The best marriage books

9 authors have picked their favorite books about marriage and why they recommend each book.

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War Brides

By Lois Battle,

Book cover of War Brides: A Novel

War Brides is a work of historical fiction that explores the lives of five young women from differing backgrounds who meet in a small English village in 1939. I love World War II stories about ordinary people on the Homefront. Despite a slightly misleading title, I was drawn to the strong characters who face the horrors surrounding them with the unwavering support of one another. Bryan has done extensive research into the time period and the traumatic effect the war had on British citizens. What sets this story apart is the inspiring friendship the women develop that endures over time despite the challenges of their differences, the terror of bombing raids that cause the deaths of their neighbors and friends, and an unforgivable deception.

Who am I?

Susan Tate Ankeny left a career in teaching to write the story of her father’s escape from Nazi-occupied France. In 2011, after being led on his path through France by the same Resistance fighters who guided him in 1944, she felt inspired to tell the story of these brave French patriots, especially the 17-year-old- girl who risked her own life to save her father’s. Susan is a member of the 8th Air Force Historical Society, the Air Force Escape and Evasion Society, and the Association des Sauveteurs d’Aviateurs Alliés. 


I wrote...

The Girl and the Bombardier: A True Story of Resistance and Rescue in Nazi-Occupied France

By Susan Tate Ankeny,

Book cover of The Girl and the Bombardier: A True Story of Resistance and Rescue in Nazi-Occupied France

What is my book about?

It was no secret that the chances of surviving a full twenty-five mission tour as a B-17 bombardier were minimal, and on February 8, 1944, Dean Tate’s luck ran out when his Flying Fortress was shot down in flames over northern France. But that wasn’t the end―Tate was one of four men from his aircraft who not only survived but were saved by the French resistance from capture. Tate spent thirty-seven days being sheltered in enemy-occupied France, passed from person to person until he was finally brought back to England by the escape line later known as Shelburn. What makes this book special is that Tate not only kept in touch with his helpers long after the war ended, but also wrote a personal and highly detailed account of his experiences, and it is that account, together with several years of research, that Tate’s daughter has used to such great effect in producing this highly readable true story. ―Keith Janes, author of They Came from Burgundy and Express Delivery

Marriage, a History

By Stephanie Coontz,

Book cover of Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage

Today, most people marry for love, or at least hope to marry for love. However, the idea of the love match as the preferred form of marriage is a relatively recent development. In Marriage a History, Stephanie Coontz tells the story of marriage’s transformation from an economic arrangement into an emotional one and covers everything from caveman unions to the modern fight for same-sex marriage. The book is filled with colorful examples and amusing anecdotes, such as the story of one aristocratic mother’s dismay when her son actually falls in love with his intended bride (she worries this will hurt her economic bargaining power) yet ultimately, it leaves the reader contemplating the very serious question of what it means to fall in love and whether love has, or should have, anything to do with marriage.

Who am I?

As a family law professor, I spend a lot of time thinking about marriage. Although it is an extremely personal decision, the legal, social, and even political ramifications can be tremendous. Marriage is not just an individual choice. Each year, I teach my family law students that there are three parties to every marriage, the two spouses, and the state. The books on this list reveal how the state has influenced marital decision-making and also, how individual marital decisions have influenced the state. These books show that marriage can protect and benefit spouses, but that it can also harm them through the promotion and acceptance of society’s biases and prejudices. As the actress Mae West once stated, “Marriage is a great institution, but I’m not ready for an institution.” The following books highlight the wisdom of West’s words.


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Buying a Bride: An Engaging History of Mail-Order Matches

By Marcia A. Zug,

Book cover of Buying a Bride: An Engaging History of Mail-Order Matches

What is my book about?

There have always been mail-order brides in America—but we haven’t always thought about them in the same ways. In Buying a Bride, Marcia A. Zug starts with the so-called “Tobacco Wives” of the Jamestown colony and moves all the way forward to today’s modern same-sex mail-order grooms to explore the advantages and disadvantages of mail-order marriage. It’s a history of deception, physical abuse, and failed unions. It’s also the story of how mail-order marriage can offer women surprising and empowering opportunities.

Public Vows

By Nancy F. Cott,

Book cover of Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation

In Public Vows, Nancy Cott explores how the history of marriage in the United States reflects the creation of a very public and political institution. As Cott shows, in the early years of the United States, the common law doctrine of coverture allowed white men to hold a monopoly over the country’s civil and political institutions. For Cott, marriage has always been a public institution with political implications. As Cott explains, the political undercurrents and legal aspects of marriage have often allowed men to have control over women in law and in custom. Cott’s study was a vital component for my own work as her analysis helped me to better understand how the early U.S. legal system privileged husbands and fathers over wives and daughters with regard to property, earnings, contracting, and guardianship rights. 


Who am I?

I am a historian with a PhD in history from American University. My research has focused on the changing nature of U.S. citizenship after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. In particular, my newly released book, Gendered Citizenship, sheds light on the competing civic ideologies embedded in the original conflict over the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) from the 1920s through the 1960s. My research has won recognition through several grants and fellowships and my writing has appeared in the Washington Post, History News Network, New America Weekly, Gender on the Ballot, and Frontiers


I wrote...

Gendered Citizenship: The Original Conflict over the Equal Rights Amendment, 1920-1963

By Rebecca DeWolf,

Book cover of Gendered Citizenship: The Original Conflict over the Equal Rights Amendment, 1920-1963

What is my book about?

By engaging deeply with United States’ legal and political history, Gendered Citizenship illuminates the ideological contours of the original ERA conflict. Through an extensive examination of almost-forty different archival collections, several court cases, and a multitude of government documents, Gendered Citizenship unearths the array of both men and women who participated in the original conflict. In the process, Gendered Citizenship takes the struggle over the ERA in an entirely new direction.

Rather than focusing on the familiar theme of why the ERA failed to gain enactment, Gendered Citizenship explores how the debates over the ERA transcended traditional political divides in the early to mid-twentieth century and ultimately redefined the concept of citizenship in the United States.

The Lost Wife

By Alyson Richman,

Book cover of The Lost Wife

Until I wrote my book I was exclusively a screenwriter. And throughout my career, I’ve been hired to adapt a variety of different novels, mostly love stories and romantic comedies. But nothing I’ve ever worked on has haunted me quite like Alyson Richman’s tale of first love – a love ripped apart by the brutality of the Nazis and their “Final Solution.” And yet, even as the horrors unfold, Richman always manages to find pinpoints of light in the darkness. Her prose is both elegant and poetic – and the tale she weaves will undoubtedly call forth the waterworks.


Who am I?

I’ve devoted my career to writing love stories. I’ve analyzed and dissected most of the great ones, always with the intention of writing something to join their ranks. Along the way, I noticed something interesting: the books that make people cry often stick with them, long after they’ve finished reading them. Perhaps this is because we all need to release feelings that are not socially acceptable? Whatever the reason, if you’re like me and love a good cry, then you’ll most certainly enjoy the books on my list.


I wrote...

The In Between

By Marc Klein,

Book cover of The In Between

What is my book about?

After bouncing around in foster homes for most of her childhood, seventeen-year-old Tessa Jacobs doesn't believe she deserves love – not from her adoptive parents, and certainly not from anyone at school. But everything changes when she has a chance encounter with Skylar, a senior from a neighboring town who's a true romantic.

When tragedy strikes, Tessa wakes up alone in the hospital with no memory of how she got there. And Skylar has passed away. As Tessa begins her relentless search for answers, Skylar's spirit reaches out to her from the other side. Desperate to see him one last time, Tessa must unravel the pieces of their relationship – and the truth might even lead her into the afterlife itself.

Best Day Ever

By Kaira Rouda,

Book cover of Best Day Ever

The story of a flamingly narcissistic man plotting to betray his wife shouldn’t be funny at all, but Kaira Rouda definitely pulls it off with impressive skill and verve. Husband Paul is so insanely self-centered that I couldn’t stop laughing at the stream of inanities flying around in his egotistical brain as he drives his wife Mia to their lake house for what’s supposed to be the most memorable day of their lives. And is it ever, thanks to Mia’s moxie. You go, girl!


Who am I?

I was raised in a loving but strict Catholic family in the 1970s, when girls like me were still expected to grow up to become traditional wives and mothers, rather than go to college and pursue a career. In a Pre-Cana class intended to prepare me and my fiancé for marriage (it didn’t work so well, as evidenced by our rancorous divorce twelve years later), I learned the concept of “family of origin,” and the profound impact a person’s upbringing has on them as an adult. I became fascinated by the psychic baggage each of us carries around, and how it affects our personal relationships and life choices.


I wrote...

Absolution

By Regina Buttner,

Book cover of Absolution

What is my book about?

When small-town Jeanie goes off to college, a predatory professor takes advantage of her naivete by drugging and date-raping her. Believing she was to blame for the assault, Jeanie conceals the resulting pregnancy from her old-school Catholic parents. She drops out of college, moves away, and marries the first nice guy she meets, in the desperate hope that devoting herself to marriage and motherhood will somehow absolve her from her sins.

But evidence of Jeanie’s previous pregnancy eventually surfaces, and her new husband’s pristine image of her is blown. As Greg’s shock deepens into violence and emotional abuse, Jeanie realizes she must finally confront the trauma in her past in order to save herself from a marriage that threatens to destroy her.

Mr. Fox

By Helen Oyeyemi,

Book cover of Mr. Fox

Helen Oyeyemi’s Mr. Fox is a complex, enthralling pastiche of a novel. Interweaving adaptations of Bluebeard, Fitcher’s Bird, Mr. Fox, and the ballad of Reynardine, Mr. Fox invites readers into a vertiginous wonderland where Oyeyemi’s adaptations interrogate the workings of gender and race, romance and desire, imperialism and geopolitics. Moving slipstream-style across the twentieth century, Mr. Fox offers a transnational circuit of stories and characters that connect gendered and raced cultural conventions with the misogyny and violence of the Bluebeard tradition, ultimately challenging readers to consider (and reconsider) European literary and artistic traditions as well as their underlying ideological structures.


Who am I?

Long before I became a “fairy tale scholar,” I was keenly aware of the ways that fairy tales saturate our cultural landscape. Given their ubiquity, who isn’t? But my awareness was always a discomfiting one, an unnerving at the fairy tale’s insistent cheeriness; it was this unnerving that made me fall deeply in love with The Bloody Chamber, the collection that so beautifully flays the fairy tale to reveal its dark and sordid heart. In researching The Bloody Chamber, I saw ever more clearly that the fairy tale’s grim underbelly involves not only twisted ideas about gender and desire and love but also about race, and this discovery has motivated my research over the past decade.


I wrote...

Erotic Infidelities: Love and Enchantment in Angela Carter's the Bloody Chamber

By Kimberly J. Lau,

Book cover of Erotic Infidelities: Love and Enchantment in Angela Carter's the Bloody Chamber

What is my book about?

Since the publication of The Bloody Chamber in 1979, Angela Carter’s reimagined fairy tales have inspired an impressive body of criticism. Yet none has addressed the ways her fairy tales grapple with and seek to overcome the near impossibility of heterosexual love and desire under patriarchy. In Erotic Infidelities, author Kimberly J. Lau argues that the strangeness of Carter’s fairy-tale enchantments—the moments when love or erotic desire escape the deeply familiar, habitual structures and ideologies that contain them—show the momentary, fleeting possibilities for heterosexual love and desire. Foregrounding Carter’s relationship to psychoanalytic theory and issues of language and desire, Lau argues that Carter’s "erotic infidelities" work against our culturally determined expectations and longings and usher us into welcoming new enchantments.

The End of Vandalism

By Tom Drury,

Book cover of The End of Vandalism

Tom Drury has been called “the greatest writer you’ve never heard of” and when you discover his work, you’ll feel a thrill similar to the joy of knowing the gems hiding in plain sight throughout the Midwest (Get it? Plain sight?). The End of Vandalism, Drury’s first novel (you could read any of them- they’re all great, but start with this one as the same characters reappear in future books), takes place in a fictional Iowa town and follows the lives of three of its residents, who are involved in a love triangle. Drury writes real, beautiful, complicated, and thoroughly Midwestern characters. Although Grouse County is fictional, it could just as easily be a real place. And if you find you need more Iowa, read Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella (this is my sneaky way of recommending more than 5 books).


Who am I?

As a lifetime Midwesterner, I've found that, just as the richness and beauty of our beloved "flyover states" can be overlooked by the rest of the country, there is a powerful collection of Midwestern novels that don't get the attention they deserve. I once read a passage by a New York writer that described a character as being from “some non-descript Midwestern town.” The Midwest is only non-descript if you’re too lazy to describe it. I kind of like that I can keep the Midwest like a secret. But I’ll share these novels with you. Best enjoyed on the coast of a freshwater lake or in your favorite worn-out easy chair.


I wrote...

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks

By Annie Spence,

Book cover of Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks

What is my book about?

In Dear Fahrenheit 451, librarian Annie Spence has crafted love letters and breakup notes to the iconic and eclectic books she has encountered over the years. From breaking up with The Giving Tree (a dysfunctional relationship book if ever there was one) to her love letter to The Time Traveler’s Wife (a novel less about time travel and more about the life of a marriage, with all of its ups and downs), Spence will make you think of old favorites in a new way. Filled with suggested reading lists, Spence’s take on classic and contemporary books is very much like the best of literature―sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes surprisingly poignant, and filled with universal truths.

Zelda

By Nancy Milford,

Book cover of Zelda: A Biography

This is the book that introduced me to astonishing research and the art of life writing when I was in high school. Milford’s vivid and deeply researched biography of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald is unsurpassed; she found letters presumed lost and assembled her own archive. Milford’s feminist reading of Zelda’s life is subtle and convincing, suggesting that some of Zelda’s madness may have been induced by her frustration at never becoming a creative artist in her own right. Also possibly a contributing factor: Scott’s theft of many details of her life and letters to fuel his own writing!

Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by American women’s lives my whole life, reading and writing women’s biographies from high school through graduate school and into my career as a professional historian. I was raised in the Great Lakes region of the United States, and was educated at Bryn Mawr College and the University of Pennsylvania. I teach early American history, women’s history, and the history of sexuality at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, and am at work on a book about women’s lives in the generation after the American Revolution.


I wrote...

The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright

By Ann Little,

Book cover of The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright

What is my book about?

Born and raised in a New England garrison town, Esther Wheelwright (1696–1780) was captured by Wabanaki Indians at age seven. Among them, she became a Catholic and lived like any other young girl in the tribe. At age twelve, she was enrolled at a French-Canadian Ursuline convent, where she would spend the rest of her life, eventually becoming the order’s only foreign-born mother superior. Among these three major cultures of colonial North America, Wheelwright’s life was exceptional: border-crossing, multilingual, and multicultural.

The Emotionally Destructive Marriage

By Leslie Vernick,

Book cover of The Emotionally Destructive Marriage: How to Find Your Voice and Reclaim Your Hope

So many women have silently suffered abuse for years in the name of trying to do what they believe God would have them do. Sadly, their well-meaning efforts, and at times misunderstanding of the Scriptures, can actually feed the destructive cycle in their marriages. In this book, Leslie Vernick reaches out to the reader with practical strategies for recognizing emotional abuse and taking steps to break free of its bondage. She outlines what needs to happen for hope to be restored in a marriage and shares how to leave if the cycle of destruction continues. Many women I’ve worked with through my groups and Peace after Divorce Workshops have cited that this book literally saved their lives.

Who am I?

I have a passion for helping people move past the pain of divorce because I’ve been there myself. As a counselor I knew what I needed to do to cope and heal but I also quickly realized the importance of making prayerful decisions and trusting God. It’s my joy to walk you through steps you can take to cope now and move to a brighter future. My education, career, faith, and experiences have resulted in my book Peace after Divorce being recognized as an exemplary Christian self-help book by the Illumination Book Awards. 


I wrote...

Peace After Divorce: Choosing Concrete Actions Rooted in Faith

By Renee Smith Ettline,

Book cover of Peace After Divorce: Choosing Concrete Actions Rooted in Faith

What is my book about?

Divorce hurts! And, it’s normal to feel a range of negative emotions such as anger, resentment, guilt, fear, sadness, and loneliness. Left unaddressed, these undercurrents of pain can last a lifetime. Fortunately, you can learn ways to move beyond the heartache.

Peace after Divorce is a practical and spiritual guide filled with a deep understanding of the emotions and battles faced while enduring divorce and its aftermath. Step-by-step strategies zero in on ways to cope with everyday issues while also helping you discover your God-given power to find healing, joy, and peace. Uplifting and encouraging with real-life examples, this book will help you navigate the trials and tribulations of divorce, while equipping you with tools to begin living a fulfilling life of purpose, meaning, faith, and hope. An Illumination Book Award winner, Peace after Divorce will help you leave the pain and sorrow behind and move toward a brighter future.

Delicious

By Sherry Thomas,

Book cover of Delicious

Set in Victorian England, this novel begins where romances often start—with a beleaguered heroine. She is a brilliant cook with a questionable past. Her patron dies. His brother takes over the estate where—let’s say—she’s been multi-tasking. The brother has perversely cut all pleasure from his life. But oh, that food. Complications develop, including his desire to not desire the food or the cook. There are dark secrets and dark hungers including a hunger for revenge on both the hero’s and heroine’s parts. I love a sexy, twisty story that I can’t put down. This one meets all of my marks. 


Who am I?

I’m a creative director in Vermont with a few favorite things: laughter, standard poodles, and happy endings—in life and in fiction. Romance fiction abounds with young heroines and happy endings. But I prefer reading about mature women like myself, women who have experienced their share of disappointments yet face life’s challenges with courage and humor. I like the elements of both genres in one juicy book. After much-frustrated searching, I gave up and wrote the story I wanted to read. My wise, middle-aged heroine still has lots to learn about grief and joy, and learns many of those lessons with men—in bed.


I wrote...

Willing: A Contemporary Romance

By Leslie Morris Noyes,

Book cover of Willing: A Contemporary Romance

What is my book about?

Liz Silver has lost her creative spark. Her career success is tied to the enthusiasm she brings to her wedding photography, but losing that spark threatens her livelihood. What gives? Her life is perfect, isn’t it? She has a delightful daughter, supportive friends, and glorious Vermont to call home. Armed with the wisdom and humor her Jewish ancestors stitched into her DNA, Liz begins looking for solutions. The men she casually takes to bed along the way force her to consider whether her vow to leave love behind is the problem. Traveling a road potholed with old grief, Liz discovers a new way of seeing herself, a career reboot, and, just maybe, the partner of her dreams—if the potholes don’t get her first. 

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