In case you haven’t noticed, I have a particular interest in queer fiction. My To Be Read (TBR) pile for books spanning the LGBTQI spectrum is vast and pretty much constantly growing. Since I want to prioritize a lot of these for Pride Month, I thought this would be a great time to share my queer TBR with you–starting with the ones I want to get to first and expanding out from there.
Think I’m missing anything? See anything you think I should steer clear of (or maybe something I should get to RIGHT NOW)? Let me know!
My Prioritized TBR for Pride Month
I won’t get to all of these this month, but I like having a selection to pull from depending on my mood. That’s why I have a hard time picking books for a vacation: I always need to have options. Here are the ones I’m giving myself for June 2019.
The first one is a book I already finished in the month of June! I listened to the audiobook of Transgender History: The Roots of Today’s Revolution by Susan Stryker. Originally published in 2008, this was revised in 2017–which is great, because so much has happened in terms of transgender activism since the book was first published and there are new challenges. I didn’t need the first part of the book, which is very much about defining terms, but it was easy enough to skip to the next part. It’s an essential read for the LGBTQI community.
Next is the one I’m currently reading, which is Lighthousekeeping, by Jeanette Winterson. This is the story of Silver, who becomes an apprentice to a blind lighthouse keeper after the death of her mother. He tells her stories that reveal the world to Silver. I’m not there yet, but ultimately this novel will have a message about love.
I also just got access to the audiobook of Garrard Conley’s memoir of his time spent undergoing gay conversion therapy, Boy Erased. I saw the movie adaptation but can’t wait to experience Conley’s firsthand account.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riot, which launched the modern Pride movement as we know it. As such, I ordered a copy of The Stonewall Reader, an anthology from The New York Public Library that features firsthand accounts, diaries, newspaper articles, etc. centered around the Riot as well as the five years preceding it and the five years following it.
I’m also trying to get access to an audio version of How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS, but so far I haven’t had any luck. I may just have to get a physical copy. The title pretty much sums this up: it’s about activists fighting for survival in a society that didn’t really care if they lived or died. The reason I want the audio if I can get it is that it’s read by Rory O’Malley, a Broadway actor and founder of the activist group Broadway Impact. At this point, I’m most likely just going to order the physical book from my local indie.
Since this year is the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, it seems like a good time to read Edmund White’s memoir City Boy: My Life in New York During the 1960s and ’70s. White is an icon of queer literature and this memoir reflects queer life in that tumultuous time when gay activism began moving into the mainstream. I believe White was actually present at the Stonewall Inn when the riot started. This would be fascinating to read.
A lot of what I’ve talked about so far is nonfiction, but I also want to cover some queer fiction as well, and there’s no better book for this TBR than a classic in the genre: Dancer From the Dance, by Andrew Holleran. It’s about a man looking for meaningful companionship in the emerging gay scene in New York City in the 1970s.
For a different perspective on queer lit, I’d like to read Uzodinma Iweala’s Speak No Evil, a novel about Niru, the son of conservative Nigerian immigrants in the United States. When his father finds out that Niru is gay just before Niru is meant to attend Harvard, there is a brutal fallout. I think the addition of the immigrant story and the focus on African characters make this sound like a great (if brutal) read from the author of Beasts of No Nation.
I hadn’t known that Gloria Naylor’s The Women of Brewster Place, a collection of interlocked stories about black women living in an inner-city sanctuary, had an LGBT angle until recently. I confess that this discovery caused the book to skyrocket up my TBR list.
I discovered Édouard Louis’ novella The End of Eddy through the Tournament of Books–and even though it didn’t make it far in that competition, it did work its way onto my TBR. It’s a fictionalized version of the author’s experience growing up gay, poor, and bullied in a French factory town.
When Patrick McCabe’s Breakfast on Pluto became a #1 bestseller in Ireland and a finalist for the Man Booker Prize, there wasn’t a lot of understanding about the spectrum of gender and gender identities. Its protagonist, Patrick “Pussy” Braden, is described as a transvestite. That term is not commonly used twenty years later, so on one level, there’s a lot of potential for Breakfast on Pluto to be both outdated and offensive–even if it was well-intentioned. On another level, I think it would be fascinating to read something from before our understanding of gender identity and gender fluidity broadened. It could be a great portrait of a life lived before there was even adequate terminology to describe who someone is.
I’ve had the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Angels in America by Tony Kushner on my TBR for a shamefully long time. It’s a classic about AIDS and politics and religion and humanity. They did just release an audio version featuring the cast of the recent revival that played in both London and New York–and I may hold out to listen to that, but regardless: this is an essential book for me to read in my lifetime.
The Young Adult market is one of the most popular (and profitable) markets in publishing today, and it’s also without a doubt the most inclusive and diverse section in any bookstore. Queer representation is experiencing a boom in the YA market and I couldn’t be happier about that. Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun is one such YA book following estranged twins Jude and Noah. They used to be inseparable but now they barely speak and I’ll Give You the Sun is their journey back to each other as they come of age.
Thomas Page McBee was the first transgender man to box in Madison Square Garden, and Amateur: A Reckoning with Gender, Identity, and Masculinity is the story of his quest to uncover what makes a man as he questions masculinity (both traditional and toxic), sexism, and privilege.
Confessions of a Mask is a classic of modern Japanese fiction by Yukio Mishima. It’s about a teenager struggling with his sexuality in post-war Japan. In order to survive, he needs to build a metaphorical mask that he must wear at all times. It sounds depressing, essential, and fascinating.
My Longterm Queer Books/Authors TBR
So many books, so little time. There are a lot of books and authors that I would like to read, and the queer lit genre is no exception. These titles may not be considered priority right now, but I have my eyes on them for the future.
You may remember Edmund White from the previous section, because due to the anniversary of the Stonewall Riot I want to prioritize his memoir City Boy. I’m just as eager to read his landmark novel A Boy’s Own Story, which begins a trilogy of autobiographical novels following an unnamed narrator as he grows up and experiences life. In this first volume, he is a child in the 1950s struggling with his identity in a heteronormative world.
Larry Kramer is most remembered as an activist who wrote the play The Normal Heart, but he also wrote a novel in 1978 called Faggots in which he satirizes the “gay ghetto” and the forced superficiality of gay relationships at the time by telling the story of a man looking for love and only finding lust at every turn. I’ve seen this book criticized both for the scathing nature of its satire and for a perceived bitterness, but if we’re talking about classic gay literature, it can’t be ignored.
After I read Michael Thomas Ford’s Full Circle, internet algorithms kept putting Jim Brogan’s A Time to Live in front of me even though it’s out of print. I ordered a used copy with a naughty little cover. It is described as the first gay novel to deal with the problems of aging within the gay community–and if you read the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Less, you know that this remains a somewhat fraught topic today. And because of the time it was published, it also deals with a San Francisco haunted by the AIDS epidemic.
City of Night by John Rechy is considered another gay classic. Published in 1963, it gave voice to the burgeoning gay subculture and scandalized reviewers with its portrait of a hustler among drag queens and other underworld denizens.
Even older than City of Night is André Gide’s classic The Counterfeiters, a philosophical novel from 1925 about morality, which features a number of gay or bisexual characters.
I mentioned earlier that the YA market has been a great home for LGBTQI representation, and one of the bestselling examples of that is Becky Albertalli’s gay rom-com Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, which was adapted into the successful movie Love, Simon. I bailed on a book that Albertalli cowrote because it was excessively cutesy, so hopefully, this one would be better.
Paul Monette’s memoir Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story is essentially a nonfiction version of A Boy’s Own Story, but it sounds wonderful. It follows Monette’s struggle to imitate a straight man in his early life, how he was initially haunted by his homosexuality, and how that very same sexuality ultimately saved him when he came to terms with it.
Laura Hobson is most famous for writing Gentleman’s Agreement, a novel about pervasive antisemitism in American society which was adapted into an Oscar-winning film starring Gregory Peck. Consenting Adult is another of her novels, following a mother who must come to terms with her son’s homosexuality and find ways to protect him from the prejudices of the era. I was not a fan of Gentleman’s Agreement, which felt very clinical and impersonal to me, so hopefully Consenting Adult will be a different experience.
In contrast, Robert Leleux’s The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy is described as a wickedly funny look at Leleux’s gay coming-of-age in East Texas with his eccentric and flamboyant mother.
As you can see, I think stories with queer representation are important, but I especially think that’s true for queer stories that are still largely hidden. E. Lynn Harris’ Invisible Life is exactly that: the first in a trilogy of books following Raymond Tyler, who has had a hard enough time growing up as a black man in America but who must also face a sexuality that makes him a minority within a minority.
In 2019’s Willa and Hesper, Amy Feltman tells the story of two girls who fall in love and then separate when their familiarity gets too uncomfortable for one of them. Now on separate adventures, they must come to terms with their past–including their romantic past–in order to possibly find their way back to each other.
Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You follows an American teacher in Bulgaria who unexpectedly finds himself in a sexual relationship with a local named Mitko. As they are drawn to each other again and again, Greenwell explores the line between loneliness and rick, hunger and predation–playing off of the similarities and stark differences between the American south and Bulgaria.
Madeline Miller’s recent bestseller The Song of Achilles tells the mythological story of Achilles and Patroclus, who fall in love after Patroclus is exiled to the court of Achilles’ father only to see the Trojan War threaten to tear everything they hold dear apart. I’ve heard many, many wonderful things about this book.
The film adaptation of Manuel Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman has a very problematic depiction of Molina, a flamboyant gay window dresser who fills his hours as a political prisoner in Argentina by telling stories filled with all the fantasy and romance of the movies. Hopefully, the novel approaches him with more tact.
Lastly (for now at least), we have Kevin Sessums’ memoir of growing up gay in the south: Mississippi Sissy. It is described as reminiscent of Mary Karr and Augusten Burroughs while also calling to mind Harper Lee and Flannery O’Connor. Enough said.