In honor of Pride Month, which is celebrated each year for the month of June. Here at Imaginary Book Club, we love that we have many opportunities to celebrate authors who identify as LGBTQ as well as books which feature LGBTQ characters.
One way we’re celebrating this month is through our Book Club selection – The Price of Salt – which, based on the limited number of pages we’re through so far, should be a fantastic read.
But if you are wanting to expand your horizons a bit more, I thought I’d put together this brief list of some of our favorite (and anticipated favorite) LGBTQ books.
1. Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
Perhaps the most interesting book I’ve read all year, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home is a truly beautiful graphic autobiography. I still don’t fully understand how they’ve made this tragic family story into a hit broadway musical, but they have, and I’m not knocking it. Alison’s story weaves together her own coming out with the discovery of her father’s closeted homosexuality with his eventual suicide and their shared love of literature. It’s a graphic story which is truly literary, and honors the complexity of family relationships.
2. Boy Erased: A Memoir, by Garrard Conley
Released just this May, Garrard Conley’s memoir Boy Erased is a must read of the year. As a child, Conley was as deeply enmeshed in the Baptist church the way only the son of a preacher can be. After being outed to his parents as a college student, Conley was essentially coerced into attending a church-supported conversion therapy program that promised a “cure” for homosexuality. In spite of the horrible pressures of the program, Conley maintained his true self and was able to assemble this heart-breaking yet triumphant memoir.
3. Frannie and Tru, by Karen Hattrup
This is on my summer reading list this year! Karen Hattrup’s YA debut has been receiving incredible feedback. Based in my current home base of Baltimore, Frannie and Tru tells the story of a summer which changes the lives of two cousins. After idolizing her older cousin Truman for years, 15-year old Frannie overhears her parents saying that after a bad coming-out experience Tru will be living with them for the summer. The confrontation of issues of race, class and sexuality are supposed to generate a fantastic coming-of-age story that will be moving to YA fans as well as contemporary readers.
5. How to Grow Up, by Michelle Tea
Michelle Tea’s memoir How to Grow Up makes for a genuinely interesting read. As an aspiring writer in San Francisco, Tea recounts her experiences riding the waves between hangovers and dead-end jobs. Tea shares her experiences living her days and nights in trashy housing she should have long outgrown, dating men and women (sometimes at the same time), and gradually inching her way toward adulthood. How to Grow Up is about both the personal aspects of maturing (relationships, breakups, love), and the material (money, work, rent). It’s an honest take on Tea’s life, and worth immersing yourself in.
5. Brooklyn, by Colm Tóibín
This book is killing me right now. Colm Tóibín is an LGBTQ author I think I’ll be coming back to again, real soon. Brooklyn features Eilis Lacey, which the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called “one of the most unforgettable characters in contemporary literature.” Not overstating. This coming-of-age novel follows Eilis from small-town Ireland during the years following World War II. Finding sponsorship to move to America, Eilis settles into immigrant life and falls in love with a young Italian plumber named Tony. The ensuing complications of family life in Ireland pulling Eilis back make everything more complicated. It’s a complex and beautiful story.
6. The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson
Walking the fine lines between poetry, autobiography, and stream of consciousness, Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts paints a complicated picture of the author’s relationship with the artist Harry Dodge, who is fluidly gendered. Nelson’s story of their love, and journey through pregnancy offers a clear account of the complex nature of making families. For some of our readers, this may sound like it’s outside of your comfort zone, but I would encourage you to pick it up. It is radical in structure, but the emotions and feelings Nelson writes of are universal.
7. The Danish Girl, by David Ebershoff
I won’t lie, this was a really really close second choice for our Imaginary Book Club selection this month. Having won about a million awards recently, including several for the film adaptation staring Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl is a very lose adaptation of the true story of Lili Elbe, a pioneer of the transgender community. A beautifully written story, offering a tender picture of marriage, The Danish Girl seeks to answer the complicated question “What do you do when the person you love has to change?”
8. Lumberjanes, by Noelle Stevenson
If you want your queer characters in comic form, do not hesitate to pick up Lumberjanes, by Noelle Stevenson (and a team of other folks). Nominated for a GLAAD award, Lumberjanes is unique in the extent to which it normalizes queer and trans characters within a fully complicated world. While many of the memoirs and novels on our list highlight the difference of LGBTQ characters, Lumberjanes understates the relationship between Mal and Molly, presenting it as unconditionally accepted – just as they do with Jo, a trans character.
9. Rubyfruit Jungle, by Rita Mae Brown
Considered by many to be a lesbian classic, Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle is a beautiful coming-of-age novel telling the story of Molly Bolt. An adopted daughter of a very poor Southern couple, Molly breaks traditions and boundaries is becoming the woman she has to be. With wit and humor, Molly refuses to apologize for her uncanny ability to attract women where ever she goes. Molly is a bit of an artist and a trickster, making her a unique herione for any era, despite being originally released in 1973.
10. Sandman: Game for You, by Neil Gaiman
Again, it’s the comics that seem to normalize LGBTQ characters the most. With Gaiman’s complex world, Sandman spans worlds and offers dozens of unique characters. That said, Gaiman’s character Desire is rated among the best LGBTQ comic book characters, and for good reason – Desire is transgender, intersex, and asexual all mushed together and put back together in the kind of complexity that is a lot more representative of real gender identity than most people realize. The ideas of feminine and masculine just kind of disappear. There are hundreds of other reasons to pick up Sandman, but Desire is a good starting point.
What did we miss?
This is by no means a complete list! But then, I suppose if I said that there were only 10 good books with LGBTQ characters or authors, I’d be pretty darn uninformed. In fact, I’ve noticed that is definitely missing decent representation of LGBTQ people of color, which is pretty unfortunate.
I hope that you have many many more recommendations to share in the comments.