11 novels every gay man should read, at least once

By Stephen Watkins, updated 1 month ago in Lifestyle / Entertainment

Man holding a red book in his hands

Whether your interest is in complex queer 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.

1. Call Me by Your Name, Andre Aciman

Most will know the gorgeous film by the same title, starring Timothee Chalamet, the king of the straight twinks. Well, the book it’s based on, written by the talented Andre Aciman, is equally captivating. For those unfamiliar, the novel follows 17-year-old Elio Pearlman’s summer love affair with his father’s PhD student, Oliver, at his family’s villa in rural northern Italy. Aciman’s prose is masterful, juxtaposing rich, sun-drenched natural imagery with the feverous and scrutinising internal monologue of our protagonist’s burgeoning sexuality. The novel is steamy, with lots of gay sex, such as Elio using a juicy peach as an improvised fleshlight, which Oliver proceeds to lick. Through this delectable erotism, the pair grapple with masculinity in the 1980s. Transcending its setting, the raw heartache of a young summer situationship is something most know all too well. With an equally gripping sequel, Find Me, and the 2017 movie, do yourself a favour and dive into the warm Mediterranean waters of Andre Aciman.

Goodreads rating: 4.1/5 stars

2. 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.

Goodreads rating: 4.4/5 stars 

3. 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.

Goodreads rating: 4/5 stars 

4. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong

Having ‘gorgeous’ in the title is fitting because this novel was just that. From the acclaimed poet Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is an evocative, semi-autobiographical tale of family, migration and coming-of-age. It’s told as a letter from the speaker ‘Little Dog’ to his Vietnamese mother, who cannot read. The story traces Little Dog’s family history from Vietnam to the US and details the challenges of growing up as a migrant in Hartford, Connecticut. Love is central to this book, both between mother and son, as well as our protagonist exploring his queerness. Vuong explores the intersections of race, class and masculinity, skilfully wrapped in stunning prose. You simply must add On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous to your gay reading list – I promise it won’t disappoint. 

Goodreads rating: 4/5 stars   

5. The Boy from The Mish, Gary Losenborough 

    Proud Yuin writer Gary Losenborough’s debut Young Adult (YA) novel is the perfect book for queer Aussies looking to break into the reading scene. The Boy from The Mish is a heart-warming and significant queer, Indigenous book about young love, family and self-acceptance. Set on Yuin country, in a rural town in far South NSW, we meet seventeen-year-old Jackson, a funny, sociable artist, during a sizzling summer holiday. Jackson’s Aunty Pam visits with his annoying little cousins from the city, bringing Tomas, a mysterious Koori boy with a troubled past. Tentative at first, their relationship blossoms, unearthing a world of challenging feelings for Jackson. The Boy from The Mish is a trailblazer in the YA genre, depicting authentic queer, Indigenous characters in a beautifully written plot. Notable Australian writer and comedian Benjamin Law wishes he ‘had this big-hearted book when I was a teenager. It would’ve changed my life. Let it change yours.’  

    Goodreads rating: 4.2/5 stars 

    6. A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara

    This book comes with a trigger warning as it contains multiple instances of child abuse, suicidality, self-harm, domestic violence, and sexual assault. To be fair, it’s quite an intense read and best suited for those with a strong mindset.

    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.

    Goodreads rating: 4.3/5 stars 

    7. 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.

    Goodreads rating: 4/5 stars  

    8. 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.

    Goodreads rating: 4.2/5 stars 

    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.

    Goodreads rating: 4.1/5 stars 

    10. The Seven Moons of Maali Almedia, Shehan Karunatilaka 

      Winner of the Booker Prize in 2022, The Seven Moons of Maali Almedia is a complex and fascinating fantasy set in Colombo in 1990 against the backdrop of the Sri Lankan civil war. The novel is divided into the seven ‘moons’ (days) of the afterlife. Our deceased protagonist, the war photographer Maali Almeida, must expose the atrocities of war and bring his murderers to justice before he enters ‘the Light’. Karunatilaka’s worldbuilding is unmatched; it is a creative take on the afterlife with ghosts, ghouls, demons, and the lot. Despite Maali’s closeted label, he is unapologetic about his sexuality and non-monogamous relations (and is an important reminder of the benefits of relationship agreements). A photographer, gambler, lover, and friend, Maali stands for the complex queer characters our reading community calls for. Its actionable pace is unpredictable and captivating, while the stunning descriptiveness makes every twist and turn meaningful. While it is one of more difficult reads of this list, it’s well worth a crack! 

      Goodreads rating: 3.9/5 stars 

      11. The Swimming-Pool Library, Alan Hollinghust

      A beautifully crafted bestsellerThe 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.