Love. It is an emotion that has been conceptualized for centuries upon centuries, an agonizing, exuberant, profound and inexplicably powerful force. It has been the perpetrator of wars in Greek mythology. It has been written across the sky, in the stars — it has been the embodiment of sin, the parent of purity and even the subject of depravity. Due to its multiplicities, the fact that February is the month dedicated to love is somewhat ironic. What does winter, with its unforgiving temperament and blinding snow, share with love?
Some would argue, everything, but that depends on which poet you consult.
Nonetheless, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Whether you will spend it replete with chocolate and cuddles, or lounging about with Netflix in the background, a touching book is always sure to bring warmth to this season. Here are six recommendations that will captivate you in their portrayals of the power and perils of love, along with a quote to entice you.
- Love. It was the beginning and end of everything, the foundation and the ceiling and the air in between … She had known love, been blessed by it. — The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Set in France during World War II, The Nightingale is a historical fiction about the harrowing experience of two sisters as they withstand and resist the Nazi takeover. The thematic reach of this novel is incredibly broad. Kristin Hannah touches on the untold bravery of women during this time period and the bonds of family, as well as the dehumanizing nature of people who are indoctrinated to believe they are superior.
The romance, however, is of the most devastating kind I’ve encountered in literature. Its beauty will make your heart bloom, while the wartime setting will constrict it. Take love, an inherently irrational emotion, and collide it with a time period that demands realism … Its impact will reverberate in you for days.
2. But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me. — Circe by Madeline Miller
Madeline Miller transports us to a world filled with the most vicious beauty and tender cruelties in Circe, a novel about an isolated witch-goddess who must find her place amidst mortals and immortals. Greek mythology is notorious for its controversial interpretations of love, always adding a perverted twist or tragic ending. Miller takes this tone in stride, yet instead of making it discomfiting, she will enchant you with the lyricism of her writing.
The love in Circe is as aching as the quote suggests. It is circuitous, dynamic, as deep as a character thousands of years old can be. You may experience frustration, even anticipation, but the poignancy will urge you to continue to find fulfillment.
3. Trapped inside, love is a caged beast, eating its own flesh. Love must be free to wander, to land upon its chosen shore and breathe. — Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Released only a year ago, Where the Crawdads Sing was an instant hit. Revolving around the life of a young girl, Kya, as she grows up on the outskirts of society in a marsh, it is romanticism at its finest. The author Delia Owens spends time not only on the social prejudices surrounding the 50s and 60s, but also on the vagaries and constancies of nature, and how the earth can be a safe-haven when civilization isn’t.
The love in this book carries the blush of youthful longings as well as the scars of childhood heartbreak. There is a certainty, a steadfastness to it, that will anchor you to the pages, but won’t hook itself into you. Rather, the romance will invite itself in, softly, bringing untold comfort. If you’re searching for a read to stifle the noise of an industrialized world, this will silence all but the ambience of what is wild and free.
4. When you can tell someone your truth, when you can show yourself to them, when you stand in front of them bare and their response is “You’re safe with me” — that’s intimacy. — The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Intimacy has sexual undertones for many people, but Taylor Jenkins Reid overturns this perception with a quote of brutal honesty: Intimacy is when people who not only love one another are able to expose their vulnerabilities to each other, and open up the caverns of their souls where light has rarely shed. Intimacy is love amplified, then intertwined.
Reid extends this ambiguity throughout the whole novel. Through the eyes of a disillusioned journalist, interviewing aged starlet Evelyn Hugo, you experience vivid emotions as you discover and view the character as the protagonist does. Evelyn Hugo is unabashedly glamorous, yet, as the story progresses, parts of her — shameful, sensitive parts — will reveal themselves to you. She will resonate within you and repulse you with her mistakes. She will remind you that those who appear the most otherworldly are likely the most human out of all of us.
5. “I’ll tell you,” said she, in the same hurried passionate whisper,” what real love is. It is blind devotion, unquestioning self-humiliation, utter submission, trust and belief against yourself and against the whole world, giving your whole heart and soul to the smiter — as I did!” — Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
This quote captures love at its basest level: A ruthless, almost elemental, compulsion that can drive people to the darkest places. At the same time, the explosiveness is almost alluring — daring you to hand over all of you to another. To break the protective barriers guarding your tender nerves, and even risk losing your identity in the consuming adoration of another.
The relationship in Great Expectations between the main character, Pip, and Estella, is this type of intoxicating. You will find yourself despising every interaction between them, yet salivating for another one, and Dickens will reduce you to scouring his dense paragraphs for even a hint of gentleness.
As this list of books indicated, love can be expressed in a myriad of ways, and can impact a person much more differently than it does the next. Perhaps, this complexity is why it has preoccupied humans for generations upon generations — and why it will continue to confound us with all its beautiful and hideous forms. The heart motif that characterizes Valentine’s Day is the most fitting tribute we can pay to love, because, though we cannot understand it, we can recognize it instantly when it comes.