What would you recommend to someone just discovering lesbian or queer fiction?
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Keeping You a Secret by Julie Anne Peters (or anything by Julie Ann Peters)
Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters (or anything by Sarah Waters)
Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown
The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall
Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg
Fall on Your Knees by Anne-Marie MacDonald
Fried Green Tomatoes... by Fannie Flagg
Sugar by Karin Kallmaker
The Devil Inside by Ali Vali
The Three by Meghan O'Brien
Punk Like Me by J.D. Glass
But, these days there is so much more. From stuff like Perfect Rhythm by Jae with an asexual character, to nearly all the books published by Bold Strokes Books, Bella Books, Ylva Publishing, Riptide Publishing, etc.
Probably at least 1/3 of my reading is LesFic and I rarely need tissues, don't think I have yet. Lesbian fiction doesn't have to be depressing to be real.
I would recommend that they look at some of the lesbian fiction review sites/reviewers that are out there. The Lesbian Review has so so so many lists based on all sorts of different things, and a mailing list that goes out with even more and updates. It's amazing.
Join a few author lists too, Jae's is awesome because she doesn't just put her own books out there, last year she had the Lesbian Book Bingo and it was astounding. Free books if you finished a row and tons of free books that were given away. This year she's doing interviews with various authors and again, book giveaways accompany those interviews.
It's probably been 5-10 years since I actually bought anything from a lesbian publisher, but I will still occasionally read queer YA books and I find those to be 70/30 happy/sad just because there tends to be so much turmoil in coming-of-age novels. I wouldn't expect books from romance authors like Jae to be depressing, so that's a pretty safe bet.
To each their own, but, I have read a ton of stuff from lesbian publishers, and, a good number of them I thought were better written, better plotted, and kept me much more engaged than literary fiction. Honestly, if I want to read to 'learn' or 'grow' or whatever, I'll read non-fiction. I'm reading for fun, and some of the journey's are insane. I just got done reading Falling by Kris Bryant, and Wavering Conviction by Erin Dutton. They were intense, and in the case of Dutton's covered not just assault, but, drug abuse (and the complexities behind it) and even gun control (and those complexities too). It's probably one of my favorite books of the year so far.
Then again, I'm predisposed to not reading literary fiction, since before I started reading lesfic I've read Mysteries. Since I was a teen. And, nearly 100% of the 'genre' mysteries are better than any 'literary mysteries' I've ever read.