“In truth, there are only two realities: the one for people who are in love, or love each other, and the one for people who are standing outside all that.” — Charles Baxter, The Feast of Love
Do you really want to read anything more about it? Romantic love and all. What is that, anyway? Is it the hollywood version, John Cusack with his boombox standing outside your window, Dustin Hoffman pounding on the glass at your wedding? Or is that all selfishness on your part, and you’re just projecting your own needs and desires on somebody, and that’s not love, so cut that shit out. As if you could if you wanted to, which you don’t, because you, um, have needs and desires. Jesus, you’re not an angel, or a nun. Not yet, anyhow.
So there you are, Scully to your own inner Mulder, raising a skeptical eyebrow and wanting to believe at the same time. And it’s Valentine’s Day. What to do? Some suggest that if you don’t have a valentine, you should romance the hell out of yourself, with chocolate, flowers, and plush what-nots. Personally, I’d just as soon have a bottle of something special as another damned stuffed animal. Nothing takes the sting out of, well, just about anything, as a perfect martini. À chacun son goût, as the French say. And who’s more romantic than the French?
Since you’re at home anyway, drinking gin and chiseling shards of parmesan cheese off the block while the pasta water boils, why not open a book? I have a few love-themed suggestions for you. Some are sweet, some bitter, and all are nicely accompanied by a glass of something or other.
Important Artifacts and Personal Property From the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry by Leanne Shapton
I heard about this book on flavorwire, and went looking for it in the library. I found it in the “Antiques and Collectibles” section. Important Artifacts describes the relationship of Hal and Lenore through a catalogue of objects — clothing, books, photographs, emails and countless other items that the characters buy, create, give, and share. The result is a portrait of a modern relationship. It has the voyeuristic appeal of looking through other people’s stuff, but is surprisingly moving and poignant. You like poignant, don’t you? Sure you do.
Pairing suggestion: Red wine, something textured and complex. Amarone? Barolo? Take your pick. Or a martini.
The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan
This modern love story unfolds alphabetically and associatively, instead of chronologically. Through highly personal definitions, an unnamed narrator describes the ups and downs of a relationship and what it’s like to be in love. Levithan manages to infuse his clever conceit with great feeling and charm, and you find yourself caught up in the story and rooting for his lovers when they hit rough waters.
Pairing suggestion: An old-fashioned is a good choice here — traditional, a little bit sweet, with a hipster street cred. Or a martini.
Villette by Charlotte Bronte
This is probably my favourite Bronte novel. Yes, yes, Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre are pretty good. But if you liked Jane Eyre and you haven’t read Villette, you really should. In the story of a governess in France, Bronte writes about love, class, and repressed desire. Our heroine, Lucy Snowe, is reserved and inexperienced, but also strong, independent and smart. A lot like Jane. Lucy seems to be so clear-eyed and sensible, it only dawns on us slowly that she might be hiding things from us, and from herself.
Pairing Suggestion: A negroni. Flinty and passionate, with a bitter aftertaste. Or a martini.
The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter
Charles Baxter is a very, very good writer. The Feast of Love was a finalist for the National Book award in 2000. Episodic, with an ensemble cast, The Feast of Love is a midwestern Midsummer Night’s Dream. It looks at love from a bunch of different points of view, (not just both sides) and his characters have a lot to say. The book is generous, warm, a little bit sentimental, and filled with thoughtful and beautiful writing.
Pairing suggestion: Celebrate your notions of romance with champagne! Or a martini.
Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Ok, I know, it’s not exactly a love story. But it kind of is, and I watched the Swedish movie the other night and was reminded of how much I liked the book. Oskar is a shy, twelve-year-old boy who is being bullied at school. One night he is out in the playground behind his building and he meets the girl next door. She’s not exactly a girl, though. She warns him that they can’t become friends, but they do anyway (sometimes warnings just don’t take). It’s nice to know that in this crazy world someone would rip the head off a bully for you, in the name of love.
Pairing suggestion: Vodka, ice cold. It chills and warms at the same time. Or a martini.
Well, those are a few of my favourite books on the topic of love. What are yours? Slàinte, and Happy Valentine’s Day!