The best books that were important for saving gay men’s lives

Why am I passionate about this?

Long ago I lived in a world of blackouts and food rationing and German planes threatening overhead, children dying in epidemics of polio and TB, and food on the dinner table not always certain. In that world, homosexuality was a criminal and psychiatric term and queer men were objects of ridicule, tragic sissies it was normal to mock as sick monsters who could go to jail for their forbidden behavior. I’ve listed some of the books that trace part of the long journey queer men took until it felt reasonably safe to discuss queerness nonjudgmentally. Question: In how many American schools, even today, would a teacher be banned from assigning one of these books?


I wrote...

Aubade

By Kenneth Martin,

Book cover of Aubade

What is my book about?

Paul Anderson has just finished school and is spending his last summer at home before he starts university. He can hardly wait to escape his ineffectual father and domineering mother, and a long summer spent with nothing to do but work in old Mr. Swallow's store, which never seems to have any customers, is beginning to look dull and interminable. But one day Gary, a young medical student, enters the store, and Paul's life changes forever. He has been brought up to believe that it's wrong, but he can't help it: he's falling in love with Gary. All of a sudden, the summer becomes a time Paul will never forget...

Written when Kenneth Martin was only sixteen, Aubade remains a moving and honest portrayal of a young man's first love.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Holy Bible

Kenneth Martin Why did I love this book?

When Jonathan of the tribe of Benjamin is slain in battle, David of the tribe of Judah laments: “Your love to me was more wonderful than the love of women.”

The intimate devotion of these two warriors (famously, Jonathan gives David his cloak, David tells him to stay instead of going home) taught me that the deepest taboos of my small Northern Irish hometown weren’t necessarily so. The Bible told me so.

By Unknown,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Holy Bible as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With an attractive new slipcase and binding, this compact Bible is an ideal gift and spiritual companion.

The full text of the ever-popular Authorized King James Version Bible, with all its literary beauty and poetic grandeur, in an attractive size and with beautiful binding and slipcase
making it an ideal gift.

Includes silver gilt edged pages and white marker ribbon.


Book cover of Quatrefoil

Kenneth Martin Why did I love this book?

Important novels do not have to be very good novels. Quatrefoil, published in 1950, is billed as the first modern book to portray homosexuality in a positive way. Positive? The snobbish young hero (echoing the “expert” opinion of the time) describes himself as “beset with melancholia. emotional frigidity, or the homosexual symbolism he found in himself.” The novel is rife with unconscious class prejudice and ugly hostility towards women. But this story of a young naval officer and his older gay mentor is the sincere attempt of a gay author to imagine how a love relationship between two men could work in the context of family and the closeted world they knew. To me, it was rain in a desert of ignorance. 

By James Barr,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Quatrefoil as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Book by Barr, James


Book cover of The Charioteer

Kenneth Martin Why did I love this book?

Written in the fifties, perhaps the author’s gender helped excuse her brave assumption that the intimate thoughts and feelings of a group of young gay men attempting to come to terms with their sexual identity was a valid topic. Renaud writes of stunted lives: the invented girlfriends, the cautious hints to probe another man’s preferences, the desperate need to belong, provoking the retreat into society’s stereotyping even amongst themselves. The novel is dated; one character has to explain to another what drag is! But it was one more step towards gay men’s forming their identity and self-acceptance. 

By Mary Renault,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Charioteer as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Injured at Dunkirk, Laurie Odell, a young corporal, is recovering at a rural veterans' hospital. There he meets Andrew, a conscientious objector serving as an orderly, and the men find solace in their covert friendship. Then Ralph Lanyon appears, a mentor from Laurie's schooldays. Through him, Laurie is drawn into a tight-knit circle of gay men for whom liaisons are fleeting and he is forced to choose between the ideals of a perfect friendship and the pleasures of experience. First published in 1953, The Charioteer is a a tender, intelligent coming-of-age novel and a bold, unapologetic portrayal of homosexuality that…


Book cover of Giovanni's Room

Kenneth Martin Why did I love this book?

“I am the man, I suffered, I was there.” These lines from Walt Whitman announce that Baldwin’s eloquently written novel is probably the first by an already famous author announcing that he was gay, or at least bisexual. The only explicit sex in the novel is heterosexual. Including only straight sex in the story of an American expatriate in Paris and the waiter Giovanni reflects what could be published by a major publisher. It echoes one of the book’s main themes: denying your true feelings is a kind of living death, destructive of others as well as of yourself.

By James Baldwin,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Giovanni's Room as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When David meets the sensual Giovanni in a bohemian bar, he is swept into a passionate love affair. But his girlfriend's return to Paris destroys everything. Unable to admit to the truth, David pretends the liaison never happened - while Giovanni's life descends into tragedy.

United by the theme of love, the writings in the Great Loves series span over two thousand years and vastly different worlds. Readers will be introduced to love's endlessly fascinating possibilities and extremities: romantic love, platonic love, erotic love, gay love, virginal love, adulterous love, parental love, filial love, nostalgic love, unrequited love, illicit love,…


Book cover of The Song of the Loon

Kenneth Martin Why did I love this book?

My first sexual experience after I moved to London in 1957 was with a slightly older man I met at one of the parties I got invited to after my book was published. When we got to his flat I knew enough to take my clothes off and lie down on the bed, but what was I supposed to do then? Clueless, I lay there like a stick of celery. “You’re not gay,” he kept repeating. “Yes I am,” I kept repeating, but didn’t know how to prove it.

Too many years later, in 1966, The Song of the Loon filled in the blanks of how gay men actually had sex. It’s very well-written explicit erotica, a backwoods fantasy about impossibly handsome masculine men living far from those city gays corrupted by shame and disappointment. Song is no quick potboiler. It’s a gay author’s well-realized attempt to bring to life his own sexual dreams.

By Richard Amory,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Song of the Loon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“More completely than any author before him, Richard Amory explores the tormented world of love for man by man . . . a happy amalgam of James Fenimore Cooper, Jean Genet and Hudson’s Green Mansions.”—from the cover copy of the 1969 edition

Published well ahead of its time, in 1966 by Greenleaf Classics, Song of the Loon is a romantic novel that tells the story of Ephraim MacIver and his travels through the wilderness. Along his journey, he meets a number of characters who share with him stories, wisdom and homosexual encounters. The most popular erotic gay book of the…


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A Cursed Son

By Day Leitao,

Book cover of A Cursed Son

Day Leitao

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Romantic & sexy dreams link a false princess to a dangerous, disgraced fae prince in this fun, steamy enemies-to-lovers romantasy. As a royal decoy, trained to replace the Krastel princess even in a political marriage, Astra’s life is not her own. With a duty like that, how can she dream about love?

And yet she knows she has a kindred soul. She can feel his presence every night, surrounding her with his warmth. But ice-cold reality crashes in when Astra’s carriage is attacked by the Crystal Court’s disgraced prince. It turns out that he is the man in her dreams.…

A Cursed Son

By Day Leitao,

What is this book about?

Romantic & sexy dreams link a false princess to a dangerous, disgraced fae prince in this fun, steamy enemies-to-lovers romantasy.

In her dreams, he envelops her in love. In real life, he imprisons her in ice.

Assassin, liar, impersonator-dreamer.

As a royal decoy, trained to replace the Krastel princess even in a political marriage, Astra's life is not her own. With a duty like that, how can she dream about love?

And yet she knows she has a kindred soul. She can feel his presence every night, holding her in his arms, surrounding her with his warmth.

But ice-cold reality…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in gay men, gay topics and characters, and the Bible?

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