On Valentine's Day, back in 2012, I had some fun with the whole hallmark holiday gush-fest and recommended some left-of-center love stories to you guys. Interestingly enough, looking back on that post, I still agree with every single word I said and still stand behind every single book I pushed your way. If you didn't take me up on the offer to read those bad boys back then, there's no time like the present, yo!
It would seem that we're smack-dab in the middle of the month of love again, and this Valentine's Day, rather than tackle the holiday all on my own, I solicited a little help from my friends - and rockin' TNBBC guest reviewers - Madeleine Maccar, and Drew Broussard!
And so, on this, the chocolaty-ist, cheesiest holiday known to man, we give you Love in Literature, TNBBC style.
Madeleine Maccar's Literary Love Picks:
Whether you're looking for the perfect date or the perfect gift, Valentine's Day is a great day to be a book lover (though it's not like there's ever a bad day for bibliophilia). However you're spending your February 14--romancing your better half, showing some love for your platonic pals, curling up with a beloved novel and/or Mssrs. Ben & Jerry, or Facebook-stalking an old flame (no judging: everyone gets there sooner or later)--there is most assuredly a book just waiting to complement your mood. After scrutinizing my bookshelves and revisiting some dearly loved favorites, I've tried to come up with a Valentine's Day list that addresses all the best that love has to offer and all the worst damage it can leave in its wake, to suit whatever spirits the day inspires.
The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
So maybe Bulgakov's scathing indictment of stifling bureaucracy is not a love story in the classic sense but it is absolutely a classic with a love story safety nestled within its madcap goings-on. The titular characters are but two players comprising the novel's cast, but they are the beating heart of this satirical gem. The Master is a writer whose career and mind are both in shambles; Margarita is his devoted love who believes him dead for much of the novel's first half; together, they prove that the bond between two souls is one of the world's greatest redemptive powers and that any insufferable trial is made more bearable when one's beloved is the light at the end of the tunnel.
Hope, Glen Duncan
Oh, Glen Duncan. Oh, my beloved, criminally under-appreciated Glen Duncan. You may have taken recent notice of him thanks to his just-concluded Last Werewolf trilogy but, like most of my favorite things, his older stuff is just the absolute best of what's around. His first novel, Hope, offers a nascent peek into what this literary powerhouse has to offer: Characters rendered just as vividly and palpably as the emotional gamuts they run, intimidatingly gorgeous prose, and the brutal, beautiful realities of existence. It's a love letter to the self, to a lost other, to the vices in which one finds both comfort and ruin, to misery, and to the past. And it's perfect for anyone who needs to be assured that someone else--even someone fictional--completely understands what it's like to be torn apart by all that love.
Ex Libris, Anne Fadiman
Some people love books. Those of us who loveloveLOVE books can find pieces of ourselves in Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, a bona fide bibliophile's serenade that sings of how it feels to truly love literature. Fadiman's lifelong love affair with reading is familiar territory for any of us who have no problem admitting that we prefer the company of books to most people, and it's tough to keep from shouting "I know, I KNOW!" throughout her collection of essays. For those of us who consider a marriage properly consummated only when two people's libraries become a couple's one, who compulsively proofread everything from traffic signs to television captions, who so thoroughly annotate our books that lending them out is akin to handing over a diary, and who take pride in letting our homes look less like domiciles and more like used-book stores, Anne Fadiman has created the ultimate love-letter to literature that is sure to resonate with her fellow bookworms.
Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Sometimes you find the absolute right person at the absolute right time, but you're just as likely to stumble upon that perfect person at the perfectly wrong time; Love in the Time of Cholera is what happens when the latter is your cross to bear and must wait out the lovesickness until your soul mate finds her way back to you. It's also penned by the incomparable Gabo so it's chock-full of the kind of writing that is made to capture the ups and downs, thrills and agonies of love both fulfilled and long delayed. For those who need some hope that sometimes an unhappy ending isn't the last gasp of a love that's destined to work out, albeit maybe not until one's golden years, find solace in this tribute to letting go of what you love and accepting that it will come back if it's meant to be yours.
Wizard and Glass, Stephen King
Stephen King's Dark Tower multi-novelled series has a special place in my heart because it's one of the first bookish commonalities my husband and I shared, even if he had to coax me toward it the first summer we were dating. Wizard and Glass is more or less the series' halfway point that flashes back to the saga's catalysts, events that include the most convincingly intense love between two teenagers since Shakespeare was writing such fare. To this point, we have only snagged whispers of the series' main character, Roland Deschain, before he became the hardened gunslinger who has seen too much and lost even more; here, he is a lovesick boy thrust into adulthood too soon by forces beyond his control. If you think Stephen King can't write a moving love story (complete with the immediacy and heightened emotions that youth has a nasty way of bringing to the party), this is your chance to be proven bitterly wrong--though I wish I could say the same about misguidedly doubting King's aversion to happy endings.
100 Love Sonnets, Pablo Neruda
What's a Valentine's Day roundup without a poetry collection? Pablo Neruda's so good that his work loses not a drop of ardent poignancy in its translation to English, and it's guaranteed to melt even the hardest and most guarded of hearts. It is sensual in the purest sense, inspired by the kind of love that is as exuberant as it is comfortable, that knows it is safely protected in another's heart and flutters to life with the thrill of beginning and ending every day with the only person worthy of being a lifelong partner. This is stuff that turns a tongue tied with an embarrassment of loving riches to a fluent instrument of rapturous, undying adoration.
The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break, Steven Sherrill
Please allow me to introduce what has been my go-to recommendation for more than a year now. The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break drops the mythical, monstrous Minotaur--now simply "M"--5,000 years and half a world away from his origins. In the modern-day American South, he is but a lonely creature who is heartbreakingly desperate for whatever shadow of human connection he can get. Hindered by his own limited speech and awkward strength, to say nothing about the cruelty of others, M finds a common sort of freakishness with a coworker and proceeds to fall madly in love with her. Yes, you feel a little weird rooting for a man/bull hybrid to get the very human girl (and, believe me, the novel's lone sex scene is hard to get through but is so completely necessary to the integrity of the story) but I defy you to not find M to be one of the most sympathetically, charmingly magnetic protagonists ever. This is a nontraditional boy-meets-girl yarn whose ending I refuse to spoil but the real love story here is of the kind where it's easy to feel protective of a fictional being to the point that it almost hurts to accept that he's not someone you can just wrap up in a life-affirming hug.
Stay Close, Little Ghost, Oliver Serang
For those whose heartbreak is still fresh, either because of a recently failed romance or a long-healing wound that leaves you having imaginary conversations with an ex-love you'll never quite get over, Oliver Serang's debut novel, Stay Close, Little Ghost, is reminiscent of Murakami's finest moments. It is unflinchingly honest, magically immersive and so imbued with heartache that it's like revisiting your Top Five All-Time Worst Breakups à la High Fidelity. But at all once. And completely devoid of self-pity's trappings because it's too stuffed with raw emotion's introspection to fit much of anything else.
Love is a Mix Tape, Rob Sheffield
If you need a reminder that time with the one you love is fleeting and don't mind tearing through the rest of your flu-season Kleenex reserve in one night, look no further than Rolling Stone contributor Rob Sheffield's account of love, life and loss. Heartfelt without being mawkish, grieving but dignified, a tribute without erring on the side of sanctification, Sheffield paints his first wife, Renée, in all the vivid colors she comprised in life, as turning a memoir into a eulogy would obviously be a crime against the joie de vivre with which she was obviously thrumming. This biography of a marriage cut short is proof that true love transcends the limits of life and death, and that there is nothing like a shared love of music to unite two people every time their songs play.
Orlando, Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf both dedicated this book to and based its ageless gender-bending hero(ine) on her lover, Vita Sackville-West. While there isn't a whole lot of romance going on in the novel itself, the love and regard Ginny felt for Vita practically wafts from these pages. Woolf wrote Orlando with such immortalizing tenderness that it's almost like watching her court her lady lover with the written word. While one does not need to have bounded heedlessly and happily from friendship to romance with a kindred spirit to appreciate the unique sort of love on display here, this novel's themes and undertones will ring all too familiarly by simply knowing what it is to love someone, platonically or passionately, so much that you want the world to see this beloved specimen as radiantly as you do and preserve their unique wonder for all times.
Drew Broussard's Literary Love Picks:
So I am, at heart, an incurable romantic. Flowers, over-the-top gestures, gifts and lavishments just for the hell of it - yeah, that's my kind of jam. But I've always steered a bit clear of making a big to-do over Valentine's Day (because it's easy to feel weird on that weirdest of days) and so I've become a giver of books to my significant other/apple of my eye/romantic interest/attractive stranger (depending on my current relationship status). Since I'm currently accepting applications for the 'attractive stranger' position and you, dear reader, are undoubtedly both attractive and a stranger... here are a couple of fun books for your love life, no matter what the status of it might currently be.
* David Levithan, "The Lover's Dictionary" - I genuinely don't think there's a more romantic book on the planet. The novel is this alphabetically organized dictionary (which continues to expand via Levithan's twitter: twitter.com/loversdiction) and it explores so wonderfully the vagaries of romantic life. The ups, the downs, and the in-betweens - often delivered perfectly in just a few sentences. It's a celebration of love itself, even the messy bits.
* Eric Smith, "The Geek's Guide to Dating" - because even the non-geek can learn a bit about how to love both yourself and another person from Eric's hilarious guidebook.
* Joyce Maynard, "Labor Day" - look, judge me all you want because I'm judging myself. But every once and a while, some housewife-fantasy-love-affair stuff can hit all the right buttons. You will feel embarrassed to be reading the book in public - and that's okay. I promise. Just lean into the fantasy, especially if you're on your own this Valentine's Day.
Lori's Literary Love Picks:
Never much of romance reader, I avoid lovey-dovey literature like the plague. If it boasts a traditional love story or cheesy erotic sexytime scenes, there is simply no way I'm going to read it. However, if it's down-in-the-dumps-I'm-so-depressed-I-can't-get-out-of-bed love, or I've-lost-the-only-person-I've-ever-loved-and-now-I've-lost-my-mind love, or I'm-totally-fucking-this-relationship-up-and-watching-it-go-down-in-flames love, then I'm all over that shit! So if you're like me and dig on the best worst-kind of love stories, do yourself a solid this month and shove your nose in these books:
Of Human Bondage, W.Somerset Maugham We never expect love to come easy. But when it's this hard, is it really worth it? Philip, our main man, has a lot of issues he's working through. His low self esteem is physically painful to read. But not nearly as painful as the way he pines over his girlfriend, who, by the way, treats him like a bag of shit time and time again, and poor Philip just can't seem to get enough of it.
Threats, Amelia Gray Whoa Nelly! If I die before my husband, I hope that he feels my loss like this guy does. David, our protagonist, is trying to come to terms with the fact that his wife is dead (this is not a spoiler. I promise). That she had, in fact, died right beside him on the hallway stairs and has since been delivered back to him, as a box of ashes, that sit on his kitchen table. The days immediately after her death are a mystery to him. He can't seem to get his brain to behave; he's misinterpreting things, he's paranoid and his memory is unreliable. Depression, or a complete mental breakdown? That's for you to decide. This book is a tricky little bitch and it is absolutely gorgeous to boot!
My Only Wife, Jac Jemc In this book, an abandoned husband grieves and mourns the disappearance of his wife. Ten years have passed, and it appears our nameless narrator is still reliving the memories of their failed marriage in an effort to discover exactly where things had begun to disintegrate between them. I eat this shit up. I love when it's the men who are all gut-wrenched and my-world-has-ended over their wives. It's about time!!
Under the Poppy, Kathe Koja 1800's war time brothels, baby! This book oozes sex in such a cool and smooth way. Prepare for all of your boundaries to be crossed - sex with prostitutes, a girl/guy/guy love triangle, and girl on... puppet?! Don't let all of that scare you off. I swear to you, it's a truly amazing book. I wish I could read it again for the first time!
The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim, Jonathan Coe Sometimes, when your relationship crashes and burns right in front of your eyes, you need some time to withdraw from the world and let the sorrow have its way with you. When you're ready, you'll step back out into society, slightly unhinged but totally willing to make some new friends and meet a nice lady. Or, oh, stalk a pretty women who you saw sitting in the cafe with her daughter. And, well, fall in love with every chick who accidentally makes eye contact with you or assume every woman who makes small talk is in love with YOU. Or you could, you know, shuck them all and really fall in love... with the female voice inside your GPS system. Totally normal things like that, you know?
There is No End to This Slope, Richard Fulco A delicious woe-is-me down-and-out'r, this upcoming release should be read as a warning sign for all those who fall helplessly in love with the wrong person, who should have seen the writing on the wall, and who, because they didn't, are now so utterly bereft, they not only lose the girl but go on to lose everything else they ever had too... their job, their house, their dignity. Read this book when you find yourself newly single, and no matter how horrible you are feeling, it'll have you saying "well, at least I ain't this guy!".
From our blog to yours.... Happy Valentine's Day everyone!!!!