Spring books 2024 roundup, part 2

  • by Jim Piechota
  • Tuesday March 5, 2024
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Spring books 2024 roundup, part 2

In the second of our Spring books series, we present several fiction titles by a memoirist and a trans woman that are set to make a splash in the literary world. Also included is a biography by trans glamour girl Candy Darling, a memoir from a queer Tennessean poet, and introspective discussions on gender, queer nightlife, and, like, the cult film classic "Mean Girls." There's never a dull moment in the book world this spring. Dive in and start enjoying these outstanding titles.

"All the World Beside" by Garrard Conley
, $28 (Random House) March 26
This exemplary work of historical fiction comes on the heels of Conley's memoir about his homophobic Baptist childhood, "Boy Erased," which was a critically acclaimed success upon its 2016 publication, and adapted into a film in 2018. Here he probes the restrictive nature of puritanical America and how queer men managed to thrive.

Set in 1730s Massachusetts, Nathaniel, a preacher and married family man, secretly falls in love with the village's resident physician, Arthur, and both attempt to move forward together, whispering their forbidden feelings for each other in the shadows amidst a rampantly homophobic conservative culture.

Conley infuses his engrossing narrative with meticulous research into 18th-century queer history and how same-sex relationships bloomed and survived. The reactions by family members and villagers alike make up the book's most poignant moments, while the conclusion remains a devastating commentary on how far we've come as a society and how far we still have to go.

"Love the World or Get Killed Trying" by Alvina Chamberland, $18 (Noemi Press) March 20
This is the English-language debut for Chamberland, a Swedish American author who is known for penning provocative works of literary autofiction. In this novel, she becomes her own protagonist navigating an "animal kingdom"-type world populated by cis-men who sexualize her body, her voice, her clothing, her movements, and her general appearance, for carnal pleasures.

Alvina, a trans woman, is on the cusp of her thirtieth year and partakes in the pleasures of her homeland of Berlin but strikes out to write a travelogue about a trip to Iceland where she appreciates the awe-inspiring natural beauty of the glaciers yet is disillusioned to discover so many straight families attending a gay Pride parade in Reykjavik.

More fiery feisty commentary is provided courtesy of weeks away in Paris for what should've been a big happy birthday celebration. Instead, Alvina only lists a barrage of sexually abusive assaults while she walks along the 9th Arrondissement, including "3 whistles & hey babys. 2 I love you, marry mes, 1 How much do you cost? 1 Barbie Girl, Pamela Anderson! 1 OMG that's a man, she tricked me, science fiction-mental illness."

Then it's back to Berlin where the hedonistic quality of the men there cause her to rage further in opposition. The narrative style is often fragmentary and grouped into large blocks of prose resembling poetry but embedded with passion, urgency, queer rage, and a nonstop barrage of italics, capital lettering, and impactive punctuation. This unique first-person narrated alternative novel is a shocking cold-water plunge just when you need it most.

"Be Not Afraid of My Body: A Lyrical Memoir" by Darius Stewart
, $19.99 (Belt Publishing)
This brazen, earnest, unapologetic self-portrait by poet and University of Iowa literary studies doctoral fellow Darius Stewart takes readers through his life thus far as a Black, queer, and HIV-positive man who grew up in a housing project in Knoxville, Tennessee.

His experiences, written with lush prose and employing an appealingly poetic rhythm, describe a childhood where religion was the fuel keeping him in fear of his own safety; teenage years trying (and failing) to pass as a straight boy; and ventures into substance abuse and reckless sexual abandon.

Stewart writes of overcoming the stigma of being HIV-positive as a Black gay man, the strength he acquired through adulthood, and becoming an established successful poet. This intensive lyrical memoir will resonate among readers of color and those who huddle at the outer margins of queer culture for fear of ridicule or rejection.

"Candy Darling: Dreamer, Icon, Superstar" by Cynthia Carr
, $30 (FSG)
This dynamic biography chronicles the life and legacy of glamorous trans pop culture icon Candy Darling. Journalist Cynthia Carr spares no detail in presenting her life beginning as a young lonely queer boy born in 1944 in Long Island where her life was made a living hell by an abusive parent and unmonitored schoolhouse bullies.

She began a new life as a woman in her early 20s, frequenting Greenwich Village queer clubs and rubbing elbows with Andy Warhol, who cast her in his films "Flesh" and "Women in Revolt." These creative endeavors garnered Darling fame but not fortune and when the money dried up, she turned to escort work to make ends meet.

Carr beautifully reconstructs 1960s Manhattan and all the bohemian escapades enjoyed by the alternative communities who thrived there. Though Darling died in 1974, her inspirational life and work resonate throughout this fascinating and bittersweet tribute.

"Who's Afraid of Gender?" by Judith Butler
, $30 (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) March 19
In an informative and surprising study, Butler, a gender studies authority, argues that right-wing political officials utilize the argument of gender and gender transformation and expression to deflect from the more impactful issues deserving of public scrutiny like warring nations and climate change.

She philosophizes throughout her scholarly narrative that gender is a combination of nurture, nature, and cultural influences and shouldn't be weaponized or demonized by any group, political or otherwise, for nefarious purposes. Yet it's still happening, she laments, in politics, social media, and by anti-trans feminists who seek to keep the female gender safeguarded and boxed into a category all its own.

Important and instructive, Butler's urgently written, academic probe of gender and the enduring fight surrounding its meanings, makes for eye-opening reading.

"So Fetch: The Making of 'Mean Girls' by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong," $29.99 (Dey Street Books)
Anyone obsessed with the cult classic high school comedy "Mean Girls" (and the Broadway musical, the cast recording, or the 2024 film remake) will want this inclusive and effortlessly entertaining companion volume on their shelves.

Media journalist Armstrong charts Tina Fey's journey toward adapting the screenplay (her first) from "Queen Bees and Wannabes," Rosalind Wiseman's 2002 examination of how high school girls gossip, bully, and eventually corrupt reputations in order to step up higher in their school's social rankings. The result is the film that fascinated and tickled audiences for its dark humor, comedic script, and pitch-perfect cast.

Armstrong shares insider tidbits that will fascinate readers, such as Lindsay Lohan's initial desire to be cast as the villainous Regina George (the request was dismissed by studio heads). This is a must-have book for fans who fetch like Gretchen Wieners, even though "fetch" is still not happening.

"Long Live Queer Nightlife" by Amin Ghaziani, $29.95 (Princeton University Press) March 26
In this distressing report, Ghaziani, a sociology professor, analyzes emerging trends affecting the lessening popularity and quantity of gay bars across the globe. Culling together research and interviews with nightlife authorities, queer party attendees, and venue owners, the closure of so many queer bars has a variety of causative reasons including the shifting generations frequenting these establishments, skyrocketing rent prices, and the unaffordability of contemporary city life.

In their wake, however, Ghaziani describes the emergence of pop-up clubs in spaces that won't host permanent residency and instead cater to periodic parties which are more lucrative, desired, and much better attended than the gay bars that once held the queer community's interest. This intelligent insightful inquiry on the state of LGBTQ nightlife is eye-opening, distressing, but, perhaps most importantly, optimistic, and future-forward.

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