Books

13 Books About Breakups & Heartbreak To Read When You Need A Little Healing

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"The half-life of love is forever," or so Junot Díaz famously wrote in This Is How You Lose Her. (That book isn't on this list, because who wants to read about a cheating dude after a breakup?) Regardless of how I feel about its source, that brutal sentiment will ring painfully true for anyone who's just had their heart broken: When you're in the midst of a separation, it feels like you will never, ever stop loving the other person. Luckily, I can personally attest to the truth of that "time heals all wounds" adage, but unluckily, I can also personally attest to the truth of that "patience is a virtue" adage. And honestly, who feels virtuous after a breakup? So while you wait for patience and time to work their magic, I suggest you take matters into your own hands and nudge the healing forward by reading some books about breakups and heartbreak.

If you are anything like me, reading through these books will require that you carve out an entire afternoon for a good, long cry. But there's plenty of humor to be found in these books, and a lot of optimistic thinking about future love, too. Yes, all seven books deal with heartbreak, but more importantly, they deal with what comes after: the healing that makes you stronger, kinder, and braver — if you let it.

'Tiny Beautiful Things' by Cheryl Strayed

I will never stop recommending Tiny Beautiful Things. Going through a breakup? Read this book. Someone you loved has passed away? Read this book. Can't figure out what to do next with your life? Read this book. Feeling a little iffy about your brunch plans? Read this book.

Cheryl Strayed is the fairy godmother to an entire generation of readers, and her Dear Sugar columns are guaranteed to soothe your aching heart — no matter the cause of the hurt.

"You don’t need those people. By stepping aside, they’ve done you a favor. Because what you’ve got left after the fools have departed are the old souls and the true hearts. Those are the uber-cool sparkle rocket mind blowers we’re after. Those are the people worthy of your love."

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'Juliet Takes A Breath' by Gabby Rivera

Trust me when I say that Juliet Milagros Palante is the discerning, vivid, and fresh voice you want in your head right after a breakup. After coming out to her conservative Latino parents in New York, Juliet books it to Portland, where she has plans to intern (and live) with Harlowe Brisbane, an author who's pretty much the expert on all things gay and feminist. Over the course of one summer, Juliet learns a lot about who she wants to be, what it means to be a queer brown babe, how to get over a heartbreak, and how to find the people and places that are "safe spaces" for her heart.

"You’ll meet people that you love who fuck up constantly. You’ll learn how to weed out the assholes from the warriors. You’ll know what groups of people to stay away from because they’re not safe spaces for your heart. You’ll learn when to forgive human error and when to eradicate the unworthy from your spirit."

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'The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater' by Alanna Okun

Fair warning: Alanna Okun perfectly described how I felt every single time I've had my heartbroken. I didn't even read this in the midst of a breakup, and I still felt the emotional whiplash of one. In the titular "The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater," Okun splits herself open to write about one of the least talked-about (and most emotionally damaging) aspects of breaking up: the severing of the pre-established rules — the rules being, of course, that you won't hurt the other person. What do you do when suddenly "your person" isn't "your person" anymore? Okun doesn't have all the answers, but she certainly has a lot of lived wisdom to share, and maybe her book will inspire you to pick up a new hobby to work your way out of heartbreak.

"Just like I hadn't known what it was to be loved, I also hadn't known that the other person was allowed to stop loving you. And then one night at his house, he told me that he was sorry but he wanted to break up. I felt not so much sadness just then as shock — those weren't the rules. He was supposed to be on my team, be my person, not just decide to leave one day without giving me a chance to make it right. What was I supposed to do with all of these feelings, all this time, all this space in myself I'd set aside for him? How could I go back to being just me?"

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'The Lover's Dictionary' by David Levithan

David Levithan's unusual book is a love story told from beginning to end through dictionary entries. It's concise, but the simplicity of it actually emphasizes the brutal truths that underpin this ill-fated romance. This is a book you'll want to quote to all your friends. Luckily, the unabridged version is on Twitter, so you can share all your favorite entries with friends (or subtweet your ex) with a few clicks.

“Trying to write about love is ultimately like trying to have a dictionary represent life. No matter how many words there are, there will never be enough.”

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'All About Love' by bell hooks

As can be expected, bell hooks' musings on love — external and internal — are brilliant and sage and (fortunately or unfortunately, depending on where you are in the healing process) completely actionable. Her definition of love (originally from M. Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled) is a quote to commit to memory and the heart: "The will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth."

"One of the best guides to how to be self-loving is to give ourselves the love we are often dreaming about receiving from others. There was a time when I felt lousy about my over-forty body, saw myself as too fat, too this, or too that. Yet I fantasized about finding a lover who would give me the gift of being loved as I am. It is silly, isn't it, that I would dream of someone else offering to me the acceptance and affirmation I was withholding from myself. This was a moment when the maxim "You can never love anybody if you are unable to love yourself" made clear sense. And I add, "Do not expect to receive the love from someone else you do not give yourself."

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'Dear Future Boyfriend' by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz

This one was personally recommended to me following a breakup, so I can attest to its healing power. If you want to wallow in your feelings, there's a poem that will perfectly articulate all those emotions. If you want to rage email your ex, there's a poem that will convince you not to, because it says all the things you wanted to say. If you want to dream about the possibility of moving on to someone else, there's a poem that will make you believe with your entire being that it is possible, that it will happen, that you will fall in love again.

"I can't believe I used to want to Sappho you, Jason
I used to want to Pablo Neruda you,
to Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller you. I used to want
to be O for you, to blow for you in ways
that even Odysseus's sails couldn't handle.
But self-imposed illiteracy isn't a turn-on."

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'Heartburn' by Nora Ephron

No one wrote about love quite like Nora Ephron. And no one wrote about the loss of love quite like Nora Ephron, either. In this autobiographical novel, Ephron walks you through a breakup that is definitely not her own with humor, heart, and a whole lot of recipes. That's right — this book comes complete with all the wisdom you need to make it out of a heartbreak and a new hobby that just happens to result in delectable meals.

"Sometimes I believe that love dies but hope springs eternal. Sometimes I believe that hope dies but love springs eternal. Sometimes I believe that sex plus guilt equals love, and sometimes I believe that sex plus guilt equals good sex. Sometimes I believe that love is as natural as the tides, and sometimes I believe that love is an act of will. Sometimes I believe that some people are better at love than others, and sometimes I believe that everyone is faking it. Sometimes I believe that love is essential, and sometimes I believe that only reason love is essential is that otherwise you spend all your time looking for it."

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'The Twenty-Ninth Year' by Hala Alyan

Any major breakup creates a pivotal juncture in a person’s life, which is all the more reason to read The Twenty-Ninth Year. Hala Alyan’s poetry collection moves across the globe to trace the edges of a critical year in her life — a year of reflection, repentance, and renewal. You won’t be the same after this one.

“Marriage is sweeping the floors of a room you're not sure you want to die in.”

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'Once Ghosted, Twice Shy' by Alyssa Cole

A novella in Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals series, Once Ghosted, Twice Shy picks up the threads of Likotsi and Fabiola’s severed bond. After meeting Likotsi on a dating app and hitting it off, Fabiola disappeared without a word. Now, the two women have just run into one another again. All Fab wants is a chance to talk, and Likotsi is dying for an explanation. If you’ve ever felt the burn that a lack of closure leaves you with, you need to read this slim book.

“She’d thought that Fab had smashed their connection like a smartphone beneath a car tire, but all their data had been saved on a cloud drive somewhere, it seemed, and was happily downloading and ready to resume where they’d left off.”

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'How to Date Men When You Hate Men' by Blythe Roberson

What is going on with men? That’s what Blythe Roberson wanted to know in this longform thinkpiece on contemporary love. In spite of its title, How to Date Men When You Hate Men is a work of comedy, not a self-help book, but you might draw some useful lessons from it anyway, particularly if you’re going through a breakup with a man.

“You don't need to be in love to count as a human.”

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'In the Dream House' by Carmen Maria Machado

Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House chronicles her abusive relationship with “the woman in the Dream House” — a now-ex-girlfriend who manipulates her until they finally call it quits. It’s a heartbreaking read, and one that will feel violently familiar to anyone who has been in a similar situation.

“A reminder to remember: just because the sharpness of the sadness has faded does not mean that it was not, once, terrible. It means only that time and space, creatures of infinite girth and tenderness, have stepped between the two of you, and they are keeping you safe as they were once unable to.”

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'Normal People' by Sally Rooney

Secretly seeing each other through high school, Connell and Marianne find themselves in an on-again, off-again arrangement once they go to university. Sally Rooney’s Normal People will rip out your heart and try to reassemble it. Pick it up to read about someone else’s breakup and keep your mind off of your own.

“She closes her eyes. He probably won’t come back, she thinks. Or he will, differently. What they have now they can never have back again. But for her the pain of loneliness will be nothing to the pain that she used to feel, of being unworthy…. They’ve done a lot of good for each other. Really, she thinks, really. People can really change one another.”

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'My Year of Rest and Relaxation' by Ottessa Moshfegh

A really bad breakup can make you want to close yourself off from the rest of the world, and that’s exactly what the protagonist of Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation does. Living in pre-9/11 Manhattan, Moshfegh’s gorgeous heroine decides to spend an entire year in hibernation as her personal relationships disintegrate into nothingness.

“It was proof that I had not always been completely alone in this world. But I think I was also holding on to the loss, to the emptiness of the house itself, as though to affirm that it was better to be alone than to be stuck with people who were supposed to love you, yet couldn’t.”

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