Books You Should Read If You’re a Middle Child

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Welcome, fellow middle child. Do you feel neglected today? Do you feel the need to draw attention to yourself in potentially unhealthy ways? I am here to tell you that you can channel all of that rage and frustration into reading. You know, reading? That thing you did growing up whenever you imposed self-isolation to “prove a point”? (The point always being that they would miss you if you were gone.) Reading can be good for adulthood, too. If you get in a fight with your partner, for example. I suggest leaving a book in the bathroom in case you need to lock yourself in there for hours to prove a point. Here are some recommendations for books you might turn to (in the bathroom or otherwise) for your very specific, very scientifically proven issues. 

Books with bright covers. Research probably definitely shows that bright colors attract more attention. Your mom might not have noticed that one time you (adorably) cleaned your room without being asked, but she will totally notice when your face is obscured by a neon-colored book. Strangers might notice you too. For example, on the train or in the park, which can also be very validating. Some books that have very nice bright covers are Meaty by Samantha Irby, Heating and Cooling by Beth Ann Fennelly, Chemistry by Weike Wang, and Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong. These books are also very good, which is a bonus, because why suffer while you are proving a point. 

Next: books that have a single object on the front. The single object is a symbol of you being left out by your siblings just because you always “lost all their lives” in Donkey Kong. Here are some ideas: The Idiot by Elif Batuman, The Houseguest by Amparo Davila, and And I Do Not Forgive You by Amber Sparks. I like the objects on these books in particular because the rock is an often un-remarked-upon object that is still very strong; the chair represents all the times you sat in time out for lashing out violently at your siblings; and the ax represents your fighting spirit. Again, you might also find enjoyment in these very good books, but that is (almost) beside the point. 

Books about characters that understand your desire to be seen can also be very therapeutic. I highly recommend the title story in The Lonesome Bodybuilder by Yukiko Motoya. The main character altering her appearance through bodybuilding, to see if her husband will even notice, is kind of like that time you dyed all of your hair purple and your dad asked you to “pass the peas”?!?!?!?! You might also read Harriet the Spy for some complex, in-depth understanding of your innermost desires. Harriet’s parents largely do not see her, so she makes it her task to see everyone else. (I’m not a therapist, but you can’t argue with that reverse psychological reasoning.) If you also happen to enjoy these books along the path to psychological healing, well that’s just great. 

One more category you might check out: books about a complex interior life. I am thinking Outline by Rachel Cusk, The Friend by Sigrid Nunez, and How Should A Person Be? by Sheila Heti. I believe you will find solidarity in these books that appreciate how rich the inside of one’s own head can be—you know, that place you retreated to when you felt left out and wanted to PROVE A POINT. 

Listen, no one said being a middle child was easy. In fact, it is the hardness that we must continue to insist upon in order to uphold our reputation. These books will help you feel seen (sometimes literally and sometimes emotionally) in private so that in public you can continue to bemoan how little you are understood. You don’t need anyone else (except some siblings on either side of you so that you can continue to be a middle child), but some solidarity in book form wouldn’t hurt.