Book of the Week, LGTBQIA+

Book of the Week: Proud

Picking a BotW this week was a mix of hard and actually quite easy this week. I read a lot of stuff, but actually didn’t love a lot of it – and some that I did like were by authors that I’ve already written a lot about. But then there was Proud. And it was Pride in London this weekend and I spent my Saturday walking through happy, rainbow-bedecked crowds – firstly on their way to the parade, which started by work and secondly wandering through the after parties in Soho on my way to the theatre in the evening and then back to my hostel afterwards.

Proud is a collection of Young Adult short stories poetry and art edited by Juno Dawson and featuring a mix of new and established LGTBQ+* authors. There’s a huge range of experiences and identities here – including a few that I haven’t seen represented much in my own reading.

I can’t pick a favourite of the stories, because they’re all good and there were several that I really liked. I love a Pride and Prejudice retelling, so I Hate Darcy Pemberley really appealed to me. But then so did The Courage of Dragons – a story about a group of Dungeons and Dragons playing friends who band together during prom to right some wrongs done to one of their number. And then there is Penguins – about prom and crushes and two male penguins who have fallen in love.

Although I read a lot of Middle Grade fiction, I don’t really read a lot of YA – because I find it can tend towards the depressing – particularly when dealing with LGTBQ+ issues. But this is the opposite of that – the stories are affirming and joyous and romantic which is exactly what you want in a book called Proud.

My copy came from NetGalley (yes, I know, I’m super behind because this came out in March and I’ve only just read it) but you should be able to get a copy of Proud from any good bookshop and it’s also available on Kindle and Kobo.

Here’s a bonus picture of the post-Pride march parties.

Partying in the street in Soho near the King Edward Theatre which has Rainbow flags on its big screens

Happy reading!

* I’m using LGTBQ+ here as this is how the book itself describes itself and its contributors.

Book of the Week, LGTBQIA+, memoirs, new releases, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Diary of a Drag Queen

First up a bit of housekeeping: don’t forget last week’s BotW, Death of an Angel is out on Thursday! If you saw the WiB yesterday, you’ll know that there was a bit of a theme to last week’s tired, last night train reading, but actually it’s a non-fiction pick this week.  For once I’m almost relatively timely – because it’sa new book.  Well by new, it only came out on the 7th, Crystal Rasmussen’s Diary of a Drag Queen. Doesn’t it have a great cover?

Cover of Diary of a Drag Queen

Crystal is the drag name of Tom Rasmussen, a writer, Drag Queen and Céline Dion super-fan and their first book is a raw, honest, no holds barred, letting it all hang out look at one year in the author’s life. You follow them back to London after a difficult spell trying to make it in New York, trying to break the fashion industry, find a place in the drag scene and work out where they fit in the LGTBQIA+ community and their own personal manifesto. If you are squeamish, if you can’t deal with reading about other people’s poo, be warned: there is a lot of that here. But Crystal -has a lot they want to tell you and it is worth sitting up and listening.

I think this might be the most honest memoir I have read since Viv Albertine’s Boys, Clothes, Music. Crystal is setting their life and their truth out there on the page, without a filter (or at least not one that I could spot) and seemingly without hiding anything. At various points Crystal talks about having had to tone their life down for their partner or to be accepted or even just to be exist and it feels like this Diary, this book is their life as they want it to be seen, in all its imperfections, messiness, mistakes and triumphs. Here is Crystal explaining their approach in the introduction:

I spent a lot of my life in the violent, painful clutches of shame, which manifested itself in various modes of self-harm, self-destruction, and other untenable, unsurvivable behaviours.

I learned, however, that the antidote to this shame is not pride, or honour, or even celebration. That comes later. The antidote to shame is honesty. Stark, crass, funny, powerful honesty. Honesty that smashes through notions of taboos and inappropriatenesses. I am not shameful, because I’ve done nothing wrong. It’s the same with being gay, queer, femme, non-binary, a drag queen.

Crystal tells these stories with caustic wit, biting insight and what might be considered a reckless disregard for the secrets of the bedroom, if it wasn’t for the fact that they have assured us at the start that some names and details have been changed to protect identities. Phew. A lot of Crystal’s life is a long way from my experience and my background. And, again as I thought with Viv Albertine, I’m not sure that Crystal would like me. There were times when their critiques of various things made me squirm in my seat with the knowledge that I might have skirted the edges of doing some of the things they were railing against. But as they say, we have all made mistakes it’s how you deal with the mistakes and learn from them that makes a difference. And I’m always trying to do better. We should all always be trying to do better.  Here’s Crystal again:

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/questioning, Intersex, Asexual and + (not you, straight guy who loves glitter a bit but thinks bum sex is gross). Yes, it’s a long acronym, yes, it’s seven whole letters, but I learned the national anthem even though borders are constructs, so you can learn seven letters.

My copy of Diary of a Drag Queen came from NetGalley, but it is out now in hardback and you should be able to lay your hands on a copy fairly easily – I’d expect it to be in any good-sized actual bookshop. Crystal is also out and about on a book tour, so they may soon be coming to a store near you. I know I’m looking to see if I can make one of the dates – and if you can’t, the audiobook is read by the author and the sample on Amazon is a fairly representative section of the book. And of course it’s also available on Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!