Originally published on The News Minute
For Pride Month, the team at Champaca Bookstore, Bengaluru, has put together a list of book recommendations for you to read. They find that books can help us understand ourselves and our contexts better. In this list, there are memoirs, theory and fiction, coming-of-age novels, and translations: a range of books that they love, and hope that you will too. On June 26, they are also hosting authors Jordy Rosenberg and Kai Cheng Thom for their homegrown event ‘Books for Now’ for a conversation on trans writing and literature.
This book by Kai Cheng Thom isn’t a traditional recollection of facts and events that we associate with memoirs. It is a fictionalised memoir about a pathological liar and kung fu expert, a young Asian girl who leaves the little beachside town called Gloom and her strict Chinese immigrant family, to travel to the big city, The City of Smoke and Lights. She arrives at the Street of Miracles, where she finds the company and nurture of fabulous femmes, and a city hostile to transwomen. She dreams and she fights and lives with a community that works together and fights with one another. She slowly discovers and comes into herself. The story offers us anti-heroines, magic, fantasy and humour, even when about a life of danger, threat and violence. Do pick up this confabulous book!
Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg
The story of Confessions of the Fox begins with 21st century academic Dr Voth discovering a lost manuscript in a pile of discarded library books, which turns out to be the ‘confessions’ of Jack Shepphard, notorious pickpocket and jailbreaker, immortalised in many works of 18th century theatre. The manuscript discovered is about Jack’s journey from being raised a girl to escaping the life of an indentured apprentice to a carpenter, to his fierce relationship with Bess Khan. We travel through Jack’s racially diverse London along with Dr Voth’s footnotes and life as a trans, queer academic in a neoliberal university. Soon the text and footnotes intertwine to give us a dizzying story within a story. What is this book? Historical fiction, queer theory and rivetingly fun, brought to us by scholarly and brilliant Jordy Rosenberg.
Bestiary is poet K-Ming Chang’s first novel, a queer coming-of-age story. It is a family saga with mythological proportions, about three generations of Taiwanese American women. As the three women dig a hole in their backyard, they also dig into their past and its buried secrets. They are haunted by the folklore of their homeland, and the story of migration and trauma from Taiwan to America. That night, as they dig a hole, discussing the story of a tiger spirit, Hu Gu Po, Daughter wakes up to find she has a tail. As she comes to terms with this part-animal self, she has to examine her family’s past, and her own present.
Hoshang Merchant is one of India’s outstanding queer poets. This selection of poetry spans his life, reflecting his lifelong play with words and rebellion through form. The poetry is full of porous borders between the personal and national, the poet and reader. His poetry celebrates queerness, his own colourful personality, and our queerness as readers. Larger frames around queer identity merge with individual joys and hurt, exhilaration and disappointment. The volume suggests a journey through different stages of life, with the latter poems full of loss and regret, with the poet by himself, surrounded by memories yet full of wit and warmth. This volume is like a snapshot into a queer life in verse.
This is journalist Amelia Abraham’s journey through various aspects of queer culture, from New York to Turkey, Stockholm to Britain, and from Pride marches and drag conventions to transgender model agencies. Along the way, she tries to answer a variety of questions: what does improved representation in media mean for people’s actual lives? What are the lives that queer people visualise for themselves? And who gets left out of these conversations – or gets ignored entirely? There’s no easy way to answer these questions. In Queer Intentions, Abraham shows us the inherent multiplicity of queer lives, blending history and people’s anecdotes to give us just a glimpse of these different worlds.
The Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers
The science fiction genre allows us to explore the best of what could be, and the worst of what is. Becky Chambers challenges stereotypes and goes beyond humanity in this expansive space opera series, consisting of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, A Closed and Common Orbit, Record of a Spaceborn Few and the latest, The Galaxy, and the Ground Within (which don’t have to be read in order!). Chambers imagines alien beings with wildly different rules than our own, and in doing so exposes some of the absurdity of those rules. Among her ensemble cast in this trilogy is talkative AI, Martian-born humans, and androgynous reptiles. In this new universe of possibilities, queer relationships are commonplace, natural, and so much fun to read.
Mohanaswamy by Vasudhendra, translated by Rashmi Terdal
Mohanaswamy is a landmark book in vernacular Indian literature—one of the earliest by a queer author to explicitly explore themes of homosexual relationships and sexuality. This translation from Kannada brings to the reader the story of a rural man who discovers facets of his sexuality from childhood through his journey to the big city for a career. It sketches scenes of happiness, disappointment and hope, traversing his ways of being sane in an insane society.
In The Doubleness of Sexuality, the poet Akhil Katyal offers us a historical and theoretical exploration of the term ‘homosexual’ as it entered the vocabulary of India during colonial times and after. Katyal argues that there is a ‘doubleness’ in the way that terms are used for political activism that often run in parallel to lived realities of queerness, and that ‘sexualness’ is not as easily captured by fixed definitions. The book takes us through fiction, poetry and dating websites. Katyal is a poet whose work offers commentary on the times in which we live.