Queer, A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele | 1 Minute Reviews

Here’s the thing: I’m queer in a number of ways. I’ve known I was attracted to multiple genders for a long time, but good old childhood shaming and being called “Lizzie the Lesbo” was enough for me to squash that side of me until I reached adulthood and eventually felt safe enough to think about it. I’ve known I was not a girl and not a boy either for my whole life, existing in the in-between and struggling with intermittent social and physical dysphoria. It was only in my late twenties that I started to find the words for this, having finally met other genderqueer, trans and nonbinary people.

Part of my own coming out was through learning about queer politics, and in turn theory. But I’m going to be really honest with you here — I did not understand a lot of it. When I say understand, I don’t mean politically align with. I mean the language was so often complex, so very different from the English I speak or have heard throughout my life, that I would be thrown off entirely.

There’s been discussions around this on Twitter, quite rightly pointing out that academic language can be alienating for people, particularly working class people who haven’t studied humanities. The amount of times I’ve had to google words like “hegemony” and “praxis” in order to understand a sentence are innumerable.

The same thing has happened to me with feminist theory. I have tried quite a few times to read works by Nancy Fraser, or sections of Judith Butler’s writing, or even try and access philosophy through a beginner’s course, and I never managed to get very far. Until today.

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A few weeks ago, myself and Alice were walking through Soho, talking about the DIVA book conference she’d recently been to and how revelatory it was that an event devoted to queer female literature was not protested any more. We got onto the topic of Section 8, the problems of a discourse centring around “always knowing” about your own queer identity, and a few other connected topics. She mentioned Queer, A Graphic History to me, and I decided there in the rain in Soho that we would march to the bookshop and I’d buy it.

I’m really pleased to say that having read Queer, A Graphic History I actually think I have a handle on theory! Barker takes the reader through the evolution of queer theory and the main contributors, right up to the present day and the futures directions of study that are developing. Thanks to Scheele’s wonderful illustrations, concepts are broken down simply, faces given to mysterious names and summarised quotes attributed to those faces.

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As I suspected, I knew a lot of these fundamentals of queer theory — intersectionality, gender perfomativity, the black feminists who correctly challenged much of the original white thinkers — but I didn’t have the faces, the names, the language behind the concepts. Never again will I shrink when I hear someone attribute a concept to Lacan or Foucault, because I now have a loose understanding of their positions and a Scheele portrait to put their name to.

Barker has also provided a resources section at the back with accessible further reading on sexuality and gender, and queer theory, which is incredibly useful as so often I pick up a book and fall into the inaccessible language pit.

Queer, A Graphic History is an informative, affirming, hopeful and essential read for anyone who wants to know more about queer theory, politics and activism. However, irrespective of your own identity, Queer is also a great introduction to examining binaries and biases in our daily lives and media. This is a thoughtful and powerful book to spend an afternoon reading and a lifetime acting upon.

Interested? Get it here: Hive (UK) / Book Depository (Int)

What to read next:

Dr MEG-JOHN BARKER is a writer, therapist, and activist-academic specialising in sex, gender and relationships. Meg-John is a senior lecturer in psychology at the Open University and a UKCP accredited psychotherapist, and has over a decade of experience researching and publishing on these topics including the popular book Rewriting the Rules. @megjohnbarker

JULIA SCHEELE is an illustrator, graphic facilitator and comic book artist. She runs One Beat Zines, a feminist zine collective and distributor. @juliascheele

A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge | 1 Minute Reviews

I have been saving Frances Hardinge’s latest work for a couple of months, for a time when I could devote myself to this one book and immerse myself in her writing. While young adult novels as a genre are generally known for their fast pace, I feel Hardinge’s novels are more comparable with the pace of Pullman’s His Dark Materials. They are thoughtful, demanding of your attention, and absolutely wonderful. Hardinge is known for writing haunting young adult novels, often with a fascinating historical setting and many of you will likely have read Hardinge’s previous novel, The Lie Tree, which won the Costa Book award in 2016.

I’m really pleased to say that A Skinful of Shadows is definitely in my top ten books of 2017.

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Set during the English Civil War with conflict raging between Royalists and Puritans, the novel follows a courageous young woman named Makepeace, who has spent the nights of her life in graveyards, training to keep out the ghosts under the firm instructions of her mother. Fixed with a fierce determination, her mother instills in Makepeace a need to practice setting her mind. But after the tragic death of her mother at a protest, vulnerable Makepeace finds her mind home to a recently murdered and very frightened Bear.

Without her mother’s fierce protection, Makepeace’s prestigious family the Fellmottes come to take her to the family estate of Grizehayes. As she takes her place in the kitchens and befriends her half brother James, Makepeace learns the family secret that her mother tried to protect her from, the legacy of the Fellmottes. Determined to save themselves from their fates, James and Makepeace plan their escape.

The Fellmottes reminded me quite a lot of the terrifying family in Gilded Cage by Vic James, and I think fans of either book would find a lot to like in the other. The story is rich, powerful, interwoven with the settings of the time as one haunted girl finds herself in the middle of a battlefield for England. A Skinful of Shadows is an spine-chilling tale of one girl and her bear, the underdogs against an all-powerful aristocratic family. I completely fell in love with this wonderful story, and urge everyone to go out and add it to their shelves. You will not be disappointed.

In line with the paperback publication of  A Skinful of Shadows in May next year, Hardinge’s publishers are also reissuing her previous novels in matching covers – yes I did do a big squeal, I love to matchy-matchy.

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On the 8th of February, you’ll be able to buy the new editions of Face Like Glass, Gullstruck Island, Twilight Robbert and Fly by Night; Cuckoo Song and The Lie Tree follow on the 22nd March. Sadly, they don’t seem to be re-releasing Verdigris Deep, but hoping that will change! Your shelves are going to look beautiful and filled with spookiness. I’m not going to pick up The Lie Tree as I’ve owned all three editions, including the stunning Chris Riddell illustrated hardback, and I am pretty sure I have another copy lurking around my house somewhere. I’ve been meaning to pick up her previous books this year, and now I have even more of an excuse!

Get it here: Hive (UK) / Book Depository (Int)

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to Pan Mac News for sending this copy out to me.

Witch for a Week by Kaye Umansky | 1 Minute Reviews

Some of my favourite stories come from the chapter books range, often known as 5-7 years in most bookstores. They’re so often silly and full of heart. I noticed as a bookseller the prominence of witchy books in this section – I had both The Worst Witch books by Jill Murphy and Pongwiffy by Kaye Umansky as a child, and while working Sibeal Pounder’s Witch Wars series was gaining traction. The latest in this trend is the first in a new series from Pongwiffy author Kaye Umansky.

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Witch for a Week is the story of Elsie Pickles who, after a chance encounter in her father’s shop, agrees to become a house-sitter for the magical home of local witch Magenta Sharp. Together with Nuisance the local stray and Corbett the curmudgeonly raven, Elsie must contend with a series of strange visitors and a mysterious package filled with love potion ingredients. Luckily, it appears that Elsie has a gift for magic, along with her knowledge of the Top Ten Rules of Customer Service.

The illustrations by Ashley King are whimsical and brimming with character. I particularly love the depictions of the Howler Twins — I initially received an unillustrated proof copy and only after I finished the book did I come across the illustrations, which are spot on!

 

Witch for a Week is a charming and very fun story about rising to challenges, capability and kindness. As the first book in a new series, children will be able to follow Elsie’s adventures exploring magic – with a new book due out in May 2018. And if your budding witch needs something to occupy them in the meantime, Umansky’s wonderful series Pongwiffy is being re-published, with the first book containing two stories out now.

Get it here: Hive (UK)Book Depository (Int)

What to read next:

Thank you to Simon and Schuster for sending a copy over to me.

My Favourite Anthologies & Publishers to Watch| Reading Round Up

I love a well-curated anthology. There is nothing better than diving into a book that feels like a lucky dip of voices, many of whom you’ve never read before. I also love the flexibility you get with an anthology; only got 10 minutes, no problem! You can read a few poems, maybe even a whole short story or an essay in that time. They are the perfect commuter companion and excellent options for busy times like Christmas, when you want to grab some quiet time before you’re called away again.

I leapt at the chance to create a series of anthologies at our micropublisher 3 of Cups Press. Our first, On Anxiety, launches in January and you can preorder it still through our website shop. There are more coming in later 2018 too – keep a particular eye out for February book fans!

But until then, here are some of my favourites to keep you going!

Also, a quick note, in writing this, I realised this quickly became a love letter for all the independent presses that I know and love, who you should throw some of your book money at in the coming year. These guys do fantastic work and I want them to stick around!

Okay, let’s go.

change.PNGA Change is Gonna Come is the wonderful young adult anthology that features only BAME authors, created by the team at Stripes publishing. The book features twelve authors, contributing ten short fiction pieces and two poems. Change represents the future of publishing – voices that have been historically untapped, stories yet to be told. It is an absolutely divine book of exceptionally high quality, and not one of the stories felt like a duffer. I’ve actually read the anthology twice – once back in August when I was in the middle of Kickstarter hell, and just this last month so that I could refresh my mind. In particular, Aisha Bushby’s piece made me sob on my dog and Tanya Byrne’s Hackney Moon is just the most wonderful queer love story that I have ever read. I want more from all these authors immediately. Stripes and Little Tiger Press also produced the wonderful collection I’ll Be Home For Christmas last year, and in my opinion are a publisher to watch.

Sliding over to non fiction, my first recommendation is The Good Immigrant is an awardimmigrant.PNG winning collection of essays from BAME people living in Britain, collated and edited by the wonderful Nikesh Shukla. This is an extremely timely collection about what it means to be an immigrant or a person of colour in the UK today. The collection includes 21 voices in essays covering their wide ranging experiences and perspectives. It is so difficult to say anything about The Good Immigrant that hasn’t already been said by many, many people. Believe the hype; this book is fantastic and essential reading for anyone living in the UK. From Nikesh Shukla and his wonderful agent Julia Kingsford, we now have The Good Journal, a quarterly literary magazine featuring BAME authors and artists, and The Good Literary Agency, launching in 2018.

Did you know The Good Immigrant was published through Unbound, an independent publishing crowdfunding platform. They produce the most magical books and you must go check them out. I particularly recommend you check out Cut From the Same Cloth and A Country to Call Home, which are both still in the funding process. Check them out!

9780995623828It would be remiss of me to discuss anthologies without looking at Nasty Women, another stunning and award winning anthology released this year. What does it mean to be a woman in the 21st century? What does it mean to stand up against misogyny, racism and classism alongside sexism? Independent Scottish Publishers 404 Ink seek to answer this question in this excellent collection of essays and interviews from a number of brilliant women. Originally released as a Kickstarter that was 369% funded, the Nasty Women collection is now widely available, as is their first edition of the 404 Ink Literary Magazine, Error. The collection covers a wide range of topics – the feminist leanings of foraging, accountability in the punk scene, classism within the arts, the difficulty of living multiple racial identities, the struggle of loving Courtney Love. I feel that this collection would stand up well in a feminist starter pack of sorts, as we continue to gather around the rallying moniker of Nasty Women. Buy a copy for the young and old women in your life; there is something for everyone here, and while you’re at it, check out the other books and magazines produced by 404 Ink.

For both Nasty Women and The Good Immigrant, every single essay made me pause for thought and I enjoyed reading a single article then setting the book aside, allowing them to settle in my mind. While this meant it took me longer to read these books, it allowed me the extra time to connect to the voices and their experiences.

I’d like to add a quick recommendation for How Much the Heart Can Hold as well, a fiction anthology developed by Sceptre around the seven types of love, which they added a further story to by Phoebe Roy (also featured in Change) when the paperback was published. I enjoyed this immensely earlier this year, and have been in the process of seeking out works from the authors featured in the book. A great one to dip in and out of too.

In the meantime, I have a lot on my shelves that I’ve been dipping in and out of recently and so haven’t had time to review properly, but I wanted to mention them now:

  • Know Your Place edited by Nathan Connolly and published by Dead Ink Books. this book is essays about being working class, in the style of The Good Immigrant.
  • The Things I Would Tell You edited by Sabrina Mafouz and published by Saqi Books: an anthology of essays from British Mulsim Women.
  • 2084: A Science Fiction Anthology edited by George Sandison and published by Unsung Press is an anthology of science fiction short stories all about what the year 2084 could look like.

That’s all for now, I think. Tell me, what are your favourite anthologies? Which projects are you most looking forward to next?

There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins | 1 Minute Reviews

My past experience with Stephanie Perkins has been solid, having fully enjoyed her third romance YA Isla and the Happily Ever After for its sweet romance and great autism representation, so I was really intrigued when My Kinda Books announced her new horror novel There’s Someone Inside Your House.

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When I say it’s a horror novel, what I mean is this is a novel version of cheesy old slasher movies. You know what I mean – the couple kissing in the car hear something weird outside, someone in a cornfield thinks they are being followed. As someone who hit their teenage years when Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, I found this positively nostalgic.

Makani Young arrives in Nebraska from Hawaii, leaving behind a mysterious past along with her original surname, somewhat baffled by the lack of sea. She made some new friends – Alex and Darby (trans boy rep, whoo!) – and after a summer kissing fling with aloof, strangely beautiful Ollie, she feels like she is starting to settle in.

That is until someone starts murdering all the teenagers. Who is the one killing all her peers in increasingly gruesome ways? Who will be next? Is her new boyfriend the one to blame?

What I admire most ardently about Perkins’ writing is her ability to make you care intently for characters within one page, people who she is ultimately about to bump off in a few more. Several of them crop up at various points in the novel, and it is only when you get to their point of view chapter that you suddenly care deeply for them. Then someone murders them really, really brutally. This cycle pops up quite a few times, meaning you know when you get to a non-Makani pov chapter that they are about to die – I really enjoyed this in the end as I started worrying about who was cropping up.

Alongside this is Makani’s blossoming romance with strange kid Ollie, which occupies a larger part of the narrative than you’d expect necessarily in a horror but which makes sense for Perkins, given romance is her bread and butter. It is great, and a little steamy.

There’s Someone Inside Your House is a very fun, gruesome little novel, best read in a couple of sittings to enjoy the tension hiking up as everyone scrambles to catch the killer before they kill more kids. Tremendously fun stuff.

Interested? Get it here.

What to read next:

Thank you to My Kinda Books for sharing this copy with me at YALC.

What We Left Behind by Robin Talley & being non-binary/genderqueer

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a bit of a Robin Talley stan, having fallen deeply in love with Lies We Tell Ourselves and worked through her four novels since then.

What We Left Behind is Talley’s second novel and, if you’d go by the GoodReads reviews, somehow the most controversial, due to featuring a nonbinary character who questions their pronouns and place on the gender spectrum throughout the book. As a nonbinary person, I was curious about some of the reviews and decided to pick up a copy myself.

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After meeting at a high school dance, Toni and Gretchen have been virtually inseparable through high school, as hopelessly in love as the day they met. But when plans for college go awry, the couple find themselves pulled apart to different towns, whereupon both Toni and Gretchen begin to grow into themselves.

Gretchen rediscovers her love for New York and gains a sassy blunt best friend to explore it with. Toni discovers their university’s LGTBQ society and, upon finally meeting other genderqueer and trans people, starts to question what they know about themselves. As they learn more about themselves, Gretchen and Toni grow further and further apart. Will they manage to stay together?

In the same way as Talley’s other straight-contemporary YA Our Own Private Universe, there is definitely an educational bent to this narrative, making it a useful book for younger queer readers in particular.

What We Left Behind shows the progression of Toni and Gretchen in discovering and understanding not just what it means to be queer yourself, but to be part of a wider LGBTQ+ community, to be a part of that history. Talley does some interesting playing around with typical confusions of baby queers – I particularly liked Toni’s feeling of being so overwhelmed by pronouns that they choose to just remove them completely from their language.

This is also a heavily character based novel, with barely a straight in sight (and when they are present, sometimes the descriptions are not the most complimentary). I think for queer kids growing up without a chosen family, this aspect of the novel could be the light at the end of the tunnel – as they say, it gets better.

But let’s talk about the controversy, and some light spoilers ahead my friends. As Toni realises they are more masculine than they thought, they switch their name spelling to Tony and begin using he/his full time, as he tries to work out whether he is a masc non binary person or a trans man. Some people have felt this is not the right way to represent genderqueer people, and I’m here to say I don’t necessarily agree with that viewpoint. While yes, I 100% agree that some people falsely see non binary/genderqueer identities as a stepping stone along to trans binary, sometimes it does happen. Or even, people remain non binary but change their names, pronouns and begin physical transitioning to accompany this. Ash Hardell’s Youtube channel explores this quite a lot through a number of videos, often including other guest stars who are nonbinary or genderqueer.

Let’s talk personal here – I’m nonbinary, assigned female at birth, and I’ve considered top surgery and hormones, and the only reason I’m definitely not doing the latter is because I think the loss of my singing voice as is would crush me more than the dysphoria which I hope my new gc2b binder is going to sort out. I’ve considered top surgery, quite strongly, for the last year. However, my dysphoria is tied up with some other body image things right now so I’m going to give myself time. But, none of this makes me a trans man either. You can be whatever kind of non-binary you want to be, and if that leads you down the road to a binary identity, well that’s okay too.

I’ve been thinking about posting this review since I read the book a few months ago, realising that in talking about the book and the controversy itself it makes sense to demonstrate where I’m coming from. I’m not saying that the feelings that other genderqueer people got reading this book are invalid either, but I wanted to share a positive review of this book from a non binary person’s perspective.

Interested? Get it here.

What to read next:

 

The History of Bees by Maja Lunde | 1 Minute Reviews

This is undoubtedly a strange way to begin a review, but I should tell you that I really like bees. Ten years ago (yikes) I was studying Zoology at the University of Liverpool and had the joy of learning about bees across several modules – their waggle dances of communication, their societal structure and, sadly, the way their populations have been crashing due to Colony Collapse Disorder.

This time of my life coincides with one of the three timelines in The History of Bees, a wonderful novel told from three narrators spread across 250 years – William in England in 1851, Tao in future China in 2098 and finally George in the USA in 2007.

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After recovering from a bout of depression, naturalist William is determined to invent a new form of beehive, in order to catapult him and his children into fame, particularly his beloved heir Edmund.

George is a beekeeper, battling against modernisation in the farming industry whilst also trying to keep his business afloat, though his wife just wants to move to Florida and his son doesn’t seem to want to farm at all.

Far in the future after the collapse of the global bee population, Tao is a human pollinator, gently transferring pollen to fruit trees – an incredibly challenging manual job in a world falling apart due to the loss of essential biological processes. When her son suddenly becomes ill and then is taken by mysterious authorities, Tao sets out on a harrowing journey to find her child.

The History of Bees is a haunting story about families, the weight of being a parent and a child, the expectation of futures that could be built or destroyed in an instant. The parents themselves are so focused on their children becoming one way or another, not quite seeing the potential in them that manifests differently or – in William’s case – overlooking all his other children.

All three strands of narration kept me hooked, particularly the disturbing but quite imaginable future imagined in Tao’s storyline. This is a book that fans of Station 11, The Bees (well of course) and Never Let Me Go would find a lot to like – reader friendly speculative fiction, rooted in our own world, while the late 1800s timeline reminded me a lot of parts of The Essex Serpent. Of course, the storylines all tie in together at the end, which is immensely satisfying.

If like em you like complex family dramas and dystopian future storylines, you will be pleased to discover their combination here. The History of Bees is a fantastic, clever novel that touches upon our possible future of environmental collapse, seeking to warn us about possible ecological futures but also the dangers of parenting with an endgame in mind. I really do not think this should be missed.

The History of Bees is currently available in hardback, with the paperback publishing in April 2018. You can get it here.

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to Simon and Schuster for sending this copy over to me.