Events, Giveaway, GLBT, guest post, LGBT, Literary Others Event, Young Adult

A Librarian Recommends #TheLiteraryOthers

Please welcome Laura Ashlee Graves from That Librarian Lady, who has provided a wonderful list of LGBT YA books that she recommends, as well as a giveaway following the post! Thank you, Ashlee! (I just added a bunch of books to my TBR Pile!)

When I began my first year at my school library, I immediately noticed that there was a huge lack of GLBT representation. I think the previous librarian was hesitant to purchase books with queer characters because my school is in a pretty conservative community. That may seem funny since I live in Alabama, but I grew up pretty progressive in the South and I’ve been lucky enough to live in areas of the state that are more inclusive and culturally diverse. I also noticed quickly that I had quite a few queer students growing up in this conservative community. Now, I would have made it a point to purchase more books with queer characters anyway because I truly believe that diverse collections can help students develop empathy.

Still, knowing I had students who needed these books in their lives made it a really important task. I haven’t read every book in my library (because I’m not a superhero). I also haven’t read every book with queer characters that I’ve bought. Like most librarians, I rely on reviews and recommendations for the bulk of my book buying. I do have several books in my library that I constantly recommend, though. I thought I would share them.

When I originally made my list, there were twenty-six books on it. I’ve managed to choose my favorite twelve from that list. These are books I’ve read and recommend and they’re all pretty recent releases. These are also young adult books, since I purchase A LOT of young adult for my library. I love it when I see students get excited over these books. I buy them because I know my kids need them in their lives and I want them to have easy access to them.

12000020-1-copyAristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Aristotle, or Ari, is angsty and confused. He’s angry that his parents won’t talk to him about his brother, who’s in prison. He’s also a loner, never feeling like he quite fits in with other boys. Dante is a brilliant boy who tries to look on the brighter side of life. The two seem to have nothing in common, but learn a lot about themselves through their friendship. Ari struggles a lot with what it is that makes him feel different and being friends with Dante helps him with that. Dante is also figuring it out but he is unapologetic about who he is. They’re also figuring out where they fit in as Mexican Americans and that added another layer to the story that I really appreciated. I loved their friendship. It’s not a perfect book, in my opinion, but I think it’s worthy of the praise it’s gotten.

13069935-copyAsk the Passengers by A.S. King

Astrid feels like she has no one to she can talk to. Her mother is overbearing, her father is disinterested, and her little town is too conservative to understand her. She’s been having a secret relationship with her female coworker and the only people she’s telling are the people in the planes that fly over her back yard. This novel is about self-discovery and challenging the boxes society puts us in. This book affected me on a very deep level when I first read it and it remains one of my favorites. It’s the book that turned A.S. King into one of my favorite authors.

13414183-copyBetter Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle

Nate Foster wants nothing more than to star in a Broadway show, but he feels held back by his small New Jersey town and his disapproving parents. When a casting call goes out for a musical version of E.T. the Extraterrestrial, Nate knows he has to get to New York and audition for the part of Elliot. This book is a little more fun than the previous two. It’s laugh-out-loud funny but still has its serious moments. While Nate’s runaway trip to New York is fun and hilarious, he’s also dealing with his own self-discovery. It’s meant for younger reads (around middle school age), but it’s still a fun read for older readers. To get the full story, you’ll also have to pick up it’s sequel, Five, Six, Seven, Nate.

17237214Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
This novel centers on two teenage boys who attempt to kiss for 32 hours to set a new Guinness World Record. Their kiss is partly a political statement they’re inspired to perform after their friend, Tariq, is jumped one night. It’s not only about Harry and Craig’s kiss, though. The story also follows several other boys. Peter and Neil have been together for a year, even though Neil’s family never talks about it. Avery and Ryan only met the night before at a gay prom, but immediately hit it off. Cooper feels completely and utterly alone. No one knows that he’s gay until his father reads a chat session with another guy on his laptop. All these stories and perspectives are narrated by a generation of gay men who lived in a different time, when AIDS was a terror that seemed to pick them off one by one. This is one of the most beautiful, heartbreaking, and hopeful YA novels I’ve ever read. It was a favorite before I even finished. There’s a nice balance of the historical view of gay men and boys and the contemporary lives of these particular gay boys. This is a very emotional book and it will make you cry, but it’s worth it.

17261129Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark

Brendan has a great life. He’s popular and has a girlfriend he really loves. So, why does he feel wrong in his own body? Why does he dream of looking like a girl? When the feelings become too much, Brendan puts on some of the clothes he wishes he could wear to feel closer to being the person he wishes he were. When he’s caught by one of his best friends, his life begins to fray. Maybe the girl at the LGBT Youth Center can help him find some answers. This book takes a look at the struggle that come with being on the transgender spectrum with raw truth. Brendan’s friends can’t understand what he’s going through and offer him very little empathy. Angel is almost like a representation of what Brendan’s life could be in the future. She’s in a different place in her own life as a transgender girl and possibly on a different place in the spectrum. The novel is written in beautiful verse and it’s a pretty quick read.

18166920Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out edited by Susan Kuklin

Susan Kuklin compiles the stories of six transgender teens. Most of the book is their own words from interviews and she includes a lot of pictures of the teens throughout. I loved this book because it offers so many perspectives and experiences from real trans teens. Some of the stories these teens share are hard to read, but Kuklin puts them on the page with a “take it or leave it” attitude. I think it’s an important book for every library to own and it also may be great for anyone interested in understanding different gender identities and the experiences of trans teens.

20312458Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan
Leila feels different enough due to her Persian descent. She doesn’t want people to find out she also likes girls. When Saskia moves to her school, things get complicated. Leila starts developing a crush and it seems like Saskia might return those feelings. I love this book for its simplicity. It’s a sweet book about crushes, bad relationships, and overlooking the person who’s right in front of you. I remember reading it in one sitting and closing it with a good feeling and smile on my face.

 

19547856Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

When a classmate finds Simon’s emails with a boy names Blue on the school computers, he decides to blackmail him for some help asking out one of Simon’s friends. Suddenly the budding romance between Simon and Blue is affecting every part of his life, including his friendships. This is another pretty simple YA book that I adore with all my heart. It’s about high school bullshit, friendship drama, and embarrassing families. I’ve read it four times and loved it every time. It’s charming, funny, and so sweet. I just want to melt into my couch from happiness every time I read it.

19542841More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

Aaron has been struggling to stay happy since his father committed suicide. His mother and his girlfriend help, but it still feels like something’s missing. When a new boy names Thomas shows up in his life, he can’t help but notice the feelings he’s developing for Thomas. Adam Silvera adds a nice speculative twist to this book that can really throw the reader for a loop. It’s one of those books you can only read for the first time once. Also, if you don’t know who Adam Silvera is, what are you doing with your life? Go follow him on all your social media. Despite his sad books, he’s a hilarious human being.

24612624George by Alex Gino

George may have been born a boy, but she knows she’s really a girl. When she’s told by her teacher that she can’t play Charlotte in their classes play of Charlotte’s Web, George and her friend Kelly devise a plan to get her on stage. This book is written for an elementary audience, but you’re never too old for a fantastic children’s book. Gino did such a good job with George’s voice. I felt all of her disappointments and triumphs. It’s a beautiful, quick read. I recommend to everyone, period.

 

22692740Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

Riley knows people don’t know what to think about them. For the most part, Riley manages to fly under the radar and let people wonder. That is, until Riley starts a Tumblr blog about their life as a gender fluid teen. The blog starts to go viral and someone at school knows it’s Riley. With Riley’s father going through a congress reelection, things are getting a little out of hand. This is a bit of a coming out novel, but it’s the first one I know of that’s about a gender fluid teen. I think Garvin did a really great job with it. He also included some awesome music. Riley’s a pretty bad ass, punk rock kid.

26156987If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

After an awful incident, Amanda moves to live with her dad in a small town in Tennessee. She makes friends and starts to find her place in her little town. When she starts falling for sweet, honest Grant, she begins to doubt herself. She wants to tell him everything about herself, but she’s afraid he won’t accept her past. Russo hits on so many issues in this book: secrets, ignorance, friendship, first love, family dynamics. She writes about all this beautifully and sometimes with heartbreaking honesty. Though Russo has spoken about how this isn’t quite the trans book she wants to write, it’s still an important book. It’s a book about a trans girl written by a trans woman with a trans model on the cover. That’s huge and it could pave the way for even more honest trans books with more intersectionality. Also, it’s a really great book.

Note: You might notice there are no books about bisexual characters in my list. The truth is that I have yet to read one I felt was good. I have certainly not read everything, so I know I’ve missed a few and I hope to get to those books soon. However, I do think there’s a big need for YA books about bisexuality.

Thanks again, Laura! These are such wonderful suggestions. I think you’re right that bisexual characters are much less common in literature, YA or otherwise! Two books that come to mind off the top of my head, for those who are interested, include Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block and Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith.

GIVEAWAY

Laura is generously giving away TWO ARCS to one lucky winner! The books are The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson and Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard. To enter, please leave a comment on this post saying you’d love to win. Giveaway will end October 20th at 11:59PM CT.

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Andrew Smith, Andrew Smith Event, Book Review, Coming-of-Age, Dystopia, Fiction, GLBT, LGBT, Science-Fiction, Young Adult

Thoughts: Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

18079719Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

So, this is the way the world ends.  Not with a bang, but with a …uh… clacking-buzzing sorta sound? Yes, I think T.S. Eliot would be proud of Andrew Smith’s newest wasteland, which is to say, an average, all-American, small town in Iowa.  Of course, this small town just happens to be infested with gigantic, horny, insatiably hungry grasshoppers. Luckily, there is one historian present to witness and record the strange happenings that lead up to the end of the world: Austin Szerba.  Our narrator-historian is a corn-fed teenager just as horny and insatiable as the unstoppable grasshopper army. Okay, to be fair to the cannibalistic insects – Austin is probably hornier than they are.  But at least he doesn’t eat everybody. Young Szerba hilariously, but adeptly, graces his readers with the histories of a town, a family, a friendship, and the founding of a new world order.

Here’s the thing, though.  The premise of the book, as outlined above, might sound a bit ridiculous.  And, in spots, it’s far from believable.  This is because it’s rooted in science-fiction which, by its very nature, is not meant to be entirely realistic; yet, we know that much of science-fiction has indeed anticipated our actual scientific discoveries and technological advancements (anyone notice that Star Trek had tablets and wireless communication devices decades ago?). On the surface of Grasshopper Jungle, then, is an action-packed coming-of-age story with groovy, original and horrifying science-fiction elements.  Dig deeper, though, and you’ll find that Smith is asking some seriously profound questions about life, power, love, independence, and responsibility.

So, maybe mutated humanoids-turned-insects who breed like there’s no tomorrow (‘cause there ain’t, folks) isn’t your bag.  This book is still probably for you.  Why?  Well, because of everything else that Andrew Smith gives us in this book.

For example, we are saved from totally wigging-out over the nasty self-inflicted bug invasion at the core of the story by the presence of three very real, very believable, and very human protagonists who happen to be mired in a wonderfully messed up ménage à trois.  Robby loves Austin.  Shann loves Austin.  Austin loves them both.  It’s confusing and it’s painful.  It’s erotic and it’s maddening.  It’s teenage life in the Midwestern United States, where a young man is coming to terms with his sexuality, his family history, and, yeah, the realization that he just might be the destroyer of the world, the savior of it, and the chronicler of the whole damn thing, too. Holy shit.

What else can I say about this book?  Andrew Smith understands young adult males like few writers out there today.  He also has a superhuman ability to weave incredibly fantastical tales with deeply moving stories about the human experience and what it is like to grow up feeling different.  After Stick, and Winger, and so many other incredible books, it is impossible to deny that Smith has a cosmic connection with the teenage male psyche and all that comes with it.  So if you are prepared to enter that deeply disturbing, sometimes heartbreaking, but always hilarious world of the teen boy mind, then you will find no better avenue than this.


Suggested Reading For:

Age Level: Young Adult+

Interest: Science-Fiction, Coming-of-Age, Sexuality, LGBT, Friendship, Dystopia, Family, Fictional History. Midwest USA, Corn.


Notable Quotes:

“We never heard sirens in Ealing. It’s not that bad things never happened here, it’s just that nobody ever bothered to complain about it when they did.”

“History does show that boys who dance are far more likely to pass along their genes than boys who don’t.”

“I was on the conveyor belt toward the paper shredder of history with countless scores of other sexually confused boys.”

“Good books are always about everything.”

“History never tells about people taking shits. I can’t for a moment believe that guys like Theodore Roosevelt or Winston Churchill never took a shit. History always abbreviates out the shit-taking.”

“History shows that an examination of the personal collection of titles in any man’s library will provide something of a glimpse into his soul.”


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GLBT, guest post, Homosexuality, Joel Derfner, LGBT

Guest Post: Joel Derfner, Lawfully Wedded Husband

Dear Readers,

Today, I am pleased to welcome Joel Derfner, author of Lawfully Wedded Husband and Swish, to the blog!


After weeks of trying to figure out what to write my guest post about, I take Roof Beam Reader’s recent post about Arthur Conan Doyle as a sign, because I’ve been spending a lot of time talking about Conan Doyle lately with my therapist.

acdWhen Conan Doyle started writing fiction in the early 1880s while waiting for patients to start appearing at the medical practice he’d recently opened (he waited, alas, in vain), detective stories were the furthest thing from his mind; he was writing a novel about three Buddhist priests who show up to take revenge on a general who had fought in the First Afghan War. But then he came up with Sherlock Holmes, and people liked him and wanted more, so Conan Doyle gave them more, and then they wanted more, and then more, and finally Conan Doyle couldn’t take it. “I weary of his name,” he wrote in one letter to his mother; in another, “I think of slaying Holmes . . . . He takes my mind from better things,” that was to say, his historical novels. His mother wrote back, “You won’t! You can’t! You mustn’t!” but he ignored her and sent The Strand a story in which he tossed Holmes off the Reichenbach Falls, at which point twenty thousand people immediately cancelled their subscriptions.

Alas for Conan Doyle, once he got back to writing his historical fiction, which was what he was really interested in, people got back to not caring about his work, and eventually in order to keep from starving to death he had to resurrect Holmes. Circulation for The Strand immediately went up by over thirty thousand, and Conan Doyle made enough money that he could make vast, extravagant attempts to prove the validity of Spiritualism before he died of angina.

211525The reason I’ve been talking about this in therapy is that I’ve written three books. The first, Gay Haiku, was a cute little pink bathroom book. The second, Swish, was a memoir; on the surface it’s an exploration of gay stereotypes and the truths that can lie underneath them, but ultimately it’s a book about what it is to feel like an outsider. The third, Lawfully Wedded Husband: How My Gay Marriage Will Save the American Family, published last month, is half memoir and half musings on history, politics, and culture. I don’t really count Gay Haiku, since it took about five seconds to write, but the other two books I think of as aiming at something important about the human condition, as fulfilling what D.H. Lawrence says is the function of art:

The essential function of art is moral. Not aesthetic, not decorative, not pastime and recreation. But moral. The essential function of art is moral. But a passionate, implicit morality, not didactic. A morality which changes the blood, rather than the mind. The mind follows later, in the wake.

Swish and Lawfully Wedded Husband are both attempts—whether they’re successful or not isn’t for me to say—to change the blood of their readers.

The problem is that now I’ve run out of life to memoirize, so I’m writing a murder mystery.

“My last book was about civil rights and pain and compassion,” I say to my therapist. “This book is about a dead body.”

“You know,” he says, “Arthur Conan Doyle wrote—”

“Yes, I know, I know,” I say. “So you keep telling me. But this is different.”

“Really? Have you ever even picked up one of the novels Conan Doyle thought was important?”

“You’re missing the point.”

“The point,” he says, “is that worrying about whether the work you’re doing is important or not is silly, because ultimately it’s not your judgment to make. Furthermore, it’s counterproductive, because it keeps you from engaging wholeheartedly in the work itself.”

“Can’t we just go back to talking about my mother?”

Of course my therapist is right, though I occasionally accuse him of trying to turn me into a Buddhist, and not the fun kind who would take revenge on somebody for his actions in the First Afghan War. And, to give myself some credit, I’ve started acting like he’s right too, and working on the mystery novel becomes a lot easier when I’m not hating myself for not writing something that fulfills the essential function of art. And who knows? Maybe Sherlock Holmes himself fulfills that function, showing his readers that reason and truth can triumph in a world that sets all its powers against them.

I don’t really have a clean way to wrap up this post, so I guess I’ll just say that I’m fine seeing all my other work fall by the wayside, as long as something I write changes somebody’s blood.


Praise for JOEL DERFNER:

“Moving seamlessly from the personal to the historical to the political, Joel Derfner meditates with wit, insight and even-handedness on the realities of marriage — his and everyone’s. His story is not only deftly placed in the context of the broader fight for marriage equality, but is also a powerful tool in that fight. Mainly because it’s so funny.”

—David Javerbaum, 12-time Emmy winner (for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart) and co-author of The Last Testament of God: A Memoir

“In a culture where we disguise vulnerability with physical perfection and material success, Derfner skewers heartache with Wildean wit . . . [Derfner is] the next Noël Coward.”

—Out.com on Swish

More about LAWFULLY WEDDED HUSBAND:
17885414When Joel Derfner’s boyfriend proposed to him, there was nowhere in America the two could legally marry. That changed quickly, however, and before long the two were on what they expected to be a rollicking journey to married bliss. What they didn’t realize was that, along the way, they would confront not just the dilemmas every couple faces on the way to the altar—what kind of ceremony would they have? what would they wear? did they have to invite Great Aunt Sophie?—but also questions about what a relationship can and can’t do, the definition of marriage, and, ultimately, what makes a family.

Add to the mix a reality show whose director forces them to keep signing and notarizing applications for a wedding license until the cameraman gets a shot she likes; a family marriage history that includes adulterers, arms smugglers, and poisoners; and discussions of civil rights, Sophocles, racism, grammar, and homemade Ouija boards—coupled with Derfner’s gift for getting in his own way—and what results is a story not just of gay marriage and the American family but of what it means to be human.

More about JOEL DERFNER:
123839Joel is from South Carolina, where his great-grandmother had an affair with George Gershwin. After leaving the south, he got a B.A. in linguistics from Harvard. A year after he graduated, his thesis on the Abkhaz language was shown to be completely wrong, as the word he had been translating as “who” turned out to be not a noun but a verb. Realizing that linguistics was not his métier, he moved to New York to get an M.F.A. in musical theater writing from the Tisch School of the Arts.

Musicals for which he has written the scores have been produced in London, New York, and various cities in between (going counterclockwise). In an attempt to become the gayest person ever, he joined Cheer New York, New York’s gay and lesbian cheerleading squad, but eventually he had to leave because he was too depressed. In desperation, he started knitting and teaching aerobics, though not at the same time. He hopes to come to a bad end.


Where to Buy Lawfully Wedded Husband: Amazon.com, IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, Anderson’s, Powell’s, Book People, Book Passage, McNally Robinson.


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Book Review, Coming-of-Age, David Levithan, Depression, Family, Favorites, Fiction, Gay Lit, Gender Identity, GLBT, Homophobia, Homosexuality, LGBT, Relationships, Transgender, Young Adult

Thoughts: Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

17237214Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Final Verdict: 4.0 out of 4.0
YTD:  51


When you look at the cover for Two Boys Kissing, you get a pretty good idea of what this book will be about.  Then you read the synopsis on the inside cover and your idea becomes a bit more defined, a bit clearer.  Finally, you sit down to read the book, only to discover that your first impressions were of the vaguest kind.  In Two Boys Kissing, David Levithan brings back the literary chorus of old.  The narrative guides of Shakespeare and Ovid at long last reappear, this time through the collective voice of our “ancient” gay predecessors.  These are the men and women who bravely pioneered the social frontier, the rainbow-clad Lewis & Clark who pressed love onward – quietly or with booming voice- and who were lost to one of the greatest tragedies of our day, the AIDS epidemic.

As our guide, this chorus reveals to us a day in the life of multiple contemporary gay youths, in many iterations of the “type.”  The main couple, Craig and Harry, are the two boys kissing, but they are not a couple at all (although they used to be).  Their goal is to stand up for equality by breaking the world’s record for longest kiss – hoping that the process and the end result of two boys’ names together in a permanent book of world record will get people thinking, if not change the world entirely. They are also standing up for their friend, who was violently and viciously beaten for being gay.

In addition to their primary story, the chorus also gives us a peek into the worlds of Peter and Neil, a young couple who are learning what that word, “couple,” means; learning how to navigate life for themselves and for each other, including, most importantly, how to understand and respond to one another, sometimes without words.   We also meet Avery and Ryan, both of whom have their demons, past and present, and who must confront the idea of what it means to be different, even within the same “gay world.”

Finally, we see Cooper, the boy who no one sees and who refuses to be seen.  Cooper’s story is where the chorus truly rallies – where these spirit guides are needed most, lest we forget that where we came from and where we are going are inextricably linked.  Technology advances, and these advancements change our perspectives and our possibilities, but for boys like Cooper, the loneliness and isolation only grow deeper, more vacuous.

Two Boys Kissing is the gay anthem for our day.  It is the very book created from the very inspirations that many of us have been waiting to read for a long, long time.  Levithan pulls stories from the real world and links them to our present and our past.  He does this through the eyes of a compassionate yet devastatingly helpless and sometimes forgotten chorus of our forbearers. Levithan, since the publication of his wonderful short novel Boy Meets Boy ten years ago, has veered from the idyllic and romantic, to the daring and experimental (Every You, Every Me), and the exploratory (Every Day), right into the real, the raw, and the historical.  He keeps getting better, and Two Boys Kissing is a triumph indeed.


Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: YA+
Interest: LGBT, Transgender, Relationships, First Loves, Coming-of-Age, Interconnected Plots, Family, Depression, Hate Crimes.


Notable Quotes:

“We thought of magic as something that existed with or without us. But that’s not true. Things are not magical because they’ve been conjured for us by some outside force. They are magical because we create them.”

“You spend so much time, so much effort, trying to hold yourself together. And then everything falls apart anyway.”

“It is hard to stop seeing your son as a son and to start seeing him as a human being. It is hard to stop seeing your parents as parents and to start seeing them as human beings. It’s a two-sided transition, and very few people manage it gracefully.”

“What strange creatures we are, to find silence peaceful, when permanent silence is the thing we most dread. Nighttime is not that. Nighttime still rustles, still creaks and whispers and trembles in its throat.  It is not darkness we fear, but our own helplessness within it.”

“Our bodies don’t have to be touching to be connected to one another. Our heart races without contact. Our breath holds until the threat is gone.”

“You grow. Your life widens. And you can’t expect your partner’s love alone to fill you. There will always be space for other things.”

“Here we are, thousands of us, shouting no, shouting at him to stop, crying out and making a net of our bodies, trying to come between him and the water.”

“There is the sudden. There is the eventual. And in between, there is the living.”


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Beats of Summer, Blog Post, Events, GLBT, LGBT, William S. Burroughs

Friday’s Featured Beat: William S. Burroughs!

burroughs1

Name: William S. Burroughs

Born:   February 5, 1914 (St. Louis, Missouri)

Died:   August 2, 1997 (Lawrence, Kansas)

Seminal Work:  Naked Lunch (1959)

Relationship to The Beat Generation:

William S. Burroughs is often called the founder of The Beat Generation and the godfather of punk (music).  Although he was older, at the time, than most of the Beat writers, he was involved in their movement and was an inspiration to and role model, of sorts, for them.  Burroughs was a drug addict for much of his adult life and his addiction inspired him to write books such as Naked Lunch, Junky (1953), and his Nova Trilogy [The Soft Machine (1961), The Ticket that Exploded (1962), and Nova Express (1964)].  He was known for always carrying a gun, even in bed, and for using a walking cane which had a sword inside of it.

Importance to Literary History:

200px-NakedLunch1steditionThe Nova Trilogy, mentioned above, as well as some of his other works, were crafted using Burroughs’s now-signature “Cut-up” technique.  This is a type of narrative form which Burroughs created and which has since enjoyed a movement of its own.  This aleatory technique comes about when the writer writes a text (or texts), then “cuts-up” the original and rearranges it, creating a new text with the same content.  The technique was inspired by Brion Gysin, a painter-friend whom Burroughs visited in Paris in 1959.  Gysin used the cut-up technique on his paintings and Burroughs noticed that it was quite similar to what he had done (juxtaposition technique) in Naked Lunch, but even more radical.  His employment of the cut-up technique in literary form, coupled with his belief that was groundbreaking and innovative, and it has inspired the style of many postmodern writers.

William S. Burroughs on his cut-up technique:

Allen Ginsberg, Lucien Carr, William Burroughs, New York 1953. c. Allen Ginsberg Estate.

Allen Ginsberg, Lucien Carr, William Burroughs, New York 1953. c. Allen Ginsberg Estate.

“A page of text-my own or some one else’s-is folded down the middle and placed on another page- The composite text is then read across half one text and half the other-The fold in method extends to writing the flash back used in films, enabling the writer to move backwards and forwards on his time track-For example I take page one and fold it into page one hundred-I insert the resulting composite as page ten-When the reader reads page ten he is flashing forwards in time to page one hundred and back in time to page one-The déjà vu phenomena can so be produced to order-(This method is of course used in music where we are continually moved backwards and forward on the time track by repetition and rearrangement of musical themes-In using the fold in method I edit delete and rearrange as in any other method of composition-I have frequently had the experience of writing some pages of straight narrative text which were then folded in with other pages and found that the fold ins were clearer and more comprehensible than the original texts-Perfectly clear narrative prose can be produced using the fold in method-Best results are usually obtained by placing pages dealing with similar subjects in juxtaposition.”

Biographical Information & Fun Facts:

  • William Burroughs wrote his first story in 1922, at the age of eight.  This was also the year in which he fired his first gun.
  • He graduated from Harvard with a degree in English literature.  He was known for being that “quiet guy” on campus who could always be found playing with his gun (a .32 revolver).
  • In 1937, he married a European woman named Ilse von Klapper in order to help her escape Nazi occupation and emigrate to the U.S. They divorced a few years later.
  • He cut off one of his fingers (the left pinky) when he was 25.  On purpose. He brought the pinky to a mental hospital in order to be admitted, where he claimed he cut off his finger as part of an “initiation ceremony into the Crow Indian tribe.” (See his short story, “The Finger”).
  • In 1943, Burroughs moved from Chicago to New York City, where he met and became friends with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.
  • Burroughs and Kerouac collaborated on a novel, And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, which was inspired by the true story of their witnessing the murder of their friend Dave Kammerer, by another of their friends, Lucien Carr.  Carr killed Kammerer because he (Kammerer) had made sexual advances toward him. And the Hippos was written in 1945, but not published until 2008.
Birth of the Beats ... William Burroughs (L) and Jack Kerouac in New York in 1953, photographed by Allen Ginsberg. Photograph: Corbis

Birth of the Beats … William Burroughs (L) and Jack Kerouac in New York in 1953, photographed by Allen Ginsberg. Photograph: Corbis

  • Burroughs and his new (common-law) wife, Joan Vollmer, moved to Texas and grew marijuana. They moved to Mexico in 1949, where Burroughs went to graduate school and studied Anthropology.
  • Burroughs killed Joan in 1951 when playing a game of “William Tell.”  He was trying to shoot a glass off her head, but shot her instead.  He served two weeks in jail, until his brother arrived and paid thousands of dollars to get him out.  He reported to the jail every Monday for a year, until returning to the U.S. He was convicted of manslaughter, but only received a two-year suspended sentence.
  • Burroughs later wrote that he did not believe he would have become a writer if not for Joan’s death.
  • Burroughs later moved to Colombia, then Tangiers, and then, in 1956, to Morocco, where Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Peter Orlovsky (Ginsberg’s lover) helped him to organize Naked Lunch.
  • Naked Lunch was rejected for publication in the United States, so Ginsberg and Burroughs took it to Paris, where it was published in 1959.  The editor of the Chicago Review, who had tried to publish portions of it in the U.S., was fired.
  • In 1966, obscenity charges were brought against Naked Lunch.  The courts rejected these chargers – this was the last major censorship hearing over literature in America, the ruling of which paved the way for much greater freedom of expression in literature and the arts.
  • Burroughs is on the cover of The Beatles’ album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  He is next to Marilyn Monroe, near the top center, just below and to the right of Edgar Allan Poe.

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  • In 1993, Burroughs was featured in a TV. Commercial for GAP clothing.   In 1994, he was in an ad for Nike.
  • Kurt Cobain and William Burroughs collaborated on a speaking album (The “Priest” They Called Him).  Cobain visited Burroughs just six months before committing suicide.
  • Burroughs died of a heart attack in 1997.

Notable Quotes:

“Love? What is it? Most natural painkiller what there is. Love.” (These are the last lines from the last entry in William S. Burroughs’s personal journal).

“Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer.”

“After one look at this planet any visitor from outer space would say, ‘I want to see the manager.’”

“Artists to my mind are the real architects of change, and not the political legislators who implement change after the fact.”

“Language is a virus from outer space.”

“In my writing, I am acting as a map-maker, an explorer of psychic areas, a cosmonaut of inner space, and I see no point in exploring areas that have already been thoroughly surveyed.”

“I am getting so far out one day I won’t come back at all.”


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Andrew Smith, Book Review, Coming-of-Age, Favorites, Fiction, Friendship, GLBT, LGBT, Loss, Young Adult

Review: Winger by Andrew Smith

11861815Winger by Andrew Smith
Final Verdict: 4.0 out of 4.0
YTD: 36

Ryan Dean West is Winger, so nicknamed for the position he plays on the high school Rugby team.  He is fourteen years old and, being intellectually gifted, is already heading into his junior year of high school. He begins the new school year as a resident of Opportunity Hall, the “reject” wing of his school campus’s dormitories.  How did such a bright kid end up in exile?  Take one part smarty-pants, one part wild boy, and two parts bad judgment, and there you have it!  Living in Opportunity Hall with Chas, the school’s biggest bully, as a roommate sucks, but it is not the biggest of Winger’s problems.  And the fact that Chas’s girlfriend is totally lusting after him is bad, but still not the worst of it.  That one of Winger’s friends posts pictures of his band-aided scrotum on the internet and another is gay (how do you deal with that!?) definitely causes Winger some anxiety, but these are still not the worst of his issues.  No, the worst part is, he’s in love.  Not so bad?  Well, it is if you’re in love with your best friend.  And it’s really bad if your best friend is a girl two years older than you.  Two years might not seem like such a big deal to those of us who are now counting our birthdays in decades instead of years, but when you’re young, two years feels like a generation, especially when another guy, an older guy, your best friend, in fact, is competing with you for the same girl’s attention.  Winger is a classic coming-of-age story for the new era. It is smart, daring, honest, and dangerous.

One of my favorite things about Smith’s books has always been the characters.  Smith clearly knows and understands his characters inside and out.  No one in the story is there for the sake of being there – they are all integral to the story’s plot and progression, be it for comic relief, emotional growth, romance, sexual awakening, or whatever else.  Winger is no exception to this mastery.  The main character, Ryan Dean, is not the greatest guy in the world; in fact, he does some pretty lousy things.  But he’s growing up.  He stumbles and he learns.  He says stupid things, but reflects on them later.  We get annoyed with him, sometimes, but we root for him because we can see and remember our own journeys to adulthood reflected in his.  The bullies, too, Chas and Casey Palmer, are equally rounded – they are not all bad, and they are not just there because every protagonist needs an antagonist.  They have their stories and histories, too, and they are equally important to this world that Smith has created.  Although the story focuses on the students, Winger and his friends, Smith also captures the best and worst of adulthood.  There are teachers (Mr. Wellins!) who live in their own little obsessive worlds, trying to make their students see what they see in the things they love; there are absent parents and clueless mentors; there are even unlikely romances between creepy hall directors who ultimately let their residents down in the worst possible way.  This mixed bag of characters, their individualities, and their interconnectedness with one another and with the main story itself all help to create a story world that is believable and engaging, hilarious and terrifying – just like life.

When you have a favorite writer, the anticipation that builds when waiting to read his or her new book is a peculiar experience.  You know you love what they do, but part of you is always dreadfully afraid that the new book might disappoint.  When you’re a self-identified “reader,” there are few things more terrifying and heart-breaking than to be let-down by your favorite writer – it is a fear that few people can know or understand.  So, headed into this reading experience, having loved every single one of Andrew Smith’s published works to date, had me simultaneously nervous and excited.  I discovered Smith when I received an advanced copy of his book Stick from the publisher, for review.  Immediately after finishing it, I bought every one of his books.  And I’ve enjoyed all of them.  Smith has a distinct voice, a poignant style, and a raw and daring point of view.  It is remarkable, then, having already known what Smith was capable of, that Winger has blown my head right off.  Smith clearly cares deeply for this story – the language and style are creative and distinctive, without being distracting.  Smith understands people, but it takes a great storyteller to metamorphose that understanding into a readable, enjoyable story.  He does this in traditional ways, sure, but he also adds unique signatures to his prose and form.  For example, Winger carries on conversations with himself – something we probably all do – but has it ever been so realistically employed in prose?  I don’t think so.  The cartoons, too, add a fun element to the narrative, but also add to the reader’s understanding of the main character/narrator’s personality.  Sometimes his deepest feelings, though caricatured through comic, come across most pointedly in his drawings.  The dialogue, the jokes, the sarcasm, and the descriptions, too, are without flaw.

This year, I have been fortunate enough to have read some great young adult fiction from some of the most popular, award-wining writers.  Although the YA genre is not my particular specialty, I do enjoy it and read it often; in the last 5 months, I’ve read works by Rick Yancey, David Levithan, Lauren Myracle, Cassandra Clare, and Rick Riordan. I’ve enjoyed, to varying degrees, all of their books and have found much to praise about each writer.  But Andrew Smith stands unequivocally head-and-shoulders above the rest, and Winger is in a league of its own.  It is not uncommon to read blurbs and reviews that claim such-and-such book is THE book of the year – for whatever reason.  I have made a point, on this blog, to write my unbiased opinions of books, based on my own criteria – the things that work for me when reading a story.  I’m not sure I’ve ever, in a review, suggested that anyone go out and buy a book.  But there’s a time for everything, and this is that time.  Winger is the first book this year to capture my attention from the start and hold it to the end.  It’s the first story to tug at my heart, my soul, and my funny bone, and to make me believe that this story and the characters in it are real.  If you’re a lover of YA fiction or coming-of-age stories, or if you are, like me, someone who just loves a good story and will dabble wherever you need to in order to find it, then, for crying out loud, go experience Andrew Smith’s Winger.

Suggested Reading for:

Age Level: 13+ (Language, sexuality, violence).

Interest:  Coming of Age, YA, Boarding School, Friendship, Loss, LGBT, Bullying.

Notable Quotes:

“Nothing ever goes back exactly the way it was . . . things expand and contract – like breathing, but you could never fill your lungs up with the same air twice” (7).

“Getting through my world was like trying to swim in a pool of warm mayonnaise while carrying two bowling balls” (328).

“I wrote this all down, and I tried to make everything happen the exact same way it did when I was seeing it and feeling it – real time – with all the confusion, the pressure, and the wonder, too” (411).

“Things get tough. And you’re supposed to grow up. And it’s all a bunch of bullshit” (411).

“It felt like it was going to snow, and the clouds hung so low and white that I couldn’t even see the tops of trees around me. It looked like there was a pillow over the face of the world” (423).

“Almost nothing at all is ever about sex, unless you never grow up, that is. It’s about love, and, maybe, not having it” (438).

“The same words that make the horrible things come also tell the quieter things about love” (439).

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2013 Challenges, Allen Ginsberg, American Lit, banned books, censorship, Classics, Classics Club, Drugs, Events, Fiction, Gay Lit, Giveaways, GLBT, Jack Kerouac, LGBT, Literature, Read-Alongs, Reading Challenges, Reading Event, Sexuality, William S. Burroughs

The Beats of Summer: A Reading Event! (Sign-Up Post)

Welcome to the sign-up post for:

BeatsOfSummer-ButtonThe Beats of Summer: A Reading Event!

Summertime is coming, and what better time than Summer to immerse ourselves in the works of the most rebellious, daring, and “hot” generation of American writers??

For this event, the goal is to read as many pieces of “Beat Generation” literature as you want to, from June 1st through July 14th. Audiobooks, fiction, poetry, and non-fiction all count, as long as the writer is considered to be a part of the Beat Generation.  Memoirs, biographies, essays, theory/criticism or other works of non-fiction written about The Beats are also acceptable!

Update: We are looking for volunteers to provide Guest Posts and/or offer Giveaways throughout the event. If you would be interesting in participating in this capacity, please fill out This Form. And Thanks!

What is the Beat Generation?

“In American in the 1950s, a new cultural and literary movement staked its claim on the nation’s consciousness. The Beat Generation was never a large movement in terms of sheer numbers, but in influence and cultural status they were more visible than any other competing aesthetic. The Beat Generation saw runaway capitalism as destructive to the human spirit and antithetical to social equality. In addition to their dissatisfaction with consumer culture, the Beats railed against the stifling prudery of their parents’ generation. The taboos against frank discussions of sexuality were seen as unhealthy and possibly damaging to the psyche. In the world of literature and art, the Beats stood in opposition to the clean, almost antiseptic formalism of the early twentieth century Modernists. They fashioned a literature that was more bold, straightforward, and expressive than anything that had come before.”  –The Literature Network

I will post throughout the event to  discuss different subjects related to The Beat Generation, its writers, and its influences on later movements in literature, film, and music, as well as my own reviews of the Beat Generation books that I finish.  I will also be offering giveaways, and I am hopeful that some participants will be interested in writing guest posts or hosting giveaways of their own, to make this more interactive!

Below is a  list of writers and works of The Beat Generation.  This list is by no means comprehensive, it is simply a starting point.

Major Writers:
Richard Brautigan
William S. Burroughs
Neal Cassady
Gregory Corso
Diane DiPrima
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Allen Ginsberg
John Clellon Holmes
Joyce Johnson
Hettie Jones
Jack Kerouac
Joanne Kyger
Gary Snyder
Carl Solomon

Important Works:
Dharma Bums
Gasoline (poetry)
Howl (poetry)
Minor Characters (memoir)
Naked Lunch
On the Road
Queer
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (memoir)

Affiliated Writers/Biographers:
James Campbell (This is the Beat Generation)
Carolyn Cassady (Off the Road)
Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)
Brenda Knight (Women of the Beat Generation)
Matt Theado (The Beats: A Literary Reference)
Tom Wolfe (The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test)

In the meantime, if you would like to host a giveaway or provide a guest post, please: CLICK HERE.

And if you want to sign-up to participate in The Beats of Summer (yay!), just leave a comment on this post saying YOU’RE IN! Maybe include some of the books you hope to read.  I plan to read Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey, Howl by Allen Ginsberg, and Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac.

Please also post the button somewhere on your blog (in an announcement post or in your blog’s side-bar) so that we can spread the word, gather excitement, and encourage participation.  It goes without saying that this is meant to be a positive, fun, and educational event – it’s an at-will project, so negativity is a no-go!

Sign-ups are open from now through June 15th.  If you sign-up after June 15th, you can still absolutely participate, but you may not be eligible for some of the early giveaway prizes.

To Share/Discuss on Twitter, Use Hashatag #BeatsOfSummer

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