Valentines day is here, and it’s not only for those who love each other, but also for the love of books! Are you and your partner curious to know where you stand as a couple? Well, following in the footsteps of several otherwebsites, we’ve made a quiz to determine which literary couple you’re most like! Some of the answers might be a little… specific… but we’re sure you’ll find the closest one!
A fixture of the literary world since 1950, the National Book award honors the strongest writing in America. Qualifications necessary to win the award are simple: the book has to have been published no earlier than December 1st of the previous year, and the author must be a U.S. citizen by any possible means. Then there’s the most important rule of all—it has to be the best. Judges have now announced this year’s five winners across five categories.
Fiction: The Friend
Sigrid Nunez has always been a literary heavy-hitter. A winner of the Whiting Writer’s Award, Berlin Prize Fellowship, and the Rome Prize in literature, Nunez has also been a professor at a veritable collection of top institutions—Columbia, Princeton, and The New School. The Friendwas one of the most-anticipated releases of 2018, topping Buzzfeed, Bustle, BookRiot, and PopSugar’s lists.
Nonfiction: The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke
Jeffrey C. Stewart‘s groundbreaking biography chronicles the life and influence of black intellectual Alain Locke, the oft-cited originator of the Harlem Renaissance. Locke’s achievements are innumerable, but historians can list more than a few—he became the first black Rhodes Scholar in 1907, earned a PhD from Harvard University, and quickly became the philosophy chair at Howard University. As a member of the homosexual community, Locke also embraced the progressive and avant-garde.
His anthology The New Negro, a collection of poetry, drama, fiction, and nonfiction, remains a landmark historical work. Biographer Stewart is also an impressive character—a Yale PhD recipient currently serving as a professor at University of California at Santa Barbara. He has also taught at Harvard University and Howard University. Stewart’s The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke uses newly-available primary sources and oral interviews to pay tribute to one of history’s greatest minds. Stewart also draws attention to thinkers academia often neglects—the gay and gender-nonconforming activists of the Harlem Renaissance.
Justin Phillip Reed‘s collection, Indecency, is as intimate as it is confrontational. Reed blends the political and personal in his exploration of sexuality, masculinity, and the prison-industrial complex. A graduate of the top-10 MFA program at the Washington University in St. Louis, Reed considers “any kind of history—especially concerning Black folks—to always be on the edge of being obliterated” in cities like his own St. Louis, with ‘progress’ often dismantling already-thriving communities of color.
The first winner of the Book Award’s newest category of Translated Literature, American-born Margaret Mitsutani has been living in Japan since the late 1970s. Mitsutani won the National Book Award for her translation of Yoko Tadawa‘s The Emissary, a satirical depiction of an isolationist Japan in the aftermath of unspecified nuclear catastrophe. Tokyo is a radioactive no-man’s-land, and society moves to outer cities like Osaka and Hokkaido, where the robust elderly occupy all government positions—a clear commentary on Japan’s declining birthrate.
Japan’s sealed borders further serve to comment on the sweeping populist and nationalist movements of recent years. Critics describe Mitsutani’s translation as “playful, powerful, and wise.”
Young Adult People’s Literature: The Poet X
Winning a National Book Award for her debut novel is hardly Elizabeth Acevedo‘s only significant accomplishment. As a National Poetry Slam Champion, Acevedo clearly conveys her passion and expert knowledge in prizewinning novel The Poet X. Xiomara Batista is an anomaly in her Harlem community, born to seriously advanced-in-years parents who tout her birth as the kind of miracle their religious devotion incurs—the kind of miracle Xiomara has never believed in. When the rules of religion silence Xiomara, she uses slam poetry to regain her voice.
The novel has a true poet’s touch: it contains three sections of verse, all with Biblical titles juxtaposing the structure of religion with Xiomara’s disbelief. Acevedo says that her experience as an eighth-grade teacher inspired her to write the novel. One Latina student said of contemporary literature: “These books aren’t about us. [These characters] don’t look like us… they don’t walk through the world like us. These ain’t our books.” Now, Acevedo has created a book that is.
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In 1960, D.H. Lawrence‘s sensual and scandalous Lady Chatterley’s Loverfaced one of the most intense obscenity trials of all time. The novel’s plot (a sordid affair between a wealthy paraplegic’s wife and the estate groundskeeper) is no longer the only shocking thing about it. Today, the original copy from the obscenity trial sold for over £56,000 at more than five times the pre-sale estimate, setting a world record for the sale price of any Penguin paperback. This copy is a constant record-breaker: its 1993 sale for £4,370 made it the most expensive paperback in history.
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D.H. Lawrence was no stranger to personal or professional scandal. In 1912, Lawrence began an affair with Frieda Weekley—his coworker’s wife. Shortly after the lovers fled to Weekley’s native Germany, Lawrence published his 1911 novel Sons and Lovers. It’s as (creepily) Oedipal as it sounds, and it became one of the top 100 most challenged books of its century. In 1915, authorities went on to restrict his subsequent novel The Rainbow under the 1857 Obscene Publications Act. The Rainbow frankly discusses protagonist Ursula’s liberated sexuality, even going so far as to include an erotically charged lesbian scene—a detail so impossibly shocking to the chaste public that there wasn’t yet a law against it. The homosexuality wasn’t even the novel’s make-or-break sin—Ursula also has premarital sex with men she doesn’t go on to marry.
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This particular copy of Lady Chatterley’s Loveris particularly special: it contains the actual annotations from the prosecution, including many circled obscene phrases that we cannot include here. The trial of Lady Chatterley’s Loverlasted for six full days before the jury acquitted publisher Penguin Books in a brief three hours. As is the natural course of events when something of interest is (nearly) restricted, the novel became aninstant bestseller, with reports of individual stores selling over 300 copies in the first half an hour after the ruling. But the true legacy of Lawrence’s work is not financial at all. The trial was the end of government’s monolithic control over public morality; though it didn’t outright obliterate content restrictions, it opened the doorway into the world we now inhabit.
Everyone wants to see their name in lights… but what about in the pages of an international bestseller? Famous crime novelistLee Childis auctioning off a chance for you to become a character in next year’s installment of his wildly popular Jack Reacher series (you can start with Killing Floor). Child isn’t the only one, joined in the auction by The Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood. Pop culture legend George R.R. Martin has also sold readers the chance to die grisly on-page deaths in his fantasy saga (for $20,000 apiece). The best part? It’s all for a good cause.
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Martin specifically gave his proceeds to a New Mexico wolf sanctuary (let’s hope these wolves actually survived his care…) while Child has international charitable goals. All proceeds will go to Freedom From Torture, an organization dedicated to justice and rehabilitation for torture victims. Joining Child and Atwood in their offers are fellow Man Booker Prize winner Julian Barnes and Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018 winner Kamila Shamsie. If you’ve got the cash to spare, you could appear as a character in one of their books. If you’re lucky, you might even have some control over how your debut goes down!
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There are no guarantees, but the character may actually resemble you, according to The Sense of an Ending author Julian Barnes. A prior participant in the auction, Barnes has said that your portrayal will almost definitely be sympathetic… unless you’d prefer to be a little more villainous! Maybe you want to see how you’d fare fighting crime and hanging out in the storied halls of literature. If you’re interested in participating and are unable to attend the November 15 London auction, place your bids remotely here.
October is LGBTQIA+ History Month, which means it’s time to celebrate the stories so many writers and individuals have been (and sometimes still are) unable to tell. These five novels have persisted through ruthless bans and censorship efforts to fill our hearts and our bookcases.
It’s important to note that this list does not address the full history of LGBTQIA+ literature. Virginia Woolf‘s Mrs. Dalloway, published as far back as 1925, features a bisexual protagonist who reflects on her relationships with men and a young female flame— of course, Woolf does not call her bisexual. It’s perhaps for that reason that this book has been controversial more for its inclusion of mental illness than for its bisexual elements. Another of Woolf’s works, Orlando, features a protagonist whose gender abruptly changes halfway through the novel. This book also faced little controversy— perhaps the public saw this change in gender as more of a metaphor than a nuanced commentary on gender identity. The term ‘transgender’ as we know it did not exist before the1960s, though gender-nonconforming individuals were definitely present.
One of the most famous writers of all time, decadent intellectual Oscar Wilde reminds us of his wit, charisma, and tragic imprisonment. A notoriously well-dressed and charming member of the era’s wealthy intelligentsia, Wilde suffered a terrible decline at the end of his lifetime. Two years of hard labor and imprisonment laid waste to his health, psyche, and bank account. Destitute at the time of his death, Wilde himself said: “I can write, but have lost the joy of writing.” His crime? Homosexuality. Wilde was the subject of two sodomy trials in 1895, and he died at the age of forty-six— only three years after the end of his sentence. The courts used Wilde’s own works as evidence to convict him. Though the novel’s homoerotic passages contributed to its author’s imprisonment, The Picture of Dorian Grayremains a crucial part of Wilde’s enduring legacy.
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The novel focuses on young, attractive aristocrat Dorian Gray, whose soul is trapped within a portrait. As Gray sinks further into decadence and cruelty, he remains outwardly unchanged… but the new, visceral ugliness in the portrait shows what Gray has become. The Picture of Dorian Grayfaced heavy criticism in its time. Contemporary newspapers called it “heavy with… the odours of moral and spiritual putrefaction.” In 1891, Wilde revised the original publication for its formal book released, removing the more homoerotic chapters. Fortunately, after over 120 years, the uncensored original text is now available to the public. As one of the original edits was the removal of the word ‘mistress,’ it seems Wilde’s intent was to present Gray as bisexual.
Best known for his novel A Passage to India, E.M. Forster secretly wrote this novel depicting a loving homosexual relationship. As he feared the controversy his work may face, particularly as a gay man himself, he kept the work hidden with specific instructions that it must only receive posthumous publication. Attitudes at the time were so negative that Forster concealed his own desires for many years, not acting on his homosexuality until the age of twenty-seven. Though he wrote the work from 1913-1914 as a much younger man, the public did not read it until after his death. Famously, his final comment on the manuscript reads: “Publishable. But worth it?”
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Maurice is a groundbreaking work beyond its gay elements, featuring working class characters and situations that other historical gay writers, including Oscar Wilde, did not address. More importantly, it also gives gay characters happy endings. The ‘Bury Your Gays‘ trope, a phenomenon in which authors often kill LGBTQIA+ characters (or shower them with endless misfortune) is sadly commonplace in historic and contemporary works of fiction. This pessimistic viewpoint suggests that to be LGBTQIA+ is only ever awful, that these characters and people don’t get happy endings. Forster, conversely, regards homosexual love as one of the deepest forms of connection— as opposed to relationships with the motive of procreation, homosexuality’s “only purpose is love, so it can result in a spiritual union between two people.”
James Baldwin‘s impressive novel about an American man’s overseas affair with another man (Parisian bartender Giovanni) almost didn’t exist. When Baldwin himself arrived arrived in Paris in 1948 with no more than $41 to his name, he sought refuge from the bigotry of the United States, a place where he felt his writing came second to his race. Baldwin’s agent would eventually confirm these fears, telling him to burn the manuscript over fears that his sexuality would further alienate his audience.
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Baldwin’s novel explores themes of alienation reminiscent of Nella Larsen‘sPassing, the Harlem Renaissance story of a black protagonist with a lighter skin color that enables her to ‘pass’ as a white person. Giovanni’s Room also comments upon the eternal catch-22 of marginalized identities— concealing them may, at times, be safer… but it can also be infinitely damaging. The novel stands the test of time as a complex portrait of homosexuality and bisexuality.
The depiction of Celie’s sexual identity is unambiguous; Walker writes that Celie and lover Shug “kiss and kiss til [they] can hardly kiss no more.” (And no, it doesn’t stop there.) It’s a queer story, but it’s also so much more. Protagonist Celie is an illiterate black woman, pregnant at 14-years-old— not the kind of character canonized literature typically includes. The novel boldly depicts the transformative power of love, showing how love can make the powerless powerful in the end. While the novel has ranked on the Top 100 Banned & Challenged Books List, Walker’s story remains a powerful tale of underrepresented characters.
It’s difficult to imagine that a ‘historic classic’ could have been published within our own century. But up until this unique moment in time, both intersex and transgender stories have not been a part of the literary canon. When it comes to published books, they’ve hardly existed at all— despite the millions of people who live these stories daily. Jeffrey Eugenides‘ novel, winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, brought explorations of gender identity into public eye and onto bookshelves around the world. Texas prisons have banned the book due to its supposedly controversial subject matter.
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Intersex protagonist Cal’s parents raised him to be a girl. When he discovers his male genetics, he comes to embrace what he feels is his true identity. Eugenides’ bildungsroman is a novel of uncertain dichotomies (male and female, Greek and American, nature and nurture, present and future) and the nebulous space between two binary opposites. The novel opens: “I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” These words address the oft-unheard voices of those throughout the world whose gender identities may not always correspond with their bodies.
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It’s incredibly important to note that this list does not address the full spectrum of LGBTQIA+ identities. Some identities, including pansexuality, asexuality, nonbinary genders, and many more, are only recently entering a larger public consciousness. As such, there are few overt depictions of such identities in classic works of literature. Likely, that will change in time. Maybe you will even be the one to change it.