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There’s so much queer literature coming out all the time these days that it’s possible to read only animated queer books and still have an enormously long TBR. I am absolutely thrilled that queer books are getting more and more attention and that so many people are reading queer memoirs, collections of essays, history books, and more. But if you only read the most popular books, no matter how brilliant they are, you’re missing out. There are dozens and dozens of lesser known queer books that are just as good. Many of them are published by small independent publishers that don’t have the marketing budgets that the big publishers have. I’m just one person and I don’t have the clout of a marketing department, but I’ll take every chance I get to shout about rare books going unnoticed. If I have a purpose on the internet, it is this. I love all of these hidden gems so, so much!
All of these books, at the time of this writing, have less than 100 ratings on Goodreads. Goodreads ratings aren’t everything, but they can give you an idea of how popular a book is. For comparison: in the house of dreams by Carmen Maria Machado has 70,000 ratings, here for that by R. Eric Thomas has 9,000, and The fact of a body Alex Marzano-Lesnevich has 19,000. These are some of my favorite nonfiction books from the past five years, but they’re just the beginning. There is much more to discover!
This list is just a sampling of the wide and wonderful world of queer nonfiction. I hope you’ll read some of these books and that the next time you come across a book that only has 12, 26, or 41 ratings on Goodreads, you’ll give it a try anyway.
Truth(s) in motion edited by Sasha Duttchoudhury and Rukie Hartman
In this moving collection of essays, queer and trans Desi writers explore the complexities of home, identity, culture, diaspora, family, and more. The essays are wonderfully broad in terms of style and theme. Many of the authors allow for contradiction, writing about the painful aspects of family relationships alongside the joyful ones.
double melancholy by C. E. Gatchalian
I have never read a book like this: the structure is brilliant and surprising. Gatchalian, queer and Filipino, reflects on the art and literature that shaped him as a child, almost all of it created by white men. He delves into the messy ways of falling in love with Western art that distorted his understanding of himself. The book itself is a kind of reckoning; he uses three different voices to tell the story, all of whom converse with each other. The result is something that is both rigorously academic and deeply personal.
dark tourist by Hasanthika Sirisena
In these beautiful essays, Sirisena writes about growing up in North Carolina, her family’s history in Sri Lanka, her own travels to former war sites and disaster tourism, illness and disability, bisexuality, art, and much more. It is a wonderful mix of philosophical and intimate. In an essay, she considers the work of South African artist William Kentridge; in another, she traces her changing relationship back to an injury she sustained as a child.
Between certain death and a possible future edited by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
In these varied and beautiful essays, queer writers who grew up and came of age during the AIDS crisis reflect on the ways it has shaped their lives. The contributors come from a wide range of backgrounds and each brings new perspectives to the anthology. It is a powerful and important book that illuminates the struggles, losses, fears, and joys of a generation of LGBTQ+ people whose adolescence and youth were defined, at least in part, by the virus.
How to Fail Like a Pop Star by Vivek Shraya
Vivek Shraya is a prolific author who has written nonfiction, fiction, children’s literature, poetry, and a graphic novel. So it’s no surprise that he also wrote a brilliant piece of work! In this one-man show, he shares his experiences in the music industry, recounting the years he spent searching for stardom and the many reasons he never made it. It’s a beautiful book about making art, pop culture, and what it means to fail.
crippled kinship by Shayda Kafai
Sins Invalid is a disability justice advocacy project dedicated to centering and celebrating the voices of QTBIPOC disabled people. In crippled kinship, Kafai provides a nuanced and insightful history of the group, exploring not only its origins and activism, but also the ideas and principles it represents. It’s a wonderful book about a dedicated group of disabled queer artists, but it’s also a must-read on ableism and disability justice.
Red Rock Baby Candy by Shira Spector
This book is a visual masterpiece. Reading it sometimes felt like he was finding a whole new art form on every page. It’s a memoir about grief, infertility and queer parenting, about the years Spector spent trying to get pregnant, which were also the years during which her father was dying. It’s a moving story, but it’s the art that makes it something special. Every page is visceral: the colors, the shapes, the way the images blend together. I had never read anything like it, and a year and a half after I first read it, I still think about it constantly.
queer love in color by Jamal Jordan
This book is a brilliant and beautiful burst of BIPOC queer joy. Jamal Jordan traveled throughout the United States and South Africa photographing and interviewing queer couples and families. Many of those stories are collected in this book. The profiles are short and the photographic reports are magnificent. And while some couples talk about the challenges they’ve faced, this book is primarily a celebration of queer people of color in love.
Looking for more queer nonfiction? You might be interested in these informative and charming queer nonfiction comicsthese non-fiction books challenging conventional queer narrativesor some of these rare memories.