November 2019: How I Read Two New Favorite Books and They Were Both Memoirs About Identity

What I Read:

  • Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
  • Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera
  • The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band by Michelle Cruz Gonzales
  • The Body by Stephen King
  • Sorted: Growing Up, Coming Out, and Finding My Place by Jackson Bird

I did not keep track of the books I got this month, so I am forgoing the “What I Got” list this month.

I know my blog posts have been sporadic lately, but my mental health has not been the best, so I apologize for the lack of posting. My depression has made everything, including reading, difficult to get around to. Even though this was not a great month in terms of mental health and organization, I did read two of my new favorite books ever: The Spitboy Rule and Sorted. These are both nonfiction books, too. Who would’ve thunk? And even the other books I read were all enjoyable; nothing I had to trudge through while wishing I was reading something else.

Let’s start with the best ones. Screw “save the best for last.” I’m excited to talk about these books, so we are going to do it now.

The Spitboy Rule has become a favorite of mine not because of its wonderful prose or storytelling prowess, but because I now am a HUGE fan of Michelle Cruz Gonzales. This memoir tells the story of her years as the drummer and songwriter of the feminist hardcore band Spitboy in the ’90s. She was the only person of color in the band and often felt that her identity was erased because she could “pass” as white. Her discussions of identity and the white-washed feminism of the riot grrrl movement were nuance and wonderful. My favorite thing, though, is that her nickname was Todd. A Xicana punk drummer with the nickname Todd? Immediate icon. Gonzales is now an English professor at a community college (because, as she said in an interview, “community college is punk”) and still drums sometimes in the staff band. I did an entire project on Gonzales, which I will be presenting tomorrow, and I really enjoyed learning her story and seeing her succeed because of the strength she got from the women in her life.

My second favorite book of the month, which I have a feeling will be a book that I hold close to my heart for a long, long time, is trans activist Jackson Bird’s memoir. He writes about his journey discovering and coming to terms with his gender, while also discussing his own personal transition. He intersperses his story with trans terminology and etiquette. Even those these little asides were a bit “Trans 101,” I love that they were included. People who may randomly pick up this memoir will learn how to treat trans people, and people questioning their gender will find helpful resources. Even though Jackson Bird has had a different trans journey than mine, as a trans guy who also came out in his 20s, this story felt very important to me. He discusses thinking that, because he likes rom coms and other “feminine” hobbies, he felt he was not enough of a guy. I related to that so much. I am a guy, but I like to scrapbook and read and watch rom coms and paint my nails. That doesn’t make me less of a guy, and I already knew this, but Jackson’s admission that he felt the same way made me feel even more secure in my identity.

Not only did I love hearing about Jackson Bird’s transition and trans activism, but I also loved hearing about his time working for the Harry Potter Alliance and being a big nerd at events like LeakyCon. I’ve always wondered what it was like growing up in the first wave of Harry Potter mania, and I was able to get a glimpse into it through someone who was super involved in the Potter community at that time. I can’t wait to re-read this book when I am further along in my transition and comfortable with my purpose and path in life as a writer or editor or bookstore owner.

Now onto the other awesome but not best-of-all-time books. Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo was my and my sister’s sibling book club book for November. I was super pumped because, not only did I get to read a new Leigh Bardugo book, I also got to discuss the book in person with my sister over Thanksgiving break! At Starbucks, we discussed how we were super confused throughout most of the book. Being confused while reading is not a huge problem for me because I am often confused in real life, but it was a bigger problem for my sister. There were a few plot points that were “too easy,” but we both agreed that most of the characters were awesome and we still wanted to know what happened next. We both wished for more of the occult and secret societies at Yale. However, the murder mystery plot was interesting and the character named Dawes, who was a motherly, level-headed graduate student attempting to finish her dissertation, was the best character. (Pammie deserves the best!) Even with all of these issues, Leigh Bardugo’s writing style and ability to infuse magic into not only the setting but also the characters made the reading experience super enjoyable.

Juliet Takes a Breath was the queer lit book club book of the month. This was another book that we all loved but still had issues we discussed. This book follows a Puerto Rican lesbian from the Bronx who interns with a white feminist writer in Portland. One thing I loved about this book is that Juliet doesn’t know everything about the LGBT community. At first, she is defensive about not knowing because she encounters people who make her feel stupid for not knowing. But when she finds people who are willing to teach her, she is willing to learn. This story shows people that it’s okay not to know things and it’s okay to fuck up as long as you are willing to better yourself and learn more. Unfortunately, the white feminist writer Harlowe was super annoying and a horrible ally to LGBT people of color. There were also a few side characters that I wished had more time in the limelight. Like the motorcycle-riding, cookie-baking librarian with whom the main character Juliet has a fling with. Or Juliet’s family in the Bronx, especially her brother Lil Melvin. Overall, though, this book was a really fun read. I have been wanting to read this book for a long time, but it was out of print, and now that it has been re-published, I can honestly say it lived up to the years of hype. The only issue I had was that this new cover was highlighter yellow, and I liked the purple cover a lot better.

Lastly, let’s talk about The Body by Stephen King. I have to say that I was surprised I liked this book. The other two Stephen King books I’ve read were duds for me, but this novella about four pre-teen boys searching for a dead body was, dare I say it, enjoyable. I had watched the movie Stand By Me, which is based on this novella, earlier this year, which I think added to my enjoyment of the story. It was kind of refreshing to read a novel about twelve-year-old boys messing around and being politically incorrect and making mistakes. Kids should be allowed to make mistakes, and even though I don’t believe that people should be politically incorrect on purpose, it felt realistic for stupid twelve-year-old boys in the 1960s.

Overall, even though I didn’t read a lot, my mood was horrible, and I didn’t keep track of anything in my bullet journal or reading journal, I read a lot of good books in November. And now that I’m on a new medication for my depression, I am hoping it kicks in this month and I can be better at organizing my life and my reading.

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