Wednesday, January 24, 2018

What I Read: Stone Butch Blues

A cover of "Stone Butch Blues" by Leslie Feinberg, featuring a black and white portrait of Feinberg with hir left hand on the side of hir face, looking thoughtful.

I'm in a few book clubs and lots of the books I read last year, especially towards the end, were book club selections. One of them is a bunch of random nerds on Discord and the theme is vaguely YA and SFF; another is the Austin Feminist Science Fiction club; the last one is a Facebook book club co-founded by one of my blogger friends. This one has no particular genre or focus, and so we tackle a pretty wide variety of books. Past selections that I've mentioned here include Madonna in a Fur Coat, The Road to Mecca, and Passing.

Stone Butch Blues was a heavy read, but somehow compelling. Even through the worst of what Jess experienced I felt pulled along; I needed to read more. Would she be okay? Would her friends, lovers, coworkers be okay? How would everything turn out? As we get to know Jess and her strength and determination, we also meet a wide variety of characters who move in and out of her life, from sympathetic union leaders to hostile coworkers to mentors and lovers and co-conspirators.

Centered as it is on the American gay and lesbian and black communities and the labor movement in the 60s and onward, the language includes some slurs and some of the events are obviously traumatic.At the same time, to say that the book is centered only on social justice issues is unfair. Really, the book is centered on Jess. If it's an activist novel, it's also in at least equal measure a character-driven bildungsroman with the beating heart of a human being desperate for love, family, and contact.

Stone Butch Blues also marks the end of my TIME Top 100 list goal! Yes, finally! (And yes, I gave up on Christina Stead and The Man Who Loved Children, with all apologies to MementoMori: we just have different tastes, my dude!) Yes, I've used my own discretion to modify this list for the sake of diversity throughout my project, but the goal never wavered from reading 100 modern classics. I'm getting away from myself, though; that's a post for later.

If you're interested, Feinberg made Stone Butch Blues available for free online. You can download a PDF from hir website at the previous link, or order a hard copy from

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