Did I say we were working our way through the LGBTQIA+ acronym? No we are, I promise, and we will get to G eventually, but this month I wanted to stop off at some indie publishers. Independent publishers are a vital lifeline of the publishing industry, giving voice to thousands of incredible authors and providing us with some truly fantastic books. This past year has been hard for everyone, but I thought this month we could show some extra love to the small publishers that help to make the publishing industry as varied, challenging, and thoughtful as it is.
So, this month we are not just going to be featuring the books we read, but also the teams who published them!
I couldn’t be more excited to start with ‘Dryland’, written by Sara Jaffe, and published by Cipher Press. Cipher Press was only established in 2020, and their specific focus is on queer authors. Their goal is to bring more queer authors into print, and they’re “really keen on the idea that queer and minority stories are for everybody”. We can only agree with that!
Dryland is a bildungsroman that aches with naivety. It’s an ode to being a queer teen in the nineties, a piece that conjured a deep nostalgia in me, for a period when I wasn’t even born! Our narrator is 15, and so detached from the world it’s almost as though she doesn’t want to be a part of it. Beautifully stylised, it follows her circling path of discovery; her missing brother, the swimming champion; the girl who invites her to join the swim team, who becomes so much more; the guy who used to know her brother, who seems to know her.
Julie’s story plays itself out in silences, everything struck through with the tenseness that stems from a silencing of self that almost feels deliberate, but is also painful. Julie seems to want to refuse to let reality touch her. Dryland captures an era and a lived experience that is behind us, and yet is intensely familiar. Being queer will never quite be like this again. It is an anthem for queer youth, and a love letter for those who lived it.
Coming Out Stories
‘Coming Out Stories’ is an anthology based on the podcast of the same name, edited by Emma Goswell and Sam Walker, and published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. It’s difficult to summarise their ethos succinctly, but suffice it to say that what they love about publishing is what I love about bookselling: it’s about the people who tell us how much books mean to them, and being part of that incredible moment of happiness when a book changes someone’s life.
That’s exactly what ‘Coming Out Stories’ is doing. These are real people telling real stories, stories that have not been sanitised for that cliche movie moment, and that’s one of the things I love about it. They are raw, honest stories that vary as much as the people telling them. That said, while they aren’t shy about the very real dangers and fears of coming out, they are not hopeless. If anything, they offer a much more grounded reassurance that we need more of: that our worst fears are not always realised, and when they are, happiness is possible anyway. Told with humour and heart, this is exactly the kind of book (and podcast) that I needed as a young, questioning teenager; one that encompasses so much of the queer community, and on its own terms.
Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments
‘Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments’ by Saidiya Hartman is published by Serpent’s Tail, an imprint of Profile Books. As Profile Books are an independent publisher, and Serpent’s Tail was an independent publisher before becoming an imprint of Profile, this book is essentially indie published squared. We love that for them.
On top of that, it’s an incredible book. Hartman is actively rewriting history, dwelling deliberately and unapologetically in the realm of the past that is speculative, unknowable. Instead of simply suggesting that we rethink the way we tell histories, she does so. In itself a beautiful experiment, this is a non-fiction book that toys with what non-fiction can be, bringing life and giving voice and power to people – “riotous black girls, troublesome women and queer radicals” – that previous histories had categorised away and forgotten. Told in dense, thoughtful prose, it is nonetheless inviting. Not an easy read, by any means, but a momentous one.
And last but not least my colleague Nicole read a fantastic book this month that also happens to be a queer book from an indie publisher! ‘Permafrost’, written by Eva Baltasar and translated by Julia Sanches is published by And Other Stories, an indie publishing house who aren’t just a brilliant name. They’re a not-for-profit committed to sustainability and diversity in the publishing industry, and have been described as “shamelessly literary”. Of Permafrost, Nicole says:
“Permafrost is a beautifully written and darkly comic novella translated from Catalan. Its narrator, an icy, depressed and at times suicidal lesbian, is ironically disdainful of everything deemed ‘normal’, from relationships to traditional employment. Pursuing only sex and literature, she spends her time evading the pressure from her overbearing mother to have children and the overwhelming positivity of her health-obsessed, life-embracing sister. Although the humour is bleak, Permafrost is also surprisingly lovely in places, and champions female independence and a life lived in total freedom from societal constraints.”
So there you have it! Four books this month instead of three! I’m going to try not to make a habit of it, but sometimes an opportunity comes along that it would quite frankly be rude not to take, so here we are.
As usual, there are so many more that I wish I could have included, and as usual, you can find those here.
As well as all the books we featured this month here.