As Valentine’s Day approaches, you may be wondering what to give that special reader in your life. Chocolate and flowers are nice, but there is nothing like a well-chosen book to say, “I love you.” In fact, books are perfect Valentine’s Day gifts for partners, co-workers, friends and family members.
Romantic novels for your Valentine’s Day reading
Or, maybe, with romance in the air, you are looking for a good book to curl up with on February 14. In any case, here is our list of five of our favorite romantic novels.
Valentine’s Day reading – Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (Vintage, 1993)
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World War I irrevocably changed the world. This unforgettable and beautifully crafted novel crosses three generations to give us a haunting love story that spans the “before,” the “during” and the “after” of that supposed “war to end all wars.” The protagonist Stephen Wraysford journeys from an innocent pre-war world, through his surreal time in the trenches, to the aftermath of a war that devastated Europe.
Along the way, we root for Stephen and his enduring and passionate love affair with Isabelle Azaire. More than a war story, more than a love story, Birdsong defies description.
Favorite quote: “I know. I was there. I saw the great void in your soul, and you saw mine.”
Valentine’s Day reading – Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie (Random House, 1984)
Touching and funny, this novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984. We get to know Virginia “Vinnie” Miner, a single fiftyish American professor who travels to London to research her book about children’s nursery rhymes. There she begins an unlikely affair with a tourist from Oklahoma.
We also meet Vinnie’s young colleague, Fred, who is distracted from his own research by a lovely British actress. This novel explores the ways love – especially when we find it unexpectedly – can change us. Lurie’s style is fresh and confident, and you will have a hard time putting this one down.
Favorite quote: “Of course some people say it is her own fault that she’s alone: that she is impossibly romantic, asks too much (or too little) of men, is unreasonably jealous, egotistical/a doormat; sexually insatiable/frigid; and so on—the usual things people say of any unmarried woman, as Vinnie well knows.”
Valentine’s Day reading – Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy (Wordsworth Classics, 1874)
Published first in serial form by an anonymous author, this romantic novel, Thomas Hardy’s fourth book, became the author’s first literary success. Gabriel Oak is an enterprising young farmer whose life is changed by his undying affection for the beautiful and elusive Bathsheba Everdene.
Bathsheba is a bit of an anomaly in rural 19th century England. She runs her own farm and seems to be unaware of the effect she has on the men living on neighboring farms. Hardy draws his setting and each of his characters in incredible detail, and this rich novel is a satisfying look at human triumphs and foibles.
Favorite quote: “We learn that it is not the rays which bodies absorb, but those which they reject, that give them the colors they are known by; and in the same way people are specialized by their dislikes and antagonisms, whilst their goodwill is looked upon as no attribute at all.”
Valentine’s Day reading – The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (Vintage International, 1990)
Stevens has done his job and done it well for more than 30 years. As he nears the end of his career as a butler, however, he begins to question everything he has given up for this life in service. One of the missing pieces in his life is romantic love, and he longs to know what might have been with a certain Miss Kenton.
Kazuo Ishiguro’s exquisite novel delves deeply into the big questions of life. What does it mean to live a life well if there is no real love and passion in it? What does it mean to devote yourself to someone you no longer respect? Is there time to turn a life around?
Favorite quote: “But then, I suppose, when with the benefit of hindsight one begins to search one’s past for such ‘turning points’, one is apt to start seeing them everywhere.”
Valentine’s Day reading – Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson (Random House, 2010)
The most recent book on our list, deals with 21st century pride and prejudices. Retired Major Ernest Pettigrew lives a quiet life in the English countryside. It is quiet, that is, until the death of his brother allows him to meet and come to know Jasmina Ali, a Pakistani shopkeeper in the village. A widow and a widower, the two realize they have many common interests, including a shared love of books.
This lovely and delightfully funny book unveils the possibilities of love and of what happens when you take risks to pursue it — at any age.
Favorite quote: “At our age, surely there are better things to sustain us, to sustain a marriage, than the brief flame of passion?” …”You are mistaken, Ernest,” she said at last. “There is only the passionate spark. Without it, two people living together may be lonelier than if they lived quite alone.”