I got this for my own mom recently, after reading it myself and being absolutely overwhelmed by the generosity, kindness, and education that Kai Cheng Thom brought into the world with these essays. I gave it to her with a warning: it uses some terms and language that might make her feel uncomfortable, but she needed to understand that the language Thom uses has been used for a reason. I needed my mom to know she was allowed to feel uncomfortable, but that her discomfort shouldn’t transmute itself into judgment or defensiveness.
My mom took the note! After she read it, she told me she’d loved it. I Hope We Choose Love is a fierce book, but it is not an angry book, and I think that makes it uniquely suitable for a first step for people who want to be on the right side of history, but can’t quite see the line. Cis folks, I particularly encourage you to deliver this book to your relatives who fit the bill, even if you don’t know of any trans folks in your life!
If you’re reading this post, I can almost guarantee you have a queer intellectual somewhere in your life. At least one. Je Nathanaël is a genreless book, and a genderless book, and it’s sexy and it’s queer and it’s abstract, and it’s more about a feeling than a story. The short sort-of-poems challenge language, challenge the idea that language is capable of capturing and describing experience, identity, and desire. The 15th anniversary edition also features an incredible postface from the author—who translated this, their own work, themselves—and an afterword from the scholar Elena Basile. This book does not meet its reader, but demands the reader climb as many steps as necessary to meet the text, and rewards you richly once you get there: patient and slow and insistent, carrying you through its interrogation.
Your local queer intellectual will also probably love Little Blue Encyclopedia (For Vivian) by Hazel Jane Plante, a novel that is somehow both gutting and fun, that explores trans love and identity while revolving around a fictional TV show. It is nothing short of genius.
It’s only in the past two years that I started reading fantasy, sci-fi, and dystopias again, after a nearly decade-long hiatus. In high school, I did the Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind circuit, and in first-year university I studied 1984 and Brave New World in every class. Once I realized there was more to literature than white men, I dove into reading books by women and BIPOC writers, and never looked back. And silly me: I didn’t think to search out women and BIPOC writers in the genres I abandoned.
Unsurprisingly, all of my now-favourite books in these genres are by women and BIPOC writers, and Moon of the Crusted Snow was the book that started it all. (Okay, actually it’s tied with The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline, for “book that started it all.”) Moon of the Crusted Snow is a classic dystopia (maybe more like apocalypse) story, but it sheds everything that can make the genre feel tiresome. It is fast-paced but also slow-moving somehow, like a snowfall of fluffy flakes that blocks the front door by morning. It is tense, suspenseful, and beautiful—Rice’s writing shines throughout the short book, as gripping as the story itself. I think part of what makes this book such a success is that it feels, terrifyingly, like the fiction could be a reality in just a few years.
Difficult People is an exceptional collection of short stories that I recommend almost compulsively. Short stories can be divisive, and may seem like a strange recommendation for the mainstream reader in your life, but Difficult People stands out in so many ways: Wright’s writing is clear, crisp, and rhythmic, for one, to the point of being almost transparent. Wright is not there, as the author, but is skillfully and deliberately absent from the stories, allowing the reader to be fully immersed in the gripping, immersive, and strangely relatable titular misfits. I have found that the big gap between what tickles the fancy of a literary reader compared to that of a mainstream reader comes down to story: Is there a story? Is the story the point? Many of my favourite books hardly have a story, and it’s almost never the point—the point is the feeling, the telling, the people. But my grandma, for instance, she wants a great story told clearly, without too much flourishing or meandering. Difficult People somehow finds both readers: the people, the feelings, are rich and complex and unnerving for the literary reader, but the stories, too, are compelling and intriguing.
These readers may also like Glory by Gillian Wigmore, a short novel about moving to Northern BC from Vancouver with a husband and a baby, and discovering the damage and magic a town and its people can contain. It is one of my favourite books and greatest inspirations.
This book of poetry is a force to be reckoned with. Poems move back and forth between reconciling the suicide of a former lover, and relating the discovery of an Iron Age Pazyryk woman: Ledi. It’s difficult to explain why it’s such a powerful book, but Trainor’s poems are so clear, full of feeling, full of grief and healing, that it is a comfort to be lost in them, as a grieving reader. There is a feeling of an end and, somehow, a beginning—or maybe it’s more of through, or a transformation from end to ongoing, and all of the pain and hope that transformation carries. I find great comfort in knowing I am not alone, and in my experience, there is little lonelier than grief, even when it is shared with real, lovely humans. It’s too personal to feel anything other than lonely, I think. But the magic of books is that they can be exactly what you need them to be, while they are also exactly what they are, and that is the magic of Ledi. It is Trainor’s book, Trainor’s poems, Trainor’s feelings, and there is space among them for you, where you will find yourself there, and you may see that there is a way through, if not out.
Nic Brewer is a writer and editor from Toronto. She writes fiction, mostly, which has appeared in Canthius, the Hart House Review, and Hypertrophic Literary, among others. She is the co-founder of Frond, an online literary journal for prose by LGBTQI2SA writers, and formerly co-managed the micropress words(on)pages. She lives in Kitchener, ON, with her partner and her dog. Suture is her first book.
Photo credit Becca Lemire Photography
Thanks so much to Nic for her thoughtful recommendations for all kinds of giftees on your list!