Top 10 queer novels for your summer reading pleasure

Ah, the season when we bring the most interesting, scandalous, and dare-I-say well-written books with us to the beach. Yes, it may take us all summer to finish them, but a gay books reading list would certainly help us in the search for the perfect summer novel. This recent British article lays out the 10 ten queerly written novels and that inspired me to compile my own list. So here’s a rundown of my personal favs and a little about each.

1) Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides

Wandering through the DNA strand of an intersexed individual as he recalls his the sordid lives of his Greek immigrant family. This is one of the most lyrically beautiful books I have ever read and the story is complex enough to compliment the great care Eugenides took in the wordcraft.

2) Stone Butch Blues by Les Feinberg

Working class lesbian/trans man Jess struggles with his sexual and gender identities in a pre-Stonewall world. As it reflects many of Feinberg’s own inner turmoil it comes of as genuine and intense.

3) Zami: A new Spelling of my Name by Audre Lorde

Lorde is a master of both the narrative and the descriptions of intersecting oppressions and identities. The self-made description of biomythography is apt as Lorde explores her life and the intertwining of her blackness, queerness and cultural heritage. Idetities which were often at odds, making her feel outside herself in 1950s New York City.

4) Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Caf by Fannie Flagg

Now you know that, despite the hotness of Mary Stuart Masterson, that 90s movie version just did not do this novel justice. I’ve read it about 3 times now. While two of the main characters are unequivocally lesbians (certainly disavowed in the film) the focus is really on the people an entire 1930s Southern town. It addresses such pervasive subjects as racism, middle-age, self-esteem, and other well-covered topics. But it just does it so well. I cried to see life overtake each and every character in this book. The fact that two of the most admired characters are strong, openly gay women and yet not a spectacle is just part of Fannie Flagg’s charm and skill.

5) Sarah by JT Leroy

Yes, I was incredibly disappointed by the scandal a couple months ago concerning the existence of JT Leroy. But I echo now what I said then; the writing still stands. Leroy’s tales of being a 13 year cross-dressing “lot lizard” (prostitute) in West Virginia is frustrating, tear-filled, and wondrous. Leroy may not be the boy-genius-hooker-made-good we all wanted to believe in but his story is real somewhere out there…and it’s brilliant.

6) Baby Bebop by Franceska Lia Block

Block has a true connection to place. And that place is a more magical Los Angeles than I ever saw in my year living there. Following Weetzie Bat and her extended, strangely-named, self-created family through all their beauty and pain is a truly intense experience. This tome follows best friend Dirk Drake through his sexual awakening. Being gay in 1980s LA comes to life through the eyes of some truly extraordinary people. Best of all her nearly neo-fantastic fiction is juvenile literature which means young people can experience how being different can be as cool, or cooler, than being one of the crowd.

7) Valencia by Michelle Tea

Michelle Tea may be one of the annoying contemporary lesbian literati but I take a certain (possibly slightly jealousy tainted?) pleasure in reading their work nonetheless. And after having heard her read I was thoroughly engaged with her work. Besides, it’s tawdry, it’s San Francisco, it’s ladies you know you’ve met before…Her new comic book style illustrated account of being a prostitute in Boston was also an interesting enough venture to make her writing worth a read.

8) Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

Who wouldn’t want to live in a big beautiful apartment complex in 1970s San Fran with, like, the coolest people ever? Well, at least you can pop a ‘lude and read about it. Secrets abound, the people are intriguing and there are 7 books in the series to last you all season. Man, why wasn’t I born until the 80s?

9) Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

Have you ever found those naughty French pictures from the turn of the century and gone: “Oh my, I didn’t know the ladies could were so scandalous back then!” Well turns out they were and this book paints a lurid picture of Victorian lesbian life. (Yes, the title means exactly what you think it means) But alas, the novel can be heart-wrenching as well as we follow the adventures of our little cross-dressing oyster girl. The BBC made a film that was a bit too flippant for some considering the often serious nature of the book but I enjoyed it.

10) Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins

Ok, so it was written by a straight man, and you can see it in the story. But he’s so wacky and fascinating and from Seattle that you have to love this story of a woman with oversized thumbs, who hitchhikes across the country in the arms of men and women alike. Besides it was one of the first queer books I read in 8th grade and boy was it sexy…

Lastly just a few honorable mentions. Although I have not read them James Baldwin’s stories of being a black gay man in early century Harlem are supposed to be superb and Jeanette Winterson does amazing short stories. Her full length, Oranges are not the Only Fruit, made the Brits list, and probably would have made mine too, if I had read it.

I leave you with a few guilty pleasures in case you have no shame:

Nancy Clue and the Hardly Boys the spoof on the girl detective series nearly made me wet my pants at times.

Anne Bannon and other lesbi-pulp novels I could tell you that I had to read several 1950s lesbian pulp novels for a seminar term paper and that would be true. But secretly, I enjoyed them too. Someone always has to die or marry in the end of these dime store novels it seems but the women who wrote them 50 years ago did their best. And the image of the woman-loving-woman, even if she was scorned and unlucky, was at least getting in the public conscious.

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