Literature teaches us about others and the world — and, more importantly, about how we fit within it. Consequently, it helped shape who I am today as a queer, disabled Jew. In fact, characters in novels — and the array of writers who created them — helped me gain the confidence to use those monikers for myself.
Each of these Jewish and/or queer books taught me about myself through the camaraderie and understanding I gained reading their pages. Let’s get into some great queer reads for Pride month and beyond:
1. “Enigma Variations” by André Aciman
André Aciman is an Egyptian Jewish author who has written a plethora of queer stories — most notably “Call Me By Your Name,” the basis for the 2017 film. However, I connected more with his other work of lyrical fiction, “Enigma Variations.”
This narrative, broken into five parts, follows bisexual protagonist Paul as he navigates his romantic and sexual attachments, all filtered through longing for his first love from whom he can’t quite detach. This novel is character-driven and reflective; Aciman reminds his readers the importance of human emotion through Paul’s mishaps in trying to recreate a lost love.
As the dust jacket reads, “With language at once lyrical, bare-knuckled, and unabashedly candid, [Aciman] casts a sensuous, shimmering light over each face of desire to probe how we ache, want, and waver, and ultimately how we sometimes falter…”
2. “Tender Points” by Amy Berkowitz
Queer Jewish writer Amy Berkowitz has written a book-length lyrical essay that speaks to me deeply. “Tender Points” chronicles her relationship with chronic pain and her fibromyalgia diagnosis, trauma and the patriarchy through lived experience and pop culture.
A friend of mine recommended it in 2017 before I knew the extent of my chronic illnesses, but I still felt a kinship with Berkowitz’s descriptions of trauma and connection to popular media as a way to understand herself and experiences.
But one doesn’t need to share Berkowitz’ experiences to relate to her words; they have the power to reel anyone in. She depicts feelings of being lost and unheard, and describes having to find truth and power within self-advocacy. Her work feels relevant to the world we live in now as she takes on cops, doctors and others in power, persisting in standing up for her needs.
3. “The Starless Sea” by Erin Morgenstern
I’m most at home in fantasy, but growing up, I didn’t find many queer narratives there — so I grew accustomed to reading tales without them. Luckily, the older I get, the more queer fantasies have been written, including Jewish author Erin Morgenstern’s “The Starless Sea.”
This magical fable follows Zachary Rawlins, a graduate student who stumbles on adventure in the pages of a mysterious book which holds a story of his childhood etched inside. This leads him to a labyrinth of tunnels and rooms filled with stories far beneath the surface of our world. He finds strangers who assist him through the shores of the Starless Sea, among them Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances.
Morgenstern wraps her readers in a warm blanket of delicate prose and delivers the perfect amount of queer romance, packaged in an otherworldly adventure. I connected heavily with Zachary, an introverted bookworm who craves adventure but doesn’t know where to attain it. Morgenstern writes her characters and the romance in such a nuanced way that one can easily become completely engrossed. I also appreciated the light pop culture references she splices in, which help ground the story.
4. “Israel/Palestine & The Queer International” by Sarah Schulman
I discovered Sarah Schulman in college when I started writing and researching Judaism and queerness, digging into different aspects of self. “Israel/Palestine & The Queer International” became an important stop on that journey. Schulman is an American Jewish queer activist and writer who writes in order to fight for understanding, justice and queer resistance.
This nonfiction book chronicles her travels to Israel and the West Bank as she gains perspective on the conflict via conversations with anti-occuption queer Israelis, queer Palestinian activists and observations of the region itself. She discusses the idea of “pinkwashing” and the potential darkside to the LGBTQIA+-friendly Tel Aviv, while simultaneously showcasing the importance and vitality of queer Tel Aviv. I appreciate the nuance and multitude of narratives Schulman showcases as she attempts to discover aspects of her own identity and what both Judaism and queerness mean for her.
As an Israeli-American queer Jew who was raised in the states but has lived in Tel Aviv as an adult, I understood some of the inner turmoil Schulman faced as a queer activist, feeling both like an outsider and like she belonged in Israel. This informative and reflective text is rich with the power of queer resistance and open dialogue; it may well cause a reader to think a lot. “Israel/Palestine & The Queer International” is a challenging, yet impactful read.
5. “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” by V.E Schwab
As previously mentioned, there weren’t a lot of queer stories in the fantasy books I read as a kid. Queer author V.E Schwab changed that tide for me when I read her “Shades of Magic” series. Since then, Schwab hasn’t disappointed when it comes to writing inclusive queer narratives. “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” is no different.
This story follows Addie who, in France 1714, makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets. This kickstarts an adventure that allows her to slip between the cracks across centuries and continents until, almost 300 years later, she stumbles into a hidden New York bookstore and finds someone who remembers her.
This beautifully written, enchanting tale follows a diverse cast of queer characters, including Addie, who is bisexual. I saw a lot of myself in Henry, the bisexual, slightly anxious, atheist Jewish bookseller. Moreover, the reader gets a look into Henry’s relationship with his family and therefore Judaism, which he doesn’t connect to as a religion any longer.