march wrap-up

This month I participated in Reading Ireland Month 2019 and read an eclectic bunch of LGBT novels, contemporary and classic.


I really enjoyed following everyone’s Irish lit-related updates, and I came across several authors whose work I’ll definitely be checking out in the future; participating also motivated me to return to blogging, which was a great incidental benefit.

On this blog I reviewed The Heart’s Invisible Furies, The Love Object, and Conversations with Friends. I also read Elizabeth Bowen’s The Death of the Heart and Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, but I sadly couldn’t find the time to fully review either, as the middle of the month was a messy time for me.

Thanks so much to Cathy and Niall for having hosted such a productive reading challenge! With over a hundred contributions, the month was incredibly successful and informative.

Audio highlights from this month included Freshwater, Oranges are Not the Only FruitGo Tell It on the Mountain, and If Beale Street Could TalkThe first three were incisive coming-of-age narratives, the last a bleak prison drama that served as the inspiration for Barry Jenkin’s popular film. I’d highly recommend all of the titles, hope to fully review each in the upcoming month, and would love to discuss any in the comments.

I also read a series of transgressive novels that’d been recommended to me in college: John Rechy’s The Sexual Outlaw, Kathy Acker’s Blood and Guts in High School and The Empire of the Senseless (DNF),  and Sapphire’s Push and Americans Dreams.

Rechy’s book was brilliant, feeling years ahead of its time in its intersectional critique of oppressive power systems. Acker’s work was dull and dated; however shocking the novels might have once been, they come across as meandering and reactionary today. Push bordered on poverty porn, though I found American Dreams moving at times.

For the month of April, I plan to selectively read more of the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist and continue reading LGBT fiction, with more of a focus on contemporary work.

16 thoughts on “march wrap-up

  1. Just finished Freshwater and found it totally compelling, other worldly, plausible and just lived how the author created real characters out of spirit entities and wove her characters cultural belief system so easily into the narrative. I wanted to read it as soon as I heard of its premise and I was more than impressed by how immersive it was. And on top of it all to be a semi-autobiographical novel – just WOW.

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    1. The novel was really something, wasn’t it? Each of the entities had such a distinctive voice, and there were so many powerful scenes. The author also seems to be incredibly prolific, with two upcoming novels already planned and set to be released fairly soon.

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      1. Yes, it seems Emezi had been working on other novels, but decided this would be the one to launch with. It’s clear we have a talent here that is well practiced and capable of piercing the reader’s imagination and cracking open minds. It felt to me like there could have been a whole other story around the Saint Vincent manifestation, one that would also be interesting to read about from the inside. Clearly that transition is something the author is or has experienced which would be interesting to explore through the freedom of fiction to explore, especially with a talent like this.

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      2. I can see why they would have wanted to launch their career with this, insofar as it’s a semi-autobiographical tale that establishes what their major themes as a novelist will be and why. I agree that there could’ve been another novel about the St Vincent manifestation – the storyline seems drawn from experiences that are still ongoing and raw for the author, so I can see why it came across as a bit brief.

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  2. I read John Rechy’s The Sexual Outlaw at 13 or 14 years old, buying it from a .25¢ rack at a used bookstore. The guy who sold it to me made a joke that went totally over my head, but I laughed anyway. This book opened up a whole new world to me. It was not the gay world I knew from TV or movies. This was the hardcore homosexual underground that I knew nothing about. It was a real eye opener. I read many passages twice, filled with both questions and desire. It was world I wanted to enter, and, when I was older, I did. And when I left it, I was happy to be out of it. To be honest, I don’t know if in this world of grindr and scruff if Rechy’s world even exists anymore. The Sexual Outlaw was a crash course for me, and allowed me to look behind the veil. I will never forget or regret reading this book.

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    1. Yes, I’d agree that the book describes a subculture that no longer exists, and the situation today’s almost the inverse of the world depicted in the book. Being fundamentally anti-social, the apps maintain boundaries and bias, in spite of their seedy interfaces. At the same time, from the novel’s critique of S&M and homonormativity to its nuanced portrayal of male sex work, it still feels timely and worth reading.


  3. I’m about halfway through Freshwater at the moment and really impressed. In comparison to, say, Ben Okri’s The Famished Road, it feels as though Emezi has nailed a non-obnoxious, anti-mystical way of talking about West African spiritual reality. I wondered for a while if that (the anti-mysticism) was partly because much of the book is set in America, but that’s the atmosphere right from the beginning, even during the chapters that take place in Nigeria.

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    1. Definitely agree! Part of what made the novel so enjoyable was the author’s refusal to mystify their culture or simplify it for a Western audience. I’ll be interested in reading your thoughts on the novel – the second half takes many jarring turns, but the storytelling’s still engaging.

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  4. I’ll be reading Go Tell it on the Mountain this month, and I’ve read If Beale Street Could Talk. While I enjoyed the Jenkins film, I felt the book had more heart. Push is on my list to read some day, but I saw the movie and DO wonder if it is a giant ball of manipulative pathos. However, I saw interviews with all the people who funded the movie, Precious. They said they did so because the script was so unbelievably familiar to them.

    I’m glad that you blog; I enjoy reading your reviews and talking with you.

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    1. That’s interesting that Push hit close to home for many of the people who funded the movie (I haven’t seen it — is it any good?). I’m ambivalent about the novel. There are some well drawn characters and the ending isn’t entirely bleak, but the novel moves at a rapid pace, glossing over a string of traumatic experiences, and the mom seemed stereotyped.

      Thanks for the encouragement! I enjoy following your reviews and weekly updates and am glad our paths crossed on here.


      1. I thought the movie was well done, but every aspect of it was SO BLEAK. The mom does seem like a stereotype, but there are definitely parts of her that I recognize in people from my old neighborhood….

        The actress who plays Precious is great, and it’s her first time. I think overall there are about zero feel-good moments. It relentlessly makes you feel bad….though maybe that reflects how some people (like those who financially backed the project) felt growing up. I think it was Tyler Perry who said the mother was SO much like his own father.

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  5. I see what you mean about the way that books can be received in the past versus how they play in the present. When I first read Sapphire’s novel, I was amazed that her story had been published (I felt the same way about Dorothy Allison at the time too, so Sapphire wasn’t completely alone, but her story was different from Allison’s). But I was leafing through a copy the other day in the library, I wondered at my earlier reading-self, whether she was just too easily satisfied, or maybe just starved for that kind of tale. What a great March you’ve had: here’s to a great April!

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    1. I think you’re exactly right. It seems like it would have been easy to overlook the fact that the novel isn’t especially well written, or that it relies on cliches, during a time when tales of this kind just weren’t published. It’s a thorny issue, with few clear-cut answers, and it continues today. Last year I remember a fight erupting on a Goodreads friend’s review of There There about the book’s quality and how/if non-Indigenous people should discuss any criticisms they might have.

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      1. That’s it: I was just relieved and reassured to be able to read about her struggles, to see them on a printed page, to know that voices from the margins could find an audience. So I’m sure that I wasn’t thinking about crafting or literary qualifiers. And you’re right: it’s ongoing. And there is one facet of There, There which I would have handled differently from a crafting perspective, but so many people have read that book and loved it and learned a lot about an indigenous experience, readers who weren’t reading indigenous authors before, that I choose to comment on its strengths in public conversations instead. (I didn’t know about that conflict, but I’m content to have missed it!)

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      2. Ah, I would be interested to hear the one facet that bothered you about There, There in private (we’d likely agree on it?), but I’d agree with you that that’s the best way to approach the situation: focus on what the book does well, while not being so enthusiastic that you mislead readers about your true feelings.

        I’ve also found that changing your attitude can go a long way in how you think of a book – it’s easy to dismiss something as a failure of craft, but thinking through what the author was trying to accomplish can lead to deeper insights and make you more sympathetic. I’ve never much liked “harsh” reviewers just because it feels lazy to be unkind and tear something apart.

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      3. That’s the whole challenge in the proverbial nutshell for me, because determining (or deciphering, if there’s no author’s note) the author’s intent is what allows me to consider the work’s success beyond my own preferences. And sometimes it’s hard to sort out where that splits. (And, yes, that would be interesting: I’ll send you my thoughts on that and we’ll compare notes in more detail!)


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