With another lockdown upon us, it’s hard to find motivation to do much. Many of us spend our time comfort watching the same TV shows, flicking through social media pages, or doom scrolling through Tik Tok. Being online was my go-to getaway, I’d find myself pointlessly posting on Twitter or checking out Tumblr to see if the hell site had given up yet.
Still, there’s no doubt now is a difficult time for many of us and seeking out a new activity is a great way to distract your mind from the chaos outside. For me, that was reading which is why I’ve put together a top list of 21 books that can give your brain a bit of a break during this pandemic. So, whether you’re looking for some mysterious queer dark academia or you’ve been on a It’s A Sin binge and want to learn more about the AIDS crisis, I’ve got you covered.
Check out the list below to find my top 21 randomly assorted recommendations. Selected from the realm of anti-racism reads to engaging LGBTQ+ stories, you’ll be sure to find something to enjoy.
1. Let’s Get Back to the Party by Zak Salih
A debut novel, Let’s Get Back to the Party is an ode to the past and present. Salih’s contemporary cross-generational exploration of Millennial queer life is entrancing. Set weeks after same-sex marriage is legalised, the novel follows protagonists Sebastian and Oscar as they find themselves navigating queer assimilation, nostalgia and the fast-changing world of gay culture. As both Millennial men seek to find themselves in a new queer world, Salih offers a brave, layered take on sexuality and identity.
2. A Dutiful Boy by Mohsin Zaidi
A powerful read, Zaidi shows the courage of growing up in a conservative family environment as a queer person. In the deeply emotional and open memoir, we are taken through a moving story of sexuality as Zaidi seeks to find acceptance and closure in family, religion, and himself. Unpacking his struggles and challenges, A Dutiful Boy is a must-read that will undoubtedly move you.
3. Black Girl, Call Home by Jasmine Mans
Spoken word poet and performer, Jasmine Mans opens up in an incredibly raw collection of poems that fearlessly encapsulates her Black queer experience. An unflinching coming-of-age collection, Mans educates and astounds the reader with her fluid prose and intimate insights of her childhood. Touching on topics of queer identity, femininity, abuse, and family, Black Girl takes you on a journey of healing and belonging.
4. Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo
A gripping novel where historical fiction meets romance, Last Night at the Telegraph is a whirlwind read set in San Francisco’s Chinatown during the Red Scare. Immersive and creative, Lo gets wrapped up in her fictitious world of adventure and adrenaline and follows Lily Hu as she seeks out the woman she loves during the Communist era.
5. Queer London by Alim Kheraj
A go-to guide of all the queer hotspots in London, Kheraj celebrates the past and the present in this colourful overview of the London LGBTQ+ scene. Exploring community, events, venues, and forgotten figures, Queer London is essential reading for those that want to dig deep into the queer, hidden history that cloaks the capital. So, whether you’re into gay bars or pride events, there’s plenty to learn about what’s your favourite London-based LGBTQ+ spaces.
6. Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
First-time author Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé is a bold new voice in Young Adult literature. In her debut novel, Ace of Spades is a dark, gritty thriller that delves deep into the world of Black queer sexuality, class, and institutionalised racism. Set in Niveus Private Academy, Ace of Spades is best described as Gossip Girl meets Gets out – it’s witty, slick, and undeniably mysterious. It’s a new novel you won’t want to miss out on.
7. Malice by Heather Walter
A do-over on Beauty and the Beast, Malice takes a look at what things would be like if an evil sorceress fell for a princess. In this dark, comedic retelling, Walter reverses the roles in this gothic fantasy re-write. With time against her, Alyce strings up a plan to outsmart her destiny and get the girl she loves while doing so. In this magical two-part retelling, we watch good versus bad as we learn more about the underdog hero.
8. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Released in 2017, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race has become a global success. An essential and enlightening read, Eddo-Lodge takes on the erasure of Black history, right-wing nationalism, and the existing structures of racism in the UK. Whether it’s focusing points on school exclusions, stats on the acceptance rates for Black students, or an upfront confession about a loss of faith in the justice system, Eddo-Lodge powerfully and persuasively communicates as to why a book like Why I’m Not Longer Talking to White People About Race is necessary. If you’ve not picked up this book, you’re missing out on some key cultural (and political) education.
9. We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib
It’s not often you come across a queer Muslim memoire and that’s the point of Samra Habib’s work. She asks: “How do you find yourself when the world tells you that you don’t exist?”. A call for self-acceptance and recognition, We Have Always Been Here is more a statement, than a book; it’s a determined cry to be seen and heard. Born in Pakistan and, later, fleeing to Canada as refugees, Habib plainly teaches you her reality of freedom, struggle, and faith.
10. The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life Story by A Revathi
You might ask, what is a Hijra? Across India and Pakistan, Hijra is a term used to refer to the transgender and intersex community. In this autobiography, Revathi opens up about what it’s like to be seen only with this label and nothing else. After facing threats, violence, and persecution, Revathi is forced to find safety elsewhere and joins a house of Hijras. A courageous self-portrait of identity, The Truth About Me is a much-needed insight into a community that is too often overlooked.
11. Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers
A debut novel, Honey Girl kicks things off with a Black lesbian protagonist that has some serious work to do. Oh, and finally! A book that isn’t centered around teenagers. A fun, chaotic novel that unravels what it’s like to find yourself, fall in love, and… what it’s like to drunkenly marry a woman. Rogers gives you a book packed with diverse characters and a great plot.
12. Let The Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York by Sarah Schulman
Sometimes we need a break from fiction and if you’re going to read anything, read this. A deep dive into the realities of America’s AIDS crisis, Schulman charters how events of activism and crisis come together in this ground-breaking tour de force. A compilation of historical research and countless interviews with the AIDS coalition, Let The Record Show returns to the frontlines of the pandemic. Blending past and present of the ACT UP archives, Schulman reminds us of the efforts that went into an era dominated by fear and frustration, and how the grassroot organisation changed the face of the AIDS crisis.
13. Black Futures by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham
A thought-provoking collection of images, writing and a mixed media of photos, essays, memes, dialogues, recipes, tweets and poetry, Black Futures is a map of possibility and potential. Navigating through a wide scope of topics, Drew and Wortham have left little unturned or untouched in their all-encompassing book. Prompting the question: “What does it mean to be Black and alive right now?”, the author’s tasks non- Black readers to consider, question, and to learn more about Black identity and its layers. And, with that, Black Futures isn’t a book you’ll finish for good, but something you’ll revist and re-read time and time again.
14. Moving Truth(s): Queer and Transgender Desi Writing on the Family by Aparajeeta Duttchoudhury and Rukie Hartman
Queer and transgender stories in Western society have a greater chance of being heard, yet those outside our world of media and attention aren’t so lucky. In Moving Truths, editors Duttchoudhury and Hartman set their paths on sharing truths. In sharing fearless stories, this anthology is built on offering an unseen insight into the Desi LGBTQ+ community. A self-described community project, Moving Truths is an active call to spotlight and celebrate, understand and respect Desi queer and trans stories.
15. All The Things She Said by Daisy Jones
First-time author, Daisy Jones unpacks the ins and outs of outdated stereotypes, modern day queerness and how queer culture is changing. All The Things She Said documents Jones’ life as an open-book exploration of queer identity, what it’s like to come out to friends and family, and how LGBTQ+ spaces in the community are changing. An intriguing read, Jones offers a fresh take on lesbian and non-binary queerness and gender identity.
16. Haramacy by Zahed Sultan
You might think the title Haramacy is a bit strange and it is, because it’s a portmanteau aka a combination of two words to make a new one. In this case, this collection of essays has blended the Arabic word ‘haram’, which translates to forbidden, and the English word ‘pharmacy’. And, there you have it; Haramacy. This unique anthology brings together a wide-range of diverse, key voices from the Middle East, South Asia, and the diaspora to explore intersectional and social issues of visibility, invisibility, love, strength, race, and paints a picture of what it means to feel fractured – both in the UK and back home. Haramacy is a bold collection of necessary stories ranging from LGBTQ+ topics to race, culture, and faith, and you’d be mad to give it a miss. You can support the crowdfunded Haramacy project here.
17. Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala
An essential read, Akala’s Natives is a book that I had long seen on recommended reading lists, but I hadn’t found the time to read until recently. Moved and motivated by his conversation with Ash Sarkar, I promised I would and I’m glad I did. An erudite, yet incredibly accessible book, Akala’s account of growing up in 1980s Thatcher Britain is fascinating. Detailing the of American and British racism to offer anecdotes of his own life, Akala point blank calls the denial of Britain’s problematic legacy and replaces it with passionate lessons of global history. Natives is serves as a great starting point if you’re looking to start out with some self-educating anti-racist reads.
18. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
Joint winner of the 2019 Booker Prize, Girl, Woman, Other is a brilliant free flowing novel that ties in humour, tragedy, abuse, struggle, and success into captivating stories of 12 diverse Black women in Britain. Polyphonic in its style, each chapter offers the reader a memorable backstory of a woman’s life with glorious ease. Evaristo’s words mark great storytelling and offer characters you likely won’t forget.
19. The Subtweet by Vivek Shraya
Shraya’s second novel leads the way with two South Asian protagonists and unfolds into a world of professional companionship, competition, friendship, and more. The Subtweet is a fast-paced witty, thought provoking novel that explores the difficulties of ethnic minorities breaking into an industry that pits women against one another. An emotional and empowering read, Shraya pulls off an engrossing novel.
20. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
An incredible read from start to finish, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is packed with twists and turns of drama, romance, and suspense. When small-time magazine reporter Monique Grant finds herself summoned by Hollywood icon Evelyn Hugo, Grant finds herself wrapped up in a story that will change everything. Flitting back and forth from modern day New York to 1950s Los Angeles, Evelyn Hugo’s whirlwind life story is gripping, and you’ll finish reading before you know it. If you’re looking for a bit of lockdown escapism, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a must read.
21. The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla
Whether it’s the all too familiar story of being stopped and questioned at an airport or the nuanced exploration of identity in Vera Chok’s telling of Yellow, The Good Immigrant was one of my top reads last year. This collection of 21 essays from BAME authors was a literary pack that made feel seen and validated in my experiences unlike before. For readers outside the BAME spectrum, The Good Immigrant is the perfect opportunity to gain a look in from the outside. Packed with incredible writing and moving stories, it’s more than worth a space on your 2021 reading list.