Maybe he talked about his Crossfit routine for an hour. Perhaps she asked the bartender which cocktails were “gluten free.” Maybe after thirty minutes, you realized you’d actually gone out with him four years earlier through a different app. And guess what? He’s still talking about the time he got high with Diplo at Burning Man.
Regardless, we all know what it’s like to need a palate cleanser after a terrible date. That’s why I always insist on meeting at the bar next to my favorite bookstore, as there’s no better cure for dating ennui than a beloved novel. So instead of drunk texting your ex, or stalking the Instagram account of the yoga teacher you suspect he’s sleeping with, check out one of these gems!
Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones
If you haven’t read any Diana Wynne Jones, stop what you’re doing right now and pick up any of her books. I won’t be insulted if you abandon this blog post for one of the greatest delights in literature! Her novels contain the whimsical world-building of J.K. Rowling, the philosophical rigor of Philip Pullman, and arch humor that’s all her own.
Charmed Life belongs to the loosely-connected Chrestomanci chronicles, a series of books about magic, the multiverse, nine-lived enchanters, and the odd boarding school for witch orphans—children whose parents were burned for practicing witchcraft in worlds where magic is outlawed. (It makes dangerous Hogwarts look positively cozy). In Charmed Life, we meet Chrestomanci, the powerful enchanter who oversees the use of magic in the multiverse. He’s handsome, polite, impeccably dressed (he loves to wear “dove gray” suits), and his withering stare is enough to disarm his enemies before he mutters a single spell. He’s like a magical Don Draper with better manners and less alcohol dependency.
I’ve been on my share of terrible dates (remind me to tell you about the man who spent 45 minutes aggressively quizzing me on European history) but a few chapters of Charmed Life was always enough to make me forget whatever indignities I’d just endured.
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Okay, maybe this isn’t the best book to read after a bad date because it perpetuates the dangerous myth that you can reform a bad boy. But the love interest in this book is such a charming bad boy that it’s worth the risk. In Carry On, a queer love letter to Harry Potter, Rainbow Rowell introduces us to Simon, the chosen one, and his sworn enemy, Baz—his cocky, posh, delightfully sardonic roommate. That’s right: they’re enemies! They’re roommates! They just might be in love! And, oh yes, one of them might also be a vampire.
I defy you to read a few chapters of Carry On without falling for Baz. Yes, he’ll make you realize that you’ve been wasting your time with disgusting mortals who eat, sleep, and wear sweatpants. But this book is so funny and romantic, it’ll dull the crushing despair. It also has one of the hottest make-out scenes I’ve read in my entire life…
Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova
You can only listen to so many hipsters describe the web series they’re never going to film without starting to wonder, is Brooklyn the most insufferable city on Earth? That’s when it’s time to read the brilliant Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova, a gorgeously written urban fantasy that presents a darkly seductive, magical version of Brooklyn populated by witches. With haunting echoes of Pan’s Labyrinth and Alice and Wonderland, the book follows Alex, the most powerful bruja of her generation, as she journeys to the underworld to rescue her family. Labyrinth Lost won’t help you fall in love in real life, but it’ll keep you too captivated to care!
Rootless by Chris Howard
Sometimes, you just need to spend time with a guy who isn’t intimidated by powerful women who make bold fashion choices. That’s one of the many reasons I’m head-over-heels in love with Rootless, a dystopian eco-thriller set in the near future, when genetic modification has resulted in the death of every tree on Earth. The main character, Banyan, is a tree-builder who crafts elaborate metal trees for rich people. And in addition to being good with his hands, he happens to have excellent taste in women—namely female pirates who sport mohawks and six-inch heels as they terrorize the wasteland beyond the walled city. If Banyan were on Tinder, I’d totally use one of my “super-likes” on him.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
If you haven’t picked up on the pattern by this point, I’ll make it clear: I have a thing for well-dressed, sarcastic magicians (that’s probably why my dating history is such a disaster) and this book is chock full of them! A work of alternate history set in England during the Napoleonic Wars, Jonathan Strange is without a doubt, one of the greatest fantasy novels of the 21st century.
So the next time you waste two hours pretending to be interested in someone’s pointless sounding app (mindfulness for stressed-out cats? Really?), treat yourself to an evening of drawing room banter, frock coats, dangerous spells, tea cakes, and evil fairies with an appreciation for expensive wine. And while its 782 pages make it look like a slog, it’s one of the most pleasurable reading experiences you can have. I should know—I’ve read it six times and listened to the brilliant audiobook twice. (What can I say? I’ve been on a lot of bad dates!)
Kass Morgan is the author of The 100 series, which is now a television show on the CW. She received a bachelor’s degree from Brown University and a master’s degree from Oxford University. She currently works as an editor and lives in Brooklyn, New York. Her new book, Light Years, is now available from Little, Brown.