Books We Shouldn’t Have Missed in 2008

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After Eden, Valerie Miner (The University of Oklahoma Press): Grief, environmentalism, immigration, homelessness and other significant issues are effortlessly woven in Valerie Miner’s latest book that deals with a lesbian community in California. Heavy and hopeful, it’s a must-read. [Ainsley Drew]

The Streets Of Babylon, Carina Burman translated from Swedish by Sarah Death (Marion Boyars): A novelist in the 1800s cross-dresses, charms, and cavorts with London detectives in order to find her kidnapped niece in Sarah Death’s latest crime caper. A riveting plot, gender-bending, and vibrant details make this historical mystery come to life. [Ainsley Drew]

Rubbing Mirrors, Brigitte Lewis (Detour Press): “She pushes another finger in me/and I realize/ I can’t/stay in control/anymore” is an example of just how hot this Australian tale of love and lust gets. With a unique blend of poetic form with a narrative arc, Lewis truly makes you want to go to the land down under. [Ainsley Drew]

Tinderbox Lawn, Carol Guess (Rose Metal Press): This small book of prose poems reads like a series of vignettes. The poems seem to tell a story or to expertly set a scene. The language is beautifully succinct and there is an accessibility to Guess’s writing that is often absent in the world of poetry. These poems are smart, sexy, and stirring. [Rachel Lastra]

Intersex (For Lack of a Better Word), Thea Hillman (Manic D Press): It’s utterly impossible to not be spellbound by Thea Hillman, a long time intersex activist and performance artist, whether it’s in person or in print. In Intersex, she documents her own search for self in a world obsessed with what is normal, and shows that queer culture’s obsession with same sex or opposite sex as categories are sometimes a bit meaningless. Brilliant, must read. (manicdpress.com) [Diane Anderson-Minshall]

Fixing Sex: Intersex, Medical Authority, and Lived Experience, Katrina A. Karkazis (Duke University Press): Sex designation: a multitude of genes, thoughts, anatomical shapes and personal interactions, all reduced to two boxes marked ‘M’ and ‘F’. In her book, Katrina A. Karkazakis explores the process the medical establishment uses to assign sex to infants whose anatomical representation deviates from medical norm and the consequences for those involved. Karkazis’ research with clinicians, parents and intersex individuals provides a chilling look an issue that deserves further critique. [Andrea Millar]

Band Fags, Frank Anthony Polito (Kensington Books): Brooklyn-based actor and playwright Frank Anthony Polito’s breezy first novel gives us the details of student and “band fag” Jack Paterno’s life from seventh grade to his freshman year of college. Watch as Jack’s relationship with best friend Brad Dayton blossoms and buckles under the stresses of being a questioning queer kid in the ‘80s: cheesy lyrics, band drama, soap opera debacles, and trying to convince seniors you know who the Violent Femmes are. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll cringe. [Andrea Millar]

Feminism and Pop Culture, Andi Zeisler (Seal Press): Bitch Magazine cofounder Andi Zeisler turns up trash and treasure in her examination of the interplay between pop culture and feminism. She reveals a complicated relationship that is often codependent, if not mutually beneficial. Zeisler notes that while pop culture often provides our first (or for many, only) access to images of unrestrained female empowerment, it also reinforces misogynistic power structures. Seeing her pick apart this contradiction makes for a satisfying read with some frustrating truths. [Andrea Millar]

Pioneering Feminist Anthropology in Egypt: Selected Writings From Cynthia Nelson, ed. Martina Rieker (The American University in Cairo Press): With commentary and criticism from fellow feminist thinkers, Martina Rieker’s compilation of Cynthia Nelson’s anthropological works in the Middle East is a reflection on contradiction and change. While documenting the life of the venerated and scorned Egyptian feminist, Doria Shafik, Nelson became submerged in the shifting lives of Middle Eastern women in society. Seeking in part to expose Western stereotypes, she frequently turns the lens inward on the legacy of anthropological inquiry in the Middle East and women in particular. This series of essays doesn’t make for light reading, but you don’t have to be an expert to take in the importance of what it represents. [Andrea Millar]

 The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, Edited By Incite! Women of Color Against Violence (South End Press): This collection of essays by radical feminist group Incite!, examines the uneasy relationship between nonprofits and the capitalist economy. The success of many nonprofits is currently driven by corporate donations and grants, often hobbling their ability to commit direct action. The essayists speak from the trenches of nonprofit funding, often pausing to describe new ways to decentralize power and reinstate genuine activism into the dried up 503 (c) model. [Andrea Millar]

Happy Family, Wendy Lee (Black Cat): In Wendy Lee’s first novel, Hua Wu is newly arrived in the US from China when she is hired by a white couple with a daughter adopted from China. What begins as a well-intended effort to reconnect 2-year-old Lily with the culture of her birthplace soon becomes a tangle of relation and estrangement, recognition and loss. Lee handles the complexities of international adoption adroitly, remaining empathetic without being saccharine. [Andrea Millar]

Love Does Not Make Me Gentle or Kind, Chavisa Woods (Fly By Night Press): Take one part buggy southern summer heat, one part brand-new-lesbian buzzcut, sprinkle in a few doses of religion, race and gender to get this collection of short stories from new author Chavisa Woods. Using language that ranges from raw to lyrical, she weaves the relationship of two women as they move from turbulent childhood to searching maturity in rural America. A short read that smolders. [Andrea Millar]

How the Religious Right Shaped Lesbian and Gay Activism, By Tina Fetner (University of Minnesota Press): In this insightful work, Fetner describes how the Religious Right’s vilification of homosexuality had the unintentional effect of increased visibility and agency in the gay community. Starting with the Religious Right’s use of television in the fifties, Fetner’s history diagrams the arms race of issues that ensued, ultimately defining gay politics. Could it be true that even when it’s spewing hate, any press is good press? [Andrea Millar]

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