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Book Box: Celebrating Pride Month

Dear readers,

Last week, I was walking through the streets of Brooklyn, when I saw a cardboard box thrown out on the sidewalk.

Inside the cardboard box, were books set around gay themes. I imagined this was the story of someone on that street — a young boy, likely, searching for his sexual identity, devouring books to discover who he was? Or perhaps a parent who bought the books to read and better understand their child. I picked out four books from that pile.

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Here they are — all beautifully written, illustrating how literature helps us discover ourselves and how stories help us accept and empathise with others, by walking in their shoes.

Naked. 
Naked. 

New Yorker writer, David Sedaris, has a wry wit and a fascinating family. In Naked, he tells us about growing up with five siblings and a sarcastic mother, and also about being gay. It’s sad, funny, and thought-provoking. If you enjoy this, you should also read Me Talk Pretty One Day and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim.

Dancer From the Dance. 
Dancer From the Dance. 

This is the story of a young, gay man in New York and his search for love. Since its publication in 1978, Dancer From the Dance has become a cult book, recommended as “the Gay Gatsby”. The language draws you in with its melancholy and mesmerising tone of voice, as it invokes a smorgasbord of sensory images. Like this line:

“As we waited at that street corner in the vivid, fiery air of late October, we stared dumbly through the windows at the autumn we’d forgotten, living in the city, the autumn blazing out here in the villages along the bay.”

Book 3 of 4: Literary fiction in London, Pune, and Tuscany

The Line of Beauty. 
The Line of Beauty. 

This Booker Prize-winning novel uses luscious prose to define the gay gaze. It tells the story of twenty-year-old Nick Guest and his love affairs, one with a young black clerk and one with a Lebanese millionaire, set against the vivid backdrop of 1980s London. The finely sketched characters, their relationships and setting make The Line of Beauty extremely striking literary fiction.

Also, read Cobalt Blue by filmmaker, Sachin Kundalkar, set in Pune and translated from Marathi by Jerry Pinto. Another fabulous title is the sumptuous, set-in-Tuscany Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman. Both books have now been adapted into films too.

Book 4 of 4: YA stories

Am I Blue?
Am I Blue?

Sixteen short stories about different sexualities, this collection featuring teenagers and their families, includes contributions from many well-known young adult writers. The stories in Am I Blue? reflect different moods and are great conversation starters for frank discussions within families.

Three gender-blurring books

The Left Hand of Darkness. 
The Left Hand of Darkness. 

As early as 1969, Ursula LeGuin imagined a world where people didn’t have to be male or female, they could simply be human. Her The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of two worlds, one of duality and one of wholeness. It’s a fabulous read, racy and profound.

Other gender-blurring books include Devdutt Patnaik’s The Pregnant King with gender-bending figures in Hindu mythology like Brihannala and Shikhandi. Also, read Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, a Greek family saga about a hermaphrodite. Although it is a long book (544 pages), it is definitely worth the read.

Three lesbian novels based on real-life

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson is a hard-hitting mix of personal stories, biblical imagery and fantastical fairy tales. I loved this debut novel so much that I’ve read every Winterson book since, including the autobiography she wrote later, Why be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Another autobiographical story, in a very different format, is the graphic novel Kari by Amruta Patil. It vividly explores living in Mumbai in the 90s as a woman, figuring out life, lov. and careers.

Also, read Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, a beautifully illustrated, witty tale, of a father and daughter, and of the different ways they deal with their sexualities.

The Short Story that led to an obscenity trial

The Quilt. 
The Quilt. 

A nine-year-old girl tells us about her aunt, who is always ill. No one can cure her, except one of her female servants, who massages and soothes her mysterious malady, behind closed doors. At night strange things happen under the quilt. Lihaaf or The Quilt caused a huge furore when it first came out in 1942 in Urdu. Its publication led to author Ismat Chugtai, being put on trial for obscenity. It has stayed a classic since then, been adapted into films and staged numerous times as well.

A Modern Love Story: The perfect audiobook

Exciting Times. 
Exciting Times. 

If you are a Sally Rooney fan, you will love this sparkling and self-reflective novel. Ava is a millennial Irish ex-pat, who moves to Hong Kong, to find some direction in life. She finds a job teaching children English and becomes entangled in a love triangle with a male banker and a female lawyer. I loved the way Exciting Times showed how class, colonialism, and gender differences affect relationship dynamics. I also loved the conversations, and the focus on the hidden meaning of these conversations, as Ava teases out the different layers of spoken and unspoken communication. The novel is enthralling on audio, voiced in a distinctive Irish accent.

That’s all the reading for today. I’d love to hear from you with book recommendations, and your favourite books to celebrate Pride Month.

Next week, we look at how fathers can impact their children, and at the best and worst fathers in fiction.

Until then, happy reading!

Sonya Dutta Choudhury is a Mumbai-based journalist and the founder of Sonya’s Book Box, a bespoke book service. Each week, she brings you specially curated books to give you an immersive understanding of people and places. If you have any reading requests or suggestions, write to her at [email protected]

The views expressed are personal

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