I’ve been writing about bi and lesbian books for more than a decade now, and in that time, there’s been a constant refrain that gets under my skin: “There’s no good lesbian books.” This is often said by readers of M/M books who refuse to read any other queer books, but bafflingly, it’s also frequently said by lesbians. This was frustrating to hear when I first began the Lesbrary, but in 2021 I’m left flabbergasted. We are living in a golden age of queer lit, especially YA, and you’re telling me you can’t find ANY good lesbian books?
Usually, this isn’t just applied to books about lesbians. Any sapphic book gets this treatment. While M/M books are considered to sell well and often go viral on BookTok, BookTube, and other bookish platforms, it’s rare to see a sapphic book receive that same level of popularity. (I think One Last Stop is the only one that comes close, and that is partly due to the success of the author’s previous M/M book.) Of course, queer men’s books aren’t treated the same as straight books, and I don’t mean to say they don’t deal with homophobia — the popularity of those books in mostly straight women spaces is a whole other subject — but they do get a lot more eyes on them then sapphic books.
This isn’t because of a lack of quality from sapphic books, though, or even a lack of volume. There are several publishing houses that specialize in F/F romance and publish more than you could easily keep up with (Bold Strokes Books, Bella Books, Ylva Publishing, etc), and while traditionally published sapphic books used to be more rare, they now come out every week. I keep a running list of sapphic books I’ve read and can personally recommend, and there are hundreds of books on it!
The problem is that sapphic books don’t get the same amount of attention and publicity as other books. Hmm, I wonder if there’s some reason that books that center women aren’t seen as legitimate in the same way that books that include men in starring roles are…I can’t think of any over-arching systems of oppression that might devalue stories that focus on relationships between women…(Fun fact: the Bechdel-Wallace test was originally about lesbian representation.)
The part that really gets to me, though, is that it’s not hard to find good lesbian books. Sometimes I even hear “I wish I could find lesbian books that weren’t written by and for straight men,” but this is not an actual problem in publishing! It’s just not! It’s a problem in porn, sure, but there are very, very few sapphic books published that aren’t by sapphic women, because they aren’t seen as profitable, so it’s generally only queer women who have cared enough to write them. In fact, I don’t understand where people are even finding these books, because they are so few and far between that it’s ludicrous to act like they’re the majority.
My running theory is that this is Amazon’s fault. If you search Amazon for “lesbian books,” you will end up with a mishmash of sapphic fiction, M/M books, cis/allo/straight books, and self-published F/F ebook erotica that might qualify as being aimed at men. That’s not a problem with lesbian books, though: it’s a problem with Amazon’s search function. If you google “lesbian books,” you’ll see a row of classics of lesbian literature at the top. The front page is almost all nicely curated lists of sapphic fiction that would provide anyone with a good place to start — including my list of 100 must-read sapphic books!
Some of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read have been lesbian or sapphic novels. You can’t tell me that Fingersmith is badly written or that Jeanette Winterson and Emma Donoghue are not skilled authors. Have you tried Butter Honey Pig Bread? Her Body and Other Parties? The Summer We Got Free? The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo? You’re telling me those are all poorly written? It just doesn’t add up. And that’s not even getting into the literal hundreds of sapphic YA books out there, many of them absolutely gorgeous works. It was untrue to say there are no good sapphic books ten years ago, but now I am drowning under the piles of ARCs I have of sapphic YA that I just can’t keep up with. There are more published every single week! (And if you want to keep up with queer new releases, might I recommend the Our Queerest Shelves newsletter?)
To be honest, the only way I can imagine someone genuinely thinking there are no good lesbian books is if they are the most passive reader possible. Yes, if you pick books by wandering into a bookstore and picking whatever is faced out, you may not encounter lesbian books. If you take all your book recommendations from Amazon, you’ll probably read some bad books (of any genre, really). But if you do the absolute bare minimum of googling what you’re looking for, or following some of the many queer book blogs out there (LGBTQ Reads, Reads Rainbow, YA Pride, Lambda Literary, the Lesbrary, or Book Riot’s LGBTQ category!), it’s easy to find more fantastic sapphic books than you can read in a life time. So please, stop making this sad excuse.