Top ten GLBTI literature classics you must read

Top ten GLBTI literature classics you must read

CREATED ON // Tuesday, 20 May 2014 Author // Rowland Thomson

To coincide with the 2014 Sydney Writers' Festival kickoff we've unleashed a list of classic LGBTI novels. We spoke with voracious reader and owner of Hares and Hyenas GLBTI bookstore, Rowland Thomson to get the top pics.

TOP LESBIAN FICTION (over the years)

The Well of Loneliness – Radclyffe Hall

Sir Philip and Lady Gordon long for an heir; but when their only daughter is born they call her Stephen. From a difficult, lonely childhood, through a tormented adolescence, Stephen Gordon reaches maturity and falls in love with another woman. For decades this novel was one of the best-known lesbian novels in English, but it has since been argued by theorists that the character should be classified as transgendered.

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Carol (The Price of Salt) – Patricia Highsmith

Cast your eyes over this original 1950s love tale before seeing Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara get it on in upcoming screen adaptation. Originally titled Carol, Highsmith’s 1952 novel follows two New York women who meet through a chance encounter. Filled with compelling wit, eroticism and consummate tenderness, Carol broke new ground because of its jubiland ending, unprecedented at the time in gay fiction.

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Rubyfruit Jungle – Rita Mae Brown

A coming-of-age autobiographical novel, Rubyfruit Jungle focuses on the adopted Molly Bolt who embraces her lesbianism from an early age. Through high-school and college, Bolt forms relationships with many women and some men, detailing what it’s like to grow up gay in America.

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Bastard Out of Carolina – Dorothy Allison

One of the best novels on the juncture of class, sexuality, place and privilege, at the heart of this astonishing novel is Bone, a South Carolina bastard with an annotated birth certificate to tell her tale. Observing everything with the mercilessly keen eye of a child, Bone finds herself caught in a family struggle that will test all bonds, as a family story slowly unravels to reveal the power of love and long legacy of hurt.

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Hood – Emma Donoghue

Set in Dublin during an unusual September heatwave, Hood follows Pen who has just lost her girlfriend Cara in a car accident. Her loss allows for the reflection of their 13 years together, the path her life has taken and the closet she has long lived in. When Cara's sister returns from New York matters come to a head. Donoghue is a masterful writer and this is a beautiful and powerful book.

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The Pea Pickers – Eve Langley

First published in 1942, this novel is partly autobiographical, following Steve and Blue, two girls dressed as men who are taken on as itinerant workers on farms in Gippsland. They pack apples and pick peas. But their disguise is partial as they embark on a quest to find love. For Blue the novel ends in marriage; but not for Steve. For her, desire is never straightforward, and love - for men, for women, for country - leaves her confused, but independent.

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Fall On Your Knees – Anne Marie MacDonald

Fall on Your Knees is the story of the lives of four unforgettable sisters. It takes readers on a journey from haunted Cape Breton island in Nova Scotia through to the battlefields of World War I and into New York City’s emerging jazz scene. Themes of family relationships, racial strife, miracles, attempted murder, birth, death, and an extraordinary love affair are all.

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Macho Sluts – Pat Califia

Pat Califia’s collection of BDSM stories shocked its audience when first published in 1988. Set in San Francisco’s dyke bathhouses, sex parties, S/M gay bars, shocked the lesbian community and caused an upheaval in the field of queer publishing. Nobody had ever written so frankly about the kinky potential of woman-to-woman sex (and nobody has ever done it better).

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The Monkey’s Mask – Dorothy Porter

Winning the Age book of the year for Poetry’ in 1994, Porter’s novel is a unique piece of prose taking us into the world of private investigator Jill Fitzpatrick – she’s not the most effective at her job, but certainly one of the most entertaining. She’s living a life of love and lust while half-heartedly tracking down the murderer of her clients' daughter. One of the most fun-filled romps we’ve read and an absolute joy to read.

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Oranges are Not the Only Fruit – Jeanette Winterson

This semi-autobiographical novel won Winterson the Whitbread Award for best first fiction in 1985. Jeanette, the protagonist of the novel has "unnatural" desires that soon come to the attention of her adopted m’am, a woman obsessed with the lord and religious excesses. Growing up in a working-class Pentacostal family Jeanette's coming-of-age is far from typical. Oranges are Not the Only Fruit are full of memorable moments and Winterson's trademark ability to mix so-called reality with unconventional fairy tales.

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Tipping the Velvet – Sarah Waters

One of our most popular lesbian novels. Tipping the Velvet is set in the lush surrounds of 19th century London, and follows the adventures of Nancy, an oystergirl whose life changes when she meets Kitty Butler, a male impersonator who introduces her to the world of the music hall.

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TOP GAY FICTION (over the years)

The Picture of Dorian Grey – Oscar Wilde (uncensored edition)

This now-famous book altered the way Victorians understood the world they inhabited, heralding the end of a repressive era. Now, more than 120 years after Wilde handed it over to his publisher, his uncensored typescript is published here for the first time, in an annotated, extensively illustrated edition.

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Maurice – E.M. Forster

A tale of passion, bravery and defiance, this intensely personal novel was completed in 1914 but remained unpublished until after Forster's death in 1970. Compellingly honest and beautifully written, it offers a powerful condemnation of the repressive attitudes of British society, and is at once a moving love story and an intimate tale of one man's erotic and political self-discovery.

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Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin

Set in Europe in the 1950s, Baldwin’s novel was one of the first popular books to deal honestly with homosexuality. When David arrives alone in Paris, he begins an affair with Giovanni.

Full of passion, regret and longing, this story of a fated love triangle has become a landmark in gay writing, but its appeal is broader. James Baldwin caused outrage as a black author writing about white homosexuals, yet for him the issues of race, sexuality and personal freedom were eternally intertwined.

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City of Night – John Rechy

When John Rechy’s explosive first novel appeared in 1963, it marked a radical departure from all other novels of its kind, and gave voice to a subculture that had never before been revealed with such acuity, earning comparisons to Genet and Kerouac. The book became an international best-seller and ushered in a new era of fiction. Bold and inventive, Rechy is unflinching in his portrayal of one hustling “youngman” and his search for self-knowledge within the neon-lit world of hustlers, drag queens, and the denizens of their world.

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Faggots – Larry Kramer

When first published in 1978, Faggots proved controversial and outraged many because it sent up New York's self-imposed gay ghetto of gyms, discos, orgy rooms, and moustachioed clones. It chronicles gay life in the late 70s with unsparing honesty and wild humour that conveys a a sense of premonitory unease, even foreboding, about the spread of promiscuity, sadomasochism and narcotics among the homosexual population.

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Fairyland – Sumner Locke Elliott

Drawing heavily on Locke Elliott’s own experiences, Fairyland charts the life of Seaton Daly, an aspiring writer coming to terms with his homosexuality in the repressive atmosphere of inner-city Sydney during the 30s and ‘40s. It is an intimate, affecting, sometimes harrowing portrayal of a lifelong search for love.

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The Swimming Pool Library – Alan Hollinghurst

This now classic gay novel created a stir in Britain when first released in 1988, with its realistic 'mince-no-words' glimpse of gay life in pre-AIDS London. With an approach that's more 'literary' than sensational, Hollinghurst masterfully re-creates a sense of time and place and the social and cultural milieu in which gay men operated before the scourge of AIDS.

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Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin (series)

Armistead Maupin's uproarious and moving Tales of the City novels have earned a unique niche in American literature; not only as matchless entertainment, but as indelible documents of cultural change in American society since the 1970s. The final instalment, The Days of Anna Madrigal, has just been released to critical acclaim and many tears that the series is at an end.

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The Man Who Fell In Love With The Moon – Tom Spanbauer

In this haunting and deeply felt tale of love and loss, Spanbauer tells the story of Shed, a bisexual mixed-race native American. Set in the 1880s in a town called Excellent, Idaho, Shed lives with a band of social misfits, prostitutes and drunkards. Venturing out into the world beyond Excellent is a moving and memorable journey; this stunning book shakes up gender and racial lines in an unforgettable way.

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Regeneration Trilogy – Pat Barker

Pat Barker’s trilogy of Regeneration, The Eye in the Door and the Man Booker Award-winning The Ghost Road are amongst the most impressive writing ever about war. Taken together, they display an extraordinary psychological insight into the horrors of war, bringing us characters of rare emotional depth and complexity. Barker’s understanding of the dynamics of class and sexuality as they relate to politics and history are particularly impressive, and allow the books to be read on a number of levels.

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Dead Europe – Christos Tsiolkas

One of Tsiolkas’ most impressive books, Dead Europe moves between modern-day Australia and Europe while journeying to Greece during World War II. Tough and unsparing in its sexual and psychological detail, it is a beautifully written account of the links and differences between modern Australian life, Europe past and present, and the power of tribalism and prejudice.

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Hares and Hyenas queer bookstore is at 63 Johnston St Fitzroy, Melbourne.


Rowland Thomson

Rowland Thomson is the founder and proprietor of Melbourne's queer bookshop Hares & Hyenas.

Comments (1)

  • Nicky Bryson

    20 May 2014 at 09:45 |
    Fantastic! So many I love and a few I am now adding to the reading list.


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