The sun’s finally shining. I’m seeing flowers blooming in the park. And the floor doesn’t feel icy when I step out of bed in the morning. It’s May! And we all know May means the beginning of wedding season. Don’t get me wrong. I love weddings. Free drinks and an opportunity to dance with friends and family? I’m in. But there’s something that stings about being a single woman at wedding after wedding after wedding. Here are ten books for single women looking for literary a plus one this wedding season. Go ahead and take more than one. Unlike boyfriends or girlfriends, books don’t get jealous.
Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick
Confession: I brought this to my little sister’s wedding last year. Part of me thought it was a good joke. But all of me fell deeply in love with this thoughtful memoir. It shows the author’s personal journey from viewing marriage as an inevitable part of her future (and self-definition) to deciding to remain single. But her own experiences are just a starting point. The book also explores demographic shifts for American women and explores the lives of five pioneering women from history: Neith Boyce, Maeve Brennan, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Edith Wharton. Bolick creates a kind of conversation between herself and these women, showing that women wanting to forge their own paths is not a 21st century anomaly.
All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks
Oh man, my roommate gave me this book for my 29th birthday and it was like a punch to my emotional gut—in a good way. In the book, bell hooks examines how traditional views of love can make us feel more isolated and alone. She also pokes holes in the privileging of romantic love over other kinds of love, including self-love. I’ve read and reread this book, finding wisdom in quotes like: “To return to love, to get the love we always wanted but never had, to have the love we want but are not prepared to give, we seek romantic relationships. We believe these relationships, more than any other, will rescue and redeem us. True love does have the power to redeem but only if we are ready for redemption. Love saves us only if we want to be saved.” It’s almost impossible not to think about love at a wedding, whether you’re single or not. This book is a good way to celebrate love, while also deepening your understanding and relationship with it.
All the Single Ladies: Unmarried women and the rise of an independent nation by Rebecca Traister
Don’t be fooled by the tongue-in-cheek Beyonce reference, this book takes a serious look at the experiences and growth of single women throughout America’s history. Single women in America are not a new phenomenon. But the number of single women is higher than ever, as is the average age of marriage. Mixing personal anecdotes with research from over 100 interviews, Traister sets out to explain the different social movements that created the current climate with humor and intelligence.
The Wedding Date by jasmine guillory
For the hopeful, the romantic, or the single ladies who are more interested in a well-written love scene than a drunken hookup with a groomsman (or bridesmaid!), here is a hilarious and so, so sexy romance novel. When Drew’s date to his ex’s wedding cancels last minute, he ends up asking Alexa—the girl he gets stuck in an elevator with. A pretty classic romance set up, but the wedding commentary (terrible speeches, evil maid of honor, drunken racist guests) will crack you up. And the sparks between Drew and Alexa will make even the most cynical of wedding guests swoon. Add in the fact that this is an own voices author tackling subjects like race, gender equality, and privilege in an interracial relationship, and this book is a must-read for wedding season this year.
Gone Girl by Gillian flynn
It’s probably a cliché at this point to say that Gone Girl will make you feel great about being single. But clichés generally become clichés for one reason: they’re true. And this book does not paint marriage in a happy light. This psychological thriller about a husband coping with the disappearance of his wife and being considered a murder suspect is enough to make you get down on your knees and praise the gods and goddesses for your single status. If you are beating yourself up about not being married, you might want to bring this book along. Honestly, just thinking about it’s making me think maybe I should delete all the dating apps off my phone!
Heartburn by Nora Ephron
If you want to foster the same cynical, smug view of marriage without the scary suspense, this autobiographical novel about the break up of a “perfect” marriage might do the trick. A husband is cheating on his pregnant wife and refuses to end his affair. A diamond engagement ring mugging occurs on the way to a group therapy session. Rumors of sexually transmitted infections are started. Socks are lost. Dishes are thrown. Written by the creator of When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle, this book will certainly make you laugh. But it doesn’t give marriage a good look.
Sex object: A Memoir by Jessica Valenti
Valenti is in the worlds of journalism, cultural critique, and feminist writing. But in this book, she takes us inward, describing her own body’s objectification and the accompanying emotional/psychological toll. Discussing issues ranging from street harassment to assault to pregnancy and motherhood, Valenti puts a magnifying glass up to the unfortunately everyday occurrences that so many women try to brush off as “no big deal” and forget. The final chapter culminates in a list of threatening messages she’s received online. These comments, along with the in-person collection of dangers and microaggressions she’s faced, show the clear problem of gender inequality. We need change now. And Jessica Valenti is working through words to make it happen.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
These short stories mix fairy tales with science fiction with suspense with, perhaps, an infinite number of other genres. The female characters at the center of each story range from queer to almost eerily heteronormative. What stays consistent is the primacy of the female body in each story: sometimes in a state of desire but more often experiencing misuse and despair. From the rewriting of 272 episodes of Law and Order SVU to a world where women are slowly fading until they become invisible to the eerie side effects of a weight loss surgery, each story is equal parts poignant and riveting. And believe me you won’t want anyone beside you in bed when you read “The Husband Stitch.”
how to be a heroine by Samantha Ellis
Ellis describes growing up in an Iraqi-Jewish London community by examining the books she’s loved and their heroines. The opening question, a debate on Wuthering Heights versus Jane Eyre, exemplifies how the author uses books to define her identity and romantic aspirations. She writes, “My whole life, I’d been trying to be Cathy, when I should have been trying to be Jane.” What follows is an exploration heroines from books spanning childhood favorites like Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, and Laura from the Little House books to her teenage obsession with Sylvia Plath and Esther from The Bell Jar. Louisa May Alcott, L.M. Montgomery, J.D. Salinger, Jane Austen, and Virginia Wolf make up a partial list of the authors discussed in this charming account of a woman trying to become the heroine of her own life.
how stella got her groove back by Terry McMillan
Forty-two year old Stella is a high powered Black single mother who does it all. She’s a beast at work, on top of laundry and carpool schedules, and even finds time to exercise. She doesn’t have love or sexual fulfillment, but she thinks she’s okay with that. Until a spontaneous Caribbean vacation and fling with a local half her age change everything. Ultimately, this unexpected encounter makes her confront her hopes and fears about romantic relationships. This book is funny, sexy, and full of cultural references from the 1990s. It might feel a little outdated for some readers. But it’s an excellent reminder that you might be the only single woman at a wedding this year, but all that could change over the course of a week.
Do you have any recommendations for books for single women to bring to a wedding? Asking for a friend…just kidding. Asking for myself! In fact, I have my first this weekend.