Life Advice for Book Lovers: Finding Solace in the Sad and Sapphic
Book Recommendations for the Troubled Soul
Welcome to Life Advice for Book Lovers, Lit Hub’s advice column. You tell me what’s eating you in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll tell you what you should read next.
I’m a late-in-life baby queer. After 30 years of dating men and even marrying one of them, I had my first relationship with another woman. As you can probably guess how this is going to go, I fell hard. It was like being thrown back to the emotional capacity of a 16 year old. Everything felt SO. And with nearly the same speed and intensity that it began, it’s over. I’m nursing my very first baby queer broken heart. And the only thing that feels good is having it ripped out of my chest and stomped on by some doomed sapphic love. I’ve exhausted the bibliographies of Jeanette Winterson, Eva Balthasar, Melissa Febos, and Eileen Myles, and even The Matrix by Lauren Groff offered some temporary relief. But this glutton for punishment is on the search for more. Please give me some intellectual, sad, doomed sapphic fiction to greedily consume with red wine, please and thank you.
Hi, I’m new here.
Dear New Here,
Ugh, I hurt for you. And I’m excited for you, too. I’m sorry this relationship didn’t pan out the way you wanted it to, though I can’t help but think of that tired saying: it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. Yes, eye rolls abound, but so many not-notable people come into our lives and exit without leaving so much as a footprint. This was no run-of-the-mill love. How incredible to brush up against something that changes you!
Luckily, there is no shortage of sad sapphic literature. (I’m relieved to hear that you’ve already explored the Jeanette Winterson canon, for she is usually my first stop in matters of the heart.)
Another personal favorite is Qiu Miaojin’s Notes of a Crocodile, a severely underrated, experimental queer coming-of-age tale set in 1980s Taipei that asks a lot of questions about art and liberation along the way, if that’s of interest! We follow an anonymous lesbian narrator into the jaws of a doomed love. (Listen: “I was about to get knocked out of the ring. It was clear from that moment on, we’d never be equals. How could we, with me under the table, scrambling to summon a different me, the one she would worship and put on a pedestal? No way was I coming out.”)
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Anne Garréta’s Not One Day, which a lovely bookseller in Brooklyn hand-sold to me years ago; the urgency with which they pushed the book into my hands told me all I needed to know, and now I turn it over to you. The premise is not one day without a woman—the writer’s daily scribblings are an act of devotion. It’s a propulsive and intimate excavation of exes, bodies and lust, the maze of memory, and the ways we conjure up the past.
Though you have requested fiction, might I also recommend Jenn Shapland’s My Autobiography of Carson McCullers, if you haven’t yet come across it? No stress if you don’t have a particular affinity for Carson McCullers—it’s really a memoir of self-discovery and an exploration in the ways we tell (and fail to tell) queer love stories.
Let’s not forget the quintessential lesbian break-up novel: Sarah Schulman’s After Delores, which (as its title implies) mourns a lost love in a way that is noir-New-York, a little sexy, and a little funny, too. It’s a story that both lingers in the memory of the relationship and that dares to ask what comes next. There’s never a map or right path to follow in romance—but that’s especially true for queer lovers, who are so often writing their own scripts. It’ll speak to your current ache and also the profoundly scary feeling of forging your own way forward.
The band-aid is off, the floodgates are open, and the world feels a little bigger now, doesn’t it?
From one literary glutton for punishment to another, cheers!!