Pride Month Reading List: 5 Contemporary Books by Queer Authors to Check Out (Like, Yesterday)

Pride Month is already winding down, and this year, it’s looking quite a bit different than usual. While mass gatherings, marches, and celebrations are largely cancelled amidst COVID-19, there are many other ways to celebrate the LGBT+ community.

And one alternative way is to support the work of LGBT+ authors. Purchasing, reading, and sharing books by queer writers is something you can do from the comfort of your home — which still goes a long way in uplifting oft-marginalized voices.

Here are five of my favourite books by LGBT+ authors from the past few years. They vary in subject matter, but all include some form of a personal narrative:

1. Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing, and Hope by Karamo Brown

Known best for his role as the culture expert of Netflix’s hit Queer Eye, Karamo Brown gives an intensely personal and uplifting account of his life in this memoir. Never one to shy away from deep and complicated conversations, Brown gives an intimate look at his own struggles and triumphs.

You may be used to watching Brown facilitate the emotional transformations of Queer Eye’s heroes, but his own life story is perhaps the most interesting of all. This book covers so many intersecting issues, like growing up in an abusive household, navigating substance abuse/mental health issues, and growing up as a gay, black man in America. 

Brown tackles each subject with care, ultimately leaving the reader feeling challenged and inspired. As a trained social worker, he is a master at using difficult experiences to facilitate personal growth, and after reading his memoir, you’ll understand the why behind his signature process. Keep your tissues handy, but rest assured that you’ll leave feeling the warmth and hope Brown is known for providing.

2. Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Future by Pete Buttigieg

New York Times bestseller, this autobiography by Democratic nominee hopeful Pete Buttigieg is reflective and beautiful. Full disclosure — I’m currently part-way through reading this title, but I’m already deeply engaged in his story.

With perhaps the most unique resume imaginable, Buttigieg has won over the hearts of many this past year in the spotlight. The first openly-gay person to run a major presidential campaign, his life story has been broadcast frequently as of late. 

Buttigieg is Harvard-educated, Oxford-educated, a former recipient of the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, an Afghanistan War veteran, and a former small-town mayor of South Bend, Indiana. (And just a few sentences into this book, you’ll notice that his writing style is indicative of an Ivy League literature major.)

If you’ve ever been curious about the backstory of this LGBT+ trailblazer, definitely check out his autobiography.

3. Bad with Money: The Imperfect Art of Getting Your Financial Sh*t Together by Gaby Dunn

In this personal finance title, self-proclaimed bi-con (“bisexual icon”) Gaby Dunn continues the conversation started in her popular podcast, Bad with Money. Recognized by many for her early work at Buzzfeed, Dunn’s accomplishments span genres.

Since leaving Buzzfeed to start Just Between Us (a YouTube-channel-turned-podcast) with comedy partner Allison Raskin, Dunn has also co-authored a New York Times bestselling YA novel and recently put out her first comic book.

Bad with Money (the book) takes Dunn’s own money journey and blends it with her classic wit, focus on intersectional activism, and all the info she’s learned since starting her hit podcast of the same name.

Funny, cheeky, and blunt, the book is an excellent look at the personal finance space from the lens of an author deeply concerned with intersecting forms of oppression such as systemic racism, LGBT+ marginalization, and sexism.

Always one to centre social activism in her work, this book by Dunn is a must-read for anyone interested in improving their financial situation or learning more about her unique story of improving her own. 

4. Naturally Tan by Tan France

This Sunday Times bestselling autobiography is written by another Queer Eye expert: Tan France. Known for his impeccable fashion sense and no-BS attitude, France is another extremely interesting LGBT+ figure.

His Wikipedia bio notes how France became “one of the very first openly gay South Asian men on a major show, and one of the first out gay Muslim men on western television.” Another LGBT+ trailblazer, France’s autobiography is a witty, fun, and frank account of his fascinating life.

France covers everything from growing up as one of the only people of colour in his British neighbourhood to coming out as gay to his family. Though he describes how difficult it was facing intersecting challenges like racism and homophobia, his story is ultimately one of triumph. 

A massively-successful fashion designer now married to the love of his life (an American cowboy), France weaves the tale of how he became the man he is today. Interspersed with his trademark fashion advice, this memoir is another must-read (which extends far beyond the importance of a French tuck).

5. I Might Regret This: Essays, Drawings, Vulnerabilities, and Other Stuff by Abbi Jacobson

Lastly, this collection of personal essays is by Broad City co-creator Abbi Jacobson. Already a New York Times bestselling author before writing this title, her tender account of a solo cross-country adventure is essential reading for any newly-out queer person.

Although you likely know this multi-faceted artist best for her stoner comedy style and cheeky drawings, I Might Regret This is an excellent account of what it’s like to face your first big heartbreak. The book follows Jacobson as she grapples with falling in (and out) of love for the first time ever — with a woman.

Whether you’re a diehard Broad City fan or just an individual questioning your sexuality, this title is another arresting personal story to consider reading.

Conclusion


And there you have it: my list of five great books to check out this Pride Month. Thank you, as always, for reading the Writing Advice blog, and be sure to subscribe to be notified of each new article.

Happy reading!

4 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month From the Comfort of Your Own Home

We’re reaching the end of National Poetry Month, and although it’s not safe to attend live readings at the moment, there are plenty of ways to celebrate while social distancing.

Here are four easy ways to get in the poetic spirit this April:

1. Watch poetry readings online.

Any poetry fan can attest to the magic of attending a live performance. There’s something so intimate about hearing an author read their work aloud; often tucked into small bars and coffee shops, such gatherings are romantic and contemplative.

Yet, even though current social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders have all but cancelled live poetry readings, there are many alternatives. For example, you can find recordings of past poetry readings on sites like YouTube.

Simply try searching for the names of your favourite poets, and see what you find. Here are some recommendations to start with:

Another option is to purchase/listen to spoken word albums. Many poets opt to release such albums to accompany their poetry collections, and there are plenty of titles out there from classic authors.

Check out this Qwiklit article for a list of poetry recordings offered on Spotify, which includes work from acclaimed poets such as Billy Collins, T.S. Eliot, and Elizabeth Bishop. 

And simply search around on your preferred music platform — whether that’s Spotify, Apple Music, etc. — to find albums that speak to your taste.

2. Find some new (or old) poems to read.

Of course, the most common method of consuming poetry is to read it. The interaction between an author and their reader is a unique experience facilitated by the text.

So, if you want to celebrate National Poetry Month, try reading some new (or old) pieces. Crack open some print copies of your favourite collections, or try finding work online. Even just 20 minutes spent reading poetry can provide a welcome reprieve from the current stress and anxiety consuming the globe. 

And, as previously mentioned on the blog, the Poetry Foundation website is an excellent resource. On there, you can find individual poems, bios of famous authors, audio recordings, and more.

Let National Poetry Month serve as a reminder that poetry is an incredibly healing force; it allows us to think, feel, and reflect on life in a profound way. 

3. Support your favourite poets, small presses, and publishers.

Another great way to engage with the poetry community is to financially support writers and their publishers. Ask yourself: Who are some of my favourite living poets? Which local, small presses are regularly putting out important work? What about larger publishers?

If you have the funds, purchase poetry books (either in print or ebook form) from writers, presses, and publishers you enjoy. In the midst of this global pandemic, artists of all kinds are struggling with a lack of funds from gigs and sales. Providing financial support is invaluable in allowing them to continue their work.

Other options are to donate directly via their websites/Venmo accounts or to become members of their Patreon fundraising efforts. If you’re short on cash but have the time to spare, you could share their work via social media, write a blog post reviewing their book(s), or leave them positive reviews on sites like Goodreads and Amazon.

(Note: Small presses and independent authors are often the most cash-strapped members of the poetry community; supporting them in particular can be wildly helpful.)

4. Try your hand at writing a poem or two.

Lastly, another way to engage with poetry is to get writing yourself! 

It’s a myth that poetry writing is a pretentious, elitist practice; at its best, poetry appeals to the everyday reader. There are many different styles, of course, but you shouldn’t feel scared to start writing poetry just because you haven’t studied it in university or aren’t well-versed in traditional works.

Anyone can be a poet: a child just learning how to read/write, a teenager looking for a creative outlet, or an adult simply looking for a new hobby. Poetry is for everyone — unlike prosaic forms such as fiction, poetry is extremely lax in terms of rules.

Because, well, there are no rules. You can spell words wrong (intentionally or unintentionally), use odd punctuation marks/combinations, and choose to write one or one thousand words in a single piece. There are no limits, and no strict guidelines. As a poet, you have complete creative freedom.

So, grab your favourite notebook or laptop and start drafting up new work. If you need motivation, try using writing prompts, like the 22 listed in this article for Read Poetry.

Once you’ve written a few poems, try editing them yourself (or with the help of a friend/teacher), and consider publishing them. You can post them on your social media accounts, a free blog, or even submit them to various publications/contests. 

Wrapping up

Poetry is a beautiful thing. Especially in the midst of this current global crisis, we need it more than ever. Try one of these tips today, and see how much they change your life.

As always, thanks for reading the Writing Advice column. Make sure you follow the blog here on WordPress to have weekly articles delivered straight to your inbox.

And if you’re interested in reading my poetry, you can find two full collections at my publisher’s site.

Grey Borders is offering their entire digital archive for free at the moment, with the option to donate if you feel so inclined. (They publish a lot of excellent Canadian poetry, so definitely check out the rest of the site if you’re looking for new poetry.)

Happy writing (and reading)!

5 Free Literary Resources for Writers (and Readers)

Reading is a great hobby, but can often be quite pricey if you opt to purchase your books brand new. Just the cost of a single hardcover can add up to $40.

So, whether you’re an avid bookworm or an author yourself, free literary resources are particularly useful. And especially during these difficult times, I think we could all use some low-cost options for staying engaged and entertained.

Here are my top five recommendations for literary resources to access while on a budget:

1. Crash Course Literature

While it’s mainly geared towards students (whether at the high school or post-secondary level), Crash Course is an excellent YouTube channel for anybody interested in learning more about complex literary concepts.

The channel covers many different subject areas like Psychology, Physics, and History, but I’d personally recommend their Literature series. Presented by John Green (the best-selling author and ‘VlogBrother’), the videos summarize/analyze classic works such as The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, and Hamlet.

Green does an amazing job of breaking extremely nuanced ideas into concise (and entertaining!) terms. When I was in high school and studying for the AP Literature exam, these videos were super useful. In fact, when I wrote the final exam, I specifically referenced Green’s analysis of The Catcher in the Rye in my essay.

But you don’t need to be a student to find these videos useful; pretty much anyone could benefit from watching the series. For example, the general public often regards Shakespeare’s works as dense, boring, and difficult to understand. I used to think the exact same thing. 

Until I studied Shakespeare in university, I was turned off by the language. Now, I love to read his work and see modern performances of his plays. But you don’t need to pay hefty tuition fees to have that same experience; the Crash Course video library is like having access to college lectures in your pocket. Definitely check it out if you’re curious about literature in general.

2. The Poetry Foundation website

The Poetry Foundation website is another great, free resource that specifically focuses on poetry. As a poetry lover, I often use their site to read individual pieces from authors that I enjoy.

There’s no need to go out and buy every single poetry collection you find interesting — sites like this re-publish many famous poems. 

I appreciate that this specific website is extremely accurate in terms of its spelling, punctuation, and line breaks. If you simply Google search the name of a poem you want to read, many websites that will pop up, but not all of them are true to the original versions. Opt for reputable sites like The Poetry Foundation, which are very precise in their re-printing.

Their homepage also features handy sections like the “Poem of the Day,” which can help you easily expand your reading horizons. The site is great for anyone interested in reading more poetry (and it certainly won’t break the bank).

3. Project Gutenberg

Another awesome resource is the Project Gutenberg website. It’s an extensive archive of free ebooks (with a focus on older works of literature, since their copyright licenses have now expired). It’s a great way to find digital copies of classic novels and plays.

For example, as I mentioned, I studied Shakespeare while I was in university, and I used Project Gutenberg to get free copies of his plays. Since they were written hundreds of years ago, they are definitely aren’t bound by copyright. 

My print copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare is extremely heavy, so the digital versions of the plays were convenient to have (I could even read them on my e-reader or phone while commuting to class).

Give it a look if you’re not too focused on reading brand-new, best-selling books; there are many classic texts available for free to keep yourself busy.

4. SparkNotes

Ah, the infamous SparkNotes: the best friend of students cramming for English exams on books they never read. While many people use SparkNotes as a complete replacement for reading books, that’s not really what it’s designed to be.

Rather, SparkNotes is a comprehensive hub of literary information. It has No Fear Shakespeare (a tool for translating Shakespearean language into modern-day English) and countless Study Guides for classic works of literature (which include plot summaries, analyses, break-downs, and even mini-quizzes).

I worked as an English tutor for a short time, and I loved to use SparkNotes with my students. Whether they were in elementary school or taking AP classes, I could always find useful features to help explain complicated texts. The mini-quizzes were especially handy, since I could use them to test my students’ knowledge quickly and easily.

I’d recommend treating SparkNotes much like Crash Course Literature; they’re tools that can help you understand classic works of literature much easier. But they don’t replace the act of reading — that’s still on you. 

5. The Toronto Public Library (or your local library)

Lastly, perhaps the best free literary resource of all is the humble local library. For me, that’s the Toronto Public Library system, which is a pretty fantastic option. 

There are countless ways to benefit from a library card — some of which require physically visiting your local branch, but many of which can be done from home. 

For example, a valid TPL card gets you free access to the career learning platform, Lynda.com (now ‘LinkedIn Learning’), which usually costs about $30+ per month as an individual. It also gives you access to resources like Overdrive (for ebooks + audiobooks), PressReader (for digital newspapers + magazines), and Kanopy (for streaming movies).

So, if you’re social distancing at home and in need of some free reading material, see what’s offered online from your local library — it could save you a ton of cash on digital media subscriptions.

Wrapping up

Thanks, as always, for reading the Writing Advice blog. Use the sidebar to easily subscribe, so that you can get free weekly content for writers delivered straight to your inbox. You can also learn more about my writing and editing services by browsing the rest of the site. 

And let me know in the comments: What’s your favourite, free literary resource?

4 Game-Changing Books to Read While Cooped up Inside

These are scary and uncertain times.

For many of us, practising social distancing is the new reality — at least for the foreseeable future.

And while you’re cooped up inside, one way to take solace is in a good book.

This post will explore four different books I’ve read in recent years that were legitimate game-changers for me.

Whether in terms of improving my finances, decluttering my home, or developing my personal growth, these titles have shifted the way I live my life.

So if you want to try and be productive during these periods of anxiety, consider checking out one of these books (even if you have to purchase an ebook due to store/library closures).

I’m linking to them via the Apple Books platform for ease of reference, but you can surely find them in other places (and I’m not being paid any affiliate marketing fees — these are my genuine recommendations).

1. The Financial Diet: A Total Beginner’s Guide to Getting Good with Money

Written by Chelsea Fagan and designed by Lauren Ver Hage, this is a must-read for anyone looking to improve their financial health.

Especially if you happen to be a millennial woman, this book is written is very approachable terms.

As someone who is truly horrific with math, this book broke complicated financial topics like budgeting or investing down to a level I could genuinely understand.

It’s still nuanced and interesting, but if you’re a true beginner at personal finance, this book is a great option.

After reading it a couple of years ago, I gradually implemented changes like developing a weekly/monthly budget, creating a debt repayment plan, and setting/meeting savings goals.

Since making those changes, I’ve managed to pay off over $3,000 in consumer debt, save up $5,000 in personal high-yield savings accounts, and even start investing in a TFSA (no matter how small the deposits!).

I now understand where my money is going, and I feel empowered knowing how to manage my finances.

The Financial Diet is a larger brand, too, including their blog and YouTube channel. I’m actually now a regular columnist at the blog, and have had several articles of mine turned into YouTube videos for their Making it Work series (see here and here).

So if you’re interested in the book, be sure to check out their digital resources, too!

2. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

Written by Marie Kondo, this best-seller has brought minimalism to the masses.

And, speaking of my column at The Financial Diet blog, I’ve actually already written an entire article about this book: see 6 Ways My Life Has Improved Several Years After Completing The KonMari Method.

Check out the article linked above if you want my full thoughts, but in short, if you’re someone looking to organize your home, this is arguably one of the best books out there.

It’s written in a clear and concise way, and the principles developed by Kondo are genuinely life-changing. Check it out if decluttering is one of your goals while practising social distancing!

3. The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well

Written by Meik Wiking of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, this is another global best-seller.

In essence, it breaks down the Danish concept of hygge, which the author defines as “…when you are cuddled up on a sofa with a loved one, or sharing comfort food with your closest friends. It is those crisp blue mornings when the light through your window is just right.”

A rather nebulous concept, Wiking posits that hygge is the reason why Denmark often ranks as one of the happiest countries in the world.

It takes a while to understand the idea, but by the end of the book, you’ll take away your own personal definition.

I stumbled upon this title a couple of years ago at a bookstore, and it was a super pleasant read.

The physical book itself is beautiful, with gold detailing on its cover and stunning photographs throughout.

The pages aren’t text-heavy, so it almost reads like a grown-up picture book: focused more on simplicity and aesthetics than communicating dense writing.

Definitely give it a read if you need something comforting and uplifting (especially during this global pandemic). You’ll be sure to find actionable steps to living a happier life.

4. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

Lastly, this self-help title by Eckhart Tolle is probably the closest thing that I have to a bible.

While I consider myself to be agnostic, this book has a great mix of spiritual and intellectual concepts.

Tolle bounces from referencing Jesus Christ to the Buddha to Descartes…and the result is incredible.

He doesn’t align himself with a single religion or belief system, but rather expands his idea of consciousness to encompass all different sects from across the world.

It’s been one of the most profound reads of my entire life, and I regularly return to it.

Particularly potent in this chaotic climate of 2020, Tolle speaks straight wisdom about the preciousness of the present moment.

Give it a read if you’re feeling particularly anxious, lost, or despondent right now. You won’t regret it.

Conclusion

This list was a bit of a departure from my usual Writing Advice series, but I hope you’ve enjoyed it nonetheless.

Give the blog a follow if you’re interested in more content about writing/reading in general.

I hope that you’re all staying safe and healthy during this chaotic time, and thanks for giving this post a read.

Why Reading Poetry Is Just as Important as Writing It: The Key to Creating Great Work

“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” — Stephen King

In King’s book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, he explains how important it is to be continually reading if you want to get serious about writing.

I couldn’t agree more.

The bulk of my education about the English language came from the act of reading.

And I’m not talking about assigned school-work. I’m talking about round-the-clock reading for fun.

When I was a young child, my mom would endlessly read books to me from the local library. She was a teacher in her home country, and is a trained early childhood educator here in Canada, so she’s always appreciated the value of learning.

As soon as I could read independently, I inhaled books to no end.

In elementary school, I’d bring home a backpack full of books I’d borrowed from the classroom — every single night.

At six years old, my teacher remarked that I was already reading at a fifth-grade level. And I didn’t stop there.

I entered and won my local library’s creative writing contests as soon as I was old enough to enter.

By the age of thirteen, I had already won a national youth literary contest, given a paid poetry reading at the reception, and gotten a publishing credit out of the whole thing.

None of this happened by accident.

Why reading is your secret weapon as a creative writer

Fast-forward to today, and I’ve won more literary contests, been published widely in magazines/journals, and written two books for my publisher.

All of these accomplishments started from one habit: regularly reading for fun.

So if you want to embark on a creative writing career, it’s crucial that you start reading.

Read whatever you can get your hands on: poetry, novels, non-fiction.

Every genre has something different to teach you; poetry teaches brevity and emotion; fiction teaches world-building; non-fiction teaches research skills.

And you don’t need to spend a ton of money. Check out your local library (or college’s library) to start.

Used book stores are also gold-mines for finding affordable new reads.

If you have the cash to buy lots of new books, go for it — but don’t feel obligated.

Writing poetry in particular

The bulk of my career has been as a professional poet. Although I dabble in creative non-fiction and do plenty of client work, poetry is my niche.

For poetry especially, you really need to expose yourself to different styles. Read the classics. Read new poetry. Read formal poetry. Read experimental poetry.

Poetry is so incredibly open-ended — unlike fiction, there really aren’t any rigid guidelines for writing it.

You can write a poem that’s one word long, or you can write a poem that’s 1,000 words long. You can have a title or not. Poets have the freedom to basically do whatever we want.

But how can you find your unique style if you’re not a seasoned pro? Just keep reading.

Eventually, you’ll stumble upon poets that change your life. (For me, those include authors like Sylvia Plath and Charles Bukowski.)

You’ll find poets that write about things you care about. You’ll find poets that have incredible styles the kind you’d like to emulate.

But you’ll also find authors whose work you really hate (for me, that includes ‘Instagram poets’ like Rupi Kaur). And that’s good, too! It’s all part of the process.

You need to dip your toes into many different types of writing — otherwise, you won’t know what you like and dislike.

Reading is a constant process of learning new things about the world (and about your personal taste).

Get inspired, but don’t copy

It’s great to read other poets to get inspired. But don’t try to outright copy another writer’s style. That’s pointless and uninteresting.

There’s no use trying to be the next Shakespeare — because you aren’t Shakespeare.

Embrace who you are: your identity, your life experiences, your preferences, and your thoughts. Look to other writers for influence, but don’t try to imitate them.

Keep reading and keep writing new work. The two practices will feed into each other.

Conclusion

So, always keep a new book on your bedside table.

Constantly seek new literature to read.

And think of reading as a prerequisite for creating great work.

___

As always, thanks for reading my Writing Advice column here on my blog.

Be sure to hit the Follow button to get notified every week when I post new articles.

Happy writing!