Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Judy's Guide for New Lesbians: The Book List, Part II

A new year means a new list of books for new lesbians!

Those of you who did not read this earlier post may need some context...the idea is simply that a good lesbian book can be hard to find. Many books with lesbian themes have no mention of it on the book jacket, and many others with overt lesbian plotlines often end in one of the lesbians dying or ending up with a man etc. If you're just coming out, having books that affirm your identity and/or complicate the mainstream image of queer women can be deeply satisfying. So here are some books I've read in the last year that I recommend to new lesbians, veteran lesbians and any-oriented lovers of a good read:
    The cover is a self-timer photo of the
    two from the early 40s, with Felice
    (Jaguar) on her tip-toes to kiss 

    her Lilly (Aimee).

  • Aimée & Jaguar: A Love Story, Berlin 1943 by Erica Fischer. This book is incredible for so many reasons, starting with the fact that it is entirely true. A Nazi soldier's wife begins her first lesbian relationship with a woman she does not at first know is a Jew; Felice (or Jaguar--her lover's pet name for her) is one of the few Jews left in Berlin in the early 40s, and the two begin living together as Felice lives a double life to avoid capture. The book is a combination of interviews with Lilly Wust (pet name Aimée), Felice's Jewish friends, excerpts from letters between Aimée and Jaguar, and history context sprinkled in. A feat of a book in pulling together all the bits of the story. 
  • Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg. I finally got around to reading this classic, and now understand exactly why it's a classic. The book is an intense semi-autobiographical account of a butch lesbian's struggle to survive physically, economically and romantically in blue collar towns in the 50s through 70s. Revealing but sometimes so depressing you want to stop reading--just push through, its rawness is its gift to the reader.
  • Nina Here Nor There by Nick Krieger. I gave this autobiography its own post when it came out last year because it provides such a fresh perspective on queerness and gender identity. Nick unabashedly shares his story of transitioning from a lesbian woman to a trans guy, and his accounts of his romantic and sexual relationships are particularly compelling. He very generously lets you in to his life and thoughts.
  • Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel. Yes...again. If you haven't read any Bechdel, get on it right now. Whether you want to go with collections of her legendary comic strip "Dykes to Watch Out" (probably need to head to the library or online booksellers for the older ones published in the late 80s and early 90s) or one of her two exquisite graphic novels ("Fun Home" takes the cake), you will not regret it. 
  • Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. I didn't love Waters' "Tipping the Velvet," so I came to "Fingersmith" with low expectations, and then was delighted to have those expectations upended. Waters loves herself some sensual storytelling, and throws in a great twist here. She's no Sappho but hey, you gotta love a good bodice-ripping period novel every now and then.
  • The Ladies by Doris Grumbach. Happened to find this 1984 book in Vassar's LGBTQ Center library--it's a fictionalized account of the true story of two Irish women in late 1700s who fell in love, eloped, and lived together openly for the rest of their lives. Given women's lack of economic independence at that time, it was possible only through their family's wealth and their willingness to buck convention (folks were particularly shocked that they cut their hair short and wore riding clothes all the time for freeness of gait). Grumbach's writing can be a little stiff, but the life she breathes into these two courageous women is much more interesting than drier, purely historical accounts.
  • Outlaw Marriages: The Hidden Histories of Fifteen Extraordinary Same-Sex Couples by Rodger Streitmatter. This short book consists of vignettes of 15 couples, at least one of whom was famous, telling of how they met and various details of their relationship. The saddest is that for most, their long-term partner is not mentioned in their obituary--their relationship erased as soon as one member of the couple dies. Particularly interesting to me were the accounts of Greta Garbo and Mercedes de Acosta's relationship; that of Jane Addams and Mary Rozet Smith; and that of Audre Lorde and Frances Clayton.
Happy reading, and be sure to alert me to other queer lady books you've enjoyed. Particularly those that feature queer women of color...very few in this here list.

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