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Recommending Sapphic Books Based On Lyrics Stuck in My Head

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Danika Ellis

Associate Editor

Danika spends most of her time talking about queer women books at the Lesbrary. Blog: The Lesbrary Twitter: @DanikaEllis

I’ve had this post idea on my list of things to write for many months now, and I’m not sure it makes sense to anyone other than me, but I need to exorcise it out of my brain, so here we are.

While I feel good about my taste in books — eclectic, specific, queer — I have a lot more trouble trying to determine my taste in music. I am at the whims of algorithms to discover new artists; I mostly listen to the same songs over and over again. As a certified Word Person, while a catchy beat will pull me into a song, my favourites tend to be ones where the lyrics intrigue me.

I will often get a lyric stuck in my head: not the whole song, just one line. So, I thought it would be fun to match the lyrics currently on rotation in my mental jukebox with books that match the vibe. Because I’m me, these are all sapphic books, but not all the songs are queer.

I fear this exercise might reveal too much about my inner workings, but I will charge ahead anyway, so here are five lyrics currently stuck in my head and the sapphic books I recommend to match them.

“We’re all gonna die tryna figure it out.” — Joy Oladokun & Noah Kahan, “We’re All Gonna Die

cover of Cash Delgado is Living the Dream

Cash Delgado Is Living the Dream by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Why this lyric is lodged in my brain: A common theme of lyrics I latch onto is existentialism or nihilism, especially in pop music. See also, Baby Queen, “We Can Be Anything.” I like this somewhat optimistic take on there not being a grand plan: we’re all lost and figuring ourselves out, and we’re never going to be done with that task.

Why I picked this book: Cash Delgado is absolutely oblivious to her queerness, even when she begins having sex dreams about her female best friend every single night. One thing that holds her back from realizing she’s a lesbian is that she’s sure she would have noticed that a lot sooner if it was true, especially because she’s been surrounded by queer people since she was a teen. This lyric is a good reminder that we never have ourselves completely figured out, and we’ll be discovering new things about ourselves our entire lives.

“Could go to hell but we’ll probably be fine.” — Chappell Roan, “Naked in Manhattan

cover of Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki; image of koi swimming in the night sky

Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

Why this lyric is lodged in my brain: For someone raised in a queer accepting agnostic home, I sure latch onto stories about queer religious trauma. Maybe it’s a symptom of growing up queer in a Christian-by-default society. In any case, I love this response to the threat of eternal damnation for being queer: probably not, and not worth throwing away the delights of queerness. I know it’s an odd choice to pick a Chappell Roan lyric that isn’t from “Good Luck, Babe!” which is going viral, but she has so many great songs.

Why I picked this book: I meant to pick a story about queer religious trauma — there’s definitely enough to choose from — but for some reason, this is the first book that came to mind while ruminating on this lyric. Last year, I wrote a post for the Deep Dive newsletter called “Writing Ourselves Out: Queer Characters Who Rewrite Their Destinies,” and it was about stories where queer characters seem to be caught in an inevitable tragic situation and then find some trap door out. Light From Uncommon Stars featured heavily, which is hard to explain without spoilers, but I really appreciate how it grapples with the darkest parts of being alive — including racism, sexism, and transphobia — and then avoids what seems like the characters’ inevitable unhappy ending.

I do feel strange not picking a book about homophobia and religion for this, so I’ll mention that The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School by Sonora Reyes is high on my TBR and looks like it would be a perfect fit for this.

“How good it must feel to not love anything.” — Matt Maeson, “Twisted Tongue

Hero Worship by Rebekah Matthews cover

Hero Worship by Rebekah Matthews

Why this lyric is lodged in my brain: I discovered this in an incredibly nerdy way: I was watching an interview with Liam O’Brien about his D&D character Caleb Widogast, and he mentioned this song as matching the character. It’s such a good pairing with that character and his arc. Caleb has tried to isolate himself to keep from being hurt, and throughout the Mighty Nein Critical Role campaign, he slowly opens up to other people again. I am someone who is open and vulnerable to a fault with other people, so this line is such a great encapsulation of how it can sometimes feel like total isolation would be a relief, freed from the expectations and complications of other people — but it’s a fantasy that can never actually be achieved, and it shouldn’t be.

Why I picked this book: This is probably the book that made me feel the most uncomfortably “seen” as I read it. The main character is writing letters to her ex-girlfriend, desperately pining for her even as she wonders if her ex ever actually liked her. I had to keep closing the book and taking breaks because it felt like seeing the part of myself I most try to cover up — the most embarrassing, needy element of my personality. I think Valerie would also relate to this lyric of how not loving anyone sometimes seems like it would be a relief. It looks like this has gone out of print, but the ebook was available recently, so hopefully, it will reappear again soon.

“Maybe I’ll never be the person that I swore I’d give my everything to be.” — Tiger Really, “Dry Heave

a scatter of light book cover

A Scatter of Light by Malinda Lo

Why this lyric is lodged in my brain: On reflection, this is very similar to the first lyric I included in this post. It’s a reminder that nothing is guaranteed, and we may not be able to achieve our dreams or improve ourselves in the ways we want to. Maybe it’s the catchy beat, but I see an unstated “And that’s okay” at the end of this. Being alive is messy. We need to be able to adapt and accept ourselves even when we wanted something more.

Why I picked this book: Aria starts this book with her plans upended. Topless photos of her were posted online without her consent, and now she’s spending the summer after graduation with her grandmother, away from everyone she knows. There, she falls for Steph, who’s already in a relationship. This is a story about things not going to plan: this isn’t the summer she wanted, she didn’t think she was queer, and Steph isn’t the picture-perfect first love. It’s a book about not getting what you want — and that being okay, really.

“With tears in my eyes, I begged you to stay. You said, ‘Hey man, I love you, but no fucking way.'” — The Front Bottoms, “Twin Size Mattress

the stars and the blackness between them book cover

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus

Why this lyric is lodged in my brain: I find the lyrics to this song fairly impenetrable, so I’m fully inventing my own meaning. It goes on to say, “I’m sure that we could find something for you to do on stage. / Maybe shake a tambourine, or when I sing, you sing harmonies.” This reminds me of the friends and partners I’ve had who were struggling, and I so wanted to be able to “save,” but there’s a point where you can’t control another person, especially when it requires sacrificing parts of themselves. They don’t want to be shaking a tambourine on stage at your show; they want to have their own life.

Why I picked this book: I actually couldn’t find a perfect match for this dynamic — if anyone has recommendations, I’d love to hear them! Instead, I thought about this book, where Audre and Mabel support each other through really difficult parts of their lives. Audre has been shipped away from her home in Trinidad after she was caught with her girlfriend, and now she’s staying with a father she doesn’t know in Minneapolis. Mabel has been getting sicker without explanation. I won’t spoil the ending, but I’ll say that despite them loving and supporting each other, one can’t stay.

Well, just as I feared, I think you learned a lot today about how my brain works. Music can be revealing. Let me know in the comments: what are the lyrics stuck in your head right now, and which book fits that vibe?

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