Bookstore Experience: The Angry Lesbian Edition

Okay, so here’s the other thing that totally sucked about our trip to the bookstore on Saturday night (reminder: the first thing that sucked is our whole world telling us we need the damn “perfect” wedding or else we’re Doing It Wrong and there’s no good publication out there to remind us that doing it right For Us means we’re Doing It Right. Anyway.): there was no lesbian fiction.

Okay, let’s back this up a little bit, because that statement needs, like, 500 qualifiers.  Or at least 2.

The thing is that I want some nice, light reading to read.  You know, the printed word and all that.  I want some fiction, even some, ahem, “chick lit” would be acceptable – but I want some lesbian characters.  The lesbian characters I was searching for didn’t have to do anything especially special:  I didn’t need them to have babies or have graphic sex or run around talking about being lesbians.  Unless those are the things lesbians do all the time, in which case, I think I’m Doing It Wrong.

lesbians Doing It Right?

Anyway, I got up in search of said light reading.  First stop: the new fiction table.  I read the back or inside cover of every book on that table, hoping for something as small as the main character’s sister dating a woman, or even a nonchalant “Sarah and her partner Debbie” mentioned in passing.  I don’t need a whole AND THEY’RE LESBIANS TOO storyline – I just want them to appear here or there or even be important characters.  And what did I find? Nothing.

So I headed up to the Lesbian & Gay section of the bookstore, and here’s what they have there: books on the legal papers you should write up because even if your marriage is legal in Massachusetts, if one of you dies, the other still gets nothing if you don’t have legal papers.  Uh, thanks for that relaxing reminder on my relaxing Saturday night, Barnes and Noble (Note to self: find a lawyer, write up the damn papers, wear my helmet while riding by bike. Stay safe, kids.).  Other books included: being straight children of gay parents, being straight parents of gay children, how to come out to your family, how to tell if you’re dating another woman or just spending time together as friends, a book called something like The Straight Girl’s Guide to Sleeping With Chicks (um, not a bad book if you’ve been dating men and just realized you’re gay, but also somewhat offensive. Just in case you were wondering.), and a whole lot of erotica.  Did I mention I just want some light fiction?

Where you go next, if you are me, is to that fancy little Nook area – they have these Kindle-esque things that are actually pretty cool, and you can search for books right on them.  So I search for “Lesbian + Fiction”, and I search for “lesbian fiction”, and I wish you could hear the frustration and near-rage in my voice when I say that besides the Sarah Waters book that came up, every single thing was erotica or porn, and one book about mother-son incest that apparently had some lesbian aspect to it.

Seriously?!

I am just looking to be able to see a reflection of myself somewhere.  Of course it doesn’t have to be me exactly, but something like me.  It’s like all those wedding magazines, showing the wedding you aren’t interested in having. It’s like, if you are a straight couple, finding only books about same sex couples.  Fine for a story or two or even twenty, but don’t you want just one that is a story about someone like you?

So here’s what I’m hoping for: that you will all chime in and tell me I was looking in the wrong places and here are eighteen million books that have same-sex couples in them and are not all about sex or even mostly about sex (and maybe because they’re not about sex they wouldn’t be called lesbian fiction?); or that you will chime in and agree that there is a need for something like this, and I will run off and write a novel.

It’s funny, I think, the things that make me feel marginalized.

Please chime in? Thanks.

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42 Comments

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42 responses to “Bookstore Experience: The Angry Lesbian Edition

  1. I wish I had recommendations for you, but I can’t think of a single fiction book I’ve read that fits your description and doesn’t make a Big Huge Deal over one character being gay or turning out to be gay. Actually, the main character in The Lacuna is gay, but he’s a man. It’s still a really good book though. I read Other Girls, which is mostly about lesbians in college, it doesn’t have too much erotica and it’s mostly just not very good.

    If you want PG Lesbians, maybe try the teen section? http://www.amazon.com/Dare-Truth-Promise-Paula-Boock/dp/0547076177/ref=pd_bxgy_b_text_b

    And yes, you need a lawyer and papers. Go.

  2. I was a women’s studies major in undergrad and I’m sure we read some books like you’re describing but I’m completely blanking right now…I’ll look at my collection tonight and see if I can come up with anything! But along those lines, if you really wanted a lesbian fiction book, you could always email a women’s studies professor at one of the many colleges in Boston, I bet one of them would be happy to help you out!

  3. Becca

    Reading this post made me go ‘I’m sure I’ve read something like this, let me search my memory banks…’ and then come up embarrassingly blank. I know I’ve read books with gay male supporting characters – and main characters, for that matter- but nothing jumped out for lesbian characters. But of course by then I was curious, and did some internet sleuthing.

    Don’t know whether any of these fit the bill, but at least a few more options!

    http://www.firebrandbooks.com/store/commerce.cgi?product=Novels&cart_id=3557281.12945

    http://www.alyson.com/fiction.html

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_books_portraying_sexual_relations_between_women

  4. I don’t have any suggestions for you, but wanted to chime in about the same situation in movies. Last summer a movie came out that I wanted to see, but never got around to – The Kids are All Right. I was excited to see a mainstream movie (which BTW won the Golden Globe for best comedy) that featured a lesbian couple.

    So last Friday (we had a snow day, but not too much snow to leave the house), I went to a movie rental place and rented it. When we started watching it, we realized it just wasn’t what we thought it would be! Stupid story line and WAY too much gratuitous sex! Plus some of the sex had to do with one of the main (lesbian) characters sleeping with a man. What was that about??? Definitely glad I didn’t waste my money at the movie theater!

    Good luck in your search for worthwhile lesbian literature!

    • Ugh, I KNOW. Lesbian movies are a whole different thing I’m not really willing to go into… too many strong feelings. I read some really interesting critiques of The Kids Are Alright. Ultimately, I thought it was great to see a lesbian couple in a move that supposedly wasn’t about their being lesbians… but yeah the sex sort of ruined it for me.

      • I’ve held off on talking about The Kids Are Allright on my blog since watching it (and nearly ripping my hair out).

        It was SO good and all the little neurosis and peeves and problems a couple (any couple) might face after 20+ years together were SO well portrayed that the sexwithspermdonorman was completely unnecessary. ARGH.

        End rant.

        Unfortunately I don’t have any good suggestions for books for you, although I feel like I’ve read some along the way… I will have to get back to you on this.

  5. Anne

    “The Dirty Girls Social Club” by Alisa Valdez Rodriguez is utterly brainless, fun reading. One of the characters happens to be a lesbian, but it’s more about the friendship that these women have. And it’s based in Boston! I have a copy if you want to borrow it. And then there’s “Tea” by Stacy D’Erasmo, which is less light, but still interesting. More of this girl’s experiences growing up, coming out, and dating crazy people. And of course “Middlesex”, which is less lesbian and more intersexed, but still utterly riveting. Good luck!

    Also, you got me hooked on APW, and I’m not even engaged yet!

  6. Sue B

    Yes, write one yourself. I have to say that after reading your post it made me want to write one for you. The interesting thing is, the whole time I was writing looking for love stories I was wishing that a lesbian couple would pop up with a story for me. But I had to take the stories that came, and noone came forward to fill that void in my book. After I finish my next book, which is halfway done, maybe we could work on on a story line together and fill an obvious void in the literary world.

    • Ooooh I am intrigued! I am not sure I’m good at fiction… my fiction is more “here is nonfiction with some details changed to tie things up nicely and so people aren’t offended”

  7. Oh I know the feeling! It’s so annoying. I can’t believe that book cover is real. Bwhaha.

  8. Kristine

    I second “The Dirty Girls’ Social Club”, though not for good writing. It is pretty bad. But it is one the only – maybe the only – mainstream chick-lit book I’ve read with a lesbian character. Which is pretty bloody awful. Now I am angry too.

    So I also second the idea that you need to start writing one.

    • Yes, this writing idea is intriguing… and would give me something to do besides obsess over my dog. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Unsure.

      I’ll have to check that book out! Even the title sounds bad… but sometimes the worst books are such good brain candy.

  9. I can’t think of anything that fits your criteria and that makes me upset. I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for sure.

  10. sassandpancakes

    I LOOOOOOVE me some Sarah Waters. I know you mentioned her…have you read all her stuff? I brought The Perfect Stranger w/ me on my honeymoon and it was perfect beach reading!

    • sassandpancakes

      Should also mention that my other faves by her are _Fingersmith_ and _The Night Watch_. I think she’s most known for _Tipping the Velvet_, which was great but actually my least favorite.

  11. Have you read The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo series? The main female character is bisexual and there are a few other lesbian characters in the book. Plus, it’s just a really awesome story! 🙂

    • No, but I’m intrigued. I read some stuff about some graphic rape and how it was really sexualized and how I should boycott his stuff… have been sort of wary of it since then. But you enjoyed it/them? I don’t know any actual people who’ve mentioned that they have read it…

      • There’s definitely quite a bit in the stories about rape and the sex trade, but none of it is glamorizing it or anything. I’m on the second of three books right now, and I’m really enjoying it! It’s definitely got some pretty graphic scenes in it, but from what I’ve read so far (I can’t speak for the third book since I haven’t gotten there yet) the main idea of the story is how the girl survives despite all of the terrible things that have happened to her, and how she fights back, even after being raped, etc.

  12. ele

    “The Jane Austen Book Club” fits the bill, and, as a bonus, it’s set in Davis (although Davis sounds a lot like Sacramento to the critical reader). My mom gave me the book saying she thought I’d like it, and there was one very “interesting” character in it. That’s when I learned that my mom’s code word for gay/queer/lesbian/trans is “interesting.” Not sure how I feel about that, but she’s done it several times.

    I also really enjoyed “Oranges Aren’t the Only Fruit” by Jeanette Winterson, which is more head-on about lesbianism, but in an abstract way, and perhaps a little denser than you’re looking for. I’ll keep thinking.

    • Hahaha I love that your mom uses “interesting” – at least she’s talking about/recognizing it? I saw the movie, but I’ll check out the book, since it’s almost definitely better than the movie. The other book sounds really interesting too – dense isn’t necessarily bad! At this point I’ll just take Lesbian Fiction That Is Not Erotica. Nothing against erotica, it’s just not that hard to find.

  13. Poor you! That does sound like a frustrating night at the B&N. I’m surprised there wasn’t a better selection. My experience has been that lesbian genre fiction is at the end of lesbian non-fiction. (They treat African-American light fiction this way as well). Bella Books acts as a clearing house for lesbian genre fiction. You can shop there or find the names of titles. They are doing a site migration any moment now and may be down for a few days — but they’ll be back up after that. Link below —

    http://www.bellabooks.com

    In the meantime — have you read KG MacGregor or Karin Kallmaker? Both have a lot of fans. Emma Donahue is a good choice too but her books tend to be a bit weightier. Good luck in your quest!

  14. I would recommend Nicola Griffith’s “The Blue Place” and “Stay”.

    I read blue place in my gothic and detective fiction class in undergrad and LOVED it. It isn’t really light- but the main character is great. She is the main character who happens to be a lesbian, not THE LESBIAN MAIN CHARACTER.

  15. I don’t have any specific book suggestions off the top of my head that aren’t covered by the previous comment, but I did want to say that I love the idea that if you’re not an “L Word” lesbian talking about being a lesbian all the time, you’re Doing It Wrong. I’m pretty sure that you’re doing everything just fine.

  16. Ellen

    I’m sure we have some books you could borrow. Hmm…let me check our shelves. Upon turning around, I believe I spy by Dorothy Alison, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Frida-Barbara-Mujica/dp/B000FVHJCG/ref=sr_1_15?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1296010827&sr=1-15&quot; title="Frida" and Mothers (can't find a link without actually getting up to look at the name of the author). Oh yes, and there's Fun House and 2 copies of Tipping the Velvet.

    That said, I think B&N is yucky and you might have a lot more fun at a certain locally-owned and independent bookstore that I met you at the other week. If they don't have a specific lesbian fiction section, I bet the staff might be more than happy to recommend a title or two or order it.

  17. Ellen

    I’m sure we have some books you could borrow. Hmm…let me check our shelves. Upon turning around, I believe I spy Trash by Dorothy Alison, Frida and Mothers (can’t find a link without actually getting up to look at the name of the author). Oh yes, and there’s Fun House and 2 copies of Tipping the Velvet.

    That said, I think B&N is yucky and you might have a lot more fun at a certain locally-owned and independent bookstore that I met you at the other week. If they don’t have a specific lesbian fiction section, I bet the staff might be more than happy to recommend a title or two or order it.

  18. jbkess

    The Dragon Tattoo series is fantastic! Not the best choice as a before bed read, but otherwise great!

    Jacqueline Woodson always seems to have a lesbian character in her books, probably because she is a lesbian. Mostly a young adult writer but fun, easy reads. “If you Come Softly” is my favorite.

    Jeanette Winterson has written several books with lesbian characters. I like “Written on the Body” and I know “Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit” is rather popular.

    There is one more book I cannot remember the name of, will have to look through my library and get back to you.

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