by Djuna Barnes
1992, originally published 1928 • 91 pages • Dalkey Archive Press
This is what I was reading when the Supreme Court of the United States (I will never say SCOTUS, because it makes me giggle like a twelve year old) ruled that same-sex marriage was constitutional on June 26th. I’ve talked a little about how I, a pretty quiet nerdly type who occasionally transforms into the hissing GOTH QUEEN OF THE INTROVERTS at the drop of a hat, often feel alienated from mainstream queer culture because I don’t like to party, drink, or stay out late. (This is why events like FlameCon are so incredibly important to me.) But what a time for pride and Pride. Watching the New York Pride March make its thundering way south on Fifth Avenue out of a foggy, rainy morning felt like watching us all march out of history.
Which is, of course, where we’ve been this whole time. Reading loosely over the dissenting opinions of the court, I was miffed to discover the age-old argument that same-sex marriage is a something brand new and totally alien to the human concept of matrimony. (Which also smacks of the strange idea that queer folk were invented in the seventies.) I’d like to point everyone to the late medieval French practice of affrèrement (“brother-making”), which was used to unite property owners (so, dudes) who wanted to pool their resources, which was the basic concept of marriage for most of human history. The idea was that it would be used for literal brothers who needed certain legal rights (i.e., sharing property and becoming each other’s legal heirs). But the idea that two men wouldn’t have used it in the context of a loving relationship is absurd. I point you to Wikipedia for more information on same-sex unions in other cultures.
Publish and Perish
by James Hynes
1998 (originally published 1997) • 338 pages • Picador
The more I read about the peculiar, insular world of higher academia, the more I think of it as a horror show. It’s an obviously biased perspective, especially since I respond to my mother’s repeated queries about the possibility of grad school by braying “NOOOO” at the top of my lungs. I mean, I have friends from college who are attending graduate school with the elegance, grace, and ferocity I expect out of my fellow Valkyries (look, your college wasn’t as cool as mine, it’s okay, we can move on together). They seem to be managing just fine! But reading about why Our Lady of Gossip Anne Helen Petersen left academia for BuzzFeed last December sent me leaping from article to article about both the poor employment prospects facing would-be academics and the poor treatment those academics receive if they do get hired.
With that atmosphere firmly planted in my headspace, out of the depths of my reading list emerged Publish and Perish, a trilogy of three horror novellas set in academia. Long time readers may remember that the unnameable behemoth that is my reading list was birthed in 2009 out of a copy of Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust in my high school library. Publish and Perish is, if I recall correctly, one of the first recommendations in Book Lust (or More Book Lust, which I also heartily raided). I bring this up because Publish and Perish feels like a blast from the past—both my personal past, when I gobbled up recommendations essentially sight unseen (…like, way more than I do now) and the past of 1997, when Publish and Perish was published.
by Margaret Atwood
2005 • 224 pages • Canongate
Margaret Atwood, especially in her later years, has a very specific and peculiar gift as a writer. Reading her prose, you hear not only the voice of a fully developed character, but Atwood’s as well. I’m tempted to say that her female protagonists have some similarities, but I haven’t read enough of her bibliography to feel comfortable saying that. All I can say is that Penelope and Offred are two different women related by a common mother. Atwood’s voice never intrudes, but you would never confuse her books for anyone else’s.
The Final Solution by Michael Chabon
As ideologically mixed as I am on How To Be Gay, it’s nonetheless provided me with some fresh analytical lens. I knew what a subculture was, of course, but had never thought of it in context of its relationship to the culture at large. (It’s hard to take a step that far back to get a better vantage point.) A subculture requires a culture to be sub to. It can only be understood in the context of that grander culture, which it reacts, negatively or positively, to. Of course, this is getting complicated as the (American) monoculture continues to splinter, but the point remains.
The Time Machine by H. G. Wells
read by Paul Adams, Mike Pelton, Richard Kilmer, and James K. White
The dawn of the new millennium found my preteen self stunned by our fannish destiny, revealed in a screening of The Lord of the Rings. I’d been a speculative fiction fan since I was old enough to watch my brother play Warcraft II (“Where are all the female units?” I asked myself, squatting on a medicine ball), but being almost entirely cut off from television meant that I’d never seen the kind of things that I was into. Seeing speculative fiction on the big screen felt like validation, despite my total lack of knowledge about the genre, so I was a sucker for any speculative fiction film that came my way. (This is how the McBrides went to go see The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen without anyone knowing who Alan Moore was.)
Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente
At the store, we have, by my estimate, roughly a million copies of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. There is only so much room on the shelves themselves, so I’m constantly shelving, reshelving, and rearranging to not only make room for those copies, but keep them in stock. (It’s selling quite well!) Thus, in the course of my duties as bookseller, I found myself reading a blurb on one of the series’ covers that declared Catherynne M. Valente the next Ray Bradbury. That’s high praise, I thought to myself. And then I thought: Oh, I’ve missed the bus again!
Roverandom by J. R. R. Tolkien
Sometimes, I feel absurdly lucky that I was introduced to The Lord of the Rings via Peter Jackson’s films in the early aughts. The Lord of the Rings was, without a doubt, cool when I got into it. And not just in my circle of friends in middle school, who tried to teach themselves Elvish and wore ninja shoes to school—it was part of the pop culture vernacular. Return of the King won eleven Oscars on one of the greatest days of my twelfth year on this Earth. (To be fair, there wasn’t a lot of competition.) Obviously, mainstream approval isn’t necessary for me as a fan these days (witness my adoration of Plunkett and Macleane), but only something that glowed that brightly in could pierce the pop culture resistant bubble I grew up in.
Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente
The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang
The Lifecycle of Software Objects came to my attention during last year’s Hugo Awards, when it won the Hugo Award for Best Novella. As I’ve mentioned, I rarely even dip into short stories—novellas are another thing entirely. As a fan, I’m quite familiar with the length (I feel like novella is a popular length for fanfiction), but my only exposure to them in print has been Love in a Fallen City. It was my first exposure Ted Chiang, whose work I’d never heard of. But the buzz for The Lifecycle of Software Objects was good, and when I found out it had been released in hardback at my local library, I immediately declared it eligible for review on its own.
At the Mountains of Madness by H. P. Lovecraft
I’m not sure when I became aware of the word “Lovecraft”—I thought it was a word long before I became aware it was a name. The phrase “Lovecraftian horror” has long been a favorite of mine, simply because “Lovecraftian” sounds so angular and odd. But let us just say it was an embarrassing long time before I realized H. P. Lovecraft was a writer of horror fiction, and that it was important for me to read him. I chose At the Mountains of Madness over a short story collection because I’d heard it was a little more science fiction than horror, and I’m a big baby when it comes to horror, but I’m not quite sure it worked…