The Complexities and Joys of Adult Female Friendship:
A Reading List
Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman Recommend Their Favorites
Women’s friendships have always been fertile ground for literary exploration. One reason we wanted to write a memoir of our own decade-long friendship is that books are one of the few places that have always reflected the intensity and complexity of platonic relationships. The world at large might be eager to reduce women’s close friendships to a status beneath spouse and family, but the literary world has always taken this relationship seriously.
We have pored over letters between great women writers, gotten absorbed in sweeping stories of lifelong friendships, and relied on academic accounts of how women interact with each other. Our memoir, Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close, is a new addition to the canon, one that contains both of our perspectives on the joint reality of our friendship. We owe a debt to the many books that paved the way for us, and hope that there will be many more literary forays into female friendship in the future.
Here are some of our favorite books about the friendships between adult women.
Toni Morrison, Sula
Well before Ferrante fever swept the globe, Toni Morrison expansively described the tragic rise and fall of Nel Wright and Sula Peace, two childhood friends careening towards an unforgivable betrayal. Truth be told, every single relationship portrayed in this book will break your heart into tiny pieces. This is a foundational text we come back to again and again.
Audre Lorde and Pat Parker, Sister Love: The Letters of Audre Lorde and Pat Parker 1974-1989
It is impossible to properly quantify Audre Lorde’s and Pat Parker’s immense contributions to feminist, black, queer, and American literary culture. In this slim tome, we read the sweet, generous, urgent and sometimes angry letters these two intellectual giants share over 15 years. We feel so incredibly lucky they left this moving record of their friendship behind.
Magda Szabó, The Door
This is the intensely haunting story of two complicated women who live in a depressing, Hungarian village. The novel’s title holds a myriad of meanings but at the center of the story are the questions, what does friendship mean and what do we owe each other? You won’t stop thinking about this one for a long time.
Kayla Rae Whitaker, The Animators
Mel Vaught and Sharon Kisses are best friends and artistic collaborators in the male dominated world of animation. We love this novel because it centers a professional partnership between two women who are obsessed with each other’s brains. We relate so hard.
Deborah Tannen, You’re the Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women’s Friendships
We learned the hard way that good communication is at the heart of many friendships between women. The linguist Deborah Tannen has taken a close look at all the ways that people who are socialized as women tend to communicate with each other, and the many ways that communication can break down. We referred to her book constantly as we wrote about our own moments of connection and disconnection.
Tegan and Sara, High School
Ok, so technically Tegan and Sara Quinn are twin sisters, not just friends. And technically this is about youthful friendships, not adult bonds. But their joint memoir of their adolescence is a rare nonfiction book that offers both perspectives on a real relationship, including insights on the fine line between jealousy and admiration, forming your identity in relation to another person, and figuring out how to become adults together.
Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club
This rich novel is a classic for a reason. We love how The Joy Luck Club takes a long view, exploring the complex ways that friends show up in each other’s lives over many years—and how friendship can create multigenerational bonds outside the bounds of biological family.
Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman is available now from Simon & Schuster.