Balbriggan LGBTQ+ Book Club

Fingal Libraries
by Fingal Libraries on February 7, 2017.

Orla Drohan, of Fingal Libraries, spoke to Liz Bourke about the new Balbriggan LGBTQ+ Book Club she set up that meets in Balbriggan Library. Why did you decide to set up an LGTBQ book club? Liz Bourke: The short answer? – I couldn’t find a local one. And I couldn’t complain about that lack if […]

Orla Drohan, of Fingal Libraries, spoke to Liz Bourke about the new Balbriggan LGBTQ+ Book Club she set up that meets in Balbriggan Library.

Why did you decide to set up an LGTBQ book club?

Liz Bourke: The short answer? – I couldn’t find a local one. And I couldn’t complain about that lack if I could try to fill it, and chose not to.  The longer answer… I started going to social events specifically for queer (lesbian, bisexual, and trans) women early last year, and it made me realise how important it is to have a community around you. I love books – I review for a couple of pop-culture websites like Tor.com – and I feel like maybe having a place to talk about books that star LGBTQ+ people might help build a sense of community for LGBTQ+ folks more locally.

At whom is the book club aimed?

LB: Primarily LGBTQ+ people but, ideally, everyone who likes to read. Maybe not folks under the age of fourteen or so, considering that some of the books are likely to include adult content! But anyone who’s interested in the books we’re reading is welcome to come along, as long as they understand that homophobia and transphobia, to take a couple of particular examples, aren’t welcome.

What types of books do you hope to discuss and how do you choose them?

LB: I hope we will be able to discuss a broad spectrum, but it’ll depend on the people who turn up: I have lists of suggestions, but hopefully we’ll end up deciding as a group at the end of each meeting which book we’d like to talk about in the next session.  At the moment, I’m picking one for each meeting at random off a list, since we haven’t had many people turn up and express a preference yet.

Could you tell us a little about the next book being discussed by the book club?

LB: Our February pick is Madeline Miller’s award-winning THE SONG OF ACHILLES.  At the time of writing, I haven’t read it yet.  I admit this with some embarrassment, since I took ancient history in college. But it’s apparently a reimagining of the Iliad which centres on Achilles and Patrokles – Achilles’ charioteer and lover – during the Trojan War. (Anyone who knows the story of Iliad knows how this story has to end: Patrokles slain by Hector, slain in his turn by Achilles.) It has received so many plaudits that I can’t wait to get stuck in. This is what its cover copy boasts:

““Mary Renault lives again!” declares Emma Donoghue, author of Room, referring to The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller’s thrilling, profoundly moving, and utterly unique retelling of the legend of Achilles and the Trojan War. A tale of gods, kings, immortal fame, and the human heart, The Song of Achilles is a dazzling literary feat that brilliantly reimagines Homer’s enduring masterwork, The Iliad. An action-packed adventure, an epic love story, a marvelously conceived and executed page-turner, Miller’s monumental debut novel has already earned resounding acclaim from some of contemporary fiction’s brightest lights—and fans of Mary Renault, Bernard Cornwell, Steven Pressfield, and Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series will delight in this unforgettable journey back to ancient Greece in the Age of Heroes.”

Could you recommend some titles for people interested in checking out books with an LGBTQ theme?

LB: That depends! We say “LGBTQ,” meaning well by it, but it’s an umbrella term. Some people will be interested primarily in books featuring women who love women, some in men who love men, some will want books about trans people, and some will want books that have characters who have other kinds of queer identities.

I’m limited in my ability to recommend titles by my own interests.  I’m a science fiction and fantasy geek, you see, and I don’t read as widely outside that genre as I ought to. And when it comes to the LGBTQ+ umbrella, I’m mainly familiar with books featuring women who love women. Those caveats aside, here are a few:

April Daniels’ DREADNOUGHT is a fantastic superhero novel about a young trans woman who suddenly develops superpowers.

M-E Girard’s GIRL MANS UP is a contemporary YA novel about a young woman who doesn’t conform to her parents’ ideas of how she should dress or who she should date, and who discovers that her old friends are assholes in the process of making new ones.

Ellen Klages’ PASSING STRANGE is a magical novella set in 1940s San Francisco, which centres on a love story between two women.

Suzanne Rodriguez’s WILD HEART: A LIFE: NATALIE CLIFFORD BARNEY AND THE DECADENCE OF LITERARY PARIS is a biography of the extraordinary and unconventional Natalie Clifford Barney, whose life intersected with many major literary and artistic figures in Paris in the early 1900s. Her sexual and romantic relationships also intersected with many such figures, as long as they were women.

Lara Elena Donnelly’s AMBERLOUGH is a novel about cabaret, spies, and the rise of fascism. It centres on a relationship between two men who won’t admit they love each other, but they do.

Malinda Lo’s ADAPTATION and INHERITANCE duology is a story about communication across cultures, aliens, and falling in a love as a bisexual young woman.

Heather Rose Jones’ DAUGHTER OF MYSTERY is a historical romance between women set in a small imaginary Alpine country in the early decades of the 19th century.

Erica Cameron’s ASSASSINS: DISCORD and ASSASSINS: NEMESIS are two YA novels involving both assassins and queer romance: the first novel involves love between women, while the second stars an intersex character. There are also a lot of explosions.

Courtney Milan’s HOLD ME is an excellent romance novel starring a trans woman, among other things.

Is there a broad range of books with an LGBTQ theme being published for young adults at present?

LB: You know, I don’t honestly know? I know there’s more than there used to be but whether that actually counts as “a broad range” is another thing. A friend of mine is a YA librarian in Colorado, and she says yes – compared to a decade ago. Compared to demographics that read YA, though, the answer is definitely no.

I’ve been personally tracking books starring women who love women in science fiction and fantasy for three years or so.  While the numbers have gone up in terms of books published by major publishers, I think last year my count actually reached double digits, if barely, in absolute terms, the numbers are still very small. Compared to the proportion of people across the Anglophone world who self-identify as something other than completely heterosexual and cisgender (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cisgender), the proportion of books featuring LGBTQ+ people in central roles is undersized.

That said, the American Library Association has a yearly “Rainbow List” which lists books with significant LGBTQ+ content aimed at people up to age eighteen. This year’s list can be found here: http://glbtrt.ala.org/rainbowbooks/archives/1255.

What is the role of the Book Club’s Facebook group?  Do you see it as facilitating online discussion in addition to the face to face book club meetings in Balbriggan Library? 

LB: I hope it will facilitate online discussion! But that will be up to the people who choose to use it.

Do you think online book clubs have advantages / disadvantages as opposed to book clubs where members meet in person and visa versa?

LB: Online and ‘meatspace’ each have their advantages and disadvantages. Online discussion means you don’t have to leave the house, for example! Online discussion can also be asynchronous instead of requiring your immediate attention. These things are an advantage in some circumstances and a disadvantage in others.

Any thoughts on how public libraries can support LGBTQ people & their families and friends in the community?

LB: A few. A visible statement of support for LGBTQ+ folks or a visible anti-harassment policy. A visible LGBTQ+ book range and recommendations, especially for teenagers. (Anyone who’s looking for recommendations for books involving women who love women can always hit me up: I do my best to stay on top of new releases.)

Marking May 17, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (http://dayagainsthomophobia.org/). Marking November 20, the Transgender Day of Remembrance (https://tdor.info/). Marking Dublin Pride by, for example, featuring talks about books by LGBTQ+ people and authors, or Dublin LGBTQ+ history. Outreach to LGBTQ+ communities and community organisations — like GLEN, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, and TENI, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland.

But primarily – getting in books by and for LGBTQ+ people and making sure that it’s obvious those books are there.

The Balbriggan LGBTQ+ Book Club meets in Balbriggan Library on the last Thursday of every month, 6.30pm-7.30pm.  For more information contact Balbriggan Library ([email protected]) or check out the group on Facebook at Balbriggan LGBTQ+ Book Club: https://www.facebook.com/groups/229906054117550/