What are some of the best lesbian books?
Looking for some reading material that explores lesbian themes? Start with this list!
When we’re questioning our sexuality, seeing LGBTQ+ themes in a movie can help us make sense of it all.
When we’re nervous about coming out, seeing strong lesbian and bisexual women on a TV series or in a magazine can help give us strength.
Even when we’re out, proud, and happily taken by the woman of our dreams, it always brings a sense of community to see ourselves represented in media.
If you’re a voracious reader, like me, your desire to see queer characters and role models will extend to books, too. But where to start?
Fortunately, there’s no shortage of lesbian storylines and characters in the literary world. Here are 10 novels to start you off.
1. Tipping the Velvet, Sarah Waters
I’m kicking off this list with Sarah Waters’ debut novel because, at 21 years old, this novel is already a classic of lesbian fiction. I heartily recommend it as a great place to start. It perfectly captures the feeling of lesbian first love and heartbreak. It’s also really good fun, with lots of Victorian filth!
2. Rubyfruit Jungle, Rita Mae Brown
I read Rubyfruit Jungle for the first time last year, and I’ve no idea why I didn’t read it sooner. Published in 1973, it’s an early example of a lesbian coming-of-age novel and, all these years later, is still extremely relatable. Perfect for a baby queer—I just wish I’d read it when I was one!
3. The Well of Loneliness, Radclyffe Hall
Published in the 1920s in the UK and quickly banned by the country’s courts, this is an essential piece of lesbian history. Semi-autobiographical, the novel explores the life of a lesbian in an era when homosexual lives were largely hidden and repressed. If the title’s not a giveaway, there’s a lot of sadness. But it’s amazing to look back in history and see something of yourself in the people of the past. I, for one, found it very compelling.
4. The Color Purple, Alice Walker
Devoured by readers the world over since its publication in 1982, the Color Purple contains lesbian/bisexual themes, but is so much more than just a novel about queer women—this modern classic is a staple of African-American literature and explores racism, domestic violence and female empowerment. I love how lesbian sexual expression is so healing and important to the story.
5. The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Emily M. Danforth
This novel, about a young girl in the 1990s who is dispatched to a gay conversion camp to “pray away the gay”, is a powerful tale about coming to terms with queerness in a hostile environment. It was adapted into an excellent film last year. The book contains some difficult themes, but is an important reminder of how dangerous homophobia is and why we must always fight against it.
6. Carol, Patricia Highsmith
Originally published as “The Price of Salt”, this is a beautifully written and evocative novel about a young woman who falls in love with an older woman. If you haven’t seen the film yet, read the book first. Highsmith received countless thank you letters from lesbians after Carol was published in 1952, because it was so ground-breaking in its day.
7. Pages for You, Sylvia Brownrigg
Pages for You is yet another coming-of-age novel, about a student who discovers her sexuality when she falls in love with—you guessed it—an older woman. This book is beautifully written and full of poetic description and symbolism. In 2017, the sequel, Pages for Her, was released, which I’ve yet to read, but it’s certainly on my list!
8. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, Alison Bechdel
Fun Home is my favourite comic of all time and Alison Bechdel one of my heroes. This autobiographical graphic novel explores Bechdel’s upbringing in a funeral home, her difficult relationship with her father, and her coming out as a young adult. It’s funny, insightful, and often heartbreaking. Bechdel’s dysfunctional family story is so entertaining and full of drama that it’s hardly a surprise that the comic was adapted into a musical.
9. Disobedience, Naomi Alderman
Disobedience is one of my favorite novels, period. You may have seen the fairly recent movie adaptation starring Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz—which I think was beautifully done—but, as usual, the book is better. The protagonist returns to the Orthodox Jewish community of her upbringing, from which she is now estranged, on the death of her father—and her childhood girlfriend, a closeted lesbian now married to a male pillar of the community, brings up old memories and pain. A truly educational and heartbreaking read.
10. Fingersmith, Sarah Waters
Sorry-not-sorry: I’ve put another Waters on the list. As one of her biggest fans, I love all her books, but I always come back to this Victorian masterpiece. It’s got everything—lesbian romance, treachery, and twists and turns aplenty. I loved the TV adaptation, but the sinister darkness of this story really has to be read. It’s a gift to the imagination!
Have a title to add to this list? Share it in the comments!