Uli Lenart asked some of our favourite LGBT+ writers to share their thoughts about their most loved queer books. Some are lesser known classics, others more contemporary books on LGBT+ themes. All are gems worth discovering. Enjoy!
Author and director Neil Bartlett on Orlando by Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf’s Orlando – started in 1927, published in 1928 – is a disconcerting delight. Fuelled by Virginia Woolf’s infatuation with her new lover, Vita Sackville West, it tracks a single figure through several centuries and both genders as he/she/they ransack history (not to mention every wardrobe in sight) in a wayward search for pleasure, sex and identity. Delirious, magical, impossible, breathless this is a book I love. It makes me remember just how queer being queer can be. It makes both my head and heart truly spin.
Author Sarah Waters on Summer Will Show by Sylvia Townsend Warner
Sylvia Townsend Warner was a terrific writer, and Summer Will Show is one of the most engaging of her novels, and also the queerest. It tells the story of Sophia Willoughby, a disillusioned Victorian wife who travels to Paris to confront her husband’s charismatic mistress, Minna, only to fall under Minna’s spell herself. A lush celebration of erotic and political awakenings, the novel reflects Townsend Warner’s long and devoted relationship with fellow Communist (and handsome butch), Valentine Ackland.
Author Clayton Littlewood on A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
A Single Man is a day in the life of 58-year-old George, a man who has recently lost his partner, Jim, in a car crash, and is struggling with the loss. While George steps through everyday life, the ghost of his lover, flits in and out, a constant reminder that he is alone. I was in my 40s when I first read it. Ten years later, recently widowed myself, I now find a resonance in every brilliantly placed word.
Author Kerry Hudson on Carol by Patricia Highsmith
I read Carol by Patricia Highsmith long before Cate Blanchett luminously set the silver screen alight in the title role. I was 21 and newly in love with a woman. My father bought a copy of The Price of Salt (the novel’s original name) for me along with Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle but it was Highsmith’s novel that resonated most with me. Unsurprising, since at the time I was working as a Christmas Elf in Harrods. Carol not only gave me an epic lesbian love story at a time I needed one but also gave me the courage to fully own my personal love story.
Author Garth Greenwell on We Think the World of You by J. R. Ackerley
Ackerley’s sentences are so beautiful, and his quips so funny, that it’s easy to miss the hard work this perfect book is doing. Frank, a thoroughly unlikable narrator—he more or less hates other people, especially women and the poor—is tormented by his married, incarcerated lover’s indifference, and takes refuge in the ideal love of the man’s dog. What follows is a kind of moral education, or at least a moral cornering, forcing Frank up against what one suspects he most fears: “the darkness of my own mind.”
Playwright, director and performer Rikki Beadle-Blair on Blackbird by Larry Duplechan
I fell in love with Blackbird on reading its very first line, “I dreamed I was dancing the waltz with Sal Mineo.” The voice of the central character, Johnny Ray Rousseau, a quick-witted black guy teenager so clear to me, I could I have been speaking to myself. Blackbird is a phenomenally quick read about a black teenager with multi-cultural friends and influences. A boy who loved music to the point of obsession. A boy who had crushes and romantic ambitions. A boy like me. Rereading the book I was still utterly swept away and besotted. I’ve never known anyone to read it who wasn’t.
Author, journalist and salon host Damian Barr on The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Celie’s beautiful bond with her sister Nettie is forged by the fists of their father. Defiant Nettie is sent away leaving brave, but broken, Celie a domestic slave. When glamorous nightclub singer Shug Avery arrives unexpectedly Celie falls in love with her glamour and her body. The least likely, and most tender, love affair blooms between the confident older woman and the seemingly defeated teenage girl. See Spielberg’s film, sway to the musical but don’t miss this brutal beautiful queer classic.
Author and journalist Juno Dawson on Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
You could happily read any novel by David Levithan (Boy Meets Boy and Every Day are utterly wonderful) but I’d start with Two Boys Kissing. With lyrical, lilting prose to die for, Two Boys Kissing sees a Greek chorus of dead AIDS victims observe the behaviour of a diverse group of modern teens with sadness, joy, regret and, most keenly, longing. Life-affirming and beautiful.
Literary agent Laura Macdougall on What Goes Around by Emily Chappell
This book is a delight: London seen from the road, but not as you know it. Chappell lifts the lid on the city’s loveliest secluded squares, idiosyncrasies of traffic flow and – of course – the cafés that offer the cheapest cuppa to a weary cyclist. The history of the cycle courier comes alive as we are guided by Chappell’s friendly and intelligent voice, and London seems somehow smaller and yet still more vast as we discover the city anew from the perspective of two wheels.