There’s never a bad time to read more queer books, but Pride month is an especially fitting opportunity to expand your reading horizons into the rainbow of LGBTQ possibilities. As a bit of a sapphic book connoisseur, nothing makes me happier than talking about queer women books. For the last 10 years or so, they’ve been a huge part of my reading life, and I’ve found so many wonderful bi and lesbian books that way. Unfortunately, lesbian books in particular seem to have a reputation for low quality.
Maybe it’s because when you search “lesbian books” on Amazon, you get pages of $1 erotica, but I’ve heard many queer readers say they’ve given up on bi and lesbian books because they think they’re either a) badly-written, b) depressing, or c) both. Some have gotten the idea that most lesbian books are written by and for straight men. It pains me to know that so many people are missing out on reading amazing women-loving-women literature because of misconceptions about queer women lit as a whole.
So here are 10 books about queer women that I think are truly mind-blowing. Not just “good,” but thought-provoking, unforgettable, and even (in my case) life-changing. Whether you are a queer woman or not, I don’t think you can go wrong with these bi and lesbian books.
(These aren’t ranked in any order, because that would be way too hard.)
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
This is a classic for a reason. Despite covering extremely dark subject matter (including rape, violence, and racism), it is also profoundly life-affirming. This is a story about women who all survive, through different methods, the misogynoir that is impressed upon them but they still reach across their differences to support each other. Celie and Shug’s relationship helps form the core of the novel, and it’s Shug’s love for Celie that helps her on her path to finding her own self-worth. This is a book that I feel like reading once only scratches the surface. I’m sure I will be returning to it many times.
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
I hesitated between choosing Tipping the Velvet or Fingersmith, two amazing books by my favorite author, but while Tipping the Velvet is my personal favorite, Fingersmith fits the “mind-blowing” label more closely. This is the most intricately-plotted book I’ve ever read. Every time I thought I knew what was happening, I would be blindsided by another revelation. This is dark and twisting, but (spoiler) it does end on a hopeful note.
Bodymap by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
This is a little less well-known than the previous two titles, but it affected me just as much. Bodymap is a poetry collection about Piepzna-Samarasinha’s life as a queer disabled femme of colour. It’s political, but it’s politics rooted in everyday experiences of injustice and survival, not abstract theorizing. This is poetry that punches you in the gut. It’s hard and bright and unapologetic, while still retaining humor and light. I found myself in the bizarre situation of being impatient to reread it as I was reading it for the first time, because I know I will get more out of this every time I read it.
The Miseducation of cameron post by emily m danforth
Although I enjoy a wide variety of bi and lesbian genre books, I would be remiss in excluding the genre close to my heart: YA. Although there are some amazing F/F books under the young adult umbrella, I feel like The Miseducation of Cameron Post stands out from the pack. The writing completely drew me into Cam’s world, and this is the first time I’ve finished a book that pushes 500 pages and fervently wished it was at least 300 pages longer.
[Edited to add: do check out Debbie Rees’s critique of the indigenous representation in this title, however.]
Kissing the witch by emma donoghue
I love fairy tale retellings, but this collection of feminist, mostly-F/F retellings has likely ruined me for all others. They’re beautifully-written, and each story connects to the next, so despite being separate, they all flow together. This is a bit of a classic of lesbian literature at this point, and for good reason.
The salt roads by nalo hopkinson
Incredibly, I was assigned this in class. Although I was reading another amazing queer book at the time and was reluctant to start something new, I changed my mind where there was a F/F sex scene on page 15. This is a work about gods, colonialism, racism, oppression, resistance, and slavery, to begin with. There is a ton going on, but I was happy to be swept up in it and carried along, even when I seemed to be over my head. This surreal, intertwining story was a perfect candidate to be discussed and interpreted in class. I hope other students get the same opportunity.
everfair by nisi shawl
I picked this up because I heard it was a steampunk, alternate history of the Congo, and was pleasantly surprised to find out there are also several queer women point of view characters. The steampunk element is a little lighter than I had expected, but what is there is an incredibly detailed view of colonialism and racism from a wide variety of viewpoints. This has so much complexity packed into it. Although it took me a while to get through, because of the constant POV changes and thought-provoking subject matter, it’s also one that has stayed with me long after finishing it, and has made me immediately want to read every other book Nisi Shawl has written.
The Gilda Stories by jewelle gomez
This is a black lesbian vampire story that takes place from 1850-2050. Not only does it deal with how racism, sexism, and homophobia have changed (but survived) throughout time, it also has a ton of classic vampire lore and manages to establish a ton of different locations and stories through the time periods that are equally compelling. Added together, these stories also give some perspective to what being immortal would look like: the sheer scale of living for hundreds of years.
the one hundred nights of hero by isabel greenberg
I was a mess reading this book. 5 pages in and I had to put it down to squeal with glee: The art! The narration! The surreal worldbuilding! The F/F couple in the middle of it!! The feminism! The cleverness! I was cackling as I read it, and barely suppressing the desire to read at least one line of every page out loud to whoever was nearby. This is a feminist, queer retelling of The Arabian Nights with beautiful artwork and a sense of humor that would make Kate Beaton proud. I just want to hug it to my chest and sigh dreamily. This is the queer feminist mythology we deserve.
inseparable: Desire between women in literature by emma donoghue
Oops, I snuck another Emma Donoghue book into the list. This is a book that outlines the history of wlw literature, and it shows how desire between women in literature has existed basically as long as literature has. This book exploded my brain. I couldn’t believe that I wasn’t aware of the long legacy of love between women in stories. It made me feel more connected to a lineage of women like me through time. If you’re interest in queer women lit at all, I highly recommend picking this up. Don’t be intimidated: this is easy-to-read, and if you’re anything like me, it’ll leave you with a long list of titles to pursue when you’re done.
So those are my top 10 mind-blowing sapphic reads, but it’s far from a complete list. Please let me know if you’ve read any bi and lesbian books that have blown your mind that aren’t included here, because I’m always looking for more!
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