Books on a shelf, showing spines, with Unattached standing upright to one side.

While Valentine’s Day is traditionally dedicated to couples, many of us spend the holiday reflecting on what it means to be single – and we’re not the only ones with thoughts on the subject, as the books on this reading list make clear. Some of these titles celebrate singlehood and some delve into the difficulties that can come with it, but all of them share a focus on life outside of long-term romantic relationships.

Unattached (Ed. Angelica Malin, 2022)

Journalist and entrepreneur Angelica Malin is spearheading the single positivity movement with Unattached. Including writing from Megan Barton-Hanson, Shaparak Khorsandi, Shon Faye and Stephanie Yeboah, this collection of essays on modern singlehood shines a light on a range of brilliant women stepping into their power, owning being alone, and reveals the true depth of female potential when we choose to revel in our own strength.

Whether you’re single and thriving, recently on your own, searching for love, or even just appreciating your independence within a long-term relationship, this book is here to remind you that ‘You are more than enough on your own. You always were. You always will be. Don’t let the world make you think otherwise.’

The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso (2016)

A tale of female friendship in later life, The Woman Next Door is a funny, sharp look at the legacies of colonialism and prejudice – ‘Cape Town’s answer to Mapp & Lucia,’ according to Helen Simonson.

Hortensia and Marion are next-door neighbours in post-apartheid suburban South Africa. One is Black, the other is white. Both are successful older women with impressive careers behind them, both have recently been widowed, and both are sworn enemies. But when an unforeseen event forces the pair together, their long-held mutual loathing begins to transform into friendship.

Described by NoViolet Bulawayo as ‘charged with beauty, precision, nuance, and hope,’ The Woman Next Door was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award.

Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami (2014, translation by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goosen 2017)

From the internationally acclaimed Haruki Murakami, Men Without Women is a Sunday Times bestselling collection of short stories about male isolation, marked with the author’s trademark wry humour and hint of the surreal.

Across seven tales, Murakami delves into the lives of men who, in their own ways, find themselves alone. Here are vanishing cats and smoky bars, lonely hearts and mysterious women, baseball and the Beatles, woven together to tell stories that speak to us all.

The short story ‘Drive My Car’ has recently been adapted into a three-hour-long epic road movie that is Japan’s submission for Best International Picture at the 2022 Academy Awards, making this the perfect time to pick up the collection.

Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism by Kristen Ghodsee (2018)

Most single women will know that singlehood can be expensive; in fact, for many women globally, being single is simply not economically viable.

This is because unregulated capitalism is bad for women, argues ethnographer and Professor of Russian and East European Studies Kristen Ghodsee. Between the gender wage gap, the need to pay for childcare, the cost of a divorce lawyer and the commodification of women’s sexuality and bodies, capitalism strives to keep women economically dependent upon men.

But we have the power to solve this unequal balance of financial power. Taking lessons from socialist thinkers, Ghodsee lays out a potential future in which women can be economically independent, enjoying more autonomy in interpersonal relationships and even – yes – better sex.

Freya by Anthony Quinn (2016)

Amid the wild celebrations of VE Day, headstrong Freya Wyley meets wallflower Nancy Holdaway, and so begins a devoted, complicated and competitive friendship. As times change and lovers come and go, Freya and Nancy remain the only constants in one another’s unpredictable lives.

Anthony Quinn ‘draws us into the consciousness of his protagonists in an utterly compelling way’, according to the Independent on Sunday – and this is particularly true of Freya. Fiercely independent, she is both unable and unwilling to fit into the old-fashioned expectations of monogamy, marriage and motherhood.

Flitting from war-haunted Oxford to the bright new shallows of the 1960s, Freya explores the changing position of women in society. This is an immensely readable and compelling novel that brings its setting vibrantly to life.

The Door by Magda Szabo (1987, translation by Len Rix 2006)

When Magda, a young Hungarian writer, takes on a new housekeeper called Emerence, she never imagines how important this woman will become to her. It takes twenty years for a complex trust between them to be slowly, carefully built, but even so, Emerence takes great pride in her self-sufficiency, and is so protective of her personal life that she never lets anyone enter her home. Strong and eccentric, she has secrets and vulnerabilities beneath her indomitable exterior which will test Magda’s friendship and change both of their lives irreversibly.

The Door is a ‘dark domestic fairy tale’ (New York Times) about the tension between reliance and independence, in a hypnotic English translation by Len Rix that received the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize.

The Hungover Games by Sophie Heawood (2020)

With celebrity fans including Caitlin Moran, James Corden and Dolly Alderton, Sophie Heawood’s Sunday Times bestselling memoir couldn’t come more highly recommended.

Working as a celebrity journalist, Heawood was living a glamorous life in LA, free of responsibilities or consequences, until she was brought back down to earth – with a bump. Unexpectedly pregnant, Sophie returned to the UK and ‘Piss Alley’, Dalston, to contend with bringing up a baby on her own.

The Hungover Games is a gloriously entertaining, bitingly well-observed and emotionally raw memoir of solo new motherhood, described by Philippa Perry as ‘a deeper, funnier, realer, more poignant Bridget Jones’.

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