entertainment

The 20 best LGBT reads of 2018

Here's our guide to the best queer books of the year.

2019-03-07

Words: Uli Lenart & Will Stroude

It's been another great year for queer literature, with LGBT-themed books increasingly breaking into those all important most-read lists.

Whether it's moving fiction, absorbing memoirs or immersive gay history guides, there's been plenty to tear through in 2018 - but if you've not had a chance to get your head stuck in a book this year then fear not, because our book reviewer, Uli Lenart, from London's iconic Gay's the Word book shop, has gathered together the best LGBT reads of 2018.

As you prepare to put your feet up and celebrate the end of 2018, here are the books (in no particular order) that should be joining you beside the fire this festive season...

History of Violence - Édouard Louis (Harvill Secker)

While walking home alone on Christmas Eve night, Édouard is approached by a young man. After some hesitation, Édouard invites the stranger to his apartment, where the young man talks all night about his childhood.

But then the man pulls out a gun and tells Édouard that he is going to kill him. He then abuses and rapes him. The autobiographical History of Violence retraces the story of that night, examining immigration, dispossession, racism, desire and the effects of trauma as it does so.

Inside/Out - Joseph Osmundson (Sibling Rivalry Press)

A frank and visceral memoir of love, loss, and abuse, Inside/Out explores queer relationships, breakups, sex and yearning.

Poetry and prose, autobiography and queer theory collide and explode in this stirring and short work that defies categorisation.

Joseph Osmundson is a scientist and writer based in New York City who has a PhD in molecular biophysics and his book is raw and intense.

White Houses - Amy Bloom (Granta)

Amy Bloom's fourth novel breathes life into a lesser-known slice of LGBT history as it charts the imtimate relationship between lesbian journalist Lorena 'Hick' Hickok and Eleanor Roosevelt.

After striking up a close friendship with the future First Lady during the 1932 presidential campaign of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Hick later moves into the White House itself, where her status as "first friend" is an open secret, as are FDR's own lovers.

White Houses blends romance with politics as it takes readers inside the walls of administration where public responsibilities and secrets weight heavily. A must for anyone with an interest in US history or politics.

Less - Andrew Sean Greer (Abacus)

This ingenious and hilarious Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a middle-aged, almost-successful gay author running away from his problems is one of the most brilliant and endearing books we’ve read in ages.

Anxious, sensitive and single, Arthur Less is about to turn 50. Then a wedding invitation arrives in the post, from a former long-term boyfriend, who is now engaged to someone else. Arthur can’t say yes — it would be too awkward — but
he can’t say no: it would look like defeat. So, he begins to accept the invitations on his desk to half-baked literary events around the world.

A book about aging, relationships, disappointment and the inevitable absurdity of life, Less is like a friend you didn’t know you had, who wraps your heartache in laughter and makes you see that it’s
all going to work out fine in the end. We adored this wonderful book.

Soho - Richard Scott (Faber Poetry)

This powerful and candid poetry collection is a meditation on gay lust, shame, love and intimacy.

Scott delves into the hunger of longing to explore how past histories of trauma and rejection can shape the tenor of our desires. With lines such as: “There’s no more music in poetry / than in my boyfriend’s whispered voice,” this is a sensitive, revealing collection that rejoices in the beauty of the wounded.

It evokes the writing of Jean Genet and Walt Whitman, and there’s a beautiful sequence that reimagines the love poetry of Paul Verlaine.

A Simple Scale - David Llewellyn (Seren)

A young Russian man arrives in New York in the October of 2001, and accuses ageing TV composer Sol Conrad of plagiarising a work by his grandfather, Sergey.

Conrad’s young PA Natalie is determined to defend her boss, but as she digs deeper she discovers worlds she barely knew about – the labour camps of Siberia, the 'Red Scare' of 1950s Hollywood, government oppression, and the plight of gay men in the USA and USSR of the mid-20th Century.

Weaving together stunning portraits of ’30s Leningrad, ’50s California and post-9/11 New York, David Llewellyn explores the points at which the personal and political meet through an historic queer lens.

All That Heaven Allows: A Biography of Rock Hudson - Mark Griffin (Harper)

Whether you're unfamiliar with the story of late Hollywood superstar Rock Hudson or consider yourself clued-in on the Oscar-nominated leading man's life, there's plenty to enjoy in Mark Griffin's definitive biography of one ofthe most complex characters of cinema's Golden Age.

After spending much of his life fending off attempts to out him in the press, Hudson later turned the narrative surround AIDS on its head when hebecame the first major figure to die from AIDS-related complications in 1985.

Drawing on more than 100 interviews with co-stars, family members and former companions, All That Heaven Allows provides new details concerning Hudson’s troubled relationships with wife Phyllis Gates and boyfriend Marc Christian, and delves into the classic films that have made Rock such an enduring icon.

Trans Britain: Our Journey from the Shadows - Christine Burns (Unbound)

A clear and comprehensive overview of the history of the trans movement in the UK. With ever increasing trans visibility, Time magazine might have declared 2014 a “trans tipping point” but of course the trans story finds its roots long before that.

Unafraid of addressing controversy and contested issues, Trans Britain chronicles that history through the words of those who witnessed their marginalised community grow into the visible force we have today.

Take Nothing With You - Patrick Gale (Tinder Press) 

Patrick Gale’s beautifully-sculpted novel about about music, self-discovery and sexuality focuses on how a young boy’s passion affects his mother’s life.

In 1970s Weston-super-Mare, 10-year-old oddball Eustace, an only child, has his life transformed by his mother’s romantic decision to sign him up for cello lessons. Music-making brings release for a boy who is discovering he is an emotional volcano.

He laps up lessons from his young teacher, not noticing how her brand of glamour is casting a damaging spell over his frustrated and controlling mother.

Drawing in part on his own boyhood, Gale explores a collision between childish hero-worship and extremely messy adult love lives. Take Nothing With You is beguiling, vivid, wise and moving.

Good As You: From Prejudice to Pride – 30 Years of Gay Britain - Paul Flynn (Ebury)

Avoiding the pitfalls of some of the drier LGBT+ non-fiction titles out there, Good as You: From Prejudice to Pride - 30 Years of Gay Britain focuses on popular culture to explore just how far we have come in a relatively short period of time — and people
will genuinely enjoy reading it.

From pop music to soap opera, from club culture to the media, journalist and Attitude columnist Paul Flynn charts the incremental changes that have brought the gay community from a place of widespread derision, through the fear and trauma of the Aids crisis, and along the continuing road to equality, to a climax in the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

There are chapters on Manchester’s self-selection as Britain’s gay capital and the romance and marriage of Elton John and David Furnish.

Through candid interviews with the likes of Kylie Minogue, Russell T Davies, Will Young, Holly Johnson and Chris Smith — who became the country’s first openly gay MP in 1984 — as well as relatively unknown figures whose roles are nevertheless crucial to the gay community, Paul Flynn deftly explores how an unlikely group of bedfellows fought for equality both in the glare of the cameras and, unseen, in the wings.

Now You See Me: Lesbian Life Stories - Jane Traies (Tollington Press)

Sometimes the truth is even more gripping than fiction.

Jane Traies has spent nearly a decade of her life recording the life histories of older lesbian women, and shines a light on their hidden histories in this fascinating book that is similtanously heartbreaking and uplifting.

In a world where everyday LGBT history has been suppressed for centuries, this is a vital and affecting read.

The Madonna of Bolton - Matt Cain (Unbound)

The heartfelt and enrapturing new semi-autobiographical novel by Attitude’s former editor in chief Matt Cain is the fastest-ever crowd-funded novel in Unbound’s history — after mainstream publishers rejected it for being “too gay.”

Charlie Matthews’ love story begins in a pebble-dashed house in suburban Bolton on his ninth birthday when his Auntie Jan gives him a gift that would last a lifetime: a 7in single of the early Madonna hit 'Lucky Star'.

His instant obsession with the Queen of Pop sees him through some tough times in life: being persecuted at school, fitting in at Cambridge University, a glamorous career in London, finding boyfriends, getting rid of boyfriends, and family heartbreak.

Charlie’s story is Billy Elliot meets Beautiful Thing, with a conical bra thrown in. This book made us laugh and cry, and entertains from start to finish.

The House of Impossible Beauties - Joseph Cassara (Oneworld)

(Loosely) inspired by the real House of Xtravaganza, made famous in the cult 1990 documentary Paris is Burning, this is a gritty, fiercely impressive debut novel about an all-Latinx ballroom house in Eighties Harlem.

Wounded but resilient, 17-year-old Angel is new to the world of drag and voguing. When she falls in love with Hector, a beautiful young man who dreams of becoming a professional dancer, the two decide to form the House of Xtravaganza,
a logical family for a small group of queens trying to survive abuse and addiction on the streets of New York.

The House of Impossible Beauties is about the clothes, the moves, the attitude and the love - and while sometimes playing a bit too fast and loose with the facts of the age, Joseph Cassara has written a lithe, fiery and incredibly authentic story.

A future queer classic.

Drapetomania - John R Gordon (Team Angelica)

Ten years in the writing, Drapetomania is an epic and exciting novel about black freedom, uprising and a radical depiction of romantic love between black men in slavery times.

When his lover, house servant Abednego, is sold and sent away, heartbroken field hand Cyrus snaps and makes a break for freedom.

Evading patrols and dogs, he decides, as impossible as it seems, to find and rescue Abednego.

The Inheritance - Matthew Lopez (Faber)

Loosely inspired by E.M. Forster's 1910 novel Howard's End, Matthew Lopez's The Inheritance has been lauded as the most imporant LGBT playin years since making its debut at The Young Vic earlier this year.

The seven-hour, two-part epic transferred to London's Noel Coward Theatre following the sold-out run, but if you can't make it to the West End to see it before the end of January, you can still enjoy this sprawling and profound work with a copy of the script.

Following the lives of an interconnected group of gay men living in New York at the end of the Obama years, The Inheritance deals with everything from love and fidelity to wealth and politics, ageing to AIDS, and forces us to examine how much we owe those who have gone before. 

The show itself remains a must-see, but The Inheritance deserves to be read by every gay man who can't head to theatre-land.

On a Sunbeam - Tillie Walden (Avery Hill)

For lovers of graphic novels, Tillie Walden's On a Sunbeam is our pick from the last 12 months.

Two interconnected timelines follow a crew travelling to the deepest reaches of space rebuilding beautiful, broken structures, and two girls who fall deeply in love at boarding school only to learn the pain of loss.

Intrigued? You should be.

Blending sci-fi with school drama, classic roadtrip tale hallmarks and set against a haunting and mysterious landscape, On a Sunbeam is a work that will work itself in your bones.

Of Men and Angels - Michael Arditti (Arcadia)

This enlightening novel by Michael Arditti explores the biblical story of the destruction of the city of Sodom — an event often cited by homophobes as evidence that God does indeed hate gays.

Also appearing in the Koran, the myth recounts the divine retribution enacted by God against the Sodomites, which has become synonymous with punishment for vice in general and, more specifically, homosexuality.

Arditti writes his own version of the story, then distils its interpretation through fi ve key historical periods: ancient Babylon, medieval York, Renaissance Florence, 19th-century Palestine, and Hollywood in the 1980s.

Arditti, a gay, Christian writer, exercises an agitating, intellectual voice that challenges orthodoxy and religious inflexibility. Of Men and Angels demands investment on the part of the reader, but boy does he reward you for this with his brilliance,
brain-power and boundless amounts of imagination. It’s superb.

Gentleman Jack: A biography of Anne Lister, Regency Landowner, Seducer and Secret Diarist - Angela Steidele (Serpent's Tail)

The extraordinary life of 18th Yorksire heiress, mountaineer and lesbian Anne Lister is set to be dramatised in a new BBC One series in 2019 (set to air on HBO in the US) starring BAFTA-winning Doctor Foster actress Suranne Jones. 

Lucikly, we were able to get ahead of the curve with Angela Steidele's fascinating biography of an underappraciate LGBT icon, whose diaries lay hidden for many years until historians cracked their code and discovered the erotic confessions and lively anecdotes of a women who broke every social convention going.

 

Pulp - Robin Talley (HQ Young Adult)

In this novel told in dual narratives, New York Times best-selling author Robin Talley weaves together the lives of two young women connected across generations through the power of words.

In 1950s Washington D.C, an 18-year-old girl keeps her sexuality a secret, but after discovering a series of books about same-sex female love decides to risk it all by publishing her own story.

62 years later, student Abby escapes the stresses of her own life with the work of a beloved author with wrote under the pseudonym Marion Love, and decides to track her down to discover her true identiy

A moving story of love in the face of oppression, Pulp celebrates how far we've come - and reminds us how much farther we have to go.

Amateur: A True Story About What Makes a Man - Thomas Page McBee (Canongate)

Thomas Page McBee pulls no punches in this tale of racism, grief and modern masculinity.

This extraordinarily articulate, beautiful and soulful book is the account of Thomas Page McBee (also the author of Man Alive: A True Story of Violence, Forgiveness and Becoming a Man), a trans man, as he trains to fight in a charity boxing match at Madison Square Garden, in New York.

Along the way, he explores masculinity, violence, fraternity and sexism, but also writes powerfully about racism, abuse and grief.

Through his experience of boxing, learning to punch and to take punches, negotiating the challenges and comradery of the changing room, and the betrayals and strength of his own body, he embarks on a journey into modern masculinity and selfrealisation.

This is an extraordinary, humane and compassionate book about aggression, selfhood and love. Nothing short of superb.