Literary Lovers: A Sapphic Reading List for Every Mood
McKayla Coyle Recommends Liv Little, Amelia Possanza, R/B Mertz, and More
As a lesbian, I might be biased, but I think sapphic literature is the best kind of literature. Where else can you get this kind of desperate pining and unabashed yearning? Where else can you find women in such open and raw relationships to other women? I enjoy reading books by all kinds of authors about all kinds of experiences, but rarely do I feel so close to a book as I do when I’m reading sapphic lit.
To me, reading these books is like looking into a reflecting pool and seeing myself thrown into perfect relief—not only as I appear in the mirror, but as I appear in my mind, every detail rippling and alive. There’s a call and response that I feel when I read sapphic literature that isn’t as present for me in other books.
Queer stories made me realize my own queerness, and sapphic stories have helped me navigate my queerness more precisely. In recommending and promoting sapphic books, I’m always hopeful that I can offer other readers that experience. Even if reading The Haunting of Hill House didn’t make you realize you’re a lesbian (yes, that did happen to me), it still probably helped you understand yourself or the world a little better, because that’s what great books do!
The characters and people in these books are variously lesbian, bisexual, queer, trans, and nonbinary. They cover a wide range of sapphic experiences and identities, and offer insight into what it means to live a queer life. There’s no wrong way to be queer, just as there’s no wrong way to live a life.
We’re lucky to live in a time when sapphic literature is becoming more abundant, more celebrated, and more explicitly queer. This wealth of sapphic literature opens up our worlds and teaches us about ourselves. I want lots of different types of readers to be able to find something sapphic to read, because after all, we really should all be reading more sapphic books.
TO READ IF: You want to fall in love with, like, ten characters at once.
emily m. danforth, Plain Bad Heroines (illustrated Sara Lautman)
It makes me feel feral that this book doesn’t have the same cult following as The Secret History or, like, The Bible. Plain Bad Heroines traces two parallel timelines—one that follows the strange happenings at an all-girls school in 1902, and another that follows three young women in modern day as they return to the school to make a horror movie about what happened there over a century ago.
PBH has something for everyone: ghost lesbians, historical lesbians, celesbians (celebrity lesbians), modern lesbians, queer women throughout time, curses, poison flowers, gothic horror, Hollywood satire, romance, friendship, and swarms of yellowjackets. Reading this book will make you feel giddy with sapphic joy.
TO READ IF: You’re a sad girl, or a hot girl, or a hot, sad girl (or if you’re trying to impress a hot, sad girl).
Carol Bensimon, We All Loved Cowboys (trans. Beth Fowler)
There are few joys that are equal to that of finding a great new book to add to the Sad Girl canon. It’s especially sweet when the sad girl book in question is queer. Enter: We All Loved Cowboys, a 200-page novel translated from Portuguese that follows two ex-girlfriends as they take a roadtrip through Brazil. As they drive, the two women reflect on their relationship, their past, their understanding of love, and the potential for a shared future.
Cowboys is a short novel, but its explorations of queer desire and romance will stick with you for a very long time.
TO READ IF: You love the feeling of having a crush, and/or you’re a water sign.
Liv Little, Rosewater
For found family mixed with queer joy, sapphic romance, and a healing journey, look no further than Rosewater. This novel is a romance for readers who don’t like romance, a romance for readers who like stories where love is found but isn’t the destination. The novel begins when Elsie, a young, queer, Black poet, is evicted from her apartment in south London. Out of options, she moves in with her childhood best friend and from this safe place, her life begins to unfold in ways she never expected.
Full of care, love, and community, Rosewater is a sapphic romance, but it’s also much more.
TO READ IF: You need someone other than your therapist who understands your religious trauma.
R/B Mertz, Burning Butch
Who among us doesn’t love a story about reckoning with queerness amidst organized religion? No small portion of queer people can relate to the feeling of trying to find themselves in the stories and texts and rituals and plays that make up religious practices (I admire Joan of Arc for her faith, not because she seems indescribably hot).
In Burning Butch, R/B Mertz traces their journey from their conservative Catholic upbringing in Pennsylvania, to their choice to attend a conservative, Catholic college in Ohio, to their eventual coming out. A must-read for trans folks, sapphic folks, queer people with religious trauma—basically, a must-read for everyone.
TO READ IF: You love to gossip and be petty, but in a cool, refined way.
Jen Beagin, Big Swiss
Sapphic weird women rejoice, this book is for you. Big Swiss follows Greta, a transcriptionist for a sex therapist, as she becomes obsessed with one of the therapy clients whose sessions she’s been transcribing. When Greta runs into the woman in real life, they begin an affair made particularly volatile by the fact that Greta secretly knows everything about the woman. I mean, who wouldn’t be tantalized by a plot like that?
This book is eccentric and absurd enough for the highbrow lit crowd, but dishy enough for the rest of us.
TO READ IF: Your go-to playlist includes a huge amount of Kate Bush.
Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, Skim
Skim is the kind of book that never really leaves your mind after you read it. It’s subtle and quiet, filled with longing, melancholy, and the kinds of emotions that don’t usually get to take center stage. As a goth and an aspiring Wiccan, Skim is an outsider at her private girls’ school. When the boyfriend of a popular classmate dies by suicide, Skim must navigate the chaos of her school’s grief, even as her own depression worsens and her few friendships become frayed.
It’s a slice of life graphic novel, a coming of age story, and an account of sapphic yearning. Skim does it all, and it does so beautifully.
TO READ IF: You want a fantasy world that’s not just “medieval Europe but with dragons”— and also you’re gay.
Gabriela Romero-Lacruz, The Sun and the Void
Set in a fantasy world inspired by Venezuelan and Colombian mythos, The Sun and the Void is the epic, anti-colonial sapphic fantasy novel you need right now. A servant girl with a dark past and a young noblewoman with a dangerous secret are on separate quests, but their fates become tangled through the interference of magic and ancient gods. Soon, they’re unknowingly on a collision course towards each other, and towards a future they could never have foreseen.
Come for the sapphic romance, stay for the fascinating world building (or vice-versa).
TO READ IF: You miss talking to your smartest friend (or if you’re a hot, gay librarian).
Amelia Possanza, Lesbian Love Story
This “memoir in archives” chronicles the lives and loves of seven historical lesbians, while also weaving in the author’s personal experience with her identity. While lesbians (and women and queer people in general) are often left out of the narrative, Possanza puts together a history of lesbianism that’s filled with care, warmth, love, and community.
From ancient Greece to Depression-era Harlem to the AIDS crisis, this book collects and shares the stories of sapphic love that have often been ignored by history. Reading this book feels like having a passionate conversation with a good friend whose special interests perfectly align with yours. Lesbian Love Story is charming, heartfelt, and wonderfully gay.