The best books about gay men

43 authors have picked their favorite books about gay men and why they recommend each book.

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One Hot Summer in St. Petersburg

By Duncan Fallowell,

Book cover of One Hot Summer in St. Petersburg

An extraordinary, high-pitched, Munchausenesque account of a visit to only-just-post-Soviet Leningrad during an especially overheated period of recent history. Not at all like the genteel memories of champagne receptions at the Mariinsky Theatre followed by strolls down the Moika during the White Nights that one gets in other travelogues.


Who am I?

I particularly enjoyed writing this book about a city that I love and have visited many times (starting in the late 1970s, when I was a student), and whose history I know well too. Most books, by foreigners anyway, talk about the city from a distance; I wanted to write something visceral, about sounds and smells as well as sights, and above all, how locals themselves think about their city, the way in which its intense and in some respects oppressive past shapes St Petersburg’s life today – yet all the same, never gets taken too seriously. Readers seem to agree: as well as an appreciative letter from Jan Morris, whose travel writing I’ve always admired, I treasure an email message from someone who followed my advice and tramped far and wide – before ending up in the room for prisoners’ relatives to drop off parcels at Kresty (the main city prison) when he wrongly assumed he was using an entrance to the (in fact non-existent) museum.


I wrote...

St Petersburg: Shadows of the Past

By Catriona Kelly,

Book cover of St Petersburg: Shadows of the Past

What is my book about?

Fragile, gritty, and vital to an extraordinary degree, St. Petersburg is one of the world's most alluring cities--a place in which the past is at once ubiquitous and inescapably controversial. Yet outsiders are far more familiar with the city's pre-1917 and Second World War history than with its recent past. In this beautifully illustrated and highly original book, Catriona Kelly shows how creative engagement with the past has always been fundamental to St. Petersburg's residents. Weaving together oral history, personal observation, literary and artistic texts, journalism, and archival materials, she traces the at times paradoxical feelings of anxiety and pride that were inspired by living in the city, both when it was socialist Leningrad, and now. Ranging from rubbish dumps to promenades, from the city's glamorous center to its grimy outskirts, this ambitious book offers a compelling and always unexpected panorama of an extraordinary and elusive place.

Street Zen

By David Schneider,

Book cover of Street Zen: The Life and Work of Issan Dorsey

This book inspired my own integration of service and Zen. Issan Dorsey is a person who did not hold back. This portrait of a teacher whose creativity, love, honesty, joy, and compassion continues to awaken new possibilities for engaged Buddhism.


Who am I?

Sensei Koshin Paley Ellison is an author, Soto Zen teacher, and Jungian psychotherapist. Koshin co-founded the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, which offers contemplative approaches to care through education, personal caregiving, and Zen practice. He is the author of Wholehearted: Slow Down, Help Out, Wake Up. And the co-editor of Awake at the Bedside: Contemplative Teachings on Palliative and End of Life Care. He is a recognized Zen teacher by the Soto Zen Buddhist Association, White Plum Asanga, and American Zen Teachers Association. 


I wrote...

Wholehearted: Slow Down, Help Out, Wake Up

By Koshin Paley Ellison,

Book cover of Wholehearted: Slow Down, Help Out, Wake Up

What is my book about?

The Dalai Lama said this about Wholehearted: “Intimacy is based on the willingness to open ourselves to many others, to family, friends, and even strangers, forming genuine and deep bonds based on common humanity. Koshin Paley Ellison’s teachings share the way forward into a path of connection, compassion, and intimacy.”

This book is about getting back in touch with your values, so you can live energetically, authentically, and lovingly. This an invitation to close the gaps we create between ourselves and others—to wake up to ourselves and the world around us.

Carved in Bone

By Michael Nava,

Book cover of Carved in Bone: A Henry Rios Novel

One of the qualities of mystery fiction that continues to draw me to the genre is the complex interplay between past and present. Nava’s 8th Rios novel utilizes separate narrative lines that resonate and then, like a parallel perspective drawing, converge in a powerful emotional twist. The first line is the story of Bill Ryan, a young gay man who, after being cast out of his home in Illinois, flees to 1970s San Francisco to discover himself and the gay community. The second line is Rios’s recovery from alcoholism and his investigation of Ryan’s suspicious death during the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. Ryan and Rios serve as foils: Ryan is a man losing the war with his self-loathing. Rios, in contrast, is winning his war.


Who am I?

I’m a historical mystery writer, English teacher, and book reviewer for Lambda Literary. I love to write and explore buried and forgotten histories, particularly those of the LGBTQ+ community. Equally, I’m fascinated by the ways in which self-understanding eludes us and is a life-long pursuit. For that reason, as a reader, I’m attracted to slow burn psychological suspense in which underlying, even subconscious, motivations play a role. I also love it when I fall for a character who, in life, I’d find corrupt or repulsive.



I wrote...

The Savage Kind

By John Copenhaver,

Book cover of The Savage Kind

What is my book about?

Philippa Watson, a good-natured yet troubled seventeen-year-old, has just moved to Washington, DC. She’s lonely until she meets Judy Peabody, a brilliant and tempestuous classmate. The girls become unlikely friends and fashion themselves as intellectuals, drawing the notice of Christine Martins, their dazzling English teacher, who enthralls them with her passion for literature and her love of noirish detective fiction.

When Philippa returns a novel Miss Martins has lent her, she interrupts a man grappling with her in the shadows. Frightened, Philippa flees, unsure who the man is or what she’s seen. Days later, her teacher returns to school altered: a dark shell of herself. On the heels of her teacher’s transformation, a classmate is found dead in the Anacostia River—murdered—the body stripped and defiled with a mysterious inscription. As the girls follow the clues and wrestle with newfound feelings toward each other, they suspect that the killer is closer to their circle than they imagined—and that the greatest threat they face may not be lurking in the halls at school, or in the city streets, but creeping out from a murderous impulse of their own.

What Belongs to You

By Garth Greenwell,

Book cover of What Belongs to You

When I came out, I learned about the underbelly of gay life: man-on-man sex in public spaces. Desire led me there; guilt and shame pushed me away. In his award-winning, charged debut novel, Greenwell captures this antagonism between desire and guilt, shame, and regret.

Anticipation, multifariousness, risk, and anonymity that heighten eroticism draw men, gay or straight, single or married, who seek anonymous, one-off sex. Predatory hustlers like Mitko also go with led to an erotically and psychologically charged relationship with the object of the narrator’s desire.

More than a gay novel, What Belongs to You captures the tension between what we want and what we don’t want to want. It is sexy and tender, painful and pitiable, and always unforgettable.


Who am I?

I’ve been gay for half my life; the other half I was confused, questioning, and considered a pathologic deviant by the American Psychiatric Association. I am no longer confused, or considered pathologic or deviant. I’m a father, psychiatrist, and author who grew up in Nebraska. I was a good boy, followed all the rules, and lived the life that was expected of me. I fit in but I never felt like I belonged. I took back control of my life and threw off expectations of what I should be. I want others to believe that they can have a richer life by living the life they were meant to live.


I wrote...

No More Neckties: A Memoir in Essays

By Loren A. Olson, M. D.,

Book cover of No More Neckties: A Memoir in Essays

What is my book about?

In No More Neckties: A Memoir in Essays, Loren A. Olson, MD writes that fitting in is not belonging. Growing up, he tried to fit in, but he felt lonely due to conflicted sexual feelings and a poor body image.

In No More Neckties, Dr. Olson shares the story of his life and its hard lessons. He writes about intensely personal events: tragedy and loss, love and heartbreak, infidelity and betrayal, and the fear of aging. He explores being gay in rural America, stereotypes and misconceptions, religious dogma, empathy and forgiveness, and the need for self-acceptance. Through the memoir’s essay format, Dr. Olson invites the reader to reflect on their own life. He believes that sharing our stories removes the loneliness and isolation we feel and changes peoples’ minds about who we are.

The Book of Salt

By Monique Truong,

Book cover of The Book of Salt

I love novels that pluck figures from the sidelines of history and place them up-front-and-center. In this case, the figure is the real-life Vietnamese-born man who served as Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas’ cook in Paris. Full of atmospheric detail, the writing in this novel is absolutely exquisite. I felt immersed in 1930s Paris, a world that’s long entranced me, but I was seeing it from an entirely new perspective. Truong offers tantalizing glimpses of Bihn’s life in the Stein-Toklas household, but the most memorable scenes happen when he’s alone, walking through the streets of Paris, on his way to meeting a lover, or regaling us with stories of his childhood in Vietnam and his fraught but tender love for his father. It’s a beautiful tale of exile and homecoming.


Who am I?

I came to America from Iran when I was five years old. There's something about immigration that's taught me to be a "first-class noticer," which was Saul Bellow's requirement for a writer. Because I always feel a little (or more) outside of things, people, places, and languages hold a wonderful strangeness for me. Writing is where I try to make sense of all that. As an immigrant, I’ve been especially drawn to stories about people whose lives haven’t always been included in literature. For a novelist, history can be an invitation or a provocation. For me, it’s both. Reading about the past pulls me into its mysteries; the mysteries inspire me to invent. 


I wrote...

The Bohemians

By Jasmin Darznik,

Book cover of The Bohemians

What is my book about?

In 1918, a young and bright-eyed Dorothea Lange arrives in San Francisco, where a disaster kick-starts a new life. Her friendship with Caroline Lee, a vivacious, straight-talking Chinese American with a complicated past, gives Dorothea entrée into Monkey Block, an artists’ colony and the bohemian heart of the city. Dazzled by Caroline and her friends, Dorothea is catapulted into a heady new world of freedom, art, and politics. 

The Bohemians captures a glittering and gritty 1920s San Francisco, with a cast of unforgettable characters, including cameos from such legendary figures as Mabel Dodge Luhan, Frida Kahlo, Ansel Adams, and D. H. Lawrence. A vivid and absorbing portrait of the past, The Bohemians shows how the gift of friendship and the possibility of self-invention persist against the ferocious pull of history.

London Triptych

By Jonathan Kemp,

Book cover of London Triptych

This novel weaves three unique stories told by three very distinctive gay men who live in London at completely different periods of time. What unites them? Internalised homophobia, something as a gay person I remember from a long time ago. Each character yearns for someone. Each in a distinct way. Rent boy, Jack, longs for his regular client, Oscar Wilde. Lonely artist Colin desires the model he paints while staying closeted in the 1950s. And David’s desire lands him in prison in the 1980s.

Each story travels at the same pace with each character reflecting similar highs and lows. And you don’t have to be gay to identify with this well-written novel.


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.

Peter Darling

By Austin Chant,

Book cover of Peter Darling

I’ve read a lot of Peter Pan retellings, but this one is my favorite of them all. I think as queer people we relate to the idea of eternal youth, and of having the time to do things over the right way. I feel this even more as a trans person, and seeing this story explore the idea of Peter Pan as a transitioning Wendy Darling feels like a favorite song I haven’t heard in a long time. Plus, the classic swashbuckling pirate Captain Hook and his relationship with Peter are positively spicy. This is a great, affirming read and a story that’s both familiar and excitingly novel at the same time. 


Who am I?

Two things I absolutely loved growing up: fantasy novels and history. Swashbuckling pirate stories are like a fantastic combination of both, and the way that the age of sail touched all corners of the world creates an opportunity for so many different kinds of stories to be told through this lens. As a queer writer, my passion is writing the kind of stories I loved as a child. As a trans adult, I find joy in making the next generations feel comfortable in their own skin. Living in Vancouver, B.C. I write novels and animated television, and I also co-host a podcast about advertising called Ad Creeps


I wrote...

Run in the Blood

By A.E. Ross,

Book cover of Run in the Blood

What is my book about?

Raised on the high seas as an avaricious corsair, Aela Crane has turned her back on her roots, but she can't seem to stem the ancient magic that courses through her. Del is a soft-spoken soldier who seems to know more about Aela's inherited powers than she does. Brynne's the crofter's daughter who's reluctantly learning to become a princess, if she could just get a certain swashbuckling someone off her mind.

As the three of them become more entwined in their own political predicaments, and each other's lives, they may discover that the legacies their parents have left them aren't as solid as they seemed. In fact, they may just slip through their fingers, leaving all three fumbling to forge their own future, before the kingdom comes crashing down around them.

Gay New York

By George Chauncey,

Book cover of Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940

The “urban culture” mentioned in the subtitle of this book will remind us of themes in other books about the modern city: the urban experience as one of flux and diversity, uncertainty and possibility, community and alienation, class and gender, sex and violence. Chauncey focuses on urban geography and spaces, especially boundaries, interstices, and enclaves. Most astonishing, and an important discovery, are the many spaces of “ambivalent toleration” for sexual and gender difference in pre-1930s New York. This meant spaces like the Bowery, Greenwich Village, Broadway, and Harlem, but also working-class, immigrant, ethnic, and racial subcultures where dominant normativities could more easily be ignored and challenged.

New York City was a “gay world before binarism”—before the time when gay and straight were stable identities rather than fluctuating practices, before modern flux and thus possibility were crushed by definitional and moral absolutism. This is a story, brilliantly uncovered and told, that…


Who am I?

I grew up in San Francisco and worked in New York City in the 1970s as a taxi driver and printing apprentice, and, after getting a doctorate at UC Berkeley, taught at Harvard, Yale, and the University of Illinois. Most of my publications and teaching have been about Russian history—I've written books on labor relations, working-class writers, the Russian Revolution, St. Petersburg, and utopias. I've been teaching comparative urban history for several years and am writing a new book on urban storytelling about street life, nightlife, and morality in Soviet Odessa, colonial Bombay, and New York City in the 1920s and 1930s. I recently retired and live in New York City and Turin, Italy.


I wrote...

Russian Utopia: A Century of Revolutionary Possibilities

By Mark D. Steinberg,

Book cover of Russian Utopia: A Century of Revolutionary Possibilities

What is my book about?

In my newest book, Russian Utopia: A Century of Revolutionary Possibilities, by “utopia” I mean less of an appealing but impossible fantasy about a nonexistent place or time than a critical method to question and transform reality toward what people believed ought to be. I look at utopian ideas and practices in Russia from the eighteenth century into the twentieth, among cultural elites and laboring commoners, in the halls of power and on the streets of resistance.

Naturally, most of the people in my book insisted they were not utopians in the sense of impossible dreaming, but partisans of radical possibility. One chapter examines efforts to imagine and create “new cities” that would be redemptive and liberating of the human body and spirit. Other chapters consider wings and human flight as visions of transcendent possibility, ideas about the “new man” and the “new woman,” and political power and dissent.

Fadeout

By Joseph Hansen,

Book cover of Fadeout

Fadeout is the first book in Hansen’s Dave Brandstetter mysteries. The protagonist, an openly gay insurance investigator in 1970s California, is convinced that a man who has been reported dead is actually still alive, and he must hurry to find him. Another classic in the gay mystery canon, Fadeout is vividly noir, grittily honest, and rejects cliches and stereotypes in a way that is still shocking over fifty years later.


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.

The Cold Cold Ground

By Adrian McKinty,

Book cover of The Cold Cold Ground

Set in Northern Ireland during The Troubles, The Cold Cold Ground is my most adventurous pick for this list because its protagonist, Sean Duffy, isn’t exactly gay. Or perhaps he just isn’t out. It’s impossible to tell—most likely because Sean himself doesn’t know. The series plays with Sean’s attraction to men, including his work as a police detective investigating the deaths of murdered gay men, while Sean pursues relationships with women. McKinty manages to turn the violence and despair of that time into gorgeous, gripping prose and powerful stories.


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.

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