LGBT History Month 2020 – LGBT book reviews

Every February we celebrate LGBT History Month! It is about celebrating the richness of queer people’s contributions to society, to make LGBT+ people visible in all their diversity and to educate out prejudice.

At St George’s we have a growing Reading for Pleasure collection and as part of that we have been expanding our range of LGBT titles. You can browse the whole collection on our Wakelet.

We have asked staff to share their thoughts with us!

Poster on brick wall with a rainbow and the text "Love is Love".

Maurice – EM Forster

Andy (Information Assistant)

When I first read Maurice by E M Forster, I was fourteen years old. Reading it proved to be the first time that I recognised myself in print. My interests, my desires and my hopes. Quite a feat for a novel published in 1971 and written in 1914! The novel centres on the relationship between two university students and their struggles to find a way of accepting and constructing a homosexual life in Edwardian England. As with Forster’s other novels, class and social mores are at the forefront of the novel. Even in the 90s as a gay teenager, the availability of gay representation within the mainstream was almost non-existent. Portrayals of gay life were often negative, and skewed. Reading Maurice and Forster’s superb character construction gave me a chance to see other gay men who were relatable and aspirational in their search for an accepted existence.

The novel was inspired by Forster’s visit to the gay socialist Edward Carpenter. When visiting Carpenter, Forster observed for the first time, a gay relationship between Edward Carpenter and his lover George Merrill being lived openly. Indeed many of Carpenter socialist politics are evident in the novel. Especially his interest in breaking down class distinctions.

Maurice is a must read for anyone who wants to see the power of the novel to effect real political and social change. It’s just so good. 

Book cover of Maurice
Maurice

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Jenni (Research Publications Assistant)

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe revolves round the friendship and eventual romance between two Mexican teenage boys, Ari and Dante. It’s written in a lyrical style that took me a while to get into, but once I did I just kept loving it more and more.

Ari’s gradual journey towards learning how to deal with his own emotions is beautifully and delicately handled, as is the (unresolved, and I think this is a strength) thread about what it means to be Mexican, and how it feels to be treated as not Mexican enough. The author makes all the secondary characters feel rounded and true without breaking out of Ari’s point of view, and portrays the adults in particular as being good people trying their best (and not always getting it right) in a way that I found refreshing.

My enjoyment was unfortunately a little marred towards the end by a backstory reveal that edged uncomfortably close to some lazy transphobic and homophobic tropes, and a slightly unsatisfying resolution to the otherwise captivating romance plot (involving a trope that I personally am not fond of), but other than that this is a wonderful, mesmerising book that is very much worth reading.

Book cover of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Yes, You are Trans Enough – Mia Violet

Beth (Liaison Support Librarian)

I picked up Mia’s book because in my quest to be a better trans ally, I felt I needed a stronger grasp not only on trans issues but the lived experiences of those questioning their gender. Luckily, this memoir delivers on both fronts: it draws deeply on Mia’s burgeoning awareness of her true gender identity through to her decision to transition and she links the myriad of hurdles she faced (and continues to face) along the way to the wider issues facing the trans community. While there are regular reminders that there is no one ‘universal trans experience’, I suspect that many of the themes she discusses in her book will resonate with anyone who has ever felt bullied, excluded or marginalised.

I did feel the book could have used some more judicious editing – Mia’s writing style is honest but often offers exhaustive detail. This isn’t necessarily a criticism though: her attention to detail also provided me with several learning opportunities, particularly her struggle to access the healthcare services she needed. I was also struck by the difficulties she faces with her mental health, having become a beacon of support for other trans people online. It was a stark reminder of the emotional labour demanded of individuals who are fighting for basic rights (like appropriate healthcare) that most of us would take for granted.

I think Yes, you are trans enough is a great starting point for anyone wanting an introduction to trans issues. And even if Mia’s experiences are very different to your own, at the heart of the book is a story of personal acceptance and finding confidence in your identity which is a real pleasure to read, especially if you’ve ever felt a bit lost.

Book cover for Yes, You are Trans Enough
Yes, You are Trans Enough

We will be publishing another blogpost in a few weeks with more book reviews of LGBT titles. We would love to hear from you! Have you read any of these books or one from our LGBT collection (found on our Wakelet)? Let us know your thoughts in a couple of paragraphs and we’ll publish your review as part of our next blogpost. Email us at liaison@sgul.ac.uk.