As Shakespeare once wrote, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” But perhaps we should be grateful for this, because how else would we have such wonderful books about the many paths that love can take? Here are nine titles worth reading…
The Course of Love by Alain de Botton
This novel was recommended many, many times before I actually sat down and read it. I had been told it was a “super realistic” portrayal of a relationship, and that sounded depressing. Why would I want to read a dose of reality when I can get a dose of reality just by existing? How wrong I was. (In fact, I’ve read it multiple times since.) The story of one couple’s long-term relationship is indeed realistic, but captures the kind of hopes, fears, insecurities and longing that each of us thinks is ours alone. A gorgeous novel.
Heartburn by Nora Ephron
Have you ever been wronged? Cookbook writer Rachel Samstat knows the feeling — she’s seven months pregnant and just discovered that her husband (a man who is “capable of having sex with a venetian blind”) is having an affair. Thus begins this novel, based on real events from Ephron’s life, which manages to turn a terrible situation comedic, as only she could. Bonus: The chapters have recipes interspersed throughout.
What I Know for Sure by Oprah Winfrey
Sometimes, you need a hug. Sometimes, you need tough love. Sometimes, it helps to hear that someone else has been through whatever you’re going through. This book has all of that, plus some. A collection of Oprah’s beloved “What I Know For Sure” columns from O Magazine, these short essays on tumultuous relationships, self-esteem, friendship, career, connection, resilience, and finding your way span the full range of human emotions and feel like a deep talk with a good friend. I’ve turned to them over and over again through different stages, and expect I will do so for years to come.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
This young adult book about two teens who meet on a bus is the perfect account of young love — that idyllic, all-encompassing feeling unlike any other. For any parents of teens, it’s a great reminder of that time of life. For everyone else, don’t let the YA label deter you. Though it’s about teens, the feelings of love are so universal, this book is really for everyone.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Hailed as one of the most beloved love stories of all time, Austen’s classic reminds us that romance has been complicated and annoying for centuries. Set in rural England, the book follows the five (very different) Bennet sisters, whom matriarch Mrs. Bennet cannot wait to marry off. Though I am incapable of reading without imaging nearly every character being played by Colin Firth, her novels never cease to amaze me — such sharp wit, brilliant observations, timeless emotions. This one really holds up.
The Art of Communicating by Thich Nhat Hanh
If communication is the foundation of all human relationships, then this book is perfect for all humans, no matter where you are or what chapter you are currently in. The celebrated monk and author discusses how to listen mindfully and express your most authentic self. I especially loved his concept of conversation as a source of nourishment — with goodness or toxicity you absorb, like food. With specific examples for individuals, couples and families, this book can lead us all to more loving communication.
How to Be a Person in the World by Heather Havrilesky
Struggling with a date who won’t commit? Not sure why you keep making the wrong choices? Heather Havrilesky’s got you covered. A collection of advice from the beloved Ask Polly columnist, my friends and I are so acquainted with a handful of these essays that we refer to them in conversation — “He sounds like the guy who wouldn’t move his art off the chair so his date could sit down.” This book is the best kind of advice: wise, honest, told from the perspective of someone who knows it’s all going to be okay.
All About Love by bell hooks
No list about books on love would be complete without this book by scholar, cultural critic and feminist bell hooks. A treatise devoted to answering the question “What is love?”, it includes lines like “the word ‘love’ is most often defined as a noun, yet… we would all love better if we used it as a verb,” after which my life was never the same again. While the text skews frustratingly hetero-normative, this provocative and profound book is a must-read.
Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Dr. Sue Johnson
Full disclosure: I haven’t read this book, but three of my friends were “prescribed” it by their various therapists, and all said it greatly helped them. The book’s approach is based on attachment theory, and promises to help couples break free of ‘demon dialogue’ to communicate more effectively. The reviews (and there are a lot of them!) are glowing. Have you read it?
That concludes my list, but I’d love to hear: Do you have any titles you’d add? Which books have you read and loved?