We’re in the Mood for Love: Valentine’s Day Books – Staff Picks

Be my Valentine!

CC Image courtesy of Pranav Prakash on Flickr

Amor, die Liebe, love. It’s Valentine’s Day so we thought we’d show a bit of our softer side. Here’s some staff picks of books that deal with love in its many forms.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Jacket image, Gone with the WindFor my favorite romantic book of all time, I’d have to go back to my 8th grade summer. That was the year I experienced Gone with the Wind for the first time. I binge-read all 1000+ pages, carrying the book with me everywhere I went. I even balanced it in one hand while setting the table (no mean feat, let me tell you). That was the same summer I read all of Jane Austen—and I did consider Pride and Prejudice before answering—but Gone with the Wind stands out in my mind because, like so many before me, I fell head over heels for Rhett Butler. Darcy simply did nothing to quicken my teenage heart.

I read a lot—mostly fiction—so you would think I could choose a novel that has been published in the last decade or so. But, when I consider recent favorites, while many have love as one of the themes, they are not what I would call romantic. For example, Skippy Dies by Paul Murray is a love story of sorts—albeit unrequited. In the opening scene of the book, right before young Skippy dies, he scrawls the name of the girl he adores on the floor using the raspberry jelly from his doughnut. The love stories in books I enjoy now tend to be tragic, messy, sometimes poignant, frequently comic. They make for fantastic fiction, but not heart-stopping romance. —Jenny Wesselmann Schwartz,  Director, Trade Sales & Marketing

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Jacket image, Little Bee by Chris CleaveThis book is, if nothing else, about love. It’s about the eternal love between two sisters, the spoiled love between husband and wife, the forged love between adulterous lovers who still love their spouses, and love of fellow man that overrides your own self-preservation. What I loved most was how it did not simplify any of the relationships, but delved into the painful and complicated nature of every kind of love. —Christina Parisi, Executive Editor

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Jacket image, Persuasion by Jane AustenA woman knows her love is hopeless but of course finds out in the end that it was just that her love thought the same. After many heart-wrenching twists and turns of plot, he overhears her tell another man of the impossibility of a woman forgetting real love and realizes the truth.  “It would not be the nature of any woman who truly loved,” she says, “We certainly do not forget you so soon as you forget us.”  —Erika Spelman, Associate Editor & Copy Manager

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

Jacket, Unbroken by Laura HillenbrandThis is a nonfiction account of a man’s experiences as a WWII POW in a Japanese labor camp. Louis Zamperini had been an Olympic class runner in the years between 1936 and 1942. His is the main story. But Zamperini’s close friend, and the pilot of the B-24 that they rode into the Pacific, was Russell Allen Philips. When Philips joined the Army Air Force, he was head-over-heels for his hometown sweetheart, Cecy Perry. Of course, his training and subsequent combat duty separated the two by thousands of miles, so their plans for marital bliss had to be put on the back burner. When Allen and Louis’s plane went down and they were first reported as missing, Cecy quit her job and moved from Indiana to Washington, D.C. Why, you ask? So that she could be closer to the War Department and possible access to sources that might give her hope that Allen was still alive. Starting with 47 days on an inflatable raft battling sharks, sun, and starvation, Louis and Allen then spent two-and-a-half years enduring unspeakable, torturous conditions at some of Japan’s most notorious camps. Both men survived, and Allen was able to return to Indiana where Cecy was still waiting for him, refusing to give him up for dead. And they lived happily ever after.

This story resonates for me because my parents met during this same period, decided to get married for the same reasons, just before my father was shipped out to Okinawa. He was a good deal luckier than Zamperini and Philips. —Jim Bessent, Associate Editor

Amores by Ovid

If I were to gift a book to a Valentine, I would choose Ovid’s Amores.  What appeals to me is how universal and timeless love and its accompanying emotions are.  There is something very satisfying to look back 2,000 years and recognize the past’s humanity.  —Lynsey Major, Rights & International Sales Associate

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Jacket image, The Great GatsbyThe Great Gatsby is one of the greatest books ever written and a personal favorite of mine. It has so many themes running through it, but I’ve always found the thwarted love story at its heart to be quite romantic in a sad and poignant way. Gatsby’s love for Daisy is so misguided and doomed from the start. The perfection he sees in her is delusional on his part, but he goes to such great lengths to reach her social status so he can finally be worthy of the beautiful rich girl he fell in love with as a young soldier. It may not be a happy love story, but it’s a love story just the same.    —Barry Richardson, Senior Development Editor

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Jacket image, Middlemarch by George Eliot“Finally-Realized Love” is one of the best kinds of love story — it’s a long ride full of worry, frustration, and shouting “no, not HIM, you idiot — he’s a self-centered jerk! Can’t you see that?”  No, she can’t see that, nor can many of us, as we stumble along in life, souls full of longings for what we think we want.

In Middlemarch, Dorothea falls in love with an image (the noble academic) and marries it, only to find that the nobility is snobbery and the academia is escapism. Meanwhile, Dorothea’s friend, Lydgate has his own falling-for-an-image issue — a beautiful woman. Is she as beautiful inside as outside? Of course not, and it’s agony to watch the doctor sink from concern to disappointment to anger to bitterness. Then there’s Ladislaw, the simple guy who loves Dorothea for what she is.

It takes 800 pages, but how sweet it is when Dorothea (now a young widow) finally realizes that Ladislaw is the guy and marries him without glance back at the huge inheritance she’s forfeiting.  Goodbye, cash. Hello, connection. —Cathleen Ouderkirk, Creative Director

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