The Best LGBT Books of All Time

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About Benoit Denizet-Lewis

Benoit Denizet-Lewis is an editor-at-large with The Good Men Project magazine, a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, and the author of two books, including America Anonymous: Eight Addicts in Search of a Life.


  1. I can relate to Benoit’s intro on so many levels. I grew up in the sticks, but still was only shown the stereotypical version of gay men. Luckily, a gay man told me who Paul Monette was. However, I didn’t get crabs or porn, but instead just theater tickets. This summer is going to be a busy one reading!

  2. When will we realize when we call ourselves “queer writers”, “queer artists”, “queer scholars”, etcetera, we are just as ignorant as those who have historically used the Q-word to dispagage us? It cannot be proven that LGBT folk do not mean “queer” in a derogatory sense. In fact, I think the opposite can be proven. The term is used because it is trendily “edgy”, and if it isn’t bad, it isn’t edgy! Let’s clean up our language and answer to labels that truly reflect Gay pride.

  3. David Ciminello says:

    AT SWIM, TWO BOYS by Jamie O’Neill — the absolute BEST

    • Absolutely, David. I’ve read many of the books listed (and plan to read some of the others), but O’Neill’s book is simply one of the most moving, brilliantly written novels I’ve ever read. In fact, I’m planning on rereading it (after first reading it on publication) and recommending it for my (non-gay) book club.

      And while I wouldn’t say Kirkwood’s Good Times, Bad Times would qualify as an all-time best gay-themed novel (there’s a whiff of the closet to it, and the villain definitely has issues with his sexuality), I, too, read it as a teenager and it became one of my favorite books. So much so that I hunted down a used copy (it’s no longer in print) and promptly reread it after several decades and it still sucked me in. And made me laugh. And cry.

  4. Daniel Gillespie says:

    Sad to see Mary Renault left out. The Charioteer!

  5. I thought more Williams S Burroughs would be on the list

  6. AT SWIM, TWO BOYS by Jamie O’Neill is absolutely #1…followed by a nostalgic and beloved close 2nd of GOOD TIMES, BAD TIMES by James Kirkwood.

  7. Yes, obviously none of these brilliant and wonderful people have ever read “At Swim, Two Boys” by Jamie O’Neill, or they would know that it is simply the finest piece of gay fiction ever written. I reread it every year, find wonderful new treasures in it, and it touches me so deeply every time.

  8. Not a single Gore Vidal?!

  9. Steve Berman says:

    Mr. Denizet-Lewis, it does little good to link to OP editions of texts you laud, such as those by Mark Thompson. Far more helpful, to both Mark and readers, would be if you took some extra effort and discovered that White Crane Books has spent considerable time and money reprinting Thompson. You could have provided links to the new editions.

  10. isa kocher says:

    in lists of the greatest books of ALL TIMES, the selections are for the most part unbelievably, painfully narrow in scope. mostly american, mostly late 20th century. except for Satyricon. nothing from Farsi, Turkish, Arabic, Hebrew, Chinese, American first nations, Japanese, Sanskrit, Hindi, Italian, African. One of the great M on M romances in history in Fahrettin Attar Conference of the Birds, the Book of Ruth, Death in Venice. Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi’s Mesnevi. Certainly Martial demands an mention.

  11. isa kocher says:

    hey guys. I am queer. and proud to say it. I haven’t got a clue what “gay” means. Go ahead be gay, but don’t damn dare tell me what I am. thank GOD I am a faggot! At Stonewall we were faggots and queers. I still am.

  12. Wharton Sinkler says:

    I would add, first as extremely helpful to me as a gay man coming out late in life, Will Fellow’s FARM BOYS — stories of boys who grew up on farms in the midwest who also were gay; and James Lord’s MY QUEER WAR, the story of his experience in World War II as a man of uncertain sexuality and humanity at the beginning and a person of glorious celebration of his sexuality and compassion at the end.

  13. So happy to see the more obscure but beautiful book, “A Folded Leaf” by William Maxwell on several lists. I have had a copy of it for 30 years, when i came out.

  14. alexandria says:

    “the elusive embrace” by daniel mendelsohn

  15. David K. says:

    Can’t believe no one mentioned Randy Shilts’ “The Mayor of Castro Street”. That book changed my life.

    I’m a big fan of Maupin’s Tales of the City, but his “Micheal Tolliver Lives” really hit close to home. I think it’s his best novel.

    Also, I’d mention: Gore Vidal’s “Myra Breckenridge”; John Rechy’s wonderful “Numbers”; any of Genet’s novels; Christopher Bram’s “Gods and Monsters”; Richard K. Morgan’s “The Steel Remains”; Frederick Pohl’s “Gateway”

  16. Andre Gide is da bomb

  17. SmarterYankee says:

    Not a book, but how about a copy of Gurganus’ April 2006 op ed in the New York Times about how the Duke lacrosse boys are gulty of the rape they were accused of (while simultaneously lusting after their “abercrombie appeal”). It defines the “vicious queen” character even better than some of Proust’s characters.

  18. SmarterYankee says:
  19. Stephanie Roth says:

    Interesting after all these decades that we still see three times as many males asked to recommend books as females and more than twice as many authors recommended we male than female…and every time I was unsure of the gender for whatever reason, I gave the benefit of the doubt to females. (I have little knowledge of the percentages of transgendered people in recommenders or recommended.) I’m kind of surprised by how many men who were asked for their recommendations listed five males and while almost every woman recommended at least one male writer. We’ve still got a long way to go.

    • Agreed. It’s unclear to me if this article was meant to be a list solely of the best books of interest to gay men (which is fine) or if it’s really meant to be a list of the best queer books appealing to all queer folk. In which case, come on… Gay women and trans folk long for books reflecting their experiences as well.

      Also, why link to Amazon while simultaneously bemoaning the loss of gay bookstores? Amazon is actively trying to put gay and other indie/political bookstores out of business. Why not link to an independent gay bookstores? I know Amazon gives kickbacks to organizations that link to them, but most indie bookstores also have affiliate deals.

  20. I am surprised that none of Armestead Maupins’ books were mentioned.. His “Tales of… series are phenomenal!

  21. Some really good books on these lists.

  22. Fabulous lists! (Especially the lovely Brad Gooch’s)

    My Faves:
    a la recherche du temps perdu — Marcel Proust
    Sheeper — Irving Rosenthal
    Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli — Ronald Firbank
    Two Serious Ladies — Jane Bowles
    My Loose Thread — Dennis Cooper

  23. Glad to see some love for the marvelous Alison Bechdel (Fun Home is a quicker read than the massive opus of DTWOF), but let’s not forget Howard Cruse, especially Stuck Rubber Baby and Wendel.

  24. “I wish someone had given me a list of required gay reading when I was coming out. Gay men gave me a lot of things back then (porn, theater tickets, crabs), but no one gave me book titles. As a young gay man, I could have used a literary roadmap to help me put my experiences—and my feelings—in some historical and sociological context.”

    I can very much relate to this paragraph. Thank you for choosing to be person to give the titles of great LGBT books to young people like myself. I will definitely read many books on this list.

  25. I just briefly browsed the list, but I like that you asked a bunch of people to give their input. So relieved to see The Color Purple made a couple “Top 5s”. Interesting that no one lists “The Well of Loneliness” or “The City and the Pilar”…are these texts famous more for being firsts but not necessarily the best? One of my favs that doesn’t seem to get mentioned by anyone is “Passing” by Nella Larsen.

  26. Hey Benoit – did I miss the ‘L’ books on the list?

    • So I guess you missed all the Bechdel, Lorde, Woolf and Tea (among others)? This is a men’s site, so it makes some sense that there’s a bit more focus on Gay men’s lit. There’s also Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues, but unfortunately that looks like the main test dealing with trans* experiences. Also, I’m not seeing much bi stuff, though I could be wrong, since I’m not familiar with all the texts.

  27. Can’t wait to check these books out! :)

  28. Great recommendations! I want to add one new title to the list – A Queer History of the United States by Michael Bronski, just out this year from Beacon Press.

  29. I’m glad to see some of my favorites already mentioned — “We Two Boys” by Jamie O’Neil is deeply touching and supremely beautifully written; Tom Spanbauer’s “The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon” continues to make me laugh and cry out loud every time I read it; James Kirkwood’s “P.S., Your Cat is Dead” gave me the first glimpse of being able to laugh about something I’d struggled with for too long; “Coming Out Gay,” by Don deserves mention as it helped a generation of men accept themselves; I feel that John Rechy’s books — particularly “Numbers” — saved my life by showing me that what I thought I wanted isn’t at all what I wanted; and similarly, if feel that Walt Whitman was my first lover as I held him in my hand and poured over his tender “Leaves” and his hints of what I did truly seek while those things were not yet available to me.

  30. Stephen B. Starr says:

    I am reading a new book by Madeline Miller, “The Song of Achilles,” a re-telling of Homer’s Iliad. The relationship between Achilles and Patrclus is a rich imagining of love between two men and promises to make this book a gay-themed classic… at least on my list. Thanks for the terrific article. It’s great that in 2012 we don’t have to search obscure newsgroups and hunt for subtext to find the best gay reads.


  1. [...] As I’ve said before I LOVE LISTS! And yes, I know all the risks that come with making lists. But they’re fun so get over it.  So….The best gay books of all time, chosen by the best LGBT writers — The Good Men Projec… [...]

  2. [...] list, assembled by Benoît Denizet-Lewis, is as atrociously presented as one would expect from a site run by [...]

  3. [...] The Good Men Project har spurt en del USAnske LHBT-forfattere om å foreslå fem nødvendige LHBT-bøker. Topplista blir [...]

  4. [...] of nostalgia that I read the opening paragraphs to Benoit Denizet-Lewis’s recent feature for The Good Men Project: The Best LGBT Books of All Time. He writes of walking into the recently-shuttered A Different [...]

  5. [...] of nostalgia that I read the opening paragraphs to Benoit Denizet-Lewis’s recent feature for The Good Men Project: The Best LGBT Books of All Time. He writes of walking into the recently-shuttered A Different [...]

  6. [...] The Good Men Project, the best LGBT books “of all [...]

  7. [...] LGBT bibliophile? In honor of gay pride month, writer Benoit Denizet-Lewis, writing for the website The Good Men Project, surveyed some of the country’s top LGBT authors to get the [...]

  8. Gay Summer Reading List: Writers Choose the Best…

    Image via Passport LGBT Summer Reading List: Writers Choose the Best Are you an avid reader looking for some good gay material to help keep you entertained this summer? You’re in luck! Earlier this month, The Good Men Project created a list on the…

  9. [...] I’ll be the first to admit, my knowledge about all the queer books out there is extremely limited to those containing gay characters, which is why I wanted to share this resource that not only names modern LGBT authors that represent every letter of the acronym, but also gives each of their top five picks of must-read LGBT books. [...]

  10. [...] struck me most about these lists of Top 5 LGBTW books by prominent LGBTQ authors is the very regular appearance of James Baldwin. I prefer Another Country but it and [...]

  11. [...] Benoit Denizet Lewis asked 31 notable LGBT authors to select and discuss the five books they considered crucial reading for his survey piece, “The Best LGBT Books of All Time,” for The Good Men Project. You can read it here. [...]

  12. [...] Good Men Project has put together a list of “the best LGBT books of all time.” I will have to look it over and select a thing or two to read. A hat tip to Lambda Literary. [...]

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  14. […] Recently, in his article “But, you’re so normal“, my pal Justen noted the difficulty he had finding gay role models in his youth, especially books that portrayed gay characters and gay lives. I had similar troubles when I was younger; however, I think Justen will agree with me that it’s much easier to find Queer literature in the age of the internet. There was in fact, lots to read when we were younger, it was just hard to find. Only last week I read this great article over at The Good Men Project where Denizet-Lewis compiles a great list of The Best LGBT Books of All Time! […]

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