The best gay books

18 authors have picked their favorite books about gay topics and characters and why they recommend each book.

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How to Be Gay

By David M. Halperin,

Book cover of How to Be Gay

As befitting the cheeky title, this book – about what it means to be, and to become, a gay man – is incisive, erudite, and a lot of fun to read. A pioneer of queer theory (and with this intervention, I suspect, a renegade from it), David Halperin is an unapologetic camp. He challenges received wisdom about how gay sensibility supposedly is misogynist, passé, irrelevant or dead, and his reflections on everything from Joan Crawford’s pizazz, to the current state of gay marriage, vacillate between being capacious and withering. “Sometimes I think homosexuality is wasted on gay people” he sniffs at one point, dispensing a delightful, and typically barbed, aperçu.


Who am I?

I am an anthropologist who has written or edited more than a dozen books on topics that range from the lives of trans sex workers, to the anthropology of fat. I have conducted extensive fieldwork in Papua New Guinea, Brazil, and Scandinavia. I work at Uppsala University in Sweden, where I am a Distinguished University Professor of Anthropology, and where I direct a research program titled Engaging Vulnerability.


I wrote...

A Death in the Rainforest: How a Language and a Way of Life Came to an End in Papua New Guinea

By Don Kulick,

Book cover of A Death in the Rainforest: How a Language and a Way of Life Came to an End in Papua New Guinea

What is my book about?

As a young anthropologist thirty years ago, I traveled to a remote village in Papua New Guinea to try to understand why a language dies. I went to Papua New Guinea because, with over 800 different languages, that little country is the most linguistically diverse place on the planet. The people in the village I ended up living in spoke a language unrelated to any other; one that had only ever been spoken by about 100 people.

This is the story of my life in that village, called Gapun. It is a story of how I kept returning, and over the years became inextricably implicated in the villagers’ destiny. It is the story of the impact that Western culture has had on the farthest reaches of the globe, and how I came to realize that the death of a language is about a great deal more than language.

In the Spider's Room

By Muhammad Abdelnabi, Jonathan Wright (translator),

Book cover of In the Spider's Room: A Novel

Written from the perspective of one of the victims of the infamous 2001 Queen Boat scandal, when 52 men were arrested and put on trial in Egypt during a raid on a gay party, In the Spider’s Room is an intense depiction of living in a society that fears and rejects any form of queerness. Unflinching, claustrophobic, and suffocating, Abdelnaby does not shy away from exploring what happens when one is presented with no avenues for expressing their desires and sense of self.


Who am I?

Saleem Haddad was born in Kuwait City to an Iraqi-German mother and a Palestinian-Lebanese father. He has worked with Médecins Sans Frontières and other international organisations in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, and Egypt. His first novel, Guapa, is a political and personal coming-of-age story of a young gay man living through the 2011 Arab revolutions. The novel received critical acclaim from the New Yorker, The Guardian, and others. It was awarded a Stonewall Honour and won the 2017 Polari First Book Prize. His directorial debut, Marco, premiered in March 2019 and was nominated for the 2019 Iris Prize for ‘Best British Short Film’.


I wrote...

Guapa

By Saleem Haddad,

Book cover of Guapa

What is my book about?

Set over the course of twenty-four hours, Guapa follows Rasa, a gay man living in an unnamed Arab country, as he tries to carve out a life for himself in the midst of political and social upheaval. 

Rasa roams the city’s slums and prisons, the lavish weddings of the country’s elite, and the bars where outcasts and intellectuals drink to a long-lost revolution. Each new encounter leads him closer to confronting his own identity, as he revisits his childhood and probes the secrets that haunt his family. As Rasa confronts the simultaneous collapse of political hope and his closest personal relationships, he is forced to discover the roots of his alienation and try to re-emerge into a society that may never accept him.

Blue Heaven

By Joe Keenan,

Book cover of Blue Heaven

This is the first of a trilogy of which any book in the series is worth reading. In this farce written long before marriage equality, a gay man hatches an outlandish scheme to throw a wedding, just for the expensive gifts. What follows is a comedy that incorporates blackmail and the mafia. You read this novel for pure pleasure, enjoying the clever one-liners while the plot spirals out of control. Flamboyant, camp, and ridiculously funny.


Who am I?

I usually write queer fiction with an urban fantasy or magic realism bent, although I’ve dabbled in dystopian novels and a couple of romance novellas. I have an interest in bringing to light modern queer works that aren’t rooted in erotica or romance because I know firsthand the misconceptions that are placed on writers of gay fiction. And too often I’ve had to find tactful ways to explain what I write when people assume I’m limited by genre.


I wrote...

Winter Masquerade

By Kevin Klehr,

Book cover of Winter Masquerade

What is my book about?

Winter Masquerade is a novella where Ferris finds a safe haven, away from his abusive partner. He wakes aboard an enchanted ocean liner where the eccentric inhabitants are gearing up for a masquerade ball. He has no idea how he got here, but he desperately wants to go home to his boyfriend.

The alchemist is the only person who can help Ferris, but he’s been kidnapped. The ransom is high tea with scones and jam. Meanwhile, the passengers are gearing up for the Winter Masquerade, a ball where love and magic reign.With a murderous musician, an absent boyfriend, and a mystical party, Ferris soon learns that Wednesday is not the day to fall in love.

Puppet Boy

By Christian Baines,

Book cover of Puppet Boy

This is deliciously dark. It’s a tale about Eric, a twisted teenager who has tied up a home invader and is keeping him downstairs while his mother has left him alone. She’s busy trying to seek fame overseas. Eric keeps his teachers and his classmates unsettled while paying his daily expenses by entertaining older clients in Sydney’s richer suburbs. There is nothing charming about this story, yet its cast of disturbing eccentric characters makes this a real page turner.


Who am I?

I usually write queer fiction with an urban fantasy or magic realism bent, although I’ve dabbled in dystopian novels and a couple of romance novellas. I have an interest in bringing to light modern queer works that aren’t rooted in erotica or romance because I know firsthand the misconceptions that are placed on writers of gay fiction. And too often I’ve had to find tactful ways to explain what I write when people assume I’m limited by genre.


I wrote...

Winter Masquerade

By Kevin Klehr,

Book cover of Winter Masquerade

What is my book about?

Winter Masquerade is a novella where Ferris finds a safe haven, away from his abusive partner. He wakes aboard an enchanted ocean liner where the eccentric inhabitants are gearing up for a masquerade ball. He has no idea how he got here, but he desperately wants to go home to his boyfriend.

The alchemist is the only person who can help Ferris, but he’s been kidnapped. The ransom is high tea with scones and jam. Meanwhile, the passengers are gearing up for the Winter Masquerade, a ball where love and magic reign.With a murderous musician, an absent boyfriend, and a mystical party, Ferris soon learns that Wednesday is not the day to fall in love.

Wave Goodbye to Charlie

By Eric Arvin,

Book cover of Wave Goodbye to Charlie

Charlie is homeless and lives in an abandoned carnival, just one of the places full of wonder and mystery in this novel. He is sometimes fed by a mature-aged gay couple and has an unrequited love. But he dies and we continue reading his story in a surreal version of the world he inhabited while alive. Yes, Charlie is a ghost. The carnival he still lives in has a life of its own, and he needs to protect the living who showed him kindness. A truly beautiful tale.


Who am I?

I usually write queer fiction with an urban fantasy or magic realism bent, although I’ve dabbled in dystopian novels and a couple of romance novellas. I have an interest in bringing to light modern queer works that aren’t rooted in erotica or romance because I know firsthand the misconceptions that are placed on writers of gay fiction. And too often I’ve had to find tactful ways to explain what I write when people assume I’m limited by genre.


I wrote...

Winter Masquerade

By Kevin Klehr,

Book cover of Winter Masquerade

What is my book about?

Winter Masquerade is a novella where Ferris finds a safe haven, away from his abusive partner. He wakes aboard an enchanted ocean liner where the eccentric inhabitants are gearing up for a masquerade ball. He has no idea how he got here, but he desperately wants to go home to his boyfriend.

The alchemist is the only person who can help Ferris, but he’s been kidnapped. The ransom is high tea with scones and jam. Meanwhile, the passengers are gearing up for the Winter Masquerade, a ball where love and magic reign.With a murderous musician, an absent boyfriend, and a mystical party, Ferris soon learns that Wednesday is not the day to fall in love.

Lay Your Sleeping Head

By Michael Nava,

Book cover of Lay Your Sleeping Head: A Henry Rios Novel

The first book in Nava’s best-known series, Lay Your Sleeping Head introduces defense attorney Henry Rios. Rios is struggling with addiction and an existential crisis; when he is drawn into investigating the murder of a young man he loved, he finds he is the only one willing to dig for the truth. Nava’s books are lyrical, intricate, and intensely thoughtful about what it means to be a gay man.


Who am I?

As a writer of gay mystery, I try to read as widely as I can—both to learn from writers who have gone before me and for the pleasure of the books themselves. I’m always thrilled when I find writers like the ones I’ve shared in this list: people who think deeply and carefully about the complexities (and, occasionally, the agonies) of being a gay man, while, at the same time, weaving in the suspense and puzzles inherent in mysteries.


I wrote...

The Same Breath

By Gregory Ashe,

Book cover of The Same Breath

What is my book about?

Teancum Leon, who goes by Tean, is a wildlife veterinarian. His life has settled into a holding pattern: he loves his job, he hates first dates, and he only occasionally has to deal with his neighbor Mrs. Wish’s cat-related disasters. All of that changes when a man asks for help to find his brother. Jem is convinced that something bad has happened to Benny. Tean isn’t sure, but he’s willing to try. After all, Jem is charming and sweet, and surprisingly vulnerable. Oh. And hot.

Then things get strange: phone calls with no one on the other end; surveillance footage that shows what might be an abduction; a truck that tries to run Tean and Jem off the road. As Tean and Jem investigate, they realize that Benny might have stumbled onto a conspiracy and that someone is willing to kill to keep the truth from coming out.

Boystown

By Marshall Thornton,

Book cover of Boystown: Three Nick Nowak Mysteries

Thornton, one of the most frequent winners of the Lambda Literary Award, kicks off his Nick Nowak series with a collection of novella-length stories. Nick is a former police officer turned private investigator. Set in the 80s, the series follows Nick through the AIDS crisis against the backdrop of heart-pounding (and heartbreaking) mysteries. 


Who am I?

As a writer of gay mystery, I try to read as widely as I can—both to learn from writers who have gone before me and for the pleasure of the books themselves. I’m always thrilled when I find writers like the ones I’ve shared in this list: people who think deeply and carefully about the complexities (and, occasionally, the agonies) of being a gay man, while, at the same time, weaving in the suspense and puzzles inherent in mysteries.


I wrote...

The Same Breath

By Gregory Ashe,

Book cover of The Same Breath

What is my book about?

Teancum Leon, who goes by Tean, is a wildlife veterinarian. His life has settled into a holding pattern: he loves his job, he hates first dates, and he only occasionally has to deal with his neighbor Mrs. Wish’s cat-related disasters. All of that changes when a man asks for help to find his brother. Jem is convinced that something bad has happened to Benny. Tean isn’t sure, but he’s willing to try. After all, Jem is charming and sweet, and surprisingly vulnerable. Oh. And hot.

Then things get strange: phone calls with no one on the other end; surveillance footage that shows what might be an abduction; a truck that tries to run Tean and Jem off the road. As Tean and Jem investigate, they realize that Benny might have stumbled onto a conspiracy and that someone is willing to kill to keep the truth from coming out.

Simple Justice

By John Morgan Wilson,

Book cover of Simple Justice

Benjamin Justice is a broken man—a former prize-winning journalist whose career (and life) has been shattered by the death of his lover and a scandal surrounding his best-known writing. Recruited by his former boss to assist an up-and-coming journalist, Ben finds himself investigating a murder that occurred outside a gay bar. The series is tightly written and casts a dark glamor across gay life in ’90s California.


Who am I?

As a writer of gay mystery, I try to read as widely as I can—both to learn from writers who have gone before me and for the pleasure of the books themselves. I’m always thrilled when I find writers like the ones I’ve shared in this list: people who think deeply and carefully about the complexities (and, occasionally, the agonies) of being a gay man, while, at the same time, weaving in the suspense and puzzles inherent in mysteries.


I wrote...

The Same Breath

By Gregory Ashe,

Book cover of The Same Breath

What is my book about?

Teancum Leon, who goes by Tean, is a wildlife veterinarian. His life has settled into a holding pattern: he loves his job, he hates first dates, and he only occasionally has to deal with his neighbor Mrs. Wish’s cat-related disasters. All of that changes when a man asks for help to find his brother. Jem is convinced that something bad has happened to Benny. Tean isn’t sure, but he’s willing to try. After all, Jem is charming and sweet, and surprisingly vulnerable. Oh. And hot.

Then things get strange: phone calls with no one on the other end; surveillance footage that shows what might be an abduction; a truck that tries to run Tean and Jem off the road. As Tean and Jem investigate, they realize that Benny might have stumbled onto a conspiracy and that someone is willing to kill to keep the truth from coming out.

Undermined

By Ripley Hayes,

Book cover of Undermined: A Gay Mystery (Daniel Owen Welsh Mysteries)

Daniel Owen is a cop in a small Welsh town where everyone knows everyone else, and it seems like everyone is holding secrets. I love this book because of the atmosphere and the chance to see a different culture. Daniel is a great guy and I’ve enjoyed all the books featuring him so far.


Who am I?

My first published novel, Mahu, was about a gay cop coming out of the closet in Honolulu while investigating a dangerous case. I didn’t even realize there was a whole genre of gay mysteries until I’d finished it, but since then I have made it my business to read as much as I can of these books, both classics and new ones. My reading has deepened my understanding only of my protagonist’s life, but of my own.


I wrote...

Mahu: A Mahu Investigation

By Neil Plakcy,

Book cover of Mahu: A Mahu Investigation

What is my book about?

Kimo Kanapa'aka's world turns upside down in Mahu. At 32, he has reached the pinnacle of his profession, detective on the Honolulu Police Department's homicide squad, based at the Waikiki station. But a difficult murder case, as well as turmoil in his personal life, is about to threaten everything he has worked for.

A life-threatening drug bust in chapter 1 makes Kimo realize that it's time to stop lying to himself. He's drawn to the Rod and Reel Club, a gay bar in Waikiki, where he has a couple of beers and begins the long process of accepting his attraction to other men. Leaving the club, though, he stumbles onto two men dropping a dead body in an alley, and he launches himself into a nightmare where his private life becomes public news.

The Sea of Stars

By Nicole Kimberling,

Book cover of The Sea of Stars

The world of The Sea of Stars is amazingly creative; a modern setting that flawlessly incorporates magicians, scheming courtiers, enchanted animals, and prophetic astronomy in an age of cell phones, animal activists, and labor agencies. The majority of common people are ruled over by nobles and magicians who regularly strip human beings of their souls and lock them away inside animals, thus creating a soulless human workforce as well as intelligent animal servants. As weird as that may sound, the characters are so well written that the book is astoundingly humane and moving.

I sympathized completely with Grand Magician Zachary Drake in his disdain for the ruling class and its dehumanizing practices. Though, I’ll admit, a couple of times I was so fascinated by the unexpected creativity of the world that I almost wanted to see more. And I definitely appreciated Drake’s snark and cynical commentary.  

But the story truly…


Who am I?

As a queer fantasy author, my work strongly focuses on detailed plots and lush world-building, but as a reader, I have to admit that the things that hook me on a story are vibrant characters—particularly when they come in couples. After all, it’s the characters that explore their lush worlds and who bring detailed plots to life. One of my absolute favorite reading experiences is following a dynamic couple as they play off each other’s strengths and defend one another’s weaknesses to overcome all odds. It’s just the best feeling, in my opinion. So if you’re looking for a great fantasy book—or series—featuring gay couples, here are five of my favorites!


I wrote...

Master of Restless Shadows: Book Two

By Ginn Hale,

Book cover of Master of Restless Shadows: Book Two

What is my book about?

As a schoolboy, Fedeles Quemanor barely survived being possessed by sorcery. Now he'd gladly abandon all matters of magic to more ambitious people. His happiness lies in more simple things: riding horses, the joy of friends and family, and dancing with Ariz Plunado. But when he discovers that Hierro Fueres, the Duke of Gavado, is raising an army of enthralled assassins to seize the crown, Fedeles is shaken to the core. 

The murderous power lurking in Fedeles's shadow could be enough to secure the nation of Cadeleon. If only Fedeles can face the darkness that once possessed him. But even as Fedeles takes on the challenge, his agents, Atreau and Narsi, learn that the threat at the heart of the capital has grown beyond the bounds of their nation.

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