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20 Favorite Things of 2017 So Far

Friday, December 8, 2017 - 11:30

Here I am on my usual review day without any reviews lined up (though I may do movie reivews of "Battle of the Sexes" and "Coco" at some point). So I thought I'd reprise a feature I did last year. This is not a "best of" list. This isn't even a "best of what I consumed" list. No claim is made that the items on this list have an objective value over any other items I might have placed on the list. But these are 20 items--grouped into 4 general categories of 5 items each--that I blogged about and that have stuck with me for some reason.

Five Favorite Works of Fiction

  • Jackalope Wives and Other Stories by T. Kingfisher - The more I read stories set in Ursula's loosely-or-not-connected American folkloric setting, the more impressed I am by how she is creating a mythos here. One with a flavor both distinctively unique to her own personality as a writer, and yet woven in with layers upon layers of folkloric traditions. Some day, students of literature will write dissertations on this body of work (but don't tell Ursula I said that because it will make her self-conscious).
  • Spring Flowering by Farah Mendlesohn - I have a dream that some day lesbian historic fiction will escape the very peculiar boxes that the current market forces have shoved it into. And on that day, I believe that this book may be viewed among the turning points. (But don't tell Farah I said that because it will make her self-conscious.)
  • Mizora: A Mss. Found Among the Private Papers of the Princess Vera Zarovitch by Mary E. Bradley - This is not a great work of literature. It isn't even a particularly good work of literature, in terms of structure and style. But it is a delightfully peculiar and visionary work that should be read by anyone interested in the history of utopian science fiction, of hollow-earth novels, or of single-gender societies.
  • Minotaur by J.A. Rock - In terms of setting, genre, and mood, this is not at all my sort of book as these things go. That it made the list is a testament to the masterful use of language and character voice.
  • The Imperial Radch Trilogy by Ann Leckie - I'm cheating a little and getting a three-fer here (each word links a different review). But to a large extent, what I loved about this series was not so much the individual books, but the way the series as a whole balanced the creation of an overarching narrative with a surprising and delighful variation in mode and flavor.

Five Favorite Books/Articles Blogged for the Lesbian Historic Motif Project

  • Seeing Sodomy in the Middle Ages by Robert Mills - Mills managed an unusual feat: a male author, writing about homosexuality in the middle ages in general, but including female topics in more than a dismissively cursory fashion. He is also the first historian I've seen (which is to say, I may have not yet encountered others who did this earlier) who seriously tackles the ambiguities between sexual orientation and gender identity inherent in medieval treatments of cross-dressing and same-sex desire.
  • Lesbian Desire in the Lyrics of Sappho by Jane McIntosh Snyder - I loved how this book investigated the question of same-sex desire within the body of Sappho's work within an extremely rigorous scholarly framework, and how Snyder respected her audience enough to both dive deeply into the historic philology of the material while guiding the general reader through its complexities.
  • Lesbians in Early Modern Spain by Sherry Velasco - Velasco demonstrates the wealth of historic material on gender and sexuality still to be found by those with the background and desire to pursue it.
  • "Two Women and their Monumental Brass, c. 1480" by Judith Bennett - Like Snyder's study of Sappho's poetry, this is an excellent example of an in-depth investigation that is both utterly rigorous from a historical point of view, and even-handed in discussing its relevance to lesbian history.
  • Thinking Sex with the Early Moderns by Valerie Traub - I have long been suspicious of the tendency of historiographic discussions to obfuscate their topic with jargon and subjectivity. Traub is one of the rare writers who makes me feel that these discussions are not only understandable, but are vitally important to the future of the field.

Five Favorite Podcasts Recorded for the Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast

  • Laudomia Loves Margaret (Podcast #5) - I can't help but be biased towards the inspiration for my story "Where My Heart Goes". (Yes, this is a shameless plug.)
  • Sappho, the Translations (Podcast #11) - If you look at the listener statistics for my podcast, this one is the runaway favorite, perhaps in part due to some external linking. But I also had lots of fun doing the poetry readings for it.
  • Beguines, Boston Marriage, and Bed Death: Historic Archetypes of Asexual Lesbianism (Podcast #13d) - I have very gradually been coming out as asexual--an uncomfortable identity within the lesbian fiction community. I put this show together as a gift to other women who might be having difficulty seeing themselves within a history that is so often defined by the question, "But were they, you know, doing it?" I was rather anxious about this episode and expected a certain amount of blowback from it, but it seems to have disappeared into the airwaves without a ripple. Ah well. Still one of my favorites.
  • Interview with Catherine Lundoff (Podcast #13b) - I was delighted to be able to secure the eloquent and knowledgable Catherine Lundoff as the first author guest for my expanded podcast format. She helped me get the series off on the right foot.
  • The Highwaywoman Special (Podcast #14e) - When the expanded format left me with the occasional "fifth week" slot, I cast around for something special to do with the opportunity. Although I've ended up going in a different direction, I had loads of fun putting together this braided show that combined history, music, and book reviews.

Five Favorite Unexpected Discoveries

Last year's "20 favorite things" was primarily drawn from reviews of various mediums, but this year I didn't review that many things outside fiction. So when I looked over my "what have I blogged about" list, I was tempted to make the fourth category "essays on writing and about Alpennia." But that felt like it made this set of lists a bit too me-centered. So instead, here are five things that share my experience of discovering something new or unexpected.

  • The Uncanny Valley of Fictional Representation - Nalo Hopkinson's novel The Salt Roads got me thinking about why it is that I sometimes feel more included in books that fall outside the lesbian fiction genre than I ever do by the main body of lesfic.
  • A reconsideration of family folklore about my great-great-grandfather Abiel T. LaForge's actions whle overseeing a court martial - One of the most striking pieces of family folklore I always heard about Abiel's time in charge of a court martial was the suspicion that the missing diary pages covering him presiding over the trial of Rowland H. Macy Junior (son of the founder of Macy's department store) would have documented a basis for a quid-pro-quo when Abiel was later hired by Macy Sr. But my read-through of the diaries to produce this edited and annotated edition has convinced me that such an interpretation would be both implausible on timeline grounds, and completely out of character for Abiel.
  • A Certain Persuasion: Modern LGBTQ+ Fiction Inspired by Jane Austen’s Novels - In May, I did a monthlong series promoting novels that, like Mother of Souls, had been released in November 2016 and may have had their releases drowned in the awfulness that was the stolen presidential election. (Yes, I said "stolen".) But even without that distraction, I might have missed this amusing collection if I hadn't been putting together the book list for the series.
  • Frankentastic: a re-gendered reading of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, by Tansy Reynor Roberts - It is often revealing to look at a well-known work from a different angle. This podcast had a simple premise: make all the male characters in Frankenstein female instead. But what struck me in listening to it was not the obviousness of the erasure of women in the original work, but instead the pervasive homoeroticism that I had somehow never noticed when the characters were men.
  • Deventer, NL - After Worldcon, I went to Deventer to visit a long-time online friend. I didn't realize I was also going to get the treat of living in the midst of a well-preserved pre-modern city that has managed to retain its historic character while moving forward into the 21st century.

What favorite things did you experience this year?

Major category: