Although it’s increasingly common, being single isn’t celebrated in the media with the same fervor and frequency as being in a relationship. From Pride and Prejudice to Sex and the City, the pursuit of romance is a pervasive narrative arc within our culture. Sometimes it’s difficult to find books, TV shows, and movies that don’t revolve around a character’s quest for The One. This feels especially true for media about women. While male characters from Moby-Dick’s Ishmael to Batman have had the freedom to embark on adventures without romance as a central plot line, women have historically been relegated to happy endings that revolve around impending marriage and motherhood. The same is true in real life as well—just look at the media’s treatment of George Clooney vs. Jennifer Aniston.
However, there are a lot of advantages to being single, whether it’s by choice, preference, or circumstance. Research shows that single people tend to experience more psychological growth and cultivate stronger connections to friends and family. Being single is an opportunity to discover what really makes you happy. You become self-reliant and get to live life on your own terms. So whether you’re in the throes of a devastating breakup or you’re living your best life solo, whether you want to be single forever or just right now, here are some books to read while you’re single that celebrate the single life:
IT Ended Badly: 13 of the Worst Breakups in History by Jennifer Wright
Love makes us do ridiculous things. If you’re Henry VIII, you marry 6 women and behead two of them. If you’re Caroline Lamb, you send Lord Byron a devastating post-break up missive containing a bloody lock of your own pubic hair. Don’t get me started on Norman Mailer.
These entertaining vignettes showcase the timeless absurdities of romance gone awry.
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
Each one of us is so much more than our relationship status. Whether we’re happily single or in a relationship, we contain multitudes. Attenberg’s latest novel focuses on Andrea Bern, a dynamic and complicated artist, sister, daughter, and drinker. Rather than focusing on a tired romantic arc, Attenberg’s novel explores the complexities of growing up—or not—as we meander through adulthood.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
There’s nothing better than a story of a bad-ass hiker braving the wilderness and her internal demons on a tenacious expedition of self-discovery.
Strayed’s memoir chronicles her quest to hike the Pacific Crest Trail following the death of her mother and subsequent dissolution of her marriage. Strayed is funny and unflinchingly honest as she learns to be alone.
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
Princess Elizabeth has an ideal life. She lives in a castle and is engaged to the lustrously-coiffed Prince Ronald. That is, until a dragon comes, burns down her castle, kidnaps Prince Ronald, and leaves Elizabeth with nothing to wear but a paper bag.
Through a series of clever maneuvers, she defeats the dragon and saves Prince Ronald. Instead of the romantic reunion Elizabeth anticipates, Prince Ronald exclaims that Princess Elizabeth is wearing a paper bag and should come back when she’s dressed like a real princess. Elizabeth basically tells Ronald to bugger off and lives happily ever after on her own.
Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone by Eric Klinenberg
Approximately 32 million people live alone. Klinenberg, a renowned sociologist, examines the rise in Americans living solo. He contends that people of all ages who live alone enjoy better mental health, have more environmentally sustainable lifestyles, and are often strongly engaged in social and civic activities. The deeply engaging portraits show myriad lives well lived.
Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
Is there literally anything actress/writer/director Mindy Kaling can’t do? As executive producer, writer, and actor for The Office and The Mindy Project, Kaling has forged an incredibly successful career. Her first book of essays, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? became a permanent fixture on my favorites shelf with her description of a young Mindy, afflicted with a bowl cut, performing a dramatic reenactment of the “So Long, Farewell” scene from The Sound of Music.
This book, her second, describes everything from dating a White House staffer to getting dumped by a friend. Even the part about meeting Bradley Cooper somehow feels relatable.
My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor
As the first Hispanic and only third woman to preside over the Supreme Court, there is a lot to admire about Justice Sotomayor. This intimate memoir chronicles Sotomayor’s journey from a Bronx housing project to her appointment to the federal bench. Her candid narrative is a hopeful reminder of the communities we create for ourselves and the great lengths we can go to when we believe in ourselves.
This book explores the impact of a decision Rhimes made when, over Thanksgiving dinner, her sister muttered something that was both a wake up and a call to arms: You never say yes to anything. Shonda knew she had to embrace the challenge: for one year, she would say YES to everything that scared her.
This poignant, intimate, and hilarious memoir explores Shonda’s life before her Year of Yes—from her nerdy, book-loving childhood to her devotion to creating television characters who reflected the world she saw around her. The book chronicles her life after her Year of Yes had begun—when Shonda forced herself out of the house and onto the stage; when she learned to explore, empower, applaud, and love her truest self. Yes.
All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister
From 1890–1980, the median age for a first marriage was between 20–22. Today, only 20% of women are married by 29, compared to 60% in 1960. Over the course of more than 100 interviews, Traister examines the sexual, economic, and emotional lives of women in the 21st century, as well as historical figures who helped pave the way. This book provides a warm and enriching look at women who live fulfilling single lives.
What are your recommendations for books to read while you’re single?