Winter's tales; new books part 2

  • by Jim Piechota
  • Tuesday January 31, 2023
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Winter's tales; new books part 2

Continuing on our Winter Books picks, here comes part two, which contains even more provocative reading material than the first group. Enjoy tales of thrillingly engrossing takes on wartime queer love, conversion camp survival, and speculative foreign lands.

New memoirs include the lives of a talented veteran musician and a queer Black mother. Notes on modern sexuality and the experience of being Black and queer on college campuses are also featured. There's plenty of winter reading material to chew on in the new year. Most have upcoming publish dates, so pre-order now from your local independent booksellers.

author Lucy Jane Bledsoe  

"Tell The Rest" by Lucy Jane Bledsoe
, $28.95 (Akashic Books, March 7)
In Berkeley author Lucy Jane Bledsoe's explosive new novel, two mixed-race childhood friends reunite after enduring a summer spent at a Christian conversion camp. Both Delia and Ernest were just teenagers when they managed to narrowly escape from Celebration Camp and as successful adults two decades later, each discovers a desire to return and bury the memories.

Delia, a youth basketball coach, and poet Ernest each return unaware of the other's whereabouts, but when they reunite in Oregon, each shares their personal trauma and its impact on their adulthoods. The story becomes a powerful reading experience on the resilience, determination, and personal pride required for queer survival. Bledsoe clearly demonstrates a knack for dialogue and swift plotting, and the reality of the theme itself will hit home for many readers.

"Different for Boys" by Patrick Ness, $18.99 (Walker Books/Candlewick, March 14)
In this moving young adult illustrated novella, the curse words, sex acts, and raw slang are redacted in big black blocks to emphasize their power in a society that rejects them, especially when emitted from boys who find themselves attracted to one another.

Ant Stevenson, 15, and his best friend Charlie Shepton have been fooling around sexually for a while as "just a release until we both get girlfriends," but only recently has Ant wanted to kiss Charlie, which goes against their firm rules since kissing would mean they're both gay. Enter Jack, a classmate who is assumed to be queer, and this dynamic throws Ant and Charlie's arrangement up for renegotiation.

It's a brief but heavy-hitting reflection on young men wrestling with inner desire. Black and white pencil illustrations by Tea Bendix are rough and scratchy and perfectly depict the raw emotions flowing throughout this taboo tale of young same-sex attraction and love drawn against the most unforgiving and intolerant of backdrops: youth.

"In Memoriam" by Alice Winn, $28 (Knopf, March 7)
Winn's breathtaking debut is a moving portrayal of two men who meet in an English boarding school in 1914, fall in love, and soon after, enlist as soldiers to fight in the Great War. Through the turmoil, terror, and traumatizing machinations on the battlefront, both boys struggle to balance their fear with honest intimacy. The novel becomes a heartbreaking tribute to queer love and devotion against all odds once the men are completely separated and must search for each other across a war-ravaged European landscape. This is unforgettable fiction and a literary heartbreaker.

"Proud Pink Sky" by Redfern Jon Barrett, $21.95 (Amble Press, March 14)
Barrett, a Berlin-based, nonbinary polyamorous queer writer, sets their latest work of speculative fiction in the world's first LGBTQ city-state, an idyllic post-war Berlin utopia. Fleeing from homophobic families to this 1990s paradisal queer homeland are William and Gareth, who hope to find a sanctuary within the borderlines of the city.

There is also Cissie, a cis, straight mother of two who together with her husband, struggle to find unity among the divided city. Employing kaleidoscopic creativity, Barrett incorporates underground factions into the story that seek to undermine and disrupt the law-heavy, conservative-led city leadership keeping alternative sexualities and identities separate from the general population. This is a wild, colorfully imaginative tale of unrest and coalition in a city with its own vocabulary and secret historical gay slang (Polari), all meant for paradise, but only for a conforming citizenry.

"Twist" by Adele Bertei
, $28 (Ze Books, March 14)
In this distinguished memoir, multi-disciplinary veteran musician Bertei portrays her life story through an imagined character named Maddie Twist, who serves as a protective buffer between the author and the harsh memories of growing up "white, working-class, poor, queer, abandoned, and hungry for belonging" in Maple Heights, Cleveland from 1965-1972.

Removed from her childhood home after her mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia, Bertei bounced from numerous foster homes and encountered a host of gritty characters, most out to do harm, like a deranged Vietnam veteran who assaulted her and locked her in a room for days. Somehow, Bertei emerged whole and was able to expand on her love of music.

Throughout her career, she's collaborated with Thomas Dolby, Culture Club, Whitney Houston, the Pointer Sisters, Oleta Adams, and writing and performing with Jellybean Benitez on the song "Just A Mirage" in 1988. This is a powerful testament to a creative woman's personal strength and will to survive despite untenable circumstances.

"Choosing Family: A Memoir of Queer Motherhood and Black Resistance" by Francesca T. Royster, $26 (Abrams, Feb. 7)
Francesca Royster, the author of this evocative, memorable memoir, is a Chicago-born queer African American woman, who, together with her partner of 13 years, decided to adopt a Black child, Cece, and bring her into their shared home. The book details the author's internal struggles to come to terms with raising a Black child in a world that sees her color before it sees her as a human being.

Throughout this process, Royster incorporates this parenthood journey into her experiences with her own mother and she reconciles the difficulties she dealt with as a child. A discussion on the reasons she opted out of marching in Black Lives Matter protests is illuminating and broadens the memoir's meaning and impact. This reflection on family dynamics is an important addition to reading material on queer parenting, motherhood, and racial dynamics in modern society.

"A Pill for Promiscuity" by Andrew Spieldenner & Jeffrey Escoffier
; $19.95 (Rutgers University Press, Feb. 10)
This important, didactic study on how gay sex has changed in a post-PrEP era gathers multi-disciplinary and multigenerational artists, activists, and academics together to discuss the nature of queer biomedical prevention in the modern age of desire.

Included are surprising defenses on the value of promiscuity from popular porn film director Mister Pam; an older male perspective from acclaimed author Andrew Holleran; and even a cartoonist, Steve MacIsaac, who "speaks for all the young men who came out during the early and most devastating years of the epidemic."

This is a provocative, contemplative book for anyone interested in the evolution of queer sex and where it's going in the 21st century. It's an educative, scholarly exploration of how we are reimagining queer sex in an age where a pill can offer defense against deadly disease and issue a new lease on life and love, in whatever form we choose.

"Unbound: A Book of AIDS" by Aaron Shurin, $16.95 (Nightboat Books, Jan. 24)
This reissued literary collection of essays, first published in 1997, provides an unmatched account of life in San Francisco in the 1980s and '90s at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Reflective and deeply meaningful, the book offers an intimate glimpse into the nature of a deadly illness and how it directly affected the queer community through the lives of two men depicted with a poet's shimmering prose. Shurin's work deserves this reissuance as both a rosette on his distinguished career as a queer studies pioneer, poet, and author, and in reminding readers of the history of one pandemic and the perils of another which we are currently surviving.

"Black and Queer on Campus" by Michael P. Jeffries, $22 e-book (NYU Press, March 21)
Jeffries, who is Dean of Academic Affairs at Wellesley College, an author, and a critical essayist, offers this assessment of the experience of being a Black and queer student in today's collegiate environment. He delves deeply into how Black queer students spend their time, the organizations they participate in, and reflections on how campus homophobia and racism darken what is meant to be an interactive learning experience for all students, regardless of race or preference.

Culling interviews with dozens of students from a wide range of colleges, he examines how Black queer students struggle for a sense of belonging, the inherent pressures when compared with white peers and predominantly white learning institutions, and solutions for coping with and finding pride within the college experience, despite these obstacles. These critical perspectives shed much-needed light on the learning institutions where being Black and queer pose everyday obstacles for young men and women eager to learn and contribute.

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