The weather is finally getting warmer. Shirtless joggers fly past you on 17th Street. All signs suggest that the first gay holiday weekend is fast approaching. So are you dying to look a bit more literate on the sands of Poodle Beach this summer? Worried that all the gays suddenly have Vanity Fair subscriptions and you’re wanting to look a bit more original.
Why not pick up one of these reads for your gay beach bag?
“Less,” by Andrew Sean Greer. Have you ever skipped town to avoid an ex’s wedding? Have you ever wanted to? Meet Arthur Less, a single gay man fast approaching 50, measuring himself, and his happiness, against everyone else. Avoiding the wedding, he instead sets off on a hilarious, tender, at times beautiful journey of self-discovery around the world. Greer nabbed himself a Pulitzer for this, his sixth novel.
“Stray City,” by Chelsey Johnson. This is the one I’ve enjoyed the most, a novel sensitive and so superbly written. Take yourself back to 1990s Portland, a city where young people flocked to, searching for drugs, music, adulthood, or a refuge from adulthood. The character Andy Morales is one of those people. A lesbian, she gets pregnant after a drunken fling with a man. Her gay friends all rally around her when she decides to become a single lesbian mom.
“Boy Erased: A Memoir,” by Garrard Conley. Take a look inside the world of gay conversion therapy. The son of a southern Baptist preacher, Garrard is forced into it after being outed to his family. Ultimately a tale of survival, empathy, and forgiveness, this true story will hit the big screen this fall, featuring Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe and Troye Sivan.
These are just three suggestions of new gay novels. If it’s a blast from the queer past you seek, try one of the following:
“Tales of the City,” by Armistead Maupin. If someone doesn’t have a dogged-eared, somewhat warped from saltwater copy of this gay standard on their bookshelf, go ahead and judge them. This is perhaps the quintessential beach read — short, punchy chapters, funny and relatable. And with the return of this series to Netflix just announced, you’ll be all caught up on this seminal classic.
“How I Learned to Snap,” by Kirk Read. Again, short, and laugh-out-loud hilarious. Follow Kirk Read as he takes you back to his days as an openly gay high school student in rural Virginia. The sort of anti-David Sedaris memoir, Read shows us his queer teen years were one of resiliency and humor.
“Stone Butch Blues,” by Leslie Feinberg. Another seminal work for your shelf. Butch? Fem? Trans? Feinberg’s novel examines gender and identity in America, through the post-war 1950s, past women’s liberation and the Summer of Love, all through the lens of America’s working class.
And if your taste runs to the more specific side of queer literature, try one of these:
• Science-Fiction: “Provenance,” by Ann Leckie
• Fantasy: “River of Teeth,” by Sarah Gailey
• Thought-Provoking: “Christodora” by Tim Murphy
• Heartbreak: “The Heart’s Invisible Furies,” by John Boyne
I realize all these novels and memoirs have something in common. Everyone fleeing or searching for something else, trying to get somewhere — somewhere professionally, romantically, geographically. Well, that’s a queer existence for you. So as you flee the city this summer for Fire Island, or Provincetown, or Rehoboth, or even just taking refuge at a friend’s rooftop pool, take along one of these reads. At the very least, someone might approach you and ask, “Hey, are you enjoying that?”