Librarian’s Choice: Recommended reads for LGBT History Month

PrintThis blog comes from Alex, a library assistant on our peripatetic team.

Love is in the air… — yes, but so is hail and frost you might say. Fair point, it is after all February and, let’s face it, the weather is what it is. But suppose for a moment, we could travel anywhere we’d like to without queuing at the airport or drying our accounts out. Imagine we could do that whiles being wrapped up in a woolly blanket, enjoying a deliciously warm hot chocolate. Now suppose that I’m not just daydreaming; after all there is one wonderful thing we can all do for each other this February. Let’s take advice from our wise Scandinavian cousins: let’s all get hygge and let the romance of these stories warm our hearts because, is there any more magical way to travel than through the pages of a gripping book?

Inspired by LGBT* History Month 2017, I have chosen some of the most heart breaking love stories to get us all through February.

Picture books:

alex-tango-makes-threeAnd Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole.

For all the animal lovers out there, there is probably no better love story than the one between Roy and Silo. Two penguins at New York Central Park Zoo, Roy and Silo might appear as an odd couple. Whiles their fellow penguins are preparing themselves for the joy and challenges of parenthood, Roy and Silo are worried they might never be able to become dads… or will they? There is only one way to find out.

Teenage Fiction:

alex-you-know-me-wellYou know me well by Nina LaCour & David Levithan

Friends at first sight, Mark and Kate have never spoken to each other until one fateful night their lives collide: Kate is running away from a chance of meeting the girl she has loved from afar, while Mark is in love with his best friend who may or may not loves him back. They are both lost and finding each other is the last thing on their minds., though they don’t realize just how important they will become to each other.

alex-fans-of-teh-impossible-lifeFans of the impossible life by Kate Scelsa

“May we live impossibly.” Sebby said when he opened his eyes. “Against all odds. May people look at us and wonder how such jewels can sparkle in the sad desert of the world. May we live the impossible life”.
Echoing Stephen Chbosky’s much celebrated novel “The perks of being a wallflower”, “Fans of the impossible life” is the story of love, loss, growing up and finding friends who can see through you and the person you’re trying to become. The story follows Sebby and his best friend Mira on their impromptu road trips and magical rituals designed to fix parts of their broken lives. But what will happen when Jeremy, the painfully shy and isolated art nerd, enters the picture?

alex-outOut by Joanna Kenrick, illustrated by Julia Page

This dyslexia friendly book is a short but gripping story of love, friendship and solidarity. “Out” poignantly portrays the difficult experience of ‘‘coming out’ and the struggle with unrequited love.

Teenage non-fiction:

alex-beyond-magentaBeyond Magenta: transgender teens speak out

Author and photographer Susan Kuklin meets and interviews six transgender and gender-neutral teens to portray them before, during, and after their personal acknowledgment of gender identity, empathetically exploring their emotional and physical transitioning.


Adult fiction:

alex-oranges-are-notOranges are not the only fruit by Jeanette Winterson

If you grew up gay among religious fundamentalists, Jeanette Winterson feels your pain. Oranges, the novelist and critic’s 1985 autobiographical debut novel, follows an English lesbian girl coming of age in a Pentecostal community.

alex-carolCarol by Patricia Highsmith

“And she did not have to ask if this was right, no one had to tell her, because this could not have been more right or perfect.” Previously published as “The Price of Salt”, most of us are probably familiar with Todd Haynes 2015 rendering of Patricia Highsmith’s lesbian novel. In Carol, two women from different backgrounds—one a department store clerk who dreams of a better life, the other a wealthy wife — strike up a passionate love affair with each other in 1950s New York.

alex-rubyfruit-jungleRubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown

Widely considered to be the lesbian coming of age novel par excellence, “Rubyfruit Jungle” follows the life of Molly Bolt, adopted daughter of a poor US family, who possesses remarkable beauty and who is aware of her lesbianism from early childhood. Sex, love and betrayal are at the heart of this turbulent coming to age, which often mirrors Brown’s own experience of being an emerging lesbian author in 1970s New York.

alex-orlandoOrlando: a Biography by Virginia Woolf.

“I’m sick to death of this particular self. I want another.” For the classics lovers amongst us, there is perhaps no book which better portrays the elusive essence of gender like Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando”. Spanning a lifetime of almost three centuries, Orland accompanies us on a poetic journey of rediscovery which challenges conventional assumptions of gender as a binary concept.


Adult non-fiction:

alex-queerQueer: a graphic history by Meg John Barker, illustrated by Julia Scheele (eBook)

Activist-academic Meg John Barker and cartoonist Julia Scheele illuminate the histories of queer thought and LGBTQ* action in this ground breaking non-fiction graphic novel. You can download the eBook from our library catalogues.

Gay life and culture: a world history by Robert Aldrich

In the years since Stonewall, the world has witnessed an outpouring of research, critical inquiry, and re-interpretation of gay life and culture. This book draws on ground breaking new material to present a comprehensive survey of all things gay, stretching back to ancient history and ranging to the present days. Critically acclaimed historian Robert Aldrich with the support of ten leading scholars juxtaposes thought-provoking essays with an extensive selection of images, many never before seen. This masterful combination reveals the story behind gay culture from the industrialized world to the remotest corners of tribal New Guinea.

alex-art-and-queer-cultureArt and queer culture by Catherine Lord and Richard Meyer

A comprehensive survey covering 125 years of art that has constructed, contested or otherwise responded to alternative forms of sexuality. The book traces the rich visual legacy of art’s relationship to queer culture, from the emergence of homosexuality as an identity in the late nineteenth century to the pioneering ‘genderqueers’ of the early twenty-first century.


For comic book lovers:

alex-prideThe Pride by Joe Glass and Mike Stock

Have you ever been sick of being misrepresented? Of having no one like you to look up to? Have you ever wanted to change everything?
Then you need to join FabMan, Wolf, Muscle Mary, Frost, Twink, Bear, Angel and White Trash on their mission to help people and improve LGBT representation. Wanting to fight for change, FabMan has formed PRIDE, the world’s premier LGBTQ supergroup. Not exactly receiving the desired response, the group faces opposition from the confrontational Justice Division and the nefarious Reverend. After a serious trial by fire, the team find themselves the only super team in the world capable of stopping The Reverend’s diabolical plot for world domination.

alex-juicy-motherJuicy mother: celebration by Jennifer Camper

Featuring work by and about queers, women and black artists, “Juicy Mother” is probably the queerest cartoon anthology you can get your hands on; these stories are not just exuberant and carefree, they are also a marvellous celebration of artistry and diversity.


alex-100-crushes100 crushes by Lim Elisha

100 Crushes compiles five years of queer comics by Elisha Lim, including excerpts from Sissy, The Illustrated Gentleman, Queer Child in the Eighties, and their cult series 100 Butches, as well as new work. It’s an absorbing documentary that travels through Toronto, Berlin, Singapore, and beyond in the form of interviews, memoirs, and gossip from an international queer vanguard.

Margaret Atwood – Live Screening at Central Library

We are very excited to be able to join up with the British library when Margaret Atwood receives the 2016 PEN Pinter Prize.

On Thursday 13th October we are screening a live broadcast from the British library to see Margaret receive her prize and deliver an address. There will also be a reading of Margaret’s classic book, The Handmaid’s Tale by actress Elizabeth McGovern.

This is a real treat, and not to be missed if, like us, you are a huge Atwood fan. The screening will take place in Room 700 in Central Library from 6.30 – 8.00pm. Tickets are free, but booking is essential. There are a few places left, but you are going to have to be quick! To book a place go to

To celebrate here are a few of our favourite Atwood classics:-

atwood-hag-seedHag-seed: the Tempest retold

Felix is at the top of his game as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival. His productions have amazed and confounded. Now he’s staging a Tempest like no other: not only will it boost his reputation, it will heal emotional wounds. Or that was the plan. Instead, after an act of unforeseen treachery, Felix is living in exile in a backwoods hovel, haunted by memories of his beloved lost daughter, Miranda. And also brewing revenge. After 12 years, revenge finally arrives in the shape of a theatre course at a nearby prison. Here, Felix and his inmate actors will put on his Tempest and snare the traitors who destroyed him. It’s magic! But will it remake Felix as his enemies fall?

atwood-heart-goes-lastThe heart goes last

Living in their car, surviving on tips, Charmaine and Stan are in a desperate state. So, when they see an advertisement for Consilience, a ‘social experiment’ offering stable jobs and a home of their own, they sign up immediately. All they have to do in return for suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month – swapping their home for a prison cell. At first, all is well. But then, unknown to each other, Stan and Charmaine develop passionate obsessions with their ‘Alternates,’ the couple that occupy their house when they are in prison. Soon the pressures of conformity, mistrust, guilt and sexual desire begin to take over.

atwood-stone-mattressStone mattress: nine tales

A recently widowed fantasy writer is guided through a stormy winter evening by the voice of her late husband. An elderly lady with Charles Bonnet’s syndrome comes to terms with the little people she keeps seeing, while a newly-formed populist group gathers to burn down her retirement residence. A woman born with a genetic abnormality is mistaken for a vampire. And a crime committed long-ago is revenged in the Arctic via a 1.9 billion year old stromatalite. In these nine tales, Margaret Atwood ventures into the shadowland earlier explored by fabulists and concoctors of dark yarns such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Daphne du Maurier and Arthur Conan Doyle.

atwood-handmaids-taleThe handmaid’s tale

The Republic of Gilead offers Offred only one function – to breed. If she deviates, she will be killed. But even an oppressive state cannot obliterate desire – neither Offred’s nor that of the two men on which her future hangs.

atwood-the-doorThe door

With a wickedly sharp sense of the funny, underpinned by a wordly sagacity, this is a collection of poetry about love, about growing older, about family, and about writing.


Toby, a survivor of the man-made plague that has swept the Earth, is telling stories. Stories left over from the old world, and stories that will determine a new one. Listening hard is young Blackbeard, one of the innocent Crakers, the species designed to replace humanity. Their reluctant prophet, Jimmy-the-Snowman, is in a coma, so they’ve chosen a new hero – Zeb, the street-smart man Toby loves. As clever Pigoons attack their fragile garden and malevolent Painballers scheme, the small band of survivors will need more than stories.

atwood-oryx-and-crakeOryx and Crake

Pigs might not fly, but they are strangely altered. So, for that matter, are wolves and raccoons. A man, once named Jimmy, now calls himself Snowman and lives in a tree, wrapped in an old bed sheet. The voice of Oryx, the woman he loved, teasingly haunts him. The green-eyed children of Crake are his responsibility.

Whatever happened to Westerns?

This blog is by Richard, our deputy head of service.

You’ve only read the title of this blog and already I can hear you scoffing? ‘Westerns’ you say, ‘they’ll never make a come back!’ Well if that’s the case, why have we had two new westerns (The Revenant and The Hateful Eight) at the cinema in the last month or so. Surely Tarantino can’t be wrong?!

Anyway – for those of you who are willing to keep reading here’s my Magnificent Seven ‘give it a go’ westerns to whet the appetite of the uninitiated…

Western Little Big ManLittle Big Man by Thomas Berger (1964)

Does this book require much description? – Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of the irascible Jack Crabb in the 1970 movie made this a very popular western, albeit a tongue in cheek take on the genre where Jack, a 121 year old, retells his life story to an oral historian – this sees Jack pretty much involved on the fringes of every major event covered by almost any other western you can pick up – he even survives the Battle of the Little Big Horn. So whilst most western fans will know that the only survivor of that battle was a horse called Comanche, the book offers a wonderfully colourful [and partly accurate] historical synopsis of the era – and that remains in some ways the main question posed in the narrative – is Jack a fraud?

Western The BloodingThe Blooding by James McGee (2013)

As a fan of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series I was probably destined to become a fan of James McGee’s series about Hawkwood [I can’t read this series without imagining that Sharpe had left the Rifles as a Captain and returned to London’s rookeries as a Runner … but I digress]. Set in 1812 this outing sees Hawkwood stranded behind enemy lines, in America, a country at war with Britain for the second time (like many people I never knew there were two wars with America!)

As Hawkwood makes his escape to the Canadian border he uncovers an American plot to invade Canada. If it is successful, the entire continent will be lost. Pursued by a relentless enemy, Hawkwood sets off across the snow-bound Adirondack Mountains; the land the Iroquois call ‘The Hunting Grounds’.   And here we get more of Hawkwood’s back story with McGee taking his skills at historical storytelling in the direction of Fennimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans.

If you like Cornwell’s Sharpe, historical crime fiction, or EVEN westerns then The Blooding and the rest of the series are waiting….

Western The sisters brothersThe Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt (2011)

This is a new one for me – in looking up a few ‘best of the west’ lists I came across the usual titles: Riders of the Purple Sage (Zane Grey), True Grit (Charles Portis), even Little House on the Prairie (Laura Ingles Wilder), [only Little Big Man from any of those lists was already on mine], and then I spotted this little gem (possibly – I should say nugget as the backdrop is around gold prospecting). It’s a relatively recent publication but the language and sentence structure, whilst easy to read, are certainly evocative of them olden days.

The book is darkly comic following the exploits Charlie and Eli, who are brothers with the last name ‘Sisters’ – ok I’ll admit this confused me to start! They are a couple of the best hit men in the Wild West, but like most siblings have their own rivalries and plenty of personal baggage which only serves to enhance the comic authenticity of their interactions. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2011, this is certainly worth a shot (sorry for the pun).

And for those who like books becoming movies I’ve just discovered that plans are afoot for a 2016 release starring John C. Reilly.

Western The gunslingerThe Gunslinger by Stephen King (1982)

The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed. So begins the first instalment of Stephen King’s iconic fantasy series, The Dark Tower.

Inspired in by Robert Browning’s poem, Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, The Gunslinge , part sci-fi novel, part spaghetti Western, tells the story of Roland Deschain, Mid-World’s last gunslinger [think Lancelot with a Colt peacemaker] who is tracking an enigmatic magician known only as the man in black.

A lasting memory I have reading this as a western is a scene with the gunslinger on a beach fighting off some weird see creatures – ok, that’s definitely not normal for a ‘guns at sunset’ kind of a western, but very little in Mid-world is normal.

The entire saga took over 20 years to create and, like Lord of the Rings for Tolkien, brings Stephen King to the forefront of imaginary world storytelling – everyone should try this, but with seven parts….be prepared to lose yourself in Mid-world for a long time.

And…you guessed it, another candidate for a movie – this one I hear will be around in 2017.

Western A study in scarletA study in scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle (1887)

The first seven chapters of A Study in Scarlet take place in London in 1881, and see the introduction of our two heroes – Holmes and Watson; this section of the novel ends with the capture of Jefferson Hope. The next section is a flashback to events many years earlier in America, culminating in Hope’s arrival in London. The third section of the book continues where the seventh chapter left off, providing Hope’s account – essentially his statement to the police of his activities in London, and ultimately the novel concludes in what becomes the traditional style for Holmes with his explanation of the case.

Like McGee’s The Blooding, the western narrative is an interesting read, particularly as Doyle was a contemporary author writing from another continent; but putting that aside – if you have never read Holmes you really, really must.

Western The tenderness of wolvesThe Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney (2006)

The year is 1867. Winter has just tightened its grip on Dove River, a tiny isolated settlement in the Northern Territory, when a man is brutally murdered. A local woman, Mrs Ross, stumbles upon the crime scene and sees the tracks leading from the dead man’s cabin north toward the forest and the tundra beyond.   Within hours Mrs Ross will regret that knock as she discovers her seventeen-year-old son has disappeared and is considered a prime suspect.

A mix of people are drawn together following the crime and set off one by one to solve it….or to exploit it?   This is a an exhilarating thriller, a gripping murder mystery, and, like all the best westerns a wonderful example of fireside storytelling – no wonder it won Costa Book of the Year and First Novel Awards.

All God’s Children by Thomas Eidson (1996)

Pearl Eddy is a poor widow living in a small town in the prairies of Kansas, a Quaker in a Methodist town. Life becomes more difficult when she hides a black runaway from a lynch mob and later takes care of an immigrant family.

Also worth a look – The Last Ride (1995) – made into the film The Missing, starring Tommy Lee Jones in 2003

Thomas Eidson is, for me, an exquisite story teller. Each of his stories test the faith of his characters to the very limits. Whether these are religious beliefs, moral codes, or friendship loyalties, Eidson takes his characters to the edge – and sometimes gives just a little nudge to push them over. Unfortunately these titles are mostly out of print, but your extra effort in searching them out will be rewarded.

So, if you think westerns aren’t for you why not try one of these more fringe offerings and see how you get on.   And with a whole host of movie crossovers coming in during 2016, maybe there will be a revival….