Jou Pu Tuan [The prayer mat of flesh], by Li Yu

A notorious 17th-century erotic novel in which the student protagonist undergoes an amazing bit of “enhancement” surgery to aid in his various amorous exploits.

Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, by Jeanette Winterson.

Alternately funny and tender, this is Winterson’s first novel, quite autobiographical, apparently. Though she can reconcile her love of women with her love of God, the church cannot. It is a wry and warm tale of a young girl’s triumphantly coming into her own.

Tales of the City, by Armistead Maupin.

The first of six novels about the inhabitants of a mythic apartment house at 28 Barbary Lane in San Francisco; a wry comedy of manners and a deeply involving portrait of a vanished era in SF of the 1970s and 1980s and all of the weird and wonderful folks we wish we had known.

And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic, by Randy Shilts.

The definitive account of the early years of the AIDS crisis. Shilts tells three parallel stories: of the gay communities on each coast, the political culture in Washington, and the biomedical research community and the way the lack of communication between these groups had devastating consequences for us all. Much better than the video version.

Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story, by Paul Monette.

Monette tells his life’s story through two central facts: the closet (Yale in the ’60s) and AIDS. His fear and fury at AIDS and homophobia heighten the same skill and imagination he put into his fiction. Monette’s personal testimony illuminates the darkest corners of our culture even as it finds unexpected reserves of hope.

Faggots, by Larry Kramer.

Both celebrated and trashed when it first appeared in 1978, this book has become one of the bestselling novels about gay life ever written. A sharp satire of the gay ghetto and yet a touching story of desperate search for love there — how much things change and how much they remain the same.

The Symposium, by Plato.

Plato imagines a high-society drinking party in Athens in 416 BC. The guests each deliver a short speech in praise of love. The sequence of dazzling speeches includes Aristophanes’ famous model of split humans searching for their complementary halves, Socrates’ account that love is our means of trying to attain goodness and Alcibiades description of his (alas, unsuccessful) attempt to seduce Socrates.

Zazie dans le Métro [Zazie in the metro], by Raymond Queneau

A rather surrealistic novel about an anti-Alice character in Paris. The famous French director Louis Malle made a great film of this funny and crazy story by an underappreciated genius of the 20th century French writing.

An Instance of the Fingerpost, by Iain Pears.

A who-done-it of medical history. The search for the truth behind the first blood transfusion in the 17th century. Four historically accurate accounts and one fictional account of this discovery, but can you tell which is which?