A Sex and the Steel City reading list

The stories we tell ourselves matter. From the imaginary to the instructional to the personal to the public, these stories can be incredibly influential. They shape our actions and decisions and inform our beliefs and values. This is perhaps most true when it comes to topics that are especially close to our hearts, such as love and relationships.

For Sex and the Steel City 2021, the Sil has compiled a list of books about love, relationships and identity to add to your bookshelves.

PHENOMENAL FICTION

Romance is one of the most extensive genres encompassing a large range of subgenres from fantasy to historical fiction. While this variety can be helpful at times, it can also make it more difficult to find what you’re looking for. Here are a few places to start.

If you’re looking for a light-hearted read, try Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. The first in an ongoing series, Carry On follows Simon Snow through his last year at Watford School of Magicks as he works with his friends to uncover a mystery and manages to find love along the way.

Another light-hearted read is Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren, which weaves back and forth in time to tell the story of a chance reunion of childhood sweethearts Macy and Elliot after nearly a decade apart.

Other light romances include Love’s Recipe by Mila Nicks and One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston. Love’s Recipe is a story for food lovers, following recently divorced Rosalie as she helps Nick try to save his family’s restaurant. One Last Stop tells the story of August, a waitress at a 24-hour diner, and Jane, the time traveller she meets on the subway, as August tries to help Jane get back to her own time before it’s too late. 

Dealing with questions of culture, community, identity, Islamophobia and sexism among others, Such a Lonely, Lovely Road by Kagiso Lesego Molope and The Chai Factor by Farah Heron are more serious, but still satisfying reads.

Or if you enjoy classics, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or Gabriel García Marques’ Love in the Time of Cholera are timeless tales worth taking a look at.

MEMORABLE MEMOIRS

While there’s something special about seeing yourself represented in fiction, memoirs are affirming in a more tangible way as they show that you are truly not alone in your feelings or experiences. 

Samra Habib’s memoir We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim’s Memoir is an excellent example of this, detailing Habib’s experiences growing up in Pakistan and Canada as she wrestled with ideas of faith, identity, love and sexuality and struggled to find a space where she could be herself.

A History of My Brief Body by Billy-Ray Belcourt and My Body Is Yours by Michael V. Smith are two more exceptional memoirs exploring questions of identity and sexuality. In A History of My Brief Body, Belcourt uses his personal experiences to examine the intersection between Indigeneity and queerness, while Smith confronts traditional ideals of gender and masculinity in My Body is Yours.

There are also some more informational memoirs, where authors draw on their personal experience to raise awareness about a certain issue, such as in Ask me about my Uterus: A Quest to Make Doctors Believe in Women’s Pain, Not that Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture (Roxane Gay) and The Pretty One: On Life, Pop Culture, Disability, and Other Reasons to Fall in Love with Me (Keah Brown).

Or if you’re looking for something a more lighthearted and more traditional autobiography, The Most of Nora Ephron (Nora Ephron) is a reflection on the late journalist and director’s life and questions of feminism and femininity, all told with her trademark humour.

NONFICTION TO TAKE NOTE OF

Education is absolutely essential, especially perhaps when it comes to relationships and sexuality. Books can be an excellent and informational starting place.

For example, books such as Ace: What Asexuality Reveals about Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex (Angela Chen) and Selling Sex: Experience, Advocacy and Research on Sex Work in Canada (Emily van der Meulen, Elya M Durisin, Victoria Love) offer comprehensive guides to topics you may have heard about in passing but need to know more about.

Anthologies in particular are wonderful for offering multiple perspectives and voices on a given topic. In Big: Stories about Life in Plus-Sized Bodies (edited by Christina Myers), 26 writers share their experiences and explore the intersection between body positivity and self-love, sexuality and other themes.

Non-Binary Lives: An Anthology of Intersecting Identities (edited by Jos Twist, Ben Vincent, Meg-John Barker and Kat Gupta) is another book with intersectionality at its forefront, touching on the range of answers to the question of what it means to be non-binary in the 21st century.

Two more anthologies worth taking note of are Queer Returns: Essays on Multiculturalism, Diaspora and Black Studies (Rinaldo Walcott) and Trans Love: An Anthology of Transgender and Non-Binary Voice (Freiya Benson).

Beyond educating us, books such as The Body is Not An Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love by Sonya Renee Taylor can also offer guidance for moving forward as your best possible self.

POIGNANT POETRY

Something between fiction and memoir but also something entirely on its own, poetry holds nothing back, conveying a depth of emotion while also dealing with difficult topics with a grace that lengthier literature is often unable to.

Through her passionate and powerful words in Holy Wild, Gwen Benaway explores the intersection between the trans and Indigenous experience, while in Junebat John Elizabeth Stintzi carves out a space for themselves to explore questions of gender identity

Another collection exploring identity and sexuality, My Art is Killing Me and other Poems (Amber Dawn) draws on the author’s own experiences and is an unflinchingly honest examination of femineity, sexuality and sex work justice.

It is often poets’ willingness to speak to their own experiences that lend to the emotional impact of their work.  In home body, Rupi Kaur reflects on the past and potential and reminds us how important love is in times of change.


In The Gospel of Breakin, Jillian Christmas draws on her own family history to create stories offering insight on culture, race and other themes. In Where Things Touch, Bahar Orang uses her experiences as a physician-in-training to explore the idea of beauty and what it means in the context of the larger human experience.

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