Autumn reads, part 1

  • by Jim Piechota
  • Tuesday August 29, 2023
Share this Post:
Autumn reads, part 1

Here we are once again with another fall round-up of books coming to shelves near you. The range is diverse and effortlessly intriguing, running from a lesbian love affair gone awry to exquisite body horrors with worms, and onward through Podunk drag queens, kink aficionados, Golden Girls, and even a "Jeopardy" winner! Happy Autumn. Enjoy this first installment of fascinating fall reads.

author Delilah S. Dawson  

'Bloom' by Delilah S. Dawson, $22.99 (Titan) October
Behind this gorgeously rendered Sapphic love story lies menace, manipulation, and so much more. At 27, Ro is a bookish, awkward academic pining for connection when she meets Ash, a seemingly gentle, sensual beauty who runs a booth at the local farmers' market. Ash inherited the farmland from a relative and is reveling in the many benefits of living off land surrounded by bucolic splendor.

Dawson describes all these details (including the idyllic lesbian romance) impeccably, as the suspense and the dread is expertly ratcheted up page by page. Dawson's 2022 dystopian sci-fi novel "The Violence" horrifically depicted a physical syndrome whereby random people experienced "storms" of murderous behavior. Here, she focuses in on two women enamored with each other, but one harbors insanely skewed intentions. Perfect for reading by a Jack-o'-lantern's light, this slow-burning, exquisitely squirmy exercise in queer psychological terror will leave you unsettled.

author Bryan Washington  

'Family Meal' by Bryan Washington, $28 (Riverhead) October
This latest from award-winning author Washington comes on the heels of the stunning novel "Memorial" and features Cam, a man grieving the death of his partner Kai, who returns to his Houston birthplace to enter rehab and collect himself. A dead-end bar job leads him to old friend TJ's family bakery to work and keep afloat.

The story shifts perspective several times from Cam to Kai, then to TJ's multiple, complicated affairs at the bakery. All these shifts are jarring initially, but then everything begins to gel into a sophisticated story about grief, community, love, and the fragility and preciousness of life. This is another winner from a writer who spins gold from the lives of his gritty queer characters.

'Brainwyrms' by Alison Rumfitt, $17.99 (Nightfire) October
The award for queer gross-out novel of the season goes to trans woman author Rumfitt, whose 2021 debut "Tell Me I'm Worthless" shocked readers with the story of a British transgender girl who returns to a haunted house to face her worst fears. Here, in her novel's futuristic U.K. setting, she excels yet again by piling worms on top of open wounds, in mouths, in eyes, and into sex rituals as well.

Frankie, a spirited trans woman, is dismayed by the area's sharp increase in violent transphobia, some of it encouraged by a children's author who strikes an uncanny resemblance to another popular Brit writer who lost favor with her readership after vocalizing her transphobic viewpoints. When Frankie meets nonbinary Vanya, all rules for sex and parasites, or sex with parasitic worms, go out the window as the story delves into body horror with the kind of gore that requires a strong stomach.

Even so, author Rumfitt has a point to make and she makes it clearly, even though her perspective is covered in abrasive dialogue, taboo sex, blood, sexual violence, and guts. This is transgressive, hardcore, queer grotesque storytelling that even comes with an opening disclaimer.

'Dragging Mason County' by Curtis Campbell, $19.99 (Annick press) October
As an openly gay kid in high school, Peter Thompkins just wants to get through it and survive. But his big bad mouth tends to get him into trouble, which is exactly the case after one such verbal tussle with another gay schoolmate. What's worse: the ordeal was memorialized on video and uploaded onto the socials, and now everyone hates him. Nothing like teaming up with drag bestie "Aggie Culture" to produce Mason County's first queen-size drag show to save his tarnished reputation.

This is a character-driven tale, so the drag queens lead with spicy one-liners while the others contribute defensive quips where they can. This is sassy fiction for queer teen readers who identify with the show scene, the drag scene, the high school melodrama scene, or with the defiant outcast scene. There's something for every high-schooler here.

'Congratulations, the Best Is Over!' by R. Eric Thomas; $26.99 (Ballantine) August
Thomas' memoir-in-essays movingly reflects on the author's 2017 return to his Baltimore hometown with his minister husband in tow. There's lots of "toxic relationship with the city" rhetoric to parse through with his therapist, but in other essays, suburbia is analyzed from a gay male point of view, as are being Black and gay in America, and how depression has the power to pivot a life from sunny to cloudy over the course of a few minutes. It's all about the "shock of life," he writes, and with grace, humor, and immense wisdom, Thomas' confessions show us how to live despite the bumps and the bruises.

'The Golden Girls: A Cultural History' by Bernadette Giacomazzo, $36 (Rowman and Littlefield)
This fascinating and illuminating analysis of the television classic that never seems to grow old is the creation of author Bernadette Giacomazzo, who gifted the 1980s comedy program "In Living Color" with the same treatment a few months back in early 2023. Here, she describes "The Golden Girls" series as groundbreaking in its unvarnished depiction of the aging community represented by these four dynamically "complete, full women" who pulled no punches with dialogue, theme, and mood, though they got their points across with humor and class.

In these ladies' new definition of friends-as-family, viewers were immediately hooked and remained so season after season. Show fans are in for a treat as the book deep dives into each character's personality, their best lines, and most iconic traits. Giacomazzo's cultural consideration of this iconic series is not to be missed.

'Superfreaks: Kink, Pleasure, and the Pursuit of Happiness' by Arielle Greenberg, $28.95 (Beacon Press) August
Kinksters rejoice! This imminently accessible, nonjudgmental tour of erotic fetishism by noted BDSM authority Greenberg delves into the risqué subject of kink with the piercing pinch of a patent leather spiked heel. Sections feature the histories of several kinky trailblazers, the dynamics behind the psychological exchanges of partner power and privilege, a compatibility quiz for couples, and a reference glossary for every piece of kinky gear imaginable.

Whether you enjoy your sex liberally seasoned with safe words and raunchy role play or altogether stuffed into a skin-tight zentai suit, this just-published tour of sexual diversity will become your new go-to guide.

'In The Form of a Question' by Amy Schneider, $28 (Avid Reader Press) October
While transgender author Schneider is best known for holding the "Jeopardy" two-month, 40 consecutive-game championship run which snagged her a staggering $1.3 million, she is also an engaging writer in this winning autobiography. She discusses her childhood growing up inquisitive and increasingly intelligent, right into her advanced schooling where she received a doctorate in computer science.

She writes about her vocal advocacy on trans rights, her opinions on restroom controversies, and how having ADD aided her in becoming such a stellar gameshow contestant. There are chapters on love, drugs, and politics, yet only a closing chapter on the actual "Jeopardy" episodes that garnered her fame, and that's just fine. Schneider is a fascinating personality and well worth reading about with or without the game show cred.

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.