Black History Month Recs and a Taste of Salt

Currently reading: Empire of Light, by Alex Harrow

Note: the links found on this page are affiliate links for Amazon.com, so if you use them to make purchases, you will be helping to support my work. If you are in Canada, please use this Amazon Canada Affiliate link, and then search for the book you’re seeking. You can also always leave a tip for me through ko-fi!

Black History Month Non-Binary Reads

Two of my overall favourite reads of 2018 happened to be by Black, non-binary authors, and I thought this would be the perfect time to give a shoutout to these books – although they hardly require it. The first is a middle grade debut novel called Hurricane Child, by Kheryn Callender, and the second is a fictionalized memoir called Freshwater, by Akwaeke Emezi.

Callender, the author of Hurricane Child, was born and raised in the St. Thomas of the US Virgin Islands, which also serves as the setting for this book. It is a poetic gem that features a black, queer MC, who is 12 years old, and was born during a hurricane. The character is navigating falling in love for what appears to be the first time, and trying to find her missing mother. It’s the best-written middle grade book I’ve ever read, while being age-appropriate, and it’s spooky. Callender’s second novel and first foray into young adult lit, This is Kind of an Epic Love Story, dropped in October. It is my hope to see works featuring enby characters from Callender, but I would recommend anything they write.

Freshwater, (CW: trauma and sexual assault) is nothing short of breathtaking. Emezi is an Igbo and Tamil author, and this magical realism memoir is also their debut. They have a YA novel, Pet, forthcoming in 2019, and a second adult novel, The Death of Vivek Oji, also forthcoming. Emezi is trans, non-binary, and ogbanje, a Nigerian identity that involves aspects of plurality and of being a trickster spirit.

Freshwater is visceral and unique and bizarre and authentic. It took me a minute to get into the writing style, and this book is unlike anything I’ve ever read. Once I was able to process it, I was completely unable to put it down. Despite being fully an outsider to this story, I share with Emezi that I am non-binary and have experiences of trauma, and in addition one of my partners is plural, so aspects of the tale were very relatable for me. For a taste of Emezi’s writing, they have also written several short stories, including Who Is Like God, and a Curaçao fairy tale.

Trans Lit News

Unfortunately, some negative news in the trans lit world this week. The woman author of the 2018 book Invisible Men: Inside India’s Transmasculine Networks, Nandini Krishnan, committed ethical transgressions against the trans people featured in her book. These included, but were not limited to, misgendering, dead naming, erasure of Indigenous histories, and violation of consent.

Invisible Men was published by Penguin India, and is Krishnan’s second book. Firstpost has reported in their deep dive article on the book that Penguin has not admitted fault or taken action based on Krishnan’s transgressions. The book was reviewed in the News Minute by Gee Imaan Semmalar, one of the people portrayed in the book, who recommends Revathi’s A Life in Trans Activism as an alternate title on this topic.

In addition, I want to put a plug in for author and fellow trans book blogger, Bogi Takács. Due to some unfortunate circumstances, Bogi was recently forced to leave their doctoral studies. This is a great time for other folks in this community to step up and support their work!

Slightly Salty

I feel like this has been the week of people using performative inclusivity for profit, while being exclusive and silencing marginalized voices in practice, and I am upset about it.

The first instance of this I want to address is the Kickstarter for 99% Chance of Magic, an anthology from Heartspark Press. The marketing copy for this book, which has raised thousands of dollars in donated funding, claims that this book is the world’s first chapter book for transgender kids. This is problematic for two reasons. First, this book is an anthology, not a chapter book, and there are some other great anthologies out there for trans youth (the first that comes to mind is transVersing, published in 2018, an #OwnVoices anthology by and for trans youth).

The second issue was clear to me after reading the marketing copy for this book, reading information about the contributors, researching (and Tweeting at) Heartspark Press, and reviewing the calls for contributors that the press made for this anthology. This project is not inclusive of a breadth of trans experiences. All contributors, and all people included in Heartspark in general, are (C)AMAB ((coercively) assigned male at birth). The calls for contributors were made specifically with the #girlslikeus hashtag. The Heartspark Press online mission page reads, “Join us in lifting the voices of (C)AMAB trans people everywhere.” However, it is not made clear in the branding of this anthology that transmasculine and (C)AFAB non-binary voices were excluded from this project.

This isn’t the only Heartspark project that is branded ambiguously. On the homepage of their website, The Resilience Anthology is described as “the largest literary collection of trans women and non-binary writers”, and The Sisters from the Stars is described as “a new children’s book for trans kids and weirdos like us”. I have spoken to several enbies who have supported this press under the assumption that they are inclusive of all members of the trans community, when that is not the case.

An #OwnVoices project for and by (C)AMAB folks is great! There is so much space for trans literature in the world. However, it should be clear to folks who donate that the anthology does not reflect experiences of many non-binary, transmasculine, or intersex people. This information is important to provide to folks who purchase the anthology for, or sell it to, trans or gender creative children or youth. If given this book without context, it could easily and unintentionally worsen feelings of isolation or dysphoria.

The LGBTQ+ lexicon is ever-evolving, and the mobilization of identities for profit can be tricky. It’s time for organizations like Heartspark Press to update their marketing practices. Enbies (myself included!) are tired of microaggressive gatekeeping, binarizing of the non-binary, and neglect of transmasculine people. Say “trans” if you mean to include everyone in the trans community. If what you mean is something different, please say that. (And thanks to Laura Bishop, who articulated this better than I could have!)

PS, if you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving me a tip! It only takes a minute, and it allows me to keep creating content just like this, buying food for my dogs, and pursuing completion of my education in social work.

2018 In Review

Currently reading: Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer

One of the things that I’m really lucky to have access to in my bookish life is Book Riot Insiders, a community which gives me access to some great resources. One of those is a channel of rad book bloggers, who have offered me some great support in getting started out. I am charmed to have been invited to host the year-end tag post for #BookishBloggersUnite, and the theme that was chosen was a 2018 wrap up! 

For the past several years, I have made it my goal to read 50 books. In 2017, I made it to 41. The last book that I read that year was for a queer book club that I was part of at the time, and it also wound up being the most read book in the Toronto Public Library system that year – a pretty impressive feat, given that TPL is the largest library system in all of North America. The book was Do Not Say We Have Nothing, by Margaret Thien. I closed out my reading year crying my eyes out over its final pages.

In 2018, I finally surpassed my goal of 50 books. I hope to review and write about many of them in the upcoming year. However, since this is a new project, I thought it might be interesting to offer some information about what I read. For me, 2018 is particularly poignant, because I took a lot of time off of school this year for personal reasons, and had more downtime to play with. I feel like the books I chose this year were really my choices, and say a lot about me as a reader, and probably as a bookseller, as well.

PS, if you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving me a tip! It only takes a minute, and it allows me to keep creating content just like this, buying food for my dogs, and pursuing completion of my education in social work.

Introduction

Currently reading: Jonny Appleseed, by Joshua Whitehead.

basementAS.png

Hello, world! It’s me, emmy. I’m a trans enby PhD student and indie bookseller in Toronto, Ontario. I read a tonne, and I’m beginning the arduous process of chipping away at writing a PhD dissertation, so I decided to start this blog to get back into the practice of writing, and keep up my reading pace. I’ve read a lot this past year, and I can’t wait to share some reviews and recommendations with you. I plan to post about twice a month, depending on my schedule. I love giving custom reading recommendations, so if that’s something you’re interested in, visit my contact page.

Although I won’t usually write about me, inspired by the bookish bloggers from Book Riot Insiders, I decided to begin with an introductory post that answers a few of their prompts.

Who/What got you into reading?

I have been an avid reader for as long as I can remember, and I think that I can credit my grandmother. I was an only child raised by three generations of women all in the same house: my mom, my grandmother, and my great grandmother. We lived in an isolated place, and I can hardly remember a day that my grandmother didn’t have her nose buried in a book. By the time I was four, I was reading on my own, and I just… never stopped. It’s always been a comfort and an escape for me, and I’m not sure who I would be without books.

What are your favourite genres?

I read fiction written for any age group, and adult non-fiction. I’ve read an inordinate amount of non-fiction about animals, because of my academic interests. I don’t read a lot of books written by cis men, and I tend to gravitate heavily toward writing by trans, non-binary, and queer authors. As a white settler living on colonized land, I intentionally focus on books written by Indigenous authors. I love anything spooky.

What are your least favourite genres?

I don’t tend to enjoy comedy, romance, or history books. I don’t read a lot of mystery, popular fiction, or bestseller titles. I prefer long form to short stories or anthologies, and I have to be in the right head space to dig into poetry. The thing I struggle with the most as a bookseller is recommending books that people typically think of as light and fun, “beach read” kind of books.

If you had to choose between bringing a mediocre book series or one great standalone book to a deserted island, which would you pick?

While I don’t typically reread a lot of books, I am a wildly anxious person, and suspense is not my favourite! I enjoy books that are resolved within one volume more than stories that span many books, and I am absolutely adverse to picking up a series that hasn’t been concluded yet. I’d have to say one great standalone book.

How do you organize your bookshelves? Do you even have any organizational system?

Right now, I split my time between two places. One is a 450 square foot apartment in Toronto, which I share with one of my partners and four pets. We are squeezed for space, and this is where the majority of my books live! I keep them in small stacks of picture books, TBR, and a small selection of favourite books that are my permanent collection. I keep it small, though, because I move a lot! My TBR is divided into four sections right now. These are books that I intentionally sought out, ARCs and damaged books that I got from work, spooky books, and academic books. I usually read at least 2-4 books at a time, so depending on my mood and deadlines, I’ll go to a different stack to choose what I’ll pick up next.

Have you ever gone to any book signings? Which was your favorite?

The shop where I work has a very busy event calendar. In 2018, my favourite book event was the launch of Sarah Henstra’s novel, The Red Word, published by ECW Press. I was assigned to sell books at this event, and everything about it was unknown to me. Not only did the book go on to win the Governor General’s Award for English-language fiction this year, but the event was an absolute delight. It was held at the Toronto Arts and Letters Club, which is the most elegant building I’ve encountered in Toronto, despite its unassuming facade. The author herself was charming, friendly, and stunning, and she was an engaging speaker and reader. Her signing was unique, as she’d had stamps made to use on each book to give them a personal touch. The excerpt she chose to read from the book intrigued me and made me laugh, and as icing on the cake, there were two enchanting folk musicians who played, and delicious snacks. It was an unexpectedly magical night.

Hardcovers or Paperbacks or eBooks or Audiobooks?

I read mostly physical books, with a preference for paperbacks for comfort reasons. However, I also make the 22 hour drive between Toronto and Denver on a regular basis, so since I began doing that, I’ve started using Libby to listen to audiobooks, and it has been a game changer for those long trips.

What makes you DNF a book?

A habit I developed during my high school IB program English class is this: if I read 100 pages of a book, and I am not enjoying it, it’s over. I rarely ever give a book more of a chance than that, and I’m fairly unapologetic about that. I am a firm believer that there are always more books in the world than one person will ever be able to read, and not every book is the right book for every reader.

Do you have a bookish pet?

I. Have. So. Many.

D and Boom are my retired racing greyhounds. They’re 10 years old, and I’ve had D since 2011, and Boom since 2013. I also have two formerly feral kittens, littermates, who are a year and a half old, named Whisper and Willow. In Denver, my partner has cats: Bailey, Odin, and Yuki; and an Australian shepherd mix named Kiba.

Do you enjoy readathons? If so, which ones can people find you participating in?

I have actually never done a readathon! Because so much of my reading life has been dominated by academic reading over the past 10 years or so, I’ve never taken on a readathon or a reading challenge. I do tend to make bookish new year’s resolutions… so maybe one day!

What is one part of bookish life you enjoy that isn’t reading?

One part of my job that I have an uncanny enjoyment for is sales pitch meetings from our publishers. I love getting a sneak peek at upcoming books, getting my hands on the ARCs they bring along, and getting excited about what’s to come for the book shop and for my own reading in the upcoming book season!