Diverse Love Story Books (Part Two)

I’ve said before that I’m done with reading the standard, overplayed love story, and that I’m also trying to only reading books this year that were written by either people of color, LGBTQ+ community members, and women. That being said, I do still have lots of love for the young adult fiction love stories, so here are 3 more that are worth reading:

1. Blackout by Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, Nicola Yoon, Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, and Nic Stone
So this was a really cool collaboration of six authors writing six stories with characters that overlap in a blackout in NYC. It almost read like a movie or a TV series, where you meet new characters who are the friends and siblings of the first characters you see, and everyone has their own stuff going on. I liked this most for the representation of different couples, as there was straight ex’s, gay friends with tension, straight besties that never considered each other in a romantic way, lesbians who meet for the first time, and more. Everyone, to my knowledge, is a person of color, as were all of the authors. This novel is intended for young adults, can be a little cheesy at times, but was super cute and absolutely worth reading.

2. The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus
I’m gonna be straight up – this book was allllllll over the place. I really wanted to love this one because my girlfriend picked it out for me from a local bookstore, but I only enjoyed about half the story. Half the plot line was super interesting and had a lot of potential – a girl from Trinidad was sent to live with her American father after her mother discovers that she is queer. The way she overcomes adjusting to the states and connecting with her father was actually super beautiful. There was also a lot of poetry and astrology integrated into the book that was fun, but then sorta out of nowhere the entire energy of the book changes when one of the girl’s American friends is diagnosed with a cancer-like terminal illness. While the Trinidad plot line was sad but real, as many queer people deal with being disowned from their families, the terminal illness plot line was a bit dramatic and soap opera-y. Sorry if this is a ton of spoilers, but at least I’m saving you from the most random part – the ending. I don’t know.. the book could have been really cool without all the added layers of random drama.

3. Never Kiss Your Roommate by Philline Harms
I enjoyed this book even more than I initially expected it to. It takes place in a British boarding school, and follows a few unique love journeys. I definitely go into most young adult fiction novels assuming there will be a certain level of predictability, but here I was pleasantly surprised. While it does give you the warm feels of a cheesy rom-com, the plot didn’t go in the direction you’d think – which I really appreciated. It was a cute story, a light and easy read, but joyously satisfying. This is one that I would absolutely recommend, especially since it’s wonderfully queer.

Thanks for reading!

The Love of Emily Dickinson

I read the complete collection of Emily Dickinson’s poems as well as her letters to her sister-in-law, Sue – all while re-watching the AppleTV show, “Dickinson”. I was able to finish in line with the end of the third and final season, meaning that it takes about 15 hours to read through all of Emily’s letters and poems. I absolutely loved the show, specifically its wittiness and the juxtaposition of modern music with the vintage visuals. Reading her work of course gave me new insight, which made the show even more enjoyable.

The poems were edited by Cristianne Miller to be as Emily preserved them, which included 40 bounded collections that were called fascicles, as well as hundreds of loose and unbound poems. Emily was often known for her odd use of punctuation, indentation, and capitalizations, as well as her vivid imagery and philosophical themes. Her poetry is of course beautiful, but you need to know more about Emily to really understand the meaning behind her words.  

Emily was a misunderstood lesbian, or more accurately was likely bisexual, and was in love with her best friend, Susan. Both Emily and her brother, Austin, were interested in Sue, and of course this was the 1870’s so Sue and Austin got married. Despite their marriage, Emily and Sue remained close and their relationship had a timeline completely separate from their relationships with men.

In addition to her preserved poetry, Emily’s letters written to Sue were also saved. Many of Sue’s responses were not kept, however, due to a tradition from that time period to burn or get rid of certain items upon one’s death. The letters saved were very intimate and loving and proved that the women were romantically involved all throughout their lives.

What’s unfortunate is that their relationship was not properly portrayed after Emily’s death due to several reasons. Austin went on to have a very public affair after Emily’s death with a women named Mabel Loomis Todd, which deeply upset Sue. Sue busied herself with editing Emily’s poems, but was taking a long time and Emily’s sister Lavinia asked for the collection back. Sue handed them over, and Lavinia turned the collection over to Mabel Loomis Todd to edit. Mabel erased much of the connection to Sue in Emily’s writing, including ripping off pieces of letters to Sue to have Emily’s words appear as standalone poems rather than love letters.

For this reason, I enjoyed reading the book Open Me Carefully, which is the intimate collection of letters that Emily sent Sue (edited by Ellen Louise Hart and Martha Nell Smith). This included information about which poems had signatures and pieces torn off as well as background information on their relationship during different periods of their lives.

Their relationship did have rocky points, but remained a prominent part of both of their lives until their deaths. The most distance between them came after Sue and Austin’s marriage, when Sue became quite the socialite. She was hosting lavish parties with famous and up and coming literary icons, which would be the equivalent of Sue throwing celebrity parties. Basically, Sue became an 1800’s social influencer. Emily did attend some parties, but their correspondence decreased in frequency during this time period.

They never stayed apart for long though and Susan was with Emily upon her death. Sue even dressed her for burial, made the funeral arrangements, and wrote her a loving obituary that was published in the Springfield Republican. The rest of Sue’s life was left keeping a memory of Emily, which is a painfully beautiful end to a tragically poetic love story.

So here is to the immense love of Emily Dickinson and Sue Huntington Gilbert Dickinson. ♥

Thanks for reading.

My Andy Warhol Diary

As a result of my obsession with Marilyn Monroe, I found my way into learning about Andy Warhol because of his iconic pop print. However, I also found myself drawn to him more and more because of his queerness. So to dig more into his brilliant mind, I read Warhol by Blake Gopnik while watching “The Andy Warhol Diaries” on Netflix.

The Warhol biography was interesting to read, but was insanely lengthy. While I appreciated learning about intimate details of his life and influences, I did find myself often skimming through some fluff for sure. I definitely have some critiques about the way the author wrote, specifically in the way he acted as if he was the sole holder of all the correct information. He often phased things like, ‘Andy was described as X, Y, and Z by his closest friends, but it was actually quite the opposite!’ – which was really annoying. Andy was a complex human who can exist in spaces of contradiction and hypocrisy, and I would be reluctant to make such solid statements about him, ever.

The book also projects Andy as more gay than Netflix series indicates, even though the diaries come directly from Andy’s words. Andy was thought to have left a lot of mystery surrounding his personal life, and was clearly in the gay scene but often identified as asexual. The author definitely pushes Andy’s sexuality to a more promiscuous side and invalidates his use of the term asexual to describe himself. I disagree with this, as sexuality is full of many spectrums that I do not believe the cis/straight author understood. Just because Andy had sexual experiences and even partners does not mean he was not on the spectrum of asexuality – especially considering the lack of knowledge at the time around demisexuality.

The approach to Andy’s sexuality was one reason that I now firmly believe that gay stories should be written by gay people, but the author confirmed this more with his incorrect use of terminology. While there may have been outdated terms that Andy used freely in the 60’s and 70’s, this book was published in 2020, and a queer person would have known that we don’t use certain terms to describe members of the trans community in this day and age.

*Trigger warning*: I’m also concerned with the author’s casual approach to subjects like rape and child pornography as potential subjects in the Warhol art world. Andy often dipped into the adult film industry with his movies, and the subject matter was often problematic. There were films made where sexual assaults were acted out, which was said to have made a political statement, but I don’t agree with this type of artistic expression. He also unfortunately featured teenagers in a few of his adult films, which the author not only did not deem clearly problematic but also cannot fully understand the reason behind these actors even being in Andy’s orbit.

Young kids often found their way to New York City after being kicked out of their homes by their own parents just for being gay or trans, and these kids could be as young as 12 or 13. They found each other in underground spaces, and in their teenage years, they end up with crowds that frequent places like Andy Warhol’s Factory or Studio 54. Because they’re now with the “in” crowd, they get into clubs despite how young they are, and age goes out the window. Mature individuals were often seen scanning through the younger selections of actors and models, who go with them in hopes of making it big. This situation is of course layered and complicated, because queer spaces are so important, and kids don’t need to be on the street. But this also led to predatory behavior as well as acceptance in areas that were not actually appropriate for people of this age – like adult videos.

My last critique is that the book hardly really mentions Andy’s iconic documentary “The Queen”, where he follows a drag queen pageant that ends in dramatics when a contestant is extremely unhappy with the results of the competition. Because of how much I loved this documentary, I was disappointed to not even have it mentioned in the book by name, but rather just referenced in one quick paragraph. As lengthy as the book was, maybe this film got bumped to the side because it was released the same year that he was shot by Valarie Solanas.

The Valarie Solanas story is so wild and random that it almost seems made up, and was even created as a plot point for “American Horror Story: Cult”. While Ryan Murphy depicted Valarie Solanas as a mentally disturbed feminist extremist, he may not have been that far off. She was an obvious eccentric, obsessed with her SCUM Manifesto (Society for Cutting Up Men), and determined to get famous. She figured the best way to do this would be to shoot Andy Warhol, though he didn’t really do anything to earn her violence in his direction. Valarie was a part of The Factory scene, Andy was relatively inclusive to women, and they could have been allies to each other as members of the queer community. Instead though, Valarie changed the course of Andy’s life, as many note that he was very different after his recovery from her bullet.

The thing that I admire most about Andy Warhol was his ability to adapt to whatever way the world is changing without fear of failure. He wasn’t afraid to change his tune or image, he was unapologetic, and he was always reinventing himself in a way that still stayed within his character. His work across a dynamic range of mediums lives on as legendary, and I celebrate the influence he has had on the world.

But again, my biggest conclusion is this: gay stories should be written by gay people.

Thanks for reading!

Poetry Books (Part Two)

More poetry books that I recently enjoyed!:

1. Hour Book by Stefania Heim
The poems in this collection were cleverly all related to time in some way or another. It may be a poem describing a time of day, thoughts at a particular time, periods of time, and so on. The formats of the book were varying, which kept things fresh with each page turn. It was a beautiful string of ideas related to the passing of our existence. A quick read, but I found this lyrically calming and pleasant.

2. The Black Unicorn by Audre Lorde
It didn’t take much for me to fall in love with Audre Lorde, and I absolutely cannot wait to read more. Maybe it’s because she’s a lesbian poet, or maybe it’s the power and emotion she evokes as a feminist. Either way, she’s rightfully known as one of the most influential and powerful contributors to black queer feminism. This collection of poems was brilliant beautiful and I’m excited for more of Audre Lorde.

3. Flawers by Billy Chapata
Being a big fan of Billy Chapata, this book did not disappoint. Written in prose, Chapata’s words make you think introspectively and validate individualism. This collection focuses on seeing flaws as flowers that can be nurtured and grown into something beautiful and unique. I appreciate his gentle and compassionate view of the world and promotion of self-love as a fundamental foundation. This is my fourth book by Billy Chapata, so soon I hope to read them all.

More to come!

Thanks for reading.

Raw by Pamela Anderson & Emma Dunlavey

I think we’ve all been captivated by the Hulu show, “Pam & Tommy” that aired this year – myself included. Having been a fan of Playboy as well as Pamela herself, I got sucked into the details of her story.

Something that bothers me is that a huge part of her story is the fact that her photos, her body, and essentially her privacy were declared public property by a judge. She did not have any control into extremely intimate aspects of her life, essentially because she had chosen to model naked at one point in time. They used her image of sexuality against her in an absolutely disgusting and unfair way. But what bothers me is – how is what Hulu did any different?

Pamela Anderson was not involved in the “Pam & Tommy” series, though she was asked to comment prior and during the filming – as was Tommy. While Tommy was ready to be involved and still continues to see any press as good press, sources close to Pamela said she would not be involved at all, and would not even be watching.

This might be because of how Hulu obtained the rights to produce this series. From my understanding, they bought the rights to a Rolling Stone article that detailed how the tape was stolen. By claiming the series was created based on this article, they could bypass Pamela completely. Sounds very similar to how Penthouse was able to publish her pictures without any consent from her whatsoever.

The saving grace, I’m hoping, is that Pam is currently rumored to be in production with Netflix on a documentary. Assuming this is true, this will hopefully provide the platform that Pamela needs to speak her story in her own words, on her own terms. Pamela is undoubtably fascinating and beautiful, which is why I ended up with a copy of Raw – created by Pamela herself along with friend and confidant Emma Dunlavey.

This coffee table book is a collection of unsaturated photographs of Pamela shown along side her thoughts and poetry. While a lot of the book shows some genuine and insightful sides of Pamela, I wouldn’t go as far as to say this is her completely “raw”. A lot of her words, I believe, are still tailored to the image in which she wants to portray – specifically around sexual roles and ideologies. While I do think Pamela is a very sexually free and liberated individual, I also think she knows her audience and is an intelligent businesswoman. I admire her, I respect her, and I appreciated this unique insight into her during this time of her life.

I look forward to more from Pamela Anderson, as she will never cease to captivate us.

Thanks for reading!

Celebrity Books To Read

Being very into pop culture, I enjoy reading memoirs written by celebs as a way to get to know them better. I’ve read both of Ross Mathews’ books, Lamar Odom’s memoir, all of the books written by the Fab 5 from Queer Eye, and many many more. Here’s a few that came out in the past year that I recently finished:

1. How Y’All Doing? by Leslie Jordan
Whether you are a fan from American Horror Story, The Help, or even just Instagram – Leslie Jordan does not disappoint. He is so charming and adorable, even through print, and his book was a really nice and refreshing read. You can definitely hear his tone through his writing and his life did not always take the obvious route. His stories and memories are adorably shared and I enjoyed getting to know him a little more – his life was not what I would have expected. I’d definitely recommend this if you’re looking for something light and happy.

2. Please Don’t Sit On My Bed In Your Outside Clothes by Phoebe Robinson
Don’t sleep on Phoebe Robinson! You might know her from her podcast turned HBO series, Two Dope Queens, for her other book, You Can’t Touch My Hair, or from touring with Michelle Obama on her Becoming book tour. Weirdly, I was introduced to her on Rupaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race. No matter where you find her, you’ll love her. She’s super fun, relatable, and charismatic. Her book has a lot of great content in it, but I will admit that some of it is a little lengthy. That being said, I still got a lot out of reading her thoughts. Her words are important, and I look forward to more of her in the future. This is a great read for anyone who doesn’t mind a casual book that’s a little on the long side.

3. My Name’s Yours, What’s Alaska? by Alaska Thunderfuck
I’m a big big fan of Alaska’s – obviously from RuPaul’s Drag Race and her recap podcast Race Chaser with Willam, but also just as a human. I feel like I could relate to her so much, as a Pennsylvania girl myself, and because she super-fans over things the way that I do. I loved getting to know her better, especially seeing more insight into her relationship with Sharon needles. The behind-the-scenes info on Drag Race and fame was also really interesting, and the pictures were definitely my favorite part. If you’re a fan of Alaska’s, don’t hesitate to grab her book.

As always, more reading to come.

Thanks for reading!