“Hearts can break. Yes, hearts can break. Sometimes I think it would be better if we died when they did, but we don’t.”Stephen King, Hearts in Atlantis
Few things tear us apart like heartbreak. Sometimes it feels impossible to imagine a time when it doesn’t hurt to think of them… let alone imagine a time when you don’t think of them at all.
There are no quick ways to heal from a breakup and move on. Time and no contact are the only real strategies. But that said, while you’re working on those, there are lots of good books to read during a breakup to start guiding you back to yourself.
My last breakup was thankfully several years ago. As I wrote about in Mountain Song, my book about living alone by the Swiss Alps, I ended up reuniting with that person (and more recently, marrying them). But when I think about that breakup and others before, I still remember the pain that I thought would never end. And yet, it somehow did.
After my worst breakups, I sought out books to guide and comfort me, but also to remind me that I wasn’t the only person who had ever suffered from a broken heart. I read to remind myself that I would get through this – and even emerge stronger.
Here are some of the best books to read when you’re going through a breakup and your heart is broken. Treat yourself to one or two books that stand out, give yourself a day of self-care to soak in their wisdom, and allow yourself double the kindness and patience you think you need. Things will get easier. I promise.
8 of the best books to read after a breakup to start healing
1. The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down by Haemin Sunim
The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down is one of the books that helped me to put the pieces of my life together during my last breakup. It’s a book of such gentle comfort, kindness, and wisdom, accompanied by stunning illustrations.
It’s a lovely guide not just to romantic relationships, but to approaching life with an open heart, kindness, and curiosity.
“When trust is shattered, when hopes are dashed, when a loved one leaves you, before doing anything, just pause your life and rest a moment. Surround yourself with close friends and share food and drink. Watch a silly movie. Find a song that speaks to your heart. Go somewhere you’ve always said you wanted to go – the Grand Canyon, the Camino de Santiago, Machu Picchu. All by yourself. Just you and the road. After spending time alone, go to your own sacred space. Close your eyes and clear your mind. Invoke the heart of compassion and feel the embrace of acceptance. Downcast and heartbroken, I know you were once me and I was once you. So today, I pray for you.”The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down
2. How to Love by Thich Nhat Hanh
I’m so grateful for the lessons I’ve learned from How to Love. In this little book from Thich Nhat Hanh’s “How to” series, learn from the master of mindfulness not just how to heal from a breakup, but how to open your heart and cultivate thriving relationships.
On a particularly hard day during my last breakup, I bought myself a small, pretty-patterned notebook and spent a morning filling it with the quotes that resonated with me from How to Love and The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down. It became my guidebook for feeling better.
“It’s important that loving another person doesn’t take priority over listening to yourself and knowing what you need.”How to Love
3. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
If you haven’t read The Midnight Library yet, recovering from a breakup is a good time to change that. It’s a book about the infinite number of directions a life can take: all of the people we can end up with, the careers we can pursue, the trips that can change us, and the individuals we become.
It’s a book about regret, but also about the inevitability of regret in any life. We will never know what’s on the road we don’t take or in the life that doesn’t work out.
“We can’t tell if any of those other versions would of been better or worse. Those lives are happening, it is true, but you are happening as well, and that is the happening we have to focus on.”The Midnight Library
4. Circe by Madeline Miller
In a Reddit thread about how to get over an ex and feel like yourself again, user mostly_drowning recommended Circe, sharing that: “it helped me cope with loneliness and it is an overall poignant and compelling read. Can’t recommend it enough.”
This is Madeline Miller’s first novel, a bestselling and spellbinding book about the daughter of the sun god Helios, who’s banished to the remote and wild island of Aiaia after disobeying the gods. Alone (mostly) in confinement, Circe rebuilds her life – and finds more strength than she could have believed was possible.
“I had told myself that when he was away I would do all the things I had set aside for sixteen years. I would work at my spells from dawn until dusk, dig up roots and forget to eat, harvest the withy stems and weave baskets till they piled to the ceiling. It would be peaceful, the days drifting by. A time of rest.”Circe
5. You Can Heal Your Heart: Finding Peace After a Breakup, Divorce, or Death by Louise Hay and David Kessler
In You Can Heal Your Heart, self-help bestseller Louise Hay and grief and loss expert David Kessler explore how we can heal from grief and rediscover peace, including after a breakup. On Reddit, user g00d-gir1 describes it as “a game changer on how to look at past relationships”.
“‘Our thinking creates our experiences,’ she began. ‘That doesn’t mean the loss didn’t happen or that the grief isn’t real. It means that our thinking shapes our experience of the loss.’”You Can Heal Your Heart
6. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb
In Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, therapist Lori Gottlieb shares the story of when she realised that she was in desperate need of therapy herself: after an unexpected breakup left her feeling lost and devastated. As Gottlieb explores the inner lives of her patients, she finds that the questions they’re struggling with are the very ones she is now bringing to her own therapist.
In a thread about books for breakups on Reddit, aspiringpsychologist shared about Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: “It really helped me through my own break up. I felt like there was so much to relate to and it felt so cathartic.”
“Relationships in life don’t really end, even if you never see the person again. Every person you’ve been close to lives on somewhere inside you. Your past lovers, your parents, your friends, people both alive and dead (symbolically or literally)–all of them evoke memories, conscious or not.”Maybe You Should Talk to Someone
7. The Course of Love by Alain de Botton
I recommended The Course of Love to a friend today, which is what made me think of writing this post. I’ve encouraged so many people to read the novel in the last few years. It should be required reading, really. It’s fantastic.
The Course of Love is philosopher Alain de Botton’s fictional, philosophical, and psychological exploration of what happens after the birth of love, what it takes to maintain, and what happens to our original ideals under the pressures of an average existence.
“Pronouncing a lover ‘perfect’ can only be a sign that we have failed to understand them. We can claim to have begun to know someone only when they have substantially disappointed us.“The Course of Love
8. Your Life in Bloom by Lucy Fuggle
This is the book I wrote during a period of depression and a turning point in my work during the pandemic. I was also coming to terms with saying goodbye to people who had meant a lot to me. I wanted to remind myself how I had navigated heartbreak in the past – and how I would again.
It’s a short little book full of musings on finding your way. I hope it can bring you some comfort if you’re going through a breakup and putting the pieces of your life back together.
“When you’re waiting for that person to call and they don’t. When you want them to miss you and you’re the only one suffering. When you’re tearing yourself apart for someone who will never know how much it hurts. Feel the depths of it all and look across the shore for what’s on the other side: your peace, love, and joy. Every heartbreak is for something. Each time you reach a new low, you find your next phoenix moment; your chance to emerge stronger and more courageously vibrant than ever before. Know it’s coming.”Your Life in Bloom by Lucy Fuggle
If you adore books, need a bit of a boost, and would love some gentle comfort and guidance, check out The Sanctuary, a seven-day course from Tolstoy Therapy.