12 Spring Reading Recommendations For The Gay Book Nerd In You

Spring has sprung. And what better way to celebrate than by curling up with a good book? It’s great mental exercise. Not to mention, men who read are totally sexy.

Whether you’re looking for a juicy memoir, a historical romance, a great biography, or a classic work of literary fiction, we’ve got all the bases covered.

Check out these twelve rad reading recommendations sure to appease and please the gay book nerd in you.

The City and the Pillar by Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal’s 1948 landmark novel is a must-read for every gay man. Seriously, if you haven’t read this book, do. The coming-of-age novel tells the story of Jim Willard, a young All-American tennis player, and his relationship with his best friend, Bob. When the two go their separate ways after high school, Jim becomes obsessed with reconnecting with his childhood lover. Filled with frank discussions about sex and homosexuality, the book was met with quite a bit of controversy when it was first published, but it has since gone on to be considered a classic in gay literature.

Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram

Christopher Bram’s 1995 novel reads sort of like a gay Sunset Boulevard. Set in late 1950s Hollywood, the book is a fictionalized account the last days of legendary gay filmmaker James Whale and his twisted relationship with his gardener, Clayton Boone. The book was the basis for the critically-acclaimed 1998 film Gods and Monsters starring Ian McKellen and Brendan Fraser.

Dreadful: The Short Life and Gay Times of John Horne Burns by David Margolick

Author John Horne Burns’ life may have been brief (he died at 36), but he left his mark in gay literature with his 1947 classic The Gallery, which depicted gay life in the U.S. military. Biographer David Margolick details Burns’ troubled life, marred by heavy drinking and extreme self-loathing, in Dreadful. From Burns’ time as a prep school teacher, to his years serving in WWII, to his rise as a celebrated author, to his inevitable and untimely demise, Dreadful makes for a fascinating read about an all but forgotten American author.

The Talented Miss Highsmith by Joan Schenkar

While we’re on the subject of deeply disturbed American authors with substance abuse problems, Joan Schenkar’s award-winning biography of lesbian writer Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley, Strangers on a Train) offers a haunting portrait of one of the most notoriously nasty authors of the 20th century. Highsmith may have been a literary genius, but boy did she have her demons. At 700-some pages, Schenkar leaves no stone unturned. But don’t let the enormous page count deter you. These pages turn themselves.

American Studies by Mark Merlis

Mark Marlis’ award-winning 1994 novel tells the story of a 62-year-old gay man looking back on his troubled life, beginning with his college years and an ill-fated relationship with famed literary scholar, Tom Slater. The book is currently out-of-print, but you can find used copies online. It’s also available on Kindle. Whatever means you use to acquire it, it’s definitely worth tracking down.

City of Night by John Rechy

When John Rechy’s groundbreaking debut novel was first published in 1963, it gave voice to a subculture that had rarely been revealed before. City of Night is about a young gay hustler in the 1960s as he travels from New York, to L.A., to San Francisco, to New Orleans. Of course, at the time of publication, the book was attacked by reviewers. Nevertheless, it became an international bestseller and is still in print today.

Body Counts: A Memoir of Politics, Sex, AIDS, and Survival by Sean Strub

Looking for a compelling political memoir? Sean Strub’s Body Counts is certain to satisfy your craving. Strub, who was the first openly HIV-positive candidate to run for U.S. Con­gress, recounts a life of political activism, the AIDS epidemic and the beginning of the modern LGBT rights movement. Body Counts gives readers a insider’s peek at the hardships gay men faced during the 1980s and ’90s.

Fish: A Memoir of a Boy in a Man’s Prison by T.J. Parsell

Human rights activist T.J. Parsell’s 2007 memoir tells of his experiences in the Michigan prison system where he was exposed to prolonged sexual abuse from fellow inmates. During his first night in prison, 17-year-old Parsell was gang raped by four men. Afterwards, they flipped a coin to see which one of them would “own” him. Today Parsell is one of America’s leading spokespeople for prison reform. Fish offers a haunting portrait of a very real problem that still plagues our prison system to this day.

The Man of the House by Stephen McCauley

In case you’re in the mood for something slightly less dark and depressing, check out Stephen McCauley’s novel The Man of the House. The story centers around 35-year-old Clyde Carmichael and his pursuit of dodging his family, getting over his ex who he broke up with four years ago, coping with his crazy straight roommate, and navigating a relationship with his best friend’s 10-year-son and his neurotic dog. (Sounds like every gay man we know.) Packed with McCauley’s signature dark humor and poignant insights, The Man of the House is a bittersweet novel about family, friends, and fathers.

Solstice by Joyce Carol Oates

If you’ve never read anything by Joyce Carol Oates, Solstice is a good, albeit slightly less conventional, place to start. Originally published in 1985, the plot centers are two women and their intense, co-dependent, borderline obsessive, and at times abusive relationship with one another. It’s not an explicitly “lesbian” book (the women are technically heterosexual), but it still makes for a fascinating read and offers a good introduction to Oates’ dark style of storytelling.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams

We’re breaking form a little here. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof isn’t a book, it’s a play — one of the greatest. And it’s definitely worth checking out. The Pulitzer Prize-winning drama by Tennessee Williams is set at a plantation home along the 1950’s Mississippi delta and tells the story of Southern belle Maggie and her mounting frustrations with her closeted husband, Brick. The 1958 film version starring Elizabeth Taylor glosses over the whole gay subplot, which is why you should read the play. (Although the film is also definitely worth watching, as well.)

The Two Hotel Francforts by David Leavitt

David Leavitt’s latest historical novel tells about the sexual relationship between two men during the summer of 1940. Refugees Pete and Edward meet in Lisbon, Portugal while fleeing war-ravaged Europe with their wives during the height of WWII. This fast-moving psychological novel will keep you turning the pages all the way up to the dramatic and bittersweet conclusion.

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  • Billy Budd

    I STRONGLY recommend you guys to read “The Last of The Wine” by Mary Renault. It is the best gay-themed book I’ve ever read. It is not very sexy. It is about love and ideals. It is beautiful. It takes place in Greece in the fifth century BC. It is a historical novel and Aristotle is one of the characters. If you read it, you will never forget it.

  • Billy Budd

    Not Aristotle, I meant Socrates. Aristotle came a bit later.

  • equilius23

    This list is as whitewashed as your site, gay culture, and gay history. There are more essential reads than the plight of the white gay male. Do your research. Here are just a few more if your interest go beyond white gay history.

    Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin

    B Boy Blues – James Earl Hardy

    Any novel by E. Lynn Harris

    Crystal Boys by Pai Hsien-yung

    Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai

  • Billy Budd

    I read Giovanni´s room. I found it full of self hatred, bordering prejudice. The guy was an idiot. I hated the book. It is outdated. It only has historical value.

  • kel777

    These are all worthwhile reads, but I must add French writer Eric Jourdain’s “Wicked Angels”. He wrote it at 17 and it is quite impressive. It is not the most literarily advanced book out there but his prose is gorgeous and it will take you back to that age. It might leave you there permanently.

  • davejohn

    At Swim Two Boys by Jsmie O’Neill
    Maurice by E. M. Forster
    While England Sleeps by David Leavitt
    Good Times, Bad Times by James Kirkwood
    The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith

  • davejohn

    …and a great non-fiction book: Eminent Outlaws by Christopher Bram

  • Billy Budd

    @davejohn: I read The Price of Salt and I can confirm that it is a good book. Patricia Highsmith was a genius, and she wrote many novels, specially the Ripley series, which had gay subtext. Lots of gay subtext. I strongly recommend gay guys to read the Ripley Series.

  • Billy Budd

    By the way, The Price of Salt is becoming a movie, which will be released in 2015. Carol will be played by Cate Blanchett, a fabulous actress. The name of the movie is just “Carol”. Check imdb.

  • Stache99

    City of the Night by John Recky was the first gay themed book I’ve ever read. I read every subsequent book he wrote after that. Great for historical reference to gay life in the 60s and 70’s. Although, with some of his books like numbers he got so graphic I had to J/O every so often they turned me on so much:)

  • DougB

    I might also add Scissors, Paper, Rock by Fenton Johnson, Ghost Letters (a collection of poems) by Richard McCann, and Another Country by James Baldwin.

  • Thomas

    Gotta recommend The Buddy Cycle series by Ethan Mordden.

  • vive

    It’s a bit disappointing there is so little contemporary gay fiction and nonfiction available (as in, the setting being this decade). I have pretty much read everything available already. People seem to have stopped writing much about their lives.

  • CivicMinded

    For those who enjoy fantasy try the Mercedes Lackey trilogy “Magic’s pawn”, “magic’s promise”, “magic’s price”. It’s about a gay teenager who is rejected by his family and becomes a hero. And there’s a love story.

  • David Gervais

    Two Boys Kissing, David Levithan, ISBN 9780307975645, Knopf, 2013

    The book is marketed as a young adult novel and used in some high schools, however it is worth reading as an adult.

    The narrators of the book are from the viewpoint of men whose youth was ‘back then’; I am of about that age, and it depicts accurately how I perceive gay youth as they live their lives now. So much good news compared to ‘back then’, kids living lives we could only have wished for, and also the pain when some young people do not get the benefit of the progress we fought for and gained in last few decades. Although I write about the viewpoint of the narrator, the book is really the stories of young men in a small city and the people in their lives. The narrative voice provides continuity and perspective over the various story arcs. – See more at:

  • crepuscule

    @Billy Budd: A lot of Mary Renault’s books have a gay subtext/gay plot and are equally great reads. My favorite is her book, The Charioteer, and her books on Alexander the Great–Fire from Heaven, The Persian Boy. Her historical fiction as a whole is very well researched and has a detailed, immersive environment.

    Another favorite of mine is “As Meat Loves Salt.” Maybe not the the most significant in terms of gay literature, but it’s still entertaining as gay fiction. Rather tragic conclusion, and both main characters end up being rather deplorable, but it really is a great depiction of a toxic romance.

    I also eat up anything by David Sedaris. The man is wry and witty. He has a knack for leading you on this maze of an unbelievable spectacle in his life, only to drive home a pretty reflective revelation.

  • LAman

    Thank you to Queerty and you guys in the comment section for the great recommendations. Now I have so many books to read :)

  • Billy Budd

    @crepuscule: Yes, I have the ENTIRE collection of books by Mary Renault, including the trilogy on Alexander The Great. You forgot to mention Funeral Games. But her masterpiece is THE LAST OF THE WINE. To read this book for the first time is an unforgettable experience. It stays with you forever.

    Please guys, do read this book. You won’t regret it. It shows how beautiful, how noble, how profound a relationship between two men can be.

  • Billy Budd

    BTW, I should mention that when Mary Renault released her books, many reviewers believed that she was a MAN hiding behind a pseudonym. They argued that only a man could understand other men so well. And I must admit it is true, she completely understands the male persona. Her books could easily have been written by a guy.

  • Fang

    @equilius23: Thanks for the recs! I agree. Queerty needs a little bit (read: a lot) more color.

  • Alan down in Florida

    @David Gervais: I just finished Two Boys Kissing yesterday and thought it couldn’t be any better. Perfect from the opening sentences clear through the acknowledgements. A must read – which is more than I can say about David Leavitt’s The Two Hotels Francfort, a truly sub-par effort by one of our better writers.

  • crepuscule

    @Billy Budd: Fine, sold! I’ll d/l it to my phone for my commute.

  • Yiannis

    @equilius23: My favorite Baldwin novel is “Just Above My Head”. It’s colossal!

  • Scribe38

    @Billy Budd: I couldn’t disagree with you anymore. You cannot read books in a vacuum and not take into account the time in which the author wrote the work. Baldwin was a black male who lived during racial segregation in America. That “rightful” anger is reflected in his pages, but so is his love and passion for loving another man. I found the book my first time in college and fell in love with the work.

  • Billy Budd

    @Scribe38: The thing is, I find that books that focus on self hatred and self denial are not interesting, outdated and boring. I have no patience for this. Sorry. No.

Comments are closed.