Four Short Gay Novels To Read Right Now

Young Business Man Relaxing With Cup Of Coffee On Teracce

I am about one third of the way through Alan Hollinghurst’s door-stopper of a novel The Sparsholt Affair. While I love settling in to a 432 page by a master gay novelist like Hollinghurst, I’ll admit that short novels are often my favorites.  Books under 200 pages are perfect for reading over one weekend or plane trip.

I find slimmer books give me a satisfying sense of accomplishment and they are simpler to return to each evening after my son’s done with bath and tucked into bed. Here are my favorite short gay themed books, all under 200 pages.

  1. Everything Begins and Ends At The Kentucky Club by Benjamin Alire Sàenz (180 pages)
    A series of seven rich stories about life and love on the border between Texas and Mexico. A quote from the last story in the Lambda Literary award winning book: “And the only way to survive is to do the love thing, you know? Yeah, I think I called it the hurting game. Yeah, love hurts”
  2. We The Animals by Justin Torres (128 pages)
    “The smelled my difference – my sharp, sad, pansy scent. They believed I would know a world larger than their own.” The shortest book on this list. I read this tight poem of a novel about brothers growing up poor and different in New York City six years ago and am still captivated by it. Read more amazing Justin Torres in The New Yorker (subscription may be required).
  3. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin (178 pages)
    A classic by one of America’s best writers. Baldwin takes us to 1950’s Paris and inside the dark mental struggles that often came along with being gay then. I feel like it should be required reading, certainly for every gay man, especially us gay men in big cities. I recommend this book with a big asterisk: Baldwin’s short novel boils with unhealthy self loathing that is dated (let’s hope so anyway) and might be too much for the newly out or those new to LGBTQ literature. “… And you bring me fever but no delight,” Giovanni tells David. Baldwin grabs the simultaneous passion and hatred –“the stink of love” — that closeted men have felt for their first love. The excitement of oysters and white wine at Les Halle’s early morning market is one of  my favorite scenes in literature.
  4. Sergio Y by Alexandre Vidal Porto (160 pages)
    A well-known therapist takes on a mysterious patient toward the end of his career. A wise bookseller at Three Lives & Co. asked me to start the book without reading anything about it. Even ignore the jacket copy, he said so I did. I’ve already told you more about this book than I knew when I started it. Give it a shot and read it in a night or two and come back here and let me know what you think.

Three New Gay Books, Discovered At Three Lives Books

Three-Lives-and-Co-Bookstore-1
Photo: Carly Tati

I took my birthday off to have lunch with a friend and wander the West Village. After lunch and Big Gay Ice Cream, we wandered into Three Lives and Company Bookstore.

Three Lives has the greatest LGBT sections of any bookstore. Since the store is so small – the gay book section isn’t marked, none of their sections are. But if you walk in you’ll find it toward the left near the staff stairs to the stockroom.

It seems almost rude in retrospect, but I complained to the staff that there just weren’t many good gay books out right now. I’d read so many of the books in their LGBT section. A great guy – I wish I knew his name – came over to help me.

First, I asked him about Ross Raisin’s new book A Natural that I’d read about in the New York Times. While strangely it wasn’t in their gay book section, they had it in stock. That was my first book on my birthday to buy pile. Sports books with gay main characters are rare, so this is a find. I’m was interested in how A Natural sits with the murky day to day grind of the business side of football. I am very interested in novels that show gay men at work; Adam Haslett’s Union Atlantic is my favorite.

After suggesting some books I’d already read, he recommended Sergio Y by Alexandre Vidal Porto, a Brazilian novel translated from Portuguese. This short book captures a psychologist near the end of his career and an intriguing patient. The man in Three Lives  told me to just dive into the book and trust his recommendation, without reading any of the reviews or jacket copy. And so I did. It was one of the best birthday presents I’d given myself in a while.

The last book I picked up at three lives was Insomniac City: New York, Oliver and Me by Bill Hayes. I’d thought about reading this book before, but it never reached the top of my to-read pile because I wasn’t familiar with the work of Oliver Sachs (shame on me!). I am glad Three Lives put this book in my hands because it is one of the best and most creative books I read this year. I love a downtown New York City story and this is it: quiet and carefully written with fresh observations about our city that never sleeps. I wish that perhaps the book went deeper into coming out issues and age disparity in relationships, but maybe that would have broken the mood of this memoir.

I bought my books and headed across the street to Julius’, a bar with a rich history and one of New York City’s oldest gay bars. I’m deliberately not linking to any of these books because I’m hoping you’ll be able to buy them from your own local book store or you’ll call or email Three Lives and ask them to ship these to you. I never would have read Insomniac City or Sergio Y without the recommendations from Three Lives. We need to support their business.