The best novels for LGBT+ History Month
Welcome to my LGBT+ corner of the literary world, where characters’ identities unfold in unexpected ways, and yes, they just so happen to be gay.
As we step into LGBT+ History Month this February, I’m excited to share a selection of books that have touched my heart, made me think, and sometimes made me the ‘less embarrassing gay uncle at the dinner party.’
These aren’t just stories with LGBTQ+ leads; they’re windows into the soul of a community, celebrating love, struggle, and the quest for identity. So, whether you’re reading on the Tube/Number Nine bus or tucked away in your favourite nook, join me in exploring narratives that resonate with our lives and times.
About LGBT+ History Month
LGBT+ History Month, observed in February, celebrates and acknowledges the contributions, struggles, and achievements of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. I’d like to share a bunch of books I’ve read (not all of them recently, so forgive me if any feel dated) that shine a light on the often overlooked or erased narratives of LGBT+ individuals.
Busting publishing taboos
“Giovanni’s Room” by James Baldwin – Published in 1956, this novel was groundbreaking for portraying homosexuality and bisexuality at a time when such subjects were more or less taboo. Baldwin, an African American writer, explores themes of identity, passion, and alienation in post-war Paris, making it a seminal work in queer literature.
At the time of its release, “Giovanni’s Room” was praised for its boldness and lyrical prose but faced criticism from deeply conservative parts of the publishing industry. Baldwin’s publisher at the time refused to publish it, fearing the book’s themes of homosexuality would alienate readers. So, he found another publisher.
Award winning and still ‘most challenged’
“The Color Purple” by Alice Walker – This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel from 1982 tells the story of Celie, an African American woman in the early 20th century South, and her journey towards self-discovery, empowerment, and love in a relationship with another woman. Walker’s exploration of sexuality, race, and gender in a historical context is both powerful and moving.
Following publication in 1983, Walker became the first black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. This hasn’t stopped the book from being banned in schools and libraries across the United States. It frequently appears on the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books.
“Call Me By Your Name” by André Aciman was a recent read for me, and I was quite taken aback to find it first surfaced as far back as 2007. This, obviously, makes me a bad gay.
Set in the 1980s on the Italian Riviera, it captures the summer romance between Elio, a 17-year-old Italian-American boy, and Oliver, a 24-year-old visiting American student. A critically acclaimed film in 2017 significantly boosted the novel’s popularity and visibility – and prompted me to read it. Yes, you’re right. I’m a very bad gay indeed.
Explicit content and the central premise of a relationship between an adolescent and a young adult have led to mixed reactions – though I’m sure I was doing the same at that age.
One man and his bag
“Less” by Andrew Sean Greer was my pre-Christmas read. Totally absorbing, it’s the story of middle-aged novelist Arthur Less, who travels the world to avoid attending his ex-boyfriend’s wedding. If anything, it helped rebuild my confidence in ‘Husbands‘, realising I could very easily publish a gay love story that covers dark parts of the world and the mind and not need to offer a brown paper bag cover.
“Less” won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2018. Obviously, I’ll be dusting down my wedding/funeral suit to accept the award in 2024.
Perhaps because the lead character is approaching 50, nobody in charge of banning books would expect Less to have lots of sex, so the novel has avoided being burned and banned by Moms for Jesus or whatever those hateful women call themselves. “Less” has largely been celebrated for contributing to literature and its respectful, humorous take on its themes.
It happened in Vegas.
“Honey Girl” by Morgan Rogers. This is a debut novel by someone who I need to keep writing books. A young Black woman fresh out of college marries a woman on a whim in Vegas. And let’s face it, any book where that’s the premise has to be brilliant (ahem – Husbands).
After a lifetime of playing by her father’s strict rules, Grace Porter kicks back. It’s a story that celebrates the pressures of academic success, conformity, and being who you should be.
“Honey Girl” delivers an uplifting and hopeful message without shying from the importance of community and support for anyone taking their first steps from what used to be called ‘the closet’ in my day (I can’t say this often enough. I am very old and a bad gay).
I hope I’ve given you something to consider reading as you wait for your advance order of ‘Husbands‘ that hits the stores and sites on 6 June 2024. What do you mean you didn’t order it yet?
Let me fix that for you…