Happy Pride Month, everyone! Every June, the American LGBTQ+ community comes together to memorialize the Stonewall Riots, which marked their 50th anniversary in 2019. Whether you’ve been going to Pride events for as long as you can remember, or are looking forward to taking part in your first Pride parade this year, the 40 books on this list by LBGTQ+ authors are just what you need on your nightstand — this June, and beyond.
Some of humanity’s earliest recorded literature depicts gender-nonconforming individuals and relationships between similar-gender characters. Dating to the 11th century and widely regarded as the world’s first novel,
The Tale of Genji shows an encounter between its eponymous hero — who is attracted to both men and women — and the younger brother of a woman who spurns his advances. In Archaic Greece, Sappho of Lesbos — from whose name the words sapphic and lesbian derive — penned odes to female lovers. In his Metamorphoses, written around the turn of the first millennium, Ovid included the tale of Iphis: an AFAB person, raised in secret as a son, whom the goddess Isis changes into a man so that he may live happily ever after with his bride, Ianthe. Although none of these books appears on the list below, you’ll find that the titles we’ve included here represent the last 300 years of queer literature, with particular attention to 21st century releases.
Below, 40 LGBTQ+ books to add to your reading list.
We only include products that have been independently selected by Bustle’s editorial team. However, we may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.
Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex
Perhaps the most misunderstood sexual orientation, asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction to anyone, regardless of gender. Ace people — and aromantic people, who do not experience romantic attraction — are often treated as if they have some form of sexual dysfunction, and they may struggle to find their experiences represented in pop culture and literature. In
Ace, Angela Chen explores asexuality in the modern day, and analyzes what mainstream culture’s treatment of asexual people reveals about society’s relationship to sex, romance, queerness, and intimacy.
And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic
Originally published in the early 1990s, Randy Shilts’
And the Band Played On revisits the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, examining how homophobia — personal, cultural, and institutional — lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans and millions more people around the world.
Boy Meets Boy
Boy Meets Boy follows a sophomore attending an LBGTQ+ friendly high school. When a mistake foils his chance at love with the boy he’s certain is the one, our protagonist must figure out a way to defy the odds and win him back .
Call Me by Your Name
André Aciman’s bestseller won the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Fiction, and the movie adaptation of the same name took home the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Set along the Italian Riviera in the 1980s,
Call Me by Your Name centers on 17-year-old Elio, a bisexual Jewish boy, who has a passionate affair with an older Jewish med student, 24-year-old Oliver, during one fateful summer.
The City and the Pillar
Seven years ago, Jim and his friend, Bob, had sex during a camping trip, just before Bob graduated from high school and left their hometown. One year younger than Bob, Jim has spent all the years since coming to terms with his sexuality and pining for the friend he lost. He’s always hoped he’d one day they’d rekindle their love affair, but their reunion may not prove joyful.
Deliver Us from Evie
Lesbian pulp author Marijane Meaker published her 1994 YA novel,
Deliver Us from Evie, under the same pseudonym she used to write Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack. The book follows 16-year-old Parr Burrman, who has no desire to work on his family’s Missouri farm. Luckily, his butch older sister, 18-year-old Evie, doesn’t mind farm work. But when Evie strikes up a romance with a well-liked family’s daughter, Parr struggles to figure out what his sister’s lesbianism means for him.
A mysterious and catastrophic event has separated the midwestern city of Bellona from the rest of the United States. There’s no way to get a message in or out, the sun’s all wrong, and time isn’t linear anymore. Into this fray comes the Kid: a mixed-race man of Native American ancestry, who cannot remember his own name. Through the Kid’s adventures in Bellona,
Dhalgren explores questions of race, sexuality, and gender with a Joycean, sci-fi bent.
Don’t Call Us Dead
Published in 2017, NEA Fellow Danez Smith’s second poetry collection takes up issues of Blackness, queerness, and institutional violence. Dubbed
“fierce fire” by Roxane Gay, Don’t Call Us Dead is a must-read book.
The Feathers of Death
First published in 1959, Simon Raven’s
The Feathers of Death centers on Lt. Alastair Lynch, a British Army officer who is court-martialed for shooting a drummer in the back. If Lynch’s victim was truly a deserter, then the killing would be justified, but when the pair’s affair comes to light, nothing will ever be the same for anyone involved.
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café
Based loosely on the events of the Book of Ruth,
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café is a must-read tale of love, loss, triumph, and revenge. The novel centers on two women, Idgie and Ruth, who own and operate a café in their dusty Alabama hometown during the Great Depression. Author Fannie Flagg frames the novel’s events as a story-within-a-story, told by Idgie’s sister-in-law to her much-younger friend, Evelyn, in the 1980s.
In her 2006 graphic memoir,
Dykes to Watch Out For author Alison Bechdel re-examines her relationship with her father, Bruce: a closeted gay man who was struck and killed in a motor vehicle accident in 1980. Tracing the delicate lines between her father’s experiences and her own, Bechdel reflects on her queer childhood in Fun Home.
Gideon the Ninth
Tamsyn Muir spins a tale of lesbian necromancers, in space.
Gideon the Ninth follows lifelong enemies Harrow and Gideon, the youngest members of the empire’s Ninth House, as they partake in a mysterious competition to decide which of the competing necromancers — Harrow and representatives from the Second through Eighth Houses — will become an undying member of the emperor’s personal guard. Gideon’s only agreed to be Harrow’s cavalier so that she can leave the Ninth for good, but she soon finds herself in the middle of a toothsome murder mystery .
Go Tell It on the Mountain
James Baldwin’s semi-autobiographical novel follows John Grimes, the son of a Pentecostal Harlem preacher who left the South in the Great Migration, as he wrestles with crises of identity and faith.
How to Write an Autobiographical Novel
From the author of
The Queen of the Night comes this autobiographical essay collection about Alexander Chee’s life so far. Tackling issues of race and nationality, sexuality, work, and politics, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel is as masterful as it is wide-ranging.
How We Fight for Our Lives
Saeed Jones’ memoir of growing up Black and gay in the American South won the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Memoir/Biography and the Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction. Moving between rhyme and reason,
How We Fight for Our Lives investigates how individuals — particularly marginalized individuals — come into their own.
Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl
From Sleater-Kinney founder and
Portlandia star Carrie Brownstein comes this bestselling memoir of growing up bisexual in a wash of punk rock and ’90s grunge.
In the Dream House
Her Body and Other Parties author Carmen Maria Machado reanalyzes her abusive relationship with another woman in this memoir, which won the Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ Nonfiction. Machado examines the twists and turns of their union, what compelled her to stay, and what finally prompted her to escape.
Let’s Talk About Love
Alice’s girlfriend ended their relationship when Alice came out as asexual. Now, she has no desire to date anyone ever again — at least, until she meets Takumi. Her cute co-worker at the local library is all she can think about, but there’s no way he’ll want to date an ace girl… right?
E.M. Forster’s classic novel languished unpublished for nearly 60 years before landing on store shelves in 1971. The titular Maurice is a stockbroker who had a deeply intimate love affair with another man, Clive, during their time studying at Cambridge. But when Maurice falls for a man of a different social standing, he’s is forced to reevaluate what he wants out of life.
Odd Girl Out
First published in 1957, Ann Bannon’s landmark work of lesbian pulp fiction follows two sorority sisters, Beth and Laura, who hatch a plan to run away to Greenwich Village, where they can live together away from the prying eyes and judgmental stares of their midwestern neighbors.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
Framed as a letter from the narrator to his subliterate mother,
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous centers on Little Dog: a gay Vietnamese American man who grew up in Connecticut with his traumatized mother and grandmother. Tracing threads of affection and abuse, Ocean Vuong’s debut novel is a tender, and at times heart-wrenching story of one young man’s family history.
Tracing the long life of its eponymous hero, from 1588 to 1928,
Orlando tells the story of one AMAB person’s sudden transition into womanhood as an adult. A high-flying comedy-adventure of romance and intrigue, Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel deserves a place on your bookshelf.
Our Lady of the Flowers
In this 1943
roman à clef, Jean Genet weaves together tales from the life of Divine — a canonized Parisian drag queen. Framed to an extent as the imprisoned narrator’s mastubatory fantasies, and written while the author himself was incarcerated, Our Lady of the Flowers is a sex-fueled epic of debauchery and murder.
Over the Top
Queer Eye star Jonathan Van Ness’ debut memoir is just as hilarious as the self-care guru themself. Still, Over the Top isn’t afraid to tackle the dark realities of the modern-day queer experience, and doesn’t shy away from heartbreaking moments in Van Ness’ life. Powerful and raw, this memoir will have you laughing and crying until you close the cover.
Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl
A more modern take on
Orlando, Andrea Lawlor’s Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl is a coming-of-age novel centered on a shapeshifting bartender living the good life on a cross-country journey through the early-1990s United States.
Jam and Redemption know that their hometown is free of monsters. Or at least, they thought they knew. Jam is forced to question everything she’s been taught when a strange creature, known only as Pet, is drawn out of a painting by Jam’s own blood. Is Pet really a monster? And, if so, what does that mean for Jam, Redemption, and the rest of Lucille?
The Picture of Dorian Gray
One of the most scandalous novels of its time,
The Picture of Dorian Gray follows one selfish young man whose pursuits of leisure and pleasure lead him to make a sordid deal with an unseen devil. Dorian has traded his soul for eternal youth and beauty, but what does that mean for those around him?
The Priory of the Orange Tree
A millennium ago, Queen Sabran’s ancestor defeated the Nameless One, a dragon who almost destroyed the world — ostensibly for good. Sabran’s entire kingdom believes that all dragons are just as evil as the Nameless One, even the water-loving ones ridden by people like Tané, who hails from the East. And even though some swear the Nameless One will return, that can’t happen as long as Queen Sabran is on the throne… can it?
Brandon Taylor’s Booker Prize-shortlisted debut novel,
Real Life, follows a queer, Black biochemistry major as he tries to escape the ghosts of his Alabama past in the hallowed halls of higher education. But something’s brewing beneath his cohort’s polite exterior, and one fateful weekend is about to bring it all to a head.
From the former editor of People.com comes this eye-opening memoir about growing up poor, mixed-race, and trans. From her childhood in Hawaii to her nail-biting, inter journey in pursuit of gender-affirming surgery, Mock tells her life story in
She’s Not There
Jennifer Finney Boylan was already a critically acclaimed writer when she transitioned, nearly 15 years into her publishing career. In 2003, two years after she published under her deadname for the last time, Boylan released her first memoir,
She’s Not There, providing insight into her personal and professional journey.
Transgender History: The Roots of Today’s Revolution
Transgender History may not cover pre-modern gender-nonconformity, but it does provide a fascinating and much-needed look at the last 70 years or so of trans culture. With bathroom bills and anti-trans sports legislation still making headlines across the United States, it’s important that everyone in the LGBTQ+ community, and their allies, understand how far we’ve come… and how far we’ve yet to go.
A Two-Spirit Journey: The Autobiography of a Lesbian Ojibwa-Cree Elder
Ma-Nee Chacaby did not lead an easy life. Her childhood in Northern Ontario was rife with abuse, and she narrowly avoided being separated from her family by Canadian welfare authorities — a stroke of luck that allowed her to remain connected with her Ojibwa-Cree heritage. Chacaby has openly identified as a lesbian since 1988, when backlash against her unplanned coming-out inspired her to begin telling her own story, her way.
Under the Udala Trees
Nigerian American author Chinelo Okparanta’s
Under the Udala Trees attracted major attention upon its publication in 2015, eventually winning the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian General Fiction, among other honors. The story here centers on two young girls, Ijeoma and Amina, who fall in love in midcentury Nnewi, Nigeria, against the backdrop of the Nigerian-Biafran War.
Upright Women Wanted
When her best friend — and secret love — is executed for dissent against the ruling state, Esther flees an arranged marriage to her late lover’s fiancé. She stows away on the wagon carrying a group of traveling librarians from town to town, believing that they — as disseminators of approved literature — are above reproach. But what she finds out about her traveling companions will shake the foundations her worldview
We Have Always Been Here
In her native Pakistan, Samra Habib learned to keep her identity as a member of a minority Muslim sect a secret. After immigrating to Canada, Habib found herself questioning gender roles and her sexuality, while navigating her new life in a country where being a Muslim, of any denomination, made her a minority.
The Well of Loneliness
Banned as obscene upon its publication in 1928,
The Well of Loneliness follows Stephen, an “invert” — aka homosexual — woman from an upper-class English family, as she struggles to find a place to settle and live as she wishes, away from the judgments of others.
Wound from the Mouth of a Wound
In their first full-length poetry collection,
award-winning writer torrin a. greathouse draws from their own experiences as an autistic, disabled, queer, trans person to explore questions of the body, the mind, violence, and acceptance.
A Year Without a Name
Lena Dunham’s sibling, Cyrus Grace Dunham, penned this 2019 memoir of self-discovery. Dunham’s struggle to pin down a sexual identity will resonate with readers, especially those for whom sexual orientation and identity were not — and could not be — taken for granted.
Zami: A New Spelling of My Name
Audre Lorde’s 1982 “biomythography” traces the poet’s life, from her childhood as the daughter of West Indian immigrants living in Harlem, to her time spent living in Mexico after college, to her return to New York City’s lesbian enclaves.