Some of these books are happy, some are sad. All are a reminder, though, of how much we have the capacity to love, and that we should be vigilant about exercising that capacity.
1) THE CHOSEN, by Chaim Potok
Reuven and Danny, two Jewish boys who grow up next door to each other in 1940s New York, never become friends until they are 15--Reuven, who is a an Orthodox Jew and the son of a bookish, open-hearted, intellectual Zionist, never has occasion to cross paths with Danny, the son and heir of a Hassidic Reb. But when they do finally get to know each other, they develop a bond that changes the way they each see the world.
I love this book because there is no embarrassment about the boys' love for each other. There's no confusion (neither tries to steal the other's woman or anything--girls are only alluded to but don't ever interfere). I feel like it's one of the few literary treatments of friendship that shows unabashedly how life-changing it can be.
2. MORE DIE OF HEARTBREAK, by Saul Bellow
Kenneth is good friends with his Uncle Benn. They're both classical chatty Bellowsians, but they are very good about coming back to each other. Get the edition with the introduction by Martin Amis--he says some things that spoke to me as much as the book did, including: This book is about two men who love women but who also love each other.
Also check out RAVELSTEIN. A failure of a novel, in that good old Saul prattles on in his way with zero narrative structure, and a "little" self-indulgent, but a really moving fictionalization of his friendship with Allan Bloom (or so I've heard). I got through the first 300 pages wondering if I should bother to finish, but then Saul drops a one-line bomb on the second to last page that made me cry for a week.
3. KISS OF THE SPIDERWOMAN, by Manuel Puig
Molina and Valentin meet in an Argentinian jail. Valentin is a revolutionary who has been locked up for illegal political activity; Molina is an effeminate gay man who was jailed for soliciting a man. Despite everything they don't have in common, Molina hypnotizes Valentin with his verbal depictions of Hollywood love stories, and they each come to an understanding of what it means to care about someone.
I've never seen the movie or the play. But the book has some really awesome elements (mainly in the footnotes) that I can't imagine translating perfectly to either of those media. So do read the book.
I know what I have above are three books by boys about boys. It makes me sad that (in my reading experience) women seem to have less to celebrate--friendships are more ambivalent. I hope you'll have recommendations about precious and inspiring female friendships that you'll be able to guide me towards. But friendship is also deeply complicated and a wealth of literature is written about its more ambivalent facets, so we'll have some Runners Up.
Runner Up 1:
THE FRIEND WHO GOT AWAY, by Jenny Offill and Elissa Schappell
Twenty essays by rising talents--all young female writers who have had a "break-up" with a former best friend. I wouldn't call this a heart-warming read; after all, you'll get to the end and have just read about 20 heartbreaks. But I do think most women go through a break-up at some point in their lives, and they are all left bereft in a way it is hard to explain or talk about with other friends. A thoughtful book, and resonant particularly if you're going through a "break-up" yourself.
Runner Up 2:
THE GIRLS, by Lori Lansens
This only gets second runner up because the "friends" in question are actually Siamese twin sisters joined at the head. I love my sister very much and she's my very good friend but I feel like sister-friends (or "fristers" as we call them) are kind of cheating, since (in most cases) sisters grew up with the same spastic mother, dorky dad, and/or crazy Italian great aunt, and as a result speak a strange secret language that seems weird to everyone else. Sisters, when it works out between them, are awesome friends. But anyway. THE GIRLS. Good book.
Runner Up 3 (I wanted to end with this so I could end with the quote):
THE SPANISH BOW, by Andromeda Romano-Lax. I know I've posted on it a million times, which is why I forced myself to put it down here as 3rd Runner Up, but whatever other richnesses of this book, what was most provocative for me was the friendship between Feliu and Justo. I already quoted this passage (from page 336-337) but I'll quote it again here:
A shroud of bad luck still seemed to hang over him, but he appeared to be taking the news astonishingly well. "What lasts?" he asked rhetorically, as he had so many times before. Then he laughed. "Good looks, rarely. Money--never."
"And friendship?" I asked cautiously.
He fingered his mustache. "Sometimes. I suppose I'd put it in the same category as love: flawed and messy, and of questionable duration, and yet somehow irresistable."