naraht: (Default)
[personal profile] naraht2010-07-19 09:44 am

Three useful books and one website

I have a bunch of books out of the library now so there's more where this came from...

Website: The Trials of Oscar Wilde
Includes some of Wilde's love letters, significant excerpts from his trials, and other resources.

A quote from his testimony in the first criminal trial:

G--What is the "Love that dare not speak its name"?

W--"The Love that dare not speak its name" in this century is such a great affection of an elder for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made the very basis of his philosophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michelangelo and Shakespeare. It is that deep, spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect. It dictates and pervades great works of art like those of Shakespeare and Michelangelo, and those two letters of mine, such as they are. It is in this century misunderstood, so much misunderstood that it may be described as the "Love that dare not speak its name," and on account of it I am placed where I am now. It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it. It is intellectual, and it repeatedly exists between an elder and a younger man, when the elder man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him. That it should be so the world does not understand. The world mocks at it and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it.


Interesting to note that Holmes/Watson *doesn't* quite fit his definition...

Merlin Holland. The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde
Haven't read this yet but it's the full, uncensored transcript of the libel trial. Looks to be very useful.

Karl Beckson. London in the 1890s: A Cultural History.
Not an academic book but a good general guide to the major cultural and literary currents of the period. Includes chapters on socialism, prostitution, the New Woman, the cult of Wagner, the occult, and so on. Particularly relevant to this community's interests, there are also chapters on: Decadence, the Uranians, and Wilde's trials.

An interesting passage:

In the late 1880s and 1890s, there were many popular novels that, as one critic states, "featured male duos and trios acting as collective heroes," the response to an increasing sense among men that "their prowess [was] being threatened, rather than flattered, by women," who were increasingly asserting themselves. Such male companionships and solidarity were celebrated in King Solomon's Mines, Three Men in a Boat, A Study in Scarlet, Trilby and Dracula. Because of the Wilde trials, WT Stead feared that such emotional relationships between men would be suspected as homosexual. To Edward Carpenter [!], he wrote: "A few more cases like Oscar Wilde and we should find the freedom of comradeship now possible to men seriously impaired to the permanent detriment of the race."


Oliver S. Buckton. Secret Selves: Confession and Same-Sex Desire in Victorian Autobiography
Really fascinating book on how the practice of secrecy in writing can reveal what seems to be concealed and conceal what seems to be revealed. Chapters on Newman, Wilde, Symonds, Carpenter and (in an epilogue) Forster. Writers of first person Holmes/Watson could find this very useful in terms of thinking about how Victorian authors conceptualized and wrote about same-sex desire.
starlady: Mary, Holmes and Watson at home in Baker Street (not impressed OT3)
[personal profile] starlady2010-06-06 09:56 pm
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Rec & review: Their Majesties' Bucketeers

As a follow up to [personal profile] spacefall's fandom books post, I'd like to rec (and hopefully discuss!) a fandom book that actually does manage to queer Holmes pretty thoroughly. By making Holmes a trilaterally symmetrical trisexual sentient crustacean, that is.

No, I'm not making this up. The book in question is Their Majesties' Bucketeers by L. Neil Smith, and I don't think I'm going too far out on a limb to say that everyone in this community would probably find it fascinating if only for the Holmes AU aspects. It's pretty awesome on most levels: depending on your point of view, this book is either a science fiction novel depicting a society of trilaterally symmetrical trisexual sentient crustaceans in the rough equivalent to Britain's Edwardian period, or it's a professionally published Sherlock Holmes OT3 AU.

I first heard about this book from [personal profile] melannen, in this long post about subordinate Holmes canons, and all in all Smith does not disappoint (though I ought to warn for colonialism and libertarianism in the background). (The following text is c&p'd from my longer review of the book here, with some discussion of queer and transgender experiences in this setup in the comments.)

Our narrator is Mymy (Mymisiir Offe Woom, to give rher full name), the surdaughter of the Empire's first surmale surgeon; rhe aspires to follow in rher surfather's footsteps, and has elected to join Their Majesties' Bucketeers to train as a paracauterist to that end. Mymy is quite proud of rher achievements in joining the Bucketeers, and in being rher surfather's child: deservedly so, given the gender-based discrimination surmales confront daily and the barriers that rher family's upper-middle class insistence on "decency" also present.

In the Bucketeers Mymy meets Mav, a brilliant Senior Inquisitor who is beginning to devise not only crime scene investigation techniques but also the science of detection, though Mav (a two-thirds-caste ex-Air Navy officer who nonetheless enjoys an unassailable social position in Imperial society) clashes often with his superior officers's traditionalism. When Mav's old friend and teacher Srafen, the devisor of the theory of ascension, is murdered at a public lecture, Mav seizes the chance to put his theories and ideas about detection to the test, with Mymy's help. Along the way Mymy meets Mav's friend Vyssu, a true original who has come up from the capital's mean streets through an unbeatable combination of luck and ingenuity, and comes to value her for her own sake as well.

It's hugely interesting to see Smith redistribute the traits of the major canonical Conan Doyle characters (Holmes, Watson, Morstan, Adler) amongst his crustaceans; to take just one example it's Mav who has the limp, because he's the one who served in a colonial war, because females don't join the military, period, and surmales only serve in the medical branches. It's also hugely interesting to consider what the lamviin's trisexuality means, for society and for queerness; Smith does a decent job of teasing its repercussions out despite the book's brevity, but of course there's always more to say. In the end, of course, one can't help but draw comparisons with humanity, which is definitely part of the point.
[personal profile] spacefall2010-05-19 06:15 am
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Book Rec: Slumming by Seth Koven + two more

One thing that fascinates me about Holmes is his sometimes cracky use of disguise, and the ease with which he slips across social boundaries. By transforming from professional consultant to idler, opium addict or clergyman, he manages to penetrate almost every class of London society. Probably the most famous of his disguises are those in which Holmes adopts a 'lower class' role to undo criminals who would consider themselves his betters. Satisfying ... though perhaps more in a spirit of practicality than pure egalitarianism, if his seduction of Agatha in CHAS is anything to go by. :p

Anywho...

Slumming : sexual and social politics in Victorian London by Seth Koven
Read more... )
oursin: Photograph of James Miranda Barry, c. 1850 (James Miranda Barry)
[personal profile] oursin2010-05-11 08:27 am
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Queer womanhood in the late C19th

(Forgot to mention, this is in response to suggestions on the Discussion Prompt Thread.)

What did it mean for a woman or women to be 'queer' in late C19th Britain? Given that it was seen as natural and normal and even admirable for women in a largely homosocial world to have deep and romantically expressed devotions to other women and an appreciation of feminine charms?

The 'New Woman' - moving out of that world (sometimes on a bicycle, sometimes not). Seeking new transformed relationships with men. E.g. Olive Schreiner, the South African novelist, walking the streets of London at night having passionate arguments about philosophy and politics with her male friends, and nearly getting arrested as a prostitute on at least one occasion. Edith Lanchester, who did a science degree at University College London, was a member of the Marxist Social Democratic Federation (and at one point worked as Eleanor Marx's secretary), and decided to live in free union with a male comrade. Her middle class professional family, possibly as much appalled by the fact that he was a railway clerk as by the living in sin aspect, promptly had her certified as insane and taken to The Priory (whence, happy ending, she was soon released through prompt and effective action by her comrades). The vociferous campaigners against the double standard of sexual morality ('these women are worse than prostitutes'). The women who thought that they should be informed about the existence of and the dangers posed by sexually transmitted diseases. Women who were birth control advocates (hai, Annie Besant!) Etc etc. In context, in Dracula, Mina is perhaps queerer for being a self-supporting career woman with workplace skills than for having a devoted female friendship with Lucy.

However, there were women who had emotions towards other women and were involved in relationships that would, I think, be on the lesbian rather than the devoted friendship end of the spectrum. Specific individuals: Mary Benson (wife of Edward Benson, Archbishop of Canterbury); Amy Levy, poet and novelist; Vernon Lee, pseudonym of Violet Paget, writer on aesthetics and art history; 'Michael Field' (Katherine Harris Bradley) and her niece and ward Edith Emma Cooper), collaborative poet; the novelists Somerville and Ross, Edith Lees Ellis, novelist, writer and lecturer on social questions, wife of Havelock Ellis, friend of Edward Carpenter.

These were all fairly privileged women (except Edith Lees Ellis), and we have much less sense of non-middle class women and their relationships. However, Alison Oram's book Her Husband Was A Woman, although it is about cross-dressing women in the C20th, does include material that sheds light on the C19th, including some discussion of the very popular male impersonators of the music halls.

NB it wasn't illegal to be a lesbian in the UK (the first time sexual activity between women was featured in legislation was 1956), and it was not a matrimonial offence for the purposes of divorce. And there was absolutely no reason why anyone would have thought of including it in the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885, so it really wasn't omitted by Royal decree. Srsly. But this is one reason why it's so much less visible and studied than male homosexuality at the period - no legal records and no aghast newspaper reports. Which also relates to the fact that if it was happening, it was happening in private spaces rather than in public spaces where it was potentially visible to other people, or at least to the police.

Suggestions for reading:
Lilian Faderman's Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love between Women from the Renaissance to the Present (1981) remains a classic, even if subsequent scholars have nuanced her arguments.
Rebecca Jennings, A Lesbian History of Britain: Love and Sex Between Women Since 1500 (2007). This is very much a work of synthesis, and I found it a bit superficial, but it is actually a useful guide to the territory and the literature.
Martha Vicinus, Intimate Friends: Women Who Loved Women, 1778-1 928 (2004) deals largely with women who enjoyed privilege and resources (e.g. were able to live in the supportive community of women artists and writers in Rome!) but has some very interesting analysis of the ways in which these women conceptualised their relationships, drawing on letters, diaries, etc.
Sharon Marcus, Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England (2007). I found some of the chapters a bit problematic, but there is some remarkably acute and provocative stuff in this book, including the observation that Victorian novels, not to mention letters, diaries and memoirs, have women being romantically devoted right up front and without delving into the subtext.

I've already mention Oram's book on cross-dressers. There are also biographies of several of the women I've mentioned. Not yet seen, but sounds interesting: Jill R. Ehnenn, Women's Literary Collaboration, Queerness, and Late-Victorian Culture (2009) (wicked expensive)

Useful on New Women more generally: Martha Vicinus, Independent Women: Work and Community for Single Women (1985), 1850-1920 Judith Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delight (1992), and Lucy Bland, Banishing the Beast: English feminism and sexual morality, 1880-1914 (1995). Unfortunately a lot of New Woman scholarship is heavily based on literary texts.

On new definitions of 'the lesbian' or 'female invert', the classic sexological texts are Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis, numerous and ever expanding editions from 1886, Havelock Ellis, Sexual Inversion (1897) and Edward Carpenter, Love's Coming of Age (1897) and The Intermediate Sex (1909). But all contain far more about male homosexuality. And because of the theory of 'inversion' with which they were working, can just about get their heads around butch-presenting lesbians (or at least those who demonstrate various markers associated with masculinity), but couldn't quite see, or analytically account for, more femme versions.

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Book review: Graham Robb, "Strangers: Homosexual love in the nineteenth century"

So, I know a handful of people here have been reading this book, and I figured at least one of us had probably better write a review, so here's mine :)

Graham Robb, "Strangers: Homosexual love in the nineteenth century", W. W. Norton & Co, 2004.

Amazon, Book Depository, Abebooks, Google Books (partial), Worldcat (public libraries)

"Strangers" is one of the best books I've read about gay history. It's more international in flavour, has more to say about lesbians (which is admittedly still not a whole lot), and is more optimistic than anything else of it's kind that I've read. Its tone is extremely readable, but there are extensive end-notes and what looks like a pretty comprehensive bibliography of works cited.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part talks about the legal and medical background and about the scandal of "outings". The second part talks about homosexual lives and homosexual subcultures in various places. The third part talks about gay literature and how homosexual people in the 19th century found reflections themselves in various texts.

In the chapter on the legal/judicial side of things, Robb looks at arrests, prosecutions, and convictions for buggery/indecency/etc... and then asks us to throw all that away, because there weren't all that many really, and it was far less important than you might think. He points out that we place undue emphasis on it because legal reports are such an easy source of information, but that the actual incidence of court cases was pretty minor relative to the population. Charts (in the appendix) show the number of convictions in the UK per 100k of population, from 1800 to 2000. The figures run around 1 conviction per 100k of population per year through the 19th century, then steadily grow through the 20th, peak around 16/100k/year in the mid 1950s, and are still hovering around 10/100k/year in 2000. That is, you were approximately 10 times as likely to be convicted of buggery or a related homosexual offense a decade ago as you were in the Victorian era. He points out that the Wilde trials belong more properly (culturally speaking) to the 20th century than the 19th.

Having more or less set aside the "easy" (but negative) sources of information in part 1, part 2 is a much more pleasant read. Lots of cute anecdotes, accounts of people's lives and relationships, excerpts from letters, etc. I found it kind of fluffily interesting but it didn't make me think much.

Part 3, talking about gay literature, will be of particular interest to Sherlock Holmes fans as it talks about how homosexual people, in the absence of explicit depictions of their type, will read for subtext. The first chapter of this section describes the more overt depictions of homosexuality (from moral tales to trashy porn) and then moves on to more subtle ones like the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen. The second chapter deals with Christianity and gay-friendly interpretations of the Bible. The third and final chapter is all about homosexual detectives. Starting with Poe's Auguste Dupin, moving on to Holmes (about whom there are several pages of subtextual analysis, ranging from the "worth a wound" scene to comments on the use of terms like "queer", "languid", and of course "earnest" in the Holmes canon) and then to early 20th century sleuths of a similar nature, he talks about how homosexuality -- dual nature, disguises, outsider-dom, the ability to discern other people's secrets -- is actually an integral part of the detective's character and role, and how similar themes emerge repeatedly even among authors who couldn't have read each other's work.

Also included among the plates in the book is Paget's engraving from SCAN, with the caption, "Sherlock Holmes disguised as 'a Nonconformist clergyman' and Irene Adler as 'a slim youth in an ulster'" -- elsewhere in the book Robb cites "nonconformist" as a Victorian euphemism for homosexual.

So, in summary: very readable, and what's more, pleasant to read (not just in style but in content). Plus, a fair bit of Holmes-specific material. Highly recommended.
lotesse: (Holmes/Watson)
[personal profile] lotesse2010-04-27 08:25 pm
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yet further bibliography!

-Barsham, Diana. Arthur Conan Doyle and the Meaning of Masculinity. Burlington: Ashgate Publishing Ltd, 2000.

This ... is not entirely a recommendation. It's an interesting book; Barsham clearly has had contact with progressive ideas about gender and sexuality. It's mainly interesting for the glimpse it provides of just what exactly a non-queer reading of Sherlock Holmes looks like. Gender without the sexuality, if you will. Fascinatingly enough, she sees Holmes as some sort of Masculinity Fix-It Machine, repairing the excesses of masculine evil and feminized weakness in British society. Obviously, I disagree.


-Miller, D. A. The Novel and the Police. University of California Press, 1998.

This is ... also not quite a recommendation, though I think it's a much better book than Barsham's. But D.A. Miller articulates the theory that's come to really dominate non-Sherlockian criticism of the repressive relationship between detective fiction and social liberation or deviance. Very valid politically, but a bit depressing if you don't like your Holmes to be the Kyriarchal Avenger!


-Showalter, Elaine. Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siecle. New York: Penguin Books, 1990.

Showalter comes from the earlier parts of the feminist literary criticism movement, and so this book bears some traces of the various issues with second-wave theory. Most of the text was printed as articles in the 80s, so don't let the publication date fool you: this is definitely not 90s crit. It's a bit gender-essentialist and a bit kink-shy, but the work Showalter does connecting the various sexual and gendered shakeups at the end of the century make her more than worthwhile. Lots of stuff on theater, Wilde, 19th-century feminist movements, and intersections between sex & gender. Nothing directly on Sherlock Holmes, but so much good context.


-Weeks, Jeffrey. Inverts, Perverts, and Mary-Annes. Journal of Homosexuality 6.1 (1981): 113-134.

Older article, not directly regarding Holmes - but a fantastic rundown of the legal conditions of homosexuality, inversion, and prostitution in late Victorian England, esp. the Labouchere amendment.


-Wiltse, Ed. “'So Constant an Expectation': Sherlock Holmes and Seriality.” Narrative 6.2 (1998): 105-122.

This frood cites Henry Jenkins, proving himself to be a thoroughly excellent chap. The article draws some really cool connections between queerness, drug use, and serial fiction - Wiltse basically argues that serials refused to end properly, and so kept going in a sort of depraved addictiveness.


I also posted an anti-rec, with bonus bad quotes for Christopher Redmond's In Bed With Sherlock Holmes: Sexual Elements in Arthur Conan Doyle's Stories of The Great Detective a couple of days ago.
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Book rec: Matt Cook, "London and the culture of homosexuality, 1885-1914"

[ This is a partial repost of this post in my own DW last week. If you're interested, you might want to click on over there to read comments or whatever. ]

The book in question:

Matt Cook, "London and the Culture of Homosexuality, 1885-1914", Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Amazon, Book Depository, Abebooks, Worldcat (public libraries), Google Books (partial).

My short rec:

If you are interested in Holmes slash, you need this book. It's a fairly short, very readable volume that is more or less the non-fiction companion to H/W. I dare you to read it and not go "oooh!" at some interesting fact every few pages.

[ excised a bunch of fannish rambling about the Sherlock Holmes movie, comparing it to the movie "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" and why I liked both of them, which is at least partly to do with a "sense of place" ... ]

"London and the Culture of Homosexuality" is all about London-as-a-place and how one might navigate it if one were a homosexual man during Holmes's era. He talks a lot about physical/geographic places: Piccadilly, Cleveland Street, the East End, Covent Garden, the Embankment. He also talks about how, moving about those places, one might see signs and implications and choose to read them if one were interested in what they had to say.

Here's a passage which reached out and grabbed me (it's talking about the "unspeakable" crime of male/male sex, of course):

These spaces and bodies gained added importance in the newspapers since, as Cohen demonstrates, they stood in for mention of the sexual acts themselves. The newspaper reader often had to gather clues from details of place and appearance in order to discern the crime, which was often not made clear. Whilst the courts heard descriptions of sexual acts, the newspapers referred to "gross indecency" or "unnatural", "infamous" or "unnameable" offences. Sometimes references were even more oblique and the reader was left guessing what was at issue. In the 1912 case against John Hill and Robert Freeman it was unclear from press reports what they were saying to the men they approached in Charing Cross Road. Earlier in 1898 Robert Clibburn was convicted of blackmail and sentenced to seven years' imprisonment, but the threats he issued to Charles Deck were only suggested by the fact that Deck was on the Embankment at night with an actor when he was approached, his fur coat stolen and money demanded for its return. Acute readers might have remembered Clibborn as one of hte men who attempted to blackmail Wilde, and deduced from this -- together with the implications of a night-time walk along the Embankment and the theatrical company -- the possible nature of the threats he used to extort money.


You see what I mean? (I dithered about whether to call out "gather clues" and "deduced" in the above passage or whether it was too obvious, but in case you're skimming, well, take it as pointed out.)

Speaking of newspapers, one of Cook's main sources is a scrapbook maintained by George Cecil Ives, an early gay rights campaigner. He read all kinds of newspapers and kept clippings of any report relating to homosexuality, much as Holmes himself read all the papers and kept "commonplace books" to help him in his investigations. (I'm not saying Holmes is based on Ives, as Ives was very secretive -- just that it's interesting that they operated the same way, especially in the context of the above quote from Cook about careful readings of news reports and what one could deduce from them.)

And on the subject of the Embankment (the scene of the above-mentioned blackmail attempt), it comes up repeatedly in Cook's book as a gay cruising ground, hence Cook's mention of "the implications of a night-time walk along the Embankment". Keeping that in mind, let me show you something from "The Five Orange Pips".

The client:

The man who entered was young, some two-and-twenty at the outside, well-groomed and trimly clad, with something of refinement and delicacy in his bearing.


He's in fear of his life. So Holmes says he'll take on the case, and will see the guy in the morning. He advises him to go straight home and to take care. In the morning, however, the newspaper brings the news that the man has been found drowned in the Thames. Holmes is upset.

“That hurts my pride, Watson,” he said at last. “It is a petty feeling, no doubt, but it hurts my pride. It becomes a personal matter with me now, and, if God sends me health, I shall set my hand upon this gang. That he should come to me for help, and that I should send him away to his death—!” He sprang from his chair and paced about the room in uncontrollable agitation, with a flush upon his sallow cheeks and a nervous clasping and unclasping of his long thin hands.

“They must be cunning devils,” he exclaimed at last. “How could they have decoyed him down there? The Embankment is not on the direct line to the station. The bridge, no doubt, was too crowded, even on such a night, for their purpose. Well, Watson, we shall see who will win in the long run. I am going out now!”


(emphasis mine.)

If I were George Ives, reading that in the 1890s, I know what I would think.

There are other similar mentions in canon. I found a couple of them a while back when I was looking for something else and came across the Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work on Google Books. An article about male prostitution in Victorian literature mentions:

Finally, in his mainstream Sherlock Holmes stories, Arthur Conan Doyle makes oblique references to two London scandals involving male prostitutes. Holmes -- now resonant of the classic fin de siecle homosexual aesthete -- asks his accomplice, Dr. Watson, to flee to the continent with him after Holmes almost dies in Vere Street, London, the site of the notorious scandal involving a male brothel named the White Swan. Although the Vere Street Coterie was convicted in 1810, before Queen Victoria ascended the throne, the scandal remained in the public consciousness throughout the nineteenth century. In another story, Holmes adopts a 14 year old "telegraph boy" as his valet, a reference that Conan Doyle's readers no doubt would have associated with the recent Cleveland Street Affair, when "telegraph boys" serviced aristocratic patrons and subsequently gave incriminating testimony.


(Notice how these scandals all seem to have the names of streets?) Anyway, the Cleveland Street scandal was huge news in 1890-1891, and everyone would have heard of it. Taking a telegraph boy as a valet would be like one of your friends saying his girlfriend used to be a White House intern.

It seems to me that the Holmes canon actually reads *gayer* if you happen to be familiar with London's late 19th century queer geography. There are bits of subtext there that we're not even noticing, unless we know the period (and the queer subculture) very well indeed.

Cook also talks, at length, about bohemianism, Oscar Wilde, and the stereotype of "the classic fin de siecle homosexual aesthete" as found in literature, discussed in court, and reported in the press. There's a lot about Dorian Gray (which, you may know, was written after ACD had dinner with Oscar Wilde -- see [personal profile] hradzka's awesome post about it for detail and a fun poem), and then it goes into talking about the Wilde trial and the way people conflated aestheticism and bohemianism with "gross indecency":

The Evening News labelled Wilde "one of the high priests of a school which attacks all the wholesome, manly, simple ideals of English life, and sets up false gods of decadent culture and intellectual debauchery."


Some of the things associated with "indecency" included: being clean-shaven (no beard or mustache), excessive particularity or unconventionality in dress, oriental interior decoration, sitting inside with the curtains shut, anything French, and the city -- London -- itself. Homosexual men were also thought to be particularly subject to neuraesthenia. Sound like anyone we know?

Now, I'm not saying Guy Ritchie didn't take his vision of Holmes, and of Holmes's London, a bit far. I'm not saying he didn't get things wrong. But... it resonates for me. I like my Holmes messy, dissolute, and thoroughly embedded in his city. If you do, too, you should read Cook's book.
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Queering Holmes: the bibliography post

This is a round-up post for suggested reading related to this community's subject matter.

Bibliography )

If you have suggestions for additions to the bibliography, please drop us a comment. The bibliography tag on this community is another place to look for book reviews and the like.