Last week, I had the opportunity to help host students from Sophia University in Tokyo. During their time here, I had the chance to present to them on the LGBTQ culture and history of the United States. While I employed a few different tools to show them this, my primary focus was on my field of literature. Though the presentation certainly could have been better (I basically put it together on the spot), I–in the 20 or so minutes I was allotted–managed to grab their attention and pique their interest in LGBTQ issues. At the end of the week, they were asked to report on their time in Los Angels, and I was personally thanked by many of the students in their presentations, while one of the groups even focused on LGBTQ issues. Their reaction and their newfound desire to understand the LGBTQ community is what motivates me to keep doing what I am doing and how I am doing it. Many of the conversations I had with them centered around literature, which demonstrates how powerful a tool literary texts (written or otherwise) are in helping people to understand why it is important to protect all people. Literature offers a valuable insight into what makes a culture like the LGBTQ community’s so incredible, and it is my hope that this month’s review will inspire you to pick up one of the following books in this coming month.
Books Read in February: 8
Books Read in 2018: 19
Book 13: Faggots by Larry Kramer
Kramer’s novel is a raunchy and powerful satire of gay sex culture. Released to both great praise and criticism, Faggots provides a valuable insight into the context in which a community was devastated by the AIDS epidemic. In simple prose, Kramer spares no detail in depicting the sex life of gay and bisexual men in 1970’s New York. His frankness about the sex that occurs between men is absolutely groundbreaking, and his novel is an insightful and comical read for any individual looking to understand gay sex culture.
Book 14: Calenture by Kent Shaw
I am rarely captured by poetry, but Shaw managed to keep me interested throughout his collection of poetry. Shaw’s collection is shaped by his experience in the U.S. Navy and provides a glimpse into how blind devotion can erode over time into a sense of doubt. The images of the sea and the sun sprinkled throughout the book set the scene for this transformation, creating a false sense of security as one becomes ensnared by a web of delusion.
Book 15: Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea by Charles Seife
(This book was my favorite during the month of February.)
I never thought I could be interested in a book about a mathematical concept, but Seife managed to win me over with this incredible piece of literature. His exploration into zero and all that it means is absolutely fascinating; this book is one you will find incredibly hard to put down. Examining a variety of aspects of zero’s history ranging from its mathematical application to its cultural significance, Seife crafts a biography of an idea as intriguing as any human subject.
Book 16: Maus by Art Spiegelman
No story can truly capture the experience of an event so horrific as the Holocaust. However, Spiegelman’s graphic novel is an incredible story of loss, perseverance, luck, and the never-ending effects of trauma. Spielgelman’s relationship with his father, Vladek, drives this novel while also demonstrating what it means to be the child of a survivor. Furthermore, the inclusion of the suicide of Spiegelman’s mother is a brave and bold choice that calls attention to the lack of discussion on the life of survivors post-Holocaust. This novel is one that needs to be read.
Book 17: Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
In this stunning psychological thriller, Highsmith ensnares her audience, holding them captive as they race towards the climax of the novel. When an ordinary man meets a sadistic psychopath, all hell breaks lose. In a plot that steams towards its conclusion, Highsmith demonstrates how any individuals is capable of committing horrendous acts given the right circumstances. This novel cemented Highsmith’s role as a master of noir fiction and still manages to stun audiences today with its insight into the capacity for evil that lurks within every person.
Book 19: Queer Iberia: Sexualities, Cultures, and Crossings from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance ed. by Josiah Blackmore and Gregory S. Hutchinson
This collection of essays is a fascinating glimpse into the complex web of queer identities present througout medieval Iberia. Translated primary sources provide an incredibly interesting look into how sexual otherness was present during this time period, and the introduction by Blackmore and Hutchinson sets the tone for a eye-opening journey into the world of queer Iberia. This book is a valuable addition to a developing realm of queer historical academia, and it is an essential read for anyone hoping to understand the time period through a queer lens.
The following is a list of books I also read this month but chose not to review: Book 12 – The Destruction of the European Jews by Raul Hilberg and Book 18 – Whereas by Layli Long Soldier
If you have read any of the books I mentioned in this post, please let us know what you thought of them in the comments below.