The 26 Books on my Aspirational Bookshelf: An Introduction

Introductions are hard. Nobody wants to go around the circle and say their name (and their pronouns) and a fun fact about themselves, right? So, I thought, since this blog is about my interests and tied to my editing business, I’d introduce myself through the books I want to read. 

You can tell a huge amount about a person by looking at their bookshelves. What are they interested in? What do they know? What do you have in common with them? But the books on the shelves and the nightstands haven’t necessarily been enjoyed, read, or even chosen by the owner. What you really need to know if you want to understand someone is what they want to read. The books they’ve chosen for themselves: the aspirational bookshelf.

I have a big aspirational bookshelf. It lives as a note on my Google Keep board, and frequently grows, but hasn’t shrunk much lately. I firmly believe that to be a good editor, you have to write, and to be a good writer, you have to read. A lot.

You’ll notice that the list includes several different kinds of writing, from plays to graphic novels to dense, academic theory. But you may also notice that the texts have common elements: LGBT characters, feminist theory, music, anthropology and sociology. These are the topics and stories I (currently) most like to read and write about. On this blog you’ll see samples of my writing about LGBT and women’s issues, disability justice, and maybe a little bit of writing about writing.

I’ve separated the list by type of writing, just in case you’re looking for something in particular. Take a look and see what interests me, and reach out if it interests you, too!

Memoir

  1. S/he – Minnie Bruce Pratt

A memoir written by the partner of Leslie Feinberg, prominent transmasculine activist and author of the seminal Stone Butch Blues. 

Available for free on Open Library.

2. Becoming – Michelle Obama

This one was a smash hit about the former First Lady, a NYT Bestseller, and since I generally enjoy memoir and nonfiction written by women, it earned a place here. 

3. To Throw Away Unopened– Viv Albertine

A ”gaping wound” of a memoir about English punk/counterculture pioneer Viv Albertine, former member of the girl group The Sits, with whom I am not familiar at all, but perhaps I will listen to them while I read this book. Evidently, this is also a follow-up to an earlier memoir titled, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys.

4. My Own Devices: True Stories from the Road on Music, Science, and Senseless Love – Dessa

A friend that I haven’t spoken to in a long time recommended that I check out Dessa’s music, though I can’t remember if he also recommended this book or if I found it on my own and put it here because I remembered her name.

Lesbian/Feminist Theory + History

5. Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present – Lillian Faderman

The subtitle of this one is interesting given the common assumption by the dominant culture that close relationships between women are always platonic. The notion of “romantic friendship” is something that could really only come out of a discussion of queerness, though, don’t you think?

6. Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers – Lillian Faderman

Another one by Faderman about butch/femme bar culture that you’ll find when you search for literature on such things, as I did a whole bunch in college.

7. Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community – Elizabeth Lapowsy Kennedy, Madeline D. Davis 

Another widely recommended lesbian history. Many of these books are out of print due to defunct publishers, but my wife Rory found a paperback copy on Amazon and gave it to me as a gift. We thought there was a note inside it from some previous sapphic reader, but I found it recently and the note is nowhere to be found! Perhaps I’ll find a surprise in another book soon and show you that instead.

8. Butch/Femme: Inside Lesbian Gender – Sally R. Munt, Cherry Smyth

A book examining the unique gendered experiences of lesbians, particularly within a butch/femme framework. I resonate with this title because as my generation embraces a more expansive understanding of gender, my identity as a lesbian has become an increasingly “engendered” one, separate from womanhood and yet irrevocably and lovingly tied to it.

9. Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger – Soraya Chemaly

I’ve started this one a few times and put it down for varied reasons (mostly distraction and/or exhaustion by outside happenings, rather than lack of interest). A sociological/feminist text about the power women can harness in an emotion usually reserved for men.

10. Other Girls Like Me – Stephanie Davies

Autobiographical lesbian feminist theory. See a pattern here? I told you you’d get to know me quickly this way.

Drama/Plays

11. A Menopausal Gentleman: The Solo Performances of Peggy Shaw – Peggy Shaw

Peggy Shaw has written several solo acts about butch existence, and the scripts are compiled here into a single volume. I couldn’t find a good picture of the cover, and those I did find may have been considered NSFW (as is the case with most queer art!), so please enjoy this extremely dapper photo of the author.

Fiction

12. Sketchtasy – Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

An “anti-assimilationist” novel about 1990’s Boston and the life of a young queen named Alexa navigating a gay counterculture still haunted by the AIDS crisis.

13. Social Creature – Tara Isabella Burton

A psychological thriller focusing on a central prince(ss) and the pauper relationship, where our “pauper” protagonist has a dark past and a vested interest in maintaining her new, lavish life. The jacket description of this one mentions a “classic tale of obsession…[made] undeniably modern.” This appears to be a theme in a few books with central lesbian relationships, such as Tangerine by Christine Mangan, which I recently read.

14. The Hollow of Fear – Sherry Thomas

This one is third in a series of Sherlock Holmes retellings; in Thomas’s books Sherlock and Watson are both women. I’m not sure if the Irene Adler arc becomes same-sex, or if it is removed completely, but if it’s on this list, chances are I read somewhere that it’s gay, or at least woman-centric. And the movement of Charlotte’s overcoat on the cover gives me big, jaunty, Gentleman Jack vibes.

15. Freshwater – Akwaeke Emezi

An autobiographical novel by an Igbo-Tamil writer from Nigeria, this book draws on Igbo religion, imagery and language to discuss mental health from a non-Western perspective. The novel was edited by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, whose work I’ve enjoyed before.  The publisher’s description on Google Books says: “Emezi refuses to write conventional “African” fiction–her voice is raw, deeply personal, dark, somewhat experimental, and unlike anything that has been published before.”

What is “conventional ‘African’ fiction?” Comment if you know what that means. I’d love to read/edit some for EWE.

16. Written in the Stars – Alexandria Bellefleur

Maybe I’ll read this one in December this year, as it is classified as holiday literature alongside LGBT romance on Google Books. I don’t know if you all had a similar descent into obsession with Netflix’s Bridgerton as I did in the past few months, but this story seems to have a similar arc. The protags go on a bad date but one wants their matchmaker to stop…doing that, so they have to pretend to be mad for each other, and then, you know what happens.

There is also an equally adorable follow-up to this book, which I’m certain will land on a future Aspirational Bookshelf, called Hang the Moon. If you’re looking for more reading material in the lesbian rom-com genre (I know, pickings are slim!) try When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri.

17. Priory of the Orange Tree – Samantha Shannon

My wife is currently reading this, even though it was a holiday gift to me from my brother. High fantasy usually centers men, but, from what I gather from Rory’s progress, this 800-page tome has a central lesbian relationship and a woman-centric universe.

Music

18. She Begat This: 20 Years of the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill –  Joan Morgan

I’m sadly not well-versed in the discography of Lauryn Hill, but I do love books on music history and artists of diverse identities.

19. Olivia on the Record: a Radical Experiment in Women’s Music – Ginny Berson

A recounting of the joys and pitfalls of creating new spaces and outlets for women and lesbians to share art and resources during the 60’s and 70’s feminist movements. Written by one of the founders of Olivia Records, one such intentional artistic space that produced women’s music during this time.

Nonfiction

20. The Art Of Gathering: How We Meet And Why It Matters– Priya Parker

Parker presents a critique of the ways people come together, and offers a new perspective on how to make gatherings more meaningful. This book definitely sprang up out of the isolation of the pandemic, and as a person interested in event planning, I jumped at the chance to envision what a post-pandemic party might, and should, look like.

21. Palaces For The People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, And The Decline Of Civic Life –  Eric Klinenberg

One of only two books on this list by male authors, this is a text on urban planning that argues that solid “social infrastructure” is the solution to our increasingly polarized political climate. Of course, I haven’t read it yet, but it seems focused on a more collective and inclusive use of public space. I’ll be interested to see if Klinenberg delves at all into the social model of disability in his discussion of a new placemaking.

22. The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent Of “Angels In America” – Isaac Butler, Dan Koi

An extensive account in a collection of interviews of the effects of Angels in America, the Broadway production and film adaptation about the AIDS crisis. I haven’t actually seen Angels in America onstage or on screen, but this book seems a good companion once I do seek out this part of our history.

Graphic Novels/Comics

23. Bingo Love – Tee Franklin

A comic book series about teenage girls who meet at a bingo game at church and fall in love in the 1960’s.

24. The Prince and the Dressmaker– Jen Wang 

An absolutely precious-looking graphic novel about a prince who takes Paris by storm as a secretly-in-drag fashion icon, supported only by his savvy dressmaker, Frances.

Essays

25. Feel Free– Zadie Smith

Essays by accomplished novelist and essayist Zadie Smith.

26. Tomboyland –  Melissa Faliveno

This collection of essays explores the author’s experience as a Midwesterner grappling with the otherness of queer gender and desire in a culture that has prescriptive norms dictating who she is supposed to be, and with questions of class as she travels away from the land that raised her. 


And, that’s the list! I really hope that I get around to reading some of these this year. It can only make me a better writer and editor, and it will give me something great to share with everyone! Follow Editing Without Ego on Facebook for reading updates, writing tips and related content.

What do you want to read this year?  Leave a comment below if you have thoughts on any text here, or to recommend books I should add to my shelf.

Sources: 

All direct quotes come from the publisher’s descriptions as they read on Google Books. Cover images sourced from Google Images and may be subject to copyright.

“The Social Model of Disability Factsheet”  is available for download and published by Inclusion London.

Disclaimer: All links to recommended titles lead to bookshop.org.  These are affiliate links through the bookshop.org Affiliate program. I may receive a small commision if you buy any book I recommend through these links, AND you’ll be supporting local bookstores instead of Amazon!