Tag Archives: LGBTQ

Pace Yourself: The Paying Guests

Whenever library workers chat with you about books, we try to figure out what kind of book you’ll like so we know what to recommend. We ask you a lot of questions designed to tease out certain kinds of information we call “appeal factors.” That’s fancy library lingo for “must-haves and deal-breakers” and they’re different from person to person.

Some readers care about the plot: how exciting it is, whether or not it makes sense, and–in the case of mystery readers–how hard it is to figure out whodunit. Others insist on complex characters, both likable ones and those you love to hate. You get the idea. The thing that makes or breaks a book for me personally is the pacing: if it’s not hitting certain dramatic beats in what I consider a timely fashion, I just can’t finish it. Usually this happens when a book is moving too slowly: there’s a big difference between tease and snooze, and some authors just haven’t figured it out.

Sarah Waters is not one of those authors. I’ve just finished part one of The Paying Guests and am impressed with how well it’s put together. In fact, its three-part structure and gradually unfolding action lend itself nicely to filming; I wouldn’t be surprised to see a TV version on PBS or BBC America at some point, particularly since it’s set in the same time period as Downton Abbey, and would have, I think, massive crossover appeal.

It’s helpful that the protagonist, Frances Wray, is both sympathetic and interesting: a payingguestsyoung woman who’s quietly sacrificed all of her own dreams and desires to take care of her elderly mother. She’s not a martyr about it; in fact, she’s extremely practical and pretty much resigned to her losses (which include both brothers, killed in WWI). Because they’re a bit down on their luck after the death of Mr. Wray, Frances and her mother rent out part of their home to a young married couple, Leonard and Lilian Barber. After the Barbers move in, however, Frances finds a passion for life … and Lilian.

Frances and Lilian’s feelings for each other unfold at just the right pace. There’s an art to these things, and Waters understands it. Given the time period, and the fact that Lilian appears to be happily married when we first meet her, it would be absurd if they fell into each others’ arms immediately. Frances doesn’t even notice anything special about Lilian the day the Barbers move in; she’s annoyed that the Wray finances are so bad they have to share their house with others (something that’s definitely Not Done in their social circles). Frances’s slow warm-up, and Lilian’s even slower thaw, thread the narrative with a delicious energy: are they going to get together, or not?

Waters makes the sensible choice to answer this question, and raise new ones, by the end of Part One. This works well because dragging out the will-they-or-won’t-they question over the course of a 500+ page novel is both cruel and unfair (there’s a difference between tease and torture, too). The resolution of Part One ups the ante for Part Two, creating even more tension with new questions: what obstacles will Frances face going forward? Will Lilian hold to her decision, or choose a different road? Is Leonard going to find out about any of this, and what will he do if he does? And what role will poor Mrs. Wray play as the action unfolds? Though she’s a somewhat minor character, she’s still got the potential to be either an obstacle or a gateway to happiness, and it’s exciting to wonder which way it will go.

I’m indulging myself in a little more speculation and dramatic tension before I dive into Part Two; honestly, by the time I finished Part One I needed to stop and catch my breath. If this kind of reading experience sounds fun to you, and you’d like to spend some time in post-WWI London with a pair of conflicted young women from different social classes, you’ll really enjoy The Paying Guests, which you can read in print, large print, audio book, and digital audio.  I’m tempted to try an audio option next, to compare/contrast; I’m a bit fussier about pacing in audio, though, because I can’t control the speed at which the narrator reads. Still, the story’s so good, it’s worth a shot.

What makes or breaks a book for you? What does a story absolutely have to have in terms of character, plot, pacing, setting, etc. for you to really enjoy it? What else can we call “appeal factors” so they don’t sound quite so formal and stuffy? Let us know what you think in a comment below!

–Leigh Anne

 

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Somebody’s getting married! (A guide to your first same-sex wedding)

First, congratulations! Someone you know is getting married, and that’s a significant and happy thing. It’s quite likely this wedding couldn’t have happened two months ago, and it almost definitely couldn’t have happened ten years ago, which probably makes it even more meaningful for the people involved.

Given this newness, it’s likely you have some questions. Many social institutions are still figuring out how to recognize same-sex marriages and married couples. The laws are changing all the time; in the United States, the most recent significant change happened less than two months ago when the Supreme Court ruled that states must “license a marriage between two people of the same sex” and “recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State.”* Since this ruling, approximately 40% of Americans still opposed this legalization.** Religious bodies are making new decisions as to whether they will bless these unions, and whether they will treat them equally with those of opposite-sex couples.

The cover of the New York Times from June 27, the day after the Supreme Court ruling, showcasing a dozen happy couples.

The questions you have probably depend a lot on your role in this wedding. You may have just received an invitation in the mail from a friend or relative. You may have been invited to be an attendant (i.e. bridesmaid, groomsman, usher, etc.). You may have been asked to officiate, to take photos, to bake a cake. Someone may have just proposed to you—in which case, even more congratulations! It turns out, in many ways the questions and the answers are the same as they would be in the case of an opposite-sex wedding. A wedding is a wedding, and most of them look alike in most ways. The only thing you can count on at a same-sex wedding is that there will be either two brides or two grooms and at the end of it they will consider themselves married to each other.

It turns out, a lot of stuff traditional etiquette or wedding planning books might tell you about weddings is gender-specific. Things done for the groom, by the groom’s family, with the bride, by her father, etc. Everything from who proposes marriage to who takes who’s last name has gender-specific traditions. And while anyone can choose to be walked down an aisle by or dance with a parent, everything needs to be planned and paid for by someone. These weddings can take more active thought and decision than opposite-sex weddings, because there isn’t a tradition to fall back on.

There are a few categories of things to consider if you have some responsibility for putting on one of these weddings:

The Law

Here in Pennsylvania, marriages between couples of the same sex have been legal since a district court ruling in May 2014. As of July 2015, marriage is legal throughout the United States regardless of the gender of the couple involved. This applies in all 50 states and the territories (with the possible exception of American Samoa). Federally recognized Native American tribes operate under separate jurisdiction, and can still decide individually whether to recognize and/or perform same-sex marriages. Currently, twenty other nations also allow these marriages to be performed legally. If the wedding in question is being held outside the country, the legal logistics may be different than at home.

However, there are places within the country where the law is not being applied. Couples in some counties have been refused licenses, and some state government officials have been encouraging this refusal. Additionally, while marriage is legal, in many parts of the country discrimination based on sexual orientation is also legal. This can make it more difficult for to arrange vendors for things like locations, flowers, cakes, photography, etc. When contracting for these sorts of services, it is often good to ask what experience they’ve had with same-sex weddings, and if they (and their staff) are comfortable with them. While there is value in fighting for your rights, there is also value in feeling supported and appreciated by everyone involved in your wedding day.

Religion

Many people getting married (even those not actively involved in a congregation) find themselves wanting a religious presence within the ceremony. As Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson says, the state licenses unions; the church blesses them. That sense of blessing may manifest by holding the ceremony within a church, having it performed by a religious official, and/or having passages from sacred texts read. If one or both partners are members of a religious group, it is likely one where they feel accepted and welcomed. However, sectarian restrictions may prevent even a supportive religious official from officiating at a same-sex wedding ceremony, or holding one within their building.

While sects may have policies regarding entering, performing, or sanctioning same-sex weddings, neither policy nor doctrine address other kinds of participation such as attending or performing contracted services. No couple sends invitations to a wedding intending to cause people to sin, or even to witness sinning. They desire their guests to love, and witness loving.

Etiquette and Protocol

Many parts of weddings are dictated by tradition—cultural, ethnic, religious, and more. Weddings are rituals, and have meaning in part because they have so many familiar elements within them. Unfortunately for same-sex couples, many of these traditions are specific to one or the other gender. Adapting to a couple’s needs may be as simple as changing language (e.g. best men, groomswoman, couple’s shower), or as emotionally fraught as deciding whether one or both partners will change their last name.

Same-sex couples are older, on average, than opposite-sex couples when they get married. This may change in the future as the couples who were only waiting for marriage legalization take advantage of new opportunities. Nevertheless, because they are older, they are more likely to have established financial independence from their parents. This means that they are more likely to fund and host the event themselves, and may have less familial pressure as to the wedding’s specifics.

As anyone not a bride or groom, etiquette is pretty much identical to that at any other wedding. You are a part of this because somebody cares about you and believes you care about them. They think you and they would be happier if you showed up. If there are specifics you are unsure about (i.e. how to address the couple after they are married, what to wear, whether it is appropriate to bring children, what sort of gift to bring), ask!

Or, just wear your best top hat and rainbow unicorn horn. Always in style.

Want to know more about planning a same-sex wedding? About the process of legalization in America? About religious attitudes towards same-sex marriages? The library has some great resources for all of these!

Planning Guides

The Essential Guide to Gay and Lesbian Weddings

The Gay Couple’s Guide to Wedding Planning

Modern Brides and Modern Grooms: A guide to planning straight, gay and other non-traditional twenty-first-century weddings

The Lesbian Couple’s Guide to Wedding Planning

The New Gay Wedding: A practical primer for brides and grooms, their families and guests

Gay and Lesbian Weddings: Planning the Perfect Same-Sex Ceremony

Church and State

Blessings Same-Sex Unions: The perils of queer romance and the confusions of a Christian nation

The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage: An evangelical’s change of heart

God Believes in Love: Straight talk about gay marriage

When Gay People Get Married: What happens when societies legalize same-sex marriage

Speak Now: Marriage equality on trial

From the Closet to the Altar: Courts, backlash and the struggle for same-sex marriage

Same-Sex Marriage in the United States: The road to the Supreme Court

Essays, History, and Etiquette

Here Come the Brides! Reflections on lesbian love and marriage

Same-Sex Marriage: The personal and political

Charity and Sylvia: A same-sex marriage in early America

Outlaw Marriages: The hidden histories of fifteen extraordinary same-sex couples

Steve Petrow’s Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners: The definitive guide to LGBT life

-Bonnie T.

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And the Winners Are…

Thank you for reading along with us during Pride Week! We close out our 5-day series with a brief look at some award-winning books.

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The winners of the 27th annual Lambda Literary Awards were announced on June 1, 2015. The Lammys, as they are affectionately called, honor the best LGBTQIA+ writing in a variety of categories. If you’re new to queer lit and don’t know where to start, why not right at the top?

Here are a few of this year’s award-winners.

Bisexual Nonfiction: Fire Shut Up in my Bones, Charles Blow.

Blow, a dynamic art/op-ed member of The New York Times staff, winds the many threads of his life story around the violation of trust that kept his spirit in chains.

Gay General Fiction: I Loved You More, Tom Spanbauer.

Ben and Hank meet and fall in love in 1980s New York. Years after their affair, Ben falls in love with a woman named Ruth. Their life together is calm and pleasant, until Hank reappears. Whose love will carry the day?

Lesbian Mystery: The Old Deep and Dark, Ellen Hart.

The title refers to an old theatre in downtown Minneapolis two sisters are restoring to its former glory. Unfortunately, there’s a dead body in the basement that’s mucking up the project. Even though she’s hard at work on another case, private investigator Jane Lawless agrees to tackle the problem, and discovers her twin mysteries just might have elements in common.

LGBT Anthology: Understanding and Teaching U.S. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History, Leila J. Rupp & Susan K. Freeman, eds.

Same-sex love and gender fluidity are hardly new concepts in world history. Rupp and Freeman’s textbook collects information and materials teachers can use to incorporate often-neglected queer historical narratives in their classrooms. Also contains essays written by teachers of LGBTQ history describing their experiences.

LGBT Graphic Novels: Second Avenue Caper, Joyce Brabner & Mark Zingarelli. 

Local artist Zingarelli illustrates Brabner’s story about her friend Ray Dobbins, a nurse in New York City. After the government basically turns its back on what was then a frightening new disease, Dobbins and his circle of friends team up to find help for people suffering from AIDS….no matter how risky or dramatic said help might turn out to be.

Transgender Nonfiction: Man Alive, Thomas Page McBee.

In very short chapters that zig-zag through time, Page explores the two traumatic events that shaped his life experiences and questions the mythical elements of manhood.

For a complete list of this year’s winners and finalists, click here. To learn more about queer writing/literature, the Library’s LGBTQ book/film collections, or related programming / community involvement, ask a librarian!

Enjoy Pride Weekend, Pittsburgh, and happy reading.

–Leigh Anne

 

 

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Kumu Hina: a Place in the Middle

Please join us at the Main Library on Tuesday, June 16th at 7 PM for a special free screening of the award-winning documentary Kuma Hina: a Place in the Middle.

Kum Hina banner, used with permission.

Kumu Hina is a powerful feature documentary about the struggle to maintain Pacific Islander culture and values within the Westernized society of modern day Hawaiʻi. It is told through the lens of an extraordinary Native Hawaiian who is both a proud and confident māhū, or transgender woman, and an honored and respected kumu, or teacher, cultural practitioner, and community leader.

Imagine a world where a little boy can grow up to be the woman of his dreams, and a young girl can rise to become a leader among men. Welcome to Kumu Hina’s Hawai’i. During a momentous year in her life in modern Honolulu, Hina Wong-Kalu, a Native Hawaiian māhū, or transgender, teacher uses traditional culture to inspire a student to claim her place as leader of the school’s all-male hula troupe.

But despite her success as a teacher, Hina longs for love and a committed relationship. Will her marriage to a headstrong Tongan man fulfill her dreams? As Hina’s arduous journey unfolds, her Hawaiian roots and values give her the strength and wisdom to persevere, offering a new perspective on the true meaning of aloha.

ReelQ logoThis screening of Kumu Hina will be co-hosted by the Pittsburgh Lesbian and Gay Film Society. Come join us!

Can’t make it on Tuesday? You can still borrow Kumu Hina from our LGBTQ collection.

– Amy E.

(Kumu Hina logo, description, and trailer used with permission.)

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Pride, Love, Hope

This week the Eleventh Stack blog is celebrating Pittsburgh’s Pride Week with a series of posts about the Library’s LGBTQ/QUILTBAG resources. Although any time of year is a good time to read LGBTQ literature and history, this week is very special to many of our readers and patrons. We hope you enjoy our efforts.

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I spent most of this past spring book-talking Beautiful Music for Ugly Children to anyone who would stand still for five seconds. It’s a wonderful novel about music, friendship, and being openly transgender in an urban/suburban environment. The protagonist, Gabe, has a radio show, two terrific best friends (one of whom might be something more), and the chance to show off his DJ chops at a summer music festival contest. Because it’s not a perfect world, he’s also got the same kinds of problems real transgender folks have outside of novels: consistent misgendering, bigotry, bullying (IRL and cyber), and hate crime attacks.

Normally a book reviewer would put a “but” there, as in “but it all works out in the end” or “but Gabe’s tormentors have a change of heart.” Kirstin Cronn-Mills, the author, gets bonus librarian points for saving me from those “buts,” neither of which are realistic. And when I’m not reading about vampires, werewolves, or selkies, I prefer my fiction realistic.

Maybe that’s because I (mostly) read fiction to give my empathy muscles a good workout.  It’s a real thing that can happen, says science. Besides, it gets old reading stories about people who look like me, and who have had experiences like mine. I want to know what life is like for the people in my neighborhood: what lifts them up, what their struggles and stories are,  and so on. I don’t think I can grow if I’m staring in the mirror all the time, and I’d like to grow as much as possible.

Fiction almost always leads me back to non-fiction, because I want to see how the things I learn from novels play out in the real world. And what a wonderfully wide, inclusive world it is. Examples:

Queerly Beloved: A Love Story Across Genders (biography)

Redefining Realness (memoir)

Trans Bodies, Trans Selves: A Resource for the Transgender Community (consumer health)

A People Stronger: The Collectivization of MSM and TG Groups in India (political activism)

“You’ve Changed”: Sex Reassignment and Personal Identity (scholarship)

Transgender History (history)

Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity (personal essays, including the voices of people of color)

From Sin to Amazing Grace: Discovering the Queer Christ (religion)

Queering the Popular Pitch (musicology)

Troubling the Line (poetry, on order – keep an eye on the catalog!)

There’s also a lot of material available for family, friends, and neighbors who would like to understand the trans community better. Here’s a small sample:

Transgender 101: A Simple Guide to a Complex Issue

Transgender Explained: For Those Who Are Not

Gender Born, Gender Made: Raising Healthy Gender Non-conforming Children

Transgender Law: A Guide to Effective Advocacy

Helping Your Transgender Teen: A Guide for Parents

It’s a beautiful thing, all that information at your fingertips.

I’m proud that Pride can last all year long, with the right reading material. I love that the power to expand our view of the world around us is in our own hands. And I hope that you will consider checking out one of these titles, and/or asking your local librarian for other suggestions. We like meeting new people, and we want to make sure that everyone in our community feels respected, represented, and–most importantly–welcome to walk through our doors anytime.

–Leigh Anne

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Fifty Shades Better

In case you hadn’t noticed the tidal wave of internet hater-ade about it, let me remind you that the film version of Fifty Shades of Grey opens in theaters this weekend. While there are multiple reasons to find James’s series problematic, my librarian issue* with Fifty Shades is all the attention it’s getting. James is hardly the first writer to tackle the more shadowy realms of erotica; you could be looking at any number of other, better books and films hidden by the disproportionate fuss made over her work.

If you normally wouldn’t touch this topic with a ten-foot riding crop, you might want to skip the rest of today’s post and go tell suzy why she’s wrong about those Primanti’s sandwiches. If you genuinely enjoyed Fifty Shades, fret not: the Library will continue to keep it in stock for you (it’s how librarians roll). But for everyone else, here’s a selection** of books and films that completely outclass Fifty Shades in every way imaginable.

Kushiel’s Legacy, Jacqueline Carey. This series, which combines elements of erotica, KDarthistorical fantasy and political intrigue, follows the adventures of Phèdre nó Delaunay in the court of Terre D’Ange.  Born with a scarlet mote in her eye that denotes her as favored of a particular god, Phèdre rises from humble beginnings to become one of the most admired, desired and feared women in the kingdom. But Kushiel is a god of very specific tastes, and his chosen children are bound—in a manner of speaking—to a particular form of service. Call this series erotica for the thinking person, and if that sounds like you, start with Kushiel’s Dart. Then, when you’re done with the set, move on to Carey’s Namaah Trilogy.

Secretary, a film by Steven Shainberg.  Adapted from short fiction by Mary Gaitskill, the secretarymovie stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as Lee Holloway. Lee’s life is a hot mess, but she’s silently determined to get over her neuroses and find happiness. This involves getting a job, which means meeting Edward Grey (James Spader), which means sparks flying as the two gradually realize their particular tastes mesh quite well. Although the film is incredibly erotic, the sex play is simply the vehicle for a larger scheme of liberation as Lee learns to see herself more clearly, and love herself exactly as she is. Add in some tender hilarity (yes really) and it all adds up to a Really Good Film.

Best Lesbian Bondage Erotica, Tristan Taormino, ed. Given that Taormino has an taorminoestablished reputation as an alternative sexpert, you can bet that any collection she’s put together merits the adjective “best.” The stories collected here describe the variety of games people play within the context of mutually negotiated limits and fantasies, in a variety of power dynamics and queer identities. If that sounds like fun to you, you might also enjoy other books by the publisher, Cleis Press, which publishes “provocative, intelligent books across genres,” including human rights, LGBTQ studies, and—of course—erotica.

9 1/2 Weeks, a film by Adrian Lyne. Based on Ingeborg Day‘s novel of the same name (she wrote under a pseudonym, like you do), Lyne’s film chronicles a Dominant/submissive ninerelationship that plays out over the course of a relatively brief time. Although some reviewers argue that the film is inferior to the book, the movie succeeds on its own merits as a fascinating peek at how people can behave one way in their “real” lives and very differently in their erotic ones. It’s also an examination of what happens when a game that used to be mutually satisfying turns uncomfortable for one of the participants. Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke’s chemistry tips this one into the check-it-out column.

The Sexy Librarian’s Big Book of Erotica, Rose Caraway, ed. With a name like that, I kind librarianof have to write about it, but don’t go getting any funny ideas! The titular librarian is a fictional construct whose job it is to guide you through the realm of fantasy, not a flesh-and-blood creature you should proposition at the reference desk (that’s just creepy). Caraway’s collection, another stunner from the folks at Cleis, is set in a very special library, where people can find exactly the sort of thing they need, but might be too shy to ask for. It’s a clever, if slightly overdone, conceit that unites various erotic tastes into a unified bouquet of short stories that you can pick and choose from, either sticking to what you know or trying something new.

Your turn: will you be lining up for Fifty Shades this weekend? Why or why not?

Leigh Anne

*My personal issue with FSoG is that Christian’s treatment of Anastasia isn’t BDSM—it’s abuse. If your romantic relationship exhibits certain behaviors, and/or you feel unsafe with your partner, keep in mind that you have options, and you’re not alone.

**Far too many titles for one blog post. Leave a comment if I’ve left out your favorite.

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The Colors of Challenge

Last week author Malinda Lo published a blog post that raised some disturbing questions:

If a book like Beloved by Toni Morrison is challenged because it is “sexually explicit” and has a “religious viewpoint” and contains “violence” (these are the stated reasons for its challenges in 2012), is it simply accidental that Beloved is also a novel about an African American woman, written by an African American woman?

I wondered if there was a correlation between books with diverse content — that is, books by and about people of color, LGBT people, and/or disabled people — and book challenges, so I decided to take a look at the data available from the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom and see what emerged.

After looking at a variety of data points (including several lists from the American Library Association‘s Office for Intellectual Freedom) and creating a number of revealing pie charts, Lo came to the following conclusion:

It’s clear to me that books that fall outside the white, straight, abled mainstream are challenged more often than books that do not destabilize the status quo. This isn’t surprising, but the extent to which diverse books are represented on these lists — as a majority — is quite disheartening. Diversity is slim throughout all genres of books and across all age groups — except when it comes to book challenges.

Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association.

Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association.

 

I strongly urge you to read Lo’s entire analysis (you really need to see those pie charts) and examine her data-crunching, which she has made publicly available here and here. Once you’re done with that, I invite you to celebrate Banned Books Week this year by checking out any of the titles Lo analyzed, or the following suggestions, which are taken from the ALA’s list of Most Frequently Challenged Books Written by Authors of Color, 1990-1999:

Kaffir Boy, Mark Mathabane. Protests. Boycotts. Fear. Hunger. A true tale of life under apartheid in South Africa, told by a man who suffered through it first-hand, eventually escaping to became a well-known tennis player. Most often challenged for homosexuality and explicit sexuality in general.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Mildred D. Taylor. Taylor’s Newbery medal-winning novel tells the story of Cassie Logan and her family, who are struggling to hold on to the land they own in Mississippi, despite the challenges of the Great Depression. Most often challenged for offensive language. Also available in OverDrive.

The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende. Meet the Trueba family, three proud, passionate generations of them. The Truebas are known for two things: the psychic giftedness that seems to run in their bloodline, and their political involvement, which frequently puts them at odds with fellow family members. A long, sweeping saga that is most often challenged for being sexually explicit, and containing offensive language.

Always Running, Luis Rodriguez. By the time he was twelve, Rodriguez was already a battle-scarred veteran of L.A.’s gang wars. The power of words led him to complete his education, become a poet, and leave his former life behind him…at least, that is, until his own son joins a gang. A New York Times notable book, and winner of the Carl Sandburg Literary Award, Always Running  is most often challenged for being sexually explicit and containing offensive language.

If you’d prefer to keep to this year’s theme, banned and challenged comics, you can explore diverse works like Alison Bechdel’s  Fun Home, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, or Kim Dong Hwa’s The Color of Earth. But what I’d really like you to do is go back and read (or re-read) Malinda Lo’s essay, and then tell two friends, who will hopefully tell two friends, and so on, and so on. It’s a whole new (albeit appalling) way of thinking about book bans and challenges, and it will be interesting to see if there is an even stronger correlation over time (though we librarians will do our best to ensure that doesn’t happen).

Keep your reading diverse and colorful!

Leigh Anne

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