Whether you’re into celebrating Valentine’s Day or Bah-Humbugging it, love is a central theme in much of literature the world over, and many of our favorite books feature love (and its many complications) as a powerful motivator in the main character’s actions. So, in the spirit of February’s day of hearts and candy, we offer some recommended reading about the many types of and words for L-O-V-E.
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Not only this one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read, but Marquez so brilliantly captures the idea of love in a way that transcends expectation and cliché. Interweaving the impulses of love and desire with the reality of society, aging, and dying, Marquez captures all the competing intensities of love.
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
If you’re a pragmatic romantic like me, you like your love stories served up with a cold splash of irony. Nothing was more enjoyable in college than taking a course that had every Jane Austen novel on its syllabus. So when Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld’s modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice came out a couple of years ago, I had to read it right away. It’s light and clever and I won’t give away how Sittenfeld devises the romantic plot for literature’s second most famous couple, but it’s no surprise that she makes Elizabeth Bennet a writer.
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan.
This book had been on my TBR list for a very long time. It finally was available through the Austin Public Library a few weeks ago and I could not put it down. The story centers on Rachel and Nick’s love story. Nick is bringing home his American girlfriend to meet his family in Singapore for the first time and to attend his best friends wedding. The twist: Rachel has no idea that Nick’s family is wildly wealthy and that the wedding they are attending is between an heiress and a billionaire. I normally have a hard time with books where I know than the main character does, but I was laughing the entire book and enthralled with the Nick and Rachel’s love story. Read it before it hits theaters this summer!
The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
I have a particular love for romance novels and have zero qualms discussing it, though I often feel as though it is the genre with the most pitfalls as well as potential. It is certainly the most maligned of literary genres—to be fair, much of that disgust may have been earned once upon a time (admit it, someone says “romance novel” and many readers imagine a mass market paperback in which a shirtless, uncommunicative hunk throws a powerless simpering maiden over the back of his horse and rides into the sunset, consent be damned).
However, the state of the romance novel today is infinitely different from the average early 1970s Fabio-esque tumble in the hay. Romance writing commands more than half of the publishing market in the US, with readers beyond the stereotypical light browser. More and more often, we’re seeing diverse characters and pairings—realistic interracial romance, positive queer love stories, genuine representation of love interests with disabilities—and believe me, we’re celebrating.
With that (much too longwinded) introduction, I am excited to whole-heart-eyes-edly recommend Jasmine Guillory’s new novel, The Wedding Date. This sweet love story starts with a perfect rom-com-worthy meet-cute in a stalled elevator, and goes on to follow two genuinely charming humans as they fall in love: Alexa, a hard-working mayor’s aide for the city of Berkley, CA, and Drew, a children’s doctor living in LA. These characters feel like admirable and relatable people doing their best with the baggage they bring to their new relationship—insecurities, demanding careers, past heartbreaks, long-distance dating, and of course, racial tension in all its major and minute forms. Alexa, you see, is black, and Drew is white. Guillory skillfully navigates the trials (and infinite joys) of interracial dating without side-stepping the tough (and true) parts, but to be clear: this is not a book about issues of race, this is a book about two humans falling in love. I highly recommend celebrating love along with the characters of The Wedding Date.
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton.
While Ethan Frome might not be romantic (far from it), Edith Wharton creates an incredible, troublesome love triangle in this short book. With perhaps one of the all-time best endings (no spoilers!), it’s a book I come back to every so often to marvel at the subtle interactions between characters and the fateful choices they ultimately make.
Next Year, for Sure by Zoey Leigh Peterson
This tender, engrossing novel follows Kathryn and Chris, romantic partners of nine years, as they open up their relationship to other people and discover the elasticity, compassion and possibility that come with allowing deep love to evolve. With a touch of humor, the characters unpack nuanced emotions as they navigate their new boundaries, wading into waters of jealousy, loneliness and the definition of commitment in an earnest effort to figure out the very best way to love one another. This book is terribly romantic. It also includes a subplot that follows the couple’s slow drift away from close friendship with another couple, offering an angle on the shifting roles and boundaries of friend love, as well. A wonderful read that reminded me that real love is so much bigger than the heart-shaped box we tend to put it in.