I used to fall in love a lot. And by “fall in love,” I really mean become mildly infatuated and then incredibly devastated when that proverbial love wasn’t returned. Since I was almost always in some kind of romantic turmoil from high school to college (think Tina Belcher IRL), I turned to books for support. What were my literary requirements for those emotionally volatile times? Well, the book either had to be all about some kind of flawed, or deranged relationship so that I could feel better about myself and my loveless life, OR it had to absolutely not focus on romance at all. Some grim, depressing reality that would make me thankful for my own was key. The ultimate goal with this reading list, was to stop feeling sorry for myself, and keep my brain preoccupied.
If you’re going through a breakup or experiencing your heart being savagely ripped to shreds by some terrible human, here are some books I would recommend for you:
1. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters
Reading this book felt like I was on a vacation from my life, and that was kind of nice. Beautiful Ruins is about an actress who initially believes she is dying. She somehow ends up in Italy, washed up on a deserted resort owned by a young Italian—who quickly falls in love with her. The story follows the actress, the Italian, and a few other characters who tie everything together. This story isn’t just about love. It’s about forgiveness. And longing. And old Hollywood. And realizing a part of you needs to change before you commit yourself to something serious. It’s beautiful, and funny, and sweetly sad.
2. This One is Mine by Maria Semple
This One is Mine is a satire about a woman named Violet who lives the luxurious LA life with her husband. Everything should be one-hundred percent perfect, except that it’s not. Violet isn’t happy with her marriage, so she pursues a greasy bass player named Teddy. Meanwhile, her husband’s sister is on the prowl for a rich husband, and hilarity ensues. Maria Semple uses the same zany and dark humor in her prose as she did for Arrested Development, and the outcome is pee-in-your-pants funny.
3. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
There’s nothing like a good dystopian/apocalyptic novel to bring you back to your senses, right? The Road is about a father and son who are wandering toward the coast, in hopes of finding salvation. America has been inexplicably scorched, leaving its citizens without natural food or water. People have turned into cannibals, and things are just NOT looking good. Depressing? Yes. A good distraction, though? Definitely.
4. New Shoes on a Dead Horse by Sierra DeMulder
If you don’t read poetry, maybe now is a good time to start. Poetry is good at many things, including conveying heartbreak and sorrow in ways we’ve never thought of before. Sierra DeMulder (who is an awesome performance poet, and you should YouTube her like right now) writes these crushingly amazing poems like “On Watching Someone You Love Love Someone Else,” and “Love, Forgive Me.” In these poems, she expresses feelings we just don’t know what to do with.
Here is excerpt from “On Watching Someone You Love Love Someone Else” and you’ll know what I mean:
“At home, you will picture her across town, pressing her fingers into his back like wet cement. You will wonder if she looks like you, if you are two bedrooms in the same house. Did he fall for her features like rearranged furniture? When he kisses her, does she taste like new paint?”
5. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver
Raymond Carver usually writes about the subtle dynamic between people, and most of the time there is something very, very wrong, but we can’t quite put our fingers on what that something is. This is why I love Carver. So many writers present flawed relationships in these flamboyant, melodramatic ways, but the truth is that you don’t need to be screaming at your partner, or your friend, or your mother for your relationship to be messed up. These short stories are painful, but beautiful because of Carver’s attention to detail.
6. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
If you want to sob for someone else, this is the perfect book for you. The Year of Magical Thinking is about the death of Didion’s husband, writer John Dunne, and how she copes with it. It’s grim, but it’s so incredibly touching and gorgeous. Not many writers know how to write about death properly, but Didion masters it in a way that resonates with all of us.
7. Don’t Kiss Me: Stories by Lindsay Hunter
Don’t Kiss Me is a set of stories about broken, twisted people. It’s amazing. Hunter’s characters are hateful, strange, and self-destructive, and they want things they shouldn’t want. I adore how grounded in reality the protagonists are, and the ugliness of their stories. Too often, we’re presented with happy endings for the sake of a happy ending, but sometimes that’s just BS. Sometimes we just want a disaster.
8. This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
This collection of stories center around a man named Yunior, who is just a guy who wants to be in love. Except that he’s not very good with love, since he can’t stop cheating on women; eventually, he wears out his welcome with the ladies, and is left alone. To get over his heartache, Yunior does yoga. He tries to feel alive. Reading these adventures ultimately makes you feel less alone, and comforted by a world you know is suffering just as much (if not more) than you are.
9. If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This by Robin Black
If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This is about the many transitions we go though as humans, and how we are mercilessly expected to grow and adapt. This book of short stories is about families, lovers, and journeys that change our lives whether we want them to or not.
10. Heartburn by Nora Ephron
If all else fails. . .there’s always Nora Ephron. Heartburn is about the destruction of the quintessential marriage. Rachel Samsat, a hilarious cookbook writer who is seven months pregnant, finds out her husband is a lying, cheating, d-bag. She switches between wanting him back in her life and wishing he would go die in a desert, and that kind of reaction is what makes Ephron’s work so addictive, and sometimes downright silly. But silly is what we need when we’re down in the dumps.