Sunday, January 22, 2012

2012 Lesbian Fiction Appreciation Event: Good Lesbian Books Blog

Cat and Cress run the Good Lesbian Books site, which has been going for nearly a year. We review all kinds of fiction (and we'll probably get to nonfiction at some point!) and try and provide a good starting point for people who want to read lesbian books of any kind.

What I love about lesbian writing is that it's full of lesbians *runs from hail of tomatoes*.

But seriously. I love that it is focussed on at least one woman, and by default, they're usually a decent character. I love not having to wade through endless boring heterosexual romances. I enjoy the escapism. And I appreciate the higher than zero chance of girls actually kissing, flirting and ending up less than dressed together. I can actually identify with the character's attraction to a woman without worrying about whether the portrayal is misogynist. And - I may be highly biased here of course, but - the sex scenes are often better written (not always, of course, but instead of ranging from cringe to pretty good, they range from cringe to now I have to reread this scene four times before I can move on). Though I should point out that there are some splendid lesbian stories with no sex at all (L-J Baker's Adijaan and Her Genie is one of my favourite books this year).

I was playing Skyrim the other day (well, every day for the last three weeks actually) and it is delightfully gender neutral, and you have a wide range of potential wives or husbands to choose from. Anyway, the Priestess of Dibella had just finished flirting with my female character, and I realised that a game that doesn't offer that choice actually now feels incredibly limiting. And out-dated. And frustrating. And books are the same way - I want to be able to read across the whole spectrum of characters, societies and relationships, which means I need those lesbian books up one end. Because if they aren't there, then the otherwise well-written heterosexual (and gay men's) books start to feel limiting and excessively male focussed. Even if they really aren't, simply because I'm feeling this huge gaping hole where the femslashing lady love should be.

Oh, and fandom femslash. That's fun. But again. at some point you look around and realise that you don't want fake relationships that you have to put all the work into imagining, while ignoring all the contradictory stuff, or having to fill in all the gaps because the creators daren't actually show anything. And then you start looking for the real lesbian fiction and film.

I actually didn't really read many lesbian titles until fairly recently. I think it's mostly that it is so hard to find when starting from a mainstream position, and it never really occurred to me to go looking for it. And that it would necessarily be any good - because surely, if there were good lesbian books out there, I'd have heard about them by now? Or at least stumbled across them in the library? I used to read a lot of fantasy with gay male characters in (Mercedes Lackey and Tanya Huff, for example), and I enjoyed the lack of gender dynamics in them. Also, they were pretty much the only LGBT fantasy I could find. And then I found the Bending the Landscape Science fiction anthology and it was amazing. And it really hammered home that Queer Writing Can Be Good. And I started looking up the authors - but most of them had no other queer stuff, and there were hardly any lesbian authors. Except for the editor, Nicola Griffith, who has written some darn good lesbian scifi.... and that was it, I was hooked on the notion that out there, somewhere, good lesbian books were waiting for me. And then I gradually found more and more decent lesbian webcomics - which I also had to search for, as again, people only recommended the same few, or else random ones that just didn't have enough lesbian content to qualify (for me), or they were unfinished and on permanent hiatus (if you're looking for some yourself... start with Go Get A Roomie, Yu+Me, Flipside, Girly, Punch an' Pie, Gingerbread Girl, Mundane Nirvana, Penny & Aggie, angels2200, Flaky Pastry, Starcrossed and Blue) . And picked up Strangers in Paradise (which was in the library!) and read the whole series through about six times.

And when I went looking for more titles, I had terrible trouble finding many books in the genres I wanted to read. And a lot of the suggestions were books that barely scraped in as lesbian - Paksennarion, for instance, is often cited as lesbian but is actually asexual. Sure, she's a strong female lead in a fantastic epic fantasy who doesn't fall in love with a man, but that shouldn't be the criteria I'm reduced to if I want to read a 'lesbian' book.

And yes, there are a lot of so-called classics out there, but they all sounded a bit dreary. And I had a sneaking suspicion that many of them, like poor old Paks, featured characters that weren't actually lesbians (or even bisexual), or if they were, the authors didn't dare make it actually explicit. And that just puts them in the 'the fans have to do all the work' category that I was complaining about before. And as for the young adult books - did they ALL have to be angsty coming out stories? Wasn't there anything for adults? And for goodness sake, much as I love LGBTQ-friendly writers like Terry Pratchett and Lois McMaster Bujold, surely there must be some awesome fantasy or scifi that is actually mostly about lesbian characters?

And I looked a bit harder, and I actually found some titles that looked interesting, and I read them. And they were worth reviewing. And I started looking around for more, and I wanted to share what I'd found.

I decided to start reviewing lesbian books because... well, I wanted an excuse to read keep reading these books, because I wanted to help other people figure out what to read (yes, there are a lot of lesbian book blogs, but they often seem more established at 'experienced' readers of lesbian literature than people who have just discovered that lesbian fantasy novels exist!), because I wanted to provide reviews that actually told you if the book really was 'lesbian' or not, and if it was a good book, completely separately of its so-called sapphic content. And because I figured it might actually be fun, and I'd get to share some of the treasures I found along the way. After I'd been doing it awhile, I also discovered that it comes with occasional free books. So, completely worth it.

And as soon as I saw the site was off the ground, and I was likely to keep going (most blogs peter out after an average four months), I turned to Cress and said “I have delicious books. I will tell you what they are in exchange for for kind assistance running the site and many tasty reviews”.

And that is what I see in lesbian fiction, and how I started reviewing it. And why I still do so.


Before Cat invited me to join the Good Lesbian Books review project, my exposure to f/f literature was largely limited to yuri manga, fandom femslash and a handful of films. For various reasons, I had close to never gotten my hands on anything outside of that – none of the classics, no YA books, nothing contemporary. Then Good Lesbian Books happened, and I was introduced to all these books that I hadn't even considered looking for myself, and it was exciting. I was particularly pleased to realize that there are books depicting queer main characters and positive portrayals of lesbian relationships and positive endings (not necessarily happily ever after, but nonetheless ending on some uplifting note). They're something that's really good to see, and, at least speaking from a personal perspective, I think they're needed. Someone else out there might appreciate being able to come across that knowledge.

That's one reason why I want to review f/f literature and why I see it as important. Tastes vary, so I like the idea of contributing to a resource that does the work of finding what to read depending on the genres you're after (we hope!) and at the same time drawing attention to f/f writing (thereby hopefully encouraging it to grow and result in even more f/f writing). And so far it's been fun to get involved in, especially the reading, and rewarding to see the feedback.

-- Cress


LVLM(Leah) said...

I really like your review site. Particularly, I like that you've put up categories on the top bar.

Sometimes I'm just in the mood for a certain genre, like a historical, and can find what you have easily on your site.

Congrats on putting it together. :D

Cat said...

Thank you! Let us know if there's ever anything you're looking for that isn't there - our lists are compiled fairly randomly sometimes.

I'm actually surprised at how many people comment on the genre-category thing, I would have thought it would be an obvious thing to do. Maybe that's my librarian background speaking though ^_^

Ta said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Red Treehouse Publishing said...


The main character in my novel, GROWING WISHBONES, is a young woman who comes out as a lesbian in the 1980s.
I would love if you'd give it a look: