Into the Queerosphere: Resources for Finding Your Next LGBTQ Read

To anyone that’s been paying attention to recent trends in young adult (YA) over the last four or five years, the line-up of books slated for 2019 is both timely and highly anticipated. With the push for diversity in literature and media still going as strong as ever (perhaps even stronger than ever), it seems that publishers have finally started to seriously answer the call. Young adult (and middle grade) lists are heavy with POC leads, and the number of books about LGBTQ characters has doubled since the last few publishing seasons (and that’s just looking at books coming out—pun intended—between January and April! The list for May through June is even longer!). This is extra important when you consider that as recently as 2012, just over 1 percent of YA books had any LGBTQ content at all.

Personally, I’m delighted by this statistic, not only because I’m excited to read all the sweet, sweet diversity of POC and LGTBQ content (especially when they happen in the same book), but also because the mere existence of these books confirms a tangible change in the publishing industry. Publishing is a notoriously (and glacially) slow process, so it’s exciting to finally see the response of publishers to the public outcry for more diverse representation, which has been an ongoing social conversation since, well, forever. Or so it feels.

Of particular interest to me are books that feature protagonists who identify as part of the gorgeous rainbow spectrum that is the LGBTQ community. Not only is 2019 chock-full of queer content, but it’s also filling in some gaps in representation from years before, with a happy increase in trans characters compared to the almost nonexistent quantity from 2018, as well as another welcome increase in aro/ace characters. It is, in short, going to be a blissful year of reading for book-loving queers and queer-loving readers.

Still, with of all this new content (on top of all of the great and fabulous content from the last few years), how is a reader supposed to find the books they’re truly interested in without reading the back cover copy of a million books? Fortunately for everyone, there are several great places to start looking for all this good queer content.

Databases of Books with LGBTQ Characters and Themes

  • Rainbow Books List: An annual list created by the Rainbow List Committee of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table of the American Library Association presented as a “bibliography of quality books with significant and authentic GLBTQ content,” catered to kids aged birth to eighteen.
  • LGBTQ Reads: Perhaps the most comprehensive database, LGBTQ Reads has lists for everything. They’ve broken down the LGBTQ diaspora into genre and then subdivided it several times over for unique searchability. The YA section is broken down by subgenre, pairing, setting, state/province, trope/theme, and YAs with queer parents.
  • YA Pride: (Previously Gay YA) This organization has compiled a series of masterlists organized alphabetically by author. They have lists for seven broad categories within LGBTQ representation: gay, lesbian, bisexual/pansexual/polysexual, transgender (including nonbinary identities), intersex, asexual, and aromantic.

Preliminary Reading Lists for 2019 (Please enjoy the irony of me making a list of lists)

“Straight” from the Source

Great news for anyone with unpublished LGBTQ content! There are many publishers that cater specifically to LGBTQ authors and books with LGBTQ characters and themes. Below are five of said publishers. Another more comprehensive list lives here.

  • Bella Books: The largest lesbian-owned press publishing books written by, for, and about women who love women.
  • Bold Strokes Books: Accepting general and genre fiction, BSB offers a wide selection of LGBTQ content in every conceivable genre and subgenre.
  • Dreamspinner Press: Publishes gay male romances that end in gay or gay polyamorous relationships.
  • Interlude Press: Publishes well-crafted LGBTQ-focused titles ranging from short stories to novels and encourages submissions from authors of all backgrounds.
  • Riptide Publishing: Has three distinct imprints, including Riptide Publishing (adult genre fiction with a romantic or erotic focus), Triton Books (YA genre and literary fiction), and Anglerfish Press (literary fiction with little to no romantic or erotic focus).

Why the Publishing Industry is Thriving (Not Dying)

When I told friends and family that I would be pursuing a graduate degree in book publishing, I was met with varied reactions. Some people thought it sounded wonderful—the perfect niche degree for a bookworm like myself. Many others were surprised and pessimistic: “Isn’t that a dying industry?” I admit it made me question my choice at times. Was I really about to go thousands of dollars into debt to hopefully get a career in an industry that would soon cease to exist? But I’m grateful I trusted my gut and pursued my passions, because, as it turns out, the publishing industry is far from dead. In fact, more people than ever are reading. The industry has adapted with the changing world and new technology. Audiobooks and ebooks have expanded the book format, increasing accessibility. Bolstered by social media, celebrity book clubs have become popular again, as Reese Witherspoon and Emma Watson join Oprah in encouraging people to read. Now is an exciting time to be in publishing.

Some have claimed that print is dead, but the 687.2 million books sold in 2017 suggest otherwise. According to Publishers Weekly, unit sales of books have risen 10.8 percent since 2013, and are up nearly 2 percent from last year. It’s not the biggest jump, but with so many forms of entertainment vying for our attention, even a small amount is a reason to celebrate. Growth is also being seen across several genres, with sales made through retail and club channels rising 3.5 percent. Literary fiction saw sales increase by 2.1 percent, hardcover sales by 3.6 percent, and paperback sales are up 1.5 percent. Juvenile nonfiction saw the biggest gain, up 7.8 percent from last year. This is especially promising because it proves children are still reading despite access to iPhones and iPads. Instilling a love of reading in children is the best way to create future adult readers. Even poetry is showing signs of life. Rupi Kaur’s collections of poems (Land of Milk and Honey and The Sun and Her Flowers) have sold over three million copies combined. You can’t argue with stats like these.

Another thing I hear is that nobody joins book clubs anymore. Oprah paved the way for celebrity book clubs when she launched hers in 1996 (persevering past the James Frey debacle), but few have ever taken advantage until recently. Instagram and the popular bookstagram hashtag may have something to do with it. There are currently 23.9 million photos associated with the hashtag. Hermoine herself (and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador), Emma Watson, launched an online book club in January 2016 called Our Shared Shelf that recently promoted Terese Marie Mailhot’s Heart Berries. With nearly 48 million followers on Instagram, Watson has a wide reach and the potential to create millions of new readers. Her club already has the largest following on Goodreads, with nearly 220 thousand followers in addition to having 358 thousand followers on Instagram. Last year, actress Emma Roberts also founded an online book club called Belletrist, which features a new book as well as an independent bookstore every month. Over 188 thousand people follow Belletrist on Instagram, and Robert’s 12.3 million followers aren’t too shabby either. Reese Witherspoon’s online book club, Reese Witherspoon Book Club, has 459 thousand followers (her personal account has a following of nearly 15 million) and chooses a new book every month. Witherspoon’s recent book-to-TV adaptation, Big Little Lies, was a huge hit for HBO, with a second season underway. Another Witherspoon book club choice, Little Fires Everywhere, a New York Times bestseller, will soon be a series on Hulu, after an intense network bidding war.

Then there is the so-called digital threat. When ebooks first hit the market, people gasped and said it was the end of print, but print sales are actually outselling ebooks, and the publishing industry has instead embraced and adapted to new formats. If people don’t have time to read, they often have time to listen. Audiobooks are perfect for passing time spent stuck in traffic. Ebooks are light and easy to carry, can hold multiple titles, and can make reading a 1000-plus word book much more enjoyable. Genre fiction has become especially popular on the ebook format, with many readers devouring mystery after mystery and romance after romance on their ereading devices. The number of people checking out ebooks from the library has risen. A survey conducted by digital library checkout app Overdrive found that fifty-eight library systems across the country have each loaned out over a million ebooks and audiobooks combined. Some are even exceeding 2 or 3 million. The Multnomah County Library system reported a 28 percent growth in ebook and audiobook loans from 2016 to 2017. It makes sense that ebooks and audiobooks would be popular at libraries, as it’s hard to beat the convenience of not having to physically pick up and return books.

Overall, the book format hasn’t changed much since the invention of the printing press, but the book publishing industry has adapted to changing times and has taken advantage of new technologies. Social media provides visibility in a crowded marketplace. Oprah, Reece, and the Emmas use their celebrity as a tool for encouraging more people to read. Libraries provide access to ebook and audiobook titles for millions of readers. Print sales are on the rise, proving that print is most certainly not dead. As long as people still love books (and the numbers suggest they do), the publishing industry will continue to thrive.

Is the Market for YA Dystopia Growing as Bleak as the Genre’s Content?

Shortly after The Divergent Series: Allegiant hit theaters, searches for “YA dystopia” in Google News yielded a veritable barrage of articles declaring that the genre was finally on its way out—at least in cinema. From the Guardian to the LA Times to the Washington Post, speculation was rampant. But if we’re truly nearing a hard moratorium on YA dystopia in film, what does that mean for books?

In 2014, Lois Lowry, author of The Giver, stated that YA dystopia “was a trend, and it’s ending now.” Whether she was correct is up for debate. It stands to reason that what’s considered popular or passé in cinema might have some effect on other media. This may or may not be especially so for young adults, who tend to be more easily influenced and concerned with what is or isn’t “cool” (though it’s also possible that teens don’t really care about what adult reviewers have to say about their media). Either way, one has to wonder at this point whether the problem is really with the genre itself, or rather a blatant lack of originality. A Twitter account titled Dystopian YA Novel (@DystopianYA) beautifully illustrates this point with gems such as the following:

My sister Harpa played with her hair. In a lot of ways, she reminds me of a metaphor for my childhood innocence.

When People Are Categorized By A Single Defining Trait, One Girl Will Rise Above. Because Her Single Defining Trait Is Being Different.

Even with Anthem so close to me, dark hair and clear green eyes, I couldn’t stop picturing Ermias, with his light hair and clear green eyes

I try to comfort myself by thinking of what I know: My name is Valentine Neverwoods. I am from the Colony. Nothing else is what it seems.

Anthem is so complicated. Even though that seems to be his only personality trait.

This account is far from the only place on the web that pokes fun at the genre’s tropes—SNL’s parody trailer “The Group Hopper” makes the same overall point, and the previously cited LA Times article kicks off with this description: “In movie theaters this past weekend, a reluctant teen hero led a rebellion comprising an implausible clan of oppressed but likable young iconoclasts. Together they rose up around their chosen one to fight their government’s evil social engineering.” The Hunger Games? The Maze Runner? The Giver? Divergent? Maybe even the final Harry Potter installment? When a synopsis like this one can’t narrow things down to a couple possibilities, even when restricted to recent big-name works, there might be some creativity lacking in the genre.

Issues aside, there are many reasons YA dystopia might have become so popular in the first place. One Forbes article speculates that the widespread desire for such novels might partially stem from young adults’ distress over the state of the world—the result of the actions of previous generations, ripe with war, environmental disasters, massive societal problems, political corruption, and so on. Additionally, teens are expected to make long-reaching choices at a relatively young age; accomplish the same things going into adulthood as previous generations did (despite wildly different circumstances); and sit, test after high-stakes, standardized test without complaint. These dystopian novels take the seeds of these problems and anxieties and blow them up for the protagonists to cope with, navigate, and even change. Another article pointed out that the genre has also done well in allowing young women access to roles and traits traditionally only given to boys and men.

This is all to say that, at least in the world of books, maybe what’s dying isn’t dystopian YA fiction, but rather a set of tired tropes—and considering the reasons they often appeal to the target audience, maybe not even those. Series starters such as Red Rising, Red Queen, and An Ember in the Ashes have each met impressive success very recently despite claims to the genre’s doom, as I’m sure have many others. We’ll just have to wait to see where this goes.

What Not to Read Before Bed

Never would I dream of telling you not to read before bed. Reading oneself to sleep is the only way some of us can successfully slip into dreamland, and it’s a glorious tradition not to be trifled with.

But beware. This relaxation technique can backfire so hard that you will find yourself unable to close your eyes, much less sleep. Heed this list as a warning of the types of books and articles to stay away from before sinking your head into the pillow.

Let’s start with the obvious.

If you’re reading It, Pet Sematary, or any other book by Mr. King (or his son Joe Hill for that matter), you must just really hate sleeping. Otherwise, you like dreaming about giant spiders or murderous undead cats scratching at your window. Someone in my family got so freaked out by ‘Salem’s Lot that she literally kept it in the freezer when she wasn’t reading it. #RightIdea

Sleep with one eye open.

There are few worse things to read before bed than accounts of real-world psychos. Books like Helter Skelter may have you locking yourself into an airtight, stuffy house, bracing yourself for an onslaught of violent hippies. Even well-researched journalistic accounts can send villains with TEC-9s blasting their way through your dreams, as they did mine when I read Dave Cullen’s Columbine. Trust me. Running from real-world monsters is not how you want to spend your REM cycle.

Don’t meet your heroes.

Learning about the racism, sexism, criminal history, or just plain bizarre behavior of people you have idolized from afar is disturbing enough to make you toss and turn. An NSFW example: James Joyce’s love letters. I won’t link you straight to them because you might be reading this before bed, but I’ll link you to Kate Beaton’s Hark, a Vagrant comic about her own sleepless night after discovering them. Unless you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into, beware late-night investigations into your literary heroes.

Most of the Old Testament is terrifying.

Think cracking open your old confirmation Bible will bring comfort and joy to combat insomnia? Do so at your own risk. Much in the way James Joyce’s letters can be a nasty surprise, the sterner books of the Bible are chock-full of gore and bodily fluids of all kinds. You especially don’t want to run across that whole incident with the teenagers getting mauled by bears. That is, unless stories like that relax you (slowly backs away).

It’s not the time to get good and mad.

We are told to avoid too much social media before bed not only because blue light from our devices can confuse our biorhythms. The avoidance also keeps us from eleventh-hour adrenaline rushes from bad news, annoying political memes, or clickbait articles that unmask the latest rude restaurant patron or power-tripping high school administrator. Books can get us just as riled up. Reading a polarizing book of philosophy or a memoir of injustice, such as Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, can keep you up for hours, feeling frustrated and ineffective. Books like these are important when we want to feed our brains, but maybe just include some buffer time before hitting the sack.

For the record, I have regularly ignored every bit of the advice above. If I weren’t a slave to my own literary whims, I would follow the rules above, but alas, my sleep is often disrupted by my reading habits. Listen to the voice of experience, and perhaps you will have better luck than me.