02.04.16 I've set aside other books this month, in favor of Maria Balinska's The Bagel; The Surprising History of a Modest Bread, which is kinda mindblowing in its detail, research and storytelling.
Published by San Francisco’s iconic City Lights and winner of a Lambda Award for Transgender Non-Fiction in 2014, The End of San Francisco is first-rate Resistance Literature.
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore refuses to separate the personal and political, capturing the creation (and in some cases disintegration) of radical communities in a way that will be familiar to those who were there and enlightening to those who weren’t.
At breakneck speed, the stream-of-consciousness narrative tears through a decade of personal discovery and anti-assimilation activism. It examines the intersection between pain and activism, the broken child and fearless agitator, while struggling as we all do with the desire for trust and intimacy in the communities we’ve built outside the prevailing culture.
Mattilda's critique of the mainstream LGBT movement cannot be ignored and this unmistakable, unrepentantly unique voice is one that should be amplified.
[For more trans voices, check out The Reading List]
A battered borrowed copy of Lawerence Chua's Gold by the Inch resides on my shelves, a perch from where it has glared at me for nearly a decade. Every couple of years, I'd tackle it again, hoping to peel back the layers enough to finally understand the subtext's subtext. I even read a scholarly article on it, finding points of agreement but dismissing the thesis in the end. The article did focus other elements for me, on themes of exclusion and identity within a commerce-driven global marketplace.
Yes, Chua’s novel is a critique of colonial consumerism in Southeast Asia, but it is also a rich tapestry strewn with lush imagery and an inescapable sense of loss. Moving about in time, perspective and tense, it is best described as the travel tale of a young, queer Asian-American of Thai descent. Excluded at home and abroad, his search for an authentic Thai/Malaysian identity is met with distrust and amusement, hampered by his own Western privilege.
Arriving in Thailand after the death of his estranged father, the narrator drifts from his brother’s high-rise apartment in Bangkok to the hospitality of relatives and strangers in outlying villages, eventually reaching his grandmother’s grave in Penang Malaysia. Trailed by the ghosts of estrangement and remnants of pre-colonial life, Chua evokes the homeless felt by those in diaspora.
Despite his craving for a native identity, Chua’s nameless protagonist tears through the bars and brothels of Bangkok with Western appetites. Reeling from an affair in which his own body was commodified for its otherness, he engages the affections of a prostitute, imagining them as equals in the exchange.
In the end, the dense, often opaque prose of Gold by the Inch is the oddest mix of explicit hedonism, global commentary and passionate sorrow. It is a book that stays with you, even when you've barely scratched its surface.
I still have the dog-eared copy of “Marvin K Redpost; is He a Girl?” that Ashlie stole from the Westlake school library while she was masquerading as a 10-year-old boy. I wouldn’t understand its significance until she revealed herself, but the story of a boy accidentally kissing his elbow and turning into a girl was the closest connection Ash found in her grade school library.
You see, GEORGE is the book that Ashlie needed.
And rather than the Freaky-Friday farce of Marvin Redpost, it is the book she deserved.
“When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.
George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part . . . because she’s a boy.
With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.”
Published by Scholastic Press, with smashing reviews (including The School Library Journal), Gino’s GEORGE brings trans voices and characters into the school library mainstream. Age appropriate for 8-12 year olds and engaging enough for a quick adult read, I’d like to shove GEORGE in every pre-teen reader’s backpack and slip it onto grade school shelves everywhere.
Books like GEORGE will pave the way for a new generation of transgender allies and ensure that the questioning kid thumbing through the school library can finding their own experiences reflected there.
(cross-posted at The Daily Kos)
Within a week, I read two narrative non-fiction books that were deeply connected in theme and evoked a powerful emotional response. Both Man Alive and The Other Wes Moore examine the journey to manhood; what it means and how it is achieved.
For the two Wes Moores, whose stories are traced in The Other Wes Moore, this passage was fraught with peril, poverty and the absence of fathers. Growing up in West Baltimore and The Bronx, the boys had similar struggles and yet their lives diverged greatly, one going on to become a Rhodes scholar, Army officer and accomplished writer/speaker, while the other is serving a life sentence for a heist in which an off-duty police officer was killed.
Do you think that we’re products of our environments? I think so, or maybe products of our expectations. Others’ expectations of us or our expectations … I realize how difficult it is to separate the two. The expectations that others place on us help us form our expectations of ourselves.
A series of letters and visits between the two are the basis of Moore’s analysis as he examines what manhood meant to each of the boys and how they faced the approaching need for responsibility – caring for family, trying to better themselves and their lives, sometimes achieving, sometimes failing.
Thomas Page McBee’s path to manhood, chronicled in Man Alive is likewise fraught with obstacles. As a female-bodied man bearing the scars of family trauma and reeling in the fresh vulnerability of surviving a mugging, McBee’s experience is unique and his insight, broadly relevant.
It seemed possible to me, in the dry heat of that courtroom, that heaven was a metaphor for the grace of perspective you get when you die.
Through intertwined narratives of past and present, McBee explores both the perception of and his internalized messages about what it means to be a man. In a story that could be full of heroes and villains, we find instead nuance and complexity. McBee comes to terms with the humanity of his abusive father and mugger, freeing him to embrace manhood on his own terms.