Queer Weekend(-athon) and other reads.

Towards the end of March (2020), I came across the Queer Lit Readathon that happens every six months. This is a readathon that is meant to encourage reads to read LGBTQ+ books (i.e. queer books). I decided to participate because I had the time to fit in a couple books at the end of the month.

I choose to read The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, and Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. The audiobooks add up to ~40 hrs (20 hrs at 2x speed). It was a very ambitious goal. Going in, I managed to read the first two books (Dorian Gray and Song of Achilles) on Saturday, but by the time Sunday came around, I was distracted by Covid-19 stress and did not want to read. Therefore, I decided not to force myself to read Middlesex.

I will finish Middlesex this month (April 2020)! Below I’ll briefly discuss my thoughts on each book. However, I am also going to talk about one more book as well. I was granted an e-ARC of Female Husbands: a Trans History by Jen Manion which is published today (April 1st, 2020). I decided to include it’s review with this reathathon wrap up because it too is queer related and was read right after the readathon.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

This is a historical fiction book about an androgynous person born with both sexes. He is raised as a girl until he eventually comes out as a man, and the book follows his fictionalized life starting with his parents. I started this on track to finish, and I was actually enjoying it. I thought the narrator was fantastic; he was enthusiastic and engaging. I just wasn’t in the mood to read, so I decided to hold off on finishing this book until after the readathon. I intend to finish it this month.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

This is a classic horror or psychological book about a main named Dorian. He is young and loved by many for his beauty. We first learn just how enthralling he is at the start of the book when he is painted by a famous (?) artist who becomes enamored with him. The trick is bad things seem to happen to people around Dorian. It isn’t exactly him doing it, but it is a result of his own arrogance and self absorption. This begins to be reflected by the painting that was made of him. What unfolds is a dark and creepy tale.

I enjoyed this, but it wasn’t as scary as I was hoping. It also wasn’t the level of queerness I was hoping for; it was much more subtle. Perhaps the only reason it didn’t do better was the fact that it’s a classic, and they aren’t as effective for me as more modern works.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I loved this book. It was just as beautifully told as Madeline Miller’s book Circe but with even more weight to it. Last year I read several Greek mythology retellings, among those was Circe. I enjoyed each of them, but they definitely did not look fondly on Achilles as a person or character. Nevertheless, Miller is able to write a story that convinces me that all of those past stories can be true, but hidden behind them, is still this man who is fundamentally good. Granted, part of that means seeing Achilles through the eyes of Patroclus, his friend and lover. This story is entirely from his perspective and is their story.

It was the queer side of the story that really resonated with me most of all. Circe was great all around, but it never hit me at my core, not like the Song of Achilles. I loved it and I highly recommend it.

Female Husbands: a Trans History by Jen Manion

This book was provided by NetGalley for a fair and honest review.

This book is not for me. It is a very detailed account of people in history who challenge preconceived assumptions on gender, with a focus on people considered “women” dressing and living as men. This isn’t what I was expecting as a trans history, but it is not my place as cisgender man to decide what that classification is. My issue with this book isn’t what it has to say, but with how it is said. This is a very dense and dry book. I think it is probably a great academic reference, but it it is not a good book for me.

I have DNFed this book at 45%. I normally would make a point to push through a book that has been provided for review, but it just wasn’t worth it because I wasn’t retaining the information. It is clear by the other reviews, that it works great for plenty of other people, so you may still get something out of it!

I also don’t consider this read a complete waste. Upon reading other reviews, there were a few other books of similar subject that I will be looking into.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz ★★★★★

Read 12/9/19 – 12/11/19

I loved this book. It was beautiful and heartwarming. Honestly, it has been so difficult to find a young adult book that really resonated with me. Sadie seemed like the perfect thing to strike a cord, but it failed to work for me. Luckily, the same can’t be said for Aristotle and Dante. Parts of the story definitely has a young adult tone to it, so for the first chunk of the book I wasn’t sure if it was quite 5 star material. As the book approached its conclusions, it did all the right things to tug at my heartstrings so much that I can’t feel anything but love for this book.

This is the story of two boys, Aristotle and Dante, who become best of friends in the early teens. What follows is a series of heartwarming, and at times saddening, events that work to build the bond between them and our connection to them as well. The novel is very fast paced. We make it through several years of their lives, and it allows for their relationship to evolve in a natural and understanding way.

I can’t really say much more than that without spoiling it. Nevertheless, I think it is fairly well known that this is an LGBTQ story, so I do want to comment on that a bit because it is really where this novel shines. These two boys are best of friends, but one of them is more fond of one than the other is of him. This creates a very realistic and heartbreaking dynamic. I really appreciated the dilemma that the characters are put it because these are very series issues we need to be prepared to deal with. Sometimes, feelings aren’t shared even if it seems they are. Other times, we don’t know what we think we feel. In all cases, its important that we treat people with respect and understand the pain and feelings they are having as well.

This a coming of age story. Its about friendship and accepting your friends for who they are but also about learning about yourself in the process. Mixed in with this is their Mexican heritage. That extends to issues of acceptance of homosexuality as well as gang violence and drug addiction. I was reminded a lot of Netflix’s On My Block. It is one of the few shows, targeted toward young adults, that I enjoy watching. It is similar its tone of heartwarming take aways and somewhat unrealistic positivity while still touching on the very real issues of what is like to be a latino kid.

I have to be honest that the reason this resonated so strongly with me is probably because I am bisexual. I don’t, or haven’t read a lot of gay characters. My experience is very different from the one in this story, but it doesn’t mean I don’t still relate and sympathize.

In any case, the novel worked really well for me. I don’t think it was a perfect 5 star, but it is a solid 4.5/5 stars.

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio ★★★★★

Introduction 11/6/19 (Start 11/1/19)

I am really loving this book. I’m nearly 60% through the book, and I am frankly shocked at how faced paced its managed to keep itself because this book picks up quick. Granted, the narrative is a little esoteric with its love of Shakespeare. Although as someone who would in no way consider them-self an expert on the subject, I thought it was easy to understand and fun to consume.

The plot itself is an exciting page turner about a group of friends and the mistakes they made in college. Rio has crafted a well written story that keeps you wanting to read, but my love really comes from the characters. They each fit a specific archetype, but they still maintain the right level of realness. This book is evoking intense emotions in me on a level that I don’t normally get from books. There are moments that I hate characters with a passion, and I am here for it. I love the level of attachment I have to the story and our characters. It speaks to how well this story is written.

Finished 11/7/19

I want more. I need more. God damn you M.L. Rio! This book is everything I want from a thriller or drama. It surprised even where things seemed foreshadowed, and every time I think we are approaching the end of the story we learn there is more to the tale. Even now, with the story so skillfully completed, I am left wishing I had more, but not in a bad way. I love the feeling of connecting with a character. I want to feel their sorrow, their pain, their hate. I want to be them, and Rio does just that. That characterization is coupled with an exciting story that I have fallen head over hills in love with.

I read for books like these. There are those that entertain, and then there are those like these that leave a lasting impression. I will continue to wonder about what our characters thoughts and actions, those described and those left unsaid. That is what a good book does, and it easily earns this book a top place (if not the highest) in my favorite books of the year. 5/5 stars.