Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I’d Love to Read with my Bookclub

Top Ten TuesdayAfter all the fun of reading everyone’s free choice Top Ten lists last week, it’s back to an assigned topic: Top Ten Books I’d Love to Read with my Bookclub.*
(*if I had a bookclub)

Last year, there was some talk of a Stonewall Japan book club. I created a group on Goodreads, but then nothing ever came of it, but here (the first half of the list) are some books I would like to read if I can ever get that going.

As usual, these are in no particular order.

  1. TakarazukaTakarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan, Jennifer Ellen Robertson We’re in Japan, so we should read about Japan, right? The Takarazuka Revue is a wonderful thing that must be seen to be believed. It’s a homosocial world of all women actresses with adoring female, usually married, fans. There’s a lot to chew on here, and maybe we could go to a show after?
  2. The History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault I admit, I have mostly selfish reasons for wanting to read this one with a book club. First, I know some people in Stonewall Japan are totally smart enough to understand it. Second, I’m not that smart. I would love to sit at Chu’s over ginger ale and talk with some other expat queers about this book.
  3. Wandering SonHōrō Musuko (Wandering Son), Takako Shimura This manga is a story about two friends, a trans girl and a trans boy, as they’re growing up. It was adapted into a twelve episode anime in 2011, too, so we could do one of those “read it and then watch the movie” things.
  4. Boys Love Manga and Beyond: History, Culture, and Community in Japan, Mark McLelland I know that at least one Stonewall Japan member is researching BL manga for a doctorate thesis, so I would love to read this and then pick her brain about it. BL was the first queer content I could access as a rural queer teenager and, really, how weird is that? a white American teenage lesbian reading about gay Japanese boys in comics written largely by and for straight Japanese women. This would be a great discussion book.
  5. Shiroi Heya no Futari (Our White Room), Ryoko Yamagishi I admit, I had never heard of this one before I started looking for books to add to my list, but Our White Room is the trope codifier for a certain subgenre of girls love manga, originally published in 1971.
  6. KitchenBad Girls of Japan, Laura Miller This one isn’t strictly a “queer” book, but it could be some interesting discussion fodder for Dyke Weekend. So much of a nation’s fears and hopes are projected onto the bodies of young women, and how young women act to acquiesce, subvert, or challenge patriarchal societies is always interesting.
  7. Revolutionary Girl Utena, Chiho Saito Utena is a classic girls’ manga. I think everyone’s heard of it, at least; I know I’ve never had a chance to read it, but a book club would be the perfect chance and I know from overheard discussions that there is a lot in this to talk about.
  8. Kitchen, Banana Yoshimoto This is a famous contemporary work of Japanese literature (which I have never read) and one of the major characters is a trans woman.
  9. Our White RoomQueer Voices from Japan: First Person Narratives from Japan’s Sexual Minorities, Mark McLelland There’s been plenty written about Japan by 外人 (gaijin, foreigners) in English, but what I think makes this book a good one for discussion is that it’s translated essays from queer Japanese people, dating back to the 1940s and 1950s.
  10. What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Fumi Yoshinaga This is a sweet manga about the blossoming romance between two middle aged men in Tokyo, a salaryman and a hairdresser. The salaryman loves to cook, and their romance is told through their meals together and it’s really sweet.

There are so many good books about sexuality in Japan, but I didn’t want to just list them all here. I know a lot of these are dense academic texts, but this is the kind of conversation that I know I enjoy, and judging by the Facebook group comments, I’m not the only academic queer expat who enjoys this kind of conversation.

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Top Ten Tuesday: FREEBIE: Top Ten Favorite Books to Reread

Top Ten TuesdayThis week’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) is a freebie and it’s too much responsibility!

I decided to write about my “Top Ten Favorite Books to Reread.” Some books stand up well to rereading and revisiting at every stage of life, but others fall flat when you’re older and wiser.

… and, since I’m still pretty new to this book blogging game, I thought it would be a good “getting to know you” list.

  • More More MoreMore, More, More! Said the Baby, Vera B. Williams I haven’t read this book in years – maybe literally even a decade, at least – but it was my absolute favorite book when I was just a baby and toddler. I asked my mom to read it to me so many times that she eventually got sick of it and hid it on top of the fridge, forgotten until I grew tall enough to reach up there for the chips I wanted for an after school snack.
    I always loved books, no doubt thanks to my mother’s patience in reading this book to me over and over and over again, until I can still – twenty years later – recite some of it from memory. (I probably would have hidden it from me, too.) Maybe I didn’t just learn to love reading from my parents, but to love rereading, too.
  • The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry My fourth grade teacher read this one out loud to us, and I remember the dreamy feeling of knowing I had just experienced something important but not quite knowing what. I knew that I didn’t understand it, not really, and I understood that understanding would come in time and there was no need to rush it. I was basically Hermione when I was in school – know-it-all, frizzy hair and everything (see below, about Harry Potter) – so it really was incredible, knowing that I didn’t know and that knowing would come in time. Now it’s my honor to read this aloud to my fourth and fifth grade students and hope it touches one of them the way it touched me.
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneThe Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien I finished reading Fellowship of the Ring in the theater, frantically turning the last few pages as the lights went down on the Saturday matinee. (Spoiler: Boromir dies at the beginning of The Two Towers. Imagine my surprise.) My dad took me to see it. I was so excited. It was hard – I fought harder to read The Lord of the Rings than I have ever struggled to read a book in my life – but it was so worth it. I return to this one periodically when I need a reminder of my dad, or of who I am – as a person, as a reader. Every time I reread it, I feel like I understand it differently; I used to identify most with Merry and Pippin, or Éowyn, but last time I read it, Boromir really… I finally got Boromir.
  • Harry Potter (series), J.K. Rowling I loved books before I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (USian), but I haven’t loved something so completely before or since. I doubt I ever will. Growing up with Harry was a thing, and nothing quite like it will ever happen again, I think. I dressed up for the book release parties of Book 4, Book 5 and Book 6. (I was in China when Book 7 was released.) Whenever I feel sad, or nostalgic, or homesick – or, let’s be honest, just whenever – I like to pick this up and reread it, revisit Hogwarts. Every time I read it, I identify more or less with other characters. I’ve always been very much like Hermione – she’s probably what made me adore the series so much – and as I’ve grown up, I’ve understood or identified with Tonks, and McGonagall and Remus.
    I read Sorcerer’s Stone thirty two times before I stopped counting (and I stopped counting in seventh grade/2002).
  • The Golden CompassHis Dark Materials (series), Philip Pullman The only books that mean more to me than Harry Potter are His Dark Materials. While Harry Potter was a lot more fun, His Dark Materials moved me, when I was a tween, in a way I didn’t really understand. I only knew for certain that I had experienced something monumental, something huge and life-changing, and I didn’t know why. I couldn’t even say what had happened; I still remember sitting in the library parking lot trying to explain to my dad. Every time I reread this, I understand it a little bit better, and I feel like Lyra (re)learning how to read her alethiometer.
    I never really identified with Lyra – never in my life have I been half as wild or wily as her – but I admired her, and I still do. I wanted her as my friend, even as I was a little frightened of her; now I want to protect her, and I want Mary Malone as my friend.
  • TSUBASA: RESERVoiR CHRoNiCLE, CLAMP I’ve only read this series front-to-back, first-to-last twice, because it’s long, and because my entire collection is, inconveniently, located on the other side of the planet. But I would be lying not to include it, because I would read and reread volumes over and over (… and over and over) waiting for the next release when it was in English-language serialization and I just love it soo much. I can acknowledge that the plot is … unstable, what with all of those plot holes, but gosh, I just love the characters and I swear, this silly manga series got me through college with at least a little sanity left over, even if it is completely ridiculous.
  • TSUBASAThe Vampire Lestat, Anne Rice Unlike the other books on this list, The Vampire Lestat has no particular deeper meaning to me. I don’t have, like, a deep attachment to it, or anything. It’s just fun. It’s some funny brain fluff and Lestat is a really great narrator. I’ve reread some of the other Vampire Chronicles books, but this one is my favorite, no doubt. Maybe it’s because I like Nicki? Or because Lestat is my favorite member of the Coven of the Articulate?
  • The Drawing of the Three and The Waste Lands (Dark Tower series), Stephen King I can’t honestly include the whole series here, because I usually skip The Gunslinger and lose interest again somewhere in Song of Susannah and I always skip the middle flashback bit of Wizard and Glass, but man, some of the scenes in The Drawing of the Three and The Waste Lands (and even Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla) are so cool. Like, I just know it will be soo satisfying to watch Eddie Dean destroy Blaine. I’ve already read that part a million times but I always cheer anyway, even though I know what’s going to happen.
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Suess I’ve mentioned before that I reread this book every year around Christmastime. It’s true. My mom used to read it to me every Christmas Eve, and now I read it to my students during their last library visit before winter vacation. I love the rhyme and rhythm of the story, and I love the memory of my mother reading it to me, and I love that, once again, I have it nearly memorized. Most pages I can say without even looking, and the rest need only a glance before I’m off.
    I have to like the books I read aloud, as I usually read them between six and fourteen times a week, depending on my lesson plans, but this one is always my absolute favorite.

What about you? What are your favorite books to reread? What did you choose for your Top Ten Tuesday list this week?

2014: The Year in Numbers (2): Diversity Edition

PantomimeGender

The good news is, I read a lot of women: Women accounted for 60% of the authors I read, not including multi-author anthologies, and 43% of the protagonists, again, not including multi-character short stories, or books with male and female protagonists with equal presence.

However, these characters were overwhelmingly cis; two books featured trans characters: J, of I am J, a trans teenage boy, and Micah, of Pantomime, an intersex boy raised as a girl.

Hex is not the protagonist of Love in the Time of Global Warming, however, the book features an explicit enough sex scene between trans Hex and his cis girlfriend, Pen. (It’s not pornographic, but you know what they’re doing.)

I didn’t read any books about trans women.

The Beauty Myth and Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex were also exclusively cis in focus, but both would have benefitted hugely from including trans perspectives on beauty, sex, desire, and science.

Sexuality

Miseducation of Cameron Post

Sexuality is a little harder to determine, considering I read a number of children’s books, and the characters are often so young that their sexuality plays zero part in the story. Ophelia (of Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy) might be queer; we have no way of knowing, and it’s irrelevant to the plot.

In those cases, I’ve left the data blank, or included the book as “straight,” on the basis of the parents’ orientation.

Only four of the books I read could be classified as “LGB books:” The Miseducation of Cameron PostAfterworldsLove in the Time of Global Warming, and Pantomime.

I read no books primarily about male homosexuality, although gay male characters featured in Love in the Time of Global Warming and My True Love Gave to Me (which also, significantly, had zero queer women).

Race

Akata WitchMy reading list was blindingly white; 9% of the protagonists were people of color, excluding characters of color in multi-story anthologies. The diversity of authors I read wasn’t much better; white authors accounted for 86% of the books I read, and then some. (Again, multi-author anthologies were excluded.)

9% of authors I read were of Asian descent, either Asian-American or living and writing from Asia. Of those, one was a book in translation from Japanese.

(I also read one book in translation from German, by a white author.)

A mere 2% of the books I read were by African-American authors.

One of my reading goals for 2015 is to diversify my reading list. I’ve done a good job of putting my money where my mouth is, at least for library purchasing, but I need to read a more diverse selection of authors in my personal life, too, and practice what I preach at school.

Class

Sapphire BatterseaOne thing I’ve noticed, but found difficult to quantify, is the class status of protagonists. It’s rarely quite so obvious, unless it’s a “problem book” about poverty, but there are subtle clues about class, such as the characters working a part time job (or not), owning a car or cell phone (or not), living in a house or an apartment (or not) and so on, and man, a lot of books are about upper middle class kids, or higher.

I’ve found this especially true of historical fiction, which tends to focus on the upper class or even outright royalty at the expense of… Well, everyone else, really. A Mad, Wicked Folly would have been a much more interesting book if Sophie were the main character; frankly, I’m tired of reading about how bored these rich girls are with their balls and their fancy dresses. Give me more of Hetty Feather and how most of the world actually lived, thanks.

I’d like to point out that Jacqueline Wilson, in particular, has a good range of characters, including very many who are poor or working class. It’s one of the reasons she was my most read author in 2014.

“What Are You Reading?” Wednesday (December 24, 2014 – Christmas Eve)

A Christmas CarolWhat are you currently reading?

‘Tis the season and all, so I’m reading A Christmas Carol. I grew up with the 1983 Disney special Mickey’s Christmas Carol and the Muppet’s Christmas Carol, and I designed a book jacket to fit the local library copy for a project during high school, but I’ve never actually read it; my one encounter with Dickens (Bleak House) scared me off of that for a very long time. Now that I have the time and motivation to read it for my own edification and of my own free will, I’m finding that it’s not actually so bad.

I do have a problem with hearing some parts in Gonzo’s voice, because they’re directly quoted in Muppet’s Christmas Carol. 

I’m happy to finally be reading this book. It’s helping me to keep in the Christmas spirit and not be such a Scrooge.

A Christmas Carol

The colors matched up when printed. This is the problem when designing in RGB for print in CYMK.

What did you recently finish reading?

I’ve been on vacation, so I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of reading this week.

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish LieutenantI read Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant in two sittings: once right before bed and then immediately as soon as I woke up (and wrote my morning pages). I grew up on black and white manga, so I struggle with the information overload of full color comic books, but it was beautiful – the art and the story, both. I guess it’s the first in a series, and I hope I get the chance to read the rest of it.

I finished Pantomime and it was excellent. (Review.)

Keeping with the season, I read My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories, which I enjoyed, but I also docked a star because there was one token queer couple, two cis gay boys, and exactly zero queer women or trans people, which is just such a bummer.  You’ll have to do better than that if you want an ally cookie. (Review.)

Then I read Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, which I liked a lot at the beginning and wanted to like at the end, but it didn’t quite work for me. (I can’t really say what bugged me about it without getting into spoiler territory, but it really just didn’t seem to “fit” for me. Suffice to say, I think the ending would have been better left ambiguous.)

What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m not really sure why I haven’t immediately jumped into Shadowplay, considering the first thing I did when I finished Pantomime was run out and get it? (Metaphorically.) So… probably that!

I’ve read 98 of my 100 books for the Goodreads challenge. This isn’t to say that hitting 100 will stop me, but expect some MATHS soon. For someone who had to take my math gen ed pass/fail, I really like crunching numbers.

“What Are You Reading?” Wednesdays are hosted by Should be Reading.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Wouldn’t Mind Santa Bringing This Year

Top Ten Tuesday

It’s a liiiiitle late for Christmas shopping – my friends/Japan family and I are having our Christmas dinner tonight, since half of us have work on Christmas Eve and Christmas – but just in case: here are my Top Ten Books I Wouldn’t Mind Santa Bringing This Year.

I’m breaking the list into two: five books I want for myself, and five books I want for my library.

For My Personal Collection:

  1. Harry Potter and the Philospher's Stone 2014Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone “But Leslie, don’t you already have this? Isn’t it, like, your favorite book?”
    Yes, yes, I do. I have numerous copies, even, but I always want more, like the adorable new Bloomsbury paperback or this French paperback. I collect different editions of this book, but really, I wouldn’t mind if Santa would just bring my existing collection to Tokyo on his sleigh.
  2. Sacred High City, Sacred Low City: A Tale of Religious Sites in Two Tokyo Neighborhoods Living in Tokyo, I’ve developed a hobby bordering on a religious obsession with Shinto shrines, but most of my knowledge is informal, gleaned from what little I remember of undergrad and my limited ability to read the informational pamphlets the priests sometimes give me with my goshuinchō stamps. In 2015, I’d like to do a little more serious research, including this book.
  3. Critical Perspectives on Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials While Harry Potter was my obsession, His Dark Materials changed me in quieter, deeper ways that I didn’t fully realize until I reread the trilogy after moving to Tokyo. I love books about books – at home, I have heaps of books with titles like The Psychology of Harry Potter and The World of The Golden Compassbut this is a more in-depth, scholarly (and thus, expensive) book that I haven’t had the chance to read yet and I would love to get deeper into this story.
  4. NimonaThe Magician’s Book I already have this one in ebook format, but I loved it so much that it would be an honor to have the print edition on my shelf beside my own Magician’s Book(s), The Golden Compass and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (mentioned above). 2014 was the Year of the Magician’s Book, and I’d love to hold the actual, you know, book.
  5. Nimona I read most of this comic free online, but I liked it so much that I want to hold it in my hands and hug it and keep it on my bookshelf and admire it forever. This one might also double-up and go in the secondary library collection, too, because it is just soo great. I haven’t cried over a webcomic since seventh grade.

For My Library Collection:

  1. Olivia Kidney and the…  There are a couple of these (Secret Beneath the City and Exit Academy), and I want them both for the library after a student came up with a copy of the first book, begging me for the rest of the series. I didn’t even know it was a series, but how do you say “no” to one of your best patrons – a girl who comes in every single day to borrow new books and help sticker and shelve for fun in her free time – when they’re just dying for the next book in their new favorite series?
  2. Blossoming Universe of Violet DiamondThe Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond I tried to order this with the last PTA batch, only to realize – d’oh! – it won’t be released until next year. Oops! But I do really, really want it. I’m trying to build a diverse collection. Many of my students are biracial/bicultural, and I think this is a story that would resonate with them, even if the specifics are different than their own situation – it’s a mirror and a window.
  3. The School for Good and Evil Soman Chainani was one of my Top Ten New-To-Me Authors of 2014, and I really want this book in the library collection. I know what my patrons like, and a certain faction of my patrons likes princesses – loves princesses, even. I think this book would support their interest while maybe subtly dismantling the “princess” archetype, where “princess” means “pretty and helpless.”
  4. Eddie Red, Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile (Series) Some of my “reluctant” readers have finally branched out from Captain Underpants and started reading Jack Stalwart and Zac Power and asking for more. We don’t have more, is the thing. For some reason, my library collection is weirdly lacking in adventure stories. Here is a solution to that problem.
  5. My Mixed-up Berry Blue Summer I want this book for a bunch of reasons. For one thing, queer characters are underrepresented in my library collection, but And Tango Makes Three is one of the most popular titles. For another, it takes place in Vermont, which is where I grew up, and that’s cool. The students – all international – like asking about where the teachers are from. I tried to buy it last year, but it was “not a priority,” while none of my other fiction picks had any complaints. Hmm. Hopefully Santa can help me out here…

My Thoughts On…: Pantomime

PantomimeOnce upon a time, I saw Laura Lam’s Pantomime on the shelf. Intrigued by the cover, I picked it up and read the jacket copy. I put it back down.

R. H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic is the greatest circus of Ellada. Nestled among the glowing blue Penglass—remnants of a mysterious civilization long gone—are wonders beyond the wildest imagination. It’s a place where anything seems possible, where if you close your eyes you can believe that the magic and knowledge of the vanished Chimaera is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.

Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets, joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star.

But Gene and Micah have balancing acts of their own to perform, and a secret in their blood that could unlock the mysteries of Ellada.

Okay. Yawn. Whatever. It sounds like a hetero romance, and that’s cool I guess but I don’t care.

I’m also really tired of “not like other girls” girls.

I was a tomboy growing up. I get it, the weird sense of alienation from your girl peers when they’re all wearing glittery tank tops and talking about make-up while you’re wearing a men’s tee shirt from the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and talking about Pokémon. Believe me, I get it.

… but did no one in the coresty eras like clothes and fashion? Or do those girls not deserve to be protagonists, only fashionable, simpering friends?

So, yeah. I totally skipped this one.

ShadowplayI went on with my life and read other things and forgot about Pantomime for awhile until I saw Shadowplay. I liked that cover, too, and I didn’t connect it to Pantomime until I finished reading the blurb.

The circus lies behind Micah Grey in dust and ashes.

He and the white clown, Drystan, take refuge with the once-great magician, Jasper Maske. When Maske agrees to teach them his trade, his embittered rival challenges them to a duel which could decide all of their fates.

People also hunt both Micah and the person he was before the circus – the runaway daughter of a noble family. And Micah discovers there is magic and power in the world, far beyond the card tricks and illusions he’s perfecting…

A tale of phantom wings, a clockwork hand, and the delicate unfurling of new love, Shadowplay continues Micah Grey’s extraordinary journey.

Oh.

Now you’ve got me interested.

So I went back and I picked up Pantomime so I could get to Shadowplay. (I never read series out of order.)

Partway through Shadowplay, I searched around for reviews to confirm my suspicions that the jacket copy was all wrong and made no sense. Gene and Micah aren’t a couple. They’re the same person. Gene/Micah is an intersex trans person.*
*He was raised as a girl, but identifies as a boy.

The Book Smugglers reviewed Pantomime and talked about all of this and improves significantly on the original jacket copy:

An intersex teen, Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, raised as the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. Gene’s parents wish to force a decision on which gender Gene will spend the rest of Gene’s life as, so Gene runs away from home, assumes the identity of Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets, joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star.

There. That’s much better, and it actually tells potential readers what the book is about. This is not a book I would have skipped over on the shelf. I almost missed out on it, which is a real shame, because it’s so good. I’ve gotten a lot more strict about my Goodreads stars, and it still earned four. (My average is 3.54, but I went and added all of my favorites/five star books from before I started the account and didn’t add anything that I didn’t adore, skewing the average up a bit.)

I don’t want to be a queer book detective any more.

Could you write a very interesting story, told in a series of alternating flashback/present day chapters and have it be a big reveal that they’re the same person? Yes. It would be a cool story, but it is not this story. It’s no surprise to discover that Gene and Micah are one and the same. It’s not a spoiler. There’s no reason not to put it out there.

How many other readers aren’t finding this story because the jacket copy says it’s not for them? Do we have to “trick” cis/het readers into picking up queer books at the expense of queer readers?