With Black Lives Matter protests coinciding with Pride Month around the country, the theme of this book list is representation and reflection. The conversation around racial justice recently has emphasized the importance of active intersectionality—how it takes work to make sure we’re hearing out all different identities.
LGBTQ+ representation has come a long way—a few years ago, I would’ve been hard-pressed for examples of fictional bi women beyond unfaithful Maureen from RENT—but it also requires a commitment to pursue and purchase diverse writers’ work. As a white, cis, bi reader, I was struck by the sheer mass of heterosexual stories on my bookshelf. That’s why I’ve rounded up some of my favorite LGBTQ+ reads, with a few new releases about queer people of color that I pledge to read this Pride Month, too.
Each book interrogates gender and sexuality in its own way, asking: Where have we been? Where are we going?
All the books on this list offer a look at complex LGBTQ+ experiences, making them great choices for your book club or beach bag. Each book interrogates gender and sexuality in its own way, asking: Where have we been? Where are we going? Both the writers and genres are diverse—with fiction, essays, and even a play on this list, there’s something here for everyone.
These are our Pride Month 2021 picks in literature:
"Nevada" by Imogen Binnie
For Fans Of: My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Otessa Moshfegh
Nevada is a novel that follows protagonist Maria Griffiths—a queer trans punk who works in an NYC bookstore much like The Strand—in a soul-searching journey across the country. In an interview, Binnie stated that she wrote the book for trans women, rather than merely to explain the trans experience to cis readers.
That said, trans and cis readers alike will connect to Binnie’s intimate portrayal of Maria. In the novel, Maria is a blogger about trans experiences, a brilliant tool to contrast what she feels and what she thinks she’s supposed to feel—adding texture and complexity to her decision-making. Reading it, I felt not only educated about trans lives, but thrilled to follow Maria’s journey.
"Mostly Dead Things" by Kristen Arnett
For Fans Of: Made for Love by Alissa Nutting
Mostly Dead Things follows gay taxidermist Jessa Morton as she struggles to keep the family business afloat in the wake her father’s suicide. A New York Times bestselling novel from a small press, the propulsive plot and sharp details are sure to capture any reader’s attention.
The first word I’d use to describe the novel is vivid. In bright prose, Arnett eschews the male gaze in favor of something else entirely: the taxidermist’s. Her queer protagonist is accepted by her family, putting the focus on the dramatic plot and her precise descriptions of bodies, both human and animal.
"Counternarratives" by John Keene
Category: Short story collection
For Fans Of: Ulysses by James Joyce
Counternarratives deconstructs the stories we thought we knew. In “Rivers,” Keene gives freed enslaved person Jim from Huckleberry Finn his own voice; in “Blues,” Keene follows poets Langston Hughes and Xavier Villarutia in a rhythmic depiction of their love affair.
The stories in this book are challenging, but they’re meant to challenge the forms and narratives we take for granted in history. Recent events have shown how important it is to do that work, which is why I’m returning again to these stories about Black, queer lives for Pride Month. You can find an excerpt in The Offing magazine here.
"Fun Home" by Alison Bechdel
Category: Graphic memoir
For Fans Of: One! Hundred! Demons! by Lynda Barry, The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
Fun Home is Alison Bechdel’s (of Bechdel test fame) graphic memoir about coming out in college, right before her father’s suicide. The title refers to the family funeral home she grew up working in. The book was adapted for the stage in 2013 and won the Tony Award for Best Musical.
This is required reading for anyone who loves literature, anyone who knows that getting lost in a good book can help you cope with the turmoil around you. Bechdel’s writing is sharp, her illustrations are funny, and it’s easy to get swept up in her world, the same way she reflects on getting swept up in books.
"How to Write an Autobiographical Novel" by Alexander Chee
Category: Essay collection
For Fans Of: Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino
Far from an actual manual on how to write a novel, Chee’s essay collection is about identity and the challenges of translating it to the page. The experiences he writes about range from tarot cards to AIDS activism to gardening, and he interrogates how we use events to create and immortalize our lives.
Chee’s reflections on his life will be especially inspirational for artists. Even though it’s not the main purpose, I found myself sneaking writing tips from Chee and what he’s learned on his artistic journey. Read his essay on tarot cards here as a preview of what’s to come
"Her Body and Other Parties" by Carmen Maria Machado
Category: Short story collection
For Fans Of: The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
This feminist, sci-fi and fantasy short story collection is a magical celebration of the female body. One story summarizes all the episodes of Law & Order in a queer, fantastical reimagining of the way we treat gendered violence on television. This book is one of the most incisive, unique, and entertaining short story collections of the last five years. If you want a taste of what’s to come, the first story “The Husband Stitch” is available online here.
The only challenge when choosing whether or not to include this book was deciding whether I should include In the Dream House, Machado’s experimental memoir, instead. Detailing an abusive gay relationship, part of her project is to show how women don’t have the same frameworks and stories to recognize abuse from other women as they do from men. After reading excerpts here and here, this book is on my personal Pride Month reading list.
The Girls by Emma Cline
For Fans Of: Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill
Cline tells a fictionalized version of the Manson murders through the eyes of queer protagonist, Evie Boyd. She looks back at her time on the ranch, grappling with the mix of her crush on another member and the patriarchal forces that nudged her toward the cult in the first place.
While not a typical celebration of gay pride, Cline’s prose is close to my heart and interrogates the compulsive heterosexuality that young women can feel—how girls’ lives are often structured around what will get them noticed by men, instead of their own interest. As a bisexual woman, her novel was a personal turning point in attempting to divorce my actions from a hetero-patriarchal gaze.
As a bisexual woman, her novel was a personal turning point in attempting to divorce my actions from a hetero-patriarchal gaze.
"The Inheritance" by Matthew Lopez
For Fans Of: Angels in America by Tony Kushner, Visions and Revisions by Dale Peck
The Inheritance is a 6-hour long marathon play that transferred from the West End to Broadway, setting records for new play awards in West End history. The play follows a group of gay men who discuss the simultaneous trauma and activist responsibilities they’ve inherited from their forefathers in the AIDS crisis, many of whom did not survive.
Even as a theatre-lover, it’s hard to sell me on a six-hour long play about a devastating disease. But when I was lucky enough to see it in New York, the play was riveting and lively and hopeful, a light that illuminates both the past and the way forward. Plus, plays are fun to read with friends, and quick to read by yourself, if you’re looking to knock out a book within a night.
"Fairest" by Meredith Talusan
Meredith Talusan’s memoir has exploded on the literary scene, earning mostly rave reviews on criticism aggregator Book Marks, and a spot on my reading list for Pride Month. She describes her experience living with albinism in a Philippine village, immigrating to America, studying literature at Harvard, and transitioning. She navigates passing for white because of her albinism and presenting as multiple genders over the course of her life, and I’m excited to dive into her insights.
"You Should See Me in a Crown" by Leah Johnson
Category: YA Novel
You Should See Me in a Crown is a rom-com about a queer Black protagonist whose elite college funding falls through. Reluctantly, she makes a bid to earn her town’s prom queen scholarship, and, presumably, develops feelings for a fellow competitor along the way. I’ve found myself turning to YA media as a respite during this time--the way that stories like Booksmart, The Half of It, and Never Have I Ever can show us the hope, energy, and bravery of high school students. YA Novel
"Pizza Girl" by Jean Kyoung Frazier
Pizza Girl is Frazier’s highly anticipated debut novel, about a pregnant pizza girl who becomes obsessed with one of her regular customers, a single mother. Advance reviews all praise Frazier’s wit and propulsive prose. I’ve had the luck to see her perform her hilarious, poignant poetry in person, and ever since I found out about her novel, this has been my most anticipated book for the summer.