For Pride month, the Lesbrary has posts going up every day in June! Today, I’m talking about 10 sapphic books that completely blew my mind.
As a bit of a sapphic book connoisseur, nothing makes me happier than talking about queer women books. For the last decade or so, they’ve been a huge part of my reading life, and I’ve found so many wonderful bi and lesbian books that way. Unfortunately, lesbian books in particular seem to have a reputation for low quality.
Maybe it’s because when you search “lesbian books” on Amazon, you get pages of $1 erotica, but I’ve heard many queer readers say they’ve given up on bi and lesbian books because they think they’re either a) badly-written, b) depressing, or c) both. Some have gotten the idea that most lesbian books are written by and for straight men. It pains me to know that so many people are missing out on reading amazing sapphic literature because of misconceptions about queer women lit as a whole.
So here are 10 books about queer women that I think are truly mind-blowing. Not just “good,” but thought-provoking, unforgettable, and even (in my case) life-changing. Whether you are a queer woman or not, I don’t think you can go wrong with these bi and lesbian books.
(These aren’t ranked in any order, because that would be way too hard.)
Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki
This is gorgeous, multifaceted story that I bounced between wanting to read cover to cover in one sitting and setting aside for weeks because I wasn’t emotionally prepared to dive back into it. While it took me a bit to finish, it completely floored me, and I was left thinking about it long after finishing it.
Light From Uncommon Stars is such a tricky, contradictory books to recommend. It’s about aliens and demons and curses, but it’s also a grounded, realistic character study. It’s hopeful and comforting, but it also contains abuse, bigotry, and a lot of brutal descriptions of transmisogyny. This disparate parts combine into a heartachingly affective story, but do be prepared to be reading about both the kindness and the cruelty of humanity.
If you like the idea of a science fiction meets fantasy meets coming-of-age contemporary story with queer main characters, I can’t recommend this highly enough. It’s a masterpiece.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
This is a classic for a reason. Despite covering extremely dark subject matter (including rape, violence, and racism), it is also profoundly life-affirming. This is a story about women who all survive, through different methods, the misogynoir that is impressed upon them, but they still reach across their differences to support each other.
Celie and Shug’s relationship helps form the core of the novel, and it’s Shug’s love for Celie that helps her on her path to finding her own self-worth. This is a book that I feel like reading once only scratches the surface. I’m sure I will be returning to it many times.
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
I hesitated between choosing Tipping the Velvet or Fingersmith, two amazing books by my favorite author, but while Tipping the Velvet is my personal favorite, Fingersmith fits the “mind-blowing” label more closely.
This is the most intricately-plotted book I’ve ever read. Every time I thought I knew what was happening, I would be blindsided by another revelation. I didn’t think I liked historical fiction until I read Sarah Waters for the first time and was promptly proven wrong.
This is dark and twisting, including in the complex love story, but (spoiler) it does end on a hopeful note.
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The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m danforth
Although there are some amazing F/F books under the young adult umbrella, I feel like The Miseducation of Cameron Post stands out from the pack. The writing completely drew me into Cam’s world, and this is the first time I’ve finished a book that pushes 500 pages and fervently wished it was at least 300 pages longer. Although a doorstopper book about conversion therapy sounds like a harrowing reading experience, the beautiful writing and memorable characters kept me glued to the pages until the end, unable to put it down even while walking to work.
(Do check out Debbie Rees’s critique of the indigenous representation in this title, however.)
Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue
I love fairy tale retellings, but this collection of feminist, mostly-F/F retellings has likely ruined me for all others. They’re beautifully-written, and each story connects to the next, so despite being separate, they all flow together.
This is a classic of lesbian literature at this point, and for good reason.
You may know Emma Donoghue as the author of Room, but most of her books are sapphic, and they’re all must reads. This is the one that made her one of my all-time favourite authors.
The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson
Incredibly, I was assigned this in class. Although I was reading another amazing queer book at the time and was reluctant to start something new, I changed my mind where there was a F/F sex scene on page 15.
This is a work about gods, colonialism, racism, oppression, resistance, and slavery, to begin with. There is a ton going on, but I was happy to be swept up in it and carried along, even when I seemed to be over my head. This surreal, intertwining story was a perfect candidate to be discussed and interpreted in class. I hope other students get the same opportunity.
Everfair by Nisi Shawl
I picked this up because I heard it was a steampunk, alternate history of the Congo, and was pleasantly surprised to find out there are also several queer women point of view characters.
The steampunk element is a little lighter than I had expected, but what is there is an incredibly detailed view of colonialism and racism from a wide variety of viewpoints. This has so much complexity packed into it. Although it took me a while to get through, because of the constant POV changes and thought-provoking subject matter, it’s also one that has stayed with me long after finishing it, and has made me immediately want to read every other book Nisi Shawl has written.
The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez
This is a black sapphic vampire story that takes place from 1850-2050. Not only does it deal with how racism, sexism, and homophobia have changed (but survived) throughout time, it also has a ton of classic vampire lore and manages to establish a ton of different locations and stories through the time periods that are equally compelling. Added together, these stories also give some perspective to what being immortal would look like: the sheer scale of living for hundreds of years.
You can’t call yourself a true fan of lesbian/sapphic vampires until you read this and Carmilla!
The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg
I was a mess reading this book. 5 pages in and I had to put it down to squeal with glee: The art! The narration! The surreal worldbuilding! The F/F couple in the middle of it!! The feminism! The cleverness!
I was cackling as I read it, and barely suppressing the desire to read at least one line of every page out loud to whoever was nearby. This is a feminist, queer retelling of The Arabian Nights with beautiful artwork and a sense of humor that would make Kate Beaton proud. I just want to hug it to my chest and sigh dreamily. This is the queer feminist mythology we deserve.
Inseparable: Desire Between Women in Literature by Emma Donoghue
Oops, I snuck another Emma Donoghue book into the list. This is a book that outlines the history of sapphic literature, and it shows how desire between women in literature has existed basically as long as literature has. This book exploded my brain. I couldn’t believe that I wasn’t aware of the long legacy of love between women in stories. It made me feel more connected to a lineage of women like me through time. If you’re interest in queer women lit at all, I highly recommend picking this up. Don’t be intimidated: this is easy to read, and if you’re anything like me, it’ll leave you with a long list of titles to pursue when you’re done.
So those are my top 10 mind-blowing sapphic reads, but it’s far from a complete list. Please let me know if you’ve read any bi and lesbian books that have blown your mind that aren’t included here, because I’m always looking for more!
This original version of this article was posted at Book Riot.