Feed your gay wanderlust with our roundup of the best gay books to read whilst traveling!
RuPaul has always taught us that reading is, what….? FUNDAMENTAL!
Neither of us had really read much for pleasure since our schoolboy days (don’t judge us, we were too busy being fabulous…). So, we decided to stop scrolling on our phones and taking selfies on our bus/train/plane journeys, replacing that time with some reading instead. Just like the olden days.
And what better way to break a reading slump than to read books with gay content and exciting travel locations! Not only are we getting representation of ourselves in literature, but it gets us pumped up for our next destination.
And sure, you might think: “But guys, gay fiction is all sappy romance, coming-of-age stuff, right? I don’t want to read anything too wet.”
Well, that’s where you’re wrong. As there is so much variety among queer literature. From LGBTQ communities banding together in San Francisco to a gay couple facing off against a damning prophecy in Ancient Greece…you’re truly spoiled for choice. These are some of our favorite gay books to read whilst on the road:
1. “Tales of the City” by Armistead Maupin
You may have seen a TV series with this title pop up on your Netflix homepage – well, this is the popular gay book franchise that inspired it all.
Set in 1970s San Francisco, where LGBTQ life thrived, “Tales of the City” follows the lives of those living at 28 Barbary Lane. There’s the kooky landlady, Anna, the hipster bisexual, Mona, the perky gay guy, Michael aka Mouse, and the newly arrived Ohio native, Mary Ann.
We sped through this series (the books AND the TV show) whilst traveling through the not-so-gay-friendly Eastern Europe, soothing our cravings for an LGBTQ-friendly paradise. Whilst Barbary Lane is fictional, it is based off Macondray Lane, which can be found in the hilly neighborhood of Russian Hill in San Francisco – an area full of parks, art galleries, and cafes.
The series gives gay kids stuck in conservative cities/countries a way to live vicariously through Mary Ann, as she leaves her hometown behind and discovers this queer mecca.
2. “Funny Boy” by Shyam Selvadurai
When you think of Sri Lanka, what comes to mind? Fancy beaches? Ancient temples? Kind-hearted people? All very reasonable assumptions. But after this book, you will never forget about this beautiful country, with its tragic history and incredible people.
Set during the Sri Lankan Civil Wαɾ, this beautiful gay book opened our eyes to how divisive ethnic groups were in Sri Lankan history.
In “Funny Boy”, we follow Arjie from when he is shamed for acting “girly” as a kid to his first gay experience as a teenager. Throughout the plot, we catch subtle references to the political turmoil that gripped the country at the time, which deepened our fascination for Sri Lankan history. Despite taking place in such a surreal time, it manages to be painfully relatable to gay people everywhere. The book was such a hit that it was adapted into a movie in 2020.
We learned so much about the struggles between the Tamil and the Sinhalese people – which came in handy for our own gay trip to Sri Lanka. Read more about gay life in Sri Lanka in our interview with Kaluu from Colombo.
3. “Crystal Boys” by Pai Hsien-yung
Love all things Taiwan? Then you’ll love “Crystal Boys“.
Taiwan is one of the most gay-friendly places in Asia that we’ve been to. So, the version of Taipei in this enthralling gay book threw us for a loop. Sure, it’s set in the 1960s, when conservative anti-gay attitudes were rife in the nation. But we never could have imagined how extensive these views of intolerance were, given the freedom Taiwanese queer people enjoy today.
Kicked out of his school and home for having relations with a male classmate, A-Qing makes his way to New Park, a gay cruising area in Taipei, where he befriends a group of misfits. And a crazy set of adventures unfold.
The group of friends he makes are unapologetically queer – and we love that! They lowkey reminded us of our friend group at home…
Taiwan springs to life on the page and left us with an insatiable desire to learn more about the country, which inspired our own gay trip to Taiwan. Our friend Po-Hung told us all about what it’s like growing up gay in Taiwan. Crystal Boys is another successful book that was adapted into a popular TV series:
4. “Under the Udala Trees” by Chinelo Okparanta
“Under the Udala Trees” tells the story of Ijeoma, ateen struggling with her own identity whilst also trying to survive the atrocities of the Nigerian Civil Wαɾ.
The balance of inner-torment and her physical surroundings are expertly written; we couldn’t have asked for a better gateway into learning about the country’s history.
This novel probably won’t inspire you to visit Nigeria. After all, it is regarded as one of the most dangerous places in the world to be LGBTQ. But we included it anyway, as it offers a sharp awakening for those of us living in progressive societies to be more aware of places where queer people are really struggling.
Books like ‘Under the Udala Trees’ help to humanize the experiences that LGBTQ people living in homophobic countries are going through. And it’s so important for those in a place of privilege to educate ourselves, donate, and help where we can.
5. “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller
TikTok is losing its mind over “The Song of Achilles” – and for good reason. Who wouldn’t be obsessed with a gay love story centered in Greek mythology?
After being exiled to the kingdom of Phthia, the mortal Patroclus begins a romance with Achilles, the son of a King and a sea nymph. The pair become the ultimate couple goals (and we thought we were hot stuff). But when a prophecy foretells the passing of Achilles in battle, their future together is thrown into turmoil.
Even if you’re unfamiliar with the ancient classics, this novel is still for you. It’s wonderfully written, and several scenes will leave you reaching for the tissues – and we don’t just mean for when you’re teary-eyed… if you catch our drift…
It’s full of cameos from Homer’s ‘Iliad’, references to the mythical city of Troy, and the very real, Mount Pelion (which we recommend visiting btw).
6. “The Line of Beauty” by Alan Hollinghurst
1980s Britain was a tough time to be gay. There was Thatcher. The heinous Section 28 law. And then, the AIDS crisis, which heavily impacted queer people across the UK.
And yet, Alan Hollinghurst managed to make us feel nostalgic for the rocky decade in his fascinating gay book “The Line of Beauty“. This story follows Nick, a postgraduate student lodging with the Freddan family in their Notting Hill home. We follow Nick as he explores the LGBTQ nightlife scene, dabbles in casual seא, and illicit substances, while enjoying various fleeting romances with collegemates.
We admired how Hollinghurst showcased two extreme sides of gay London. From the upper-class side, where houses are expensive, the people are proper, and everything is decadently decorated. To the other side, where the music is loud, the men are scantily dressed, and anything goes!
We know which side we prefer… and this book will give you the urge to hit up the English capital and bask in all its boisterous glory. The BBC loved this book so much that they adapted into a movie in 2006.
7. “Blue Boy” by Rakesh Satyal
“Blue Boy” is a gay book that follows the upbringing of Kiran, the son of an Indian immigrant family living in a small town in Cincinnati, Ohio. As if that didn’t sound like the pinnacle of intolerance enough, the action also takes place back in the 1990s! Eeek…
Kiran is not like other boys. He wants to play with dolls, perform in the school talent show, and be in the ballet. Not exactly what his parents have in mind for his future.
This book is ADORABLE! It’s a fantastic coming out story that will brighten your mood as you read it on your travels. We were particularly obsessed with this book as it gave us so much insight into Indian culture and family life. It opened our eyes to how much hatred and bigotry immigrants face on a day-to-day basis, inspiring us to become better allies to our POC friends.
8. “We the Animals” by Justin Torres
“We the Animals” is a gay book narrated by a nameless young boy growing up in upstate New York. He is the son of a half-Puerto Rican couple and has two brothers who love to torment him.
Told across 19 chapters (that stand alone as short stories), we see the family go through ups and downs, fights and make ups. Our narrator begins emotionally distancing himself from his family as his love for literature deepens and he begins to experience attraction to boys.
Reading this taught us a lot about what living in the “non-city” parts of New York is like. Apparently, it’s a lot less diverse and shiny than Manhattan, who’d have thought? In fact, we don’t get a look into the Big Apple at all. However, the characters do take a trip up to Niagara Falls in one scene, which brought back fabulous memories of our own trip to the epic waterfall.
9. “The Persian Boy” by Mary Renault
History fans everywhere will become OBSESSED with this gay book. It’s got everything they could want in a love story. Ancient Greece. Dramatic fight scenes. And best of all, GAY STUFF!
Alexander the Great, King of the ancient kingdom of Macedon, had a lover. And that lover now has a voice in “The Persian Boy“.
Bagoas was freed by Alexander after being abducted and sold to King Darius of Persia. After becoming his partner and devout servant, Bagoas watched as Alexander devised clever assassination plots, ran an army of warriors, and ruled over his kingdom with a temperament equal to the two of us when we’re hungry.
So many historical moments get covered throughout the book, including Alexander’s trek across the Gedrosian Desert (where Pakistan is today), and his invasion of India.
If you’re planning a trip to Greece and in search of some reading material that is both gay and historical, then this book is for you…even if you’re only hopping over for a summer gaycation in Mykonos!
One thing we’d say – this book, absolutely epic! The 2004 movie adaption of the Ancient Greek Great King…less so…
10. “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” by Tennessee Williams
Sure, you can wait for Broadway to revive it, but in the meantime, why not get the book version of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and discover the magic that is Tennessee Williams?
The entire play takes place across one evening in the Brick family’s Mississippi home. It’s Big Daddy’s birthday (and unbeknownst to him), he is dying of cancer. However, only his family know this and are lying to him for the sake of enjoying the party. And yet despite their determination to have a good time, each family member’s inner turmoil begins to surface, resulting in an explosive evening.
For instance, family son Brick reveals how his close friend Skipper confessed romantic feelings for him before kiʅling himself. And Brick’s wife Maggie accuses him of returning those feelings…
If you’re stressed-out bickering with a loved one whilst traveling, give this play a read. It’s full of dramatic monologues, that’ll make you feel tame by comparison.
11. “Bottle Rocket Hearts” by Zoe Whittall
“Bottle Rocket Hearts” takes place during one of Canada’s most fascinating historical events. It’s 1995 and Quebec is busy hosting a referendum on whether it should become an independent country. And yet, Eve simply wants to fall in love with the right girl.
When she meets the politically active Della, the pair embark on a tumultuous and divisive relationship that brings readers up to the explosive results night.
Admittedly, we knew nothing about this portion of Canadian history – and this book was the perfect gateway for us to learn more. Readers get so much exposure into the social climate of 90s Montreal – and the queer scene that was starting to thrive there after the arrival of revolutionary AIDS medication. Find out more about gay Montreal in our detailed guide to this glorious city.
We have always found Canada to be one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world – and Zoe Whittal’s writing has got us pumped up for our next trip.
12. “The Story of the Night” by Colm Tóibín
Richard Garay is an English-born gay man living in Argentina during a time of political unrest. In “The Story of the Night” we follow him from the mid-70s to the early 80s, as the city of Buenos Aires undergoes radical social change. We also follow him as he flies to New York during the onset of the AIDS crisis.
Richard is mostly closeted, and when he does come out to people, it is often met with negative reactions. Compared to today, Argentina is a lot more gay-friendly, so it was fascinating to read about a not-so-tolerant period, and how far the country has progressed. Our friend, Juan from Buenos Aires told us what gay life in Argentina is like, confirming why Argentina is one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world.
Colm’s writing is super evocative – and despite being an Irish writer with no connections to Argentina, we think he captures the spirit of the country magnificently!
13. “Tipping the Velvet” by Sarah Waters
One of the most revered elements of “Tipping the Velvet“, other than its lesbian romance, was its sharply detailed description of Victorian London.
Every scene captures the magic of the city perfectly, from the aromas of food that wafted through the air, to the haughtily dressed locals who swaggered around the winding streets, to the high-rise tenements that towered above heads.
The story follows Nancy, an innocent waitress working in a family restaurant, who falls in love with drag king, Kitty. After Nancy starts dressing up as a man herself, she discovers a homoerotic underbelly to the English capital, when male suitors start vying for her attention.
The novel takes readers around the districts of Brixton, Smithfield, Leicester Square, St John's Wood and Bethnal Green. As dwellers of London, we couldn’t be prouder that such a fabulous book shows off our city in all its wondrous glory. The book was so successful that the BBC adapted it into a TV series in 2002.
14. “George” by Alex Gino
Traveling as part of a rainbow family? This book is perfect for elementary school children who will probably become bored on the journey.
This gay book is about Melissa, a wonderfully adventurous girl, who everyone sees as a boy named George and are perplexed by her feminine ways. They’re even more shocked when she asks to play the title role in “Charlotte’s Web” for the school play.
“George” is one of the few books about trans children for trans children. Though really, anyone can enjoy it. Fascinatingly, ‘George’ was the 5th most banned book in libraries between 2010-20, which is why we were so curious to get our hands on it… book bans truly have the opposite effect, don’t they?
15. “Giovanni’s Room” by James Baldwin
No list of gay book suggestions would be complete without “Giovanni’s Room“.
It’s one of the first mid-20th century novels that approached the public with an emphatic representation of a gay relationship. It’s wonderfully written, with deeply complex characters. And it’s also, um, how do we say this eloquently… so DARN HOT!
This gay story follows David, an American in Paris dealing with his closeted homosexual desires. Despite being engaged to Hella, he falls for the Italian bartender, Giovanni.
This story revolutionized how gay writers explored their identities on the page. And it doesn’t hurt how the vibrancy of Paris plays a major part in what makes this book special. Readers are brought through the underground scene of Paris, full of gay bars and nightclubs. We even visit Les Halles, a central food market, where characters gorge on oysters and white wine – reading this scene gave us such a hankering for French cuisine and fine dining!
16. “Swimming In the Dark” by Tomasz Jedrowski
Written in the style of a letter, in “Swimming in the Dark” Ludwik recalls his summer spent in an agricultural camp, where he fell in love with Janusz (the letter’s recipient). The novel traces their time spent at the camp, their travels through the countryside together, and how they drifted apart during the years of Poland’s political turmoil.
The middle portion of the book is packed full of adorable and hot scenes of the two boys exploring the rural beauty of Poland. They bounce around various guesthouses, camp outdoors, and swim nude in beautiful lakes (sounds like just another Nomadic Boy’s trip if you ask us…).
Whilst the third act of the story is punctured by civil protests, police brutality, and political divide, our ultimate takeaway was of the stunning natural descriptions of the Polish countryside.
Author Tomasz Jedrowski said how he wrote the book as “an homage and celebration of Polish culture, and the beauty of nature there”.
17. “Islands of Mercy” by Rose Tremain
With scenes set across London, Paris, Dublin, the west of Ireland, Malaysia, and more, is it any wonder we devoured “Islands of Mercy” in less than a day? Every setting was masterfully descriptive, from the thick jungles of Borneo to the Victorian delights of Bath, it inspired us to have a total refresh of our travel bucket list.
The novel features an ensemble of characters, some that you will fall head over heels in love with, and some who you will despise with every fiber of your being.
There is Jane (who we stan, fyi) who rejects a proposal from Valentine Ross (who we HATED) and becomes entangled in an affair with Judith (who we also stan).
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Edmund Ross (who is Valentine’s brother studying the geographical wonders of Borneo), catches the eye of Sir Ralph Savage, the Rajah of the South Sadong Territories…
18. “Shuggie Bain” by Douglas Stuart
Poor little wean.
Despite neither of us growing up in a council home on the outskirts of Glasgow, we still related to the experiences of Shuggie and his family in “Shuggie Bain“.
We follow Shuggie as he goes from a confident, flamboyant toddler to a shy, demure child, to a repressed, lonely teen. All the while, dealing with the emotional turmoil of his deadbeat father and αlcoholic mother.
Despite Shuggie’s hometown of Pithead being entirely fictional, the setting will feel real for many LGBTQ Glaswegians (and indeed, all queer Britons). The outer parts of Glasgow city are vividly portrayed, with stunning descriptions of the surrounding marshlands and countryside.
We visit the city of Glasgow in several scenes in all its chaotic and messy wonders, from people falling out of nightclubs to the music that spills out of pubs onto the city streets.
Get ready for this Booker Prize winning book to break your heart though!
For more inspiration:
- Check out our list of the best gay movies that will also give you serious wanderlust
- These are the hottest gay actors to enjoy on your screen
- As well as our favorite gay YouTubers, if you prefer your viewing less mainstream
- Have a look at our favorite gay Instagrammers for photographic inspiration
- If you're already scrolling on your phone, make sure you look at these best gay travel apps
- And read our tips for staying safe on gay dating apps