It’s an exciting time of year for the LGBTQ community. In February, we celebrated History Month. March sees the very excellent BFI Flare (or queer Christmas, as it’s otherwise known) showcase the best new LGBTQ films on London’s Southbank. And then summer happens, meaning an explosion of Prides and better weather all round (which is great for everybody). Whether you’re LGBTQ or otherwise, you probably want to get involved in all this fun. So to help get you in the mood, we’d like to share with you the best mood-enhancers we know: books.
Coming up is a selection of awesome queer literature straight from the Turnaround vaults. We’re fortunate enough to distribute some of the best titles out there from some really incredible publishers. These books bring you voices that are hilarious and brave and smart and sexy and everything in between. But before we tell you about them, a little bit of context…
|In the beginning…|
LGBTQ publishing has a rich and colourful history. Queer literature really came into its own in America in the olden times (well, the 30s and 40s), during a crazy influx of mass market paperbacks. Until then, books had mostly been super expensive and difficult to read on a train. But inspired by Allen Lane, who kick-started the UK paperback revolution with Penguin, a guy named Robert de Graff introduced the mass market paperback to the US. This in itself was a brilliant thing for humankind, but what made it even more brilliant was the method of distribution; rather than stick thousands of books in a bookstore, they were sold on racks in newsstands, drug stores, train stations, and liquor stores (or offies, as we call them).
Books were sold by the thousands, which meant thousands of authors were cracking out novels at an incredible rate. Some of these authors were (and still are) respected writers. Others were just churning out stories to make a living. There was Sci-Fi, Crime, Sleaze, Romance, Horror, Adventure…and then there was the gay stuff.
Granted, a lot of queer literature was written for cheap thrills by writers who did not identify as LGBTQ at all. A lot of it was pretty homophobic and massively offensive by today’s standards. But amongst this, there were those books written by (often closeted) gay authors. And these books were picked up by (often closeted) gay readers who, for maybe the first time ever, saw themselves reflected back in fiction.
Imagine popping in to your local offie for six cans of Kronenberg and coming out with a lesbian romance featuring ‘solid’ women (the main adjective used to describe non-femme characters) who woo other women in bars! Imagine hiding a copy of Another Kind of Love, Journey to a Woman, Midtown Queen or 21 Gay Street under your mattress.
Of course, until much later it was illegal to promote queerness in literature. So a lot of the books ended BADLY. And by badly I mean suicide, madness, or a reversion back to heterosexuality. But despite this depressing fact, these books and the authors who wrote them paved the way to what is now a relatively vibrant queer publishing culture.
Now we have hundreds of amazing LGBTQ titles, featuring fierce queer role models and some of the most important voices in gay history, from fiction to photography to memoir to comics. A few of them even hit the mainstream and are read by millions. Young Adult fiction especially has seen a really incredible rise in gay, lesbian and trans characters in recent times. And no one has to die or go insane at the end!
So with this in mind, here is a selection of our top LGBTQ books…
Women’s Barracks by Tereska Torres
The Feminist Press, £9.99, p/b, 9781558614949
Women’s Barracks is considered to be the first lesbian pulp fiction novel, and by many the book that inspired the entire genre. Set in a grim London military barracks during WWII, it’s about a group of women trapped in freezing dorms, eating rationed food and wearing regulation underwear. That might seem a pretty gloomy setting, but it in fact became one of the steamiest novels of its time!
Butch Officers cavort with femme subordinates and younger women crush on older. There are straight characters in the book too (it’s based on Torres’s own experiences of the war) but the queer content is pretty great given the era in which it was written. The book sold millions of copies worldwide. Here’s what Ann Bannon, another lesbian pulp author, has to say about it: “Women’s Barracks showed me a writer who didn’t just write about women in uniform. She made me realize what they might have been doing with each other in their off hours and it took my breath away.” Great stuff.
Tango: My Childhood Backwards and in High Heels by Justin Vivian Bond
In the 90s, Mx Justin Vivian Bond gained notoriety as Kiki (of Kiki and Herb), an alternative drag act that performed queer cabaret. And since then there has been no stopping v’s brilliance.(v is JVB’s chosen pronoun). V is a writer, an activist, an actor (amongst other things v was in Shortbus, a very excellent film by John Cameron Mitchell) and an all-round spectacular human.
In Tango, v talks about coming-of-age as a trans-kid with Attention Deficit Disorder, recalling many hilarious stories from v’s childhood while raising issues about LGBTQ adolescence, homophobia, parenting, and sexuality. Justin Vivian Bond is a truly unique voice and one that makes you feel pretty good about the world. Read v’s book and see.
Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh
Arsenal Pulp Press, £14.99, p/b, 9781551525143
Forget the very long, slightly controversial film adaptation – Blue is the Warmest Colour was alway
s meant to be a comic. Through her incredible drawings, Maroh gives us a story that is awkward, funny, erotic, intimate, heart-breaking and very, very sad.
It is the story of Clementine, a junior in high school who falls in love with Emma, a punky older woman with bright blue hair. Their relationship is shown from its fragile beginnings to its shattering conclusion, with all kinds of feelings in-between. Ultimately, it is the story of coming out and understanding who you are through the terror and exhilaration of falling for someone.
My Brother and His Brother by Hakan Lindquist
Bruno Gmunder, £9.99, p/b, 9783867870856
My Brother and His Brother received critical acclaimed when it was released in Swedish. It’s a crime novel of sorts, narrated by 18 year-old Jonah who had a brother called Paul he never met, a brother who died at the age of 16. Jonah spends his teenage years trying to get a picture of who Paul was, which leads him to discover Paul was gay and had had an intense love affair with another boy during the last years of his life. Full of loose ends, clues and cliff-hangers, it’s a literary novel bringing queerness into crime.
Publisher Spotlight: Bruno Gmunder is, effectively, one of the only publishers left to produce strictly gay titles. For more than 30 years they have been committed to supporting and encouraging a self-confident lifestyle for gay men, with a range of books that span fiction, comics, manga, travel guides, photography books and sex guides. Take a look at their titles here.
Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky
A book about what it means to be trans for 10-14 year olds. Grayson Sender has been holding onto a secret for what seems like forever: “he” is a girl on the inside, stuck in the wrong gender’s body. The weight of this secret is crushing, but sharing it would mean facing ridicule, scorn, rejection or worse. Despite the risks, Grayson is desperate to break free.
She finds unexpected strength and friendship in a caring teacher, but will this be enough to help Grayson step into the spotlight she was born to inhabit? Gracefully Grayson has been lauded and a ‘brave’ and ‘important’ book. We agree!
Dolly Dingle, Lesbian Landlady by Monica Nolan
Kensington, £10.99, p/b, 9780758288318
Author Monica Nolan has brought lesbian pulp into the modern age (she also blogs about the genre). And it’s brilliant! Wonderfully written in a faux-pulp style, it tells the story of Dolly, a failed actress, who must step into the role as landlady at a boarding house for girls, when the previous landlady breaks her hip. The house is full of lusty women who are trying to make a place for themselves in the world, and Dolly’s job is to make sure they are all okay.
In true pulp style, chaos ensures when some greedy old trustee tries to shut down the boarding house. And in the midst of this, there is romance, drama, hysterics, and quite a lot of sex.
Interlude by Rupert Smith
Turnaround Books, £8.99, p/b,
Rupert Smith is massively popular in the gay community. He has written gay erotica under the name James Lear and chicklit under the name Rupert James. In 2010 he was Stonewall Writer of the Year for his novel Man’s World, which was also shortlisted for the inaugural Green Carnation Award.
His latest book, Interlude, is the story of a young woman, Helen, who decides to investigate the life and career of her grandfather, a successful post-war novelist. The narrative switches between three different voices and moves from 1930’s Britain to the present day. There is a great big gay love story in the middle of the book that looks at the changing attitudes towards homosexuality.
We Love This Book describers Interlude as a ‘beautifully written page-turner’, which it definitely is! So if you have never read Rupert Smith, then do!
Massive: Gay Japanese Manga and the Men Who Make It edited by Anne Ishii, Graham Kolbeins & Chip Kidd
Massive is the first English-language anthology of its kind: an indepth introduction to 9 of the most exciting comic artists producing gay manga for a gay audience in Japan. Including interviews, essays, photography and the work itself, this is a real treat for manga fans.
As a genre, manga has always been massively queer-friendly, with artists like Jiraiya, Seizoh Ebisubashi, and Kazuhide Ichikawa pulling in huge fanbases. And now you can read them and more! In one very good-looking volume!
Blackbird by Larry Duplechan
Arsenal Pulp Press, £10.99, p/b, 9781551522029
First published in 1986, Blackbird is about growing up black and gay in Southern California. It tells the story of Jonnie Ray Rousseau, whose life is shit. He missed out on the role of Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. His girlfriend is putting pressure on him to have sex. And his best friend has been badly beaten by his father. As if all that weren’t enough, Jonnie Ray can’t stop thinking about Marshall MacNeill, whom he met at an audition and who is the sexiest human Jonnie has ever seen.
Blackbird is an amazing novel from a gay black voice; still as relevant now as it was in the 80s. And at this year’s BFI Flare, you can see the film adaptation in its UK debut! Click here to have a sneak peek. But remember to read the book first!
Beards: An Unshaved History by Kevin Clarke
Another from Bruno Gmunder, Beards is a really good example of the coffee-table style books they produce. And it’s all about…Beards! Why was it that 10,000 years ago our ancestors started removing hair from their bodies with tweezers and shells? Why did gays adopt the beard as a sign of liberation in the 70s? And why is it today that EVERY hipster on the planet is sporting a beard?
This book is a mixture of writings and photography celebrating the history of the beard. It’s also a celebration of the very hot chaps who sport them (yes, there are a couple of naughty images in there). An ideal gift for gay beard sporters or lovers.
There are loads more exciting titles here in the Turnaround vaults, and over the coming months we’ll be putting a few more recommendations on our social media pages.