35 Non-Religious Wedding Readings Guaranteed To Bring Your Guests To Tears
Every couple getting married is different, and yet wedding readings so often fall into the same traps. Even Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn can predict that a wedding reading will often be the Bible verse 1 Corinthians 13:4-7: Love is patient, love is kind. Pretty, yes, but not for everyone.
Brides looking to sidestep religious readings have lots of places from which to draw inspiration: song lyrics, poetry, and even novels. Maybe you and your partner have a favorite book you bonded over, or maybe there's a childhood story you both loved growing up. If you're drawing a blank, but like the idea of literary wedding readings, this list could be a good place to spark your creativity. It includes classic favorites, such as the Brontë sisters and Henry James, contemporary picks, such as Haruki Murakami and Patti Smith, YA authors such as John Green and Sarah Dessen, and even some unexpected stories, such as ones from Neil Gaiman and the king of breakup novels himself, Nick Hornby.
1. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
"You will learn a lot from yourself if you stretch in the direction of goodness, of bigness, of kindness, of forgiveness, of emotional bravery. Be a warrior for love."
2. Every Day by David Levithan
"This is what love does: It makes you want to rewrite the world. It makes you want to choose the characters, build the scenery, guide the plot. The person you love sits across from you, and you want to do everything in your power to make it possible, endlessly possible. And when it’s just the two of you, alone in a room, you can pretend that this is how it is, this is how it will be."
"You have fixed my Life—however short. You did not light me: I was always a mad comet; but you have fixed me. I spun round you a satellite for a month, but I shall swing out soon, a dark star in the orbit where you will blaze."
4. "&" by Aracelis Girmay
"& isn’t the heart/ an ampersand,/ magnet between the seconds of days/ & dusks, the peonies/ & the fig tree & the squirrels?"
5. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
"At night, there was the feeling that we had come home, feeling no longer alone, waking in the night to find the other one there, and not gone away; all other things were unreal. We slept when we were tired and if we woke the other one woke too so one was not alone. Often a man wishes to be alone and a woman wishes to be alone too and if they love each other they are jealous of that in each other, but I can truly say we never felt that. We could feel alone when we were together, alone against the others. We were never lonely and never afraid when we were together."
6. A History of Love by Nicole Krauss
"Once upon a time, there was a boy. He lived in a village that no longer exists, in a house that no longer exists, on the edge of a field that no longer exists, where everything was discovered, and everything was possible. A stick could be a sword, a pebble could be a diamond, a tree, a castle. Once upon a time, there was a boy who lived in a house across the field, from a girl who no longer exists. They made up a thousand games. She was queen and he was king. In the autumn light her hair shone like a crown. They collected the world in small handfuls, and when the sky grew dark, and they parted with leaves in their hair.
Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering."
7. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
"'I am,' he said. He was staring at me, and I could see the corners of his eyes crinkling. 'I'm in love with you, and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things. I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.'"
8. Letters To Vera by Vladimir Nabokov
"Yes, I need you, my fairy-tale. Because you are the only person I can talk with about the shade of a cloud, about the song of a thought — and about how, when I went out to work today and looked a tall sunflower in the face, it smiled at me with all of its seeds."
9. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
"When you fall in love, the natural thing to do is give yourself to it. That's what I think. It's just a form of sincerity."
10. Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith
"People are like cities: We all have alleys and gardens and secret rooftops and places where daisies sprout between the sidewalk cracks, but most of the time all we let each other see is is a postcard glimpse of a skyline or a polished square. Love lets you find those hidden places in another person, even the ones they didn’t know were there, even the ones they wouldn’t have thought to call beautiful themselves."
11. This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen
"No relationship is perfect, ever. There are always some ways you have to bend, to compromise, to give something up in order to gain something greater … The love we have for each other is bigger than these small differences. And that’s the key. It’s like a big pie chart, and the love in a relationship has to be the biggest piece. Love can make up for a lot."
12. Jazz by Toni Morrison
"It’s nice when grown people whisper to each other under the covers. Their ecstasy is more leaf-sigh than bray and the body is the vehicle, not the point. They reach, grown people, for something beyond, way beyond and way, way down underneath tissue. They are remembering while they whisper the carnival dolls they won and the Baltimore boats they never sailed on. The pears they let hang on the limb because if they plucked them, they would be gone from there and who else would see that ripeness if they took it away for themselves? How could anybody passing by see them and imagine for themselves what the flavor would be like? Breathing and murmuring under covers both of them have washed and hung out on the line, in a bed they chose together and kept together nevermind one leg was propped on a 1916 dictionary, and the mattress, curved like a preacher’s palm asking for witnesses in His name’s sake, enclosed them each and every night and muffled their whispering, old-time love."
13. South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami
"Sometimes when I look at you, I feel I’m gazing at a distant star.It’s dazzling, but the light is from tens of thousands of years ago.Maybe the star doesn’t even exist any more. Yet sometimes that light seems more real to me than anything."
14. Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
"Oh, what a love it was, utterly free, unique, like nothing else on earth! Their thoughts were like other people’s songs.
They loved each other, not driven by necessity, by the ‘blaze of passion’ often falsely ascribed to love. They loved each other because everything around them willed it, the trees and the clouds and the sky over their heads and the earth under their feet. Perhaps their surrounding world, the strangers they met in the street, the wide expanses they saw on their walks, the rooms in which they lived or met, took more delight in their love than they themselves did."
15. "Love Poem Without a Drop of Hyperbole In It" by Traci Brimhall
"I’d train my breath and learn to read sonar until/ I retrieved every lost blood vessel of you. I swear/ this love is ungodly, not an ounce of suffering in it./ Like salmon and its upstream itch, I’ll dodge grizzlies/ for you. Like hawks and skyscraper rooftops,/ I’ll keep coming back. Maddened. A little hopeless./ Embarrassingly in love."
16. "Song of the Anti-Sisyphus" by Chen Chen
"I want the journey to be long. & strange, like a map/drawn in snow by our shadows shivering. I want to shiver/against you, into you. I want the sound/of your teeth. I want the sound of the wind. I want to be/like the kids with their plastic sleds, gliding down,/all the way down the hill, then trudging/their sleds & snow-suited bodies all the wayback to the top. I want to be how they do this, for hours,/till sunset, till some sensible someone has/to come drag them away from the snow, the slope,/the 3… 2… 1!/of joy. I want to be the Anti-Sisyphus, in love/with repetition, in love, in love."
17. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
"The future belongs to hearts even more than it does to minds. Love, that is the only thing that can occupy and fill eternity. In the infinite, the inexhaustible is requisite.
Love participates of the soul itself. It is of the same nature. Like it, it is the divine spark; like it, it is incorruptible, indivisible, imperishable. It is a point of fire that exists within us, which is immortal and infinite, which nothing can confine, and which nothing can extinguish. We feel it burning even to the very marrow of our bones, and we see it beaming in the very depths of heaven."
18. The Princess Bride by William Goldman
"Do I love you? My God, if your love were a grain of sand, mine would be a universe of beaches… I have stayed these years in my hovel because of you. I have taught myself languages because of you. I have made my body strong because I thought you might be pleased by a strong body. I have lived my life with only the prayer that some sudden dawn you might glance in my direction. I have not known a moment in years when the sight of you did not send my heart careening against my rib cage. I have not known a night when your visage did not accompany me to sleep. There has not been a morning when you did not flutter behind my waking eyelids…
I love you. Okay? Want it louder? I love you. Spell it out, should I? I ell-oh-vee-ee why-oh-you. Want it backward? You love I."
19. The Amber Spyglass by Phillip Pullman
"I will love you forever; whatever happens. Till I die and after I die, and when I find my way out of the land of the dead, I’ll drift about forever, all my atoms, till I find you again… I’ll be looking for you, every moment, every single moment. And when we do find each other again, we’ll cling together so tight that nothing and no one’ll ever tear us apart. Every atom of me and every atom of you… We’ll live in birds and flowers and dragonflies and pine trees and in clouds and in those little specks of light you see floating in sunbeams… And when they use our atoms to make new lives, they won’t just be able to take one, they’ll have to take two, one of you and one of me."
20. Dangerous Liaisons by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
"Now, I’m not going to deny that I was aware of your beauty. But the point is, this has nothing to do with your beauty. As I got to know you, I began to realize that beauty was the least of your qualities. I became fascinated by your goodness. I was drawn in by it. I didn’t understand what was happening to me. And it was only when I began to feel actual, physical pain every time you left the room that it finally dawned on me: I was in love, for the first time in my life. I knew it was hopeless, but that didn’t matter to me. And it’s not that I want to have you. All I want is to deserve you. Tell me what to do. Show me how to behave. I’ll do anything you say."
21. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
“Lying under such a myriad of stars. The sea’s black horizon. He rose and walked out and stood barefoot in the sand and watched the pale surf appear all down the shore and roll and crash and darken again. When he went back to the fire he knelt and smoothed her hair as she slept and he said if he were God he would have made the world just so and no different.”
22. Just Kids by Patti Smith
"Where does it all lead? What will become of us? These were our young questions, and young answers were revealed. It leads to each other. We become ourselves … 'What will happen to us?' I asked. 'There will always be us,' he answered."
23. The Sandman, Vol. 9: The Kindly Ones by Neil Gaiman
"Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up. You build up all these defenses, you build up a whole suit of armor, so that nothing can hurt you, then one stupid person, no different from any other stupid person, wanders into your stupid life … You give them a piece of you. They didn’t ask for it. They did something dumb one day, like kiss you or smile at you, and then your life isn’t your own anymore. Love takes hostages. It gets inside you. "
24. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
“I love you also means I love you more than anyone loves you, or has loved you, or will love you, and also, I love you in a way that no one loves you, or has loved you, or will love you, and also, I love you in a way that I love no one else, and never have loved anyone else, and never will love anyone else.”
25. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
"He dug so deeply into her sentiments that in search of interest he found love, because by trying to make her love him he ended up falling in love with her. Petra Cotes, for her part, loved him more and more as she felt his love increasing, and that was how in the ripeness of autumn she began to believe once more in the youthful superstition that poverty was the servitude of love. Both looked back then on the wild revelry, the gaudy wealth, and the unbridled fornication as an annoyance and they lamented that it had cost them so much of their lives to find the paradise of shared solitude. Madly in love after so many years of sterile complicity, they enjoyed the miracle of living each other as much at the table as in bed, and they grew to be so happy that even when they were two worn-out people they kept on blooming like little children and playing together like dogs."
26. "This Is Water" by David Foster Wallace
"The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day."
27. How to be Good by Nick Hornby
"The plain state of being human is dramatic enough for anyone; you don’t need to be a heroin addict or a performance poet to experience extremity. You just have to love someone."
28. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
"If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger."
29. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
"All my life I thought that the story was over when the hero and heroine were safely engaged — after all, what’s good enough for Jane Austen ought to be good enough for anyone. But it’s a lie. The story is about to begin, and every day will be a new piece of the plot."
30. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
"I have for the first time found what I can truly love – I have found you. You are my sympathy — my better self — my good angel — I am bound to you with a strong attachment. I think you good, gifted, lovely: a fervent, a solemn passion is conceived in my heart; it leans to you, draws you to my centre and spring of life, wrap my existence about you — and, kindling in pure, powerful flame, fuses you and me in one."
31. "Letters to a Young Poet" by Rainer Maria Rilke
"...believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it."
32. Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey
"What I’m feeling, I think, is joy. And it’s been some time since I’ve felt that blinkered rush of happiness. This might be one of those rare events that lasts, one that’ll be remembered and recalled as months and years wind and ravel. One of those sweet, significant moments that leaves a footprint in your mind. A photograph couldn't ever tell its story. It’s like something you have to live to understand. One of those freak collisions of fizzing meteors and looming celestial bodies and floating debris and one single beautiful red ball that bursts into your life and through your body like an enormous firework. Where things shift into focus for a moment, and everything makes sense. And it becomes one of those things inside you, a pearl among sludge, one of those big exaggerated memories you can invoke at any moment to peel away a little layer of how you felt, like a lick of ice cream. The flavor of grace."
33. Letter from Henry Miller to Anaïs Nin
"Anais, I only thought I loved you before; it was nothing like this certainty that's in me now. Was all this so wonderful only because it was brief and stolen? Were we acting for each other, to each other? Was I less I, or more I, and you less or more you? Is it madness to believe that this could go on? When and where would the drab moments begin? I study you so much to discover the possible flaws, the weak points, the danger zones. I don't find them—not any. That means I am in love, blind, blind. To be blind forever! (Now they're singing "Heaven and Ocean" from La Gioconda.)"
34. How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer
"It’s more like every electron in every atom in the universe paused, breathed in deeply, assessed the situation, and then reversed its course, spinning backward, or the other way, which was the right way all along. And afterward, the universe was exactly the same, but infinitely more right."
35. Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
"In the darkness, two shadows, reaching through the hopeless, heavy dusk. Their hands meet, and light spills in a flood like a hundred golden urns pouring out of the sun.”
This post was originally published on June 10, 2014. It was updated on June 7, 2019.
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