The weather may not always show it, but as exams come to an end, both summer and pride month are in full swing. In other words, it is the prime time to read sultry and sexy queer romances which radiate heat-of-summer vibes. As post-lockdown life becomes increasingly crowded with upcoming pub catch-ups and vibrant concerts booked in the diary, why not sneak in a little quiet time at home or on journeys to pick up those forgotten books again? What could be better than discovering some newly published gay treasures which ditch the whole boy-meets-girl scenario which still floods today’s media? Although there can be no end to the spectrum of juicy queer literature out there, here are some with a specifically summery feel to definitely look out for and to whet your literary appetite.
Swimming in the Dark – Tomasz Jedrowski
For starters is this beautiful summer love story about two boys which plays out in the politically oppressive climate of 1980s communist Poland. Ludwik, our narrator, is a closeted and dreamy graduate who quickly falls head over heels for the more worldly and muscular Janusz. During a rural ‘work education’ camp, their romance flourishes in true Brokeback-Mountain style as they read, hike and swim naked in lakes alone together. But as summer passes and these idyllic weeks come to an end, Ludwik has to face the colourless and bleak realities of Warsaw: a world filled with homophobia, social poverty and political injustice. The ideological divide between himself and Janusz begins to fracture their bond and renders the memories of summer, all related in the past tense, especially poignant and haunting. Jedrowski’s prose exquisitely captures both the starry feelings of love, as when the lovers’ eyes first meet in an ‘infinite, interminable instant in mid-air’, and the painful aftermath of their relationship when Ludwik is “paralyzed by possibility, caught between the vertigo of fulfilment and the abyss of uncertainty”. For me, Swimming in the Dark evokes the beauty of summer and the melancholy which accompanies a sense of its ephemerality.
Juliet Takes a Breath – Roxane Gay
This novel genuinely blew me away by the way it so boldly nose-dived right into the intricate and complex issues of sexuality, gender identity and cultural conflicts in a way that was both savvy and sympathetic. A coming-of-age teenage novel like no other, Rivera introduces us to Juliet who learns to embrace herself as variously Puerto Rican, a native of Bronx, lesbian, a feminist and a woman who has a curvy body shape, in no particular order. Although Juliet Takes a Breath was written pretty recently in 2019, the time period of the novel very clearly refers to the summer of 2003 with allusions to such colourful and novel fashions as mix-tapes, white hippie culture, non-digitized libraries, motorbikes, non-socially-distanced queer bops and many, many more. Broadly, the novel traces the personal growth of Juliet from her own perspective during one eventful summer after she has come out to her tight-knit and chaotic Puerto Rican family and landed her dream internship in Portland with her feminist idol and author of the fabulously named Raging Flower: Empowering Your Pussy by Empowering Your Mind. Not only does Rivera cast a rich diversity of characters and events, but she sensitively tackles cultural debates on feminism and between feminists and on queer theory through Juliet’s lived experience. But in the end, Juliet’s journey is really about growing into her own individual identity and is bound to leave you feeling inspired and fully moved.
Call Me By Your Name – André Aciman
What gay summer reading list would not include Aciman’s Call me By Your Name which has inspired the famous movie of the same title and has won the award for ‘Gay Fiction’ at the 20th Lambda Literary Awards? I will put myself out there and confess that I don’t believe the writing matches the superb quality of the previous two novels I’ve put here. But I will say that the book conveys the obsession of a crush and the agonising torment of waiting for your love to become openly recognised. A ripe atmosphere of sexual tension and erotic desire underlies all the silences, casual intellectual citations and laconic language which make up most of the interactions between Elio and the older Oliver. Their passion is intensified by the balmy landscapes of the Italian Riveria and Rome that form the backdrops to the novel. My favourite part is the sensitive and thoughtful consolation given by Elio’s father and his wise advice: “if there is pain, nurse it, and if there is a flame, don’t snuff it out, don’t be brutal with it”.
The ex-girlfriend of my ex-girlfriend is my girlfriend – Maddy Court
Okay, I’m cheating here. This one isn’t specifically for summer and it’s not a fictional story but I just could not resist. Since when was there not a good time to read about juicy and real stories of love with dating advice anyway? ‘Fix yourself a cup of herbal tea and prepare to laugh, cry, reminisce and feel your feelings’: this handbook written by the iconic Maddy Court (i.e. the lesbian Instagram memeist ‘xena warrior princess’) warmly and honestly responds to the many anonymous queries and stories from queer women and people of marginalised genders. From coming out to heartbreak and identity crises to loneliness, Court’s book answers all aspects of queer experience with a sisterly and non-judgemental understanding. If you’re the kind that especially likes to dip in and out of books or to read with cool illustrations or to hear a variety of stories and voices, this will be a perfect match for you.
I could talk about gay books all summer long, but any one of the above can spice up the season with stories full of hot passion and self-discovery. I personally can’t wait to read more over the next months. Happy Pride Month and have a happy summer reading!