(Huge thanks to my friend Ming for her feedback and help with this!)
So I was originally posting a recent links feature today, but I changed my mind slightly - I've got a few links that I would really love you to read, all of which are related to yesterday's horrific massacre in Orlando. After them, I've got my attempt at the #IBW2016 tag (created by Will Rycroft at Vintage Books), because in the face of hatred for the LGBTQIA community the best way to respond seemed to be with love, and so many of my answer are about the power and brilliance of LGBTQIA books, it seemed like a good time to share it.
Una Mullally: Orlando killings are an attack on all LGBT people
Caroline O'Donoghue: In a deeply troubled world, the Tony Awards remain a bright spark
Lin-Manuel Miranda's acceptance speech at the Tonys, paying tribute to Orlando
Jack Jenkins: The Other Group Mourning The Orlando Massacre: LGBT Muslims
Omar Sakr: A War on Homophobia
Statement from LGBTQI Muslim charity Imaan.
Elle Dowd: Bi-phobia and the Pulse Massacre.
Sali Hughes on the Orlando shootings and gun control.
This Was Never Supposed To Happen To You
Aisha Saeed: Thoughts on Orlando.
Buzzfeed paid tribute to the victims.
Emily Shire listed ways in which you can help the victims.
Milo Todd posted about 8 ways allies can show up for the queer community.
It would be really appreciated if people wanted to leave comments with more links to writing about the tragedy - especially if there are additional ways in which readers can help.
Now, onto the tag...
1. What book(s) are currently in your bag?
I'm currently reading and adoring Seanan McGuire's Every Heart A Doorway, a brilliant novella about the children who disappear through the back of wardrobes, down rabbit holes, or under the bed - and what happens when they get back. Set at a school for just such youngsters, lead character Nancy is marvellous and I'm not all that far in but am COMPLETELY intrigued as to what's going to happen. (Also, she's ace. Yes, an asexual MAIN CHARACTER. Excuse me while I try and hold in my happy 'OMG ace representation' tears.)
2. What’s the last great book you read?
One book? Oh come on, be serious. I'll narrow it down to THREE. For a YA series starter, Laure Eve's YA novel The Graces, out in a few months, is a staggeringly well-plotted story of a family who are said to be witches, and the new girl in school who falls under their spell. With incredible characterisation and brilliant writing, this is definitely not to be missed. For a YA series ender (except it's not, because YAY FOR UPCOMING HARDBACK NOVELLA!), Holly Bourne's What's A Girl Gotta Do? is fabulous and funny despite being filled with righteous fury. This is a feminist masterpiece which will hopefully open readers' eyes to some of the inequality in our society, but is also a brilliant read. The other completely delightful one I've read this month is Sylvia Bishop and Ashley King's Erica's Elephant, a gorgeously illustrated book for younger readers. Ashley's illustrations are utterly beautiful while Sylvia's story of friendship, working together, love, and of course an elephant, is a real winner - heart-warming, moving and funny.
3. What book have you gifted the most?
Without a doubt, Candy Harper's fabulously funny Have A Little Faith, which I've owned about 20 copies of and keep giving away. This is a completely hilarious read which also is a brilliant story of friendship between four girls.
4. What’s your favourite independent bookshop?
I want to say that this is hard to choose, but it's not. Tales on Moon Lane, in Herne Hill, not only have the most incredible stock I've seen in any children's shop I've ever been to, they also have the most knowledgeable and friendly staff AND they employ me to work on Teens on Moon Lane. My huge apologies to all of the other wonderful bookshops out there, but they're always going to be my number 1.
That said, there ARE a bunch of other fabulous ones out there. Two that deserve a special mention - The Big Green Bookshop, whose place at the heart of the community was reaffirmed recently by the outpourings of support and donations that followed a recent theft there. And Gay's The Word, which (as shown by the film Pride) has been a beacon of light for so many years and continues to be a must-visit place where you can pick up a massive range of amazing LGBTQIA books. Again, in both of these shops, the selection and the staff's knowledge are awesome.
5. What’s been your favourite book recommended by a bookseller (or fellow Booktuber/book blogger)?
So hard to choose, as so many of my friend hit me with fantastic recommendations time after time! I think if I narrowed it down to three, I would go with Melina Marchetta's exquisite Jellicoe Road, a gorgeous contemporary pressed on me by my friend Caitlin. Charlie has recommended more books to me than I could possibly begin to remember, but perhaps best of all is Nina LaCour's breathtakingly lovely girl/girl film set romance Everything Leads To You. And Debbie is my most reliable person when it comes to books, both borrowing from and lending to, and exchanging recommendations with. Again, narrowing this down would be impossible, but one really amazing one that I'd love more people to read is Abigail Tarttelin's Golden Boy, about an intersex teen Max, his family, and the way people around him react as he starts to consider his well-kept secret.
6. What’s your favourite indie bookshop memory?
Oh wow... again, so hard to pin down.
(I seem to be saying that a lot.) I think I'm going to go for the Gay's The Word workshop about reading and writing LGBTQIA books for children, which was a fantastic event run brilliantly by BJ Epstein which really made me think hard about the books I was reading. (Plus it was the first time I met Charlie, who went on to become a really good friend!)
7. What do bookshops mean to you? What do you love about them?
It's so hard to get this down to an even semi-reasonable length, but let's give it a go. Firstly, looking at books rather than bookshops. (Yes, answering a completely different question probably isn't doing THAT much to get it down to a reasonable length; bear with me.)
I think that in books, you can see so many things and learn so much. Whether they act as a window to another world or another culture or another type of person, or a mirror reflecting people like yourself, they're an incredible way of expanding your horizons AND of showing you that you're not alone. For so, so, so long, they acted as mirrors mainly to white, straight, cisgender, middle/upper-class who were physically and mentally healthy. (Note 'mainly'; I'm definitely not claiming that they've ever exclusively had those characters in lead roles.)
But looking at what's available today, there is such an incredible variety around. There is an explosion in the amount of books with characters from different backgrounds, identities, class, race, etc. I believe that books can change the world. That despite the hatred that exists today, there IS progress being made. The more people see themselves in stories, the more they can see the possibilities outside of the stereotypes that society boxes them into, while the more people read about cultures and people different from themselves, the more they will understand and learn to respect them.
And it IS amazing that there are so many books out there with such a variety of lead characters (although MORE PLEASE!!), but sadly not ALL of the representation out there is amazing - some of it can be deeply hurtful. Having a knowledgeable bookseller on hand to steer people towards good representation of what they're looking for is such an incredibly powerful thing, and it's something that just can't be mirrored on a site like Amazon - the human touch of being able to ask someone for advice, question them further on their recommendations, and then sample the book in the shop is a massive advantage for me.
8. What are the books that made you? Which books have most affected or influenced you?
Do we have all year please?
I'm going for the Chalet School books which I read countless times growing up and probably did more than any other series to inspire a lifelong love of literature, Agatha Christie's murder mysteries which I constantly turn to as comfort reads (not 100% sure what that says about me, admittedly) and Rosamunde Pilcher's coming of age novel Coming Home for the same reason. The Drina series by Jean Estoril which I used to read back with someone who's been one of my closest friends for nearly 30 years now, and which I still read regularly.
Bill Bryson's Notes From A Small Island for reminding me how much I love the UK, Paul Torday's Girl on the Landing for introducing me to book reviewing (it was the first book I reviewed when I e-mailed to join the wonderful team at The Bookbag.) Will Hill's Department 19 series, Curtis Jobling's Wereworld, Michael Grant's GONE and Daniel Abraham's Dagger and the Coin, for being incredible long-running series which had me hooked from start to finish, with complex, layered characters and which all, in their own way, show how finely balanced the lines between heroes and villains are.
Most recently, Laura Nowlin's This Song Is (Not) For You, which shows an asexual character as a love interest which was something I was beginning to think I'd never see, Betsy Cornwell's Mechanica which I'll avoid giving details of because of spoilers, but which again is near unique, Alice Oseman's Radio Silence for being the best UKYA book I've read with a character on the ace spectrum AND having one of my favourite ever boy/girl platonic friendships.
9. What book do you recommend readers gift for Father’s Day?
Always Bill Bryson, I'd say, although if you're feeling rich I'm guessing there are some GORGEOUS editions of Jerome K Jerome's Three Men In A Boat, still one of the funniest books I've ever read.
10. What book is currently at the top of your TBR pile?
I'm about to start Summer Days, Summer Nights, published here by MacMillan and edited by Stephanie Perkins. I loved Stephanie's previous anthology and with a great line-up of contributing authors here I'm thrilled to be getting to it soon!