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GLBT Literature


June is Gay Pride month in San Francisco, and Hawaii (Oahu) celebrates Pride in July. In honor of this annual event, I’ll name the five gay literature classics that have one way or another shaped my perspective as a person. Sometimes readers (or people in general) maintain a deception that gay and lesbian literature is erotica. While some of the books sport an erotic scene or two, most of these novels are “high-brow”, literary fiction that is quintessential of the artistry of writing.

Literary Fiction/Literature

1. The Folded Leaf, William Maxwell. A classic story: Athletic and slightly unruly Spud Latham saves the frail, flat-chested Lymie from going under in time plants a seed of friendship (more than friendship) that will be tested by tough trials that touch the innermost of human heart.

2. Maurice, E.M. Forster. Very few, perhaps none of the contemporary gay fiction paints a more authentic, true-to-life picture of how a coming-of-age gay man is torn between his sexuality and the need to assimilate to social and cultural constructions of the “normal” than E. M. Forster’s Maurice does. It’s most heart wrenching, because Maurice just wants to be loved.

3. Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin. The book explores the troubling emotions of man’s heart with unusual candor and yet with dignity and intensity. It delves into the most controversial issue of morality with an artistry. The most touching and absorbing thing is Giovanni’s unconditional love for David, whose fearful intimation opens in him a hatred for Giovanni that is as powerful as his love for him.

4. The Swimming-Pool Library, Alan Hollinghurst. His first and probably the most powerful. The novel exposes the day-to-day episodes of gay life. Nipping into a library of uncatalogued pleasure is a realm of halt, darkness, and unknown possibility. It is in this uncharted territory where the difference between sex and companionship becomes blurry. The most recent The Line of Beauty won the Booker Prize.

5. Dancer From The Dance, Andrew Holleran. What hits me the most (and that is the one thing that tugs so snuggly in my heart) is that Malone is very melodramatic, sentimental, and clinging on to temperament. He surely lives (and suffers) for love more than others. Whether he finds the love of his life or not, his determination renders his living life to the full. The novel, after all, can be viewed as a bittersweet journey to self-enlightenment: He struggled to come out of the closet. He quit a career in law to pursue with passion the one thing that had eluded him utterly–love.

Lighter Reads

1. Latter Days, C. Jay Cox. A sweeping romantic story it advertises to be, teaches us a lesson or two in relationship. It might have gone a little far with the miracle and the angel’s singing but it’s what fiction does after all.

2. The Front Runner, Patricia Nell Warren. This is the classic story of a gay runner who fought his way to Olympics and his gay relationship with his coach.

3. The Dreyfus Affair, Peter Lefcourt. Combining romance, comedy, and baseball writing, the book, in a contemptuous tone, exposes how backward and hypocritical this country is. This is the story of two basball players falling in love.

4. Landing, Emma Donoghue. Donoghue explores something that is very sketchy, sensitive, and provocative—the rhetorical inquiry of love over generational, geographical, and demographical differences.

5. Letter from Point Clear, Dennis McFarland. This is not really GLBT literature, but one of the characters, a gay brother, makes up a substantial part of the novel. His brother-in-law, a pastor in the South, is confronting his sexuality.

Check out this post for more suggestions in this genre.

37 Responses

  1. I read The Line of Beauty, and absolutely loved it. It was extremely well-written. I think there is a taboo with GLBT literature for some, but not with me. I don’t seek it out specifically, but if I come across one I’ll read it.

  2. Thank you for this list, Matt! One of my goals for this year is to read more glbt lit, so I’m bookmarking this post for future reference.

  3. Thanks for the list! I don’t think I’ve ever read any GLBT literature before…which seems a shame. I definitely want to read Maurice.

  4. Thanks for this list. I’ve read Maurice and Giovanni’s Room, and I love them both. Your comments encapsulate these novels beautifully. I think I would really enjoy the Hollinghurst.

  5. If you haven’t already, I recommend reading Angels in America. I should get around to reviewing it since it’s one of my favourites.

  6. Giovanni’s Room is high on my TBR list. I became more familiar with Baldwin when I read some of his commentary on Richard Wright’s Native Son, and I really want to read some of his fiction work.


  7. Couldn’t agree more about Maurice and The Swimming-Pool Library. Forster’s narrative restraint makes Maurice all the more heart-wrenching. The simplicity of Maurice’s desire for love rendering his plight all the more unjust.

    I always just read what appeals to me, and tend to agree with Michael Cunningham’s viewpoint that he does not write gay fiction but is rather a gay man writing fiction. Also appreciate that you make the distinction between the genre and erotica. A common misconception unfortunately. I think that more people will be inclined to pick some of these up now as so many appreciate your literary taste in general. Great post.

  8. You have quite a few different titles to read. I’ve read a lot of GLBT for teens but never have read any adult literature. I will have to bookmark your post so that I can reference it in the future!!

  9. GLBT lit is one of the genres that I’ve always been interested in exploring but I never knew quite where to start. Thanks for these excellent suggestions!

  10. does Junky by William S. Burroughs count in this category? Or And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks?

    If not then I’m definitely behind on my GLBT. Great list to start from, thanks.

  11. Thanks for these! I don’t actively search out glbt lit, like Frances I tend to just read what appeals.

    I’d also add David Leavitt’s The Lost Language of Cranes.

  12. Thanks for such a good list – all of these sound like wonderful books, and I’m adding several of them to my library list.

  13. I just finished Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. Amazing. Victorian London, scheming, pickpocketing, insane asylums, and incredible, unpredictable plot twists. I’m jealous of everyone who hasn’t read this book and can experience the plot twists anew.

    I noticed there were no T (trans) reads on your list. Not surprising, because it often gets forgotten in the GLBT acronym. Then I tried to think of trans lit I had read or even heard about. All I could come up with was Middlesex, and I’m not entirely sure that counts because is the genetic condition resulting in hermaphrodism truly trans? I have no idea.

  14. Thank you for this list. I also admire Andrew Holleran’s more recent novel Grief. Andre Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name is another favorite.

  15. I was looking for more info on how Barack Obama declared June national LGBT Pride month and stumbled across this really interesting campaign BooksOnBoard (www.booksonboard.com) is doing called ” Pride not Prejudice”. They are featuring (and discounting)a bunch of ebook and audio book titles having to do with LGBT pride as well as other areas of social change and acceptance. I just think it’s a really cool approach to the subject that hasn’t really been done before— especially by a more mainstream company. Plus I really like the name haha.

    Check it out:

  16. Maurice is one of my all-time favorite books, too.

    Also, I have given you an award! Come by and check it out:

    Yes, because you are awesome 🙂

  17. Thanks for this list Matt! I have Maurice on my shelves, and I’ll be adding more of these to the TBR. 🙂

  18. Sandy:
    Alan Hollinghurst has a knack of blending politics into his novels that actually doesn’t bore me. I don’t like political fiction that much.

  19. Nymeth:
    I’m not well-read in lesbian and transgender category, so I have to rely on the bigger 100 list.

  20. Jen:
    Maurice and Giovanni’s Room are must-reads. 🙂

  21. Greg S:
    I’m waiting for Hollinghurst’s new book. I’m not sure if he’s working on one.

  22. Mish:
    I looked up the book but there are two titles by two different authors. Which one should I be looking for?

  23. Lezlie:
    Several of James Baldwin’s works are semi-autobiographical. Giovanni’s Room obviously is very gay and poignant. Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone is a nice intro to his career.

  24. Frances:
    The misconception that erotica is gay fiction often drives readers away from exploring these books. Erotica is at best a sub-category of gay literature and fiction. Some gay authors tend to be hush-hush about their orientation simply because their sexuality identity bear no relevance in the topics they’re writing. A few authors whom I have read recently might be gay but it’s not in my position to discuss the orientation because I’m not totally sure and that it’s not appropriate anyway.

  25. Staci:
    These titles are among some of the most overlooked books. They behold great literary values. 🙂

  26. Ruth @ Bookish Ruth:
    My personal list is limited to gay literature. try the big 100 list for more ideas. 🙂

  27. Elena:
    I guess he does. But I haven’t read any of his works. 🙂

  28. CW:
    David Leavitt, yes I almost forgot. I haven’t read anything since The Page Turner.

  29. Becca:
    Hope you enjoy reading them. 🙂

  30. Shannon:
    In my personal list of 10, I do not have any TG and only 1 lesbian fiction, because I’m very under-read in these two categories. I therefore include the pink triangle top 100 list for references.

  31. mollygrace:
    I’ve got both titles on my TBR pile 🙂

  32. JC:
    Thank you so much for the link. I like Pride not Prejudice. It’s very gimmicky but not cliche. I believe social change can start at reading some of these literature, which doesn’t just profess sexuality but that gay people are human and are capable of emotion as everyone else is.

  33. gentle reader:
    Thank you so much! I’m so flattered to get an award from one of the most thoughtful blogger and reader. 🙂

  34. Eva:
    Happy reading Eva! 🙂

  35. That you for the recommendation. I also enjoyed “Story of the night” Colm Toibin. It was a delicious read, one of those books to tied me to the bedpost with satin and made me read until the finish.

  36. Hi, Matt–I’ve been a follower of your blog for some time, and enjoy it immensely. I enjoy the wide variety of material that you read–I, too, read a broad variety (mostly fiction). I just started my own blog that I hope readers of your blog will check out and enjoy.
    I will be doing the occasional giveaway, so readers will have the chance to win something as well.
    Thanks, and take care!

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