Some people like Valentine’s Day, and quite a few others despise it, but despite what the Hallmark corporation has done to capitalize on the world’s collective love life, the fact remains that love and relationships are an indelible part of what it means to be human. These ten books span a range of genres and feelings on the subject—from fiction to poetry to self-help, from gooey sentimentality to brooding cynicism—so no one should feel left out.
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
This cool breeze of a novel can be read in an afternoon, and tells a complex love story that spans a century. After World War II, Leo Gursky fell in love and wrote a book; decades later, a young girl named after one of the characters in his book takes off on a quest to save her family. The manner in which these two threads are woven together should delight and move even the coldest of hearts.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
“If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger.” This stone classic of a novel bursts at the seams with a youthful sense of love’s cataclysmic possibilities. Surprisingly sophisticated given the author’s youth—life, death, and eros merge in a serpentine tale of broken hearts, familial drama, and rugged handsomeness.
First Love and Other Shorts by Samuel Beckett
A man visiting his father’s grave turns over in his mind the memories and follies of his youth, evoking both the sweetness of young love, and the bitterness of its foibles. Beckett’s outlook on life could hardly be called optimistic, but in the title story to this collection he comes as close as he ever did to allowing the reader a glimpse into the workings of his sullen heart.
These two volumes of poetry, translated by Kenneth Rexroth, contain some of the most romantic lines ever inscribed, proving that, though millennia have passed, though empires and kingdoms have risen and fell, that most simple yet inscrutable of human emotions, love, endures.
Love and Will by Rollo May
Philosophically dense but highly readable, this stunning work manages to coalesce 2000 years of literature, philosophy, and psychology into a cohesive picture of the meaning and role of love in a modern world that, in its sheer modernness, seems to have forgotten it.
PIHKAL: A Chemical Love Story by Alexander and Ann Shulgin
Aren’t all love stories ultimately based on chemistry? Alexander Shulgin, who died last year, is known as the father of MDMA (the “love drug”), and the book he wrote together with his wife of 33 years, Ann, will expand both your mind and your heart. Part memoir and part chemical index, PIHKAL is their shared testament to a range of lifelong devotions: to pharmaceutical research, to furthering humanity’s understanding of consciousness, and most of all, to each other.
Having relationship problems? “Most people think of love as a feeling, but love is not so much a feeling as a way of being present,” writes David Richo in this manual to becoming a more loving and realistic person. The key is mindfulness in the Buddhist sense of the term. This book will empower you to move away from the default setting of judgment, fear, and blame to one of openness and compassion.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare
Endlessly parodied and reenacted, Shakespeare’s timeless comedy captures like few other works the madcap frenzy of love and desire. Chances are you’ve read it before, but the massive depth of its language and the range of content on display (not to mention the happy ending) make it one to be revisited again and again.
I Like You by Sandol Stoddard Warburg
As simple and powerful a declaration of romantic feeling as you will ever find, this children’s book from 1965 can be read in five minutes, but those five minutes will stay with you for a lifetime. Read it out loud with someone you love, and dare each other not to cry.
by Alex Fulton