Burley Fisher x Serpent's Tail Celebrating Independent Bookshop Week

19-26 June 2021 is Indie Bookshop Week. We could definitely all use the celebration!

Making it even more festive, we've teamed up with trailblazers Serpent's Tail to mark 35 years of their visionary publishing: we've got

  • a free online event with Carmen Maria Machado on Tues 22 June (and check out her top five queer reads)
  • an interview with publisher Hannah Westland over on our podcast
  • a bookstall at Broadway Market on Sat 19 June, along with our pals from Cipher Press (look out for our BF takeover of Serpent's Tail Insta 📸@serpentstail)
  • IBW tote bags and bookmarks in-store (plus a free coffee when you pop in for an ST title…)
  • … from our team's top ten Serpent's Tail titles: find them here online, and showing off their gorgeous cover art on our tables in-store.
  • Online customers can buy all ten with 10% off (£101.61 instead of £112.90), and get a free Burley Fisher x Serpent's Tail IBW tote bag and bookmark too!

To quote our review of Detransition, Baby, these are books where "Everything is terrible and everything is beautiful" – a Serpent's Tail trait of seeing the world in its fullness and from the most necessary of angles. 

In chronological order of publication, we're showing some love to… 

Quicksand & Passing, Nella Larsen (1928 & 1929)

A deserved all-time bestselling title for its US publisher, Nella Larsen's two novels, written within a year of each other, come together as an excellent diptych, as both deal with psychic dualism – and in particular, the doubled double consciousness of Black women in 1920s America, drawing on Larsen's own experience. Part of the bright, brilliant blaze of the Harlem Renaissance, Quicksand and Passing retain their incendiary charge through their incisive and intimate portrayals of tightrope navigations of intertwined racial and gendered hierarchies. With a high-profile film adaptation of Passing starring Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga on its way, this is the perfect moment to read (or re-read) Larsen. 

Jernigan, David Gates (1991)

Jernigan drinks too much and thinks too much. Set a year after the suicide of his wife, as he tries to raise his son Danny, this novel is a darkly comic and moving portrait of grief and self destruction. When Jernigan begins an affair with Martha, the mother of Danny's girlfriend and a self-styled "suburban survivalist" who breeds rabbits in her basement, his drinking turns harder and his life begins to spiral completely out of control From the moment Jernigan starts talking, you are compelled to listen. Gates achieves the supposedly impossible, sustaining a main character who alienates everyone else in this entire and engrossing novel, except the reader.

I Love Dick, Chris Kraus (1997)

I Love Dick by Chris Kraus is an essential look at sexuality, monogamy and finding the beat to your own drum. Kraus is an American filmmaker and writer who grew to prominence in the artworld with her films. She has seven published books, including novels, essay collections and, most recently, a biography of Kathy Acker. Like Acker's work, I Love Dick smashes together the memoir, art writing, and transgressive feminism. This tale isn’t sugar coated with attempts at morals or asking what it means to be a good or bad woman, it takes the intensity of the situation by the horns and just goes. Unashamed in its pursuit, the story feels like a social experiment gone rogue. The perfect book to read on the train.


White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s, Joe Boyd (2006)

If there’s someone who has seen it all in music, it’s Joe Boyd. In his book White Bicycles, the man who was pivotal in the early days of Pink Floyd, behind the desk when Nick Drake recorded River Man live with the LSO for Five Leaves Left, and managed the rise of Sandy Denny, recounts the forgotten details, secret encounters and whirlwind nights of the most important age in popular music. What’s remarkable about Boyd’s perspective is the varying vantage points he witnessed musical history from, whether as a manager, producer, club promoter or simply a friend to some of pop music’s greatest figures, there is no one who has had the access that Boyd has. It isn’t just about folk either, Boyd wanders through encounters with blues icons like Muddy Waters, psychedelic acid-rock pioneers Traffic and brushes shoulders with the likes of Miles Davis and Dylan. Always absorbing, often moving and told with great care and observation, this is a memoir of rare depth about a musical era we’d have all loved to live through.

I Hate the Internet, Jarett Kobek (2016)

The original cancel culture novel, I Hate the Internet by Jarett Kobek follows a semi-famous graphic novelist called Adeline. After a guest lecture to some students in which she gives a tirade against pop culture figures and women in technology, which is subsequently posted online, Adeline spends most of the novel trying to mitigate her negative online reputation while dealing with her ambivalent feelings about the huge boost in sales of her cult comic series that come along with it. This hilarious and anarchic novel attempts to cut up and imitate the online forms that it satirises, and it felt like the first natively post-social media novel I had read when it was published just as the first natively post-social media president took residence in the White House.

In the Dream House, Carmen Maria Machado (2019)

"I came of age, then, in the Dream House, wisdom practically smothering me in my sleep. Everything tasted like an almost epiphany." Carmen Maria Machado dives deep into the "smothering" wisdom of folk tales to rip the roof off the Dream House of patriarchy. What does it mean to grow up with fairytales of romance that persistently cast women as passive, innocent, weak – and victims? And what happens when that pervasive fantasy meets the untold reality of violence within a lesbian relationship? In short, sharp sections that fold back and forth across time, collecting talismanic books and movies and moments that eventually plot an alternate story, Machado delves deep to offer stunning clarity as she breaks herself free. You read In the Dream House, as it was written, heart in mouth: every word tastes like blood.  


Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women and Queer Radicals, Saidiya Hartman (2019)

From its epigraph from Nella Larsen's Quicksand onwards, Saidiya Hartman's Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments plunges the reader into the exhilarating, complicated, stylish, sexy, determined, brilliant world of free Black women in early twentieth century Northern US: a world gleaned mainly from sources compiled by those who sought to control these riotous women who were, as Hartman argues, making the modern world: fighting for autonomy in their identity, sexuality, work, and creativity, their relation to their bodies, their neighbourhoods and their place in history. Bursting forth from sociological and criminological archives, refusing to be hidden or controlled, these radical, rebellious voices are braided by Hartman into an utterly irresistible, unforgettable chorus.


Detransition, Baby, Torrey Peters (2021)

Detransition, Baby! sucks you in and doesn’t let up. Dark and funny, it’s outlandishness never seems far-fetched and more so focuses on allowing the characters to be flawed and loveable. The story is about Reese (a trans woman), Ames (Reese’s ex and detransitioned from being Amy), Katrina (a Jewish Chinese cis woman) and an unexpected pregnancy. It draws parallels between trans women and divorced cis women (the book's dedication being to divorced women) and their struggles to reestablish their personhood. Refreshingly, the story never tries to equate any struggle with another, only to thread together compassion. Everything is terrible and everything is beautiful. Add it to your summer reading list and enjoy the ride!

Libertie, Kaitlyn Greenidge (2021)

Libertie Sampson doesn't want to become a doctor. She doesn't want to be a wife. She wants what her name offers: to be free. A freeborn Black girl who comes of age in rural Brooklyn just after the Civil War, witnessing its racist atrocities, Libertie loves and admires her doctor mother, but chafes at her strategic service to the disparaging white townspeople. She is drawn to complex figures of freedom's possibilities and pains: first, Ben Daisy, a man escaping slavery but haunted by love; the Graces, two music students at the college where she is studying medicine (the only woman to do so), but falling in love with song; and Emmanuel, her mother's skilful apprentice, the sophisticated scion of a middle-class family in Haiti, where she travels as his wife. Pregnancy leads her to uncover unbearable secrets in Emmanuel's family, and her quest for freedom brings her full circle. A deeply satisfying tour de force.

Cwen, Alice Albinia (10% until end June) (2021)

At this point in 2021, we're all about ready for a feminist revolution in government in the UK, right? But the inhabitants of an unnamed archipelago off Northumbria are deeply divided when Eve, a London incomer who has led a quiet, quirky and purposeful sea change in the governance and functioning of the islands, disappears, and an inquest takes place into just how her band of resisters took over. With deep roots in myths that placed a sacred island of women off the coast of Britain, Alice Albinia's tale resonates in its consideration of gender politics, and in its spiritual search for reconnection.  


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