When a relationship ends, all you want to do is wallow and cry and feel terrible about everything. It happens. However, at a certain point, you know you need to pick yourself up and try and process your feelings so you can move on from your ex for good. One way to do that is via literature. Whether or not you’re a big reader, there’s never a bad time to start. Here are some of the best books to read after a breakup. They might just help heal your broken heart.
“We Do What We Do In The Dark” by Michelle Hart
Mallory is a freshman in college who gets involved with an older woman who teaches there. Though their relationship is tumultuous and Mallory is still processing her mother’s death, the grief and love she experiences are transformational. This book will remind you of the intensity of youth and the comforting fact that life does indeed go on, no matter what.
Memorable quote: “Mallory realized this was how the woman was: she at once withheld and invited. The woman fulfilled so many of Mallory’s wants but left so many wants unfulfilled that the feeling of wanting in and of itself became desirable. There was an untouchable intensity, or an intense untouchability, to keeping a secret, to having a continuous crush, that Mallory wanted never to lose.”
“Queenie” by Candice Carty-Williams
After breaking up with her long-term boyfriend, 25-year-old Queenie works on finding herself and figuring out her life with sometimes hilariously bad results. This is one of the best books to read after a breakup as it helps you remember that you’re not alone. Everyone has been there, and we all make it through.
Memorable quote: “Turns out the sadness that silence from the person you love brings can be temporarily erased by the dull thrill of attention from strangers.”
“All This Could Be Different” by Sarah Thankam Matthews
After graduating college, Sneha moves to Milwaukee to take an entry-level job. She meets new friends, a new lover, and everything explodes. There’s a lot of pain and struggle in this book, but it’s ultimately one of hope. After a breakup, this is one of the best books to read because it makes you feel so deeply understood and comforted. Sneha is one of the most realistic and relatable characters in modern literature, and you won’t be able to help but root for her all the way.
Memorable quote: “What nobody told me growing up was that sometimes your friends do join your family, fusing care, irritation, loyalty, shared history, and affectionate contempt into a tempered love, bright and daily as steel.”
“The Pisces” by Melissa Broder
When Lucky breaks up with her long-term partner, she goes to housesit for the summer at a gorgeous Los Angeles property where she has to look after the owner’s diabetic dog. Throughout her time there, she learns so much about herself, about love, and about embracing the feeling of being lost. It’s a book that will stay with you for a long time after you put it down.
Memorable quote: “In some ways, my moods did and did not exist. People said that you could will a mood into being or will it away. Just think positively. But I never felt that way. My moods were their own entities, even if no one could understand why they were there. That was what made me scared of feelings. I realized now what I had to do, in spite of what others said, was not try to change a mood but surrender to it. I had to surrender to whatever feelings arrived and in doing so I could maybe ride them, floating on the waves. I decided I was going to surrender.”
“The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion
A non-fiction memoir Didion wrote after the death of her husband and daughter, “The Year of Magical Thinking” is a series of ruminations by the author as well as experiences she had before, during, and after their deaths that she tries desperately to put into perspective. Make no mistake, this one will probably make you cry more than once. However, it’s a good type of cry. A cathartic one. One that will make you feel grateful for the life you get to live when you put it down.
Memorable quote: “Grief is different. Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life.”
“In The Dream House” by Carmen Maria Machado
Machado spent many years in an abusive relationship. Years later, she’s stil processing it in the form of “In the Dream House,” a memoir that’s at times terrifying, at others darkly funny. While the idea of interpartner violence is a tough one to cover, she manages to do so in a way that will leave you feeling full of empathy with her, and perhaps more of an understanding about your own heart.
Memorable quote: “We can’t stop living. Which means we have to live, which means we are alive, which means we are humans and we are human: some of us are unkind and some of us are confused and some of us sleep with the wrong people and some of us make bad decisions and some of us are murderers. And it sounds terrible but it is, in fact, freeing: the idea that queer does not equal good or pure or right. It is simply a state of being—one subject to politics, to its own social forces, to larger narratives, to moral complexities of every kind.”
“Wild” by Cheryl Strayed
This is one of the best books to read after a breakup or any other tough time in life. Strayed used the period of devastation after her mom died and her marriage fell apart to hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Coast Trail all by herself. If you’ve ever felt the need to get up and get lost, this book will appeal to you. It’s an incredibly brave and heartfelt story.
Memorable quote: “What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? What if I’d actually wanted to fuck every one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?”
“Self-Help” by Lorrie Moore
Moore may very well be the queen of the short story, and “Self-Help” is one of her best collections. Stories cover everything from a woman having an affair, relationships falling apart, the joys of falling in love, and more. You’ll want to read this one with a pen in hand. There are so many memorable lines you’ll want to underline and go back to time and time again.
Memorable quote: “Love drains you, takes with it much of your blood sugar and water weight. You are like a house slowly losing its electricity, the fans slowing, the lights dimming and flickering; the clocks stop and go and stop.”
“The Price of Salt” by Patricia Highsmith
You may be familiar with “The Price of Salt” because it was made into the movie “Carol” starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. This story of forbidden and ultimately doomed (albeit passionate) love puts the experience of falling hard and fast for someone in so many beautiful words. Even though it hurts, especially since you know it will end badly, you can’t help but feel your faith in love restored when reading it.
Memorable quote: “How was it possible to be afraid and in love… The two things did not go together. How was it possible to be afraid, when the two of them grew stronger together every day? And every night. Every night was different, and every morning. Together they possessed a miracle.”
“The Idiot” by Elif Batuman
In 1995, second generation Turkish immigrant Selin is off to Harvard. Inexperienced and unsure of herself, she forges ahead into independent life, not always in the best ways. She even falls in love with a boy named Ivan, and their relationship is strange, toxic, and all too relatable for many people. This might distract you from your own heartbreak and remind you of love’s more innocent and less complicated days.
Memorable quote: “At the same time, it seemed certain to me that someday I would really want to hear his voice and wouldn’t be able to, and I would think back to the time that he had invited me to call him, and it would seem as incomprehensible as an invitation to speak to the dead.”
“Our Wives Under the Sea” by Julia Armfield
When Miri’s wife Leah finally returns after a lengthy and disastrous deep-sea mission, she thinks everything will go back to normal between them. It doesn’t. “Our Wives Under the Sea” delves into the difficulty of accepting when things have changed between two people. How powerful is nostalgia? How can time apart ruin time together? Armfield investigates these questions and more in such a heartbreakingly beautiful way that you’ll be desperate to know how it all ends.
Memorable quote: “I want to explain her in a way that would make you love her, but the problem with this is that loving is something we all do alone and through different sets of eyes.”
“Conversations With Friends” by Sally Rooney
Maybe you’ve already watched the Hulu series based on Rooney’s book, but it’s worth reading the novel that inspired the series as well. It’s vivid, messy, and incredibly intense. It will make you question the way in which you approach your life and whether surrendering yourself to your feelings, particularly ones you believe to be love, will be worthwhile.
Memorable quote: “Things and people moved around me, taking positions in obscure hierarchies, participating in systems I didn’t know about and never would. A complex network of objects and concepts. You live through certain things before you understand them. You can’t always take the analytical position.”
“Three Women” by Lisa Taddeo
“Three Women” is one of the best books to read after a breakup or even during a time in which you’re trying to figure yourself out. That’s because it gives a starkly honest, unfiltered picture of three very different women’s lives and love. Some of the situations Taddeo describes in the book will feel alien to you, and yet they’ll open your mind to a whole new approach to partnership and pleasure. Everyone will get something different out of this book, but everyone who reads it is changed nonetheless in some way.
Memorable quote: “Throughout history, men have broken women’s hearts in a particular way. They love them or half-love them and then grow weary and spend weeks and months extricating themselves soundlessly, pulling their tails back into their doorways, drying themselves off, and never calling again. Meanwhile, women wait. The more in love they are and the fewer options they have, the longer they wait, hoping that he will return with a smashed phone, with a smashed face, and say, I’m sorry, I was buried alive and the only thing I thought of was you, and feared that you would think I’d forsaken you when the truth is only that I lost your number, it was stolen from me by the men who buried me alive, and I’ve spent three years looking in phone books and now I have found you. I didn’t disappear, everything I felt didn’t just leave. You were right to know that would be cruel, unconscionable, impossible. Marry me.”
“When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron
Certainly the most “self-help”-y book on this list, “When Things Fall Apart” is a classic in the genre and has remained popular since its release in 1996. Chodron is a Buddhist teacher whose wisdom will appeal to anyone and everyone, regardless of spiritual or religious belief or affiliation. She helps readers use the pain they feel in a productive way and gives the skills you need to open yourself up to people and experiences even when it would be easier to clam up. If you’re truly struggling, give this book a go.
Memorable quote: “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again.”
“My Year of Rest and Relaxation” by Ottessa Moshfegh
After a breakup, sometimes the depression can be so real that you just want to shut off the world and sleep forever. The narrator in “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” does just that. She decides to hole herself up in her apartment for an entire year, doing drugs and sleeping until her life magically sorts itself out. How it ends is something you’ll have to read to find out. Needless to say, the journey to get there is at times frustrating, other times funny, but always incredibly relatable.
Memorable quote: “Sleep felt productive. Something was getting sorted out. I knew in my heart—this was, perhaps, the only thing my heart knew back then—that when I’d slept enough, I’d be okay. I’d be renewed, reborn. I would be a whole new person, every one of my cells regenerated enough times that the old cells were just distant, foggy memories. My past life would be but a dream, and I could start over without regrets, bolstered by the bliss and serenity that I would have accumulated in my year of rest and relaxation.”
“How to Date Men When You Hate Men” by Blythe Roberson
Roberson’s tongue-in-cheek title should give you a good idea of what you’re in for when you read this book. It’s part comedy, part philosophy, and tons of great advice. If nothing else, it will help you put your breakup in perspective and distract you with a ton of laughs at the same time.
Memorable quote: “The thing that, for me, triggers a realization that my life is hollow without [insert man] is the release of a new movie in a franchise or a season in a show that I had watched with some dude.”
“The Marriage Portrait” by Maggie O’Farrell
Perhaps an unconventional choice on a list of best books to read after a breakup, but still a good one. A fictionalized account of the very real Lucrezia de’Medici, Duchess of Ferrara, “The Marriage Portrait” imagines what her life must have been like after being married off at 14 to a man twice her age. Sadly, she would be dead less than two years later, and not everyone believed it was of natural causes as first reported. A stark portrait of what life was like for women in the 16th century, O’Farrell offers fascinating insight as well as a bit of gratitude for how much things have changed since then.
Memorable quote: “Sadness keeps attempting to tie weights to her wrists and ankles, therefore she has to keep moving, she has to outpace it.”