One of my favorite books when I was younger was Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë. It’s still one of my favorite books, but I’ve gotten a little leery of it over the years. I realize now that a lot of the subtext of the relationship between Jane and Mr. Rochester flew right past me. Since I read Jane Eyre, I’ve also read other classic romances like Wuthering Heights and Anna Karenina. I’ve also talked with readers who loved these books; they rhapsodize about the towering love stories, the tempestuous emotion, the breaking of social conventions. These love stories (with the exception of Jane Eyre, which has a coda) always leave me wondering if the happily ever will last beyond the honeymoon phase.
The older I’ve gotten, the more I realize that my ideas of romance are very different than what I found in those pages. I don’t want to be swept away with uncontrollable emotions. I want to find a soulmate I can settle down with into a cozy life. In novels, these days, I want love stories where characters find wholeness with their other halves, like some of the couples in Pride and Prejudice (I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read this book and watched the BBC series).
So, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I present books that have the kind of love stories I like. These novels have love, comfort, a sense of belonging, and sometimes tragedy (but not too much). I hope you enjoy this list, presented in no particular order:
- The House in the Cerulean Sea, by T.J. Klune: A bureaucratic drone finds love and a family at a school for very unusual students.
- These is My Words, by Nancy Turner: One of my all-time favorite books, about a strong woman who finds a man who can bring a dash of romance into her hardscrabble life.
- The Glamourist Histories, by Mary Robinette Kowal: Five absolutely wonderful novels of love and magic with two characters who thought they would never find love.
- A Little Folly, by Jude Morgan: This is a wonderful Austenian story with characters and language I adored. It’s hard to find novels that can capture the ethos and aesthetic of Austen that don’t borrow from her novels; A Little Folly is an original.
- Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons: Unlike most other novels, where the plot keeps throwing challenges at the characters, the protagonist of this novel sorts everything out, including her own love life. This book is also one of the funniest things I’ve ever read.