There is so much queer lit coming out all the time these days that it’s possible to only read buzzy queer books and still have a massively long TBR. I am absolutely thrilled that queer books are getting more and more attention, and that so many people are reading queer memoirs, essay collections, 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 put out by small indie presses that don’t have the marketing budgets that big presses do. I am only one person, and I don’t have the clout of a marketing department, but I will take every chance I get to shout about under-the-radar queer books. If I have a purpose on the internet, it’s this. I love all of these hidden gems so, so much!
All of these books, at the time of writing, have fewer than 100 ratings on Goodreads. Goodreads ratings aren’t everything, but they can give you a sense of how widely known a book is. For comparison: In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado has 70,000 ratings, Here for It by R. Eric Thomas has 9,000, and The Fact of a Body by Alex Marzano-Lesnevich has 19,000. These are some of my favorite nonfiction books from the last five years, but they only the beginning. There is so much more to discover!
This list is just a taste of the wide and wonderful world of queer nonfiction. I hope you’ll give some of these books a read, and that the next time you come across a book that only has 12 or 26 or 41 ratings on Goodreads, you’ll give it a chance anyway.
Moving Truth(s) edited by 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 far-ranging in terms of style and subject matter. Many of the authors make space for contradiction, writing about the painful aspects of familial relationships right alongside the joyful ones.
Double Melancholy by C.E. Gatchalian
I’ve never read a book quite like this one — the structure is brilliant and surprising. Gatchalian, who is queer and Filipine, reflects on the art and literature that shaped him as a child, almost all of which was created by white men. He delves into the messy ways falling in love with western art skewed his understanding of himself. The book itself is a kind of reckoning; he uses three distinct voices to tell the story, all of which converse with each other. The result is something that is at once 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 sites of war and disaster tourism, illness and disability, bisexuality, art, and so much more. It’s a wonderful blend of philosophical and intimate. In one essay she considers the work of South African artist William Kentridge; in another she traces her changing relationship 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 they each bring new perspectives to the anthology. It’s a powerful and important book that illuminates the struggles, losses, fears, and joys of a generation of LGBTQ+ people whose adolescence and young adult years were, at least partly, defined by the virus.
How to Fail as a Popstar by Vivek Shraya
Vivek Shraya is a prolific author who’s written nonfiction, fiction, kidlit, poetry, and a graphic novel. So it’s really no a surprise that she’s also written a brilliant play! In this one-woman show, she shares her experiences in the music industry, recounting the years she spent seeking stardom and the many reasons she never achieved it. It’s a beautiful book about making art, pop culture, and what it means to fail.
Crip Kinship by Shayda Kafai
Sins Invalid is a disability justice performance project dedicated to centering and celebrating the voices of QTBIPOC disabled people. In Crip Kinship, Kafai provides a nuanced and insightful history of the group, exploring not only its origins and activism, but the ideas and principles it represents. It’s a wonderful book about a dedicated group of queer disabled artists, but it’s also a must-read primer on ableism and disability justice.
Red Rock Baby Candy by Shira Spector
This book is a visual masterpiece. At times, reading it felt like I was encountering a wholly new form of art on each page. It’s a memoir about grief and infertility and queer parenthood, about the years Spector spent trying to get pregnant, which were also the years during which her father was dying. It’s a poignant story, but it’s the art that makes this something special. Every page is visceral: the colors, the shapes, the way images bleed into each other. I’ve never read anything like it, and a year and a half after reading it for the first time, I still think about it constantly.
Queer Love in Color by Jamal Jordan
This book is a bright and beautiful burst of queer BIPOC joy. Jamal Jordan traveled all over the U.S. 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 spreads are gorgeous. And while some couples do speak about the challenges they’ve faced, this book is mostly a celebration of queer people of color in love.
Looking for more queer nonfiction? You might be interested in these informative and delightful queer nonfiction comics, these nonfiction books that challenge mainstream queer narratives, or some of these queer memoirs.