June 2019: How This Month of Reading and Connecting Reinvigorated My Mind

What I Read:

  • Dreadnought by April Daniels
  • The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag
  • Real Queer America by Samantha Allen
  • We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia
  • The Love Songs of Sappho translated by Paul Roche
  • Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann
  • Naturally Tan by Tan France
  • The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
  • The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
  • The Wide Window (re-read) by Lemony Snicket

What I Got:

  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  • Let’s Talk About Love
  • The Song of Achilles
  • Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram
  • A Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson
  • The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
  • Money in the Bank by P.G. Wodehouse

Sadly, it is the end of Pride Month, but June was a much needed month of hustle and bustle for me. I started out the month severely depressed and ended it being grateful for life and the experiences I have ahead of me.

This month was all about reading queer literature, mostly #ownvoices, but not all. I had planned to take part in the Queer Lit Readathon from June 2-8, but I’m not that fast of a reader, so I extended the readathon to the entire month so I could check off all of the challenges over a longer period of time. Dreadnought, The Witch Boy, Real Queer America, We Set the Dark on Fire, The Love Songs of Sappho, Let’s Talk About Love, The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (which I actually read in May), and Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro were my original list for the readathon. The only two I didn’t read during June were The Prince and the Dressmaker (because I just couldn’t wait to read it) and Anger Is a Gift (because it is now the July book for my queer lit club). I think I did pretty well for my first readathon.

I also started a bookstagram account and have actually had so much fun keeping up with it and interacting with other people in the community. So many nice people were waiting with open arms to welcome me to bookstagram, and I can’t wait to see where it will take me in the coming months.

Okay, now onto the books!

IMG_9848.HEICDreadnought by April Daniels is an ownvoices superhero story about Danny, a trans girl, who witnesses the death of famous superhero Dreadnought and gets his powers passed onto her. This gives her the body she’s always wanted but outs her to her transphobic parents. This book dealt with a lot of deep themes all while being a very fun superhero origin story. Because I am a transmasculine person, I do not know much about the transfeminine experience, so this was definitely educational, but not in a boring way. It kind of reminded me of a very queer version of Sky High (the best superhero movie ever… That’s right, Marvel. Come at me!).

The Witch Boy had a similar tone to The Prince and the Dressmaker, so of course, I loved it. I think middle grade graphic novels are a new favorite genre for me and I can’t wait to read more! Molly Ostertag has such a colorful and whimsical art style that really adds depth to Aster’s journey as a boy who wants to be a witch, even though witchcraft is a “girl thing.” This book challenges stereotypes and is amazingly diverse and heartwarming.IMG_9873.HEIC

Going from this heartwarming, middle grade graphic novel to a book like Real Queer America was a bit of a kick in the pants. Samantha Allen is a trans woman from Utah, and this book details a road trip across the red states of America during which Samantha and a friend find the tight-knit LGBT+ communities that form in more conservative areas. I read this book at just the right time in my life. I am graduating in a semester and trying to figure out where I want to end up living. I love the Midwest, and have always loved the Midwest, but I never saw a place for me here as a nonbinary, asexual person. The labels I identify with are not widely accepted, and I thought my time here in the Midwest was coming to an end. Maybe it still is, but this book made me see that there is a place for people like me even IMG_9904in the most red states in the U.S.

The phrase I kept coming back to when trying to describe this book was “realistically hopeful.” Allen doesn’t sugarcoat anything, but she finds the pockets of acceptance and love that we all look for as queer people. It was inclusive and queer and heartwarming without losing any of the realism of being queer in the U.S. in our current political climate. I would recommend this book to anybody, but especially queer people like me who aren’t into the big city life, but thought that was the only option for safety and acceptance. I can be queer and love the Midwest; they don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

The other nonfiction book I read this month, Naturally Tan by Tan France of Queer Eye, had a completely different tone but dealt with a lot of things I was unaware of, such as the hatred toward Pakistani people that France experienced while growing up. I have aIMG_9988 lot of respect for Tan France after learning about all of the businesses he has started and the depression he went through because of overworking himself. He’s a cool guy, and to top it off, he lives in Utah with his husband. These two nonfiction books, though different in tone and topic, both have common themes that meshed well together.

The most surprising read of this month was We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia. I went into this book without knowing much about it except that it was queer in some way and had Latine roots. But I ended up loving this book. Even though it was a little predictable, I was completely lost in the story by about halfway through. The premise of the story is that, in this society, rich men get two wives that have different roles. Dani Vargas becomes the Primera, or the levelheaded housekeeper, for an important politico’s son—who is also a complete garbage human being. The Segunda of the household is one of her rivals from school. The best part about this book is not the spy aspect or the rebellion or the discussion of serious political issues, but the fact that IMG_9917.HEICDani and her Segunda fall in love instead of loving their husband. Their love blossoms slowly and unexpectedly in the face of this oppressive, sexist society. These women are brave in many different ways, and I can’t wait to see what happens in the sequel. The end left me hanging, and I want more!

The Love Songs of Sappho were actually quite fun and easy to read (in their translated versions, of course). If I learned anything, it’s that Sappho really loves nightingales, sex, women, and her daughter. Her words are beautiful and profound, even in snippets, and I thought Pride Month was the perfect time to delve into her poetry for the first time.

I moved on to Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann in order to boost my mood. Like I mentioned above, my depression was really daunting during the first half of this month. I needed something more lighthearted, and that’s definitely what I got. In this novel, asexual and biromantic Alice falls in love with her library coworker Takumi, even afterIMG_9970 swearing off relationships when her girlfriend dumped her for being ace. This book doesn’t shy away from the racial differences between the two, Alice being black and Takumi being Asian. Though this is a light, rom-com-esque novel, Kann does not ignore the difficulties of coming out as ace, especially when starting a new relationship. Nonetheless, it gave me all the fuzzy feelings I needed to get on with my month. Cute, adorable, dorky, and queer—this was the combination I desperately needed to get me out of my funk.

The high that came from Let’s Talk About Love and Naturally Tan came abruptly to an end when I started Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller for queer lit book club. This book IMG_0122is SAD. I read the first little chunk of it while at Denver Pride with my aunt, but it took me what felt like forever to read. I wasn’t the biggest fan of this book even though I’ve heard it praised a lot. It is a retelling of The Iliad, so, of course, there was a lot of death and kings and politics and war. There was also a lot of sex and a problematic, codependent relationship. This book is told through the perspective of Patroclus, Achilles’s lover/companion/friend, and though their love seems very deep and real, Achilles is kind of a conceited asshole. There were parts I liked and parts I really didn’t like, but the ending was super amazing. I won’t spoil anything (though, it’s The Iliad, so…), but the ending is what really tugged on my heartstrings and made me care. The entire length of the book before it did not make me care for these characters as much as the heart-wrenching end did.

Though I didn’t read much of this book during my trip to Colorado, I did take a trip to The Tattered Cover bookstore. It was a half-mile out of our way, but so worth it. This is where I purchased Darius the Great is Not Okay and The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, because I wanted to buy queer books while I was in Denver for Pride. This place is one of my favorite bookstores ever because it just feels homey to me. I feel like I could spend hours there just browsing and lounging and reading.

Unfortunately, The Gentleman’s Guide was another book that just left me with a “meh” feeling. It’s a funny, quirky, and slightly anachronistic novel about Monty and Percy’s “tour” of Europe, with Monty’s sister Felicity in tow. There wasn’t anything very new inIMG_0146 this book. Monty has an abusive father and deals with the trauma by drinking, having lots of sex, and cracking jokes. Even though Monty was the main character, Percy and Felicity were the ones I was most interested in. Percy has the biggest heart and deals with his epilepsy alone for a long time just to make other people’s lives easier. He puts up with Monty’s bullshit and is still able to find a big place in his heart for Monty. Felicity is a badass, learned woman who is teaching herself about the medical field all on her own. You can see why I would love these two. This is actually why I will probably read the sequel, because it focuses on Felicity. There were a lot of good aspects to this book—alchemy, European politics, Venice, a sinking island, reasonable pirates/privateers, redemption arcs, discussions of race, and dark humor—but they didn’t mix into an amazing book. I had fun reading it, for sure, but it was a too cliché and I disliked Monty a bit too much for me to call this an amazing book.

The last book I finished this month was the next book in A Series of Unfortunate Events, which I’m trying to get all the way through by the end of this year. It was fun and quirky. IMG_0200I don’t have too much to discuss here except that I love the way Lemony Snicket inserts big words into the novel and explains what they mean without being condescending. This must be why I like using big words… damn you, Lemony! You made my vocabulary expand! Now people make fun of me for using the word dowager!

Now, I did start reading a sci-fi book while visiting my sister in Indianapolis this past weekend, and I’m really enjoying getting back into a genre that I used to read a lot, but what I want to discuss from my visit to my sister is our trip to yet another bookstore and why this past weekend has been so, so good for me.

If you know me well, you know I don’t like to cry in public. But I definitely cried on the plane home from visiting my sister. Part of it was the book I was reading being super cute and heartwarming, but most of it was the fact that I hadn’t realized how much I missed my sister. Our music and book tastes are generally different, but they overlap in small ways. We both love Walk the Moon and Twenty One Pilots. We both love John Green novels and local stores and coffee shops and dogs.

One local store we patronized was a bookstore. Indy Reads Books donates all of theirIMG_0231 proceeds to a literacy charity, which is so awesome! Drinking bubble tea and browsing a bookstore with my sister was one of the best parts of my weekend. There were books signed by John Green and a whole display of Kurt Vonnegut books—Indy really loves to lean into the fact that these two are from here. But I think the best part of this bookstore, besides the fact that they support literacy, is that I didn’t feel pressured to buy anything. I bought something (a random P.G. Wodehouse book) because I genuinely wanted to support the store and their cause.

Spending time with my sister browsing local stores, watching movies (any Howl’s Moving Castle fans out there?), and going to a Twenty One Pilots concert was a much-needed mood booster. I am happy to be alive and I am happy to have a sister as wonderful as Alisha. She is both my biological and chosen family, and IMG_0241she will always be my favorite person in the world. She and Twenty One Pilots reminded me why it is important to keep on fighting—fighting my mental illnesses, fighting my loneliness, fighting my fear, fighting my negative thoughts. Life is worth living, even if only for the good books I have yet to read and future visits with my favorite person.

I’ve read a lot of good, queer books this month. I celebrated Pride with my aunt. I got a job at a bookstore café. But, most importantly, I reconnected with my sister and my drive to enjoy life. I can’t wait to have more moments like this, both while reading and while taking the time to participate fully in my life.

VTSG

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