- There are 20 LGBTQ novels that everyone should read, especially during Pride Month.
- Classic novels like Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando,” Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Grey,” and James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room” are just a few examples.
- Newer books like Ocean Vuong’s “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” and Hanya Yanagihara’s “A Little Life” are also great.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
While many people will turn to film and TV to celebrate LGBTQ stories this Pride Month, the world of literature has long been home to some of the best queer stories.
Books dating back to the 19th century have highlighted the LGBTQ experience and have been read by millions. Recent books like Andrew Sean Greer’s “Less” and older novels like Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando” have defined the LGBTQ genre.
From the newest books to the classics, here is every LGBTQ novel you should read to celebrate Pride this month.
Although Ocean Vuong’s “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” was just published in 2019, it’s already considered an LGBTQ masterpiece.
Amazon synopsis: “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born – a history whose epicentre is rooted in Vietnam – and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation.”
“A stunningly written journey that … explores how race, masculinity, addiction and poverty are seen in our country – all topics that feel especially significant today,” the Wall Street Journal Magazine wrote.
“Less” by Andrew Sean Greer tells the tale of a gay man’s travels in this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel from 2017.
Amazon synopsis: “Arthur Less will almost fall in love in Paris, almost fall to his death in Berlin, barely escape to a Moroccan ski chalet from a Saharan sandstorm, accidentally book himself as the (only) writer-in-residence at a Christian Retreat Centre in Southern India, and encounter, on a desert island in the Arabian Sea, the last person on Earth he wants to face. Somewhere in there: he will turn fifty. Through it all, there is his first love. And there is his last.”
“Andrew Sean Greer did something rare this week: His latest novel, ‘Less,’ won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction,” Ron Charles at The Washington Post wrote. “That’s extraordinary, of course, but what makes this year’s winner so unusual is that his novel is funny. Very funny. Laugh-till-you-can’t-breathe funny.”
Hanya Yanagihara’s epic 2015 novel, “A Little Life,” tells the story of a group of friends as they grow up.
Amazon synopsis: “When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. … Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realise, is Jude [one of the four friends], by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome – but that will define his life forever.”
“Sometimes books come along that match the times,” Brigid Delaney at The Guardian wrote. “‘A Little Life’ is the perfect chronicle of our age of anxiety, providing all its attendant dramas (cutting, binges and childhood sexual abuse) as well as its solaces: friendship, drugs, travel, love affairs, and interior design.”
Chinelo Okparanta’s 2015 novel, “Under the Udala Trees,” tells the story of two young girls who fall in love in Nigeria.
Amazon synopsis: “Ijeoma comes of age as her nation does; born before independence, she is eleven when civil war breaks out in the young republic of Nigeria. Sent away to safety, she meets another displaced child and they, star-crossed, fall in love. They are from different ethnic communities. They are also both girls. When their love is discovered, Ijeoma learns that she will have to hide this part of herself. But there is a cost to living inside a lie.”
“‘Under the Udala Trees’ is a gripping story of love, faith, and turmoil in post-civil war Nigeria,” Buzzfeed wrote. “When Ijeoma falls in love with another girl, she must come to terms with who she is in a society that refuses to accept her. A heartbreaking and moving account of Ijeoma’s coming-of-age, as well as the story of a country during a time of great disturbance, ‘Under the Udala Trees’ will affect you deeply.”
The Oscar-nominated “Call Me By Your Name” is based on André Aciman’s 2007 novel of the same name.
Amazon synopsis: “Andre Aciman’s ‘Call Me by Your Name’ is the story of a sudden and powerful romance that blossoms between an adolescent boy and a summer guest at his parents’ cliffside mansion on the Italian Riviera. … Recklessly, the two verge toward the one thing both fear they may never truly find again: total intimacy. It is an instant classic and one of the great love stories of our time.”
“An extraordinary examination of longing and the complicated ways in which we negotiate the experience of attraction. … It’s startling that a novel so bracingly unsentimental ― alert to the ways we manipulate, second-guess, forestall, and finally reach stumblingly toward one another ― concludes with such emotional depths,” Mark Doty at O, the Oprah Magazine, wrote.
Alison Bechdel’s 2006’s “Fun Home” is a graphic novel that inspired the Tony-winning Broadway show.
Amazon synopsis: “Distant and exacting, Bruce Bechdel was an English teacher and director of the town funeral home, which Alison and her family referred to as the ‘Fun Home.’ It was not until college that Alison, who had recently come out as a lesbian, discovered that her father was also gay. A few weeks after this revelation, he was dead, leaving a legacy of mystery for his daughter to resolve.”
“In ‘Fun Home,’ Bechdel delves into the troubled, often secret-filled relationship with her late father, a closeted gay man whose death she concludes wasn’t an accident, but suicide,” Kalle Oskari Mattila at The Atlantic wrote. “Unaware of how her father was struggling with his sexuality, Allison was coming to accept her own queerness – a complicated dynamic that plays out with humour, pathos, and wit in the pages of the novel.”
Jeffrey Eugenides published his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Middlesex” in 2002 about a transgender man’s family.
Amazon Synopsis: “So begins the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family who travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus in Asia Minor to Prohibition-era Detroit, witnessing its glory days as the Motor City, and the race riots of l967, before they move out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Pointe, Michigan. To understand why Calliope is not like other girls, she has to uncover a guilty family secret and the astonishing genetic history that turns Callie into Cal, one of the most audacious and wondrous narrators in contemporary fiction.”
“The trick of the novel is that the gene which carries the possibility of androgyny becomes, for the reader, like a revolver brandished in the first act of a play,” Mark Lawson at The Guardian wrote. “During the long first half of family history before we reach the eventual hermaphrodite – Calliope Stephanides, born apparently female in 1960 in Detroit, later living in Berlin as a man called Cal – we’re watching out nervously for that weapon of inheritance to go off as it passes between grandparents and parents.”
“Edinburgh” by Alexander Chee was published in 2001 and tells the devastating story of sexual abuse.
Amazon Synopsis: “Twelve-year-old Fee is a shy Korean American boy and a newly named section leader of the first sopranos in his local boys’ choir. But when Fee learns how the director treats his section leaders, he is so ashamed he says nothing of the abuse, not even when Peter, his best friend, is in line to be next. When the director is arrested, Fee tries to forgive himself for his silence. But when Peter takes his own life, Fee blames only himself. In the years that follow he slowly builds a new life, teaching near his hometown. There he meets a young student who is the picture of Peter and is forced to confront the past he believed was gone.”
“‘Edinburgh’ has the force of a dream and the heft of a life. And Alexander Chee is a brilliant new writer,” authorAnnie Dillard wrote.
Michael Cunningham’s 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Hours” follows three women in separate time periods.
Amazon synopsis: “In ‘The Hours,’ Michael Cunningham, widely praised as one of the most gifted writers of his generation, draws inventively on the life and work of Virginia Woolf to tell the story of a group of contemporary characters struggling with the conflicting claims of love and inheritance, hope and despair. The narrative of Woolf’s last days before her suicide early in World War II counterpoints the fictional stories of Samuel, a famous poet whose life has been shadowed by his talented and troubled mother, and his lifelong friend Clarissa, who strives to forge a balanced and rewarding life in spite of the demands of friends, lovers, and family.”
“The overall impression is that of a delicate, triumphant glance, an acknowledgment of Woolf that takes her into Cunningham’s own territory, a place of late-century danger but also of treasurable hours,” Michael Wood of The New York Times Book Review wrote.
“Stone Butch Blues” by Leslie Feinberg is a 1993 novel that follows a transgender man’s journey to find himself.
Amazon synopsis: “This brave, original novel is considered to be the finest account ever written of the complexities of a transgendered existence. Woman or man? That’s the question that rages like a storm around Jess Goldberg, clouding her life and her identity. Growing up differently gendered in a blue-collar town in the 1950s, coming out as a butch in the bars and factories of the prefeminist ’60s, deciding to pass as a man in order to survive when she is left without work or a community in the early ’70s. This powerful, provocative and deeply moving novel sees Jess coming full circle…”
“Read it if you’re gay. Read it if you’re straight. Read it if you’re middle-aged or elderly or a teen who hasn’t yet decided what to grow up to be,” Josephine Livingstone at Slate wrote. “Just remember: Great art is for everyone, not just the gays.”
“A Boy’s Own Story” by Edmund White was published in 1982 and became known as a moving coming of age story.
Amazon synopsis: “‘A Boy’s Own Story’ became an instant classic for its pioneering portrayal of homosexuality. The book’s unnamed narrator, growing up during the 1950s, is beset by aloof parents, a cruel sister, and relentless mocking from his peers, compelling him to seek out works of art and literature as solace and to uncover new relationships in the struggle to embrace his own sexuality.”
“Every so often a novel comes along that is so ambitious in its intention and so confident of its voice that it reminds us what a singular and potent thing a novel can be,” the San Francisco Chronicle wrote. “One of these is ‘A Boy’s Own Story.'”
Armistead Maupin published his first “Tales of the City” book in 1978.
Amazon synopsis: “The first of nine novels about the denizens of the mythic apartment house at 28 Barbary Lane, ‘Tales’ is both a sparkling comedy of manners and an indelible portrait of an era that changed forever the way we live.”
“There have been two Maupins: the young, virginal, arch-conservative Vietnam volunteer who shook Nixon’s hand and kept his sexuality a secret, desperate to impress his white supremacist, homophobic father,” Paul Laity at The Guardian wrote. “And, from his late ’20s, the open-hearted ambassador of homosexuality, a writer who, in his own words, revealed ‘the gay experience’ to a readership of millions.”
Larry Kramer’s 1978 novel, “Faggots,” tells the story of gay men in New York City just before the AIDS crisis.
Amazon synopsis: “In print since its original publication in 1978, Larry Kramer’s ‘Faggots’ has become one of the bestselling novels about gay life ever written. The book is a fierce satire of the gay ghetto and a touching story of one man’s desperate search for love there, and reading it today is a fascinating look at how much, and how little, has changed.”
“A Vesuvian explosion about the gay life that spares no one and no thing … there is much truth and honesty to be found here,” the Chicago Tribune wrote.
E. M. Forster wrote “Maurice” in 1913, but it wasn’t published until 1971.
Amazon synopsis: “Set in the elegant Edwardian world of Cambridge undergraduate life, this story by a master novelist introduces us to Maurice Hall when he is fourteen. We follow him through public school and Cambridge, and into his father’s firm. In a highly structured society, Maurice is a conventional young man in almost every way ― except that he is homosexual.”
“The story of a young man’s search for erotic companionship amid dinner jackets and Maggie Smith-style Edwardian sneers, ‘Maurice’ is, it’s true, far from Forster’s best work,” Laurence Scott at The Guardian wrote. “But it has a powerful contribution to make to a modern argument about the delights of obscurity, and how much should be sacrificed to perpetual illumination.”
Tom Ford’s film “A Single Man” was based on Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel of the same name.
Amazon synopsis: “A professor at a California university in the 1960s must deal with loneliness and a sense of disconnection after the death of his longtime partner.”
“The narrative is edgy, subtle, and controlled, with chasms of buried rage,” Robert McCrum at The Guardian wrote. “George has recently lost his partner, Jim, in a car crash, and is struggling with bereavement. … As a study of grief and a portrait of the aftermath of a gay marriage, ‘A Single Man’ is unique, brilliant, and deeply moving, with not a word wasted.”
James Baldwin’s 1956 novel, “Giovanni’s Room,” is a classic piece of gay literature.
Amazon synopsis: “In the 1950s Paris of American expatriates, liaisons, and violence, a young man finds himself caught between desire and conventional morality. With a sharp, probing imagination, James Baldwin’s now-classic narrative delves into the mystery of loving and creates a moving, highly controversial story of death and passion that reveals the unspoken complexities of the human heart.”
“But what I admire most in the book is its peculiarly lyrical conception of time,” Garth Greenwell at The Guardian wrote about the book. “All of the book’s major plot points are declared in the first pages: We know that David has abandoned Giovanni, we know that David’s ex-fiancee Hella has returned to the United States, we know that Giovanni has been sentenced to die.”
The Oscar-nominated movie “Carol” is based on the 1952 novel “The Price of Salt” by Patricia Highsmith.
Amazon synopsis: “Based on a true story plucked from Highsmith’s own life, ‘The Price of Salt (or Carol)’ tells the riveting drama of Therese Belivet, a stage designer trapped in a department-store day job, whose routine is forever shattered by a gorgeous epiphany ― the appearance of Carol Aird, a customer who comes in to buy her daughter a Christmas toy.”
“‘The Price of Salt’ was bold for its time in many ways: it didn’t condemn its lovers to suicide or send them back to their men,” The Huffington Post wrote. “It suggested that queers, in certain cities and certain professions, could find friends, communities, and creative work that were fulfilling and sustaining.”
In 1948, Gore Vidal published one of the first LGBTQ books to be printed by a major publishing house: “The City and the Pillar.”
Amazon synopsis: “Jim, a handsome, all-American athlete, has always been shy around girls. But when he and his best friend, Bob, partake in ‘awful kid stuff,’ the experience forms Jim’s ideal of spiritual completion. Defying his parents’ expectations, Jim strikes out on his own, hoping to find Bob and rekindle their amorous friendship. Along the way he struggles with what he feels is his unique bond with Bob and with his persistent attraction to other men. Upon finally encountering Bob years later, the force of his hopes for a life together leads to a devastating climax.”
“Certainly one of the best novels of its kind,” Christopher Isherwood, author of “A Single Man,” said. “It isn’t sentimental and it is frank without trying to be sensational and shocking. These are enormous virtues.”
Published in 1928, “Orlando” by Virginia Woolf has stood the test of time as a story about a person who transitions from male to female.
Amazon synopsis: “As his tale begins, Orlando is a passionate sixteen-year-old nobleman whose days are spent in rowdy revelry, filled with the colourful delights of Queen Elizabeth I’s court. By the close, three centuries have passed, and he will have transformed into a thirty-six-year-old woman in the year 1928. Orlando’s journey is also an internal one – he is an impulsive poet who learns patience in matter of the heart and a woman who knows what it is to be a man.”
“But the story of Woolf’s gender-fluid and superhuman heroine is about much more than a single individual,” Joanna Scutts at Vulture wrote. “As a work of political satire and feminist fantasy, ‘Orlando’ laid the groundwork for today’s cultural landscape, in which the boundaries of both gender and literary genre are more porous than ever.”
“The Picture of Dorian Grey” by Oscar Wilde — published in 1890 — is one of the oldest LGBTQ novels.
Amazon synopsis: “From its provocative Preface, challenging the reader to believe in ‘art for art’s sake,’ to its sensational conclusion, the story self-consciously experiments with the notion of sin as an element of design. Yet Wilde himself underestimated the consequences of his experiment, and its capacity to outrage the Victorian establishment. Its words returned to haunt him in his court appearances in 1895, and he later recalled the ‘note of doom’ which runs like ‘a purple thread’ through its carefully crafted prose.”
“What began as an outré, decadent novella, now seems more like an arresting, and slightly camp, exercise in late-Victorian gothic, than the depraved fiction alleged by his outraged critics,” Robert McCrum at The Guardian wrote.
- Read more:
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