The best books about complicated friendships and meaningful connections within a broader network

Janice M. McCabe Author Of Connecting in College: How Friendship Networks Matter for Academic and Social Success
By Janice M. McCabe

Who am I?

I’ve been studying friendships for over 20 years. As a sociologist, I use social science research methods, particularly interviewing and network analysis, to better understand who people are friends with and how friendship ties help us. As a professor at Dartmouth College, I’m particularly interested in how friendship ties help college students academically and socially and how they get in the way academically and socially. My first research on friendship was a group project in a Women’s Studies course at Tulane University focused on undergraduate women’s close friendships. The best part of that study was developing close friendships with each other, some of which have lasted more than two decades!


I wrote...

Connecting in College: How Friendship Networks Matter for Academic and Social Success

By Janice M. McCabe,

Book cover of Connecting in College: How Friendship Networks Matter for Academic and Social Success

What is my book about?

As McCabe and the students she talks to show, the friendships we forge in college are deeply meaningful, more meaningful than we often give them credit for. They can also vary widely. Some students have only one tight-knit group, others move between several, and still others seem to meet someone new every day. Some students separate their social and academic lives, while others rely on friendships to help them do better in their coursework. McCabe explores how these dynamics lead to different outcomes and how they both influence and are influenced by larger factors such as social and racial inequality. She then looks toward the future and how college friendships affect early adulthood.

The books I picked & why

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Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close

By Aminatou Sow, Ann Friedman,

Book cover of Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close

Why this book?

In a memoir co-written by two best friends, Aminatou and Ann detail the joys and struggles of their “big friendship” over the years in an honest and hilarious way. I appreciated their stories and advice on the work it takes to keep meaningful relationships that don’t fade or become resentful. It didn’t come easy to be open with each other and vulnerable about the friction they felt from ignoring racial and class dynamics in their friendship. They situate their friendship within the dynamics of their friend groups, which they term “the friendweb.” To live “shine theory” within the friendweb, ties are collaborative, supporting each other so that “I don’t shine if you don’t shine.” This book makes it clear that friendship is not always easy, but it is worth it. 

Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close

By Aminatou Sow, Ann Friedman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Big Friendship as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A close friendship is one of the most influential and important relationships a human life can contain. Anyone will tell you that! But for all the rosy sentiments surrounding friendship, most people don’t talk much about what it really takes to stay close for the long haul.

Now two friends, Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, tell the story of their equally messy and life-affirming Big Friendship in this honest and hilarious book that chronicles their first decade in one another’s lives. As the hosts of the hit podcast Call Your Girlfriend, they’ve become known for frank and intimate conversations. In…


Someone To Talk To: How Networks Matter in Practice

By Mario Luis Small,

Book cover of Someone To Talk To: How Networks Matter in Practice

Why this book?

While friends are important in many ways, so are “weak ties” within our networks. In this non-fiction book, sociologist Mario Luis Small analyzes interviews with a group of graduate students, investigating who they turn to for support about a range of topics, including love, depression, and finances. Because of the obligations that close friends and family entail, Small finds that people often avoid turning to these close ties and instead rely on the convenience of people in their orbits. I’m drawn to this book because it contradicts what we think we know about who we talk to about important matters and because it’s such a rich investigation of people’s social ties and under what circumstances they actually turn to the people closest to them.

Someone To Talk To: How Networks Matter in Practice

By Mario Luis Small,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Someone To Talk To as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the James Coleman Award for Best Book from the Rationality and Society section of the American Sociological Society
Winner of the Outstanding Recent Contribution from the Social Psychology section of the American Sociological Association
Winner of the Best Publication Award from the Mental Health section of the American Sociological Association
Honorable Mention, PROSE Book Award, Cultural Anthropology and Sociology, from the Association of American Publishers

When people are facing difficulties, they often feel the need for a confidant. How do they decide on whom to rely? In Someone To Talk To, Mario Luis Small follows a group of…


Big Little Lies

By Liane Moriarty,

Book cover of Big Little Lies

Why this book?

This novel offers an incredibly rich portrait of complicated friendships within a broader network. Big Little Lies focuses on a group of women who all have children starting kindergarten. As the book unfolds, these women—especially Jane, Madeline, and Celeste—let each other into their inner worlds more. We also get a view of the broader network of “kinder moms” and “blonde bobs” whose lives appear nearly perfect. Within their close friendships and broader network, we see how people are our “friends” not because we call them that, but because they support us, in ways we don’t anticipate. The book develops these meaningful ties even more deeply than the HBO series, unraveling the twisted path to what happened at Trivia Night.

Big Little Lies

By Liane Moriarty,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Big Little Lies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

*Published as BIG LITTLE LIES in Australia and the United States*

Liane Moriarty, million copy selling author of The Husband's Secret brings us another addictive story of secrets and scandal.

Jane hasn't lived anywhere longer than six months since her son was born five years ago. She keeps moving in an attempt to escape her past. Now the idyllic seaside town of Pirriwee has pulled her to its shores and Jane finally feels like she belongs. She has friends in the feisty Madeline and the incredibly beautiful Celeste - two women with seemingly perfect lives . . . and their…


Yes Please

By Amy Poehler,

Book cover of Yes Please

Why this book?

Although I really enjoy celebrity memoirs, I’m surprised by how infrequently friends, particularly more than just one close friend or romantic partner, play an important role in someone’s story. This book was an exception. Unlike most memoirs, it’s not written in a chronological way; instead, you get snippets of Amy Poehler’s life. The audiobook is especially hilarious because Amy Pohler reads it. Throughout the stories, you get a sense of the broader network of friends that support her at different points in her career. Friendships are meaningful and fun in this book.

Yes Please

By Amy Poehler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Yes Please as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE NEW YORK TIMES NUMBER ONE BESTSELLER

In Amy Poehler's highly anticipated first book, Yes Please, she offers up a big juicy stew of personal stories, funny bits on sex and love and friendship and parenthood and real life advice (some useful, some not so much). Powered by Amy's charming and hilarious, biting yet wise voice, Yes Please is a book full of words to live by.


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

By J.K. Rowling,

Book cover of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Why this book?

Recently, I read this book series to my children and was struck by the depth of meaningful connections between Harry, Ron, and Hermoine and a range of other students and adults at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. While the whole series deserves to be read with this in mind, I particularly highlight Book 7, which is the final book in the series. The friends have relied on each other through so many adventures. Without giving away too much (in case you haven’t read it or seen the films), they ultimately succeed not just on Harry’s strengths but because they have each other. Children’s friendships are not easy (in real life or in fiction) and in this book, they contain jealousy, secrets, trust, and love.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

By J.K. Rowling,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It's time to PASS THE MAGIC ON - with brand new children's editions of the classic and internationally bestselling series The seventh and final book in the global phenomenon series that changed the world of books forever As he climbs into the sidecar of Hagrid's motorbike and takes to the skies, leaving Privet Drive for the last time, Harry Potter knows that Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters are not far behind. The protective charm that has kept Harry safe until now is now broken, but he cannot keep hiding. The Dark Lord is breathing fear into everything Harry loves,…


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