The English language only has one word for “love,” but a whole lot more for how it makes us feel, think, and react. No experience with it is the same, yet we all experience a need to understand it better. And, as ever, one of the best places to find answers about a complicated emotion is in books. Here’s a list of novels, memoirs, and musings about the state of modern romance that help us explore the ways in which modern romance has evolved—for better or worse.
For anyone trying to get inside of the head of a person who can’t commit, this novel’s for you. Nate Piven is a twenty-something writer at the top of his game, flitting from assignment to assignment—and woman to woman—when he meets one who makes him start to wonder if that’s the life he really wants. Nate is flawed, and reading this novel is sometimes infuriating (while I consider it to be one of the best books about relationships on the planet, I have also literally thrown it across the room), but that’s mostly because it’s so spot-on in its depiction of modern relationship dynamics.
Adelle Waldman’s witty debut is one of Kaling’s all-time favorites. Nate Piven is a rising star who has to balance both magazine assignments and women. With tough-minded intelligence and wry good humor THE LOVE AFFAIRS OF NATHANIEL P. is an absorbing look at what one man really thinks about women, sex, and love.
When she turned 25, Katie Heaney had everything she was expected to: a college degree, friends, and family. Everything, that is, except a boyfriend. In fact, she had never been in a relationship, short or long term. In this laugh-out-loud funny memoir, she examines her romantic past, present, and future (with the help, of course, of her loyal and equally hilarious friends and a rotating roster of guys) in an honest, relatable, and, pleasantly surprising feminist way.
We all love to be in love, but what happens after the honeymoon phase? In Alain de Botton’s thought-provoking novel, that question is answered through Rabih and Kirsten, who fall in love, get married, have children, and then have to figure out what comes next. As we follow them through each stage, success, and struggle, the author interweaves philosophy and annotations to show the realities of modern relationships.
A new Netflix film starring Jane Fonda and Robert Redford, this novel tells the story of Addie Moore—a lonely widow, living far from her children, who makes an arrangement with her neighbor and friend, widower Louis Waters, that they will become each other’s companion. As they come to know each other better, a beautiful story of intimacy, friendship, and second chances emerges.
Seventy-year-old widow Addie Moore makes a surprising proposal to her neighbor Louis Waters, a 70-year-old widower. What follows is the engaging story of two isolated people finding solace in each other’s company, falling in love, sharing memories, and reflecting on their lives—their joys, regrets, fears.
Read our review of OUR SOULS AT NIGHT here.
Though this bestselling investigation into the sexual, economic, and emotional lives of women throughout history is not centered specifically around love or relationships, it speaks volumes about our culture’s views on them. As she researched the phenomenon of the single woman in the United States, Rebecca Traister began to discover that it goes back decades—centuries, even—linking it to periods of extraordinary social change. This is a fantastic and fascinating read, one that reminds us of the importance of choice in our romantic lives, and how what we decide has the power to influence the world around us.
For your feminist friends
Rebecca Traister offers a comprehensive study of the power of independent women in America through the fascinating history of unmarried women and their lasting, radical effect on the nation.
This series of linked novellas introduces a group of vulnerable and unforgettable characters, including an overweight young woman, a bartender/poet, a Boston controlling manager, and a teenage girl, each of whom is seeking love, lust, and gratification from the world around them. Andre Dubus III beautifully captures the raw humanity of this search, expanding upon themes of discontent, hope, forgiveness, tenderness, and disappointment.
In this evocative and emotional memoir, columnist Michael Ausiello recounts the 14 years he spent with his husband, Kit, the last of which was spent combating a rare and aggressive cancer that eventually took Kit’s life. Oscillating between past and present, SPOILER ALERT: THE HERO DIES is the heartbreaking and hilarious true story of a partnership and a love that transcends its tragic end.
Written more than a decade ago but more relevant than ever, HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU is the ultimate tough love guide, breaking down the typical thoughts and actions of modern men and reexamining familiar scenarios that put people back into the patterns they swear they’ll never follow again. It’s like sitting across the table from your most honest friend, who tells you you’ll thank her later (and you probably will).
A book before a movie, He’s Just Not That Into You is Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo’s guide to relationships. Reexamining typical mindsets and analyzing common scenarios, the two dole out the tough love so that women can stop making excuses for a person who might not even be interested and go find the one who is.
If you’ve ever wondered if one decision changed the course of your life, this novel is for you. At the age of 29, Hannah Martin still has no idea what she’s doing. She’s moved around, switched jobs, and is living in her best friend’s guest room when one night, she goes out to a bar and runs into her ex. Just after midnight, she finds herself facing two choices: go home with Gabby, or leave with Ethan. As concurrent storylines play out with the effects of every possible scenario, we’re brought on a heartfelt and thought-provoking journey about fate, love, and identity.
When it was first published in 2015, Hanya Yanagihara’s novel stunned readers with its intensity and subject matter. While it may not be for the faint of heart, her evocative tale of four college classmates—Jude, Willem, Malcolm, and Jean-Baptiste—who move to New York together and experience every kind of high and low, is not only about modern love and relationships but also about the people we choose to be our family and friends, who we allow into our lives and hearts, and the struggles we deal with from day to day.
I’m not exaggerating at all when I say I cried for 700 pages of this 832-page masterpiece. I have never loved a character more deeply than I love Jude, the main character in this ode to male friendship, who is scarred and broken from an unspeakable trauma. Reading about Jude’s ever-changing relationships with his three best friends from college was one of the best experiences I’ve had as a reader—and certainly as a crier.
When it comes to this topic, actor and intellectual Aziz Ansari literally wrote the book. With the assistance of an NYU sociologist, he designed a massive research project, with hundreds of interviews and focus groups, conducted all over the country, to find out how the process of love has changed in the age of technology. But don’t worry—it still has that trademark Ansari wit, which makes for an entertaining and enlightening read.
Aziz Ansari blew my mind with his fresh meditation on dating, so accurate and affirming of all my trials and tribulations navigating the harrowing dating scene in New York City that it brought me to tears. Well, maybe not real tears, but my eyes were definitely watering as I attempted to hold back audible snorts of laughter while reading it on the subway.
When writers Ann Patchett and Lucy Grealy met in college and subsequently attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop together, a friendship began that would define their lives. Ann’s account of that bond and the final years of Lucy’s life (she lost her battle with cancer in 2002) is moving, funny, and resonant. Their relationship is not romantic, but it’s clear, as Ann paints this beautiful portrait of a friendship, that through good and bad, she and Lucy were soul mates.
In this memoir of a life-defining friendship, Ann Patchett recounts her relationship with Lucy Grealy, who lost part of her jaw to cancer while still a child. It is a tender and brutal exploration of what it means to love a person we cannot save and being lifted up by the sheer effervescence of someone who knew how to live life to the fullest.
In 2015, Mandy Len Catron wrote a piece for the popular Modern Love column about testing out a list of questions that, according to a study, would result in two people falling in love. This collection continues the themes and questions she introduced in that piece—What makes love last? How damaging can our cultural narratives about relationships be?—in smart, witty, and vulnerable essays that draw on her personal life and her observations of the culture at large. In the age of apps, blind dates, chance encounters, and doubt, HOW TO FALL IN LOVE is a fascinating study of how people find and keep each other.