by Jenny Fran Davis, May 26, 2023 10:09 AM
I read a wide range of literature, from “chick lit” to heady nonfiction, and when I love a book, I begin to think of it as a friend. It also inspires me in one way or another: its tone, its sensibility, its cadence, its structure, or its voice. The following books are spiritually entwined with Dykette
and belong on the same shelf because I think of each one as a friend to my novel — not necessarily aligned in every way, or identical in style, but with a shared sense of humor, a social ease, an ability to gossip about the same people, shared references, an affinity for the same types of restaurants.
Stone Butch Blues
by Leslie Feinberg
Recently, a friend joked that there are only three copies of Stone Butch Blues
on earth, and everyone keeps passing them around — friends to exes, exes to currents. I couldn’t get over how perfect that was, the past and present representations of queer kinship and community cohering around this iconic tome. Leslie Feinberg’s autobiographical novel roves the working-class factory community of Buffalo, New York in the 1950s and 60s, and taught me nearly everything I know about butch-femme dynamics: it’s sexy, sad, and sweet. I owe this book everything.
The Pillow Book
by Sei Shonagon (tr. Meredith McKinney)
Published in 967, The Pillow Book
is a compilation of musings, lists, rants, and observations. Shonagon served on Emperor Teishi’s court in Japan’s Heian period, and her diary — or pillow book — is filled with hilariously snarky and biting criticism of her jaded contemporaries (lists of off-putting behaviors, annoying people, and dreadfully dull parties abound). The book lives in Shonagon’s inner world and gives us a judgmental and often petulant narrator, who deftly navigates questions of insider/outsider identity in the very subculture that she’s writing about. Plus, the outfit descriptions inspired me to leave no pair of pants undescribed in Dykette
Cassandra at the Wedding
by Dorothy Baker
Originally published in 1962, this novelette (re-issued by the New York Review of Books in 2012) was all the rage last summer, and I wasn’t immune to its charms. The novelette follows a queer, self-righteous woman — who, like Dykette
’s Sasha, is a PhD student — as she spirals out of control over the weekend of her twin sister’s wedding. Jealousy, paranoia, and infatuation abound; need I say more?
by Michelle Tea
I’ve long been obsessed with Michelle Tea’s writing style (Valencia
is a feat of short sentences!), and though her characters are way cooler than mine could ever hope to be, this book helped me feel free to be as weird and specific as I wanted in my own writing. Tea shows me again and again that it’s precisely weirdness and specificity that captivate and compel, whether readers catch every detail and every reference or not; she demonstrates a great deal of trust in her readers, and I hope to have the same attitude toward mine.
by Renee Gladman
Most every essay-chapter in Renee Gladman’s experimental collection starts with “I began the day,” which has always struck me, in my many reads of this book for teaching and personal purposes, as the perfect way to set the tone and tempo for an essay. Gladman’s work moves at a pleasing rhythm, which lulls me into a stupor of dailiness that I long to emulate in my own work. The book casually incorporates moments of un-reality, too — so casually that it’s often difficult to say what’s “really” happening and what’s happening in the mind of the narrator. Plus, it’s hilarious. And there’s a scene where lesbian exes eat grilled peaches and get passive aggressive.
by Cecily von Ziegesar
I started reading these novels in fourth grade — in retrospect, perhaps too young — and they shocked and thrilled me for their both raw and gussied-up depiction of the world in which I was coming of age: a prep school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Gossip Girl
taught me so much about girlhood, its playfulness and its cruelty and its rich inner world, and I wanted my own novel, too, to feel like candy: sweet and delicious, almost sickeningly so at times.
÷ ÷ ÷
Jenny Fran Davis
received her MFA from the University of Iowa, where she was an Iowa Arts Fellow. The author of Everything Must Go
, a novel for teenagers, she lives in Brooklyn. Dykette
is her latest book.