Ten Books about Friendship

Today’s Top Ten, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish, asks participants to list ten books about friendship. This was a fun one, and as you’ll see the books I’ve chosen aren’t all starry-eyed about the idea of friendship (although some are).

  1. Cat's EyeCat’s Eye, Margaret Atwood. Atwood always does a beautiful job of exploring the dynamics of female friendship, and, most importantly, she doesn’t deny the darker side of those friendships in the name of what I like to call “kumbaya feminism.” I remember the first time I read Cat’s Eye, I felt as though someone saw what it meant to be a little girl through the same eyes that I had: “Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To one another they are not cute. They are life-sized.”
  2. True Grit, Charles Portis. Maybe you haven’t read this book. If you’ve seen the Coen brothers’ movie adaptation, you get some of the friendship that develops here, specifically between Mattie Ross and Rooster Cogburn. If you’ve read the book, then you really understand. “No sooner were we down than Rooster was cutting me free. He ordered me to climb upon his back. I held fast around his neck with my right arm and he supported my legs with his arms. Now Rooster himself began to run, or jog as it were under the load, and his breath came hard.”
  3. The Secret HistoryThe Secret History, Donna Tartt. Well, anyone who has been reading this blog for years knows that I am bound to include at least one of Tartt’s books. I thought about including The Goldfinch because of the friendship between Theo and Boris in particular, but the truth is nothing will ever sweep me up the way The Secret History managed to–I identified so much with the introverted Richard and his romantic fascination (obsession, really) with Julian and the Greek students. “So many things remain with me from that time, even now; those preferences in clothes and books and even food—acquired then, and largely, I must admit, in adolescent emulation of the rest of the Greek class—have stayed with me through the years. It is easy, even now, for me to remember their daily routines, which subsequently became my own, were like.”
  4. Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?, Lorrie Moore. This slender novel is about how our deepest early friendships define us and how we continue to think of ourselves even when we are much older and have grown apart from one another. “She was the most sophisticated girl in Horsehearts, not a tough task, but you have to understand what that could do to a girl. What it could do to her life. And although I’ve lost track of her now, such a loss would have seemed inconceivable to me then. Still, I often surmise the themes in her, what she would be living out: the broken and ridiculous songs, the spent green box of Horsehearts; the sad, stuck, undelivering world.”
  5. Truth and Beauty, Ann Patchett. This memoir tells the story of Patchett’s friendship with the poet and writer Lucy Grealy, who suffered from cancer of the jaw and eventually died of a drug overdose in 2002. Patchett gives an honest account of a formative friendship that she outgrew in some ways but still celebrates every day. “After the dishes were washed and put away, Lucy put a tape in the little stereo box and we danced in the kitchen. No matter how dismal things seemed, ungraded papers, brutal weather, we could find the energy to spin around the table under the bright fluorescent lights of our apartment.”
  6. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald. I suppose this is a strange one to include—I mean, was Jay Gatsby really ever Nick Carraway’s friend? Or is the most important thing of all simply that Nick believed even for the briefest moment that such a thing could be true? “He smiled understandingly—much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced—or seemed to face—the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor.”
  7. All My Friends Are Going to Be StrangersAll My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers, Larry McMurtry. This is the story of Danny Deck, a young writer who is starting to see some success and to understand how is old ways—and his old friends—are failing to satisfy the person he is (somewhat reluctantly) becoming. “Not only had I screwed up my friendship with the Hortons, but I had knocked myself out of a love affair with Jenny, as well. I couldn’t stay in Houston. It was the one thing I knew clearly.” A side note: One of Danny’s friends is Emma Greenway (Horton), who is the daughter/main character in McMurtry’s Terms of Endearment. There are actually six books in what’s called McMurtry’s Houston Series.
  8. Just Kids, Patti Smith. I suppose this could also be called a love story, but all stories about friendship are generally also love stories of a type, and during their lifetimes Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe were both lovers and friends. “The sun had set over Avenue B. He took my hand and we wandered the East Village. He bought me an egg cream at Gem Spa, on the corner of St. Mark’s Place and Second Avenue. I did most of the talking. He just smiled and listened.”
  9. Never Let Me GoNever Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro. I suppose this is yet another book about a character, Kathy, who romanticizes the most formative relationships of her youth. When Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth find one another again as adults, the circumstances are complicated not only by their shared past but by their roles in society as a carer and donors, respectively. “I was talking to one of my donors a few days ago who was complaining about how memories, even your more precious ones, fade surprisingly quickly. But I don’t go along with that.”
  10. You Are One of Them, Elliott Holt. Sarah Zuckerman has dedicated much of her young life to her best friend Jenny Jones, who disappeared on a visit with her family to meet Yuri Andropov, the Soviet Premier of the USSR. As an adult, Sarah learns that Jenny and her family may have had a secret, and so she goes to Russia to find the truth. “For years I had lingered on the fringes of the other kids’ society—I would occasionally be drafted into kickball when their numbers were uneven—but now Jenny was with me. She could have picked anyone to be her friend. I’ve come to understand that some people are suns that pull others into their orbit.”

*All images and links are from Better World Books. This blog is not affiliated with that site, and I receive nothing if you click through and buy a book.

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19 comments

  1. The only book I’ve read in your list is the Great Gatsby and you’re right, I wouldn’t have inherently put that book in *this* top ten list, but it does mean something that Nick felt they were friends even if it was for just a fleeting moment. Love your descriptions with the quotes. 🙂

  2. I love this list. Never Let Me Go is the perfect choice and I like your take on The Secret History. I almost included The Robber Bride, but Cat’s Eye would have been just as good.

  3. Hahaha, it would never have crossed my mind to include The Secret History. It’s certainly one of the most engrossing stories about friendship I’ve ever read, but not a very friendish one, since Richard’s never sure if any of them are possibly plotting to kill him. :p

  4. I loooooooved reading Never Let Me Go. One of my favorite books. I hadn’t thought of including True Grit on this list, but you’re so right. The unlikely friendship featured in that story is the highlight of the whole book for me. Great list!

  5. I love your list. Mine also included The Secret History and Never Let Me Go. I considered putting The Great Gatsby on my list also but decided not to include to many faux friendships in the end.

  6. FTLOTP, I think friendship can often be more complex to understand that romantic love, and Gatsby is one of those books that does a terrific job with those complexities.

  7. Jenny, that’s why I included it. I think we have all had the unpleasant experience of having friends who turned out not to be friends at all, or not to be the kind of friends we thought they were. Richard definitely wants to see them that way, and he really cannot let go of it.

  8. Melissa, friendship is a bond of sorts, and I think Rooster and Mattie were definitely bound to each other and cared for one another. Because the book is Mattie in the first person the reader gets a better sense of how she grows to care for Rooster, but the Coen brothers really did do a nice job with the film.

  9. Anna, I decided to include it because of the longing Nick feels, and the way feeling special to someone (or being made to feel special–not necessarily the same thing) can sometimes make a person believe he is less alone. An odd way to look and friendship, I guess, but I think it happens a lot.

  10. I think the truest friendship I have ever found in a book is between Woodrow and Gus in Lonesome Dove…it brings me to tears even to think of it. I think it’s the greatest love story I have ever read. I’m a sap…

  11. Thanks for sharing this list! I have added many to my list that I want to read.

  12. I enjoyed reading The Great Gatsby, but I didn’t love it. I thought the friendship in it was a bit scarred, but I’m glad it got a mention.

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