Thursday, January 21, 2010

One Night Stand: The Challenge That Dare Not Speak Its Name

I stopped by A Novel Challenge not too long ago and browsed through this year's challenges. Several caught my attention--64, if you want to be exact. Yep. You read that right. Sixty-four. Imagine if I actually joined all those challenges . . . I would probably have to give up my job. And my family. Not to mention sleeping.

Since I have sworn off challenges this year (except for the two I had previously committed to), I will not be joining any of those 64. That won't stop me, however, from enjoying a one night stand--browsing through my TBR room, selecting books that would be perfect to read for the challenges and putting them all on a list. Ah, the joy of making a list! Part of the fun and none of the commitment. The only thing missing is in the reading of the books, but I will get to that in time, just not in time for the the challenge deadlines most likely. I will not be doing this for all 64 challenges that I am interested in, only a select few. The question is, where to start?

Of all the challenges I am not joining this year, there were a couple in particular that I really struggled saying no to. One of them is The Challenge That Dare Not Speak Its Name, or the GLBT Reading Challenge.

The host, Amanda from The Zen Leaf, writes:
What I hope to do by creating this blog is help others gain a better understanding of the GLBT community. This is a very sensitive and divisive issue right now in our world, and the only way for us to reach equality is by learning and sharing.
I have been mulling over what to write, how to express why this challenge means so much to me, for several days now. And I am still not sure quite what to say. Fellow blogger Memory over at Stella Matutina summed it up by saying:
. . . being queer/gay/LGBT/GLBT/whichever term you prefer is neither a good thing nor a bad thing, any more than being heterosexual is good or bad. It's just a thing, full stop, no positive or negative connotations intended. (Ditto for heterosexuality). You can't control it, and it's not something that should make any difference.
When one of my coworkers came up to me one day and asked me if I'd heard that a certain celebrity was gay, my response was simply, "So?" I did not see what it mattered. I still don't. Knowing that did not change my perception of that person or what I thought of his work.

Unfortunately in our society it does matter to some people. There are those who judge others based solely on their sexuality. They reduce sexual orientation to a sexual act and vilify it. Sometimes in the name of religion. Or in the name of tradition. Regardless, it's discrimination. And as a result, it makes reading challenges like this all the more important. By reading GLBT books, Memory went on to say:
. . . maybe, just maybe, they'll realize that these characters are people first and foremost; that it's a person's actions that define them, not their sexuality. That it's every bit as possible to relate to someone of a different sexuality than, say, someone with a different hair colour than their own.
I believe that in literature, issues can often be stripped down to the person, whether real or imagined, and it is easier for people to realize that underneath it all is a human being. We may not share the same politics and dreams; we may come from different backgrounds and faiths, and be of a different culture, race, nationality, gender or sexual orientation; We may have varying life experiences. Perhaps by learning more about those who are different from us, we can not only learn to celebrate those differences, but also come to realize how much we are the same. This is one of the reasons I read. To open myself up and learn about other cultures and people. To step outside of my own little box and learn about the world around me. Reading has opened my mind and my heart over the years in a variety of ways. I believe it can do the same for others as well.

The challenge guidelines state that books can be about Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgendered (GLBT) topics and/or by GLBT authors. There will be mini challenges during the year and prizes to boot. Participants are asked to sign up for one of three levels:
  • Lambda Level: Read 4 books.
  • Pink Triangle Level: Read 8 books.
  • Rainbow Level: Read 12 or more books.
List of possible books I'd read if I was actually joining the challenge (which I'm not):
(all books listed are ones I own but have not yet read)

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote
Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
Passage to India by E.M. Forster
Three Junes by Julia Glass
Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood
Blind Fall by Christopher Rice
Light Before Day by Christopher Rice
The Snow Garden by Christopher Rice
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
Night Watch by Sarah Waters

I imagine there are more on my shelves I don't know about or I've missed. With this list alone, I could probably sign up for the Rainbow Level. Alas, it is not to be. This is a one night stand after all. However, I am looking forward to following the progress of those who are participating and perhaps even adding a few new books to my TBR collection.
  • Have you read any of the books I've listed? Any I absolutely must read right now?
  • What books have you read or want to read that might fit into this challenge?

Note (it sucks that I have to write this at all but . . .): I respect that others may have views differing from my own, and so I ask that you respect mine; in other words, be nice even if you disagree. I will not tolerate inflammatory or malicious comments and will exercise my right to delete them.

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.


  1. Of course, I will tell you not to miss any of the Sarah Waters. Her writing folds in issues of sexual orientation, class and intrigue seamlessly. And oh my goodness, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil! It is WONDERFUL! I listened to it on audio, and I just didn't want the fun to end. (The movie is awesome too - perfect for the Read the Book/See the Movie Challenge - haha)

  2. I've read 5 from the list: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, The Three Junes, and The Little Stranger.

    Favorites: Midnight in the Garden and The Amazing Adventures!

  3. I loved reading "browsing through my TBR room!" This is a great challenge, and I wish you luck with it.

  4. My mom's best friend- my godfather- is gay so since I grew up around him it's never bothered me. Quite the opposite because I've never met kinder people than him and his friends. What a great reading challenge! I hope you enjoy your time dabbling in it :)

    I think I'll probably read Breakfast at Tiffany's sometime this year.

  5. Sandy - I definitely plan to read something (maybe more than one) by Sarah Waters this year. Finally! I've heard such great things about Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I'll have to look for the movie too now that you mention it!

    Jenclair - My husband read The Amazing Adventures the year before last (?) at my urging and really liked it. One of these days I'll actually read it myself. :-)

    I'm glad to hear you liked Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil too.

    Kathy - I'm never lacking in reading material. :-) While I am not participating in this challenge myself, I do look forward to eventually getting to all the books on the list--and then some.

    Jen - I've been blessed to have known (and know) some wonderful people who are gay/lesbian over the years too.

    Breakfast at Tiffany's is a short one, so I might be able to squeeze it in there somewhere.

  6. 64 Challenges!?! That Novel Challenge blog is a dangerous place :-). But I'll look forward to your future One-Night Stands.

    Kavalier and Clay is a good choice for this challenge, but you might also want to consider Michael Chabon's first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, where the GLBT elements actually are more central to the story. Chabon wrote them so well that he was assumed to be gay himself, but he's not (ask his wife, Ayelet Waldman).

    Three Junes is good too, and I really liked Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

  7. Yes, you *must* at least read Fingersmith!!! Waters is amazing, and that, in my opinion, is her most brilliant work to date (though I've not yet gotten to The Little Stranger - it's on my short list for this year).

    Thank you for reminding me of the LGBT Challenge; it's one I'd likely complete without the "challenge" part, but I'd intended to join to watch for recommendations.

  8. I've readt he first two and loved them both. I'll be reading Three Junes soon.

  9. I am not doing that challenge either - but hear! hear! to what you said - well articulated :)

    Our best friend is Gay - and we love him to bits.

    Haven't read all your suggestions - and have added to my TBR list.

  10. I haven't read any from your list. I tend to read YA GLBT...a great one is A Year of Ice. I picked it up after reading Matt's awesome review. It did not disappoint me!

  11. I haven't read any of the books you listed, but I ADORED Christopher Rice's first book, A Density of Souls. It's one I often think of re-reading, and I wonder how it would stand up to a re-read (was pretty melodramatic as I recall), but it still hase one of the most atmospheric opening lines I've read. Love it!

  12. I've read Midnight..., Passage to India, Breakfast..., Three Junes and something by Sarah Waters, I don't remember what.

    I loved Three Junes - and any book by Julia Glass. Wish there were more.

    Midnight is a great book and very different. I picked it up because of the setting - I went to college not far from Savannah and spent a lot of time there.

  13. I loved The Three Junes - and anything else by Julia Glass. Hers are books to be savored.

  14. I've read all the Sarah Waters, the Michael Chabon, and the Isherwood and can highly recommend all of them! A good writer can make you believe in and identify with any character so you don't have to be G/L/B/T to enjoy these books, really!

  15. This is a very fine, comprehensive list. Sarah Waters, E.M. Forster, and Michael Chabon are my favorites. I have been reading many GLBT books recently and thought I would keep in spirit with the challenge by reading about two every month. A recent favorite, which is also made into movie, is Christopher Isherwood's A Single Man.

  16. I've read Breakfast at Tiffany's and Passage to India- both awesome books. good luck with the challenge!

  17. I've read Amazing Adventures, Three Junes and Midnight. I never really stopped to think of how many books I've read/will read that would fit in this category.

  18. That's a great list of books, Wendy! I've to admit I've not read any of them but Sarah Waters is high up onto my TBR list. And I've to check out the rest of the books you mentioned since I'm not familiar with them. Thanks, Wendy! :)

  19. Wonderful post, Wendy, and everything is so well said. I am one that is not familiar with GLBT lit and to be honest just recently found out what GLBT stood for. I feel so in the dark sometimes.
    Wow! 64 challenges?!?!? I will have to hop over there and check them all out. I am only doing 2 this year - of course I only did 1 last year, lol. They are so much fun, but just so little time to squeeze everything in.

  20. Of course if you really wanted to go gay with Forster you should check out Maurice or his collection of gay-themed short stories The Life to Come.

  21. I enjoyed your post thoroughly. That someone is gay shouldn't matter and honestly it doesn't to me, I pay no attention until somebody has to for some ungodly reason pay special attention to it. I am of a predisposition which allows me to just let other people be whoever they are as long as it makes them happy (and of course they are not psychopathic murderers, lol!)
    I do own most of the books you mentioned there and probably even more but honestly I never thought to pay attention to whether the author is gay or there is a gay character in there.

  22. I love the idea of a one night stand! There are so many challenges that I WOULD join, if I joined them at all. This one would be at the top of my list. I'm thinking about checking some sarah waters out of the library soon anyway.

  23. Yes, yes, yes. Beautifully said, Wendy.

    And unsurprisingly, I'm going to tell you to read Sarah Waters right now :P

  24. You make so much sense! I live in a small town in NH, which just legalized same-sex marriage, and the front page of our local paper had a picture of the first lesbian couple to tie the knot. You wouldn't believe how many negative letter to the editor they received. So disgusting!

    I'm going to look into some of these books and, if they are appropriate, recommend them to my students.

  25. I think you hit on the purpose of challenges: to introduce readers to books they may not have considered or gotten to themselves. You could even pick one book that would fit the criteria of your 64 challenges and read some of those this year, like you said, not counting towards the challenge or caring when the end dates are. Just for fun. There are lots of challenges I'm not signing up for this year but I may still read a book about that subject.

    It's like sampling the challenges!

  26. I'm horribly behind, so I'm just seeing this now. Thanks for linking to/quoting my post!

    You must, must, must read THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY! Maybe not now, maybe not tomorrow, but someday. (Preferably someday soonish). It's the very best book I read in 2009. It blew me straight out of the water.

  27. Florinda - Sixy-four--it's actually gone up since I wrote this post with new challenges being announced every day. :-)

    I'll have to add Mysteries of Pittsburgh to my wish list I was trying to be good and stick to the unread books I own, but I am so glad people are making recommendations!

    Kirsten - Fingersmith is definitely a book I will get to this year. Hopefully this spring if I have anything to say about it. :-)

    I plan to watch the LGBT site/challenge for recommendations too. Hopefully we'll come away with quite a few new books and authors to try!

    Stacy - Three Junes does sound good! I look forward to reading your thoughts on it.

    Sally - Thank you. I'm not always very good about expressing myself, especially on issues I feel passionate about. I really struggle with finding the write words.

    Staci - I don't read a lot of YA so I imagine I'm not aware of many good titles. I'll have to look up A Year of Ice. Thanks for the recommendation!

    Andi - I loved A Density of Souls too. I had the opportunity to meet Christopher Rice this past April and he has such a nice smile (and is very nice). I am looking forward to reading more by him.

    Pam - I haven't had a chance to read anything by Julia Glass yet. I'm glad to hear you liked Three Junes so much. I am looking forward to reading it.

    I love books in the South (fiction and nonfiction) and am eager to read John Berendt's book.

  28. Ingrid - I'm so glad you enjoyed Three Junes. I hope I will too!

    Clea - I completely agree with you, Clea. A good writer can put the reader into any character's shoes from any walk of life. That's one of the joys of reading, I think. Experiencing life from a variety of vantage points, and growing as an individual as a result.

    Matt - Two a month is a good goal. There are so many books out there I want to read and only so much time. The lament of the reader . . .

    Marie - I'm eager to read each of those. I am glad you enjoyed them so much!

    Lisa (Lit&Life) - I haven't given it much thought before either. There are probably a number of authors who are GBLT that I don't know about.

    Melody - Thank you. There's quite a few of us who are planning to read Sarah Waters. We should all try and do that this year! :-)

    April - Thank you, April. There are so many acronyms out there that it is hard to know them all, especially if you don't come into contact with them often.

    Challenges are a lot of fun, but, as you suggested, finding time to fit them all in is often the real challenge!

  29. Thomas - Thank you for the recommendation! I will definitely add Maurice to my wish list.

    Lilly - I agree. It really shouldn't matter whether a person is gay or not. Hopefully someday it won't matter for everyone out there.

    I am sure I have more books on my shelves that are by gay authors or which feature gay characters too. It's not something I ever really thought much about before now either.

    Lisa (Books, Lists, Life) - I figure this gives me the opportunity to have a little fun without the stress that comes with the commitment. :-) I really do like the idea behind this challenge.

    Nymeth - Thank you. LOL Well, I'm in the middle of something right now so Sarah Waters will have to wait. But just a little longer. :-)

    Linda - Thanks, Linda. I just don't understand why there's such outrage over two adults in love getting married, regardless of gender. A friend of mine and her partner got married during the short window when it was legal in California. I really hope California gets its act together and gets back on the right track.

    Callista - I really like your idea of picking one book from each challenge and reading that. Why didn't I think of that? I'll have to seriously consider it . . .

    Memory - I should have given you a heads up. You said it all so well and I was having such a hard time finding my words. My husband really liked Chabon's book too. I can't wait to read it.

  30. Good luck with the challenge, Wendy! I haven't read any of the ones you've listed but I've heard of all the ones by Sarah Waters.

  31. Alice - The great thing about these one night stands is that I'm not actually committing to participate in the challenges. Just having fun making up the lists of books I would have read for them. :-) I've been wanting to read Sarah Waters for years now, and decided this year would be the year.


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