Summers in Cherry Grove: A Lesbian Lit List

PRIDE month continues with this list of 5 must-read gay novels handpicked by the Off the Shelf staff. Last week, we focused on men, but this week we hear from the ladies–from a 1928 classic  (The Well of Loneliness) to contemporary poet Eileen Myles’ Cool for You, these are the essential beach reads to get through before the month is over (OK, we’ll give you through July).

1Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit
by Jeanette Winterson

Winner of the Whitbread Prize for best first fiction, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is a coming-out novel from Winterson, the acclaimed author of The Passion and Sexing the Cherry. The narrator, Jeanette, cuts her teeth on the knowledge that she is one of God’s elect, but as this budding evangelical comes of age, and comes to terms with her preference for her own sex, the peculiar balance of her God-fearing household crumbles.

2Cool for You
by Eileen Myles

Cool for You’s tough-girl narrator wants to be an astronaut. Instead, she becomes a poet and journeys through a series of low-end schools, pathetic jobs, and unmade beds. Schooled by mean and memorable Catholic nuns, this tomboy heroine stumbles and dreams her way through the painful corridors of family, early sexual encounters, and an eye-opening series of jobs caring for the sick and insane—the abandoned wards of the state. This is a book hell-bent on telling the truth about poor women, and how they do (and do not) get out of the hands of their families and the state. Without artifice or pseudonym, protagonist Eileen Myles boldly sets down a rich and graphic account of female experience in this world.

3The Price of Salt
by Patricia Highsmith

“Instantly, I love her. Instantly, I’m terrified.”
A chance encounter between two lonely women leads to a passionate romance in this lesbian cult classic. Therese, a struggling young sales clerk, and Carol, a homemaker in the midst of a bitter divorce, abandon their oppressive daily routines for the freedom of the open road, where their love can blossom. But their newly discovered bliss is shattered when Carol is forced to choose between her child and her lover. Originally published in 1952 under a pseudonym, The Price of Salt was heralded as “the novel of a love society forbids.” Highsmith’s sensitive treatment of fully realized characters who defy stereotypes about homosexuality marks a departure from previous lesbian pulp fiction. Erotic, eloquent, and suspenseful, this story offers an honest look at the necessity of being true to one’s nature.

4Nightwood
by Djuna Barnes

The fiery and enigmatic masterpiece—one of the greatest novels of the Modernist era. Nightwood, Djuna Barnes' strange and sinuous tour de force, "belongs to that small class of books that somehow reflect a time or an epoch" (Times Literary Supplement). That time is the period between the two World Wars, and Barnes' novel unfolds in the decadent shadows of Europe's great cities, Paris, Berlin, and Vienna—a world in which the boundaries of class, religion, and sexuality are bold but surprisingly porous.

5The Well of Lonliness
by Radclyffe Hall

First published in 1928, this timeless portrayal of lesbian love is now a classic. The thinly disguised story of Hall's own life, it was banned outright upon publication and almost ruined her literary career.