As Valentine’s Day approaches, it’s natural to think about love. We default to considering the bonds between two people, but love casts a wider net. In his book The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis broke it down two ways. The four types of love, he tells us, are Storge, generally, family love; Philia, friendship; Eros, well you know, Romance! – and Agape, unconditional love.
But that was not quite fine enough; Lewis went further. “Need-Love” is, for example, the love of a child for his or her mother, while “Gift-Love” is ultimately, according to Lewis, the love of God for humanity. To this he added “Appreciative love,” our ability to love, for example, nature.
Or books, like that by Lewis, and the places that sell them. Bookstores hold a special place in our hearts. They are special places for our hearts, where we can explore our feelings and find them in the words of others. The power of reading is that the experience goes beyond the book to the places we read it, and the way we found it. This is why bricks crush clicks every time.
Valentines Day is the perfect excuse to “hie thee hence” to a bookstore and find a book about love. And so we set about asking the bookstores we love to tell us the books about love they love to recommend to customers. Remember — love casts a wide net.
Stephen Sparks of Green Apple Books has two suggestions for readers:
Wuthering Heights is not a sweet love story. Perhaps because of this it remains one of the most powerful novels about the subject. It’s an intense, brooding tale of thwarted love and vengeance, full of ghosts, strange weather, and violent passion. Anyone who has loved someone inaccessible understands the unstoppable power of desire. Few books relate these feelings as accurately, and eerily, as Emily Bronte’s only novel.
The English Patient is better known, but In the Skin of the Lion is, in my opinion, Ondaatje’s best novel. (The two works share a few characters.) Written in lyrical and evocative prose, Ondaatje brings his readers to Toronto of the 1930s, a city on the verge of modernization, where, for starters, a nun is blown off a bridge and saved by a daredevil construction worker and later, a man falls in love with two women. If this doesn’t get your heart pumping, I don’t know what will.
Jude Feldman, General Manager, Borderlands Books, San Francisco, writes:
The Princess Bride by William Goldman — almost every American is familiar with the adored and hilarious movie, but few know that before William Goldman wrote his brilliant screenplay, he wrote The Princess Bride as a book. It’s actually a book-within-a-book; Goldman put a fictional version of himself in the narrative, as a troubled screenwriter who decides to abridge the beloved tale his father read him as a child, since his father only ever read him “the good parts” of S. Morgenstern’s The Princess Bride. (S. Morgenstern’s version, by the way, is entirely the fictional creation of Goldman – I cannot tell you how many calls I’ve gotten over the years looking for an “original, unabridged” copy!) The Princess Bride is full of the author’s interesting asides and commentary, but it’s also overflowing with derring-do, swordplay, wordplay, high adventure, miraculous escapes, Rodents Of Unusual Size, pirates, and of course, true love. There is so much to adore about The Princess Bride — its structure, its intelligence, its charm — but above all its humor. I recommend it heartily to almost any reader seeking a lighthearted story with unexpected depth, and it is a perfect read for Valentine’s Day.
Kepler’s Books cup floweth over, with three books from three employees:
From Caitlin Jordan: Isle of Youth by Laura van den Berg – “I read this book in one sitting! Laura van den Berg’s stories are so magnetic and haunting, she will show you pieces of yourself you were never aware of.”
From Cynthia St. John: How To Grow Up by Michelle Tea – Another honest and straightforward memoir mixing Tea’s trademark grit with some self-help ideas. A unique picture of growing into the ability to love and care for ones self and loved ones, despite living the broke writer’s life.
From Kirsten Huffaker: Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles – A passionate story about looking beneath the surface and breaking through High School stereotypes that threaten to keep Brittany Ellis and Alex Fuentes apart.
John Evans of Diesel Books in Oakland writes:
This year I love to recommend The Book of Love: Improvisations on a Crazy Little Thing, by Robert Rosenblatt. Is it the beautiful cover with a book and a heart, or the artfully designed book itself with thick paper stock and pages edged in red? All of this, and of course the text, which is improvisatory (one of my favorite words and activities) and full of delightful references to love songs, fictional vignettes, and thoughts on love: all a delightful, swirling meditational devotion. Makes a great gift!
Camden Avery, General Manager and buyer over at Booksmith, weighs in with a perfect pair for your love chair:
Offshore, by Penelope Fitzgerald — Offshore is the story of a ragtag gang of losers drifting at the edge of the Thames, drifting through middle age, and unsure of where they belong. It’s about the love of family, the love of life, the magical and mysterious love of our friends and neighbors that wells up when we find ourselves in need.
Autobiography Of Red, by Anne Carson — Geryon is a monster: winged, red. He comes from a good family, not too much money but his mom loves him. Herakles is a boy in school, gets around a lot, a little bad. Autobiography of Red is about Geryon’s love for Herakles, the way Herakles leaves Geryon, the adventure of life this love launches Geryon into and where it takes him as he grows up.
Luisa Smith, Buying Director for Book Passage, weighs in with these passages:
The exceptional storytelling in Euphoria by Lily King details many kinds of love. Nell is surprised to find herself drawn into a passionate love triangle while working as an archeologist in the jungles of New Guinea. The deep love she has for the work she is doing in this burgeoning field threatens to complicate all of her relationships, and perhaps hurt the very people she loves. Loosely based on the life of Margaret Mead, Euphoria beautifully paints the discovery of love in many forms and the risks and rewards of following your heart.
How deeply can one person love another? Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper looks at a lifetime of love while following Etta on her quest at the end of her life to see the sea. Loving Etta are Otto and Russell, her husband and best friend, both with their own loving and painful memories. Both are unwilling to give up on this remarkable woman and the promises they have made. As they examine their lives and who they have become, Emma Hooper’s enchanting novel reminds us of the ocean of love and longing that can resist.
Althea Kent of Copperfield’s Books calls for the classics, making sure the Bronte sisters are equally represented:
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – From the very first time my mother read it to me when I was nine years old, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre has been a favorite book of mine. And while there are many aspects of the story that appeal to me, what keeps me returning, time and again, is that it is such a complete and compelling story of love. Jane is a figure constantly striving for love in all of its forms and complexities. She seeks familial affection and kindness, is wary but entranced by the grand and sweeping gestures of a first romance, and eventually discovers the beauty and simplicity of learning how to genuinely care and love oneself.
Through Jane, Bronte illustrates the importance of finding balance and maintaining balance in love- a lesson that is particularly significant during a month when love is all anyone seems to want to talk about. Whether you feel stuck in your own personal Red Room, or are attempting to determine if he is more a St. John or a Rochester, or just scared about the uncertainty of the future, Jane will be there. And so will all of the love.
Casey Protti of Bookshop Santa Cruz offers us a book that harkens back to an event of love in hew own life:
Ten years ago at my wedding, my then-fiancé and I asked our friends and family to suggest the best books about love. Being a bookseller, our wedding was infused with book-related treats and we wanted the suggestions to compile a collection of books that could be given as party favors. When one starts to think about the trove of literature about love, one quickly realizes how much of that love is tragic or misdirected, which wasn’t the tone we wanted to set on our wedding day.
However, as any married couple knows, books about love should be just that – a reminder that love is not always clean and easy and romantic. That is why my favorite book about love is Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It is true that the passionate longings coming from the protagonist Florentino, aptly written by the poetic and romantic Marquez, is the original reason I fell in love with this book. But it is the unrequited nature of his love and the question that lingers about what makes for a good marriage that makes me believe that Love in the Time of Cholera is ultimately the best book ever written about love.
From Danville, Michael Barnard, owner and General Manager of Rakestraw Books, writes:
An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine. The title character is a 72-year-old woman who lives alone in Beirut: divorced and childless. She spends her days reading and her years translating books that she has loved out of English and French into Arabic. She shows her translations to no one. “I thought that reading would make me a better person. I also thought it would make me better than you.” Aaliya is a utterly compelling character: brilliant, funny, angry, and damaged. This might be the best novel I read last year.
In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides. The Jeannette left San Francisco in 1879 bound for the North Pole. Two years later, surrounded by pack ice and a thousand miles from anywhere, the ship sank leaving behind some of the men and a couple long boats. Their story is as gripping as any you have ever read.
From Books, Inc. in the Castro, Ken White brings us this up-to-the-minute choice, with the sequel and the writer in town this month:
I’m not against a good love story, but I usually don’t read books that are mostly romance. So when customers come in to Books Inc. in the Castro, it’s a good thing that The Rosie Project by George Simsion came along for me to recommend!
This is not your average boy-meets-girl scenario. The boy (Don Tillman) in this case has a problem reading people. Social nuances are completely lost on him, and first dates are usually a disaster. He has a fine scientific mind, however, so he’s decided to go the logical route towards finding a new mate: he’s composed a personality test for prospective female partners to fill out, so he can pre-screen them.
One morning, Rosie knocks on his door needing Don’s help with a problem of her own. Rosie might be pretty, but she is unsuitable in every possible way, and has a way of disrupting his life on a scale previously unknown to him. She leads him into one uproariously funny situation after another. Thankfully their relationship is not of the romantic sort…or is it?
Don’s voice in the book is unlike any that I’ve ever read before. His mind is clear and logical, but he’s frustrated by a world that won’t always adhere to method and sensibility. Yet he’s a lovable character getting into all kinds of mischief, and the book is something really rare in the literary world: it’s a crowd-pleaser.
Love itself is the real crowd-pleaser. We all love to eat, and thus The Heart of the Plate by Mollie Katzen; love is eternal, and thus The Time-Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneggar; we all love San Francisco and thus, Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin. For readers, walking into a bookstore is an act of public love. These are indeed the gifts that keep on giving.