100 Best Lesbian Fiction & Memoir Books Of All Time

20. Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain, by Portia de Rossi (2010)

[read our review of it here]

“Unbearable Lightness is brutal, scary, well written and shocking in its honesty, chronicling Portia’s almost lifelong struggle with an eating disorder. We bare witness as she yo-yo diets through the ages of 12-25 binging and purging, basing her happiness on the number on the scale.”
– Buggy, Goodreads

19. Are You My Mother?, by Alison Bechdel (2012)

[read our review of it here]

“By turns frustrating and self-absorbed to such mindboggling depths of solipsistic screwdriver-in-the-head nuttiness, the novel slowly reveals itself as a complex rendition of mother-daughter psychodynamics, touching upon Virginia Woolf, Adrienne Rich and pioneering feminist psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott along the way.”
– MJ Nicholls, GoodReads

18. The Hours, by Michael Cunningham (1998)

“However, the main achievement of the book, as far as I’m concerned, is the marvellous way in which Cunningham paints emotions, more specifically emotions associated with depression, angst, melancholy and regret.”
– Martine, Goodreads

17. Written on the Body, by Jeanette Winterson (1992)

“‘Written on the Body’ is a beautifully written and powerful story about all of the pleasure and pain of loving, the cruelty of not loving enough and everything in between.”
– Jenn(ifer), Goodreads

16. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, by Jeanette Winterson (2011)

“And yet this memoir, which I expected to be agonizing, is instead matter-of-fact, witty, piercing, and generally triumphant. Jeanette is not a dweller or a wallower, at least not anymore; she is frank about the difficulties she has gone through, relating even rather harrowing anecdotes with grace and compassion.”
– oriana, Goodreads

15. Orlando, by Virginia Woolf (1928)

” Based partially on Woolf’s own lesbian affair, Orlando offers commentary on life, love, and literature, as well as the connection between men and women; fashion and consumerism; industrialization; nature and urbanization; family, home, society, and the self”
– Cris, Goodreads

14. Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, by Audre Lorde (1982)

“Lorde’s poetic descriptions, fascinating methods of storytelling that reads as if you are reading a beautifully written diary, and the honest quality of the ways in which she looks back on her own past experiences is altogether captivating, moving, and humbling.”
– Anastasia, Goodreads

13. Ash, bv Malinda Lo (2009)

[read our interview with malinda lo here]

“The strongest point of this book, for me, is the elegant unfolding of love between the two women and the society’s reaction (or lack thereof) to their budding relationship. The bottom line of the novel is not that the Cinderella figure is a lesbian, it is that no one cares that she is a lesbian.”
– Ariz C, Goodreads

12. The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For, by Alison Bechdel (2008)

“Alison Bechdel hits the perfect balance of lovingly depicting her community and its concerns, exploring the inner lives of her characters, while also cheerfully skewering political posturing, blind spots, and self-righteousness.”
– Jessica, Goodreads

11. Stone Butch Blues, by Leslie Feinberg (1993)

“It doesn’t matter whether you are straight or gay. The book speaks to you of the human condition struggling for recognition and the satisfaction of human needs.”
– Suzynyc, Goodreads

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61 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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…

  4. 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!

  5. 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?

    • 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!)

  6. 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.

    • 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.

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  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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!!!!!!!
      YOU HAVE TO READ THE END!!!!!!!

      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.

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  12. 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.

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  14. 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!

  15. 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)

  16. 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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