Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation

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A Year in Reading: Katherine D. Morgan

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Can we all agree that 2020 was one emotionally draining year? Some days it was harder to crawl out of bed than others. Of course, that means that some days it was harder to crack open a book than others as well. Although I read more than last year, my reading was sporadic. I run a book club, and I didn’t make it through a lot of books, even though I had been the one to choose them. From living almost an entire year in a global pandemic to losing my beloved job at Powell’s Books due to said pandemic, I miss being around books. I miss discussing books with my brilliant coworkers. I miss dusting my shelves and creating displays for the aisles that I ran. I miss my discount. I miss sitting on the couch before my shift started, cracking open my current read, and trying my hardest not to fall asleep on the couch. I miss my old life. I miss my love of reading.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I read some excellent titles this year. I laughed. I cried. I angrily threw down books, only to beg for their forgiveness as I picked them up again. Reading for me felt different this year. It felt like a survival tactic, instead of something that I wanted to share with others. I changed that by creating an Instagram account that solely focuses on what I’m reading (you can follow it @foreverabookseller). It has been such a bright light for me, making friends and sharing reads. This year alone, I have tried my best to single handedly keep independent bookstores alive by purchasing stacks and stacks of books. Hell, I even got a job with Bookshop.org, because I figured that my heart will forever be tied with indies. Now, the only thing left to do is read them.

I
wanted to focus on nonfiction for 2020, since I’m in the process of writing my
second essay collection. However, fiction, graphic novels, and young adult kept
me sane, and hopeful. I’ll go back to real life in 2021.

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby allowed me the chance to laugh at the absurdity of life. It was also the first book that managed to hold my attention after I was laid off. Everything Irby writes is wonderful, and I’ll forever be one of her biggest fan girls. Godshot by Chelsea Bieker and Black Sunday by Tola Rotimi Abraham were the last books that I worked on during my internship at Catapult, and I think of these two debut novels every day. While reading Godshot, I reflected on my own views of feminism, religion, and motherhood, highlighting passages and writing in the margins, which I don’t do very often. I’m still bummed that I wasn’t able to wear my gold skirt to Powell’s to shake her hand in person. Black Sunday made me uncomfortable, which I frankly…liked? Rotimi Abraham knows how to write, and there’s a small part of me that’s jealous that I may never be as talented as her, writing about the disturbing moments that come with being a Black woman. Whew. Just…whew.

I feel like if you haven’t read Real Life by Brandon Taylor yet, then you should call your local bookstore and request a copy immediately. It has been a long time since I have felt seen in a book, and even though I didn’t even finish my bachelor’s degree, I wanted to hug Wallace, Taylor’s main character. From grieving the loss of his father to facing outright racism in his Ph.D. program, he could have used someone to tell him that he was loved, and that he’ll be okay. Taylor’s short story collection is coming out next year, and I am patiently impatiently waiting for it to land on my doorstep. Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales made me sit up in the middle of the night and cheer out loud. I love queer romances, and I love a moment where love is on full display. Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings was hands down one of the best books that I read all year. I know what it’s like being a Black woman but reading Park Hong’s work made me realize my racial blind spots, especially when it comes to the Asian community. It took me a while to get through, but it was worth it.

Memorial by Bryan Washington made me sit down and deal with the grief of my grandmother’s passing, which happened earlier this year. COVID-19 really took a lot from me. Washington is extremely talented and creates such realistic characters who are looking for a little comfort wherever they can find it. It was a surprisingly quick read, but I have thought about it once a day since I finished it. Kacen Callender’s Felix Ever After made me cry happy tears. I loved reading about a young Black queer trans boy finding love and discovering his voice. Also, that cover? I will gladly judge a book by its cover, and this one is STUNNING. I laughed out loud multiple times while reading Born to be Public by Greg Mania, and I am grateful that I own a copy so I can reread my favorite parts and harass my friends with Mania’s notes of wisdom.

I couldn’t finish Tinderbox by Robert Fieseler in one sitting. It broke my heart, reading about the tragic lives lost in the Upstairs Lounge Fire. It’s one of the best researched nonfiction books that I’ve ever read. Fieseler immersed himself in New Orleans and the culture of the 70s, and I respect him as a writer, a researcher, and a person. I will read anything that Jasmine Guillory writes, and I absolutely adored Party of Two. I love her strong, sexy, feminine, badass characters. Can she write me into one of her stories so I can stop online dating? I’d love that. When I finished Almost American Girl by Robin Ha, I immediately told my friends to read it. It made me feel comforted, and less weird and lonely. The artwork was lovely, and it invoked all of the awkwardness that came with being a teenage girl–but imagine coming to a new country, not knowing the language, AND being a teenage girl? Whew, talk about a learning curve. Ha takes it in stride. Finally, I want to believe that Yesika Salgado wrote Corazón with me in mind, but even though she didn’t, it felt like she was gifting me a love letter, one that told me that I will be okay, and that I’m more than worthy of love. That’s a great feeling to have going into yet another year.

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