Lesbian Fiction: The Good, The Bad, and the Really Really Bad...
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I loved "Rubyfruit Jungle" by Rita Mae Brown. It was my introduction to the fabulous lesbian fiction genre. I really enjoyed this book.
As a science fiction fan, I also enjoyed, Daughters of a Coral Dawn, and Daughters of an Amber Noon, by Katherine V. Forrest. As a student of feminist theory I was delighted with this example of separatist feminism that a) believe women are inherently different than men, and that b) that difference makes them better. I don't know if I fully ascribe to the belief but the story was fun, entertaining and gosh, didn't I feel so righteous!
Dorothy Allison's and Leslie Feinberg's books, while important, well written, and necessary leave me feeling bleak and helpless. I suppose I have to appreciate an author that can evoke that in her writing.
The WORST book I've read in the genre and maybe EVER was, Around We Go by Tonya L. Chatelain. It was so grammatically painful and cheesy that I hesitate to call in a book.
Has anyone read these books? What d'ya think?
If you like Katherine Forrest's books, you may like Nicola Griffith's as well, particularly Ammonite. Also, Joanna Russ's The Female Man, which (as the title suggests) is an early genderqueer SF book, and damn good fun. Elisabeth Vonarburg's The Maerlande Chronicles is a challenging read, but really absorbing, a fascinating example of a gender-separatist society that is not queer. Also, Monique Wittig's Les guerilleres is theory in SF action!
I _love_ Dorothy Allison's work, and it certainly makes me feel angry, but never helpless. Have you read her essays in Skin They're - how can I put it? - well, full of bleakness but also humour and hopefulness. Audre Lorde's writing gives me the same charge...
Really bad? Well, some of the novels in the DIVA imprint are so trashy, I can't even remember the names of the ones I read!
As far as engendering sheer delight in word usage, no one can beat Jeanette Winterson or Sarah Waters.
"Fingersmith" is my all-time favorite lesbian work of fiction.
Now, see, I loved Fingersmith. And I don't like seeing it relegated to "lesbian work of fiction". It's a great work of fiction, period, in my view.
Let it also be known that the phrase "women's fiction" drives me right around the bend! Why does no one talk about "heterosexual fiction" or "men's fiction"?
I guess I am so delighted to have a Lesbian heroine in the sea of hetero and male protagonists that I highlight them with a specific sub-genre when I find one. Fingersmith was a fantastic book and I think it can be both Fiction and Lesbian fiction. I don't think it is denigrating the book at all by further identifying it.
We apply sub categories to works of fiction all the time: Sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, horror, romance...etc.
Does the identifier, "chick-lit," drive you crazy? I've heard that used a lot. To me, it sounds dismissive and contemptuous.
I liked Rubyfruit Jungle a lot. Rita Mae Brown's other books are mostly dreck though. I wonder what happened. Her cat mysteries make me cringe!
Katherine V. Forrest, on the other hand, seems to keep getting better and better. Her Kate Delafield mysteries are favorites. Daughters of a Coral Dawn and the others in the series are interesting, not terribly well-written, but they captured my imagination.
I like Sandra Scoppettone too. Her mysteries have the worst titles -- Gonna Take a Homicidal Journey, for instance -- but the writing is quite adept. And I'm a sucker for books set in New York City.
My all-time favorite authors who tackle lesbian subjects are Nicola Griffith and Sarah Waters. For beach reads, Jennifer Fulton is great too -- South Pacific lesbian romances, yay!
Jeanette Winterson and Dorothy Allison write well, but for some reason leave me cold.
In my mind, I kinda divide lesbian fiction into lesbian literary fiction (Winterson, Waters, Allison) and lesbian genre fiction. Plenty of lesbian mysteries, thrillers, and romances are horrible, so horrible I wonder if my standards have been lowered after reading so many! And yet, still I read...
I can't stand the term "chick-lit". It does sound dismissive, and, to me, it's a nearly automatic turn-off.
What I don't like about terms like these is that, while I understand that publishers are trying to identify an audience, they seem also to limit the potential audience.
>8 chocolatedog: Ditto on everything you said!
I tried to read another book by Rita Mae Brown, and just couldn't get into it.
I also thought the sci-fi books by Katherine V. Forrest were a bit simplistic, but loved them.
I've never read Nicola Griffith before; I'll have to check her out.
I suppose that makes sense, but I think great, engaging reading makes the crossover. David Sedaris comes to mind as does Dorothy Allison and even Fingersmith. Though I was introduced to the novel as a great Lesbian read, many of my hetero friends read it as well, independent of any encouragement on my part. It's also in the general fiction section at B&N and Borders; that has to indicate a larger audience...
Though...I found the Daughters of a Coral Dawn in the GLBT section. Do you think all of the genre should be available to a wider audience or, to expand on chocolatedog's thinking in message 8, literary lesbian fiction marketed to everyone and then lesbian fiction in a section of its own?
I finally read Ammonite by Nicola Griffith this year, and mostly really enjoyed it. I'm fascinated by female only planet books, (I have them tagged single gender society so I can include Ethan of Athos in the tag and am trying to get hold of more of them). They vary from truly awful to really good. A related sub genre would be the gender segregated society.
I also read Daughters of a Coral Dawn this year and hated it. Just wasn't in the mood for the style of satire and general tone of it I guess. I've found some of Katherine V. Forrest's other books OK.
For easy and enjoyable reads on an all female planet I'd also recommend Jane Fletcher's Celeano books The World Celeano Chose/The Temple at Landfall, The Wrong Trail Knife/Rangers at Roadsend and the Walls of Westernfort. The first is the most scifi, the last the most lightweight and the middle one, which is a mystery as well as a romance is my favorite.
I've spent the last seven years reading huge amounts of fanfiction, starting in Xena fandom but gradually expanding into several dozen fandoms. I'm glad I did - I've essentially read several thousand novel length lesbian romances online through fanfic, and I would long since have run out of the available lesbian themed books in my country if I'd only been reading in print. I own a bunch of the uber books that have been published by Xena fanfic writers. Most of them are also still available online. http://www.academyofbards.org/uberlist/index.html They really have very little connection to the original show, and most of the published stuff even less. They do tend to have a set of shared conventions that are sightly different to those of other lesbian romances, it's a built up over time thing, genre as conversation. The main thing with reading fanfic is that you get used to sifting the wheat from the chaff because there're no editors doing it for you. But then with lesbian publishing and small presses tipping over the line into self publishing you can often get the same effect in print.
I keep buying other lesbian books - a lot of the small press stuff, but ultimately I tend to enjoy the stuff that's genre based more - scifi with lesbians, mysteries with lesbians, than I do the lesbian romances or the lesbian lit-tra-cha. Which I guess fits with the rest of my reading. I've read Sarah Waters' Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith, but I didn't really get into them. They felt like Joan Aiken's alternate universe fantasies and I kept looking for her offbeat delights and missing them. I enjoyed the tv series though.
There's the full list of what I own that I've tagged lesbian.
I love serendipitously finding lesbian books, or at least queer friendly books amongst other books. I wish books didn't have to be ghettoised. But i guess that's marketing. And I hate that living at the bottom of the world means many books just never get here unless you order them in directly. thank goodness for the internet.
And no one has mentioned Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe? it's been years since i read it, i think it's time I reread it.
A gem from NZ: Dare, Truth and Promise by Paula Boock which won the national children's book award a number of years ago (it was in the Young Adult section, but was also the overall winner). Any other young adult books that people recommend?
I find that I have no time for books that are simply "OK". Nor do I enjoy simplistic sci fi or fantasy - in fact, after blowing through Joanna Russ' "The Female Man" as a young adult - this would be the first edition for you younguns - all else pales.
I find nonfiction so much more entrancing.
What a pity. I feel really sorry for you, that you can't find pleasure in fiction anymore.
I haven't gotten to read The Female Man yet, though I've been reading around it for years (I've read And Chaos Died, The Adventures of Alyx and Picnic on Paradise, and Extra(ordinary) people, and I've just finished James Tiptree, Jr. which has made me even more anxious to get hold of it).
I tend to want books that are at least one rung above OK, ones I actively enjoy - which is why I'm not going out of my way to collect more Katherine Forrest, but what I have seen of her work suggests it is quite varied, so there may yet be things by her that I would enjoy so I'm not writing her off competely yet.
I'm thinking I sounded kind of meh about Ammonite. In fact I loved and was delighted by it - my reservations were about very particular things. I'm looking forward to reading her The Blue Place, I'd already read Slow River.
If anyone has read any Eleanor Arnason, this story of hers that is available online hit pretty much all of my favorite things buttons, and I even liked it. Potter of Bones
Believe me, it is not a pity. Nonfiction is entirely readable these days, and since I am in a place in life in which to enjoy travel and to explore the information that I find, I am happier with my reading than I have ever been!
I think, if my memory still serves, there is another book you could add to the "gender segregated" list - Glory Season by David Brin. I do not own a copy and I read it a long time ago but....
I read The Female Man back in the day and also some things by Jane Rule. I'm not a big gan of most self-conscious (meta) fiction, so I've never really warmed to Jeanette Winterson, but I did admire Written on the Body. I also enjoyed Monique Wittig back in the day and Audre Lorde. Nightwood is probably my favorite 'lesbian' novel. Orlando would also be high on my list.
Oddly, I tend to be more drawn to homosocial or sex-segrated literature about men.
Herman Melville, Thoreau's travel books, Cormac McCarthy.
I can't read Leslie Feinberg without stopping to catch my breath every know and then. Stone Butch Blues was incredibly bleak. I adore Dorothy Allison, though. For all the abuse, I still get a feeling of strength from her.
Dennis Cooper's Closer was the only book that literally made me sick. I don't know if that's a testament to his writing -- I think he's got the teenage voice spot-on.
I am glad to hear someone mention Val McDermid's Lindsay Gordon series. I definitely think her mysteries are several cuts above many other mysteries with lesbian characters. I also like Laurie King's Kate Martinelli books.
In the non-mystery arena, I liked Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith, but not so much Affinity and Night Watch.
27everetteseven First Message
If you don't mind a few titles from a gay man who reads all types of books, some of my favorite lesbian titles are The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall, Out of Time by Paula Martinac, and Sea of Light by Jennifer Levin. And I agree with kingkama regarding Mabel Maney's "Nancy Cluelss" books -- great spoofs of the teen detective genre.
Has anyone read Quicksand by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki?
I'm not sure if it can be considered a 'lesbian' work of fiction, but its on the top of my list. I still think about it sometimes trying to figure it out...
I hope my novel, Beloved Pilgrim, will get included in "The Good" category!
Read an r-rated excerpt from my latest novel, Beloved Pilgrim, on Bosom Friends:
I just begun reading a lot more lesbian related books so hopefully i can get some good books from this board. =)
She's my been my favorite since I found one of her books in the GAA firehouse in 1972. Jane Rule. (This is Not for You) (Desert Heart) and many more. She passed away several years ago, but not before I had a chance to meet her.
I've always been pretty picky about lesbian fiction. It's often hard to find the good books in that category--though there are more and more good ones these days, it seems. I don't get to read other writers' work as much as I'd like because mine keeps me so busy. But--let me highly recommend someone.
All of you should try the work of Kate Genet she's really quite gifted. There are some Squidoo Widgets on her books,
and she can be found on Smashwords and Amazon and B&N to name a few. Her blog is http://themisbehavingmind.com/
I am also the author of 26 books. Maybe try mine too.
Here's a lens for one of them:
My author page is http://jaebaeli.com or find me on Amazon or Smashwords.
Kelli Jae Baeli
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