Book Review Interview

Queer Books, Queer Readers: Mallory Woodard

Mallory Woodard (she/her) is an ACPE Chaplain Resident in Memphis, TN, USA, where she now lives with her spouse and daughter. In her chaplaincy work she is interested in spirituality and how it can help LGBTQ persons and/or people of no faith create meaning and build resilience. While she has minimal presence on social media, you may catch the occasional like or retweet at @HubyDoobyDoo

What queer book have you chosen to share with our readers today?

A book that has followed me since I read it this summer is The Thirty Names of Night by Zeyn Joukhadar. This novel follows a closeted Syrian American trans boy as he comes to terms with who he is in his family traditions and customs. The artful expressions of himself have been stifled by the ghost of his mother as he wrestles with what it means for his life. The story of this boy also parallels Laila Z, another Syrian American artist, in interesting ways. As these stories progress, he learns about the ways that Syrian queer communities exist and existed. It is this truth that allows him to find himself and to gain meaning of how he can live his life and use his art. 

Why is this book one of your favorites?

Thirty Names of Night hooked me in from the first chapter to the last. Not only is the story worthwhile, but the writing is moving and pulls the reader into transcendent spaces. There are interesting spiritual concepts interwoven throughout the novel, like what it means to be an LGBTQ+ body in a world that works to erase us. This is the story of a trans boy finding and making meaning of his world and his body. There is loss and grief and community and hope and love. I mean I’m a Spiritual Care Provider – this is right up my alley.

“If an object can become sacred by placing it on a table and calling it an altar, then who is to say we cannot sanctify our own bodies? When I touched those eggs in the nest, I understood that to love something, even oneself, is its own terrifying act of faith.”

This book is an exploration of the ways that queer people, especially those whose skin color or ethnicity sets them even further apart from the normative culture, can live and love – themselves and the world – in embodied ways. 

How would you describe yourself as a reader?

Because I just completed my Masters degree and am now in a residency program, most of my reading time is dedicated to learning. But when there is an education break, I want a new world and culture to get lost in! A good fantasy book full of magic and mayhem that I can binge read is the absolute best. When an author can build characters and cultures with precision and harmony, there really isn’t anything better. I also adore reading books that others have personally recommended to me. If someone I know loved it, then I already have a trust built with that author and story. When I’m looking for a new book to read, I will first choose anything not written by a white, able-bodied, heterosexual, cis male. Partly because I spent the majority of my life choosing those books and partly because I feel a depth that is lacking. Of course, there’s always the exception (LOTR?). 

As a queer person, have books helped you explore or express your queer identity?

I grew up in a religious culture that attempted to deny me my existence. When I met my now spouse and began the larger coming out process, there were very few spaces where I could move in ways that felt safe. As a child and youth, books were also not valued in my communities. It wasn’t until I became an adult that my spouse gave me the freedom to enjoy the life that I wanted for myself. Books, specifically novels with stories that I can get lost in, have been a large part of this enjoyment. The first book that helped me explore who I am was The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. I remember sitting in the backyard on a swing on a Memphis Autumn day. As the sun dappled my skin, I sat there and wept as I turned the last pages of the book. I was moved in immeasurable ways by this story of queer love that existed in the world! It was just there for anyone to read! Unbelievable! Since then, I have been able to see the ways that queerness exists in the world through so many storytelling avenues. I am still deeply moved by the ability to access them, when I was taught growing up to question and devalue their (and my!) existence. Books can be safe in that they give me a place to wrestle and ruminate and explore by myself and in my own spirit. Books are also dangerous because they push the boundaries of my knowledge and experience. What joy and possibility! 

Other than reading, are there any queer nerdy recommendations that you would like to leave with our readers?

I do not consider myself a gamer, mostly because I am not good at the gameplay aspect. I set it to easy and explore. And unfortunately, queer representation in gaming is few and far between! But I do love a good story, and open world RPG games can provide beautiful stories. Horizon Zero Dawn has been my absolute favorite. There is a ton of diversity throughout the game, and it’s an enjoyable play. It was my first love on my PS4, and I hope Horizon Forbidden West will be my next love on my PS5. 

Check out our Queer Lil Library for more book recommendations and reviews!

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