The LGBTQ Book club met on February 26 to discuss Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning epistolary novel The Color Purple . The group was a mix of people who had read it years ago and those who were had always meant to read it. All of us were surprised, though, either by forgetting characters and sections or by not knowing what to expect.
We all loved Celie’s growth from a smart teenager being sexually abused by her father, then a young stepmother, being transformed by her relationship with the charismatic Shug and finally into a forgiving elder surrounded by her family. Walker writes beautiful descriptions of faith and includes thought-provoking metaphors like Celie’s pants but we struggled to care as much about the many secondary characters like Nettie, Mister and Harpo. The time period and location were vague, but maybe that vagueness makes the story universal and reflects the personal nature of Celie’s letters, which wouldn’t organically announce dates and world events. While Celie does forgive many of the men who wronged her and her loved ones, we couldn’t pinpoint the character development that would have earned her forgiveness. In contrast, Shug never asked for forgiveness, because she was always clear with people that she wasn’t going to change to meet their expectations. She wanted what she wanted and it was their fault if they chose to ignore her very clear boundaries. Unfortunately, the ending landed flat for us, but Walker’s skills kept the characters alive for us long after we finished.
Read Alikes (other formats may be available):
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The LGBTQ Book club met on January 29 to discuss Logical Family , Armistead Maupin’s memoir contrasting his conservative upbringing in South Carolina (working at Jesse Helm’s television station, meeting Nixon as a Vietnam veteran) to his life in San Francisco (writing a long-running serial in the Chronicle, hobnobbing with stars). Indeed, the title is a play on words, between one’s biological family and the people you gather around you as your logical family.
Two thirds of us had read Maupin’s Tales of the City series are were excited to glimpse behind the curtain. The memoir is an appealing, easy read. On the one hand, Maupin honestly reveals the difficulties he had with his strict, conservative father, whose love he craved, and he is not afraid to drop the names of celebrities in his life. We were surprised to learn he was the last sailor out of Cambodia and he defends his choice to out Rock Hudson. However, we wondered if Maupin is a reliable narrator because we were left with questions like, how did he actually meet these famous people and who are the actual members in his logical family? In the end, the book, a surface look at Maupin’s life with a good throughline, was a nice visit with an old friend.
The LGBTQ Book club met on August 28 to discuss Tomorrow Will Be Different, Sarah McBride’s memoir about coming out trans in college, advocating for trans rights in Delaware, speaking at the Democratic National convention, finding love and losing it to cancer and advocating for trans rights on a national scale. It’s a lot to pack in to 25 years of living and a bit too much to pack into a book of this size.
About half of the group were familiar with trans people and rights before this meeting, although none of us knew much about McBride herself. One reader said that although he hadn’t been familiar, McBride’s authenticity elicited his empathy and that he has a better understanding of trans lives. Another reader had the opposite reaction, wanting more of McBride’s life story and less of the minutiae of her political life. We all agreed that while she does acknowledge her privilege (race, class, parental support), she doesn’t fully explore that but she is taking full advantage of the slide that has been greased for her.
We explored the ways in which terms such as trans, bigot, and gay have evolved and the intersectionality of identities. One reader spoke of the conflict of including lesbians and bisexuals in the now-LGBT community. We also touched on the work of trans women in the Stonewall riots.
Ultimately we agreed that the 28-year-old author has already led a remarkable life that is well documented in this book but we were left wanting to know more about the person and less about the potential political candidate.
About the author
Interview with the author
About the book
Other Trans Authors of Memoirs:
Jennifer Finney Boylan
Katie Rain Hill
Amy Ellis Nutt
As One opera
The LGBTQ Book Club is going on hiatus this fall. Look for more information on jmrl.org in the spring.