Pride 2023 reading list

June 6, 2023

Your big, gay reading list for Pride 2023

Celebrate Pride Month with 28 queer stories by pioneering novelists, memoirists and journalists.

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When Greg Marshall and his childhood friend, Gretchen, ran for president and vice president of their high school class, they were something of an unconventional pair. Both were non-Mormons, making them a minority in Salt Lake City, Utah. Marshall had a pronounced limp and had yet to tell anyone he was gay, while Gretchen had a pacemaker “and a bone spur hanging off one foot like a sixth toe.” Marshall writes that their winning campaign strategy “was simple, and that was to make fun of ourselves.” Marshall takes that same winning approach in his stunning debut, Leg: The Story of a Limb and the Boy Who Grew From It

Marshall’s limp in his right leg caused weakness and spasms throughout his life and required surgeries from time to time. He had actually been diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 18 months—but his parents never disclosed this fact, telling him instead that he had “tight tendons” and encouraging their son and other four children to simply rely on the mantra, “NEVER, NEVER, NEVER GIVE UP.” Marshall didn’t discover the true origin of his mobility limitations until 2014, by accident, when applying for health insurance. “Every day growing up was like an ABC Afterschool Special in which no lessons were learned, no wisdom gleaned,” he writes.

In different hands, this memoir might have become a tragic family story, overshadowed by a mother who was diagnosed with cancer and required decades of treatment for that and other conditions, and a kindhearted, dad-joking father who died from Lou Gehrig’s disease when Marshall was 22. Instead, Marshall has written a riotously funny book that will grab your attention and steal your heart from the very first page. His writing brings to mind early David Sedaris, with its bitingly funny caricatures and descriptions, bathed in blistering commentary, deep-seated opinions, wit, intellect and, above all else, fierce family love. Additionally, Marshall details several of his sexual experiences—not to be salacious but to illuminate his ongoing quest for identity and relationships, despite his long-standing fear of contracting HIV. “As a gay man and a person with a disability, I come out every day,” he writes.

The Marshalls’ lives are full of twists, turns and surprises that will leave readers yearning for more, and this memoir serves as a love letter to all of them, especially Marshall’s late father. Rare is the book that makes me both laugh out loud and shed actual tears, but Leg made me do both.

Bitingly funny and full of blistering commentary and fierce familial love, Greg Marshall's memoir is a winning debut.
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Christian Cooper has been bird-watching in Central Park for decades, but a spring migratory excursion took a dramatic turn on May 25, 2020, when a woman refused his request to leash her wandering dog, per park regulations. He was hoping to spy a ground-dwelling bird called a mourning warbler and knew that her unleashed pet would make his quest impossible. After she refused and Cooper began filming with his phone, Amy Cooper—a white woman of no relation—announced that she was about to call the police, adding, “I’m going to tell them that there’s an African American man threatening my life.” Her blatant use of “weaponized racism” went viral. As Cooper aptly sums up the incident in Better Living Through Birding, “Fourteen words, captured amid sixty-nine seconds of video, that would alter the trajectory of two lives.” This encounter happened on the same day George Floyd was murdered. 

A year later, Cooper was invited to attend a birding festival in Alabama. As he walked across Selma’s infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge, he reflected on the day that bridge became a bloodbath in 1965 and on the travails his ancestors must have endured. “In that context, my incident in Central Park is just an asterisk,” he writes. “More than a year later, it remains exceedingly strange for me—the notoriety, that I’d even be mentioned in the annals of the nation’s racial strife.” 

Throughout his wide-ranging memoir, Cooper is a thoughtful, enthusiastic narrator. Growing up as a Black kid on Long Island, New York, in the 1970s, “I was rarer than an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker in the very white world of birding,” he writes. “As I simultaneously struggled with being queer, birds took me away from my woes suffocating in the closet.” Cooper gradually came out to family and friends, beginning while studying at Harvard in the 1980s. He went on to become one of Marvel’s first openly gay writers and editors—aside from birds, his other passions include superhero comics and sci-fi and fantasy—and introduced the first gay male Star Trek character in the Starfleet Academy series. In entertaining prose, Cooper reminisces about his life, writing especially poignantly about his often-difficult relationship with his father.

Tying these multifaceted strands together is no easy feat, but Cooper does it well. He peppers the text with helpful tips for beginning birders while recounting vivid excursions through Nepal, the Galapagos, Australia and, of course, his beloved Central Park. Generous soul that he is, Cooper writes that outrage shouldn’t be focused on Amy Cooper. Instead, he concludes, “Focusing on her is a distraction and lets too many people off the hook from the hard, ongoing examination of themselves and their own racial biases. . . . If you’re looking for Amy Cooper to yell at, look in the mirror.”

In thoughtful prose, birder Christian Cooper reminisces about his life before and after the day a white woman threatened to call the police on him in Central Park.

Early in his freshman year at Yale in 1973, Nate Reminger encounters his classmate Farrell Covington: “Farrell wasn’t simply my cultural opposite, a blinding sun god to counter my pale, Jewish, brown-haired, generous-nosed eagerness. He was a genetic accident, a green-eyed, six-foot-three-inch, broad-shouldered gift, and yes, there were dimples when he smiled.” Farrell, also a freshman, lives in a swanky townhouse with a butler, and he speaks as if he’s in a Cole Porter production, with a voice like a person who’s “been raised by a bottle of good whiskey and a crystal chandelier.” 

Farrell happens to be the scion of the very conservative, very Catholic, immeasurably wealthy Covington family of Wichita, Kansas. And narrator Nate, who knows he’s gay but never had so much as a kiss, is shocked when Farrell declares that he may be in love with Nate. This opening section of Paul Rudnick’s novel Farrell Covington and the Limits of Style is especially strong, offering a mini coming-of-age story that’s filled with new friends and well-grounded in both place (the Yale campus and New Haven, Connecticut) and time (the early 1970s).

After a whirlwind freshman-year romance, Nate and Farrell are separated when Farrell’s flinty homophobic father blackmails his son into leaving Yale and promising to never see Nate again. It’s no spoiler to say that Nate and Farrell do indeed see each other again; the novel follows them for almost 50 years. Nate narrates the forces that keep the two apart and Farrell’s ingenious measures to bring them together, along with the ups and downs of late 20th-century gay life—the vibrant downtown club and disco scene of the ’70s, and the AIDS crisis and its effect on both Hollywood and New York’s theater world. But while Farrell Covington and the Limits of Style is heartfelt, it’s rarely somber. It’s a good-natured romp through the decades, with a large cast and plenty of clever quips and throwaway lines.

Rudnick is a novelist, playwright and screenwriter, and here he draws on his own life, sometimes to comic effect. (Rudnick wrote the play I Hate Hamlet and the screenplay for the movie Sister Act, while Nate writes the play Enter Hamlet and the screenplay Habit Forming.) Because it covers so much time and summarizes much of the action, Farrell Covington and the Limits of Style occasionally feels more like the outline for a novel than a novel itself. Still, it’s a warmhearted, funny story with unexpected twists and to-die-for settings, a sweet recounting of a 50-year romance.

Farrell Covington and the Limits of Style is a warmhearted, funny story with unexpected twists and to-die-for settings, a sweet recounting of a 50-year romance.

Are lesbian bars endangered places? Down from a high of 206 bars recorded in 1987, there are currently only 20+ of these beloved, sticky, red-painted bars left in the U.S. Moby Dyke, the chronicle of Krista Burton’s obsessive quest to visit each of these remaining bars, offers readers a hilarious and affectionate investigation into the past and future of queer gathering spots.

Traveling from San Francisco to New York City, from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to Mobile, Alabama, Burton visits both historic neighborhood bars and newer nightclubs, talking to owners and patrons about why they love these bars and who is welcome there. Virtually every bar Burton visited is lesbian-owned but welcomes everyone, including the full range of queer identities: trans men and women, nonbinary folks and the emerging generation of gender-diverse young queers. Burton also asks why so many gay bars for cisgender men continue to thrive as exclusive spaces, while lesbian bars thrive on inclusion.

An accomplished and very funny journalist, Burton is able to track serious issues around queer belonging in a fresh and lively voice. The personal narrative underlying her pursuit of lesbian bars—including her marriage to Davin, a trans man, and coming out to her conservative Mormon family—is as topical and good-humored as the interviews and reportage contained here. 

Burton’s road trip was also shaped by COVID-19, and her experiences reveal how the isolation of the pandemic stoked a real hunger for the joy of being with others in crowded, sweaty rooms, singing karaoke, partaking in dildo races and people-watching (after showing a vaccination card, of course). Even the details about the economics of Burton’s quest (such as how to fund a road trip on a book advance while still working a day job) offer a fascinating glimpse into the reality of a writer’s life. 

Burton’s portrait of the evolution of lesbian bars into communal spaces offers a timely and engaging snapshot of queer life in America.

Krista Burton’s obsessive quest to visit each lesbian bar in the U.S. offers a hilarious and affectionate investigation into the past and future of queer gathering spots.
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New York City-based book publicist-turned-writer Amelia Possanza dedicates her book “to all the queers, ordinary and extraordinary, whose names have been destroyed by history, and to the rosy-fingered custodians of the queer archive.” Possanza is one such rosy-fingered custodian, a queer person attracted to the archives not just to understand history but also to understand her own story. “I was certain that if I uncovered enough lesbians in history, they would reveal a message or a lesson, a blueprint of how I might build my own life,” she writes.

Possanza’s debut book, Lesbian Love Story, is part archival research and part memoir. It includes seven chapters, each of which historicizes a lesbian love story. While the chapter on Sappho harkens back to antiquity, the other six span the 1890s through the 1990s, offering a lively lesbian mix: golf star Babe Didrikson Zaharias, groundbreaking memoirist Mary Casal, Chicana activist and writer Gloria Anzaldua and others. Possanza digs into the details of their lives with passionate engagement, frequently turning the narrative from the archival subject back to herself and exploring personal topics vis-a-vis these historical women: gender identity, the vagaries and politics of cross-dressing, the insidious narrowness of second-wave feminism, friendship, power dynamics in relationships and, most of all, obsessive love.

“In case it isn’t obvious yet,” Possanza writes in a late chapter, “I am an unforgivable romantic. I love love. Not as a means to an end, a steppingstone on the path to marriage and children, but as a surrender to passion, even when it’s surely doomed. Obsessive, selfish love that feasts on its own ruin.” As she unearths these romantic stories, Possanza also identifies the gaps within them, the moments when she wants to know more. To fill these silences, she imagines the scenes she longs to see, engaging with history not as a disembodied historian but as a young lesbian who wants answers, who wants to find her people. Though a blueprint does not, and cannot, neatly emerge from this sea of stories, Possanza does find the space, movement and complexity provided by a multifaceted past to buoy her ongoing becoming.

Amelia Possanza weaves her own memories through seven moving lesbian love stories from the archives in her debut book.
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Much like his first novel, Real Life, Brandon Taylor’s The Late Americans follows a loosely knit circle of lovers and friends in and around a university in Iowa as they badger, seduce and provoke one another over the span of an academic year. Financial, class and racial divisions are at the core of many of their interactions, as are disputes over the value of art rooted in trauma and concerns about selling out.

The Late Americans lacks a central character; instead, the story flows from one character or pair to the next, leaving the reader to make connections and hold onto each person’s secrets and dreams. The novel opens with a blistering portrayal of a poetry workshop where Seamus is verbally attacked for critiquing a peer’s work, then later he has sex with an older Iowan visiting the hospice facility where Seamus is a cook. From there, the novel switches focus to Goran, Timo and Ivan, all of whom gave up music or dance to pursue business or finance degrees. Noah, who is still studying dance, befriends another dancer in the program, Fatima, who supports herself by working in a cafe and contemplates leaving school after she is assaulted by another student. The novel ends in early summer, when the cast gathers at a cabin in the Adirondack Mountains to bid their former lives goodbye and move into the unknown.  

Taylor has previously written stories about ballet, and his plotting and style mirror the art form. In dance, our focus moves from performer to performer, now watching a pas de deux, now a solo. His novel functions similarly, seamlessly shifting our gaze from the individual to the duo, to the group and back again until, almost magically, the story is told and the piece comes to a close. A thought-provoking and lyrical novel about a group of people on the precipice of change, The Late Americans is a perceptive look at passion, sacrifice and intimacy among friends. 

A thought-provoking and lyrical story about a group of people on the precipice of change, The Late Americans is a perceptive look at passion, sacrifice and intimacy among friends.

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