Queer reading ideas for warm winter hibernation
February 7, 2024
Gay Writes gives us a glimpse into what's piling up on their bed and couch side tables
The long national nightmare that we call January has finally reached its end ! And while I spent an inordinate amount of the month alone indoors, that also meant that I had time to tackle the growingly precarious stack of books next to my bed.
Here are some of the best things I read...
First things first — Gay Writes has always been a project that aims to spotlight the voices of the marginalized, providing support and resources for queer communities. In the spirit of this mission, during the ongoing genocide in Gaza, last month the GW book club read You Exist Too Much, the debut novel from Palestinian–American writer, Zaina Arafat.
Jumping between past and present, the novel follows a queer Palestinian-American woman from adolescence to adulthood — beginning in Bethlehem as a 12-year-old girl, where she's shamed by a group of men for exposing her legs in a biblical city; through her move to America, where her childhood friends jokingly call her "the terrorist;" to her life in Brooklyn, where the collapse of her relationship leads her to a group therapy program in which she finally confronts her self-destructive quest for love. Arab, bisexual, migrant, anorexic — she's a nesting doll of otherness, a feeling exacerbated by a mother who reminds her that "you exist too much."
More than an exploration of intersecting lines and identities, the novel revels in their ambiguity. It's a multilayered character study about borders, about culture, about our search for love and a place to call home.
Queer as in Free Palestine.
For this month's book club, we’re reading the quietly stunning debut novel from Bryan Washington, Memorial.
It follows Benson (a Black daycare teacher) and Mike (a Japanese-American chef), two young gay men living together in Houston. They’re a few years into a fading relationship held together with makeup sex when Mike decides to fly to Japan to reconcile with his dying, estranged father, Eiju — just as his mother, Mitsuko, arrives in Texas to visit. Benson is left alone to juggle hosting a woman he’s never met — and who’s bitter that her son skipped town to see her ex-husband — with a spiralling, alcoholic father of his own; while in Osaka, Mike becomes Eiju’s caregiver, helping run his bar and attempting to form some connection in the time they have left. Through it all, Benson and Mike begin to realize what exactly they want from life, and whether or not they can achieve it together.
And I know that description screams melodrama, but I promise, Bryan is an absolute wizard at constraint, subtly drawing out the rich layers of joy and vulnerability that come from these dynamics. Memorial is an utter masterpiece that reflects on what we do (and don't) owe the people in our lives.
This March will mark the 22nd Canada Reads, CBC's battle of the books competition where celebrities champion the title they think every Canadian should be reading right now. This year, we're cheering on a Gay Writes fav, Jessica John's chilling debut novel, Bad Cree.
A year after her sister's death, Mackenzie increasingly relives ominous memories from their past in her dreams. And after waking with a severed crow's head in her hands, having fought a throng of birds only moments earlier, she knows that she can't fight the malice and guilt that threaten to spill into her waking world alone. But traveling home to her family in High Prairie, Alberta, only intensifies Mackenzie's living nightmares, and it'll take the combined strength of her sisters and aunties to survive the ancient evil inside.
Jessica has created a haunting journey of self-discovery that blends Indigenous folklore and magic with a legacy of violence, all the while underscoring the strength of kinship.
This is the book every Canadian should read.
Alright, now for a weird one — a high compliment, in the world of Gay Writes. I read Henry Hoke's Open Throat in a single sitting, and it's one of my new all-time favs.
The novel is narrated by a queer mountain lion who lives in the desert hills surrounding Los Angeles' Hollywood sign, their knowledge of the human world coming through snippets of conversations overheard from hikers nearby. The lion dreams of moving to New York for the abundance of therapists, hallucinates a trip to Disneyland, and contemplates the reckless beings who worship "green paper." But the lion is lonesome and increasingly hungry as they lose their natural habitat to commercial development, pushing them down into "ellay" proper, where there's nowhere to hide.
The lion makes for a master observer. Through fragmented prose — teeming with line breaks, sketchy punctuation, and animalistic misunderstandings — Henry removes the human perspective from the narration, exposing our ignorance for our own social and ecological breakdown. It's innocent and worldly; human and alien; queer, in all senses of the word.
Name a more iconic book. I'll wait.
You've probably seen plenty of shirtless twinks posing with this last one on Twitter (which is exactly why I avoided it for so long), but dare I say ... they were right. The Shards is the latest novel from Bret Easton Ellis (of American Psycho fame), and it's a 600 page doozy that consistently kept me up 'til 3am, blending autofiction with paranoid slasher.
The setup: Fall, 1981, where Bret and his A-list friends attend their final year at the prestigious Buckley School, their free time spent cruising across Mulholland Drive in a Mercedes convertible or having sex in the pool house, high on quaaludes — the golden age of vacant LA aesthetics. Enter Robert Mallory, a handsome new boy with a mysterious past that Bret can't help but lust after, just as a serial killer is commiting sadistic murders across the city. As the carnage inches closer to his circle, Bret begins to unravel, increasingly convinced that Robert isn't as innocent as his friends seem to think.
Is it self-indulging? Most definitely. BEE has always placed immense focus on mood, on numbness-as-aesthetics, and The Shards is no different. But its slow-motion coolness hides a haunting paranoia that builds until the entire thing is careening out of control, a car crash you can't look away from. How much of the story is real and how much is the product of Bret's imagination is up to the reader to decide — both in fiction and reality.
The ultimate twink death.