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I was that kid who got yelled at to “put your book down at the dinner table!” So it comes as no surprise that before and after I got engaged I turned to books (or, more specifically, to the wisdom of other women put down on pages) to help me navigate the world of weddings, and come to terms with what it means to be a bride. (Read more about why I love books.)

the engaged lady's reading list

After a couple of years of reading (pencil and highlighter in hand!) I’ve compiled The Engaged’s Lady’s Reading List: Five books that will take you on a journey from your very first discussions of marriage to your first anniversary (numbers 3 and 4 are my favourites!)

Treat yourself to one, or all, of them (they’re all less than $15). Or, discretely hand this list to a friend since you’re bridal shower is coming up, after all.

Committed: A Love Story by Elizabeth Gilbert

 1. Committed: A Love Story by Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame), 2011

Summary: Having sworn off marriage after a difficult divorce, Elizabeth must marry her Brazilian boyfriend due to immigration issues. Committed documents her journey of exploring what marriage means, and how it can work for her.

Thoughts: I read this right about the time in our relationship when we began to broach the conversation of marriage to try to understand what the institution and tradition of marriage meant to other cultures and women. Although not as critically acclaimed as Elizabeth’s first book, Committed did teach me a lot about the history of weddings (which is fascinating). And proved that, yes indeed, many modern women have qualms with marriage and weddings, but manage to gracefully navigate them nonetheless.

Read it if: You want to learn about the history of marriage, its evolution, pleasures, and pitfalls. Or if you aren’t sure you want to ever get married, period.

Miss Manners Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding

2. Miss Manners’ Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding by Judtith and Jacobina Martin, 2010

Summary: “Judith Martin and her newlywed daughter, Jacobina, explain how to have a dignified ceremony and delightful celebration without succumbing to the now-prevalent pattern of the vulgar, money-draining wedding that exhausts families and exploits friends.” – Amazon

Thoughts: I probably shouldn’t have read this book having never read anything by Miss Manners before, as I was not used to her, ahem, different tone. But I did learn a lot about what is and is not expected at weddings, and how some ‘traditions’ aren’t, in fact, traditional at all. The most important thing Miss Manners taught me about weddings? I don’t want the day to be all about me, I want to be a gracious host, too. (That’s a useful revelation.)

Read it if: You don’t know a lot about wedding etiquette (i.e. you’re the first woman in your family to be married in a generation) or if you’re particularly concerned with how things should be done (but then feel free to do them your own way, anyway).

A Practical Wedding by Meg Keene

3. A Practical Wedding by Meg Keene, 2011

Summary: A Practical Wedding is the modern bride’s handbook to getting married – and actually enjoying the process. Meg shows you how to pinpoint what your perfect wedding is (and includes some super useful exercises to help you out!), when to DIY your wedding (and when not to), how to communicate decisions to your family, why spreadsheets are awesome, and how to find Wedding Zen (which is a lot less crunchy than it sounds!)

Thoughts: If you read ONE wedding book, make it this one. This has been my wedding planning bible for the past year. Meg just gets it. And I have learned so much from her: “you won’t remember how it looked, you’ll remember how it felt” / “it’s not your big day, it’s everyone’s day” / and (last but not least) “when you get married you are creating a brand new baby family” (this has changed how I think about everything).

Read it if: You need practical advice on navigating the modern wedding world, how to talk to your partner about budgets, DIT (doing-it-together vs. doing-it-yourself!), or eloquent words to get you through the tough times (e.g. weddings after a death in the family, multi-faith ceremonies).

Offbeat Bride: Creative Alternatives for Independent Brides by Ariel Meadow Stallings

4. Offbeat Bride: Creative Alternatives for Independent Brides by Ariel Meadow Stallings, 2010

Summary: Amazon aptly describes Offbeat Bride as “a perfect mash-up of memoir and handbook.” In Offbeat Bride Ariel recounts the story of her own offbeat wedding, and shares anecdotes and advice from dozens of other nontraditional couples.

Thoughts: Ariel’s quick wit and wonderful sense of humour made this a delightful read. Ariel provides advice and ideas for real brides who want to get married their own way. You’ll find practical tips on budgeting, how to blend traditions and non-traditions, writing your vows, and dealing with the tough stuff. Plus, she’ll keep you in stitches with stories of her own nuptials – during which her guests did indeed pee in the woods! I learned a lot from this book.

Read it if: You aren’t sure a traditional wedding is for you, but you don’t know what other options there are.

The Wedding Ceremony Planner by Judith Johnson

 5. The Wedding Ceremony Planner by Judith Johnson, 2013

Summary: (Rev.) Judith Johnson provides ten sample ceremonies, dozens of readings, and plenty of inspiration to get you started on planning your wedding ceremony.

Thoughts: I haven’t thoroughly read this book cover to cover yet (I’ll get there, I’m in the middle of two degrees after all!) However, although written by an Ecumenical Minister, a quick flip through shows that this book does seem to balance tips and suggestions for couples of all faiths and traditions (e.g. same-sex ceremonies, second marriages, marriages with children from previous relationships, etc). It’s also chock full of worksheets and checklists, for you A-types!

Read it if: You want to write all, or part of, your wedding ceremony but don’t know where to start. Also good if you want to address sensitive issues in your ceremony, but aren’t sure how.

Have you read these books, and what did you think of them?
Do you have any titles to add to the Engaged Lady’s Reading List?
I’d love to know!

Book arch ceremony shot by Alex Rubin Photography. // Committed: A Love Story by Elizabeth Gilbert. Photo of Elizabeth Gilbert shot by Ben Baker via Oprah. // Miss Manners Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding by Judith & Jacobina Martin. Image of Judith & Jacobina shot by Terrence Antonio James via The Chicago Tribune. // A Practical Wedding by Meg Keene shot by Elizabeth Clayton via Lowe House Creative. // Offbeat Brides: Creative Alternatives for Independent Brides by Ariel Meadow Stallings. Photo of bride shot by Ruth Goalby Photography via Offbeat Bride. // The Wedding Ceremony Planner by Rev. Judith Johnson. Photo of couple shot by Acqua Photo via Grey Likes Weddings.