17

Nonfiction November 2019: Be/Ask/Become The Expert

Week 3: (Nov. 11 to 15) – Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert (Katie @ Doing Dewey): Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

This is a week that I always look forward to during Nonfiction November even though I overthink it every year! Turns out that this is actually the fourth year that I’m participating and so far I’ve chosen to Be The Expert every time. This year is no exception I’m afraid. It’s partly that I think I know everything 😉 but mostly it’s that I get so excited about books that I’ve read that I want to tell everyone about them so that they can read them too. And Be The Expert us such a great opportunity for that!

In years past I’ve done Royal Women, Movie Stars and Authors and legitimately had read so much on those topics that I was pretty close to an expert. This year I’m picking a little from the Be The Expert column and a little from Ask The Expert because I would love to find more titles on my chosen topic which is:

LGBTQ+ Lives

In my opening post I wrote that I like to read about experiences that aren’t mine. As a ci-gendered hetero (white) woman, I think it’s important to educate myself on the experiences of the LGBTQ+ community. The part about educating myself is particularly important as the burden for educating me to be an effective ally should not rest on the community.

Here are some of the nonfiction books about LGBTQ+ people I’ve read and loved.

loveliveshere Love Lives Here: A Story of Thriving in a Transgender Family by Amanda Jette Knox. I know, I’m kind of cheating because I already mentioned this book in my first Nonfiction November post. But it’s that good. And although it wasn’t written by someone who is transgender – something that was rightly pointed out to me – the author’s experience of loving two members of her family who are is one that should be more widely read. This is a memoir of love and understanding and of not knowing all the answers but willing to work to find them.

 

saeed jonesHow We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones. This debut from poet Saeed Jones will take your breath away. It just won the 2019 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction and Marlon James, Roxane Gay, and Jacqueline Woodson have all sung its praises. It is the story of Jones growing up as a gay black boy in Texas, with a mother who knew he was gay but never wanted to hear it spoken aloud and a grandmother who slapped him across the face when she realized his truth. Jones’ writing is raw and perfect and beautiful. How We Fight For Our Lives is an incredibly honest book, with descriptions of sex that I’ve honestly never come across before – and I mean that in the best possible way. I love love loved this one.

darling days

Darling Days by iO Tillett Wright. I read this one when it came out in 2016 and I still think about it.  Darling Days tells the story of the way that Tillett Wright grew up, namely in absolute poverty with a mother who was fighting demons of her own and a father who wasn’t always present. Somehow through all of that trauma, Tillett Wright came out of his childhood with love. I was remind of iO Tillett Wright via the podcast My Favorite Murder – he was a part of a weekend event they hosted, as the host of his own true crime podcast, The Ballad of Billy Balls.

 

me

Me: A Memoir by Elton John. Taking a bit of a different direction with this last one and I haven’t finished reading it as of writing but feel confident recommending it. Elton John’s memoir is unflinching in its honesty and he strikes me as someone who has benefited greatly from therapy – his memoir is incredibly introspective. And aside from the seriously great gossip in this book (he was friends with Billie Jean King! John Lennon! He and Rod Stewart are in a decades long prank war and call each other Sharon and Phyllis!) it is almost casual in descriptions of his sexuality and encounters. And I mean that in the most positive way. Elton John didn’t have a big coming out moment, he just realized it, the people around him realized it and when he officially came out via a Rolling Stone interview, he barely thought about it. And considering all of that happened before 1985, it’s kind of mind-blowing. I am *loving* the time I’m spending with Sir Elton John.

So that’s it, that’s my list! Do you have any LGBTQ+ that I should read ASAP? I’ll take fiction as well, honestly. Ones that I’ve loved have included Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn, The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne and The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai…

 

6

Darling Days: A Memoir

When I started reading Darling Days by iO Tillett Wright, my reading mojo was bruised from two, basically back-to-back DNFs.

I read 10 pages of Darling Days and knew that that wasn’t going to happen here.

Darling Days is iO Tillett Wright’s memoir of growing up poor with an incredibly challenging mother as well as a queer gender identity.

This memoir is unlike any I’ve ever read before. It reminds me of The Glass Castle but I don’t want to compare the two because they are so unique. Darling Days is so unflinchingly honest, Tillett Wright’s life is laid bare but it’s written with so much love.

darling

Tillett Wright’s mother is a Viking warrior queen, a dancer, an artist, a beautiful soul in a cruel, hard world. She loves her child fiercely, cocoons them together away from the darkness of the rest of the world the best she can. But before iO is born, his mother suffered the violent loss of a lover. She never quite gets over it, and the medications that she takes to help her cope, to help her to feel closer to that lost love, end up causing their own kind of damage.

iO spends his childhood in awe of his mother, a happy sidekick in the kinds of adventures you can only have when you are very poor – like walking all your stuff to a new apartment after you’ve been fighting eviction.

iO’s story is complex. When life with his mother becomes too much, he tries living in Germany with his father and then a boarding school in rural England. But iO is also a product of his upbringing and always feels kind of other. As a teenager, he feels incredible rage and starts experimenting: with his sexuality, with alcohol and drugs.

The one thing that I really felt the entire time I was reading this incredible memoir was love. The book opens with iO’s letter to his mother, someone who continues to be a tangled presence in his life, basically saying that this is their story but that it’s written without judgement and that he has always loved her and always will and that he wouldn’t be the person he is today without his mother.

I mean, if that doesn’t make you want to cry your eyes out right there, I don’t know what will.

The reason that the love stands out for me will be clear if you end up reading this intense, honest, captivating memoir. Few people live this kind of life, survive this childhood, and come out on the other side with love and compassion for their parents. Even contentment is difficult to achieve and iO has come out with joy, enthusiasm and a delight in what this world has to offer.

iO Tillett Wright is clearly a pretty incredible person and I felt privileged to get to read his story. If you get the chance, I hope you do too.