Book Reviews: Queerly Beloved, The Secret Life of Sleep
Terri Schlichenmeyer, The Bookworm Sez

Queerly Beloved: A Love Story Across Genders by Diane and Jacob Anderson-Minshall
Bold Strokes Books, $16.95, Canada, 235 pages

Why do you stay with the one you love?

You can count the ways: he makes you laugh. She’s tender, kind, and generous. You love being in his arms. He’s a good dancer. She’s hot.

There a million reasons to love, each as individual as the lovers. But what if your partner changed? What if it was a big change – like the one in Queerly Beloved by Diane and Jacob Anderson-Minshall?

At first, says Diane Anderson-Minshall, it was “just supposed to be about sex.”

Suzy Minshall was a “hook-up,” a knock-out with long legs and blonde hair—just the type of woman Diane fell for. It didn’t take long for them to move in together, or to become the “perfect lesbian couple.”

But Diane always knew that Suzy felt unsettled. She “tried on many things in the search for identity” but—aside for a job she fiercely loved and sadly lost—there was something else, something different simmering in Suzy. Diane sensed it months before Suzy did but, though she was terrified of the imagined implications, she let Suzy come to a realization and reason herself.

Suzy wasn’t a lesbian, she was a man—but it was complicated.

As a woman, Suzy was a feminist and was deeply committed to the LGBT community; the lesbian community, specifically. Diane was founder of and editor for several lesbian publications. It bothered Suzy (Jacob) a lot, during the transition, to think that he might no longer be a part of that which he’d embraced for much of his life.

Still, with the help of the woman he’d married four (or five, depending on who’s telling the story) times, Suzy (Jacob) continued with his transition.

He began with hormones, a meaningful name change, and “top surgery.” Diane, though she mourned what was lost, helped with a keen fashion sense and advice not to be “that kind of man.” Jacob spent time re-examining his life, noting that his gender dysphoria had been inherent for a long time, the clues scattered like “breadcrumbs.”

He’d never wanted to be a girl.

“I just wanted to be me,” he says, “in a male body.”

Let’s put this right on the table: “Queerly Beloved” ain’t bad.

It ain’t great, either.

My biggest irritation here was that authors Diane and Jacob Anderson-Minshall repeat themselves a lot. If, in fact, the repetition had been cut from this already-short book, it would’ve nearly been a pamphlet. There’s also plenty of time spent on the authors’ personal reasoning with a doth-protest-too-much slant, and very intimate oversharing that comes after adamant vows of not sharing.

And yet, though the irritations made me wince, there’s a decent overall story here. Look harder, and you’ll find a deeply personal look at transitioning from the aspect of both the transitioner and the person who’s loved him for most of their lives.

If you’re a sucker for romance, that right there could be enough reason to plunge into this book. Just be aware that Queerly Beloved might be one that’s tough to stay with.

The Secret Life of Sleep by Kat Duff
Atria / Beyond Words, $24, Canada, 256 pages
Seven hours of your life, gone – just like that.
You’d be annoyed if that happened while in traffic. You’d be angry if it was spent on-hold. And you’re not getting paid for it?  Outrageous, but it happens every day of your life: seven hours, give or take, spent sleeping and you can’t account for it. You can’t even be sure you stayed in bed.
But is there a benefit from snoozing?  Why do we lose awareness of our surroundings for a third of our lives?  Read “The Secrets of Sleep” by Kat Duff, and find out.
“I can’t sleep!”
That’s something that well over half of us howl several times a week, and nearly a quarter of us take a drug to fix it. That’s odd, really, since sleep is something we’ve practiced since birth.
Aside from the fact that sleep feels so darn good, though, why do we do it?
Scientists aren’t sure – it’s not like we can describe sleep while we’re asleep – but we seem to become drowsy because chemicals build up in our brains during wakefulness. The build-up slows down brain activity and soon, it’s lights-out time.
Of course, however, it’s not always that easy.
Sometimes, we toss and turn. We achieve near-sleep, but worries chase it away. We sleep, but vastly (even proudly!) underestimate exactly how much. Or we fall asleep, wake up for awhile, then fall asleep again – which is how scientists say our ancestors slept before the invention of electric lighting.    
On the other hand, our ancestors likely group-slept – even in public, with strangers – so maybe never mind.
Still, sleep habits run along social and cultural lines. Work often influences our bedtimes and outta-bed times – although Ben Franklin’s advice (early to bed, early to rise…) means fighting natural circadian rhythms for ten percent of us. Some cultures co-sleep with infants and think it’s child abuse to do otherwise. We often to put babies to bed in total quiet, then wonder why we can’t tolerate a little night-noise. We wake up.
And when that happens – watch out!  Studies show that too little sleep is a big problem in this country. But so is too much…
So how’d you sleep last night?
In “The Secret Life of Sleep,” author Kat Duff says she used to wonder why her elders asked such a strange question. The research she shares explains that, and so much more.
Using philosophy, science, research, new age beliefs, and personal anecdotes, Duff takes a look at sleep, beginning with the perfect almost-there sweet spot and ending with a good examination of the future of slumber. Along the way, we learn about dreams, drugs, and why your Mom was right when she told you that everything will look better in the morning.
Though there were times when I felt as though some of what’s in this book was common knowledge, that doesn’t make it any less interesting. If you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind closed eyes, I think The Secret Life of Sleep could be a dream for you.

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