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Emily Perper
Freelance writer/editor.

To Reflect, To Love, and To Protest: A Pride Month Reading List

Celebrating Pride Month offers us the opportunity to reflect, to love, and to protest. This year, queer folks around the country mobilized and protested, carrying signs calling for the end of ICE and separating families at the border, anti-gun violence, Black Lives Matter, anti-police presence, and President Donald Trump’s impeachment. I take pride in the increasingly mainstream intersectionality of the LGBTQIA+ movement. For me, the energy of Pride motivates the intense volunteer work I do year-round. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of need, but Pride reminds me that there’s a whole community of LGBTQIA+ folks and allies who have my back. Below is just a sample of the excellent stories and interviews I read throughout June.

1. “I Found God at Queer Summer Camp.” (Jeanna Kadlec, Narratively, June 2018)

 

This essay stunned me from its first paragraph, and it inspired me to create this reading list. Jeanna Kadlec does a brilliant job explaining the layers of trauma ex-fundamentalist Christians grapple with daily, but her essay is shot through with joy, wonder, and hope. As my Southern, Christian college professor would say, I commend it to you. If you’d like to learn more about A-Camp after reading Kadlec’s essay, there’s a delightful roundtable of counselors and campers sharing their experiences.

2. “What It Means to be Trans & at the Beach in America.” (Lia Clay, Refinery29, July 2017)

I rejoiced in these beautiful photos and the accompanying meditations about cis allyship, the inadequacy of safe spaces, body positivity versus dysphoria, and establishing conscientious boundaries.  This is the first summer I’ve thought seriously about what I’d like to wear and how I’d like to be perceived at the beach. Last summer, I bought a pair of robin’s-egg blue swim trunks, but never wore them. I’m still not sure what to wear on top. A bikini with a t-shirt over it? A binder? Maybe I’ll wear something else entirely, something that hasn’t been invented yet. May these photos inspire you to have your freest summer ever and wear whatever fills you with comfort and confidence. Check out “14 Photos of New York’s Queer Beach During Pride” from Them, if your heart craves even more queer joy.

3. & 4. “I Detransitioned. But Not Because I Wasn’t Trans.” and “Why is the Media So Worried About the Parents of Trans Kids?” (The Atlantic, June 2018)

Skip the The Atlantic’s misguided attempt at a timely cover story and read Robyn Kanner and Thomas Page McBee’s thoughtful responses instead. Hire trans people to report and write trans stories, please.

5. “Journalist Jenna Wortham on Cultivating Community for Queer People of Color.” (Taryn Finley, Huffington Post, June 2018)

Jenna Wortham is a force of nature, a podcast host and tech reporter who balances creating brilliant work with enforcing her own boundaries and self-care. Interviewer Taryn Finley describes Wortham’s work “as a salve for the marginalized.”

6. “Heteronormativity is the Ultimate Karaoke: An Interview with Chelsey Johnson.” (Leni Zumas, Tin House, March 2018)

Chelsey Johnson is the author of one of my favorite books, Stray City. It’s a novel about Andrea Morales, a young queer woman living in ’90s Portland grappling with an unexpected pregnancy and shifting definitions of family and community. It’s a book imbued with warmth, one I wish I could read again for the first time. In this interview with Leni Zumas, author of Red Clocks, Johnson discusses “counter[ing[ the canonical coming-out story,” shopping for vinyl, her inner queer-theory critics, and how “the story of a straight white man fucking up” became Stray City.

7. “Meet Me at Cuties: The Queer-Owned L.A. Coffee Bar that Puts Community First.” (Molly Adams, Autostraddle, May 2018)

In this delightful interview, Iris Bainum-Houle and Virginia Bauman, founders of Cuties, discuss implementing and enforcing community guidelines in a queer-owned retail space, the day-to-day maintenance of a small business, and their advice for opening a business of your own. As a human who doesn’t drink, I treasure queer-owned gathering spaces that don’t make alcohol a priority, and I look forward to visiting Cuties next time I’m out west. (Related: I would absolutely pull a Stephanie and try to convince my friends to reenact The Planet of The L-Word at my local cafe.)

Longreads-centric Pride Month Reading List:

On Pointe: Reading on Ballet

It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that my parents admitted I was a decidedly terrible five-year-old ballerina. It was no great blow to learn I sucked at something I hadn’t attempted in two decades; as I grew older, I was burned by athletic endeavors generally and found my confidence in books and academic success instead. But if my loving parents observed my lack of grace onstage, that meant my teacher, my classmates, and the entire audience at our ballet recital definitely noticed, and that stung a bit.

There’s something enticing about the rigorous structure of the ballet world, the gamble of hard work paying off. With ballet, you have an identity, inside jokes, long hours, and people who get you — camaraderie. I craved that sense of belonging, from the first day of kindergarten through my failed sorority rushes in college. It’s the seduction of security, of always having someone to sit with, always having someplace to be. I wanted to rest in the knowledge that I was accepted and validated, especially by talented women.

These days, I love absorbing ballet via pop culture and the occasional live performance. I obsessed over Dance Academy on Netflix, and Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild is one of my all-time favorite books. If I could pick one magic power, forget flight or invisibility — I’d choose dance.

1. “The Afterlife of a Ballerina.” (Alice Robb, Elle, October 2016)

Alice Robb’s profile of Alexandra Ansanelli chronicles her meteoric rise onstage and offers a fascinating inside look at how her personality and psyche were shaped by her rigorous and often isolating training. From online dating to her day job, Ansanelli shares how she struggled to assimilate into civilian life after retiring from ballet at age 28.

2. “Talent Isn’t Enough When You’re a Fat Ballerina.” (Olivia Campbell, Catapult, May 2018)

I know how tough it is to live with regret, how easy it is to get sucked into the “what if” depression spiral. Olivia Campbell’s “what ifs” swirl around her past as a “semi-professional dancer” and which bodies are deemed acceptable and beautiful in ballet. Hers wasn’t.

3. “The Ballerina Who Accused Her Instructor of Sexual Assault.” (Jessica Luther, BuzzFeed News, December 2016)

Over a year before #MeToo permeated the international conversation, journalist Jessica Luther reported on ballerina Lissa Curtis’ exceedingly brave decision to hold her rapist — her former ballet instructor — accountable in court. I was moved by Curtis’ openness in discussing her PTSD and her healing process, especially her changing relationship to dance.

4. “Raising a Ballerina Will Cost You $100,000.” (Abby Abrams, FiveThirtyEight, August 2015)

Whew, the pointe shoes ALONE. $29,000?!

This assumes the student starts wearing pointe shoes in sixth grade — around the time that most ballet schools allow students to try them out — and buys shoes priced at about $80 per pair.4 My estimate assumes that a sixth-grader goes through a pair of shoes every three months. By seventh grade, she needs a new pair of pointe shoes after one month; by ninth grade that need increases to one each week; and by the time she is in 10th grade, I’ve accounted for her buying two pairs per week. That might sound like a lot of shoes, but dancers have assured me that these high numbers are about right.

On a more hopeful note, this piece offers insight into programs like Dance Theatre of Harlem and Project Plié make ballet more accessible to students from diverse backgrounds.

5. “Body on Fire.” (Amy Jo Burns, Tin House, November 2017)

As I read “Rust Belt ballerina” Amy Jo Burns’ essay, I felt the tug of something familiar. I wracked my brain, then I remembered: I’d encountered her writing in Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture, an anthology edited by Roxane Gay. Though I read several pieces from Not That Bad during a quiet half-hour at work, Burns’ stuck with me especially; I’d like to write like her one day. I admired her clear-eyed, unsparing observations of how her attacker received few consequences and how her fellow survivors were vilified by their small town. In “Body on Fire,” Burns intersperses her own relationship to ballet with a powerful meditation on the life, art, and sexist biographing of Emma Livry, a young French ballerina who died after suffering burns from the stage’s gaslights.

The Fight to Escape “A World of Anonymous Abuse”

Photo by SSPL / Getty Images

In a conversation with media critic and Feminist Frequency founder Anita Sarkeesian at Marie Claire, indie game developer and anti-abuse activist Zoë Quinn had this to say about stopping online harassment: “A big barrier to people getting help with online harassment is the general attitude either that it’s not a real issue—that it’s ‘only’ online—or that it’s limited to someone saying they don’t like you, and all of that stems from a basic misunderstanding of what we mean when we say ‘online harassment.’ I constantly hear from people who, before hearing my story, say they had no idea it was so bad or could consume someone’s entire life and future.”

Quinn, who suffered and survived the full wrath of the GamerGate mob, is right: Somehow, the prefix “cyber” minimizes the perceived impact of abuse, which is utterly misleading. It’s obvious the harassment Courtney Allen and her family experienced was anything but isolated to the web. It may’ve spawned there, but it transitioned unquestionably to IRL. Perhaps most horrifying of all, it doesn’t seem like it’s over. At Wired, Brooke Jarvis reports.

Courtney decided to ease Zonis out of her life. Her messages to him became short, bland, and infrequent, but still she received long, aggressive responses. Finally she began demanding to be left alone, then stopped responding at all. But emails and calls continued, as many as 20 in a single day; even Courtney’s mother was getting calls. Zonis said later that he was calling the Allens to get an apology, something that he could show to his parents. One email from his personal account said that the sender had just been in the Allens’ city —“VERY nice place”—and promised a visit to the area again soon. (Zonis denies writing the message.) There were also voicemails: “I will burn myself to the ground to get him. I told you, you’re going to lose him one way or the other.”

Emails arrived from other accounts too: Courtneythe­whore­sblog­@blogspot.com, Courtney­CallMe69@aol.com, CourtneysGotNoPrinciples@LyingCunt.com, ItsHOWsmall@babydick.com, urtheproblem@outlook.com, Youareaselfishcocksucker@noone­willeverreallyloveyou.com. There were dozens of others.

Some messages to the Allens’ neighbors and coworkers came from what appeared to be Steven’s email. Courtney’s boss got emails from “Steven” with subject lines such as “My Slut wife Courtney” and “Courtney is not who she seems to be.” One night, as Courtney worked on a sudoku puzzle in bed, she received an email that looked as if it had come from her husband, who was next to her reading a book. The next night, Steven’s cell phone dinged on the nightstand with a new email. He picked it up and turned to Courtney. “Apparently you hate me,” he said.

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What Happened to eBay?

It was musical theatre camp in the early aughts, and my summer camp was putting on an abridged performance of My Fair Lady. Looking back, I definitely had a crush on the slightly older girl who played the lead, but at the time I attributed her allure to her bohemian fashion sense — so unlike my middle school classmates! — and her killer voice. Let’s call her Nellie, because that was her name. I must’ve gone home and regaled my mom with stories of Nellie’s outfits, because my next memory is my mom and I sitting cross-legged on the guest room bed, scrolling through listings of fringed vests and flared denim. It was my first time on eBay, and I was hungry for love, bargains, and screen time. Until now, secondhand shopping was done in-person at Goodwill and the Salvation Army, and my only online auction experience happened on Neopets. eBay enchanted me, and I trawled it for hours on end. I never bought anything; I didn’t have a credit card or parental permission to spend hundreds of dollars on pilling Abercrombie polos, but browsing was all I needed.

That’s all changed. I haven’t peeked at eBay in years, and apparently I’m not the only one who’s forgotten it exists. At Racked, Chavie Lieber reports that eBay is struggling to keep up with its resale market competition, primarily Amazon Marketplace and sites like Poshmark, ThredUp, and the Real Real. What happened to make eBay this way? Was it the strangely ugly user interface? The lack of a luxury authentication process? And what does the future of eBay, if there is one, look like?

One of those things that so many brands want is scale: eBay is enormous. It has 171 million users, with 1.1 billion listed items at any given time. But it’s also no longer the only game in town…It’s dedicated to remaining an online marketplace — nothing more than a platform on which buyers and sellers can interact — a position that’s hard to justify as it’s become less enticing to both kinds of users. It hasn’t invested in warehouses or inventory; it hasn’t introduced competitive shipping programs. It now needs to both differentiate and elevate itself, and then it must communicate all of that to the customer…

eBay also thinks it’s positioned to acquire Millennial and Gen Z customers who have largely ignored the site. “Younger customers don’t have misperceptions of eBay — they don’t have any perceptions,” says [Suzy Deering, eBay’s chief marketing officer]. “We’re not even in their awareness at all.”

The company’s research has found that a younger audience wants unique products and “is searching for items that push against conformity.” In this way, Deering believes eBay can be something of a foil to Amazon: “People felt like they were becoming anti-human because Amazon is so habitual, but that isn’t us. If you love Converse, you come to our site because there’s every color, every graffiti-ed version, vintage. You’re not going to get that if you go onto Amazon or into a department store.”

 

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Wives, Queens, and Other Comedy Heroes: A Reading List

(Rex Features via AP Images)

Honestly, I thought I was handling the Trump presidency okay. At least I wasn’t crying every day. I realize that not crying every day isn’t much of a litmus test. But when Trump codified his transgender military ban, I could no longer deny that I was struggling in other subtle and sinister ways: “I have to sleep more than nine hours a day or I cannot function physically,” or “My finances are shot because I don’t have the will to work and provide for a future that may or may not come to fruition.”

Of course, this is what fascists want for someone like me. They want me fatigued, struggling mentally, and hopeless. They don’t want me alive. Logically then, I should fight really, really, hard to thrive. I am trying, when I sit here to write for the first time in almost two months. I am trying, whenever I bring myself to get out of bed before noon, when I cook for myself. I am trying to imagine a fascism-free future. I am trying to imagine a future where evangelical Christians don’t take time out of serving the poor to disparage and damn the marginalized and their allies. I document the moments I laugh the loudest. I try to be honest with myself and with the people I care for.

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Longreads Goes to the Movies: A Reading List

It’s 10:45 p.m., and I’m about to indulge in one of my strangest habits: watching a horror movie, alone, late at night. My cat is nearby, but he sleeps through this particular ritual. There are rules; the lights stay on. I don’t watch movies about home invasions or slasher flicks. Minimal gore, please. I love demon possessions, haunted houses, and paranormal investigations. Tonight, for instance, I’m watching the American version of The Ring for the first time. I perch my laptop on the edge, reach for the soft pretzel I picked up on the way home and press play. The scenes so far are tinged green; it is always raining. There’s an ill-fated Amber Tamblyn, gone in five minutes. There’s Adam Brody, harbinger of death and teen angst. My cat stretches, body bisecting the coffee table. The ceiling fan burns bright, blades in orbit.

What are your movie habits? What films do you return to, over and over? Here are five stories about A League of Their Own, High Fidelity, the films of John Hughes, Ghost in the Shell and, the criticism of Roger Ebert.

1. “‘A League of Their Own’ Stands the Test of Time.” (ESPNW Staff, ESPN, June 2017)

An oral history celebrating the 25th anniversary of the greatest baseball movie ever made, A League of Their Own, a film based on the real-life adventures of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

2. “I Grew Up in a John Hughes Movie.” (Jason Diamond, BuzzFeed, August 2014)

Jason Diamond wrote this beautiful essay two years before his memoir Searching for John Hughes debuted, and it made me want to watch and re-watch all of his films. Diamond’s childhood in the Chicago suburb of Skokie mirrored the neighborhood in Hughes’ iconic teen-centric films, Shermer, Illinois.

3. “Roger Ebert’s Zero-Star Movies.” (Will Sloan, Hazlitt, February 2017)

I finally accepted the fact I wanted to (maybe, possibly) be a Serious Writer the same summer I read Chris Jones’ iconic profile of Roger Ebert in Esquire. Ebert has held a small but significant piece of my heart ever since. At Hazlitt, Will Sloan explores the movies Ebert hated most, where he wonders, “What does it mean when the most famous and widely read American film critic regards a movie as ‘artistically inept and morally repugnant’?”

4. “All Shell, No Ghost.” (Eric Chang, Vogue, April 2017)

On hacking as “a method of seeing,” the parallel histories of Eastern and Western cyberpunk storytelling, and the laziness inherent in whitewashed films.

5. “‘High Fidelity’ Captured the Snob’s–and the Soundtrack’s–Waning Powers.” (Sean O’Neal, The A.V. Club, March 2017)

My first movie soundtrack was PhenomenonI’ve still never seen the movie, but I know every word to Eric Clapton’s lead single, “Change the World.” I can still hear Clapton crooning “and our love would ruuuuuuuule…” I thought Bryan Ferry’s “Dance With Life (The Brilliant Life)” was unspeakably beautiful (still do, honestly). My family listened to the CD on repeat. According to MovieTunes, this soundtrack was “the cutting edge of a collaborative art-form whose time has come.” The exuberance of 1996 stands in stark contrast to 2000—what a difference four years makes!—as you can see in Sean O’Neal’s take on the jaded and vaguely anachronistic High Fidelity and its accompanying soundtrack.

The Celebrity Jesuit Connecting With LGBTQ Catholics

In May, a teacher at St. Ignatius College Prep, a Catholic high school in Chicago, was reportedly outed, harassed by his students, and fired for being gay. The school cited a single shirtless photo on Matt Tedeschi’s OKCupid profile as the reason for his dismissal. It was latest incident in the decades-long struggle of LGBTQ Catholics who seek to integrate identity, spirituality, and vocation, while held to higher standards than their straight, cisgender brethren.

In a new book, Father James Martin allies himself with LGBTQ Catholics and calls for a reevaluation of the relationship between the queer Catholic community and the Church. In an interview with Kaya Oakes at Religion Dispatches, Martin discusses the particulars of his informal ministry and the danger of believing God is on your side.

One of the great shocks in the last few months is that this ministry is not just about the LGBT person, but about a much greater population. It’s about their grandparents and parents and aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters and friends. I was giving a talk at the Catholic center at Yale on Jesus, and afterwards this woman came up to me who looked like she was out of central casting for grandmother roles. She leaned over, and I thought she was going to say, “My favorite saint is Therese of Lisieux,” or “I’m going on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land,” and she said, “My granddaughter is transgender and I love her so much. And my greatest hope for her is that she feels at home in the Catholic Church.” And I thought, this issue hits not just the LGBT Catholic, but a whole population of people who know and love LGBT Catholics. What’s more, for millennials, even if they’re not LGBT, many don’t want to belong to a church that excludes their LGBT friends. That’s a non-negotiable for a lot of people. While we might think the issue affects just a small percentage of Catholics, it actually affects a great many of them.

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Looking Back at Pride Month

Photo: ufcw770

No matter what 45 says — or, in this case, doesn’t say — June is LGBT Pride month. It’s a month of joy, protest and, this year, mourning. June 12, 2017 marked the one-year anniversary of the attack against queer Latinx and Black folks at Pulse in Orlando, Florida. The day before, thousands of people came together in Washington, D.C. as part of the Equality March for Unity and Pride, protesting the presidential administration and standing against discrimination.

Here’s what I’ve done this month, Pride-wise: I interviewed Kelly Madrone, the author of GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens, and our audience was full of queer teens and their families. I writhed in ecstasy at a Tegan & Sara concert, sporting my “Boyfriend” hat. I stood in silence next to my friends at a local vigil for the victims of the shooting at Pulse. I helped the bookstore choose which queer-centric titles to stock, and I resisted the temptation to drop too much money on rainbow Doc Martens. I spent a hot, happy day strolling by the canal with my friends during Frederick Pride.  July looms; I’ll downgrade my gay apparel to a simple rainbow wristband. The work continues, whether it’s leading LGBTQ sensitivity trainings, correcting people who misgender me or continuing to learn about allyship, organization, and liberation.

1. “Should Pride Be a Party or a Protest?” (Shannon Keating, BuzzFeed, June 2017)

The protests at different Pride parades around the country have inspired conversations about working within the system versus overthrowing it and about the intersectionality (that should be) inherent in the LGBTQ pursuit of equality.

2. “Why Can’t My Famous Gender Nonconforming Friends Get Laid?” (Meredith Talusan, Vice, June 2017)

Meredith Talusan analyzes the dynamics of sexuality, gender identity, and gender expression in the dating lives of two of their friends, activists and non-binary femmes Alok Vaid-Menon and Jacob Tobia.

3. “Where Can We Find Queer Space After Pulse?” (John Birdsall, Eater, June 2017)

Outside the queer zone of Orlando Pride, or our misterb&b, in Okeechobee, we’ve tried keeping to the shadows, our own private zone of safety. I realize how much work we all do as queers to enlarge the bubbles we live and move in, make them nice, fill them with friends and allies. But being on the road makes it clear that, fifty years after Stonewall and the active struggle for LGBT civil rights, so much of our lives still exists in isolated safety zones that don’t always keep us safe.

4. “Protests, Parties, and What We Have to Be Proud of at LGBT Pride 2017.” (Rachel, Autostraddle, June 2017)

We don’t lose our opportunities for joy and celebration when we make space for our struggles and the struggles of our most vulnerable, and when we elevate and center those in need. More than that, our celebrations as a community come out of our struggles, and our survival of them, and the ways in which we’ve helped each other survive no matter the cost.

5. “‘I’m Not Done Living My Damn Life Yet’: Disabled Queer People Speak Out on the American Health Care Act.” (Carrie Wade, Autostraddle, June 2017)

Honestly, every month under the Trump administration feels like a year, and one of the awful things that bubbled up during this year-month is the Senate Republicans’ bogus decision to write a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, including massive cuts to Medicaid. Many smart people have written about this better than I ever could, and I found the experiences of these queer and trans disabled folks who rely on the ACA to live equal parts compelling and terrifying. (I’m a fan of 5 Calls, if you’re feeling moved to contact your congresspeople.)

6. “Being Gay vs. Being Southern: A False Choice.” (Brandon Taylor, LitHub, June 2017)

The opening paragraphs of Brandon Taylor’s essay slammed into me like a wave and drove me down to the ocean floor. Take these sentences, for instance:

God suffused everything in our lives the way heat suffuses every particle of air in the summer. There is a time of day in Alabama when the heat reaches its most critical point, when even shade is of little comfort; Sundays gathered all of God’s power to its most frightening pitch and beamed it down on us, testing us, daring us to wither.

7. “Born Before Stonewall.” (Barry Yeoman, Medium, June 2017)

Over two years, Barry Yeoman interviewed over 40 gay, lesbian, queer, and transgender Baby Boomers–“the Gayest Generation,” according to professor Jesus Ramirez-Valles. They discussed their struggles (reconciling the trauma of the AIDS epidemic, aging without the guarantee of a support system) and triumphs (fighting for and winning marriage equality and forming treasured friendships with other LGBTQ folks). Their stories brought me to tears and reminded me of the importance of taking care of our LGBTQ elders.

8. “Little Fish.” (Casey Plett, Plenitude Magazine, June 2017)

New writing from Casey Plett is cause for celebration. Plett is the author of the seminal work A Safe Girl to Love, which spotlights the lives of trans women. “Little Fish” is an excerpt from her upcoming novel.

Finally, you should read Edgar Gomez’s essay for Longreads, “Pulse Nightclub Was My Home.” 

Bonus: I love the adventures of these lesbian cattle dogs. 

The Tender, Wild Realm of Children’s Literature: A Reading List

Photo by Melanie via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The plot of the book came to me as I was falling asleep: two girls share a bedroom, and squabble until they have no choice but to divide their room in half. Only one girl has access to the bedroom door. The other has the closet, which turns out to be an elevator. Suddenly, I was wide awake. I hadn’t thought of this book in years. Thank God for Google; soon, I had a list of results for This Room is Mine by Betty Ren Wright, now out of print. A few clicks later, I learned Wright had died in 2013 at 89 years old. She wrote more than thirty children’s books, including dozens of ghost stories. This Room is Mine isn’t a ghost story (at least not that I remember), but it does feature that archetypal spooky spot, the closet, and a supernatural closet at that. With a touch of fantasy, Wright dispels the girls’ disagreement.

Children’s literature is a conduit for larger questions of identity, fear, joy, and freedom, and the following essays explore these themes.

1. “The Best Children’s Books Appeal to All Ages.” (Gabrielle Bellot, Literary Hub, December 2016)

Sandwiched between Jules Feiffer’s Cousin Joseph and Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend on the shelves of the bookstore where I work is a slim but hard children’s book: The Beach At Night, a book Ferrante wrote, ostensibly, for children. I’ve skimmed through it, and I find it terrifying, as I find any book about a sentient doll terrifying. Perhaps I’ve been too quick to judge. At LitHub, Gabrielle Bellot explores The Beach at Night through the lens of Ferrante’s anonymity and compares the work to C.S. Lewis, Chinua Achebe, Arnold Lobel, Gabriel García Márquez, and Hayao Miyazaki’s decidedly mature children’s stories:

Are these indeed stories for children, if children cannot be expected to get all of these references? But, of course, this is partly the point. Children’s stories are often for adults in different ways than they are for children—and, just as books change for us as we do, children’s tales will, at best, take on new shades of meaning, will reveal new hidden rooms and lofts, as we learn to look at them with more attuned eyes.

2. “Why I Came Out as a Gay Children’s Book Author.” (Alexander London, BuzzFeed, April 2016)

To make ends meet, children’s author Alexander London supplements his writing life with hundreds of school visits. After the Supreme Court ruled on Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015 and legalized gay marriage, London wrestled with the decision to be honest with his curious students about his marriage to his husband.

3. “For Children and Sensitive Readers.” (Alex Kalamaroff, Blunderbuss Magazine, March 2014)

Daniil Kharms was co-founder of OBERIU, “the Union of Real Art, an organization of activist absurdists who dismissed realistic writers as purveyors of the drab and demanded a new art that was one-third highbrow language experiment, eight-sevenths freakshow,” He was invited to join the Association of Children’s Literature in 1927, one year before OBERIU was formed.

In 1931, Kharms was arrested and charged with anti-Soviet activities. His children’s books, the police said, were too absurd; they didn’t embrace the new reality. Stalin’s ruffians wanted to live in a world where elephants would not appear out of the blue. They did not approve of extravagant sledding activities. A man screaming poetry from atop an armoire was worse than criminal; it represented a tear in the new reality. In one of Kharms’s children stories, the porcupines shout, “Cock-a-doodle-doo.” In another, Brazil is only a short drive from Leningrad. These impossible occurrences were unacceptable, weird whack-a-moles popping up and poking through the veneer of ordinary life. Who could tolerate such mischief?

4. “Ursula Nordstrom and the Queer History of the Children’s Book.” (Kelly Blewett, Los Angeles Review of Books, August 2016)

You may not know of Ursula Nordstrom, an editor who transformed children’s literature in the mid-20th century. Nordstrom was certain kids would enjoy books that mirrored their complex inner lives instead of dispensing pat morals. She was right. The books she championed, including Harriet the Spy, Where the Wild Things Are, Charlotte’s Web, and Goodnight Moon, are iconic. Like several of the authors she worked with, Nordstrom was queer. In this essay, Kelly Blewett examines Nordstrom’s own children’s book, The Secret Language, through a queer lens.

For further reading about children’s lit, here are Longreads’ takes on authors Beverly Cleary, Mo Willems, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Roald Dahl and Astrid Lindgren, and illustrator Maira Kalman.

Our Gardens, Growing: A Reading List

Photo: Joe Pitha

As a child, I dreaded my family’s annual trip to the plant nursery. Embarrassingly, I cannot tell you a single plant my parents purchased. My sister and I romped through the aisles of the greenhouses, hoping to trigger the sprinklers. Neither of us had a passion for gardening. I can’t speak for my sister, but I still don’t. Nevertheless, I’ve listened to two gardeners speak about their passions and philosophies in the past two weeks: Nancy Lawson, author of The Humane Gardener, and Marianne Willburn, who wrote Big Dreams, Small Garden. I pored over their books, replete with gorgeous pictures of very different gardens and their animal and human inhabitants. While I wasn’t inspired to take up a trowel, between their suggestions for dodging Maryland’s infamous gnats and peaceful coexistence with rabbits, I gained a new appreciation for a dedication to the dirt.

1. “Bitter Greens.” (Mindy Hung, The Toast, December 2014)

“When I was seven years old, my grandparents began a squatter’s garden over empty city land.” So begins Mindy Hung’s essay about bitter vegetables, the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, the unpredictability of cruel teenagers, and scarcity versus security.

2. “Arcadia.” (Emma Crichton Miller, Aeon, August 2013)

Psychoanalysts, artists, and poets have long drawn on imagery of nature. The garden, with its chaos cultivated and conquered, is lush with metaphor.

3. “Lessons From My Mother, the Grave Gardener.” (Anna Gragert, Catapult, May 2017)

Not even a childhood spent assisting her mother in tending to gravesides could prepare Anna Gragert for the inevitability of her loved ones’ deaths.

4. “Why Would Someone Steal the World’s Rarest Water Lily?” (Sam Knight, The Guardian, October 2014)

A fascinating, frustrating tale of PLANT CRIME: The tiniest water lily, Rwandan in origin, is taken from Kew Gardens in England, ostensibly in plain sight. But there are no cameras and no witnesses. What’s a conservatory to do? And what’s the end game of the wheelers and dealers on the black market for the world’s most endangered plants?

5. “The Neoliberal Green Space.” (Marisa Mandabach, Jacobin, July 2015)

The Turkish construction boom is eliminating the historical link between Muslim life and working-class gardens, over the protests of the people:

Istanbul’s bostans preserve an alternative model for urban gardening: one that provides a living for professional small farmers, who supply their communities with produce and have relative autonomy over the spaces they cultivate. That this livelihood is being destroyed right as gardens are becoming fetish objects in the urban imagination might seem ironic — but it is perfectly compatible with the rise of the neoliberal green space.