gurz ner irel haunccl nobhg guvf.

Now I want to reread Lukyanenko’s The Stars Are Cold Toys duology because it not only engages with this book, but I think it also engages with some of the parts that were missing from the version I’d previously read. (The thing where fiction is censored differently in different countries…)

Source of the book: Gift from my mom

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[Book review] Queer Jews, eds. Shneer & Aviv

Did you find my review of Israel/Palestine and the Queer International interesting, last week? There is more! (There is in fact a lot more.) Now I take a look at a very important book about queer Jewish people.

Queer Jews – ed. D. Shneer & C. Aviv, Routledge 2002.

Queer Jews coverThis book is an anthology from 2002 that’s supposed to give you an overview of queer Jewish life, in its various aspects from organizations to being opposed to organizations 🙂 , from cradle to the grave, from music to movies. You will probably need to read it if you’re interested in the topic, and it covers a lot of material. But I was also displeased with it in multiple ways.

First off, I was surprised that Queer Jews was a much less intersectional book than the much earlier Twice Blessed: On Being Lesbian, Gay and Jewish, which I’m reading right now.

In no particular order Queer Jews does not seem to include, or at least emphasize the lived experiences of queer Jews who are also

* Disabled people
* Migrants (one author might be Israeli living in the US? But no discussion of Jewish migration in particular)
* Jews of color
* Jews who are not Ashkenazi
* Trans women and transfeminine NB people (there is one minor mention of Dana International, maybe not so incidentally in the Israel chapter)

Class diversity seems also to be relatively absent, and there is just one chapter about a non-Western country (Israel). Eastern Europe is predictably only present as a mythical and altogether alien land of the Old World which American klezmer bands might occasionally visit and where some of the grandparents and great-grandparents with uncomfortable accents are from. Other regions where Jews have lived / do live right now are by and large absent.

(By comparison I read less than 100 pages of Twice Blessed so far, and it already featured chapters by a disabled author, a migrant Jewish author of color from Iraq, and an explicitly working-class author – each of those queer Jewish people were also specifically discussing the related intersectional issues.)

There is some great stuff in there otherwise, but also some that really missed the mark for me. Especially the ones that insisted on the culture wars being over – this was quite profoundly untrue even in 2002, when the book was published – and identity politics being dated, begging the question of then why are people writing chapters into a book literally about it? Identity politics was also decried as too single-issue, which is simply baffling to me – there are at least two issues involved in queer Jewish identity politics, the whole 1. queer and 2. Jewish thing. Solidarity and collaboration with other marginalized groups was very frequently treated as either a footnote or something quaint, dated and even slightly ridiculous, which I found very concerning. This is a crucial part of not just my activism as a queer Jew, but of my everyday life, and this was true also when I lived in a “jewish neighborhood” and not in the middle of the US Midwest, so please don’t say it’s because all those people are surrounded by Jews. (Some other people did say that isolationism in Jewish activism was a problem.)

There was also quiiiiiite an amount of trans erasure and squeeing about anti-trans and especially transmisogynist and intersexist things – “womyn’s” everything, including, yes, Michfest; “Stonewall was by gay people” etc. and equating trans people with transmasculine people. :~( At one point it even had the ‘I thought I might be trans but I meditated on my menstruation and felt better, you should totally do that too’ kind of argument which was literally what drove me away from Jewish feminism on my first foray, many years ago. Can we phase out this argument basically forever?

I know that some people seemed to think that this book was an upgrade on Twice Blessed because that one only had cis people? (I’m not finished reading yet, so I can’t verify this statement.) But this trans inclusion does not include me, often quite explicitly so. (Bonus tip: also maybe do not have non-intersex people explain which intersex terms are OK for non-intersex trans people to use. Though at least the chapter did say, correctly, that “hermaphrodite” is to be avoided. But other statements I felt were much less clearcut.)

I think I got the most out of the chapters that were retrospectives about a specific project by the creators – Twice Blessed :), Trembling Before G-d, etc. and it was stunning to learn about the extent of Christian bias in the American adoption system.

I’m glad I read the book, and I’m glad it exists, but it was also rather unsatisfying in some respects. I definitely did not feel my experiences were represented in it, along basically all the axes that define my life as a queer Jew. It did clarify to me why American cis queer Jewish women activists often are unfriendly toward my concerns, and how their feminism is usually built on “woman-centric” lesbian feminist traditions that are trans- and intersex-exclusionary, even when they no longer explicitly say those things (though sometimes they do).

You can buy the book:

 

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