How Reading the Right Books Changed my 2021
In 2021 queer and feminist books shaped my year. I spent most of the year working on my postgraduate dissertation, discussing lesbian and feminist publishing in the United Kingdom, something I will write more about in future blog posts. After a hectic couple of months with very little time spent reading for pleasure, I realised it was time for a change, and decided to try to spend some time reading before bed every night. I set out to read only feminist and queer literature, a decision that changed my year, and helped me to better understand, appreciate and embrace my own identity.
The first book I picked up was Women Don’t Owe You Pretty by Florence Given, a beautifully illustrated feminist self-help book. I had started reading WDOYP the year before when it first came out after pre-ordering a copy but was not really able to get into it. This time, however, Given’s words were exactly what I needed to hear. As such, WDOYP was my first important book of 2021. Unlike the previous year, I suddenly felt myself able to relate to most chapters, aggressively underlining important passages and going up to my flatmate, quoting the book and saying “tell me this isn’t about me!” Given’s book taught me some very confronting but essential lessons about toxic relationships, loving yourself and embracing your identity. Given’s advice to “[s]urround yourself only with things that make you happy – everything else must go” is something I aspire to live by in 2022. Women Don’t Owe You Pretty was an empowering and fun read within a genre I intend to further explore in 2022.
2021 was also the year I visited queer bookshops for the first time (again, more on this in a later post), and picked up several queer and sapphic books. After finishing WDOYP, I decided to read One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston, a contemporary lesbian romance novel. Reading a book with sapphic characters that were my own age, and experienced similar struggles – though I cannot say I have ever been stuck in time on the Q-train for five decades – was a really refreshing and enjoyable experience. Oh, to see yourself represented in literature. Unfortunately, LGBTQIA+ fiction books still frequently only depict queer suffering, the struggles of coming out and facing homophobia, and ultimately kill off queer characters. One Last Stop, however, while still respectfully discussing the struggles of queer existence, primarily focused on queer joy, chosen families, and love. The book was relatable, sweet and encouraging, and an excellent example of positive queer representation in contemporary fiction.
The Times I Knew I Was Gay by Eleanor Crewes was possibly my favourite book I read in 2021. I discovered the book during my research for my dissertation and then found a copy at queer bookshop Category is Books in Glasgow. I knew I was going to love this book even before I started reading it, and then I did. It was very encouraging and empowering to read about main character Ellie’s journey towards self-acceptance and an embrace of her queerness. Crewes’ description of the day she knew, definitively, in a “this it it” way, that she was gay reminded me of my own journey of self-discovery, and the distinct moments in my life that made me realise I am a lesbian. It was lovely to read a story I could genuinely relate to, so much so that it actually left me in tears. This inspiring read was another reminder of the value of books and their ability to make readers feel seen. This book was an easy and fun read, with a lovely illustration style, and a book I plan to read many more times in the future.
All in all, queer and feminist literature shaped my 2021, researching and reading the right books helped me become more myself. If more books like these had been available to me when I was younger, my personal journey would have been very different. In 2022, I plan to further explore lesbian and feminist literature, and will attempt to read more books on my ever-expanding TBR list. This includes both queer fiction books, such as It Goes Like This by Miel Moreland, and nonfiction such as Gender Euphoria, a selection of essays by trans individuals edited by Laura Kate Dale, as well as a selection of feminist reads such as Scarlett Curtis’s Feminists Don’t Wear Pink. Extensively researching lesbian and feminist literature for my dissertation, and increasingly reading these books myself, has made me truly understand the importance of diverse and positive representation in literature, as well as become aware of the continued lack thereof in contemporary publishing. By researching, reading and promoting inclusive literature, readers like myself can contribute to the expansion of the queer and feminist genres. This year, I intend to continue my exploration of queer and feminist books, in an effort to become more empowered and educated.