15 Lesbian(ish) Books Made into Lesbian(ish) Movies to Read This Weekend

It’s the time of year in the Northern hemisphere when all we want to do is curl up with a blanket and a good book — or camp out on the couch with a movie. OR BOTH. Especially if you’re getting caught in the major snowstorm headed to the East Coast of the U.S. this weekend, you’ll have plenty of time to really dig in without leaving your house (because e-books). For your reading pleasure, here are 15 books either featuring lesbian/bi relationships or at least lesbian or bi characters that you can snap up in e-book format.


1. The Price of Salt, by Patricia Highsmith

price-of-salt

Duh. (Although Carol isn’t available for home viewing yet for most of us, and you may need to brave a movie theater if you want to see it right now.) As someone who has seen Carol and is also still about 3/4 of the way through The Price of Salt — written under a pseudonym by Patricia Highsmith and the first of the popular lesbian pulp drama to end happily for its protagonists — I can confirm that both are super worthwhile.


 2. Desert of the Heart, Jane Rule

desert-hearts-collageJane Rule’s 1964 novel, about an English professor staying in Nevada to fulfill the legal requirements for divorce who begins a relationship with a young bisexual casino worker, became Desert Hearts, a movie loosely based on it and containing a pretty steamy love scene. It has a woman director, Donna Deitch, and was the first film to portray a same-sex relationship that ended well for both women in it.


3. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

color-purple

A literary classic for lots of reasons, The Color Purple also features a central same-sex relationships and major bisexual characters — which you didn’t see quite so vividly in the movie. The star-studded film version, directed by Spielberg, features Danny Glover, Oprah Winfrey, the film debut of Whoopi Goldberg as Celie, and Margaret Avery as Shug Avery.


 4. I Can’t Think Straight, by Shamim Sarif

cantthinkstraight

The 2008 novel deals with not just coming out but with interfaith relationships and grappling with tradition when Christian Tala and Muslim Leyla fall in love. The film version was produced by author Shamim Sarif’s longtime partner, Hanan Kattan.


 5. Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

tippingvelvet

It’s a tale as old as time — oyster girl meets tomboy music hall phenom, the rest is history, etc. Seriously, there’s a reason so many people love Sarah Waters’ historical fiction about two young women falling in love — and that the BBC adapted it for the screen. If you love lady-loving-ladies in period costumes, you’re in luck.


 6. Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters

fingersmith

Amazon calls Fingersmith “engrossing lesbian Victoriana… hypnotic suspense novel is awash with all manner of gloomy Dickensian leitmotifs.” Do they have your number or what? Once again, the BBC has come through with the miniseries version to get obsessed with afterwards.


7. The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister, by Anne Lister and edited by Helena Whitbread

annelisterThe Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister are the real-life writings of a real-life aristocrat in the 1880s who was a real-life lesbian. We’ve written about her before! Her diaries, which were painstakingly curated for modern consumption by Helena Whitbread, are a healthy mix of intense lesbian drama and the same super boring stuff you write about in your own diary. (If you read the Amazon reviews of the diary itself, you’ll find several people who are put off by this and perhaps not all that clear on what a diary is, with complaints like  “I found the historical content interesting yet the pace was slow and didn’t have a clear story line. Often very mundane tasks were included in the diary.”) If you’d like to skip all that and get to something with a “clearer story line,” just watch the BBC version, which is… not necessarily great, but has some steamy historical scenes.


8. The Hours, by Michael Cunningham

thehours

The book and the movie are both excellent enough in and of themselves, so you need not avoid or consume one to endure the other, they hold their own pleasures. Michael Cunningham is the only male author on this list, but oh! the things you will want to underline! in this book! Three women — one of them the famously depressed bisexual writer Virginia Woolf, one is a housewife in the Los Angeles suburbs in the ’50s and one is a woman named Clarissa Vaughan who is having the party — tell their three stories, and they twist together in unexpected ways and it’s all glorious.


9. Orlando, by Virginia Woolf

orlandosClassic text of the real-life bisexual Virginia Woolf, this will push your buttons if you’re interested in identity and gender or just want to watch a movie where Tilda Swinton swans about in fancy old-timey outfits, for which no one could blame you.


10. Blue is the Warmest Color, by Julie Maroh

blue-colorIf you somehow made it the last few years without having watched Blue is the Warmest Color, now is your opportunity to (re?)discover it. Maybe start with Julie Maroh’s graphic novel for a little more context.


11. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, by Fannie Flagg

friedgreentomatoes

Even if Ruth and Idgie don’t get to be as gay as they should be in the film version, reading the book (where they get to be together for real!) should help temper your frustration a bit. It’s a really wonderful book.


12. Valencia, by Michelle Tea

valenciaWhen this movie came out in 2013, Gabby Rivera called it “the most masterful dyke-centric artsy-weirdo-stoner film I’ve ever seen.” 20 different filmmakers shot different chapters of Valencia with all different casts, creating a sort of mosaic of the coming-of-age-and-falling-in-love story. You should probably read the book first so you have a handle on what’s going on, right?


13. Farewell, My Queen, by Chantal Thomas and translated by Moishe Black

farewellqueen

If you are the kind of person to look at something like Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette and think to yourself “seems neat, but needs lesbianism,” you’re in luck. In Chantal Black’s historical fiction set in the French court in its very last days and the film adaptation, Marie Antoinette is totally gaga over her lady  in waiting the duchess of Polignac, Gabrielle de Polastron, and our narrator — a handmaiden named Sidonie, played by Léa Seydoux in the movie, is totally gaga over the queen. Were it not for the looming French Revolution, everything would be really adorable and perfect, basically.


14. Aimee & Jaguar, by Erica Fischer

aimeejaguar

This real-life love story of two women, one Jewish, who fell in love in 1942 Germany, won a Lambda Literary Award when it was published in 1995. Ready to spend your weekend going through an emotional wringer? This is the book/movie combo for you!


15. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, by Jeannette Winterson

orangefruit

More uplifting than Well of Loneliness, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit deals with growing up, with evangelism, and fruit as pastry ingredients as young Jeanette tries to figure out how to deal with her family’s cultish religion and also being gay. Jeanette Winterson wrote the screenplay for the BBC miniseries, ensuring that none of the teen angst or fruit metaphors are lost in translation from the page to the screen.


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Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

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30 Comments

  1. Oh boy, I feel like I’m a Gold Star Plus Lesbian nerd.
    Except for three of these, I have read the book and seen the movie.
    That said:
    1.I actually own two copies of “The Color Purple” because one of them is in storage and I needed to hold the book close to my heart when I stumbled across it in a bookstore a while back.
    Special Song mention:”Miss Celie’s Blues”. I actually found it on a Jazz compilation once. Sister, you’re on my mind, alright.
    2.Fingersmith, aka the book I didn’t put out of my hand until I was done with it, which was around noon the next day. The movie ought to be on yt as well.
    3.The Hours is a rare example where the movie beats the book. Not least due to a very,very brilliant soundtrack by Phillip Glass. The Special edition sits on my DVD shelf.The other companion piece, is, of course, Mrs.Dalloway.
    4.I lost a few pounds in sympathy while reading Aimee and Jaguar.
    As for the movie:I dare you not to fall just a little bit for Maria Schrader.
    5.Oranges: The Gateway Drug to Jeanette Winterson for the young Lesbian.I could never quite warm up to the BBC movie, though.
    6. I didn’t really get Orlando.
    7. I will however get on Farewell, My Queen, asap.
    Thanks for this list!

  2. YES! Fried Green Tomatoes is the BEST! I recently ought a second copy to be my loaner copy, in order to get more friends to read the book! I also recently got The Color Purple and read it in like 3 days, it was amazing! Then I watched the movie for the first time and wow! I am so glad I did that! I need to read the rest of these books and see some of the movies as soon as I can

  3. A few months ago my fiancée bought a copy of Fingersmith because she heard it was “sort of like Oliver Twist with a female protagonist.” I love Oliver Twist, and I love female protagonists, so I was on board. I knew no other information about this book, nor did I realize that the author was the same as Tipping the Velvet (I feel like my lesbian card should be revoked for this ignorance). I took the book with me when we visited my family at Thanksgiving. We’re all chilling in the living room, I’m reading, sports are being watched, pies are being baked when all of a sudden – blammo! lesbian sex scene. I was not prepared, but I was pleasantly surprised! Long story short I read the whole 500+ page book over the weekend and it was a great experience.

  4. Wow ! This is so timely. I’ve just finished reading The Price of Salt and I was wondering what to read next… The Price of Salt was so good, I’m afraid it’s only downhill from here. (Also, having read it after seeing the movie, it’s impossible not to think of Carol as Cate Blanchett).
    TL;DR: The Price of Salt is amazing, as is Cate Blanchett.

  5. For the love of cats someone please tell me where online I can find Valencia: the Movie/S to buy or rent. It’s like the only thing I have ever wanted to watch and apparently that is just next to impossible when you live in Calgary. Send help.

  6. Slight deviation from subject but there is a book based link.
    A while ago on here we were talking about flagging with books and I think that inadvertently happened when I went to spend my book vouchers and loyalty points at my local book store. I was being my usual weird unhelpful self, taking loads of time fighting my way past old train tickets, and coffee cards, and receipts to find my loyalty points card to get money off. The girl at the counter not only stamped that card to max it out and take a chunk off my bill, but she started me a new one and gave me an extra stamp “for being so nice”… Guys I was replacing my copy of Oranges and buying non Price of Salt/Carol Highsmith. I have RBF like nobodies business, I caused a queue, most people in shops assume I’m there to rob them or complain. I’m never perceived as nice. Ever. I have seen people face their children away from me. Told missus this story, she was down for dyke based discount, and reckons its “the family” looking out for each other. Cannot confirm, but yeah I’ll be going back to that store for a few of the books on this list.

  7. I saw “Carol” last week and promptly downloaded “The Price of Salt.” I went through a lesbian pulp fiction phase in college, and reading this is exhausting! I can’t separate Therese’s anxiety from mine, or at least from what I experienced coming out in college.

  8. Wow so many film adaption I didn’t know about. (And also, Aimee & Jaguar is a book!? The film was amazing)

    Also little surprised My Summer of Love is not in here. I liked the book and the movie

  9. Is there much evidence that Virginia Woolf was bi and not just a lesbian? I thought she notoriously was not interested in having sex with her husband and had a love affair with Vita Sackville-West?

  10. I also recommend “The World Unseen” by Shamim Sarif, both the book and the movie.

    “Aimée & Jaguar” will break your heart but I think it’s an important piece of LGBT history and history in general.

  11. Lolololol there is no movie in the world I loathe more than The Hours and I think it’s a terrible film which I found to be heavy-handed, condescending and objectifying in its treatment of female queerness as a metaphor instead of as a complex and authentic identity trait!!!!!!!

  12. I first read The Color Purple in elementary school, and I’m pretty sure it’s my root. Another root is Fried Green Tomatoes. Ruth was my childhood dream future-wife. The book was a fun read, and it is much more satisfying to read their relationship truly be acknowledged. I believe Desert Hearts is a totally underrated book & movie. The author makes you feel like you are in that time period with the language, and I love the self introspection of the characters. The movie is a bit different, but in a positive way. Another book I wish was a movie, Alma Rose, fits into this genre. If you enjoyed these titles I recommend seeking it out. Whew. It feels so good to write about these books I have loved for so many years.

  13. Great list; I wish there were some indigenous and Asian and African picks, but I’m not sure they exist?

    Regardless, I signed in to comment on Miss Anne Lister. I have it on lesbian love authority (you’ll have to ask me for the deets) that one of the very first researchers of her diary said that in the published interpretation, she was way femmed up; that in her diary Miss Lister was way more butch, also quite a player…or rogue? Until she met her one true love. Anyway, part of appealing to straight audiences, they femme up all the dykes and bois and butches, surprise.

  14. This is a great list! I haven’t read “Carol,” yet, but saw the film. Got the book before I saw the film. The film is the best lesbian flick I’ve ever seen. I love “Fried Green Tomatoes” especially since I’m a Southern lez. The movie is one of my mama’s favorites, but she doesn’t know about the relationship in the book. Not sure what she’d think about that. “The Hours” is a masterpiece, in my opinion. I’ll have to look up the rest of these

  15. I want to read the comic of Blue is the Warmest Colour, but I will never watch the movie. I read too many articles after it came out that were about how abusive the director was towards the actresses involved.

  16. I liked La vie d’Adèle when I watched it but oh my god is the graphic novel amazing. IMO, it has so much more depth and emotion and meaning and less awkward sex than the film. Go and buy it (preferably in French) right now.

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