Valentines Day is at once the nicest and most terrible of holidays. It’s lovely to see people expressing their love for others and sharing special moments, but also unbelievably irritating to see social media feeds filled with cutesy PDA photos and posts. I usually try to avoid my phone as much as possible on V-Day because I just can’t stand the overwhelming influx of romantic captions and snapshots.
If you’re like me, you’re probably looking for something to distract you from social media on the most romantic day of the year. Whether you’re married, single, in a relationship, or somewhere in between, there’s definitely a book for your situation, and I’ve taken the liberty of compiling a list of great romantic reads for the season of love.
This post requires a little disclaimer for anyone hoping to find only pleasant books about love, because that isn’t really what this is all about. The books in this list, while definitely thematically about love, attempt to show love from a range of angles — the good, the bad, the ugly and the confusing. They aren’t all happy-go-lucky reads that will leave you feeling giddy, but my hope is that they will make you think critically about how love is portrayed in the media and in writing.
Now let’s dive in…
Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney
What romance section would be complete without a story about an extramarital affair? Sally Rooney’s debut novel is just the story to fill that void, revolving around a 21-year-old aspiring writer who becomes romantically involved with a B-list actor while also grappling with an endometriosis diagnosis. It’s an eye-opening story about youth, naïveté, and the repercussions of one persons’ actions.
The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle
A young woman in New York City turns up to her birthday dinner to find Audrey Hepburn, her deceased father, a former university professor, her best friend and her ex-fiance sitting at the table waiting for her. The group of people make up a list she wrote years before when asked who she would invite to dinner if she could invite anyone in the world. Over the course of the evening she, with the help of her companions, explore what went wrong to cause her engagement to fall apart, and she learns to accept what has happened in her life to bring her to where she is.
Publisher: Flatiron Books
On Chesil Beach By Ian McIwan
This Booker Prize-nominated novella explores the more cringe-worthy side of romance and the awkwardness that can unfold between two people who are unversed in intimacy. Young and newly married couple Edward and Florence are spending their honeymoon on the Dorset shore and, despite being deeply in love, their drastically different backgrounds make physical closeness challenging. As they prepare to consummate their relationship, things start to get lost in translation.
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally
Well know actors and real-life married couple Nick Offerman (of Parks and Recreation fame) and Megan Mullally (of Will & Grace fame) share the story of their romance in their joint memoir The Greatest Love Story Ever Told. You’ll learn about their love for puzzles and audiobooks, their obsession with dogs, and the complicated realities of maintaining a relationship amidst the craziness of fame and the demanding work schedules of acting. This book is uplifting, entertaining and very cute.
Publisher: Dutton Books.
Normal People by Sally Rooney
Connell and Marianne are from the same rural village in Ireland, and despite the differences between them, when they are offered places at a university in Dublin they discover they have an unshakable connection. Over the following few years their relationship is challenged by their drastically different economic standing, the politics at Trinity College, and Marianne’s string of increasingly bad boyfriends. A story about love, friendship, and division, Normal People is a great novel for lovers of modern romance.
Publisher: Faber & Faber
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Hollywood darlings, fleeting marriages, dramatic deaths and whirlwind romance — The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo really has it all. In a story that spans decades and continents, Taylor Jenkins Reid tells the story of actress Evelyn Hugo who, over the course of an illustrious film career, burns through seven marriages while keeping the story of her real love a secret from the public. Read my full review here.
Publisher: Atria Books
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
It wouldn’t be a list of love stories if I didn’t include this Austen classic. Pride and Prejudice is one of the greatest love stories ever told, centering around Elizabeth Bennet, a young woman in 19th century England undergoing a profound personal transformation as she falls in love with a wealthy and emotionally cloistered man named Mr. Darcy. Dealing with superficiality, wealth divide, and the role of nobility, Pride and Prejudice is not only the ultimate romantic tale, but also one of literatures’ true shining stars.
Publisher: Modern Library
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
As if love isn’t already complicated enough, imagine having a husband who could up and vanish without any notice and not return for months. The Time Traveler’s Wife is a masterpiece of a novel, telling the story of two people who, despite being deeply in love, struggle to have a life together because of a rare disorder that causes one of them to jump around in time. It’s a story about two people who, under the most abnormal of circumstances, simply want to have a normal life. It was also made into a great movie starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams.
Publisher: Zola Books
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
With one of the most famous opening lines in literature, Rebecca is probably one of the greatest love-meets-psychological-thriller stories of all time. A young woman working woman is in Monte Carlo when she is swept off her feet by dashing widower Maxim de Winter. She accepts his rushed marriage proposal and returns with him to Manderley, the massive country estate where he lives with his daughter from his first marriage. Despite initially feeling like the luckiest girl in the world, odd events soon make the young heroine wonder if some evil forces are at work attempting to force her out of Manderley, and even begins to question if the spirit of Maxim’s dead wife Rebecca are responsible.
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
What happens when love is lost - when the people who make up your world are suddenly gone? Acclaimed journalist and writer Joan Didion reflects on these questions in her memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, which details the year after the sudden death of her husband and prolonged illness and eventual death of her daughter. Despite being heavily focused on loss, The Year of Magical Thinking is inarguably a book about love, and perhaps about love in its most vulnerable form. Didion is a beautiful writer and gives voice to the grief so many people feel when they lose a loved one.