As a diverse collective of enthusiastic readers and writers, we here at Paperback Paris accept narratives and individuals from all walks of life. Our mission is always to spread love and awareness through our shared appreciation of books as well as the authors who write the stories within them.
In an effort to encourage diversity and various voices in the realm of literature, we celebrate LGBT Pride Month by speaking about some of our favorite LGBTQ+ reads. Each of these books on our list represents a faction of the LGBT movement and have maintained a special place in our hearts as a means of expressing diversity and interpreting narratives that differ from our own.
Melissa, Paris, Carliann, and Leah all dish on their favorite LGBT-focused books, below.
1. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson
Jeanette Winterson is known for her argument that she’s “never understood why straight fiction is supposed to be for everyone, but anything with a gay character or that includes gay experience is only for queers.” This objection comes from claims surrounding Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, often referred to as a “lesbian novel”—though it does feature a girl who grows up in a hyper-religious family and must come to terms with her sexuality, that’s certainly not the most exciting part of the novel. The most exciting part is Winterson’s impeccable artistry of language that makes her my favorite author. — Contributor, Carliann Rittman
2. Blue Is the Warmest Color, Julie Maroh
After I watched Abdellatif Kechiche‘s 2013 adaptation of Julie Maroh‘s graphic novel Blue is the Warmest Color, I was eager to read it and see how the two differed. There are several notable differences, but the essential elements of the story remain the same. Two young women—Emma and Clementine—fall in love with each other and spend many years together until Clementine tragically dies.
Unlike the film, where both characters are willing to participate in political activism for LGBT rights, only Emma is willing to participate in such public displays. Clementine prefers to keep her sexuality private, which leads to infidelity on Emma’s end. Clementine chronicles their ups and downs in a series of journals that she has kept for the duration of their relationship, which forms the fabric of the narrative as Emma reads them following Clementine’s death.
Any fans of the film will enjoy Maroh’s graphic novel. The story is just as unforgettable and the illustrations are gorgeous. — Contributor, Leah Rodriguez
3. The Laramie Project and The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, Moises Kaufman
I was well aware of my sexuality before I ever knew the implications of what it meant to be gay. I was 16 when I read The Laramie Project. It was then when I learned the real horrors of how quickly prejudice could materialize into violence at the bat of eye.
October 7, 1988: a University of Wyoming student named Matthew Shephard is discovered on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming—bludgeoned, fence-bound and left to die. The book takes the shape of a play, and chronicles the residual and psychological impact of a hate crime committed in a small crowd that would grow to consume the world.
While Shephard’s story was far from fictive, it’s importance to me is in part to it being the first book I’d ever read that featured a gay character. I was in Grade 10 when I first read The Laramie Project, and I’ll never forget the looks on my classmates’ faces—most of whom were notable homophobes hiding in closets of their own—as Dr. Cronin made each and every one of us read those parts every single day. And for once, there seemed to be a genuine sense of humanity in that room. It’s a shame that it takes an eye-opening atrocity like this to snap people out of their own ignorance. Thank God for the existence of this book. — Editor-in-chief, Paris Close
4. Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami
It goes without saying that Haruki Murakami places a lot of emphasis on character identity within his novels. Often, his narrators are on a search to find their true selves. Furthermore, they are often incredibly open with just about any circumstance.
In Kafka on the Shore, Murakami makes a profound statement on the nature of gender identity and privilege through Oshima, who is transgender and gay. In outward appearance and mannerisms, Oshima is male. In fact, his identity is not put into question until two feminist women enter the library in which he works and make ridiculous comments about gender equality, bashing the library for the fact that female authors are listed towards the end of the catalogue (when, in fact, the catalogue is sorted alphabetically and categorically), along with commenting on the fact that there is a single, gender-neutral bathroom. When Oshima argues against these points to the women, they make an offhand comment about how he couldn’t possibly understand women’s issues as he is a man.
A scene then plays out in which Oshima reveals that he is, by birth, female. Although his driver’s license and birth certificate claim that he is a woman and he remains a woman physically, he identifies as a male. Through this incredibly unexpected, yet wonderful scene, Murakami makes it clear that identity is fluid. All people should be accepted for who they are, not for who they are expected to be by the standards of society. — Contributor, Melissa Ratcliff
5. Significant Others: Creativity & Intimate Partnership, Whitney Chadwick, Isabelle De Courtivron
Significant Others is a stunning non-fiction book that examines romantic artistic bonds, dedicating a chapter to a significant artistic pair. I was originally drawn to it because of my obsession with the relationship between writers Henry Miller and Anais Nin, but I was really pleasantly surprised to find out that the book didn’t limit itself to heterosexual couples—the chapter on Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West is particularly dreamy, and it takes the time to directly address the fact that focuses on artistic bonds are so often male/female power dynamics, and the curiosities that come along with that. — Carliann
6. The Upside of Unrequited, Becky Albertalli
The Upside of Unrequited is, without a doubt, one of the most diverse books I have read, YA or otherwise. The main characters are all incredibly different from one another and follow different religions, have different sexual orientations, and are of different races, body types, and backgrounds. In just the first few chapters, Becky Albertalli makes it incredibly clear that she is all for LGBT, and it is a wonderful touch. In just the small family that the book revolves around including teenagers, Molly and Cassie, and their mothers, Patty and Nadine, Albertalli presents incredible diversity within the LGBT community.
Throughout the novel, we are introduced to a number of characters that identity in different ways. Patty is bisexual, Nadine and Cassie are lesbians, and Cassie’s eventual girlfriend, Mina, is pansexual. As if including a unique cast of characters wasn’t already a step in the right direction, Albertalli does something even better, she makes it clear that these things are incredibly normal. While the LGBT community is slowly gaining acceptance, it’s wonderful to see things without any sort of bias. Instead, Albertalli presents a picture of normal, everyday life that is full of acceptance, something that should be a part of today’s society, but oftentimes, isn’t.
One of the incredible features of The Upside of Unrequited is a scene that takes place later on in the novel that occurs shortly after gay marriage is legalized. Patty and Nadine, who have been together for quite some time, are finally given the opportunity to get married, without question. Celebrations and preparations for the wedding color the rest of the novel, culminating in a beautiful at home ceremony that makes it clear that our differences don’t matter in the least. — Melissa
7. A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara
A Little Life is long and takes a while to get into, but once you’re in, it’s hard to get out. It is a completely heart-wrenching tale of four classmates and best friends who move to New York City. One of them happens to be gay. All of the characters are incredibly complex and well-developed, and the novel charters a range of subjects, particularly in terms of trauma. Did I mention that Hanya Yanagihara‘s writing is really beautiful? — Carliann
8. Carry On, Rainbow Rowell
I went through a Rainbow Rowell phase this past fall after remembering how much I enjoyed reading Fangirl in college. (That was my trick—avoid class work by reading random YAs…) Anyway! I loved the Simon Snow subplot woven into Cat’s story; she devotedly writes fan fiction based on a series of books about Simon and his friends at Watford. But I somehow missed that Rowell had written the spinoff Carry On.
I loved it. I couldn’t put it down for a second. Some people have poo-poo’d the obvious Harry Potter parallel, but I think it’s extremely clever, and it’s certainly entertaining. I was so impressed by the way Rowell was able to pack six years of back story into what would be Simon’s penultimate year at Watford. The world is rich, the narrative compelling, and the characters absolutely fangirl worthy (see what I did there??) Imagine writing fan fiction about Simon Snow, which originated as fan fiction in Fangirl. So meta.
Indeed, the best part about Carry On is the budding romance between Simon and his sworn arch-nemesis/roommate, Basilton “Baz” Grimm-Pitch. As Simon continues his effort to defeat the Insidious Humdrum, Baz maintains his mysterious distance and obvious disdain for Simon. Of course, Baz’s disdain is just a ruse. He’s been in love with Simon since he was twelve. And soon enough, Simon’s feelings begin to grow as well. — Leah
9. The Well of Loneliness, Radclyffe Hall
Radclyffe Hall‘s 1928 novel The Well of Loneliness tells the story of an upper-class girl named Stephen Gordon as she grows up with what is then known as “sexual inversion.” Though Stephen’s lesbianism is apparent from a young age, her parents, especially her father, dote on her.
Because of the strict social mores of the time, Stephen’s relationships often end in heartbreak, but she finds her own sense of power and peace through writing, much like Hall did in real life. Her novel was groundbreaking for the time period and was the focus of intense scrutiny in England and America. James Douglas, a reporter for the Sunday Express and staunch supporter of censorship, said, “I would rather give a healthy boy or a healthy girl a vial of prussic acid than this novel.” Charming, right?
The Well of Loneliness is an incredible contribution to LGBT fiction. It is remarkably well written and deeply felt—a truly pioneering text. — Leah
10. Brokeback Mountain, Annie Proulx
I didn’t know Brokeback Mountain was novelized before I watched the 2005 film rework. At that time in my life, watching two men kiss on screen was considered inappropriate and unheard of in my household. There was no bigotry, of course, but it just wasn’t something most people in my family would agree to watch.
Knowing absolutely no one in my family would have bought the DVD, I had to sneak downstairs to watch the film on HBO while everyone else slept. It was the most beautiful and complicated love story between two men I’d ever witnessed. And yet, it made so much sense to me.
Annie Proulx’s short story crept into my life once again shortly after I graduated from college when I finally read the tale. Still, to this day, Ennis and Jack’s troubled and intoxicating love affair chills me to the core each time I read it. Their future is a sad and heartbreaking one, but it’s their journey and shared epiphany that makes Brokeback Mountain a staple piece in gay fiction. — Paris
Which LGBTQ+ related books are you most proud to have read?
Share some of your recommendations with us in the comments below!