In this special Valentine’s Day edition of Paperback Picks: a multitude of novels about love, in all its beautiful variety. Some of these are favorites of mine; some are books I’ve been meaning to get to; all should provide some pleasantly heart-shaped distraction.
“Call Me By Your Name” by André Aciman. Transformed into a passionately beautiful movie a few years ago, Aciman’s 2007 novel takes place in a lovely Italian villa by the sea (reason enough to open the book these days, right?) where two young men find themselves in the throes of attraction and love. Like the movie, the book is beautifully atmospheric; you can feel that golden sunlight on your shoulders.
“Stay with Me” by Ayobami Adebayo. Adebayo’s acclaimed 2017 debut is narrated by a husband and wife in Nigeria; at first deeply in love and determined to resist polygamy, their marriage is rocked when relatives urge him to take a traditional second wife. A New York Times reviewer called it “at once, a gothic parable about pride and betrayal; (and) a thoroughly contemporary — and deeply moving — portrait of a marriage.”
“A Princess in Theory” by Alyssa Cole. I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed a contemporary mystery by Cole (“When No One Is Watching”; both a taut thriller and a smart commentary on race, gentrification and greed); high time that I took a look at her acclaimed romance series, which begins with this 2018 tale of a former foster kid who finds herself betrothed to an African prince.
“Party of Two” by Jasmine Guillory. Really, you can plug in almost any title by Guillory here; she’s wonderfully prolific (five books, beginning with 2018’s “The Wedding Date”) and all of her books create a diverse world full of people you immediately want as friends. This one, her newest, involves an unlikely love affair between a lawyer and a young senator.
“The Kiss Quotient” by Helen Hoang. Hoang’s popular 2018 debut has at its center a young autistic woman who hires an escort to help her practice romance — and you can probably guess how that works out. An NPR reviewer called it “deeply moving, brimming with social commentary on the stigmas surrounding sex work and mental health, and skillfully demonstrating that before we can love someone else, we must love and accept ourselves.”
“High Fidelity” by Nick Hornby. This 1995 book popped into my mind recently because of the recent Hulu adaptation (starring Zoe Kravitz as Robyn/“Rob”) and I’d forgotten what fun it is: told from the perspective of list- and music-obsessed London record shop owner Rob Fleming, it’s an examination of how each relationship we have changes us, and how love makes us whole. (Actually every Hornby book does this; try them all!)
“Crazy Rich Asians” by Kevin Kwan. Kwan’s most recent book, “Sex and Vanity,” was good fun, but I’ll always go back to his delicious meringue of a debut, centered on a highest-of-high-society wedding in Singapore and grounded in the connection of its two central characters (who required two more books to sort themselves out, but you’ll enjoy the journey). Good movie, too.
“The Dreyfus Affair: A Love Story” by Peter Lefcourt. Recently optioned for television, this 1992 novel about two major league ballplayers in love is both a charming romance and a very funny satire of homophobia in sports. Like its central characters Randy and DJ, you’ll find yourself humming “Our Love Is Here To Stay.”
“Early Work” by Andrew Martin. This tale of 30ish writers (and would-be writers) figuring out their lives while becoming romantically entangled is, a New Yorker reviewer wrote, “a gift for those readers who like being flirted with by thoughtful and interesting people, and who like observing such people as they flirt with each other.”
“The Flatshare” by Beth O’Leary. Just out in paperback last month, this British novel sounds like it should already be a movie: A woman needing space after ending a bad relationship enters an apartment-share arrangement with a man who works nights, on the premise that they will never see each other. Kirkus Reviews called it “a warm, enchanting love story perfect for fans of classic rom-coms.”
“The Republic of Love” by Carol Shields. Though the late Canadian author is better known for other works, particularly the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Stone Diaries,” I’ve long been fond of this charming 1992 novel, in which a radio talk host and a folklorist fall unexpectedly head over heels.
“Back When We Were Grownups” by Anne Tyler. Tyler’s many Baltimore-set novels often have love and marriage at their core, but this is one of the sweetest: A middle-aged widow, surrounded by the typical Tyler chaotic patchwork quilt of family, looks back on her life, wondering if she made the wrong decisions.