Queer books and dinner parties are two of my favorite things in the universe. I love gathering with dear friends to share good food, and I love talking about books — especially queer books that I don’t think have gotten the attention they deserve. So, naturally, I’ve come up with a surefire way for you to find your next great queer read you’ve never heard of: by designing your dream dinner party!
It’s hard to define exactly what under-the-radar means. It depends on who you ask, and what kind of bookish circles you run in. There are plenty of queer books that are popular on the queer bookish internet but don’t get mainstream attention. There are also quite a few queer books out there that tons of people I know have read — but the people I know are queer book nerds. I surrounded myself with queer books and queer book people, so it’s sometimes hard to tell when a book is truly under-the-radar, or if it’s just under-the-radar for mostly-straight audiences.
For this quiz, I’ve chosen what I think are truly under-the-radar queer books. With one exception, they all have under 1,000 reviews on Goodreads, though the majority of them have under 200. They’re all pre-2021, and the one book with over 1,000 Goodreads ratings is a book from the early 2000s that seems to have vanished from the public consciousness (for no good reason). These are all books that I love with my whole heart, that deserve thousands and thousands of readers. They’re smart and funny and heartbreaking, beautifully written, thought-provoking, and unique. It’s a mix of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.
Whether you’re dreaming of an intimate fall dinner party or a raucous outdoor gathering, whether you’re in the mood for serious conversation or lighthearted banter, whether you prefer an elaborate feast or comforting take-out — there’s an under-the-radar queer book out there that will embody your perfect dinner party vibe.
Knot Body by Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch
This genre-defying book is about disability, gender, trans and Arab identity, and the ways that racism, fatphobia, and queer/ transphobia affect the lives of disabled and chronically ill people. It’s thoughtful and nuanced, angry-making and beautiful, a gorgeous blend of memoir and analysis.
A Two-Spirit Journey by MaMa-Nee Chacaby
This is an intense read that deals with a lot of trauma, but Chacaby’s voice is also warm and joyful. She shares her life story as a Ojibwa-Cree lesbian, recounting her experiences with parenting, coming out, falling in and out of love, activism, and healing.
Blood, Marriage, Wine & Glitter by S. Bear Bergman
This collection of essays is an ode to queer family. It’s a comforting and joyful book about parenting, partnership, and intimacy in all its forms. Bergman’s wisdom, generosity, and exuberance will make you feel like you’re at his table, bathed in the glow of queer and trans joy.
A Place Called No Homeland by Kai Cheng Thom
This book of poetry will rile you up and make you think and open your heart. Thom writes about being a trans woman, sex work, violence, relationships, queer family, desire, anger, and so much more.
Weekend by Eaton Hamilton
This is an intense, sometimes funny, and deeply human mess of a novel about two queer couples dealing with the ups and downs of love and parenting. Longtime couple Joe and Elliot have just had a baby, while newer couple Ajax and Logan are trying to determine where their relationship is boing. Over the course of a weekend on a remote lake in northern Canada, they all go through the wringer — and so will you, reading this book.
Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian) by Hazel Jane Plante
Friendship! Trans sisterhood! Punk music! Humor! This delightfully strange novel is about a trans woman mourning the death of her best friend, Viv. So she writes an ode to Viv in the form of a fictional encyclopedia about their favorite TV show, Little Blue. It’s about grief and healing and the power of friendship.
Small Beauty by jia quin wilson-yang
This beautifully quiet and contemplative novel is about an Asian Canadian trans woman, Mei, who leaves her life in the city to live in the house of her beloved cousin after he dies. She spends a year grieving, taking care of his dog, reconnecting with people from her past, and slowly piecing together the story of her immigrant family.
Dear Twin by Addie Tsai
Poppy is a queer teenager who just wants to go to college, live with her girlfriend, and be her own person. But when her twin sister Lola disappears, she stays at home with her dad, writing a series of letters to Lola in the hopes she’ll return. It’s an honest and sharply observant book about family and identity, sometimes funny and charming, and sometimes bleak and devastating.
Escaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden
This creative queer sci-fi novel is set in a future where humanity has left earth, and now lives inside giant space beasts, which they use as fuel, home, and sustenance. The story follows two women caught up in the complicated politics of their matriarchal society. They may or may not be planing revolution.
Liquor by Billy Martin (Writing as Poppy Z. Brite)
This fun novel is about longtime lovers and New Orleans chefs Ricky and G-man, who finally decide to open their own restaurant after years of working as cooks in other people’s kitchens. It’s a fun blend of romance, mystery, and slice-of-life fiction.
I hope you all all these under-the-radar queer books to your TBR! For even more queer book recs, try these LGBTQ enemies-to-lovers romances, LGBTQ memoirs, and or brush up on TikTok’s favorite LGBTQ books.