Look, I know how it is. We’ve all been there. In the throes of a broken heart, the first thing that seems likely to help you forget is usually the tried-and-true comforts: junk food, alcohol or any other self-destructive substances close at hand.
But, as a writer of relationship articles and books about getting past breakups, may I suggest a healthier alternative? Lose yourself in the pages of a good book. A book won’t make you fat, drunk or otherwise unhealthy, and — unlike your ex — a book is always there for you.
Here’s a fresh crop of some of my favorite recent titles to help get you out of the pit of despair and back in the game.
It Ended Badly: 13 of the Worst Breakups in History by Jennifer Wright
You think you’re handling your breakup badly? Pick up Wright’s witty, tongue-in-cheek historical account of breakup behavior so abhorrent, you can’t help but feel better about the six-pack of empty Ben & Jerry’s cartons in your trash can, alongside the four empty vodka bottles in the recycling bin. Sure, maybe you took a Sawzall and reduced your ex’s bespoke suits to ribbons, but at least you aren’t Emperor Nero, who had one wife murdered, then missed her so badly he castrated a male slave who resembled her and forced him to act — in every respect — as his wife.
Though you may be drowning in so many tears Kleenex has contacted you as a spokesperson, you’re not as bad as poor Russian empress Anna Ivanovna. She was so bitter about love, after losing a husband and never being allowed to remarry, that she forced a sham marriage on a young courtier and an elderly maid, then built a castle of ice and decreed that they must spend their wedding night inside of it — naked — presumably to freeze to death. They survived by allegedly bribing a guard for his coat.
Wright maintains a breezy tone that keeps you from diving too deep into the waters of Lake Poor Pitiful Me, and her outlandish — yet true — tales will make any jilted lover feel a little better by comparison. If nothing else, as the author points out, you can take comfort in the fact that no matter how badly you may have handled your breakup, at least you aren’t Norman Mailer.
Valley Fever by Katherine Taylor
Ingrid Palamede — called “Inky” by her family — hates returning to anywhere she’s ever lived: “Whole neighborhoods — whole cities — can be ruined by the reasons you left.” But, when yet another breakup leaves her with no place to go, Ingrid returns to the place she fled first and fastest and dreads most of all: home. Taylor’s lush, vibrant prose brings California’s central valley to life, both the tired, run-down, characterless monotone of Inky’s Fresno hometown and the rich, verdant beauty of the wine country.
Give your obsessing brain a break from the endless loop of what went wrong in your relationship: Valley Fever is a departure from most breakup books in that Ingrid doesn’t seem to wallow too much in the aftermath of her broken love affair, instead slowly, reluctantly coming to life amid the fertile hills and valleys of her family’s vineyards as she helps her father through failing health and failing farming.
Bonus: When you’re in the throes of breakup bingeing, Taylor bumps things up a notch from Häagen-Dazs and Cheetos with her vivid descriptions of home-cured prosciutto, warm and fragrant bruschetta from just-harvested tomatoes, almonds plucked and eaten straight off a branch, peaches “hot and jammy from the tree,” iced grapes piled into glasses of chilled vodka… and wine, of course — luscious, mouth-coating, mind-easing wine. Taylor’s pages offer a lyrical, beautiful and sensual place to get lost while you’re finding your feet again.
Put a Ring On It by Beth Kendrick
Imagine the ultimate rebound relationship after your fiancé summarily dumps you — one where the guy is not only drop-dead gorgeous (think “the lost Hemsworth brother”), but rich as Croesus and spectacular in the sack. Oh, and he wants to marry you, immediately, via private jet to Vegas — and you get to rub your ex’s nose in it when he comes crawling back.
Put a Ring On It, the latest from Beth Kendrick, takes place once again in Black Dog Bay (also the name of the series). It’s a fictional Delaware seaside town that’s a haven for the newly heartbroken, where every local business specializes in heartbreak — from the Whinery bar where the lovelorn come to drink away their sorrows to the Jilted Café where they binge-eat and the Rebound Salon to make ill-advised major hairstyle changes.
Put a Ring On It is a total fantasy and wish fulfillment at its height. But, if you’re stuck in a Möbius loop of “there will never be anyone else for me,” Kendrick’s light, funny, airy romance is the best kind of escape. Maybe you won’t find a gorgeous millionaire less than 24 hours after your relationship implodes, but this fun and frothy tale will remind you that there’s life after dumping.
Cold Feet by Amy FitzHenry
Sometimes it really isn’t them — it’s us. Commitment-phobes may find solace in FitzHenry’s debut novel. Emma Moon is supposed to get married in a week, but she’s already pretty certain her marriage will fail. It’s not because of her fiancé — Sam is just about perfect, from making her breakfast to planning their surprise honeymoon to booking her the perfect getaway for her and her best friend at a chichi spa in Napa.
But Emma, a lawyer who analyzes her love life through the lens of legal procedure, doesn’t like their probability of success. Based on her status as the “byproduct of two emotional car wrecks” that are her parents, she’s pretty sure she’s “a marriage liability waiting to happen.”
FitzHenry — a lawyer herself — writes breezy, entertaining prose that shows how a fear of abandonment can make us push people away. Cold Feet is an engaging read about family, friendships and fiancés — and a cautionary tale about the ways we sabotage our own happiness by dwelling on the things we’re missing instead of what we have.
Single, Carefree, Mellow by Katherine Heiny
Most of the characters in Heiny’s first short story collection are none of the titular adjectives. Her finely drawn, meticulously wrought character studies are of women in turmoil: restless in a relationship, wrestling with indecision and dissatisfaction or swimming against a quiet tide of despair.
Single, Carefree, Mellow is a must-read for the lovelorn — not so much for its treatment of breakups, although there are gems like this: “Maya knew, from personal experience, that the reason behind the breakup could become, in a way, even more anguishing than the breakup itself, if you never found out what it was.”
If you’re wallowing in misery over your newly single status, pick up this beautifully written, unflinchingly naked short story collection for the unappealing picture it paints of relationships from rampant insecurity to indifference to infidelity. If Heiny’s unappetizing cocktail of couplehood is what you missed out on, you’ll soon feel you ducked a bullet, all while losing yourself in her lovely prose.
Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid
If you’re curled up in a tight little ball of self-recrimination and doubt after your breakup, wondering what you could have done differently, then grab Reid’s imaginative, whimsical third novel.
When Hannah Martin runs across an old flame on the heels of a disastrous breakup, she faces a seemingly minor decision: Go home with him that night, or not? Hannah chooses both, and Reid cleverly bifurcates the book from that point into two very different paths that result, Sliding Doors style. But in Reid’s original take on the concept, there’s no “right” decision. We make the choices we make in each moment, and while even the smallest one may butterfly-effect into major consequences, Maybe in Another Life ingeniously shows how happiness lies not in the path we’re on, but what we make of it as we’re walking.
A compulsively readable, relatable story of love, friendship and family, Reid’s engaging novel suggests that happiness is the ultimate choice. Her book leaves you feeling that no matter how dark the sky may seem now, the sun may burst out from just behind the next cloud.
Modern Love by Aziz Ansari
Comedian Ansari’s nonfiction book — roaringly funny and legitimately researched in an enormous worldwide research project with sociologist Eric Klinenberg — is about dating, not dumping, but it’s a perfect read for anyone dreading diving back into the dating pool.
In the wake of the depressing picture of love in the digital age drawn by the Ashley Madison hack and the cataclysmic Vanity Fair Tinder article, Modern Love is both a comic essay on the challenges and indignities of modern dating in the digital age and a sociological treatise on how romance has evolved and continues to change. Ansari concludes it’s not as bleak a picture as we’ve been told. Sure, there’s a mind-spinning complex system of new-tech etiquette about things like how long to wait before returning a text, exactly what to say to strike the right tone (so hard to properly convey in texts!) and the unique kind of crazy that takes over when you can see the text has been read but haven’t heard back so you sit starting at your phone, coming up with all kinds of bizarre doomsday scenarios…
But Ansari’s conclusion is that, while the digital age has radically changed the entire culture of dating and finding a mate, it’s not necessarily for the worse. Our options have expanded — sometimes we have too many choices and, at the core, we’re all still looking for the same thing humans have wanted since Adam and Eve: someone to keep us from being alone in the world. An uproarious, helpful and ultimately hopeful guide to getting back out there.
Phoebe Fox is the author of her own collection of go-to breakup books, The Breakup Doctor, Bedside Manners, and Heart Conditions, part of the Breakup Doctor series (from Henery Press). You can find her at www.phoebefoxauthor.com and have news and relationship advice delivered right to your inbox here. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.