AfterElton’s 50 Best Gay Books!

Book it!

Three weeks ago, we asked you, readers, to
vote on what you thought were the best gay books of all time.

The votes are counted, and the results are now in.

But first, some interesting statistics. readers like novels. Of the top 50 books in
the poll, all but seven are works of fiction, and of the seven non-fiction
books, five are memoirs. And the Band
Played On
by Randy Shilts and The
Celluloid Closet
by Vito Russo are the only two non-memoir non-fiction
books to make the list.

A number of authors made the list twice, including Michael
Chabon, Michael Cunningham, Mary Renault, Jeffrey Round, Alex Sanchez, Jim
Grimsley, and Alan Hollinghurst. (Readers voted for the other books in the
series that begins with Armistead Maupin’s Tales
of the City
, but that’s the only book that made the top 50.) No author made
the list more than twice.

Unlike’s recent gay movie poll where most of
the selections came from the last two decades, this list includes many books
much older than that. Almost half were published before 1990, and four were
published before 1970. The oldest book
was The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar
Wilde’s only novel, published in 1890.

And while we enjoy good literary fiction and the classics,
we appreciate genre fiction as well, with six works of young adult fiction on
the list, four of historical fiction, three mysteries, two fantasy novels, and
even a play, Angels in America.

As with our poll of movies, most of the books on the list
are by white authors writing about the experiences of white characters (albeit
often surrounded by supporting characters of color). Exceptions include Giovanni’s Room, written by an African
American, James Baldwin (though the book tells the story of two white
characters); Call Me By Your Name by Egyptian-born author André Aciman; and Rainbow Boys and Rainbow High, two young adult novels written by Latino author Alex

What do some of the authors themselves have to say about
making the list?

"It’s wonderful to know that after 30-some years, Tales of the City still resonates with LGBT readers," says Armistead Maupin, author of the top-rated book. "My message back then was a simple one: that, gay or straight, the human heart is pretty much the same organ in everybody. You’d think that once-radical concept would be old news by now, but clearly there’s still work to be done. The brutish new wave of church-generated bigotry that resulted in Prop 8 now makes it imperative for us to defend the very families we have built and treasured over the years. We must do so without equivocation and with all the strength and courage and righteous anger we can muster. I like knowing that Tales might still be useful in that regard."

deeply grateful to all the readers, through the years, who have read The Front Runner and talked it around to
others – as well as all the booksellers who have faithfully kept it in
stock,” says Patricia Nell Warren, author of another one of our highest ranking
books. “For a book, this kind of history can’t happen without them.”

“It’s a privilege to be on any list that features James
Baldwin,” says Jamie O’Neill, author of At Swim, Two Boys, another one of our top books. “Giovanni’s Room and, even more, Another Country, are great works of 20th
century literature.”

“I wrote the books I wished I’d been able to read when I was
a struggling gay Latino teen — books
that would’ve told me ‘It’s okay to be who you are,’” says Alex Sanchez of his
two books on our list. “I’m thrilled to have them on a list with so many gay
classics that have inspired me over the years!”

For the record, several published authors write for, but their books were disqualified from the final calculations.

And now, without further ado, may we present’s
50 Best Gay Books:

1. Tales Of The
by Armistead
readers picked their top book by a large margin: the first book in Armistead
Maupin’s epic seven-book series about life in San Francisco in the 1970s. Tales of the City, which is also the
name of the series itself, famously started life as a serial in the San Francisco Chronicle. But soon word
of this extraordinary saga was spreading way beyond the borders of the city where
it is set. Tales of the City is the
perfect example of a timely story, written during and about a very specific
period in both gay and American history, which has since become timeless.

2. Maurice by E. M. Forster

Homosexuality was illegal in Britain in 1913, but E. M. Forster
was determined to give his novel about gay life in that era a happy ending
anyway. Still, he didn’t dare publish it, instead showing it only to a few
close friends. The novel, by the author of such acclaimed works as A Passage to India and Howards End, was finally published
posthumously in 1971 — and was
controversial even then. But gay readers saw this extraordinary novel for what
it is, and the 1987 movie (made by the gay filmmaking duo of Merchant/Ivory)
propelled this revolutionary novel into the ranks of the classics where it

3. The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren

Talk about being ahead of her time! When Patricia Nell
Warren published The Front Runner in
1974, the idea of an openly gay Olympic athlete was virtually unthinkable. But
this novel about an athlete’s love affair with his male coach went on to become
a surprise bestseller, eventually moving more than ten million copies. How
could this be? Credit Warren’s
deceptively simple prose and her exceptionally moving story. A garland of olive leaves to the author of
this breakthrough novel!

4. At Swim, Two
by Jamie O’Neill

Jim is quiet and studious, and Doyler is brash and
outspoken. Jamie O’Neill’s 2001 novel is about the unlikely love affair between
these two Irish men in Dublin
at the time of the 1916 Easter Uprising. With its stream-of-consciousness
style, the challenging, but masterful novel has been compared to James Joyce’s Ulysses. The novel won the 2001 Lambda
Award for Gay Men’s Fiction — and has only seen its reputation grow since then.

5. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

This mesmerizing 1956 novel tells the story of a young
American man considering marriage to a woman, who goes on a trip to Paris; there he meets
Giovanni, and the two begin a passionate affair. But can two men create any
kind of life living together in Giovanni’s room? Baldwin, an African-American
man, knew something about prejudice, and he’d been warned not to publish a
novel on this subject matter. Thankfully, he ignored the naysayers, and this
amazing novel helped establish him as a major literary figure.

6. Hero by Perry Moore

Film producer Perry Moore was so upset when Marvel killed a
gay superhero in one of their comic books that he sat down and wrote Hero, a 2007 young adult novel
about — what else? A gay teenage
superhero. Thom Creed isn’t just dealing with the emergence of his superpowers;
he’s also coming to terms with his sexuality. But what with secret identities
and bully-like villains, the two things aren’t really so different, are they? A
movie and TV series are reportedly in the works.

7. The Line of
by Alan Hollinghurst

Yes, it’s another
book about repressed Brits and the secret longing of the gay main character, a
student, for his straight best friend. But that’s the only thing that’s typical
about this extraordinary 2004 novel that won the Booker Prize in the U.K. — a vindication for those who felt the author
didn’t get the recognition he deserved because his earlier novels dealt
explicitly with gay themes. The novel became a very successful three-part
mini-series on the BBC.

8. Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

Gay teen angst? Not
in the young adult novel Boy Meets Boy,
which presents a glorious alter-verse where gay people are accepted and
celebrated. There’s no coming out, no gay bashing, no disapproving parents —
and coming after decades of doom and gloom in young adult literature,
Levithan’s “alternate” take on being gay was downright revolutionary. The novel
has been repeatedly challenged and banned, but that hasn’t stopped it from
becoming the classic it is.

9. A Home At The
End of the World
by Michael

Cunningham won a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize in 1999 for
his novel The Hours (which placed
further down this list), but readers preferred Cunningham’s more
personal 1990 novel about the tumultuous life and loves of a gay man as he
grows up through the drug-addled haze of the 60s and finally finds a place for
himself in the 70s. What is a home anyway? Cunningham knows what most gay
people eventually learn: it’s whatever place you share with the people you

10. Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez

Three boys, three
very different ways to be a gay or bi teen. When Sanchez’s gay teen novel was
published in 2001, the conventional wisdom was that such a book would never sell.
But once again, the conventional wisdom was completely wrong: Rainbow Boys went on to become a
surprise bestseller and heralded the start of the new genre of gay teen lit,
currently one of the most rich and vibrant in all of publishing. Sanchez’s
freshman effort led to two sequels (including Rainbow High, further down on this list) and a growing list of
other well received, gay-themed teen and middle grade novels.

11. Dancer From the
by Andrew Holleran

Anthony leaves the
Midwest behind to embrace “gay” life in New York City. And boy, does he embrace
it! This 1978 novel documents a time of wanton sexual exploration and rampant
drug use on Fire Island and beyond, all
described in Holleran’s trademark dream-like style. The book was enormously
influential: a gay “literary” novel that met with widespread critical and
popular success.

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

What do you do if
you’re a child and have difficulty saying the letter “s”? If you’re humorist
David Sedaris, you simply plan to live your entire life without ever saying any
word with an “s” in it! What about when you’re an adult and you move to France with
your partner, but you seem to be unable to learn French? Once again, why not
simply avoid ever speaking French? All of Sedaris’ books got votes in our poll,
but readers preferred this hilarious 2000 collection of essays
most of all.

13. Call Me by Your Name by Andre

Elio is a young
Egyptian man spending a 1980s summer on the Italian Riviera with his family;
Oliver is the young American scholar who comes for a visit. As the lazy months
slip by, a friendship turns passionate, and the readers of this 2007 novel soon
they’re witnessing the arrival of a bold new voice in gay
literature. Those who haven’t read this book, be forewarned: you may never look
at a peach the same way again.

by Annie

Before the movie
there was this exquisite short story, first published in The New Yorker in 1997, where it drew raves and awards, then
included as part of Proulx’s 1999 collection, Close Range: Wyoming Stories, which became a finalist for the
Pulitzer Prize. “
Of course I knew the story would be seen as
controversial,” Proulx said. “I doubted it would even be published.” But it’s a
testament to the power of this spare and understated story that it would go on
to be as successful as it has. Rarely have so few words said so much.

The Swimming-Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst

This 1988 novel tells of the unabashed sexual exploration of
a gay Londoner in the early 1980s, but it’s anything but mere erotica.
Hollinghurst’s first novel is breathtaking in its use of language and was way
ahead of its time in its willingness to take a hard look at issues of sexuality,
race, and class. In literary circles, some dismissed the book because of its
explicit subject matter, but for anyone with an open mind, the author’s talent is

And The Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy

As a reporter for
the San Francisco Chronicle, Shilts
had a front-row seat to the devastation of the AIDS crisis in the early 1980s.
Eventually, he turned what he saw into this 1987 book.
"Any good
reporter could have done this story, but I think the reason I did it, and no
one else did, is because I am gay,” Shilts said. “It was happening to people I
cared about and loved." So who
was responsible for letting the AIDS crisis spin so wildly out of control?
According to Shilts, everyone played a part: from a homophobic population, to
an utterly hostile government, to gay men themselves, who remained in denial
far too long. Tragically, the great chronicler of the AIDS epidemic later
succumbed to the disease himself.

17. The Persian Boy by Mary Renault

What does it mean that Oliver Stone barely touched upon the
sexuality of Alexander the Great in his 2004 film Alexander — and was harshly criticized anyway — while way back in
1972 Mary Renault managed to write and publish this acclaimed story of the
passionate love between the ancient Greek king and his male slave? That the
readers of books are more open-minded than many moviegoers? Whatever the case,
Renault’s book rightfully went on to become a classic, and finally helped
reclaim the genre of historical fiction for us gay folks.

18. The Amazing Adventure of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

Chabon showed
promise with his gay-themed novels The
Mysteries of Pittsburgh
(1988) and Wonder
(1995), but even many of the author’s fans were blown away by his 2000
masterpiece about two Jews, a straight artist named Joe and a gay writer named
Sam, and their “adventures” working in the golden age of comic books. Many of
the events in the book are based on the real-life struggles faced by early
comic book creators, several of whom were Jewish and some of whom were gay. In
addition to a host of other honors, the book won a very well deserved Pulitzer.

Running With Scissors: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs

There are memoirs, and then there is Running With Scissors, a 2002 book about Burroughs’ insane mother
and the bizarrely dysfunctional foster family he is sent to live with (and
where, as a young teenager, he was involved in a relationship with a much older
man). The real foster family said it was all fiction (though their lawsuit was
settled mostly in Burroughs’ favor). In any event, Burroughs’ shocking,
audacious book changed the genre of the memoir for good.

Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim

When a book becomes
a terrific movie, sometimes the film overshadows its source material. That’s a
mistake in the case of this 1995 novel, which is every bit as powerful as the
well received 2004 movie. As young boys, Neil and Brian were both abused by
their baseball coach — an event that pushed the boys in very different
directions. Brian thinks he was abducted by aliens, and Neil has ended up a
prostitute. Only when they meet again as young adults can the truth finally
penetrate the mysterious skin that surrounds them both.

A Boy’s Own Story by Edmund White

22. The Charioteer by Mary Renault

Dream Boy by Jim Grimsley

A Density of Souls by Christopher Rice

The Catch Trap by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Naked by David Sedaris

The Lost Language of Cranes by David Leavitt

Vintage by Steve Berman

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh
by Michael Chabon

How Long Has This Been Going On by Ethan Mordden

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

A Cage of Bones by Jeffrey Round

The P-Town Murders by Jeffery Round

The Hours by Michael Cunningham

Like People in History by Felice Picano

Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story by Paul Monette

Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner:

Rainbow High by Alex Sanchez

40. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Angels in America by Tony Kushner

Almost Like Being In Love by Steve Kluger

The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies by Vito Russo

How I Paid For College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship & Musical
by Marc Acito

City of Night by John Rechy

Best Little Boy in the World by Andrew Tobias

As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann

The Dreyfus Affair: A Love Story by Peter Lefcourt

Comfort & Joy by Jim Grimsley

50. A Better Place by Mark A. Roeder