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There are a ton of gay books out there to inspire, provoke and enrich our lives. In fact, here are six books by British authors that make essential reading for any gay man.
1. Straight Jacket by Matthew Todd
The most recent of the gay books on our list, Straight Jacket, was published in 2016. Written by Matthew Todd, editor of the UK’s Attitude magazine, it’s a powerful self-help book for the 21st century gay man.
It looks beneath the shiny surface of contemporary gay culture and examines why gay men are often so unhappy. With gay life so often surrounded by casual sex, drugs and alcohol, life can feel empty. Todd gives some excellent suggestions for how to make things better.
2. The Naked Civil Servant by Quentin Crisp
Quentin Crisp’s autobiography The Naked Civil Servant gets to the core of what it’s like to be a not-especially-attractive gay man living through difficult times. It covers how he came out in 1931, and though mocked and beaten, unashamedly forged his own flamboyant and fabulous identity.
Of all the gay books on our list, this one is both hilarious and heartbreaking, and it’s an inspiration to anyone who’s ever struggled to find the courage to be who they really are.
3. The Swimming-Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst
Alan Hollinghurst is an openly gay author living in London. He’s written several gay books (mostly novels), and two of them are on this list: his 1988 work, The Swimming-Pool Library, looks at gay life in the UK before and after the repeal of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which decriminalized homosexuality.
The book is full of sex, rites of passage, secret rituals and even more sex. It’s probably the first novel about modern gay life in the UK placed in context, from posh clubs to public toilets. It feels very real, much like the next book on our list.
4. The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst
Written by Hollinghurst in 2004, The Line of Beauty is set in the ’80s. The AIDS epidemic hangs in the air, weaving through the narrative like a mist. This is a darker book, but with no less beautiful or vivid imagery. The gay hero, Nick Guest, is likable and full of the present-day conflicts we go through today as gay men.
The UK’s Tory Party and their politics features throughout the narrative, particularly in terms of closeted stories and private hedonism. With the Tory Party back in power in the UK and the current fuck-up that is Brexit, it feels like aspects of this story are once again coming to life.
5. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
This gorgeous novel by Virginia Woolf, set in and around Edwardian London, should be a relatively short read. But with such breathtaking imagery and the occasionally difficult continuous prose, you may have to take regular breaks to take it all in.
Mrs Dalloway is full of repressed desire and forbidden love, as anyone who’s seen The Hours — a film that looks at both Virginia Wolf and Mrs. Dalloway herself — will know all too well. Expect goosebumps and heart-pangs.
6. Christopher and His Kind by Christopher Isherwood
Anything by Christopher Isherwood is worth reading. His short novel Goodbye to Berlin is the story that inspired Cabaret, after all. And this remarkable autobiography Christopher and His Kind goes though his fascinating life, including living in the flamboyantly liberal pre-Nazi Berlin.
Isherwood touches on how being gay was a central part of his creative development as a human being — a brave and inspiring thing to do today — let alone in 1976.