When we first went into quarantine in March of 2020, I began a queer virtual book club that I anticipated would last only a few months. Now, almost two years later, I wanted to highlight my favorites from the past year, in case you were looking for last minute gifts for family members or friends––all while supporting queer authors and independent bookshops! Here they are:
Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde (January)
Published in 1982, Zami is a modern classic written by seminal poet, activist, and writer Audre Lorde. Blending autobiography, mythology, and history, Lorde tells her origin story on her own terms, and in doing so, paints a larger portrait of intersectional identities throughout the twentieth century. This is a must-read for anyone like me, a cis-white person who has benefited from the work of pioneering Black queer activists, perhaps without even knowing it.
100 Boyfriends by Brontez Purnell (February)
A collection of short stories by writer and performer Brontez Purnell, 100 Boyfriends is a raunchy, transgressive retrospective on what it means to be black, broke, queer, and horny in post-modern America. For anyone who's dealt with self-sabotage, Purnell’s sobering and self-reflective work will provide plenty of catharsis and an abundance of much-needed comic relief.
Real Life by Brandon Taylor (March)
Real Life is a novel that is near and dear to my heart, as it follows a gay man’s journey through a Ph.D. program. But more than just accurately reflecting the postgrad experience, this book is an arresting look at race, sexuality, friendship, and the secrets we keep from one another.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel (April)
If you’re looking for a departure from the traditional novel, make sure to check out Fun Home, the renowned graphic novel from lesbian author Alison Bechdel. Through captions and cartoons, Bechdel tells her own story of growing up as a queer kid in her father’s suburban funeral home with humor and heartbreaking honesty. Bonus points if you listen to the soundtrack of the Tony Award winning Broadway musical adaptation!
Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski (May)
A queer love story set in 1980s communist Poland, Swimming in the Dark was one of my favorite books of 2020. If you liked Giovanni’s Room or Call Me By Your Name, you’re gonna love this one too.
Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York by Sarah Schulman (June)
If there’s one book I had to assign as gay homework, it would be Let the Record Show. This book is the definitive account of the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power, also known as ACT UP––one of the most important queer organizations in the United States, if not the world. As a historian, it's difficult to describe the brilliance of Schulman's writing and the depth of her research, which was 20 years in the making. This book is essential reading for every queer person out there.
Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons by John Paul Brammer (July)
What began as an advice column for Grindr’s digital magazine, Hola Papi has evolved into a memoir-in-essays that follows author John Paul Brammer’s journey from growing up as a queer, biracial kid in Oklahoma to becoming, as Simon & Schuster calls him, “The Chicano Carrie Bradshaw” of his generation. If you need some queer advice, or just a hearty chuckle, this is the book for you.
Afterparties: Stories by Anthony Veasna So (August)
Afterparties is a stunning collection of short stories that highlight the experiences of Cambodian-American immigrants. Though his book is filled with warmth and humor, the read was ultimately heart-breaking for me: the author, Anthony Veasna So, tragically passed away before it was published. Even still, the impact he made for his community is undeniable, and the book is a testament to the fact that life is immortal through the written word.
Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters (September)
Detransition, Baby follows the relationship between two exes: one trans woman and another who, in the process of detransitioning, accidentally gets his boss pregnant. The drama beings when the three decide to team up and raise the baby together in an unconventional queer family. This book was one of the buzziest of the year, and after reading it, I actually think it exceeded the hype. Carmen Marcia Mercado said: “it’s so good, I want to scream,” and I absolutely agree.
Bath Haus: A Thriller by P.J. Vernon (October)
If you think you’ve heard the craziest Grindr horror story, wait til you read Bath Haus. After a man cheats on his husband with a mysterious stranger in a Washington DC bathhouse, he has to spin a web of lies to save his relationship with his partner, Nathan, and eventually...his life. It’s a pulse-pounding, erotic thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat and make you think twice before cruising the steam room.
No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull (November)
Turnbull’s novel begins with a tragically familiar story: the fatal shooting of a Black man by the police. What happens next is unfamiliar, however; supernatural monsters wreak havoc on the modern world. Throughout the book, the characters struggle to decipher what brought them out of the dark in the first place. This was a fascinating read and an important advancement in the genre of queer fantasy.
The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith (December)
Check out last week’s post for more on this one!
For my 2020 favorites, check out the full list of Deviant's Book Club selections here.
And don't forget to subscribe to Queer History 101 here!