Books to Read for World AIDS Day

Worlds AIDS Day has been celebrated on December 1st every year since 1988. It is an annual opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for those living with HIV and AIDS, and to commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness. While there have been major scientific breakthroughs in the fight against HIV and AIDS, December 1st is a reminder of both the history of the disease and its existence today.


The Prettiest Star

Carter Sickels

The story of Brian’s return to small-town Ohio is told in a chorus of voices: Brian’s mother Sharon; his fourteen-year-old sister, Jess, as she grapples with her brother’s mysterious return; and the video diaries Brian makes to document his final summer. Written in prose that seeks “to answer without flinching away from ugliness and without demonizing the ignorant” (Salon), The Prettiest Star offers an urgent portrait of a family in the center of a national crisis, in order to tell a unique story about the politics and fragility of the body, and to explore the bounds of family and redemption.

Publication Date: May 19, 2020
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The Great Believers

Rebecca Makkai

Pulitzer Prize Finalist
National Book Award Finalist

In 1985, Yale Tishman, the development director for an art gallery in Chicago, is about to pull off an amazing coup, bringing in an extraordinary collection of 1920s paintings as a gift to the gallery. Yet as his career begins to flourish, the carnage of the AIDS epidemic grows around him. One by one, his friends are dying and after his friend Nico’s funeral, the virus circles closer and closer to Yale himself. Soon the only person he has left is Fiona, Nico’s little sister

Publication Date: June 19, 2018
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Tell the Wolves I’m Home

Carol Rifka Brunt

Fourteen year-old June is shy at school and distant from her older sister. She forms a close bond with her uncle Finn who becomes her confidant and best friend, but he sadly dies of AIDS. However to June it’s a mysterious illness that her mother can barely bring herself to discuss. After the funeral she forms a friendship with Toby, her late uncle’s boyfriend and realizes she is not the only one who misses Finn as he has left behind a whole community who loves him.

Publication Date: June 19, 2012
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What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day

Pearl Cleage

After a decade of luxe living in Atlanta, Ava Johnson has returned to tiny Idlewild, Michigan — her fabulous career and power plans smashed to bits on one dark truth: Ava has tested positive for HIV. Bur rather than a sorrowful end, her homecoming is a new beginning. Because, in the ten-plus years since she left, all the problems of the big city have invaded the sleepy community of her childhood. Because dear friends and family sorely need her help in the face of impending trouble and tragedy, and Ava cannot turn her back on them. And because, most importantly, Ava Johnson is inexplicably and undeniably falling in love.

Publication Date: December 1, 1997
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And the Band Played On: Politics, People, & the AIDS Epidemic

Randy Shilts

Upon it’s first publication 20 years ago, And The Band Played on was quickly recognized as a masterpiece of investigative reporting. An international bestseller, a nominee for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and made into a critically acclaimed movie, Shilts’ expose revealed why AIDS was allowed to spread unchecked during the early 80’s while the most trusted institutions ignored or denied the threat. One of the few true modern classics, it changed and framed how AIDS was discussed in the following years. 

Publication Date: November 1, 1987
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Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir

Paul Monette

Borrowed Time is a personal account of the early days of the AIDS crisis as well as a love story in the face of death. Monette met Roger Horwitz, the man who he would share more than a decade of his life with but in 1986 Roger died of complications from AIDS. This memoir traces their love story from start to finish at a time when the medical community was just beginning to understand this disease. While this was happening Monette and others like him were coming to terms with unfathomable loss.

Publication Date: June 10, 1988
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When We Rise

Cleve Jones

2017 Lambda Literary Award Winner

When We Rise is Jones’ account of his remarkable life. He chronicles the heartbreak of losing countless friends to AIDS, which very nearly killed him, too; his co-founding of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation during the terrifying early years of the epidemic; his conception of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, the largest community art project in history; the bewitching story of 1970s San Francisco and the magnetic spell it cast for thousands of young gay people and other misfits; and the harrowing, sexy, and sometimes hilarious stories of Cleve’s passionate relationships with friends and lovers during an era defined by both unprecedented freedom and possibility, and prejudice and violence alike.

Publication Date: November 29, 2016
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How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS

David France

A definitive history of the successful battle to halt the AIDS epidemic, here is the incredible story of the grassroots activists whose work turned HIV from a mostly fatal infection to a manageable disease. Almost universally ignored, these men and women learned to become their own researchers, lobbyists, and drug smugglers, established their own newspapers and research journals, and went on to force reform in the nation’s disease-fighting agencies. 

Publication Date: November 29, 2016
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The Wisdom of Whores

Elizabeth Pisani

When people ask Elizabeth Pisani what she does for a living, she says, “sex and drugs.” As an epidemiologist researching AIDS, she’s been involved with international efforts to halt the disease for fourteen years. With swashbuckling wit and fierce honesty, she dishes on herself and her colleagues as they try to prod reluctant governments to fund HIV prevention for the people who need it most—drug injectors, gay men, sex workers, and johns. Pisani chats with flamboyant Indonesian transsexuals about their boob jobs and watches Chinese streetwalkers turn away clients because their SUVs aren’t nice enough. With verve and clarity, she shows the general reader how her profession really works; how easy it is to draw wrong conclusions from “objective” data; and, shockingly, how much money is spent so very badly.

Publication Date: June 17, 2008
Amazon | | Goodreads | Storygraph

2 responses to “Books to Read for World AIDS Day”

  1. An excellent reading list. I have a friend who’s in the sociological side of research on the drugs and it’s fascinating and heart-warming to read of the enormous steps that have been taken and the achievements made, but devastating how many people were lost before that.


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