April 19th: Favorite LGBTQ+ Reads: Talk about your favorite books that feature LGBTQ+ characters or are by LGBTQ+ authors.
I love this topic. LGBT+ representation is so important, and something that definitely makes me more likely to pick a book up. For this topic I decided to focus on books that contain LGBT+ characters rather than books written by LGBT+ authors, though at times they go hand in hand.
This was hard to narrow down! The first three on this list are highly recommended if you’re tired of LGBT+ narratives steeped in tragedy – the last two, not so much, so proceed with caution.
Maurice by E.M. Forster: What’s even more radical than the fact that this book about an LGBT relationship was written in 1913? That the author decided to give his gay protagonist happiness. Maurice is a beautiful story about the titular character coming to terms with his sexuality in Edwardian England, living in his elite and secluded world at Cambridge. Maurice Hall is thoroughly unspectacular in every way, a perfectly respectable member of society, except for this one, glaring thing that sets him apart. While this narrative has all the potential in the world to turn tragic, Forster resists, creating a story that can offer hope to LGBT readers even a century after it was written. Posthumously published in 1971, Maurice graciously allows the reader access to Forster’s perspective on homosexuality from the early 1900s, making this a unique classic that’s not to be missed.
The Price of Salt (or Carol) by Patricia Highsmith: In this lesbian classic, a young woman, Therese, trapped in the tedium of her department store job one day meets Carol – a fashionable and alluring older women. The two embark on a relationship that takes them on a road trip across the country, pursued by a private investigator who attempts to blackmail Carol into choosing between her child and her lover. This is a beautiful and gentle story about two fantastic and memorable lead characters, whose relationship you’re always rooting for. (Fantastic performances by the two lead actresses aside, I’m actually not a huge fan of the film. I thought it missed part of the point by taking a lot of the focus away from Therese. Part coming of age story and part reckoning with her sexuality, this is Therese’s story first and foremost, and I think the film suffered from switching a lot of the focus to Carol.)
Angels in America by Tony Kushner: In this massive host of characters, I believe only two in the entire play are straight, so if you like theatre and you like LGBT+ stories, look no further than Angels in America. Set against the backdrop of the AIDS crisis in 1980s America, Kushner weaves together a bizarre and fantastical story about an eclectic group of characters all searching for truth and honesty and happiness, as themes of sexuality and religion and the American identity intersect. This ambitious play is seven hours long, broken into two parts (“Millennium Approaches” and “Perestroika”), and it has some of the most beautiful writing that I’ve ever seen. If you get a chance to see it definitely go because it’s visually very stunning, but just reading the script at home is also more than sufficient to get immersed in this story. The miniseries starring Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, Mary-Louise Parker, et. al is also fantastic.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller: If you look at any ‘best gay novels’ list you’ll usually see The Song of Achilles toward the top, and with good reason. In this retelling, Madeline Miller takes the Iliad and hones in on the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus – a relationship which scholars for centuries have debated the nature of – and makes it an explicitly gay romance, filling in the blanks of their relationship. Fans of the Iliad know it’s a tragic story from the outset, but it’s also not without genuine moments of beauty and tenderness, making for an incredibly emotional ride from start to finish. The Song of Achilles is ultimately a testament to the strength of the love between these two characters – a love that’s endured throughout the ages.
Tender by Belinda McKeon: In 1990s Dublin, two young people meet – Catherine and James – and immediately form an intense bond, which quickly spirals out of control for them both. I debated whether or not I wanted to include this, because its inclusion on this list is a bit of a spoiler (if you read the summary on Goodreads, there’s no mention of an LGBT+ character). But you do find this out pretty early on (about 20% into the book, or not even that far) so I honestly don’t think I’ve ruined too much for you. I did really want to include Tender, because it’s a fragile and overwhelmingly sad exploration of the self-destructive behavior that people engage in to try to hide or suppress part of their identity, and a good reminder that for as much progress as our society has made, being out even today or as recently as 1990 isn’t a simple thing.
Honorable mentions to Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson, More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera, Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka-Brunt, The Night Watch by Sarah Waters, and Alcestis by Katharine Beutner, all of which I was also considering for this list.
So what are your favorite LGBT+ reads? Comment and let me know!