I’ve written posts in the past about my love of reading and the many advantages which might motivate you to engage (or re-engage) with literature. However, I still haven’t addressed what may be the most powerful and important aspect of reading: the opportunity to immerse yourself in the worlds of characters with life experiences that differ wildly from yours. Studies have shown that reading literary fiction makes people more empathetic to those around them. At such a politically divisive time, empathy is a trait we can all benefit from.
Since Pride Month 2017 is in full swing, this month is a great chance to explore literature with LGBTQ+ protagonists and themes. Whether or not you identify on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, the vast range of novels on the market today can offer insight into an aspect of the LGBTQ+ experience which you may never have considered before. If you need ideas for where to start, here are a few of my favorites:
- Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, by Fannie Flagg
The 1991 film adaptation with Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy has become a classic, so you’ve likely at least heard of this story. However, the movie leaves out a crucial part of the book: Ruth and Idgie, the owners of the Whistle Stop Café, aren’t just business partners–they’re a proud lesbian couple. The original novel makes their romantic connection entirely explicit as it tells the story of the two women falling in love and sharing adventures in a small American town. Ruth and Idgie are one of my favourite queer couples in fiction, and it helps that the novel they’re situated in is witty and compelling, weaving in epistolary elements and plot episodes spread across the twentieth century. (And, yes, the barbeque scene which made the movie so iconic is present in all its glory.)
- Everything Leads to You, by Nina LaCour
Everything Leads to You is a fascinating novel which begins as a mystery and ends as a romance between Emi, a teenage set designer, and Ava, the granddaughter of a dead Hollywood legend. This novel is a great choice for readers with an interest in LGBTQ+ novels where the protagonist’s struggle with their sexuality isn’t in the foreground; though the novel doesn’t try to sugarcoat the difficult realities many LGBTQ+ teenagers cope with, Emi is a confident lesbian surrounded by people who support her identity. One of the most distinctive aspects of the book is the detailed sequences relating to set design and other behind-the-scenes aspects of the film industry, which come to life through LaCour’s passionate and engaging characters.
- Not Otherwise Specified, by Hannah Moscowitz
Although the literary world has become more progressive in recent years, it can be as guilty as other media of seeing shying away from intersectionality. Not Otherwise Specified fights this trend with its depiction of a bisexual woman of colour in recovery from an eating disorder. In addition to addressing the discrimination the protagonist faces from both outside and inside the LGBTQ+ community, this novel also shows her pursuing her dream of admission to an arts college, demonstrating that she is not defined by the prejudice she faces.
- Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, by Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel may be best-known in the mainstream as the inventor of the Bechdel Test, but she’s also a proficient comic artist and graphic novelist renowned for tackling LGBTQ+ issues with wit and insight. (In fact, the Bechdel Test originated in her long-running comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For.) Her 2006 memoir, Fun Home, tells the story of Bechdel’s youth, the formation of her lesbian identity, and her complicated relationship with her father (who, as she learned a few weeks before his death, was also queer.) The memoir is a raw and emotional read, considered by many to be a modern classic. (It also serves as the basis for the musical Fun Home, which won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2015.)
- Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Aristotle and Dante is a great example of an ‘own voices’ book; in it, gay Latino author Benjamin Alire Sáenz tells the story of two Latino boys coming to terms with their sexuality in 1980s Texas. Sáenz’s lyrical writing style and the evocative details in his prose make this novel deeply satisfying to read, and the multiple perspectives his characters offer on LGBTQ+ issues paint a complex picture of the struggles and joys associated with life as a queer teenager.
Of course, this list barely scratches the surface. If you want to explore the genre further, the internet has plenty of resources, including this list of novels with trans protagonists written by trans authors, these collections of books with asexual and intersex characters, and this assortment of books starring characters from all regions of the spectrum. Celebrate this Pride Month by immersing yourself in the diverse and fascinating world of LGBTQ+ literature.