The best job I ever had was working in the fiction room of a library. Walnut shelving, Persian rugs, a sunken garden, leather chairs, hot coffee, and thousands of novels -- really, I should have paid them! In my time employed there, I heard readers recommend one particular book over and over again. I tried to snag it, but for two straight years, it was perpetually checked out.
When we moved to Wisconsin, a very kind neighbor welcomed me to her book group. At the end of my first meeting, the other members graciously invited me to select the next month's title. I knew this was a kind of test. But thanks to the library job, I didn't hesitate. With much conviction, I recommended that elusive novel.
Three chapters into the book, I realized what all the fuss was about. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon, is 850 pages of thinly-disguised soft core porn.
My membership in the book group was cemented.
Anyway, here are ten loves stories that will keep the home fires burning, so to speak. Happy Valentine's Day:
#1 Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson: A haunting bi-racial love story set in the Pacific Northwest is the back story of a riveting murder mystery and a nail-biter of a court room drama. The writing is lovely and absolutely everything about the plot and the character development rings true.
#2 The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: Young love and coming-of-age are two of my favorite genres. They're deftly combined here for a read that is all sweetness except for the bitterness inherent in any story about cancer. Not as predictable as you would think, either.
#3 The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx: Quirky, nutty, sad, and happy. The book takes place on an island in Newfoundland that is itself as vivid a character as any I've encountered. Don't you think it is a testament to the writer when you can't be sure of the time period? I hated for this book to end and couldn't stop thinking about it for months. Proulx is a master storyteller.
#4 Possession by A.S. Byatt: How to describe this remarkable book? It's a historical novel, a love story, a puzzle, a mystery, a literary monument. And the poetry rocks. (If you read this book, please don't skip the poems. They are ingenious plot devices.) Anyway, if you like meaty books that make you weep when nearing the last page, pick up this one.
#5 Outlander by Diana Gabaldon: Another time travel tale -- this one with a gimmicky premise, but who cares if it brings together Claire and Jamie. Gabaldon gives us magnificent characters, a richer-than-Haggis story, tons of legit historical detail about England v. Scotland, and of course the incredible sex. Fair warning: this is book one in a series that you will want to continue. Get the next one while you're buying this one.
#6 Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier: This book is not for the faint of heart. It drips with tragedy. Frazier uses his pen like a sword and he cuts deep swathes into a dark forest of mystery, truth, and love. His heroine is such a badass. I believe this book will be on college reading lists for generations to come.
#7 Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding: A comically framed love story that's down-to-earth, silly, and undeniably clever. Fielding modernized Pride and Prejudice in such an appealing way that I'm sure if Jane Austen was alive, she would buy this book and read it aloud to her dear sister Cassandra.
#8 The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger: Yes, the title gives it away. This is the utterly plausible story of a man who suffers from a disorder that causes him to travel through time forwards and backwards. You will need to pay close attention, but man oh man, is it worth the effort. When it comes to life, love, marriage, parenthood, and death, the ramifications of an elastic time-space continuum cannot be overstated. Hold onto your seat because it is a wild ride.
#9 Atonement by Ian McEwan: This book is gorgeously composed and begins quietly enough on an English estate where a crime shakes the foundation of an uppercrust British family. The plot steadily builds with extreme tension that mirrors the war waging in England. McEwan writes a brilliant account of the British retreat from Dunkirk in the early days of WWII. Warning: the ending is controversial. (I liked it.)
#10 Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson: A small British village, a wry tone, and social mores a plenty is proof positive that Jane Austen lives! Plus, I'm a sucker for tight sentence construction. Pure enjoyment.
Please note: I also love classic love stories. My favorites are The Great Gatsby, Persuasion, Anna Karenina, and Jane Eyre. The Jane Eyre book pictured above and below are now available in the shop, along with its sister companion, Wuthering Heights. The Bronte sisters invented the genre, as far as I'm concerned. And the woodcut illustrations by Fritz Eichenberg convey with intensity the pivotal plot moments. The volumes were published by Random House in 1945. Click here or on the photos for more information about purchasing the pair.
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