The 100 “Best” Gay and Lesbian Novels (#OthersLitLGBT)

Today, I wanted to share with you all two lists that I stumbled across recently, which attempt to highlight the “best” gay and lesbian books of all time.  The lists come from Publishing Triangle;  the first is compiled by a panel of judges, most of whom have a literary or editorial background.  The second list comes from general readers and was organized by the total number of times each book was mentioned (no “voting” or “judging”). 

I am rather OCD, so I love lists.  I love to be organized.  And I also love to think about my own reading experiences in comparison to others’ – what do I find interesting and important versus what others do?  Of course, I also hope that these lists will be a resource to participants in our current reading event, “The Literary Others.”  Looking for books to read this month that will fit in with our event?  Well, here you go!  That being said, I certainly have my opinions on these lists, and I want to share those too (for whatever they’re worth).

I will italicize the books on this list whose presence I vehemently agree & which I can recommend highly as worthy or pleasurable reads.

I will strikeout those books that I think should not be listed, either because they are not, in my opinion, of “Top 100” standard OR because I do not feel they truly qualify as “Gay/Lesbian” literature. 

For the books that I haven’t read or those which I’ve read and feel neutral about, I will just leave listed but unmarked. 

Disclaimer: These are just my opinions – feel free to disagree with me!  At the bottom of this post, I’m also going to add some thoughts on books I beileve should have been included. 

Top 100 (Publishing Triangle’s Panel of Judges)

1. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
2. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
3. Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet
4. Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust
5. The Immoralist by Andre Gide
6. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
7. The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall
8. Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig
9. The Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar
10. Zami by Audré Lorde
11. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
12. Nightwood by Djuna Barnes
13. Billy Budd by Herman Melville
14. A Boy’s Own Story by Edmund White
15. Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran
16. Maurice by E. M. Forster
17. The City and the Pillar by Gore Vidal
18. Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown
19. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
20. Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mishima
21. The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers
22. City of Night by John Rechy
23. Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal
24. Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller
25. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein
26. Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote
27. The Bostonians by Henry James
28. Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles
29. Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
30. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
31. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
32. The Persian Boy by Mary Renault
33. A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
34. The Swimming Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst
35. Olivia by Dorothy Bussy
36. The Price of Salt (Carol) by Patricia Highsmith
37. Aquamarine by Carol Anshaw
38. Another Country by James Baldwin
39. Chéri by Colette
40. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
41. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
42. Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence
43. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
44. The Friendly Young Ladies (The Middle Mist) by Mary Renault
45. Young Törless by Robert Musil
46. Eustace Chisholm and the Works by James Purdy
47. The Story of Harold by Terry Andrews
48. The Gallery by John Horne Burns
49. Sister Gin by June Arnold
50. Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall by Neil Bartlett
51. Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram
52. Naked Lunch by William Burroughs
53. The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood
54. The Young and Evil by Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler
55. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
56. A Visitation of Spirits by Randall Kenan
57. Three Lives by Gertrude Stein
58. Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli by Ronald Firbank
59. Rat Bohemia by Sarah Schulman
60. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
61. The Counterfeiters by André Gide
62. The Passion by Jeanette Winterson
63. Lover by Bertha Harris
64. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
65. La Bâtarde by Violette Leduc
66. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
67. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
68. The Satyricon by Petronius
69. The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell
70. Special Friendships by Roger Peyrefitte
71. The Changelings by Jo Sinclair
72. Paradiso by José Lezama Lima
73. Sheeper by Irving Rosenthal
74. Les Guerilleres by Monique Wittig
75. The Child Manuela (Mädchen in Uniform) by Christa Winsloe
76. An Arrow’s Flight by Mark Merlis
77. The Gaudy Image by William Talsman
78. The Exquisite Corpse by Alfred Chester
79. Was by Geoff Ryman
80. Théresè and Isabelle by Violette Leduc
81. Gemini by Michel Tournier
82. The Beautiful Room Is Empty by Edmund White
83. The Children’s Crusade by Rebecca Brown
84. The Story of the Night by Colm Toibin
85. The Holy Terrors (Les Enfants Terribles) by Jean Cocteau
86. Hell Has No Limits by José Donoso
87. Riverfinger Women by Elana Nachman (Dykewomon)
88. The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon by Tom Spanbauer
89. Closer by Dennis Cooper
90. Lost Illusions by Honoré de Balzac
91. Miss Peabody’s Inheritance by Elizabeth Jolley
92. René’s Flesh by Virgilio Piñera
93. Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai
94. Wasteland by Jo Sinclair
95. Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing by May Sarton
96. Sea of Tranquillity by Paul Russell
97. Autobiography of a Family Photo by Jacqueline Woodson
98. In Thrall by Jane DeLynn
99. On Strike Against God by Joanna Russ
100. Sita by Kate Millett

Reader Favorites (As Submitted by Readers, No “Judging” Involved)

1. The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren
2. The Hours by Michael Cunningham
3. The Charioteer by Mary Renault
4. Like People in History by Felice Picano
5. Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden
6. A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham
7. Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
8. The Lost Language of Cranes by David Leavitt
9. Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim
10. The Object of My Affection by Stephen McCauley
11. Faggots by Lary Kramer
12. A Separate Peace by John Knowles
13. Other Women by Lisa Alther
14. Stars in my Pocket Like Grains of Sand by Samuel Delany
15. Six of One by Rita Mae Brown
16. Even Cowgirls Get The Blues by Tom Robbins
17. Martin and John by Dale Peck
18. Querelle by Jean Genet
19. The God in Flight by Laura Argiri
20. Totem Pole by Sanford Friedman
21. Falconer by John Cheever
22. Latin Moon in Manhattan by Jaime Manrique
23. Openly Bob by Bob Smith
24. The Lord Won’t Mind by Gordon Merrick
25. The Naked Civil Servant by Quentin Crisp
26. Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg
27. Quatrefoil by James Barr
28. The Better Angel by Richard Meeker
29. Known Homosexual by Joseph Hanson
30. She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb
31. Burning Houses by Andrew Harvey
32. The American Woman In The Chinese Hat by Carole Maso
33. Nightswimmer by Joseph Olshan
34. Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
35. The Beauty of Men by Andrew Holleran
36. The Folded Leaf by William Maxwell
37. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon
38. The Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger
39. The Sea of Light by Jenifer Levin
40. Bending at the Bow by Marion Douglas
41. Amnesty by Louise Blum
42. Hood by Emma Donoghue
43. Queer by William Burroughs
44. Funeral Rites by Jean Genet
45. The Thief’s Journal by Jean Genet
46. Forbidden Colors by Yukio Mishima
47. The Grandmothers by Glenway Wescott
48. Scissors, Paper, Rock by Fenton Johnson
49. Just Above My Head by James Baldwin
50. Flesh and Blood by Michael Cunningham
51. Equal Affections by David Leavitt
52. Tim and Pete by James Robert Baker
53. Dance of the Warriors by Kevin Esser
54. Streetboy Dreams by Kevin Esser
55. Livre blanc by Jean Cocteau
56. Confession of Felix Krull by Thomas Mann
57. Pryor Rendering by Gary Reed
58. Winter Birds by Jim Grimsley
59. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
60. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
61. The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
62. Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing by May Sarton
63. Curious Wine by Katherine V. Forrest
64. In a Shallow Grave by James Purdy
65. The Unlit Lamp by Radclyffe Hall
66. Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady by Florence King
67. The Wild Boys by William S. Burroughs
68. Paxton Court by Diane Salvatore
69. Quatrefoil by James Barr
70. The Twyborn Affair by Patrick White
71. Hemlock and After by Angus Wilson
72. Chamber Music by Doris Grumbach
73. Ernesto by Umberto Saba
74. Separate Rooms by Pier Vittorio Tondelli
75. Bertram Cope’s Year by H.B. Fuller
76. Bom-Criulo by Adolfo Caminha
77. Nights in the Underground by Marie Claire Blais
78. The High Cost of Living by Marge Piercy
79. Toilet by Tom Woolley
80. Red Azalea by Anchee Min
81. The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
82. Dream Boy by Jim Grimsley
83. Kissing the Witch by Emma Donohue
84. Biography of Desire by Mary Dorcey
85. Mother of the Grass by Jovette Marchessault
86. Six Chapters of a Floating Life by Shen Fu
87. The Four Winds by Gerd Brantenberg
88. China Mountain Zhang by Maureen McHugh

Some texts I would definitely add:

The Rain God by Arturo Islas

Memory Mambo by Chinua Achebe

Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids by Kenzaburo Oe

The Night Listener by Armistead Maupin

Under the Poppy by Kathe Koja

Narcissus and Goldmund by Herman Hesse 

So, which books do YOU think should have made the cut, but didn’t?  Which books are listed that shouldn’t be?

30 Comments on “The 100 “Best” Gay and Lesbian Novels (#OthersLitLGBT)

    • I absolutely would include Boy Meets Boy in an extensive list of all books, but this list, I think, is more specific to adult literature, and Boy Meets Boy is MG/YA. (Lots of others in the MG/YA category I would add, such as Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde, The Vast Fields of Ordinary, by Nick Burd, etc.).

      I would also add, now that I’m thinking, again – I’ll Get There, It Better be Worth the Trip as well as Running With Scissors.


  1. I haven’t read a lot of these so it’s highlighted some major gaps in my knowledge, but To Kill a Mockingbird?! I can see why you’ve struck it out. I mean, it’s probably one of my top five favourite books of all time, but I really don’t see how it would fit into this category at all :-/


    • I believe To Kill a Mockingbird (and Little Women) are both on the list because the main character is a tomboy. To Kill a Mockingbird is also likely listed because one of the characters (Dill Harris) is based on Lee’s real-life author friend Truman Capote, who is gay – I personally disqualify it, though, because the book is not autobiographical & even if it were, young Harper Lee wouldn’t have known that young Truman was gay, so it’s presupposing too much, I think.


      • That’s interesting. I would agree with you though as the book isn’t autobiographical, and surely if you have to search through the background of a text that much to find the link then for most people that’s probably stretching it a bit?

        And in regards to Little Women, that seems a little bit of a silly reason to include it. Yes Jo may be a tomboy in Little Women itself but then there’s the whole thing with her and Laurie (clearly a boy!), and eventually she ends up married to a man! With the amount of literature out there which actually does fit into this category they seem to be scraping the barrel a bit and I’m not too sure why!


      • I think they might be trying to expose some of the queer elements of traditional, classic literature, which is laudable because it’s not often talked about. But I’m not sure tiny scraps = a place in such a “master list” of “the best” works. The kinds of texts that should make it onto such a list, I think, are the ones who make an impact on LGBT history, literature, culture, etc.


    • Moby Dick is also a bit of a stretch, but I left it on because there is some inkling of “man love” in it, and because Melville was almost certainly bisexual, at least. I haven’t read Billy Bud, yet, but I understand that and some of his others (Pierre, for example) are a tiny bit more explicit in presentation of homosexual content.


      • Billy Budd was much less gay than I expected, given it’s reputation. Maybe if I hadn’t expected it to be full of subtext I would have found more?


  2. Wait…am I somehow misunderstanding this list? Is it solely gay male lit? No, that’s not right, because there’s lesbian lit here. So HOW IS THERE NO SARAH WATERS? That is complete bullshit. I can’t trust this list at all if they didn’t include either Fingersmith or Tipping the Velvet (esp the latter).


    • Good one! There is defintiely lesbian (and bisexual) literature represented – but of course any attempt to be “all-inclusive” in any list will fall flat. I haven’t read anything by Waters, but from what I’ve heard about Tipping the Velvet, I imagine you wouldn’t be the only reader who would want to see it on this list.


      • It’s kind of THE lesbian novel. And I HATED Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, but I’ll accept it here. I just don’t get what their criteria was. Because The Well of Loneliness is terribly written (like, terribly), but it was one of the first popular lesbian novels, if not the first, so if it’s like “LGBT lit that made an impact” then fine. But if it’s GOOD LGBT lit, then it shouldn’t be on there.


      • Perhaps it is both? Historically significant and/or of literary merit? You’re right – they should probably be separate lists, as there is oftentimes quite a difference!


  3. I’d add The German, though that’s a relatively new book so I’m not surprised it’s not on here. The Absolutist, as well. Both of them are so wonderfully haunting.

    Also, I know I read it back in high school, but did I miss some sort of homosexual subtext in To Kill a Mockingbird or something? XD


    • Ah – I bought The Absolutist not too long ago, based on many recommendations (not to mention, the book just sounds good!).

      I touched on To Kill a Mockingbird in the comments – it has a couple of loose reasons, more than Little Women and The Catcher in the Rye do, in my opinion. But, still, it’s not by a gay writer and there are no explicitly gay characters or situations, so I really don’t think it counts (the general idea is that it works because the character Dill was based on Truman Capote, who is gay. That’s a weak argument, to me).


  4. I find most of the top books on the first list to be woefully depressing, that doesn’t disqualify them becasuse they are good books. I would have like to see books that depict gay relationships in a bit more of a positive light on the top of the list though.


  5. Maybe I missed it, but ‘Ash’ by Malinda Lo should SO totally be on here. Lesbian Cinderella, and so beautifully written too. (I just finished reading it, so it’s fresh in my mind and its absence really stuck out at me too). Also, adding my ‘Whuh?” to the inclusion of Little Women and To Kill a Mockingbird. Jo March is one of my favorite female protags, but queer she aint, IMO.



  6. I like that there are two lists, because opinions can be so different. I agree with you about Little Women – I tried but failed to see why it would be included. My favourites aren’t famous enough to be on the list 😦


  7. What a great list, Adam! And you didn’t have to cross out that many either 😉 I’m afraid that I’ve got many more books to read before I can offer my opinion…


  8. I know The Swimming Pool Library is already listed, but The Line of Beauty should also be there. I have yet to read the former for this event, but I can vouch for the latter’s exquisite prose and its bold handling of gay issues.

    Also, I don’t get why Death Comes for the Archbishop is there. I’ve read it last year, but I don’t remember any gay character. Does this mean that Father Latour and Father Vaillant had something going on?


    • I haven’t read Death Comes for the Archbishop yet, so I can’t say with any certainty why that one is there…but I have heard that there are queer elements to it. Cather is very subtle and even a bit deceptive. In A Lost Lady, for example, the reader is led to believe that the narrator is in love with Mrs. Forrester (the lost lady) but it’s really her husband, the Captain, who he loves.


      • Hmm, now there’s a point. But a refuse to think that the love between the two priests is anything more than brotherly love. Thanks for the info!


  9. I adored Fall On Your Knees when I read it, but the author’s Canadian, and we tend to get overlooked quite a bit on these Lists Of Universal Merit. I was going to re-read via audiobook to review it this month, but Audible’s only got an abridged version.


  10. I can’t believe that At swim two boy” by Jammie O’Neill didn’t apeard. An “What they always tell us” amazing YA book, and really well writen. The Pillard and the salt, I did’nt like I think is more famous for the scandal at the time it was wrote that for the book itself.


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