Columns > Published on February 14th, 2018

Single And Loving It: A Reading List

When you say "There are some great things about single life," people look at you like you're saying, "There are some great things about having oral surgery." They figure you're a person so deluded you'll try and find the upside of bleeding from the mouth for a few days. 

I'm here to reassure you, there are some great things about single life. It beats oral surgery any day. Even on Valentine’s Day, the love-est of love days. Don't believe me? Fine. Sign yourself up for a gum graft. STILL don't believe me? Fine. Here’s two lists of books. I know it looks like one, but it’s two.

It’s a list of reads for people who are single and loving it, and it’s a list of reads for people who might not understand what’s so great about being single. Who might not believe a person would ever choose to be single, or perhaps find themselves single and grow to like it. And to really drive the point home, each book on this list includes something awesome about flying solo.

1. 'Drinking At The Movies' by Julia Wertz 

Too many slice of life comics are about love, focus on love, or revolve around the rituals of love. Not every comedy needs a romantic subplot. Not every superhero movie needs to bend over backwards trying to make us see love between a Hulk and a Black Widow (so unearned, Marvel. So unearned).

One of the pleasures of single life is going to the movies by yourself. Seriously, it’s awesome. If you’ve never tried it, you should. Nobody is talking in your ear during the movie. Nobody "shares" your popcorn. And if the movie sucks, you can get up and leave. 

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2. 'Among The Thugs' by Bill Buford

This book will make you hate groups of people. It will make you pretty sure that going it alone is a better way, provided you're not interested in being stabbed or crushed against an iron gate at a soccer game. If you are interested in those things, then you might need a buddy or two. 

When you’re single, there's none of this democracy nonsense, none of the "wisdom" of crowds. You make your own decisions. There's nothing more freeing than deciding, rather than washing each individual cup of a muffin pan, that you'll just throw it out dirty and never eat muffins again. 

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3. 'Textbook' by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

The most conversational, participatory book I’ve ever read. It’s like a friend, but a friend that only responds when you’re interested and waits around until you're ready to chat. 

Friendships are one of the best parts of being single. When you're single, you find out who your friends are, have plenty of time to devote to them, and, hell, I don't have to tell you the ways in which friendships are a lot simpler than romantic relationships. 

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4. 'U.S. Presidents' by Ken Jennings

Jennings has this whole series of Junior Genius Guides, and they're great for the single person. Why? Because your one-person bar trivia team needs to do a little homework if you're going to stand a chance. Read these and you can be a one-person pub quiz champ. Except on the sports. You're screwed on that one.

Going to a bar alone is one of life's great pleasures. I'm not kidding. Bring a book, have a couple. You'll never feel more at peace.

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5. 'Stranger In The Woods' by Michael Finkel

This book profiles Christopher Knight, a dude who walked off into the woods one day and didn't speak to another human for 27 years. This book isn’t just “look at this weirdo!” It explores the place loneliness has held in different cultures. It asks a lot of questions regarding why someone might want to be alone, and it starts to ask why the rest of us can't handle someone who doesn't want to be around us. 

Being single and loving it allows you to really strip away any aspects of your life that are performative. There's an authenticity to single life that people shoot for in their intimate relationships, telling you things like, "We poop with the door open." Yeah, you know who else does that? Single people. All the time. And you don't see us crowing about it. 

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6. 'Saga Of The Swamp Thing' by Alan Moore

Great example of an extremely non-traditional but loving relationship. It's the classic story of boy meets girl, except the boy is a plant man. And has no genitalia. But grows this fruit and then the girl eats it and...this sounds really bizarre. I promise, it works better in the book. Alan Moore might, might, be a better writer than I am. 

Being single can mean you develop other fulfilling, non-traditional, non-sexual relationships. Friendships, relationships with pets, siblings, motorcycles. Everyone in a relationship thinks they can do it too, but trust me, they can't. They think they're doing an awesome job balancing a new beau and their buddies, but trust me, they aren't. 

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7. 'The Gentle Art Of Swedish Death Cleaning' by Margareta Magnusson

This sounds a little sick, but I love the idea of leaving no trace after death. Sort of like the camping thing, leaving nothing but footprints, taking nothing but memories. There’s a tidiness there, a closing of the loop that's really appealing. 

I think this would freak out a lot of people, but when you’re single, you don't have to worry about freaking anyone out. Your oddities and proclivities are yours and there's nobody to explain them to. You don't have to talk out your morbid curiosities. Of which there are many. 

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8. 'Sleep, Death’s Brother' by Jesse Ball

This is sold as a manual for lucid dreaming, specifically for children and people who are incarcerated. The idea being that lucid dreaming can provide a level of escape and agency for people who might not have those things in spades. This could provide an interesting, reality-altering experience for anyone. Although dreams aren't interesting to hear about, admit it, they're fascinating when you're the dreamer.

Sleep is one of the best parts about single life. Unless you’re lucky enough to sync up with your partner. In which case, get hitched. Seriously. People talk about liking the same bands and having similar outlooks on child-rearing, but I’d put some stock in “You go to bed at 1 AM? Me too!”

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9. 'Misfit’s Manifesto' by Lidia Yuknavitch

This book is about the idea of being alone together. You're a misfit, you're alone, but you're together with a whole lot of other misfits who are alone as well.

Community is important when you're single. And one of the joys of single life is that it can be a little easier to find your community. It's more imperative. And you come to recognize that nobody is going to do it for you. Your community isn't going to knock on your door and say, "Where have you been all our lives?" You have to leave the house and chase that shit down.

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10. 'Behind You: One-Shot Horror Stories' by Brian Coldrick 

No better experience than a horror story read alone at night. That’s a heightened experience if there ever was one. I daresay horror is meant to be read alone, at night. It's an experience you'll never have if you can jump in the bed and someone else is there, bored and sleepy. 

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11. 'What I Talk About When I Talk About Running' by Haruki Murakami

What’s the difference between loneliness and solitude? That question is something you'll find explored in this book. 

Being single gives you the opportunity to address this, find out how it’s different. Because until you’re single for a good stretch, you’ll never really know the difference between being alone and being lonely.

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12. 'Hammer Head: The Making Of A Carpenter' by Nina MacLaughlin

When we make a switch in life, that can be a very lonely thing. This book reassures readers that the switch can pay off big time.

Making a switch can be tough, but one of the joys of being single? Hey, go for it! Nobody to consult. Nobody to hold you back. Of course, this is one the challenging things too. When your pop-up Demolition Man memorabilia store goes belly-up, there's only one person to blame.

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13. 'All The Pieces Matter: The Inside Story Of The Wire' by Jonathan Abrams

Oral histories are great if you're feeling like you need more voices in your life, something that's almost like a conversation. Plus, you can’t go wrong with this set of voices.

Binging TV is a great single activity. Haven’t we all tried to do this with a partner? Only to be red with shame as we watched the same episode of Black Mirror a second time, torn on whether it was better to admit it or lie?

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14. 'The Best Small Fictions 2017' edited by Amy Hempel

Collections like this are a great way to find your new favorite writer. You can skip around, you can plow straight through. You can do it however you want.

One thing I've loved and hated about single life is that you've got a lot more time. It's hard at first, but you could do worse than filling your time with some great books.

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15. 'There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce' by Morgan Parker

What of loneliness do we own? What of ourselves is really ours? This book of poems asks some big questions inside the tight, lyrical lines.

Don't ask me why, but I feel like poems are really great to read alone. It's during the alone portions of my life that I really connected with a lot of poetry. It's not something that I can explain, but if you've ever wanted to get into poetry and struggled, try it when you're alone. 

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16. 'Found: The Best Lost, Tossed, and Forgotten Items from Around the World' by Davy Rothbart

Keep your eyes open. Humanity’s all around. Take a second to lean over and pick up a scrap. You can have these short relationships with total strangers if you're willing to look through what everyone else sees as junk. 

One of the great things about single life, you can collect whatever you want, and nobody’s going to bother you about how gross or bulky or expensive or stupid your collection is. Nobody to politely suggest the molds of your teeth they let you take home from the dentist might be better housed in the basement. In the corner. Away from the light. 

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17. 'Mars Rover Curiosity: An Inside Account from Curiosity's Chief Engineer' by Rob Manning

You think YOU’RE alone? Imagine how far that little rover is from anyone. 

Being alone is a landscape you can explore. When people get married, they talk about starting their lives together and starting their adventure. Being alone is an adventure too. It's a different kind of adventure, but it's one that can be very fulfilling, and it's one worth trying. 

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18. 'Simple Steps To A Life Less Shitty' by Adam Gnade

I’m not saying you have a shitty life. But if you slip into it every here and there, and if you need someone who’s a little drill sergeant and a little punk rock, Adam is your guy. 

Being alone can help a person toss off the idea that everything is about progression. In a relationship, it can feel like a series of forward steps. Date, move in, engagement, wedding, married life, house, kids, so on. And, in this human's opinion, it's in the dry spots between steps where you find out what your relationship is made of. Being alone can help you get used to the idea that there will be good days and bad days. Every day isn't better than the last. Every day isn't forward motion. 

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19. 'Chewing the Page: Mourning Goats Interviews' by Phil Jourdan

Like I said earlier, other voices can be a help. Why not make those voices of other authors? You’re here on this site, you care about this shit.

When it comes to writing, times I've been alone have been massively productive. It's a combination of a lot of things. Time, energy, money, attention. All of it can go in one direction. You can leave work Friday and spend every waking moment until Monday morning working on something. Whatever your project is, the times when you're alone are far and away the best times to finish it. 

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What are your favorite things about being single? What do you wish other people knew about it?

About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

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