100 Best Lesbian Fiction & Memoir Books Of All Time

40. Slow River, by Nicola Griffith (1995)

“Slow River is an engaging and accessible science fiction novel focused more on characters than technology. Griffith’s novel is centered around women and queer characters without calling attention to queerness or women, it’s just normal in her world.”
– Ariel Wetzel, Goodreads

39. Ammonite, by Nicola Griffith (1992)

“The story and its characters are so complex and layered. The world building is gentle and neither assuming nor heavy going and it draws you into the story and its commentary deftly. I loved this world of women where all aspects of society, roles, responsibilities, attributes and character were considered and included just as part of the ordinary landscape.”
– Ju, Goodreads

38. Sing You Home, by Jodi Picoult (2011)

“Picoult has crafted a story that dives head first into subjects that are very much a part of current public policy debate, and yet still boils down to ordinary people struggling to do the right thing from different perspectives.”
– Sandy, Goodreads

37. Trash, by Dorothy Allison (2002)

“Coming from an underprivileged family that places significance on how many babies you can produce and how well you marry this collection of short memoir narratives is written as if Allison is sitting right in front of you exposing all of her secrets. The stories can be agonizing but also sensual and charming.”
– Kathy Hiester, Goodreads

36. Two or Three Things I Know for Sure, by Dorothy Allison (1995)

“In just over 100 small pages, Dorothy Allison succeeds in writing a piece of memoir that is just as much a musing on the power of the past to continue to hurt (while allowing also for healing) than a personal story.”
– Dominic, Goodreads

35. Fall on Your Knees, by Ann-Marie MacDonald (1996)

[read our review of Fall on Your Knees here]

“This book is dark, twisted, and beautifully heartbreaking. The characters are endlessly deep, and tragedy curses the family that occupies the pages of this book. From wild Kathleen, to dutiful Mercedes, to the “black sheep” that is Francis, every member of this family has a tragic story to be told.”
– Caiti, Goodreads

34. Santa Olivia, by Jacqueline Carey (2009)

[read our post on santa olivia here]

“Equal parts dystopia and superhero comic, I found this to a a fast, entertaining read… It’s a book with some action, a lot of fear, some tender relationships and, above all, a lot of hope.”
– Lissibith, Goodreads

33. Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh (1964)

“Harriet was a cranky, unsentimental, fun, eccentric, witty, smart-as-a-whip, female protagonist who ran about saying, or jotting down, what many of us were already thinking…And intrigued us in the process.”
– Pamela, Goodreads

32. Inferno, by Eileen Myles (2008) 

[read our book club post on inferno here]

“This is a moving memoir I’d call literature. It is full of memorable psychological insight, plainspoken, inevitable prose, surprising candor, and even some humor… It is a coming out story set mostly in downtown NYC where she lived and crafted her writing.”
– Lori Ortiz, Goodreads

31. The Well of Loneliness, by Radclyffe Hall (1928)

“This is not a cautionary tale – it is not a story meant to deter women from having relations with other women. Instead it embraces it as in it’s an autobiographical story based on Hall’s own experiences.”
– El, Goodreads

30. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, by Audre Lorde (1984)

“The power and simplicity and searing intelligence that Audre Lorde brings to her fierce poetry is quieted here by introspection. Stark and lovely, these essays are guided by an emotional clarity, an ethical imperative and Lorde’s intent comittment to personal truth.”
– Rachel Kantstopdaphunk, Goodreads

29. Valencia, by Michelle Tea (2000)

“Tea doesn’t try to flatter herself and rather explores some unflattering experiences in detail. It catches a very interesting moment in queer history and also, San Francisco’s Mission. Fun, quick, sexy read.”
– Jaye, Goodreads

28. The Price of Salt, by Patricia Highsmith (1952) 

“There is a matter-of-fact clarity to Highsmith’s description of the relationship which establishes it as not at all shocking, while she also effectively captures the devastating sacrifices so many gay and lesbian people have to make. Highsmith’s book deals very seriously with her characters’ sexualities and lets there be certain ambiguities about them that make the characters real instead of archetypes. ”
– Marrisa, Goodreads

27. Empress of the World (Battle Hall Davies #1), by Sara Ryan (2001)

[read our review of empress of the world here]

“Nicola, the narrator, is a sharp, funny, observant kid, even in her own confusion about her sexuality, and Battle is both a fantastic foil and a fantastic love affair for Nicola. The dynamics and the emotions in this one rang very true for me on all levels.”
– A., Goodreads

26. Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Feminity, by Julia Serano (2007)

“Parts were like reading the inside of my own head. Parts gave me an insight into things I will never experience myself. Brilliant.”
– Julian, Goodreads

25. Huntress, by Malinda Lo (2011)

” Breathtaking. Grand. This fantasy was gloriously epic while still remaining a quick read and avoiding an overly complicated plot.”
– Logan, Goodreads

24. Keeping You a Secret, by Julie Anne Peters (2005)

[read our review of keeping you a secret here]

“This is a lovely coming-out story, well-written, emotional, and believable. ”
– Kaje Harper, Goodreads

23. The Passion, by Jeanette Winterson (1987)

“Parts of this unusual read are dark fairy tales, parts are fantasy…It is almost like a series of unbelieveable disconnected vignettes that the reader visits through a common hallway.”
– Natalie, Goodreads

 22. The Night Watch, by Sarah Waters (2006)

“Connecting to humans, surviving, viewing human destruction, loving, being duped and dumped all in the midst of air raids, rubble, fires, and blackouts are the topics the book centers on. Her scenes and the characters in them are real – their foibles, quirks and irritating nuances are presented in a way that I felt I knew them. ”
– Istop4books, Goodreads

21. Bastard Out of Carolina, by Dorothy Allison (1992)

[read our book club post on bastard out of carolina here]

“The world Allison creates is beautifully particular—precisely constructed, richly furnished, quirky. The pages fly by, scarcely a word not pulling its weight. And when you’re done, you’ve learned, from the inside out, to understand someone who appears unfathomable.”
– Lauren Ruth, Goodreads

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  1. Of the top 10, three are southern writers! And, three of the top 10 I’m teaching in my spring Lesbian Writers, Lesbian Writing class! Callooh-callay! :)

  2. Wow, I just added a lot of books to my to-read list on goodreads. The Creamsickle looks especially cool.

    It’s so exciting to see so much of Ivan E Coyote, and to see other great Canadian authors like Mariko Tamaki and Emma Donoghue mentioned!!

    And Harriet the Spy!!

    One thing I’m confused about is the inclusion of Middlesex. It’s a great book but the character is intersex and at the end of the novel presents and identifies as a man, right? (It’s been quite a few years since I read it). Doesn’t seem to quite fit the criteria.

  3. No love story has affected me more than the tragic true story of Aimee and Jaguar. I hadn’t heard of them until I saw the movie on Logo years ago. I was so in love with that movie that I bought it on DVD. It’s my favorite lesbian-themed movie to this day. I didn’t know there was also a book about this couple. I’m definitely going to have to pick that up.

  4. Sputnik Sweetheart! Finding that was a ‘the universe has the worst sense of humour’ moment. The straight girl I had a crush on was super into Murakami, so obviously I had to check out his books. First one I picked off the shelf, and it was about lesbians and pining and unrequited love. GODDAMN IT UNIVERSE.

    Also, reading Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit when I was thirteen basically made me a homo, so…

  5. Thrilled to see my book on the list! And don’t forget–Book I is free for Kindle and Nook on the Amazon and B&N sites.

  6. I can’t begin to explain how lame this list is. I’ll start with the missing names Gale Wilhelm, Vin Packer, Ann Aldrich and Valerie Taylor.

  7. Oh man oh man I hate that I’m going to be the one to make a buzzkill comment BUT

    This list is just book titles and reviews from seemingly random GoodReads members? What? If you’re going to publish a piece like this, why not employ your writers to contribute thoughts, discuss their favorite lesbian books, or really anything but this. The list feels really impersonal and doesn’t offer anything different than every other top lesbian book list that’s ever been published on the internet- two things that I wouldn’t expect from Autostraddle. Maybe having a hundred books was a little too much?

    (And this is ignoring the fact that most of these little blurbs don’t even address what the books are about at all.)

    • autostraddle readers voted on these books, so it’s not just a list — it’s a countdown of the top 100 lesbian books as voted on by the readers. hopefully that includes you! you can find posts full of our writers discussing their favorite lesbian books by perusing our favorite vault: read a f*cking book

      happy reading!

    • honestly every book on this list falls into one of two categories:
      a) books none of us have read
      b) books we’ve already written about

      so when looking at how to conquer this without saying the same thing about Rubyfruit Jungle that we’ve already said 36 times, it seemed like since this was a reader-voted list and not about what we liked or what we wanted to talk about, it’d be more fitting to have commentary from actual readers. also yeah, 100 books was a lot to tackle, but this list was definitively about what you guys liked for once, instead of us!

      i wouldn’t know what i’d say about a lot of these high-ranking books because I didn’t pick them myself… like I can’t comment on why Fingersmith belongs in the top ten when i’ve never read it, nor did i vote it into the top ten, if that makes sense.

      but it’s nice to know somebody actually reads the blurbs we do write!

  8. I apologize for being a downer right now (I love this list too!), but I prefer to read lesbian-themed novels where there isn’t any abuse or endings like Kissing Jessica Stein, which is supposedly a stereotype in lesbian books and movies.

    There aren’t enough happy, or even semi-happy, lesbian books in my life! Are there any books in this list that I should avoid due to those themes?

    • I haven’t read any of the bad stereotypical ones but I’ll recommend a happy and romantical story that I LOVED from this list: Landing by Emma Donoghue.

    • If you want uplifting stories, I’d recommend Ivan Coyote. Always hopeful. Also, Tipping the Velvet, Truth, Dare or Promise, and Annie on my Mind have lovely happy endings.

      And Landing is pretty much the best lesbian love story ever, I agree!

      From what I’ve read I don’t think there are any on this list that feature the ‘woman leaves woman for a man’ trope except old titles, like The Well of Loneliness and Odd Woman Out. But there’s definitely some that deal with abuse: Leslie Feinberg and Ann-Marie MacDonald come to mind (although both Stone Butch Blues and Fall on Your Knees are really beautiful important books!)

  9. I’m happy to find a number of books I’ve read on this list, and even happier to find a bunch I have not! Time and time again people continue to reccomend Jodi Piccoult books to me. I keep trying, but am I really the only one to find her writing style…annoying? I just can’t read her. I try. Truly. But never manage to finish her books. Maybe it’s me.

  10. “fun home” is like a big, queer, litterary revelation. I couldn’t agree more with you. It’s just pure love and intelligence coming out of this book.

    • I think all the novels by Virginia Woolf are a bit gay but sometimes it’s not easy to recognize it. In To the Lighthouse, there are those peculiar feelings Lily Briscoe has for Mrs. Ramsay.

  11. This is one of the best lists I’ve ever seen. Overall, an excellent selection of books. Well done, AS readers!

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  13. The only book I have read on this list is “Drag King Dreams” and I have to say…this was one of the worst books that I’ve ever read. It reads like an angsty 13 year old with bad acne and a very “us-against-them” self-centered view of the world. Also, the author has an annoying habit of trying to write about tech-stuff when it is clear the have the technical background of my grandmother. I had to put the book down for a week when the author referred to a computer part as a “heat sync”. No.

    • I haven’t read this book but the homophonic phrase “heat sink” is a standard part of a personal computer so this sounds like an editing error to me and can’t be used to judge the technical expertise expressed in the book.

  14. I’m getting a Kindle for Christmas almost solely to put lesbian novels on it, that I can’t really have lying around the house in physical form.

    Also, I was surprised that “Flaming Iguanas” by Erika Lopez didn’t make it. It’s a novel about a sexually fluid chick on a motorcycle road trip, it has cool stamp-like illustrations, is hilarious and fun and heartfelt, and it’s been a while since I read it in a fiction writing class in college, but it was one of the best book finds of my collegiate career, I do remember that.

  15. Okay, I stopped reading Fingersmith at the end of part 2 because the plot development made me so angry I literally flung it at a wall, and have never gone back.

    Its inclusion in this list makes me think it ends differently than I thought it did? Should I reread it?

    • Also (I should have included this above but oh well, no edit function), of the books in this list, Tipping the Velvet is one I have read that stands out as a genuinely great book. Like, most queer books I read because I want to read books about queers, not because they are particularly good (see also: queer films). But Tipping the Velvet is actually a great, multilayered, wonderful novel that I want all books to be. It does what books can and should do. So that’s my recommendation.

      I also love love love Fried Green Tomatoes (the book of Ruth oh my god), but that quote about looking up at people going on with their lives as if you didn’t just experience emotional trauma at the hands of a paperback definitely applies. I have fully cried at busstops. It is beautiful, but so sad sometimes in a way that can’t be fixed.

    • Yes, Fingersmith does end differently than you might think. That plot twist at the end of part 2 was truly brilliant though. I was shocked. Things take a turn in the right direction I promise. I won’t spoil it for you.

    • OMG!!!!!!!

      Seriously – you’ll be like “how is this so cleverly written??!!”

      It’s worth it, honestly, I know cos I watched the BBC dramatization a couple of years ago. And I was yelling at the screen and VERY upset at Waters for the plot development.. but.. worth the end.

  16. Have completed a shocking percentage of this list, an equally shocking percentage of which has dented various walls. Lookin’ at you, Strangers In Paradise Later Volumes.

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  18. Saw Sarah Waters at my girlfriend’s graduation on Tuesday. She was being made a fellow of my university. Then I skipped my lecture and snuck in for free champagne and lemony cakes. It was pretty crowded, and I couldn’t get to the lemony cakes, so I asked the woman in front of me if she could pass me one.

    She did so and turned around. It was Sarah Waters. As she plopped it on my napkin she said ‘Scuse fingers’. It was Sarah Waters and the best moment of my life.

  19. Thankyou for making this list!!

    I have recently discovered ebooks and this was a good guide to what to read first ;)

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  21. This is probably the most ridiculous list of great lesbian novels I’ve ever seen, and I certainly won’t be basing any buying decisions on it! The nicest thing I can say is that it does include three or four great lesbian novels and a dozen or so more good ones. Honestly, did more than a couple of dozen people vote for these absurd choices?

    What tosh!

  22. Hey there! I just wanted to say that I love this list, but I´d also add Gladiatrix by Russel Whitfield, it´s an AMAZING novel! I would say it is my favorite, and I´ve read quite a lot of books (I believe it will be a trilogy, but there are just 2 books right now, both of them are great and beautifully written)…anyway you should give it a try (just keep in mind it´s very real and it has some raw bits)

  23. Hey so I’m new to this, but I absolutely love fiction. I’ve probably read about 10 of that books on this list. Some of them seem a little dark though. My favourite by far is playing one role of herself. The author had only that one book though I really wish she had more. I re read it a million times. But I’m a sucker for those mushy happy endings. Lol. I would love to hear from anyone on suggestions for books I must read on this category. I think I’m addicted.

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