Welcome back to the bookish version of Six Degrees of Separation. I’m a little late to the party this month, but late is better than never! Here’s how it works: Start with the book suggested by Kate over at booksaremyfavouriteandbest, and see where you end up by linking it to six other titles. It’s easy and it’s fun, and no two chains are the same!
This month’s starting point is to start with a book I’ve ended a previous chain with and to continue from there! I am choosing to start with How We Fight For Our Lives by Saaed Jones. It’s a powerful memoir told in essays that examine what it means to be a young gay Black man living in the South. Not only does he delve into current events, but Jones also dissects his relationships with his mother and grandmother. It’s intense and raw and emotional and one of the best memoirs I’ve read in a long time!
The first book that comes to mind when I think of Jones’ incredible memoir is How To Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee. His rawness, vulnerability, and honesty in this collection of essays captured my heart. He writes so powerfully that, in one moment, I was laughing out loud, and then the next, I was silently wiping the tears from my eyes. This book is the perfect example of why memoir is one of my favorite genres to read!
Another memoir that completely blew me away was In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado. I.could.not.put.this.book.down. So brilliant. So good. So heartbreaking. As a child that grew up in a very abusive home, Machado does an amazing job of capturing what it’s like to live within the four walls of a “home” terrorized by one person. I think this is an incredible addition to the abuse conversation, and I encourage everyone to read it – even if just to gain some understanding of how traumatizing and lasting domestic abuse can be.
The next book is Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden. From the first page, T Kira Madden writes with an integrity that forces her readers to become emotionally involved very quickly. As a young bi-racial child that is also struggling with her sexual identity, Madden talks about being raised by her single (Chinese-Hawaiian) mother (her father (white) was actually married to another woman and had two sons). Eventually, he moves in with Madden and her mother and a complicated relationship follows. While her parents struggle with drug and alcohol addiction, Madden is often left very much alone. One of the most powerful chapters in the book is also a previously published essay, “The Feels of Love”. In it, Madden talks about being sexually assaulted by a few upperclassmen from school. I feel like her vulnerability – as well as bravery for speaking out on such a personal topic – is to be commended because I believe it helps foster a place for other victims to feel safe to speak out against their abusers. As you’re reading, you’re watching Madden’s struggle to find her way through the things that have happened to her. She comes out on the other side stronger for the things she’s dealt with and it made me realize that all lessons in life – the good ones and the bad ones – are necessary. They shape us and form us. They mold us and put us on the path we’re meant to be on…and sometimes we can only realize that in hindsight.
Shifting to fictional books that depict queer relationships, the first book I think of is Cantoras by Carolina de Robertis. This is one of my all-time favorite books; the characters are rich and deep and they truly carry the story. Cantoras is about five queer Latina women who are oppressed under the rule of an unforgiving regime where homosexuality is punishable. Somehow they find one another and then, amazingly, they discover a shack which they purchase and turn into their own private getaway. Told over forty years, the friendships that started from this beach shack grow, and in turn, it becomes the home they’ve each been searching for their whole lives – a place free from judgment and restrictions, where they can give and receive unconditional love. They created a bond with each other that went much further than friendship – it was their “chosen family”.
Another book that gave me an intensely emtional reaction was Real Life by Brandon Taylor. Admittedly, I wasn’t sure I liked the book when I first finished, but it’s one of those books you can’t get out of your head and I find myself thinking about it all.the.time! I immediately loved Taylor’s writing style and was sucked right into the book. Wallace, the main character, was complicated. He was profoundly sad, frustratingly helpless, and tired from carrying the heaviness that the world hands Black gay men. Many characters in this story highlight the nuance of racism and how society treats men of color and Taylor does a good job of telling that part of the story without interfering.
The last fictional book in this series is The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi. Vivek Oji gave me a new lens to view the world from. People have different sides to them and they chose to show those sides to certain people. Vivek taught me the significance of finding people who celebrate who you are, who give you unconditional love and acceptance without being asked to, and who protect you at all costs. I hope to be that person for the people in my life, and Vivek’s story gives me a renewed commitment to that effort. I will never stop thinking of Vivek Oji and the importance of the story they told.
Next month (December 5, 2020), we’ll begin with a book that is celebrating its 50th birthday this year – Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume.