Years ago, we had an elderly customer who regularly came into the store asking for a “juicy romance”. (She was Russian, so the “r” rolled off her tongue in a very charming way.) It was always a challenge to find just the right book for her. She didn’t want formula romance fiction; she wanted a good love story, and she wanted one every week. Another requirement was that the book not be set in Russia. It’s not easy to find a well-written love story. Maybe Valentine’s Day has put you in the mood for a “juicy romance”? I asked my coworkers for their favorites, old and new, and got some terrific recommendations.
Just about everyone on our staff has read and loved Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. It’s the story of a young woman who is hired as the caregiver to a man who’s become a quadriplegic after a motorcycle accident. Get out the Kleenex when you’re about two-thirds of the way through. Here’s what Liesl Schillinger of the New York Times had to say:
When I finished this novel, I didn’t want to review it; I wanted to reread it. Which might seem perverse if you know that for most of the last hundred pages I was dissolved in tears. Jojo Moyes, the writer who produced this emotional typhoon, knows very well that Me Before You is, as British critical consensus affirms, “a real weepy.” And yet, unlike other novels that have achieved their mood-melting powers through calculated infusions of treacle — Erich Segal’s Love Story comes immediately to mind — Moyes’s story provokes tears that are redemptive, the opposite of gratuitous. Some situations, she forces the reader to recognize, really are worth crying over.
Max couldn’t pick just one favorite; it was a tossup among three recent books: The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro, The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness, and The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. I adored The Crane Wife as well, which surprised me, because it’s based on a folk tale and involves magical realism — two things that are usually immediate turnoffs for me. This novel, about a sad and lonely man in London who falls in love with a beautiful and mysterious woman (who may or may not be a human version of the injured crane who landed in his backyard), captivated me.
Leeni has fond memories of Daddy-Long-Legs, by Jean Webster, and so do I. An epistolary novel for young readers written in 1912, it contains all the elements of a classic love story — including an orphanage and a mysterious benefactor. I wish I still had my childhood copy — it was probably the first romantic book I ever read.
Molly is smitten with Letters From Skye, by Jessica Brockmole, another novel told in letters. A young poet from the remote Isle of Skye off the coast of Scotland receives a fan letter from an American student, and their correspondence turns into a complicated love affair.
Anna Karenina is Diane’s choice — and it’s hard to argue with that! William Faulkner called Tolstoy’s masterpiece “the best novel ever written”. Recently, the New York Times ran an article called “A Sentimental Education” in which contemporary authors discussed the ways literature has taught them about love. Ann Patchett reflected on the difference between reading Anna Karenina at the age of 21 and at 49:
When I was 21 I read Anna Karenina. I thought Anna and Vronsky were soul mates. They were deeply in love and therefore had to be together. I found Karenin cruel and oppressive for keeping his wife from her destiny. Levin and Kitty and the peasants bored me. I read those parts quickly.
Last year I turned 49, and I read the book again. This time, I loved Levin and Kitty. I loved the fact that after she declined his proposal he waited for a long time to mend his hurt feelings and then asked her again. I loved that she had grown up in the interim and now felt grateful for a second chance. Anna and Vronsky bored me. I thought Anna was selfish and shrill. My heart went out to poor Karenin, who tried to be decent.
And my favorites? In order to keep the list to ten, I’ll pick just two wonderful love stories: Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks, and The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, by Jan-Philipp Sendker. The two books couldn’t be more different — Birdsong, set in World War I, is dark and tragic, while The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, set in Burma, is mystical and exotic. But both are about the power of love to connect and heal.
I have to add a “bonus” book to the list – The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin, due for publication in April. I picked up a copy at Winter Institute in Seattle and read it cover to cover in one day. It’s about a heartbroken bookseller whose life is transformed by love — and it’s going to be one of my favorite love stories of all time. I can’t wait to tell you about it in April!