Whether your interest is in strong characters, historically poignant homosexual love stories or the wry musings of a comic genius, here are seven novels every gay man should read, at least once.
Here are some top picks for anyone looking to lose themselves in beautifully crafted stories. It’s by no means exhaustive, but it does contain some of the stories that help shape our understandings of the gay experience, our history, our loves and our families. If you have already read them all, please get in touch, I think we may be soulmates.
A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara
This book comes with a trigger warning as it’s a story of child abuse and the after effects of trauma late into life. That said, A Little Life is a story about our urban families and how important friendships are in our life, despite all of the trials and tribulations we endure. The prose is enthralling, and the pages keep on turning as you take the journey with Jude and his three former classmates, through the decades to the story’s haunting conclusion. Prepare to shed a tear or two with this book.
The Hours, Michael Cunningham
Highly recommended for any gay man who is inspired by strong women, The Hours is the story of three separated by decades, but united by their actions and making the choices their desperate lives demand. Whether you have seen the movie adaptation with Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore or not (if not, what have you been doing with your life?), this novel is a seminal piece that explores Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway character in haunting tales of despair, longing and resilience. The book would be worth reading for the beautiful prose alone and is one you can definitely read more than once and discover something new each time.
The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
Arguably one of the most important pieces of gay literature, The Picture of Dorian Gray follows the friendship of three men, each questing for beauty in his own way. Through the title character selling his soul for eternal beauty, it’s a tale exploring the price of youth, our pride and our deep yearning to be wanted. It was this novel that was presented in the trial of its writer, Oscar Wilde, as proof of the loathsome nature of homosexuality. It’s a must read for any gay man, especially for those who have ever been accused of having the Peter Pan Syndrome.
The Persian Boy, Mary Renault
A great read for anyone with a love of history, The Persian Boy is one of a series charting the life of Alexander the Great, a renowned gay Macedonian conqueror, told through the eyes of his Persian lover, Bagoas, who is castrated as a child and sold into a life of sex work. Through bloody battles and assassination plots, their love endures, and the reader is taken through a beautiful world of decadence told from the slave’s perspective. Like all of Renault’s work, this is a hefty read with a demanding plot, perfect for losing yourself in on winter days.
Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris
David Sedaris’ autobiography is one of those rare laugh-out-loud reads that is also incredibly touching and insightful. It reflects upon his early childhood, his school and family life, told through a series of essays by a deeply dry and sarcastically witty gay man. The title alludes to Sedaris’ lisp that haunted him in his early years and provides a hilarious trope for the otherness gay kids can feel in an otherwise mundane life. A must read for anyone who ever felt at odds with the world around them.
Holding the Man, Timothy Conigrave
Recently adapted into a stunning feature film, and before that a hit play, Holding the Man is the memoir of Australian activist, writer and actor Timothy Conigrave. Brutally honest and wildly passionate, Conigrave takes us through his great love affair with John, from meeting at school in Melbourne to being diagnosed with HIV in the height of the AIDS epidemic in Sydney.
It’s a gut wrenchingly poignant tale of strength, betrayal, loss and love in the harshest of conditions, and sheds light on the personal story of diagnosis when there was no hope. The book has inspired so many of today’s activists; Conigrave worked at ACON in the ‘80s and ‘90s trying to prevent transmission of HIV, and the newly formed network of people living with HIV cites his name as inspiration for theirs, The Institute of Many or TIM for short. If you haven’t read this book yet, stop whatever you’re doing and let it illuminate your life – this is our history.
The Swimming-Pool Library, Alan Hollinghust
A beautifully crafted bestseller, The Swimming-Pool Library is an engrossing read; deeply erotic and rich with imagery. It explores a way of life almost foreign today, when homosexuality was still illegal in the UK and long before the AIDS epidemic had hit. It’s a story of the friendship between the young, privileged and promiscuous aristocrat William Beckwith, and the aging Lord Nantwich, desperate to share his story with the world. Definitely a book to drown yourself in.