Three weeks ago, we asked you, AfterElton.com readers, to
vote on what you thought were the best gay books of all time.
The votes are counted, and the results are now in.
But first, some interesting statistics.
AfterElton.com readers like novels. Of the top 50 books in
the poll, all but seven are works of fiction, and of the seven non-fiction
books, five are memoirs. And the Band
Played On by Randy Shilts and The
Celluloid Closet by Vito Russo are the only two non-memoir non-fiction
books to make the list.
A number of authors made the list twice, including Michael
Chabon, Michael Cunningham, Mary Renault, Jeffrey Round, Alex Sanchez, Jim
Grimsley, and Alan Hollinghurst. (Readers voted for the other books in the
series that begins with Armistead Maupin’s Tales
of the City, but that’s the only book that made the top 50.) No author made
the list more than twice.
Unlike AfterElton.com’s recent gay movie poll where most of
the selections came from the last two decades, this list includes many books
much older than that. Almost half were published before 1990, and four were
published before 1970. The oldest book
was The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar
Wilde’s only novel, published in 1890.
And while we enjoy good literary fiction and the classics,
we appreciate genre fiction as well, with six works of young adult fiction on
the list, four of historical fiction, three mysteries, two fantasy novels, and
even a play, Angels in America.
As with our poll of movies, most of the books on the list
are by white authors writing about the experiences of white characters (albeit
often surrounded by supporting characters of color). Exceptions include Giovanni’s Room, written by an African
American, James Baldwin (though the book tells the story of two white
characters); Call Me By Your Name by Egyptian-born author André Aciman; and Rainbow Boys and Rainbow High, two young adult novels written by Latino author Alex
What do some of the authors themselves have to say about
making the list?
"It’s wonderful to know that after 30-some years, Tales of the City still resonates with LGBT readers," says Armistead Maupin, author of the top-rated book. "My message back then was a simple one: that, gay or straight, the human heart is pretty much the same organ in everybody. You’d think that once-radical concept would be old news by now, but clearly there’s still work to be done. The brutish new wave of church-generated bigotry that resulted in Prop 8 now makes it imperative for us to defend the very families we have built and treasured over the years. We must do so without equivocation and with all the strength and courage and righteous anger we can muster. I like knowing that Tales might still be useful in that regard."
deeply grateful to all the readers, through the years, who have read The Front Runner and talked it around to
others – as well as all the booksellers who have faithfully kept it in
stock,” says Patricia Nell Warren, author of another one of our highest ranking
books. “For a book, this kind of history can’t happen without them.”
“It’s a privilege to be on any list that features James
Baldwin,” says Jamie O’Neill, author of At Swim, Two Boys, another one of our top books. “Giovanni’s Room and, even more, Another Country, are great works of 20th
“I wrote the books I wished I’d been able to read when I was
a struggling gay Latino teen — books
that would’ve told me ‘It’s okay to be who you are,’” says Alex Sanchez of his
two books on our list. “I’m thrilled to have them on a list with so many gay
classics that have inspired me over the years!”
For the record, several published authors write for
AfterElton.com, but their books were disqualified from the final calculations.
And now, without further ado, may we present AfterElton.com’s
50 Best Gay Books:
1. Tales Of The
City by Armistead
readers picked their top book by a large margin: the first book in Armistead
Maupin’s epic seven-book series about life in San Francisco in the 1970s. Tales of the City, which is also the
name of the series itself, famously started life as a serial in the San Francisco Chronicle. But soon word
of this extraordinary saga was spreading way beyond the borders of the city where
it is set. Tales of the City is the
perfect example of a timely story, written during and about a very specific
period in both gay and American history, which has since become timeless.