Queers are famously creative, and the community boasts a rich history of fascinating art and literature. This is what made the task of shortlisting seven necessary queer reads so difficult, but below is a selection of some of GCN’s favourites. From authors that proudly parade their queerness, to others that deal with the theme in a more subtle fashion, there’s sure to be something for everyone on this list.
Within these books are pages that uplift the brilliance of queer stories, experience, and community. Whether it’s with a partner at home, or maybe an espresso at a cafe, definitely find time to cosy up and wind down post-Pride with one of these reads.
1. Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin (1956)
“With everything in me screaming No! yet the sum of me sighed Yes.”
This is a story of the conflict between individual desires and society. It allows space for discussions on masculinity, manipulation, and the gender binary and Baldwin’s ability to write a queer story in the face of a very anti-queer world aligns with the struggle of the characters themselves. The nature of manipulation, secrecy and self-conflict in Giovanni’s Room begs for empathy and a spot on your queer bookshelf.
2. The Well of Loneliness – Radclyffe Hall (1928)
Although tragedy consumes the queer figures and relationships in this book, the presence of androgyny and queer identity is highly significant for a publication of this time. Hall’s writes with a relatable voice and an understanding of the challenges of society, class, and cultural conflicts. The success of this queer story, in “a world that is principally made up of failure” as Hall says, makes it a necessary queer classic.
3. Enigma Variations – Andre Aciman (2017)
“And yet my life started here and stopped here one summer long ago, in this house, which no longer exists, in this decade, which slipped away so fast, with this never love that altered everything but went nowhere.”
Andre Aciman holds a special place in many queer hearts. His work can be reminiscent of your first queer revelation; especially if you came to terms with your sexuality after watching a certain popular Timothee Chalamet film. Similarly to Aciman’s 2007 Call Me By Your Name, Enigma Variations is all-consuming – an indulgence. A novel that romanticises the mundane, and makes small moments intimate, we can’t help but wonder if Andre Aciman is pulling at the lustful nature of the queer human psyche or if we’re all just touch deprived?
4. The Line of Beauty – Alan Holling
“To apologise for what you most wanted to do, to concede that it was obnoxious, boring, ‘vulgar and unsafe’ — that was the worst thing.”
The Line of Beauty explores more intersectional ideas such as the overlap of sexuality, class, politics, and power dynamics. The special attention that Hollinghurst gives to language in this novel is what makes it impossible to put down. It is alluring, enticing and uncertain, and definitely deserves a spot on our necessary queer reads list.
5. Chelsea Girls – Eileen Myles (1994)
“I would like to tell everything once, just my part because this is my life, not yours”
This colourful and chaotic story amplifies the reality of queer life and relationships, through a timeless memoir of great intensity. Myles refers to it as “[stories] told in short, immersive bursts…things I needed to exorcise“. A reclamation of queer life, memory, and storytelling – readers fall in love with it over and over again.
6. Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit – Jeanette Winterson (1985)
“To eat of the fruit means to leave the garden because the fruit speaks of other things, other longings”.
Biased by a deep love for Winterson’s literary contributions to the LGBTQ+ community, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit truly emphasises her ability to expand a story into a web of beauty and intricacy. Acting as a queer coming-of-age story, Winterson also gives room to discuss youth identity and religious relations. It’s truly one of the most iconic necessary queer reads, deserving a spot in your book collection. You could also pick one of her other works that we have previously spotlighted, including one of her more modern publications such as Frankissstein and Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?.
7. Orlando – Virginia Woolf (1928)
“As long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking.”
A great final addition to round off this list. It’s an exciting piece with discussions surrounding gender, sexuality, and social dynamics, and Woolf outlines the duality of queer relationships and power dynamics through the gender binary. Womanhood is dealt with in a fascinating manner, making this a valuable book to add to your collection.
To appreciate queer literature is to appreciate the beauty in connection, belonging and community, and also gut-wrenchingly hard stories. While these seven necessary queer reads are not all-encompassing of the vast variety of LGBTQ+ stories that exist, hopefully, they can help to kickstart or benefit your reading journey.
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