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Thought-Provoking LGBTQ Books to Read on Your Upcoming Adventures

By MJ Franklin

May 10, 2019

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Design by Emily Blevins; images courtesy of the publishers

From classics to more recent releases, these compelling books deserve a spot in your carry-on.

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Traveling provides an opportunity to meet new people, discover unfamiliar places, and learn more about the world. The same can be said of reading great literature. With the right book, exploring a wide range of human experiences is possible with the turn of a page. These seven books feature a diversity of identities within the LGBTQ community. All of them are worth reading on your next trip.

Giovanni’s Room 

By James Baldwin (Vintage, 1956)

If you’re looking to dive into a queer classic, this novel by James Baldwin is the perfect choice. In Giovanni’s Room, readers meet David, an American living in Paris during the 1950s. While his girlfriend is away traveling in Spain, David meets and begins an affair with Giovanni, an Italian bartender in Paris. As David and Giovanni’s relationship grows, David begins to question what he believed about himself, providing a groundbreaking and empathetic look at the complexities of sexual orientation, queer love, and shame.

Buy Now: amazon.com

The Great Believers 

By Rebecca Makkai (Viking, 2018)

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When we think of the AIDS crisis in the United States, we often envision coverage centered on New York City and San Francisco during the 1980s. But in her Pulitzer Prize–nominated novel The Great Believers, Rebecca Makkai explores how the AIDS epidemic impacted another U.S. city: Chicago. The novel follows Yale Tishman, the development director for a Chicago art gallery, as his friends begin to fall ill with the disease during the ’80s. Alongside this story, the novel flashes to 2015 to tell the tale of Fiona, a friend of Yale’s who is on a quest to find to her estranged daughter. As the novel bounces back and forth between past and present, Makkai explores the legacy of AIDS and its continuing impact on LGBTQ communities across the United States.

Buy Now: amazon.com

When Brooklyn Was Queer

By Hugh Ryan (St. Martin’s Press, 2019)

Pop culture has long been saturated with images of Brooklyn, as evidenced by movies like the 1960 classic Murder, Inc. and more contemporary TV shows such as HBO’s 2012 hit series Girls. However, in his new nonfiction book, historian Hugh Ryan offers another perspective of the New York City borough by uncovering Brooklyn’s queer history. With topics ranging from the most prominent drag performers of the late 1800s to a 1940s queer artists commune, When Brooklyn Was Queer highlights how Brooklyn shaped the LGBTQ community—and how the LGBTQ community shaped Brooklyn.

Buy Now: amazon.com

Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl 

By Andrea Lawlor (Rescue Press, 2017/ Vintage, 2019)

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Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl is a thoughtful exploration of identity told from the perspective of a literal shape-shifter who embarks on a sex-filled journey across the United States (enough said). Underneath that playful setup, however, Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl offers a nuanced look at ideas of relationships, identity, and queerness. The novel, written by Lawlor (who is nonbinary and uses the pronouns they/them), was originally published in 2017. But now, the story’s main character is not the only one shape-shifting—the book is undergoing a transformation of its own, too. In April, Lawlor’s tale got a new life on bookshelves with a re-release by Penguin Random House’s Vintage Books, complete with a new cover and hilarious blurbs.

Buy Now: amazon.com

Stray City

By Chelsey Johnson (HarperCollins, 2018)

Chelsey Johnson’s debut novel Stray City is a lesson in how identity and belonging can be more complicated than we think. Protagonist Andrea Morales thought she had herself figured out: She’s a lesbian living in Portland, Oregon, who left her parents—and the Midwest—to live openly. But after a painful breakup, Andrea begins a relationship with a man, gets pregnant, and keeps the baby—a development that shocks Andrea’s found LGBTQ family as much as it shocks herself. As Andrea works to understand herself, she must also rediscover what it means to be a part of the queer community and really any community at all.

Buy Now: amazon.com

Tin Man 

By Sarah Winman (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018)

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Sarah Winman’s Tin Man is like an overnight snowfall: so quiet and meditative that you won’t realize you’ve experienced something overwhelming and beautiful until it’s over. The novel follows Ellis, a widower reeling after the loss of his wife, Annie. But as Ellis grieves and reflects on his marriage, he begins to think about Michael, a now distant friend with whom Ellis has his own complicated history. At just over 200 pages, Tin Man is a perfect novel for a long flight, if you don’t mind fellow travelers watching you shed a few tears while reading.

Buy Now: amazon.com

Blanca and Roja 

By Anna-Marie McLemore (Feiwel & Friends, 2018)

For anybody who wants to escape into a modern fairy tale, there’s no better start than with Anna-Marie McLemore’s novel, Blanca and Roja. The novel weaves together the fables “The Seven Swans,” “The Ugly Duckling,” and “Snow White and Ruby Red” to tell the story of Blanca and Roja del Cisne, two sisters who are doomed by a curse that promises to turn one into a swan. But in addition to telling a harrowing tale of sacrifice and sisterhood, the book also deftly explores gender identity with Page, a local boy who is genderqueer and who becomes inextricably linked to the fate of the del Cisne sisters. Ultimately, Blanca and Roja is a smart and inclusive fairy tale about finding yourself and your place in the world.

Buy Now: amazon.com

Want to read more with us? Join fellow literature lovers online at AFAReads, our digital book club.

>>Next: Read Your Way Across the USA: 14 Books to Inspire Your Next Trip

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