Every Sunday, Lethe brings you a list of books on a theme compiled from suggestions from its readers, its editors and its authors. This list is neither exhaustive, didactic or ordered, and while there are no doubt numerous books left off it, hopefully there are also a number of new books here for you to discover.
As this is our first of such lists, we'll start at the very beginning (a very good place to start, as a clever lady once said) with Gay Lit 101, or the essential books for any reader of gay literature.
The Dancer From The Dance, Andrew Holleran
Set in Pre-AIDs 1970s Fire Island, Holleran's novel pokes at the dark heart of the party, and has been described as 'the golden era of gay liberation's greatest chronicle.'
Orange Are Not The Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson
If this line is thin on lesbian fiction, at least it includes the always-excellent Winterson. From the same era as A Boy's Own Story, Oranges' protagonist comes of age amidst a complex relationship with her mother, and her church.
Giovanni's Room, James Baldwin
On the surface simply a novel about a gay romance in Paris, Giovanni's Room maintains it's place in the pantheon of gay literature thanks to its subtle examination of gay identity in a hostile world.
Naked Lunch, William Borroughs
A well-earned place for 'queer and weird', Naked Lunch melds hard-boiled into the hinterlands of strangeness, with protagonists drifting in and our of heroin-laced visions.
From the Lethe vaults:
It would be inflated of us to suggest that any of Lethe's titles belong in the pantheon of essential gay lit, but if we could lay money...
Bitter Waters by Chaz Brenchley is an exemplary example of gay and fantastical fiction. No wonder it won a Lambda Literary Award (like many of the above books mentioned). Chaz Brenchley is a born storyteller and there is not a single tale in this collection that will not inspire the imagination of gay readers.
I Knew Him by Erastes - If Patricia Highsmith were still writing today and tackled a British Historical this novel would not be far off from what she would achieve. Rich with the flavor of the time and complicated by a Wildean sociopath who believes he does terrible deeds out of love, this novel will thrill and delight readers.
Hard by Wayne Hoffman offers an immersive read into the 1980s, a time when AIDS was at the height of its terror--"The Plague Years." Hoffman does not shy away from characters who seek pleasure during this time and also seek the truth and justice against the homophobia and self-interests that let the disease spread.
Promises, Promises by LJ Baker gives lesbian readers all the wit and wonders of a Terry Prachett tale with the romance between women that will leave them smiling and content. Few stories have as much heart as this humorous fantasy.
Shadow Man by Melissa Scott is not an easy book. If you loved LeGuin's Left Hand of Darkness then you are ready to tackle this complex science fiction novel which features seven gender brought about by technology that makes space travel feasible. But few books ever dared so much to break down the illusion of binary gender. Another Lambda Literary Winner.
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