Summer Books Round-Up III

by Jim Piechota

Bay Area Reporter

Tuesday June 21, 2022

Summer Books Round-Up III

In our third and final installment of the Bay Area Reporter's Summer Books Series, we spotlight some amazing fiction, a new book about a trans youth's journey through grade school, and a sartorial exploration of the concept of the "Daddy," the "Lumbersexual," and the "Spornosexual." Have a safe and wonderful Pride and keep on reading!

Fiction

"Virgil Kills," by Ronaldo V. Wilson, $17.95 (Nightboat)

The "killing" that goes on within award-winning author, multimedia artist, and University of California, Santa Cruz literature professor Wilson's stories mostly happens to the literary forms he dissects. Wilson's inspiration manifests itself in a range of themes and treatments based on the travels and ruminations of Virgil, a queer, Black Filipino man who explores and reconnects with lovers on both east and west coasts, Germany, Western Massachusetts, Tennessee, and Guam. As the stories progress, readers get an intimate view of Virgil's life and his impressions of sexual and governmental politics, race, identity, and how reality is perceived through the lens of societal constructs and expectations. Virgil's episodic adventures flow with uninhibited prose and a keen sense of self.

"Chef's Kiss," by T.J. Alexander, $17 (Atria/Bestler)

This delightfully delectable romantic comedy from debut author Alexander makes a perfect breezy beach read. The lighthearted story follows bisexual twenty-something Simone Larkspur, a stiff, stuffy Cordon Bleu-educated chef with a prized job as a recipe developer at a West Village magazine that is, unfortunately, bleeding money. The firm hires "Ray," a spirited non-binary kitchen manager who catches Simone's eye and, as expected, the rainbow-hued sparks fly. Though issues of transphobia, misgendering, and discrimination do rear their ugly heads, love conquers all in this impeccably-written tale that will be a standout for queer romance readers.

"Other Terrors: An Inclusive Anthology; Edited by Vince Liaguno and Rena Mason, $16.99 (Morrow)

The word "inclusive" means everything in this unique collection of horror shorts featuring a color wheel of LGBTQ+ characters with varying genders, sexual orientations, and cultures. Sometimes the victim, other times the haunter, these characters are sliced and diced at random in horror tales that run the gamut from gory to psychologically terrorizing. Whether its teen lesbian lovers running from a serial killer, or a Muslim trans woman with a heart of gold and protected by local vampires, or a Black history professor with superpowers, there is something for every horror fan here — with a relevant eye focused on human diversity.

"Patricia Wants to Cuddle," by Samantha Allen, $27 (Zando)
After the success of author Allen's queer travelogue of America's red states, "Real Queer America" comes this debut novel chronicling the kooky exploits of four reality dating show contestants on "The Catch" who fight for a coveted spot in the show's big finale.

Hoping to catch the eye of the ultimate tech company founder, Jeremy Blackstone, they all meet up on sketchy, creepy Otters Island in the Pacific Northwest and include a Christian influencer, a model, a vlogger, and a Black bisexual woman who wonders why she even appeared on the show at all, other than to be the "token" minority. Keeping a hairy eyeball on all their antics is a monster hiding in the trees, just waiting for the perfect time to strike.

The balance between petty "Housewives"-based melodrama, gore, and identity struggles is wonderfully achieved despite the novel's brevity. Silly fun for the whole family as King Kong meets "The Bachelor in Paradise" and "Naked and Afraid."

"Didn't Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta," by James Hannaham, $28 (Little, Brown)
Black author and PEN/Faulkner award winner Hannaham's latest charts the release of trans woman Carlotta Mercedes from a prison sentence in a men's penitentiary for her involvement in a botched robbery. Having transitioned while incarcerated, and now out early on parole, she must now navigate life on the outside as a woman unfamiliar with the now-gentrified Brooklyn of her younger years.

Chronicled over a Fourth of July weekend, the fireworks begin once she attempts to reunite with her family, including her estranged son, who find her transition less than savory. Tiptoeing around any trouble that might violate her parole, Carlotta is a vision to behold as she attempts reentry into a now-unfamiliar world. In Hannaham's hands, this theme shimmers with humor, pathos, and that kind of queer energy that readers love.

Children's/YA Picture Book

"If You're a Kid Like Gavin: The True Story of a Young Trans Activist," by Gavin Grimm and Kyle Lukoff, $18.99 (HarperCollins/Tegen)
Prolific award-winning YA author Lukoff teams up with activist Grimm in this instantly affecting portrait of Grimm's childhood and the hard choices he had to make in order to feel (and have the right to feel) ultimately whole and complete as a transgender person. J. Yang's digital illustrations are deep and darkly colorful, while lending the story a magical, timely quality about an urgent issue that the authors express in warm and infinitely relatable ways.

As Grimm's childhood plays out, encompassing all the schoolyard struggles, bathroom conundrums, and private terror and embarrassment that a trans child could experience, there is also strength in Grimm's fight to belong and to have the right "to be honest about who you are". Creatively designed and immensely powerful, this is a must-read for any age group.

Graphic Novel

"Our Colors," by Gengoroh Tagame, trans. From the Japanese by Anne Ishii, $32.50 (Pantheon)
The award-winning author of the "My Brother's Husband" series about a young girl and her Japanese single father has produced an episodic coming-out story awash in color and self-acceptance. Suburban high school student Sora Itoda, 16, keeps his feelings for a male classmate locked away until he befriends an older local shop-owner who is openly gay and eager to share his experiences and to show Sora the wonders of identity and how coming out can be a transcendent experience. Trouble brews and roadblocks appear, but with the help of good friends new and old, Sora emerges whole and happy. Fine artwork and plenty of drama combine to make this an effective, engrossing, and entertaining story of love, pain, and the catharsis of self-love.

Non-fiction

"Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington," by James Kerchick, $29.99 (Henry Holt)
Kerchick offers up this comprehensive history of gay movements and key figures that have vanished into obscurity thanks for political leaders spearheading anti-LGBTQ agendas. Beginning with Franklin Roosevelt, he charts the presidential administrations throughout history that have been hobbled by sexual scandals or stretched thin by pandemics like AIDS or controversial policies like "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." History buffs will devour this American political excavation told through the leaders, organizers, detractors, and revolutionaries that countered and championed the queer civil rights movement.

"Fashionable Masculinities: Queers, Pimp Daddies, and Lumbersexuals," by Vicki Karaminas, $49.95 (Rutgers University Press)
New Zealand fashion historian and authority Karaminas presents this vivid exploration of the constructs of masculinity as expressed through a sartorial tour of manhood, identity, and sensational style. This pictorial commentary will delight queer fashionistas and anyone eager for an update on how appearance figures into the post-millennial views of gender, queer boundaries, and the destruction of normative codes of dress.

Included is an original essay on Harry Styles, producer and rapper Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs, and the concept of the "Daddy" in terms of race, age, and attitude. Scholarly and educative, this thought-provoking, intellectual, and provocative probing of concepts like the "lumbersexual" and the "spornosexual" (the combination of sports and pornography) will turn heads.

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