Posts Tagged ‘arsenal pulp press’
Written by Amber Dawn, a queer femme (among other signifiers—she says, “when I say “myself” I mean a queer, kinky, femme, survivor, Canadian small-town born, poor, sex-worker, feminist with a strong passion for experimental artwork and transgressive identity-based art making” in this interview with Shameless Magazine), Sub Rosa published by Arsenal Pulp Press in 2010 is a masterpiece I couldn’t put down.
It’s creepy and odd and confusing and strange, but touching and smart and beautifully crafted. Oh there were so many sentences that made me stop reading just to sigh at the beauty of their simple and elegant construction.
I read it in two days. It’s kind of hard to describe, since it has a bit of world-building and you just kinda have to dive into it in order to understand it. But that is the style of some of my very favorite books (The Sparrow, The Time Traveler’s Wife)—a book where the reality pretty much follows all the same rules as this one I live in, but there are a few key twists which make it able to better comment on the state of things. I love that.
Arsenal Pulp Press’s description is as follows:
Sub Rosa’s reluctant heroine is known as “Little,” a teenaged runaway unable to remember her real name; in her struggle to get by in the world, she stumbles upon an underground society of ghosts and magicians, missing girls and would-be johns: a place called Sub Rosa. Not long after she is initiated into this family of magical prostitutes, Little is called upon to lead Sub Rosa through a maze of feral darkness, both real and imagined―a calling burdened with grotesque enemies, strange allies, and memories from a foggy past.
So perhaps that will give you an idea. It’s creepy, don’t say I didn’t warn you, but it’s worth it. And Amber Dawn’s style is amazing, I will gladly pick up anything else she writes.
2010 was the first year I was pretty diligent about using GoodReads to record what I’ve been reading, and it tells me I read about 50 books in 2010—I think that’s not quite right, but I’m going to try to be even better about it this year. In fact, I’ve made it a “goal” on GoodReads to read 100 books—given that I’m reviewing lesbian erotica for Lambda Literary Foundation, editing two books, am a judge for a literary contest, and my monthly book group, and just that is more than 50 books, I think I can make it.
Looking over the books I have listed on GoodReads as read in 2010, these are the ones that stand out. Not all of these are queer explicitly, though queer novels remain my favorite thing to read. And not all of them were published in 2010.
All are linked to Amazon for research purposes, but please do order and buy them from your local independent bookstore—Support booksellers! Support local culture!
In alphabetical order, because it’s hard to compare:
Aud Torvingen trilogy: The Blue Place, Always, & Stay by Nicola Griffith. I remember when Stay came out while I was working at the bookstore in Seattle (where I worked for almost 5 years as a bookseller), many people recommended it to me, saying I would like it. I think they assumed I would like it because I’m queer and it has a queer protagonist, but whatever. I (mistakingly) thought it was science fiction, and wasn’t so inclined to pick it up, but I finally picked up The Blue Place a few years ago (GoodReads says I read it in June 2009) and I was impressed. Well, first I kind of hated Aud Torvingen, the know-it-all, independently wealthy, accomplished-at-everything ex-cop turned private investigator who was trying to get her life together. But the end of the first book is so heartbreaking and good, I couldn’t just leave the characters suffering, so I had to read the other two in the series. I got hooked. And they just kept getting better. Easy, deep reading that I got lost in. I would read all of these again from the beginning.
Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow by Elizabeth Lesser. I’ve been a little obsessed with books about healing and trauma the past few years, and I ran into this in a bookstore and picked it up from the library right after. Frequently my favorite books in about this kind of thing take a very Buddhist perspective (like When Things Fall Apart, Radical Acceptance, and When the Past Is Present), and while I love that, I also know that until I had a pretty strong base in Buddhist philosophy, I didn’t quite understand what they were talking about, and I found them difficult to read. Not this one, though. Broken Open talks about trauma, loss, grief, and healing from lots of different perspectives, weaving in stories and techniques from her workshops over the years. Very readable and very inspiring.
Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message that Feminism’s Work is Done by Susan J. Douglas. It’s not out in paperback yet, so I’ve still got the hardback copy from the library and have renewed it about 25 times now. I keep thinking I’ll get to a full review of it on Sugarbutch, and so I should go back and look through my notes and dog-ears to figure out exactly what I want to say. So here’s the paragraph version: I have thought about this book often since I read it. The descriptions of the 1990s especially made me realize I grew up in a unique time, full of the closest we’ve gotten to the manifestation of the feminist and gender equality movements, and the 2000s have brought plenty of backlash—but in a more subtle, twisted way than the backlash of the 1980s and early ’90s. Now, the backlash makes feminism look like it is outdated. Feminism? Pshaw, who needs that, women are equal now! But through various examinations of entertainment, celebrity, films, TV, and other pop cultural artifacts, Douglas argues that it’s far from over. It changed the way I am looking at feminism, and gave me some new ways to talk about what’s going on now. Now excuse me, I want to go re-read it.
Lynnee Breedlove’s One Freak Show by Lynn Breedlove (Manic D Press, 2009). Just, awesome. I’m a fan, but I had no idea Breedlove is so funny! And readable, and smart, and clever. I identified with many of the struggles within the queer communities about gender, and loved the bits about cocks and sexuality. It was more than I expected, and made me feel like Lynnee is my buddy. I was able to be there when Lynn won the Lammy for in the Transgender category last year, and it was a thrill to hear a few of the best lines in the book delivered in person. My full review is up on LambdaLiterary.org.
Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation edited by S. Bear Bergman & Kate Bornstein (Seal Press, 2010). Things have changed since Kate Bornstein’s book Gender Outlaw, and this is the updated proof of the celebration and liberation that’s happening within the trans landscape right now, and the proof of how much further we have to go, and what else we need to work on. I would put this on my “required reading” list, and I bet a lot of other people out there would too. It’s a beautiful anthology. I especially love Bear and Kate’s introduction, which is a conversation via internet chat. My review on Sugarbutch and my companion piece, Ten Ways I am a Gender Outlaw.
Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son by Michael Chabon. A personal account of gender and masculinity insights throughout life, with illustrations of various relationships—friendships, marriage, kids, parents. I really love his writing, he has such a beautiful way of constructing a sentence, and I was really moved by his descriptions of feminism. Though maybe I shouldn’t be, I was surprised to find a straight white cis man writing so eloquently about gender dynamics and providing insight into so many of the difficulties that are imposed upon us in gender roles, and I think his accessibility brought these concerns to a lot of people since this book was published. It’s a great starting place for examining masculinity in more depth (which is one of the things I hope to do this year, and I have about five books waiting for me).
Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence by Esther Perel. I didn’t expect to like this one as much as I did—I thought it would be pretty elementary, but it had some great insight into American culture and relationships. Perel is not American, and that outsider perspective was at times really interesting and useful. Of course, it is 99% heterosexual, and when she tries to include queer couples it doesn’t really account for any sort of difference in culture, but glosses over the difference and goes right to “all relationships have their difficulties, doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight,” which I get, but I think there’s a little more to it than that and it’s a little bit of a privileged position to be able to dismiss the queerness as just a personality trait akin to liking sports or being into cooking. Nevertheless, the tips and consciousness around building a long term relationship that remains sexual are important, and I’m glad I read it. My full review on Sugarbutch.
Missed Her by Ivan Coyote (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2010). It wasn’t until I was telling a friend about the book that I realized that “Missed Her” is often mistaken as “Mister” in speech. What can I say about Ivan? She’s a masterful storyteller. She and I grew up in a similar region, and her tales about her childhood and her extended family feel so familiar and nostalgic and articulate in such a beautiful way. I love the descriptions of her new relationship love. I will continue picking up every book she puts out, and I’ve never been disappointed.
Mr. Benson by John Preston (Cleis Press, 2004). How is it possible that I did not read this book until last year?? I can’t believe I missed it. And now that I’ve read it, any time I mention it to queer folks—especially ones older than me—they all know about it, and know it well. So: It is a gay men SM novel first published as a serial in 1979, and then in full in the early 1980s. It’s from a time before the AIDS crisis. More good stuff on John Preston over at GLBTQ encyclopedia, if you want to know more context. The book is dirty and full of power and strength and dominance. The actual storyline is a little boring (I just wasn’t as invested in the human trafficking/exploitation part as I was in the beautiful D/s scenes), but the book does need something to keep it going. Apparently the book was so popular that there were both “Looking for Mr. Benson” and “Looking for Mr. Benson?” tee shirts all over in the ’80s, though of course they are not around now, at least not that I could find. I handed the book to Kristen as soon as I was done and she zoomed through it, then had a “Looking for Mr. Benson?” tee shirt made for me for winter solstice. It prompted me to think a lot about how I play with dominance, especially in my domestic life with Kristen, and we have talked about it frequently while trying to iron out difficulties between us in that play. And who knew piss play could be so awesome?
Origami Striptease by Peggy Munson (Suspect Thoughts Press, 2006). I’ve had this one on my shelf for a few years, not sure where I picked it up but I didn’t know much about it. I started reading it and was hooked: It is so ethereal, so surreal, at times it reads like poetry. The intention and clarity behind the word choices are so specific. It reminds me of Rebecca Brown or Jeanette Winterson, two of my favorite authors. I love getting lost in words and images like I did while reading this. Looks like it’s a little bit out of print now, which is too bad. Maybe the publisher still has it directly.
The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue. Historical fiction that recounts a divorce trial in the 1860s. I’m not so in to historical fiction, though on occasion I find it fascinating—particularly when I find it relevant, which, for the most part, I don’t find the genre, but I have found some of the recent books, like Sarah Waters’s novels, with lesbian content. I read this one for my book group, and I was skeptical—it took a while to really get into it. The first half of the book is elaborate descriptions of the two women’s friendship, and the details that lead up to the divorce, then the divorce trial happens for another 1/3 of the book (which I found terribly dull, though my lawyer friend thought was fascinating)—but the very end made it worth it. Though I was a bit triggered by all the psychological manipulation one of the characters continues to exhibit, I have still been recommending this quite a bit. It’s pretty fascinating to hear about the politics of marriage, family, cheating, and legality from 150 years ago—really not that long ago, but it exposes some of the ways we have directly evolved from those cultural standards.
Sometimes She Lets Me: Best Butch Femme Erotica edited by Tristan Taormino (Cleis Press, 2010). Call me biased if you like, because I have a story in this book, but this is my favorite erotica collection to come out for a long time. Not only because it’s butch/femme, but also because the stories are just good. Editor Taormino had a decade worth of Best Lesbian Erotica collections to pull from, and she picked the best of the best of the best, in my opinion. Plus, there aren’t very many explicitly butch and femme erotica anthologies, so I’m glad we’ve got one more. This one is still on my nightstand. My review on Sugarbutch.
Toybag Guide to the Taboo by Mollena Williams (Greenery Press, 2010). I’m a fan of Mollena‘s work in general, and when I saw her at the Lesbian Sex Mafia for her workshop Taboo Play and Working Through Extremes in early 2010 I admired her even more. This book is kind of the written version of her workshop, with many of the same stories and philosophies about what it’s like to be exploring the “taboo” sides of sexuality, like incest play, bestiality, force, and race play, and it is thoroughly thoughtful. Obviously Mollena has been thinking about these things for a long time, and it shows with her respect, care, and detail.
Follow my author profile over at GoodReads if you’d like to see more of the books I’m reading.
So let’s hear it: What were YOUR favorite books of 2010? What are you reading right now? What else do you recommend that I read?
S. Bear Bergman has a new book out, The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You, which is a collection of personal essays, mostly on gender. And to celebrate, Sugarbutch is helping to kick off a virtual book tour! Thanks, Bear! Thanks, Arsenal Pulp Press!
Bear also wrote the book of gender essays Butch Is A Noun, which I’ve mentioned on this site more than a few times. It is one of the only books written about butch identity in the last ten years so it’s certainly influential to my work and philosophies on gender in general. There are some clips and excerpts from Butch Is A Noun available online and I highly recommend them. That first essay, “I Know What Butch Is,” I quote from often and go back to frequently, I just love Bear’s writing and style in that piece.
When I published Top Hot Butches in the Spring earlier this year, Bear was listed as #48 and was one of the factors of me including trans men in the list of butches in the first place. If I excluded trans men, I would have to exclude Bear, and Bear wrote pretty much the only book on butches in the last ten years – did that make sense? Not really. I thought it was extremely important to include Bear, specifically, which opened up the door to include other trans men as well. Of course, not all trans men identify as butch, but at the time I didn’t think I could include some trans men and not others … and the inclusion was problematic. I do not want to start hashing through that here, this is about Bear’s work, after all, but I really appreciated Bear’s supportive emails and contact around the list and that controversy.
Lots has happened for Bear since the publication of Butch Is A Noun. Ze addresses this right away, in the second essay: whereas during the first book, ze was for the most part perceived as a dyke, partnered with a woman, and lived in the suburbs, and now Bear is pretty much perceived as a fag, partnered with a guy, and living in a fairly big city. This transition from “suburban-dyke-me” to “city-fag-me” seems to have altered Bear’s relationship with masculinity a bit, and many of the essays in The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You address this unpacking of masculinity, tracing it back through history and family (I especially liked the discussions of masculinity through the lens of Judaism and his particular family experience of ‘being a man’), and discussing what it means in some new life contexts.
Arsenal Pulp Press provided this lovely little blurb:
Alternately unsettling and affirming, devastating and delicious, The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You, is a new collection of essays on gender and identity by S. Bear Bergman that is irrevocably honest and endlessly illuminating. With humour and grace, these essays deal with issues from women’s spaces to the old boys’ network, from gay male bathhouses to lesbian potlucks, from being a child to preparing to have one; throughout, S. Bear Bergman shows us there are things you learn when you’re visibly different from those around you―whether it’s being transgressively gendered or readably queer. As a transmasculine person, Bergman keeps readers breathless and rapt in the freakshow tent long after the midway has gone dark, when the good hooch gets passed around and the best stories get told. Ze offers unique perspectives on issues that challenge, complicate, and confound the “official stories” about how gender and sexuality work.
I’m still working my way through the book, I haven’t finished it yet, partly because I’m savoring it. I could zip through it a bit faster than I am, but I really appreciate Bear’s perspectives on all of this and I love having access to someone’s inner thoughts about gender, masculinity, queerness, transitioning, love, life … all of those little things, ya know. Sometimes it feels like my own mind eloquently written down, sometimes the concepts are a bit foreign and I have to stop and go over it again. I don’t agree with everything, and there’s some tension between butch and trans here that I am finding fascinating and particularly hard sometimes, but I am so grateful for Bear’s work.
Aside from the virtual book tour, Bear is on an actual book tour, too! Check out the schedule on sbearbergman.com for dates and appearances in Columbus, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver, & more.
Pick up The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You, Essays by S. Bear Bergman from Arsenal Pulp Press, or from your local independent (feminist, queer, radical) bookstore.
Ivan E. Coyote, Top Hot Butches Number Six and amazing storyteller, writer, and performer, has a new book out this year from Arsenal Pulp Press called The Slow Fix. I just picked it up when Kristen and I were in Philadelphia about a month ago at Giovanni’s Room, which, by the way, was one of the most amazing queer bookstores I’ve ever been in. Such a wonderful collection of books there, I could’ve bought twenty – I settled on three.
And, I just heard from Arsenal Pulp Press that they’ve got a promotion going on through September 30th – “FREE Ivan E. Coyote Book, Loose End, and with this download, you are also entitled to a SPECIAL 25% DISCOUNT off the purchase of any or all of Ivan’s books, SIGNED BY THE AUTHOR.”
I think I have all of them, but I might be missing one. I’ll have to double check. Hmm, maybe this is a good holiday gift – who’s on my list that would like Ivan’s books? I’m sure I can come up with a few.