25 Best Books by LGBTQ, Queer Authors to Read – Esquire

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25 must read books by queer writers

Mike Kim

Whenever I see a list of “best” LGBTQ books, I always find the usual suspects: James Baldwin, Patricia Highsmith, E. M. Forster, Audre Lorde, Christopher Isherwood. That is to say, such lists regularly name the late giants, the great and gone. Give them their due respect, of course; they have paved the literary road for so many of us queer writers working today. But what of the living legends who walk among us, or the legends-in-the-making we’re keen to lift up?

To celebrate the brilliance and diversity of contemporary queer literature, here’s a very small sampling of must-read queer books by living queer authors at various stages of their careers. These books cover a range of literary forms, and their authors a breadth of genders and queer identities. They are presented in no particular order.

This is not an exhaustive list. I could go on and on tenfold—and I’m sure the folks mentioned here could, too. As such, this list, much like its authors, is a living one, and will be updated periodically with new entries and recommendations. Some recommendations will come from the listed authors themselves, calling into the space other writers who inspire and move them through their work.

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1 Night Sky with Exit Wounds, by Ocean Vuong
Copper Canyon Press

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In Night Sky with Exit Wounds, Ocean Vuong’s poems pull from his lived experiences as a gay man and Vietnamese immigrant, as well as themes of war, displacement, family, intimacy, and sex. Though he is perhaps better known for his blockbuster novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Vuong’s first full-length collection of poetry is the perfect introduction to his writerly gifts, like his unpredictable, rhythmic, almost unstoppable language.

2 In the Dream House, by Carmen Maria Machado
Graywolf Press

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In the Dream House is mind-shatteringly impressive. In it, Machado recounts her history with an abusive girlfriend by deploying multiple genres and forms (“Dream House as Noir,” “Dream House as Lesbian Cult Classic,” etc.) to tell the story of the relationship. In so doing, she emphasizes the dearth of common language for narratives of queer domestic abuse, building an unforgettable work of memoir and criticism.

3 Wow, No Thank You, by Samantha Irby
Vintage

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Samantha Irby’s signature sardonic comedy is more tempered in her third and latest collection of essays. Perhaps it’s because she’s now forty, married, and living in the Midwest with her wife. But with less deflection and more reflection comes a heightened emotional resonance as she discusses topics like work, aging, and what it means to use humor in order to live. In short: Wow, No Thank You is Irby at her finest.

4 Less, by Andrew Sean Greer
Back Bay Books

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Andrew Sean Greer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Less isn’t exactly autofiction. But Greer liberally draws on his life as a gay male writer to create his protagonist Arthur Less, a “minor author” and “magniloquent spoony” pushing fifty years old. To skip his ex’s wedding, Less embarks on a round-the-world trip wherein he learns, at last, what love looks like: unexpected, arresting, and life-affirming—much like this brilliant book.

5 Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex, by Angela Chen

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Putting the A in LGBTQIA+, Angela Chen ties together research, reporting, and her own experiences as an asexual person to explore the wide spectrum of asexuality. In rigorous and accessible writing, Chen examines cultural expectations around sex itself, how it has been upheld as the key requirement in romantic relationships, and argues for a more nuanced perspective toward what constitutes interpersonal intimacy.

6 Patsy, by Nicole Dennis-Benn
Liveright Publishing Corporation

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In Patsy, Nicole Dennis-Benn’s second novel, the titular Patsy leaves behind Jamaica and her daughter Tru to pursue a life in the United States with Cecily, her childhood best friend and lover. But when Patsy arrives in Brooklyn, her American dreams are upended, kicking off this sweeping novel about women’s bodies, queer desire, and undocumented lives. Told in Patsy and Tru’s alternating perspectives, the story is a finely drawn portrait of two women grappling with the expectations society has placed on them—and the expectations they’ve placed on each other.

7 High-Risk Homosexual, by Edgar Gomez

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Everything is a performance, asserts Edgar Gomez in this debut memoir-in-essays, whether it’s masculinity, queerness, or Latinidad. Gomez, a Florida-born gay man with Nicaraguan and Puerto Rican roots, keenly explores liminal and vulnerable spaces—gay bars, DragCon, a cockfighting ring in Nicaragua, the clinic—as well as the expectations of how he’s meant to occupy them as a doctor-diagnosed “high-risk homosexual.” Laughs abound in this book, as do sharp confrontations with what we risk living in the margins.

8 You Exist Too Much, by Zaina Arafat
Catapult

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At the center of Zaina Arafat’s debut novel is a bisexual Palestinian American who knows what she wants, but isn’t totally sure how to get it. Relatable! Told in a series of vignettes, each punctuated by a different love interest taking the unnamed protagonist-narrator to New York City, Italy, Egypt, Lebanon, and a treatment center called The Lodge, this multifaceted story reflects the ever-tricky journey to finding one’s place in the world.

9 How To Write An Autobiographical Novel, by Alexander Chee
Mariner Books

Alexander Chee’s novels are virtuosic, and the essays in this collection (some previously published, others wholly original) are similar, each one a tiny tour de force. Each piece is sleek and free of unneeded prose, whether Chee is recalling San Francisco in the ’80s and ’90s, his first time in drag, or sharing an apartment building with Chloë Sevigny. It feels like the best kind of writer’s book, which is to say: a book for someone keen on the study of life.

10 Detransition, Baby, by Torrey Peters

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Torrey’s Peters’ novel Detransition, Baby follows Reese, a trans woman; Ames, whom Reese dated before Ames detransitioned; and Katrina, Ames’ boss and girlfriend, who is pregnant. Katrina is ambivalent about the baby, Reese longs for motherhood, and Ames asks her, “You want in?” On the page, Peters is frank, insightful, and cackle-out-loud funny, giving readers a story where trans characters aren’t simply two-dimensional saints or sinners, but fleshed-out and fallible, dysfunctional and real. (Read an exclusive excerpt here at Esquire.)

11 I’m Not Hungry But I Could Eat, by Christopher Gonzalez

I’m Not Hungry But I Could Eat is Christopher Gonzalez’s debut short story collection; it follows the lives of bisexual and gay Puerto Rican men parsing what it means to be hungry—to desire others and want belonging. There’s a gravitas to Gonzalez’s writing, but the author’s unsparing sense of humor keeps things from getting too serious, e.g. in a story about class and privilege, when the narrator attends a party thrown by wealthy hosts showing off their new washer and dryer.

12 Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
Houghton Mifflin

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Fun Home is a graphic memoir about Alison Bechdel’s coming out as a lesbian and her relationship with her closeted father Bruce, who died shortly after revealing he was gay. Bechdel examines the tension and bond between them through the alchemy of clear-eyed prose and her disciplined art style (she took photos of herself as each character to use as drawing references), yielding this genre-pushing modern classic of queer literature.

13 100 Boyfriends, by Brontez Purnell
MCD x FSG Originals

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The men in 100 Boyfriends are not exactly boyfriends, per se, but occupy less stable roles that feel more familiar, more consistent: exes, fuck buddies, daddies, johns, et al. In this semi-autobiographical novel-in-stories, Brontez Purnell lends his voice to multiple narrators, all of whom chart the topography of a less utopian, raunchier, more true than real landscape of queerness and cruising, of something that looks like community.

14 Boy Erased, by Garrard Conley
Riverhead Books

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Before Boy Erased was a major motion picture, it was a debut memoir by Garrard Conley—and before it was a memoir, it was the very real experience of Conley’s time in Love In Action, an ex-gay Christian ministry committed to “curing” queer people. Though it’s true we want more queer stories out there with less suffering, it’s important to remember that conversion therapy is still legal (or only partially banned) in a majority of states in the US. Conley’s well-written memoir provides a clear window into a truth that needs to change.

15 Odes to Lithium, by Shira Erlichman
Alice James Books

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This beautiful book is what it says on the tin: Shira Erlichman’s series of love poems addressed to lithium, which queer the usual mental health narrative as an affair of constant oppression. The medication is both friend and caretaker in these pages, a source of comfort and vexation. Through experiments with poetic form and address, interspersed with Erlichman’s own illustrations, Odes to Lithium resembles the experience of an unquiet mind without romanticizing or demonizing it, but rather presenting it simply as truth.

16 Fiebre Tropical, by Julián Delgado Lopera
Amethyst Editions

Julián Delgado Lopera gloriously captures the sweat and heat of Miami in Fiebre Tropical through their young queer protagonist Francisca, who recently immigrated from Bogotá with her family. The both-and-neither nature of Lopera’s prose, written in both English and Spanish, generates that frisson of bucking a binary familiar to those of us who revel in the liminal space between gender, sexual, racial, and national identities.

17 Intimacy Idiot, by Isaac Oliver

You’ll cry from laughing and laugh from crying when you read Isaac Oliver’s Intimacy Idiot, a collection of comic essays, poems, dialogues, and “recipes” for singles. In each one, Oliver comes upon intimacy in unlikely places: on his knees in Washington Heights, kissing a nice boy on Gay Street, or in bed with a self-proclaimed dolphin. Sparkling humor coupled with poignant introspection make this book a rollicking good time.

18 The Thirty Names of Night, by Zeyn Joukhadar
Atria Books

The themes of gender identity, immigration, ornithology, community, grief, and art—to name a few—come together to assemble the breathtaking constellations of insight and collaged truths found on every page of The Thirty Names of Night. Throughout Zeyn Joukhadar’s second novel, the protagonist, initially unnamed and closeted, uncovers the secret history of a fellow Syrian American artist and her ties to his family. Spurred by new discoveries, he resolves to name himself and live in his own truth.

19 Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, by T Kira Madden
Bloomsbury Publishing

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T Kira Madden’s debut memoir is a smorgasbord of stories and themes that could make up multiple coming-of-age books: what it means to grow up mixed race, to awaken to queer sexuality, to love addicts, to inhabit a femme body, to live in Florida. With skills akin to magic (Madden is also a self-identified “amateur magician”), she deftly weaves the fragmented chapters of her personal history—spun with seriousness and levity—into a narrative that honors the tangled nature our queer lives often take.

20 Filthy Animals, by Brandon Taylor
Riverhead Books

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The horror of living is on full display in Filthy Animals. The stories in this collection, Brandon Taylor’s follow-up to his celebrated debut novel Real Life, are linked by a central triad (Lionel gets involved with Charles and Sophie, who are in an open relationship). They juxtapose how soft-bellied interiority rubs up against the violences of the outside world—and vice versa, how more tender environments destabilize turbulent inner lives. This book chokes you, indeed, in the best way possible.

21 Hola Papi, by John Paul Brammer
Simon & Schuster

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John Paul Brammer’s missives in his popular advice column Hola Papi are as riotous as they are moving (read: very). They’ve taken on many shapes at different publications—from Out and Into, and presently on Substack—but their new life as this memoir-in-essays is the best iteration yet. In it, Brammer gets even more space to flex his critical muscles and interrogate the cultural expectations that follow gay men, Latinx people, and anyone who writes to him seeking counsel, which he has in great spades. (Read an exclusive excerpt here at Esquire.)

22 Memorial, by Bryan Washington
Riverhead Books

Now 55% off

That Bryan Washington has called his debut novel “a gay slacker dramedy” tells you everything you need to know about this masterful follow-up to his short story collection Lot. In Memorial, Benson and Mike—Black and Japanese, respectively; both gay—have an “okay” relationship that both are hesitant to define, just as Mike flies to his dying father in Japan and leaves his mother with Benson in Houston. Through unfussy language and spartan dialogue, Washington emphasizes the silences in our relationships, calling attention to what’s left unsaid when it comes to matters of sex, race, class, and family. (Read an interview with Washington here at Esquire).

23 Fairest, by Meredith Talusan

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The title Fairest takes on many forms in Meredith Talusan’s debut memoir. It can refer to Western ideas of beauty and how she navigated them as an albino child born in the Philippines; it can also gesture to justice—or the lack thereof—in the artistic and academic milieus she inhabited at Harvard and in post-grad life, where “excellence” often meant “whiteness.” Talusan gives a stellar and engrossing account of her immigration and transition, inviting us to consider what looks like “fairness” in our own personal lives.

24 I Can’t Date Jesus, by Michael Arceneaux
Atria Books

Now 12% off

In this collection of essays, Michael Arcenaux searches for something to believe in—a tall order in this world where everything seems to constantly disappoint. Except Beyoncé. Arceneaux is approachable, incisive, and riotously funny as he tells the story of his life thus far as a gay Black Southern man who grew up in a very Catholic family. His second book, I Don’t Want to Die Poor, is equally good, but there’s something extra special about this debut, the first great roar of Arceneaux’s booming talents.

25 A Hundred Lovers, by Richie Hofman

Now 26% off

Richie Hofmann is a modern-day troubadour, singing songs of the erotic gay body and singing them well. The love poems in A Hundred Lovers, inspired by French autofiction, are often candid in tone and formal in shape, each modality lending the other both heat and restraint, in the way that denim or cashmere, standing in the way of a date’s roving hands, only serve to quicken the pulse of desire. Put simply: this is a fucking hot book.

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