Last week we posted an article about how February marks LGBT history month in the UK, alongside a small selection of LGBT history films.
As a companion piece to that article, here are eight book recommendations featuring queer characters, romance, or otherwise recounting queer history.
Having fled California after the death of her grandfather, Marin is faced with weeks of isolation in her dorm over winter break. Her only visitor, Mabel, is a reminder of the past she’s done her best to escape. After years spent toeing the line between friendship and something more, Mabel’s presence threatens to bring Marin’s loneliness to light, and with it, all the things she has tried to forget.
A tale of connection and grief, ‘We Are Okay’ is a heartwrenching take on the coming-of-age genre and a poignant reminder that the worst kinds of isolation are self-imposed.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
With its roots tangled in the tragic complexities of ‘The Iliad’, Miller’s retelling is a fresh take on the ancient classic, centred, instead, around the relationship between the legendary warrior Achilles and his devoted companion, Patroclus.
Told in elegant, brutal prose, the tender exploration of mortality, love, and divine fate allows tragedy to pierce through the narrative like a spear through the gut.
Or, if you’re a fan of the classics, why not try reading what inspired Miller’s retelling?
“…your fate awaits you too, godlike as you are, Achilles –
to die in battle beneath the proud rich Trojans’ walls!
But one thing more. A last request – grant it, please.
Never bury my bones apart from yours, Achilles,
let them lie together…” (Book 23, lines 98 – 101)
Regarded as one of the oldest, and greatest, works of literature, ‘The Iliad’ is more than a tale of war and heroics. In bold, prosaic verses, Homer weaves a narrative where human life is underpinned by suffering and the cold, unsympathetic gaze of the Greek pantheon. Not confined to the battlefield, tragedy spills into every character and every aspect, where death is an expected certainty yet never without grief.
At its heart, ‘The Iliad’ is an exploration of the depths of humanity and the inescapable nature of fate; a message made all the more bitter by the compassion and raw honesty of Homer’s narration.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
Set in the distant future, ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’ orbits around a lone human envoy, Genly Ai. Sent to establish relations between Ekumen, the interplanetary trade network, and the planet Gethen, whose native inhabitants possess an absence of fixed gender, Genly must learn to traverse the chasm of his own disparate views and the Gethenians’ distrust.
In an exploration of duty and humanity, Le Guin cuts right to the heart of complex topics such as religion, gender, and identity, and, with probing questions and razor-sharp wit, flays them wide open.
A Psalm for the Wild-Built (Monk & Robot, #1) by Becky Chambers
It’s been centuries since the robots of Panga gained self-awareness and strayed, all at once, into the wilderness. With robots nothing more than a distant myth, Dex is a tea monk tasked with providing custom-brewed tea to suit people’s personalities and whatever they may need. Tired of their routine, Dex strays into the wilderness in search of adventure only to stumble across a lone robot, honouring a centuries-old promise. Neither of them can return to their old lives until they find an answer to the question “What do people need?”
Dealing with themes of consumption, existentialism and compassion, Chambers’ series welcomes its readers like an old friend – with an open door, a sense of comfort, and a place to stop and rest.
This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone
Rival agents, Red and Blue, belong to something larger than standard warring factions. Able to traverse the timeline in any direction, they alter the history of multiple universes to suit the needs of their respective empires, leaving each other secret messages as they go. Starting as nothing more than taunts, the letters morph into reluctant affection and eventually into love – a love that would see both of them killed if ever discovered.
In a world that isn’t bound by linear time, El-Mohtar & Gladstone depict a new take on star-crossed lovers. Spanning the rise and fall of civilizations, of empires, of humanity itself, ‘This is How You Lose the Time War’ explores the perseverance of love in the unlikeliest of places, and just how infinite it can be.
The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice by Shon Faye
In a climate that has routinely denied trans people a voice in conversations about themselves, Shon Faye considers what it really means to be transgender within a largely transphobic society. Exploring issues of class, employment and violence, she outlines the myriad of injustices transgender people face within the UK and proposes new ways to bring about meaningful change.
Outrageous!: The Story of Section 28 and Britain’s Battle for LGBT Education by Paul Baker
Through personal accounts, interviews, and detailed research, Baker tells the story of Section 28, a law that prohibited the “promotion of homosexuality” in settings such as schools. Attempting to silence a generation, Outrageous! explores how the Act came to pass, how protestors fought for its repeal, and the legacy it has left behind.
Trans Britain: Our Journey from the Shadows by Christine Burns
A collection of essays written by a range of activists, filmmakers, broadcasters, musicians and many more, ‘Trans Britain’ explores transgender rights, both historically and in present-day. Spanning almost a century, it covers life in the 30s, media response, and the myriad of ways transgender people have been treated, from medical attention to societal hostility.
Our previous article can be found here, and further information on LGBT history month may be found on their website here.
By Holly Steventon, SGO Project Officer