Queer Season Reads

By Sarah Bricker Hunt and Chris Azzopardi

It’s always the perfect time to cozy up with a book, especially ones that celebrate queer stories, queer icons and queer authors. Those still pushing for bans on LGBTQ-inclusive books may say otherwise, so consider supporting a local bookstore or your local library this fall — they need your love and support more than ever.

Fiction

A Nearby Country Called Love

Salar Abdoh

Publishers Weekly describes Iranian author Salar Abdoh’s latest novel, a study of gender and sexuality in modern-day Iran, as “an artful rendering of hope amid despair.” In the book, we meet Issa, who witnesses a woman who has just lit herself on fire — a desperate act of defiance. Violence and protest ensues. Now, Issa must confront an uncomfortable family history that involves his late brother, Hashem, a prominent queer artist, who defied their father for his oppressive cultural views on traditional masculinity. This sets Issa on a journey, discovering more people like his brother who are living on the margins. Destruction abounds, but in these hope-filled pages, so do small but powerful acts of love and kindness. Out Nov. 7. Chris Azzopardi

Blackouts

Justin Torres

A book within a book, author Justin Torres’s follow-up to “We the Animals” — a beautiful story in its own right, with themes of Latino queerness, masculinity and self-discovery — explores the erasure of queer history. “Blackouts,” a fact-meets-fiction intergenerational epic, uses real text from the 1941 book “Sex Variants: A Study of Homosexual Patterns,” a doctor’s collection of the psychological, physiological and social aspects of sexuality, particularly homosexuality. Torres was drawn to the historical book for being “ahead of its time” when it came to how “frank and straightforward” it was in sex-related subject matter published during the 1940s,” he told The New York Times. The resulting novel, through its use of testimony, illustration and photographs, is ambitious in scope and riveting in content, asking an important question — are missing historical details about queer life lost forever? Already among this year’s finalists for the National Book Award, “Blackouts” was described to the Times by gay author Alexander Chee as “the literary equivalent of a PJ Harvey album.” Out now. – CA

Something About Her

Clementine Taylor

A rich, intimate queer coming-of-age story, “Something About Her” zeroes in on the transformative power of first love set in Ireland, Scotland and London. Taylor’s sensitive storytelling focuses on Aisling and Maya, who have an unexpected connection as university students. As the two fall in love and experience an undeniable sexual awakening at the impressionable, often challenging period of young adulthood, Taylor weaves in an emotionally intelligent storyline familiar to anyone who has experienced the often painful road toward self-discovery and young love. Out Nov. 7. – Sarah Bricker Hunt

Day

Michael Cunningham

Ohio native Michael Cunningham is best known for giving contemporary life to Virginia Woolf through “The Hours,” his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel-turned-film about three intergenerational women whose lives intersect on themes of love, hope and despair. Cunningham’s new book, “Day,” is his first in almost a decade. Written during the pandemic, the novel takes place as the threat of coronavirus upends life as we know it, but it is intimate, focusing on a New York family who was already facing challenges. The book is presented in three acts over several years, during the worst of the pandemic, with the familiar themes of abrupt change, grief and loss permeating its pages. “I do have to give credit to Virginia Woolf for helping me understand that a novel can have real scope without being physically large and without spanning a great deal of time,” Cunningham recently told The New York Times. “That there’s meaning at the cosmos, but there’s also meaning at the subatomic level.” Out Nov. 14. CA

We Belong

Edited by William O. Tyler and Viktor Kerney

“We Belong” is a crowdfunded anthology created to fill a significant gap in the sci-fi/fantasy genre: the Black queer perspective. Every story is written by a Black, queer author and features queer characters and plots. As co-editors Viktor Kerney and William O. Tyler write in press materials, the stories “showcase the fact that, despite what the landscape of popular fiction says, Black queer people have existed and do exist everywhere, in every time and space. Whether we’re fighting monsters or becoming superheroes, we belong. From intergalactic adventures to interdimensional exploration, we belong. As wizards, as mermaids, as witches, fully as ourselves, we belong.” Out soon. – SH

 

Gay Icons

Madonna: A Rebel Life

Mary Gabriel

When I first thumbed through what must be the most comprehensive book on Madonna — it is over 800 pages, about two-thirds the size of an average Bible — I couldn’t believe some of these chapter names: Chapter 1: Pontiac (1958-1963), Chapter 2: Pontiac (1964-1966), Chapter 3: Pontiac (1967-1969), and then three chapters on Rochester Hills and one on Ann Arbor. That’s just the first 51 pages of biographer and former Reuters journalist Mary Gabriel’s very heavy book on Madonna, who almost died recently but, like the seemingly indestructible pop warrior she is, recovered and slapped on some knee pads and wrist splints to finally kick off her Celebration Tour. Whether Madonna was bravely parlaying religion and sex into pop music when it was not popular to do so, defending the queer community when few other famous allies did or setting the pop-music stage for the Beyoncés and Taylors of the world, Gabriel’s book is a meticulous history of an extraordinary trailblazer, a reappraisal that reminds current and future generations who didn’t experience Madonna in real time why we should always celebrate her. In the book, her life and influential career is examined within the context of historical markers that shaped her own personal and professional narrative, from Stonewall to the pill, the Equal Rights Amendment, Roe vs. Wade and the AIDS crisis. “A Rebel Life” is Madonna’s history as much as it is our own. Out now. CA

The Woman In Me

Britney Spears

Britney Spears’ much-anticipated tell-all was even too revelation-heavy for the author herself, who couldn’t read the audio version and enlisted actress Michelle Williams to do so in her place. “It is finally time for me to raise my voice and speak out, and my fans deserve to hear it directly from me,” Spears told People magazine. “No more conspiracy, no more lies — just me owning my past, present and future.” The book traces Spears’s life from her childhood-star roots on “The Mickey Mouse Club” at age 11 through stardom-catapulting moments in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when she released her first two iconic records, “…Baby One More Time” and “Oops!…I Did It Again.” Of course, behind the scenes, her life was tumultuous and tightly governed — she was a constant paparazzi target, she was placed under psychiatric holds and, infamously, in a court-ordered conservatorship. Her father and a lawyer were, until 2021, granted complete control over her financial and personal affairs for 13 years. The put-upon pop icon gets real about all that, including how her family “robbed me of my freedom,” as Spears writes. Her story is finally hers to tell. Out Oct. 24. – CA

My Name Is Barbra

Barbra Streisand

If page count is any indication, few stones will go unturned in Barbra Streisand’s first memoir, which clocks in at a whopping 1,040 pages. At 81, Babs has done and seen more than most gay icons, with a spectacular six-decade career that spans film, music, TV and the stage. She even has her very own shopping mall right in her house, which, if you ask me, is an accomplishment right up there with her Kennedy Center Honors, EGOT status and 46 Grammy nominations. What I’m saying is, in addition to promising recounts of her early struggles to becoming an actress and her political advocacy, this book is big enough to give us at least a few chapters on what we also hope to find out: what she thought of Lea Michele in “Funny Girl,” being an LGBTQ+ ally mom to gay son Jason Gould and every last detail on eating “frozen yoghurt with Lady Gaga and Ryan Murphy after casually showing them her “Funny Girl” gowns at her in-home mall. Out Nov. 7.  CA

Memoir

The Old Gays Guide to the Good Life: Lessons Learned About Love and Death, Sex and Sin, and Saving the Best for Last
The Old Gays of TikTok

When you’ve lived long enough to be called “old,” surviving AIDS and the plight of queer people during the 1960s gay liberation rights movement, maybe it’s time to wear that “old” title just as proudly as the gay one. Enter Mick Peterson, Jessay Martin, Robert Reeves and Bill Lyons, who call themselves the “Old Gays,” and their book “The Old Gays Guide to the Good Life.” The foursome, who consider themselves the real-life Golden Girls of the social media era, or “grandfluencers,” did just that, amassing 11 million followers on TikTok (by comparison, Beyoncé has 5 million, while Taylor Swift has 21.9 million; the guys know how to work the short-form video format is all I’m saying). In the book’s good-humored preface, they draw on their long, enduring histories, “from Hula-Hoops to hot hookups, through protests and parties, witnessing the chaos of the ’60s to the current culture wars.” As current LGBTQ+ generations live through another wave of clamorous anti-queer hate, it’s never a bad idea to check in with the elders who know more than a thing or two about surviving and thriving during the worst of it. Out Nov. 28. CA

How to Live Free in a Dangerous World: A Decolonial Memoir

Shayla Lawson

Nonbinary author Shayla Lawson’s upcoming memoir, “How to Live Free in a Dangerous World,” is a lyrical voyage through a world of self-discovery, empowerment and unapologetic queerness that bestselling author Imani Perry called “phenomenal” and “luminously intimate.” The memoir embraces the significance of queer community and self-love, emphasizing that “free spirits are never binary.” Lawson reminds us that individuals are more than their gender, offering the mantra: “Trans people do not owe you their gender performance. Nonbinary people don’t owe you their androgyny.” A powerful revelation unfolds when Lawson is diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and shares a strikingly honest perspective on Black queer intimacy in disability. Out Feb. 6. – SH

TransElectric: My Life as a Cosmic Rock Star

Cidny Bullens

Two-time Grammy nominee Cidny Bullens has spent 45 years performing alongside the biggest names in the music industry, from Elton John and Bob Dylan to singing on the “Grease” soundtrack. Now, the singer is charting new ground as a trans man, releasing his first solo album (“Little Pieces”) this month and a candid memoir, “TransElectric: My Life as a Cosmic Rock Star” about his storied music career and his long road to feeling whole. The book features a foreword by his long-time friend, Elton, and has the support of musical giants like Lucinda Williams and Beth Nielson Chapman. Elton writes in the forward, “I would never have known that Cidny was so troubled with who he wanted to be, his identity. That night he told me that he wanted to transition to a man, I just cried and cried and cried. I finally kind of understood.” Out now. – SH

Breaking Free
Cory Allen

Cory Allen’s “Breaking Free” is a vulnerable and empowering memoir detailing an often-difficult childhood spent in Pennsylvania and rising through the ranks of a career in law enforcement as a gay man. Allen doesn’t hold back when it comes to detailing his sexual and romantic exploits, including a marriage that ended in divorce and a winding path toward true self-acceptance and the kind of love he’s deserved all along. Highlights include exclusive anecdotes about working as a secret service agent for the Obama family. Out now. – SH

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