5 Books to Dog-Ear When You’re Single
How many times have we searched the internet, library shelves, and bookstores, for the perfect books to dive into during a time of singleness? We’ve searched the self-help section, the fiction shelves, and perhaps we’ve even wandered over into the romance section just looking for a good love story. If you’ve spent longer than you care to admit looking for a great book to dog-ear during your single years, here are five books that were perfect for my season of singleness.
Each of the books on this list gave me a strong foundation – one that I needed when it came to making important decisions in my relationships. Some of these books taught me how to love, and others taught me what love is not. But each offers a unique lesson for singles (men or women) in today’s world. Check out what was on my bookshelf during my single years:
1. The Great Gatsby
“You must know Gatsby”. Written in 1925 by American author F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby tells the story of love in the summer of 1922. When Fitzgerald died, he thought his work was a failure. But the book became popular again after World War II, and there’s a reason why it’s hailed as the “Great American Novel”.
A common denominator for all of Fitzgerald’s characters in The Great Gatsby is that they’re motivated by love, lust, and desire. But out of the five relationships presented in the story, not a single one is stable or healthy. But readers can quickly learn from the main characters mistakes. Without giving away the plot if you haven’t read it (it’s a quick read, I promise!) you’ll find that it’s important to take time to heal from a bad breakup, and the all the money in the world can’t buy you happiness. Easily read over a long weekend, this book moves with a fast plot line and characters desperate for real love. Although not a guidebook for the correct way to form a relationship, we can perhaps learn what we shouldn’t do during our single years from Fitzgerald’s characters.
2. Daring Greatly
Singleness offers a great opportunity for us to take time and build our relationship with ourselves. Building up virtues and our own character is an admirable way to spend our singleness. If you’re looking for a guide along this journey, I recommend Brene Brown. She’s a shame researcher whose TED talk went viral, and she does an amazing job at getting to the root of many of the wounds experienced in today’s culture. But in addition to shame, she spends a lot of her book, Daring Greatly, discussing vulnerability and courage.
“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance,” she writes. She challenges readers to get out into the arena of life and live to the fullest, saying: “Nothing has transformed my life more than realizing that it’s a waste of time to evaluate my worthiness by weighing the reaction of the people in the stands.” If you reach for one self-help book while you’re single, let Brene teach you about the importance of being your authentic self.
3. Kristin Lavransdatter
When I was looking for literature to help me develop a healthy appreciation for the messiness of marriage and human nature, I looked no further than Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset. Written throughout the 1920s, the book invites readers to journey alongside Kristin Lavransdatter, a woman living in medieval, Catholic Norway. It’s an epic trilogy that looks at the mistakes and successes of Kristin as she discerns her vocation and builds a family. And although the sheer length of the trilogy can be off-putting, those who have read the series will urge you to read it at least once, if not twice.
“The characters are so believable because they are not entirely consistent — no one is all good or all bad, and even as Kristin deliberately allows herself to be deceived as only a young woman can, she has flashes of adult irritation, rage, and self-knowledge,” writes Simcha Fisher, wondering why someone wouldn’t want to read the novel. “It’s not just a lady’s novel: Undset somehow knows what’s in the mind of the men, too. Kristin’s father, Lavrans, moves through the novel in the same way that (as far as I can tell!) many real men move through their actual lives: in armor of strength, courage, and steadfastness, which occasionally and unpredictably shifts aside to reveal profound regret and panicked self-doubt, a bitterness toward life which is quickly and smoothly covered over again with a better self.”
4. Little Women
If there was ever an author who understood the benefits of living a single lifestyle, it’s Louisa May Alcott. When her older sister married in 1860, Louisa, who was 27 years old at the time, said: “I’d rather be a free spinster and paddle my own canoe.” Alcott never married, but instead supported herself and her parents through her writing. But just because Louisa preferred the single life, doesn’t mean that she spent her writing time bashing marriage. Instead, she offers incredible examples of married and single life in her novel Little Women. Perhaps her most well-known work, Little Women tells the story of four sisters growing up during the Civil War era.
“In Little Women, the March sisters subscribe to the Alcottian ideals of self-sacrifice and familial duty, but also strive for independence, aiming to succeed at whatever endeavor they most desire, be it traditionally feminine and domestic, as with Amy and Beth, who want to marry and tend house, respectively, or unconventional, as with Meg and Jo, who want to become artists,” explains Anne Trubek, urging readers to not be afraid to read Little Women. Whether you identify with Jo March’s desire for independence and romance, or you value Meg’s steadfast loyalty towards her fiance, John, every reader can garner relationship wisdom from Alcott.
5. Jane Austen (Seriously!)
If you’re a single Catholic man reading this list, I can imagine you saw this book recommendation and stopped reading further. But Jane Austen’s novels are not just sappy, romantic love stories. If you dismiss Austen’s work as ‘just for the ladies’, you’re missing out.
Austen mastered the art of satire as a writing tool. Her quick wit and clever humor style puts the stand-up comedians of today to shame. But as a Catholic single (man or woman), you’ll especially appreciate Austen’s strong Christian morals that shine through in her novel writing. Characters are praised for their honesty, selfless sacrifice, kindness, and charity. Elizabeth Bennet and Anne Elliot are not the flighty, fluffy romantic comedy characters we’ve become used to in today’s culture. Instead, Austen’s characters are men and women who go through dramatic character reformation before arriving at the last page of the book.
Take for instance, the iconic couple of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy from Austen’s well known novel, Pride and Prejudice. It’s easy to imagine that Darcy is the perfect English gentleman and Elizabeth is a flawless, strong, independent woman. But, as the novel progresses, readers discover that Darcy struggles to treat people with dignity. Elizabeth falls prey to the vice of pride often, and is a quick (sometimes wrong) judge of other’s character. But their character flaws do not just make them relate-able (we’ve all acted like Darcy or Elizabeth before, after all). It also makes them fascinating characters to get to know throughout the pages of Austen’s novels.
Just do yourself a favor and skip out on watching the movies before you read the book – you’re better off going straight to the source for all the lessons Austen’s books can teach.
Chloe Langr is a very short stay-at-home-wife, whose growth has probably been stunted by the inhumane amounts of coffee she regularly consumes. When she is not buried in a growing stack of books, she can be found spending time with her husband, geeking out over Theology of the Body, or podcasting. You can find more about her on her blog "Old Fashioned Girl."