5 Romantic Reads That Will Change How You Think About Love
What makes a great love story? After many years, I’ve found the ones that stick are those that teach us something. About what it really means to allow ourselves to love and be loved in return; about being brave. From breakup autofiction to feminist classics, these romantic reads will nourish you beyond Valentine’s Day, celebrating the kaleidoscopic experience of the L-word in all its messy and magical glory.
1. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
Where have we failed? What is it we really want? What we need? Hornby’s protagonist, record-store owner Rob Gordon, poses these questions as he looks back on his “desert island, all-time top-five most memorable breakups” after his ex-girlfriend moves out. A disarmingly honest portrait of relationship insecurity, imperfectly perfect love and committing to a person who makes us feel, essentially, good.
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2. all about love: new visions by bell hooks
The book I gift the most. A deeply personal and politically charged analysis, in which hooks’ exploration of love beyond the realm of fantasy will provoke you to reconsider what romance is. Or, more gleefully, what it can be – a powerful and redemptive happening intensified not through passion but respect, knowledge and understanding. That unmasking ourselves, rough edges and all, is the heart of an intimacy that endures.
3. Heartburn by Nora Ephron
The last thing you want to do when heartbroken is laugh. And yet, Ephron’s explosive novel (a thinly disguised account of her own experience discovering her husband was having an affair “with a fairly tall person with a neck as long as an arm” while she was seven months pregnant) is a testament to finding the funny in life’s tragedies. An endless comfort I return to every few years. A reminder that hopeful romanticism is far from silly – it’s what makes us feel alive.
4. Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson
In just under 200 pages, Nelson’s lyrical prose – following two twentysomething Black artists in London – meditates on memory, music and first love that captures you with open-eyed wonder. A rhythmic symphony about the power of being seen; a signal that relationships are not the sum of mere beginnings and endings but moments. This line stays with me: “You would soon learn that love made you worry, but it also made you beautiful.”
5. Modern Love by Daniel Jones
Personal essays rarely make me cry. The New York Times’ hit column, Modern Love, being the exception. Happy and sad tears – sometimes both. As a long-time editor of the series, Jones has compiled some of his favourites, from a young manic-depressive lawyer navigating dating to the joy of love in later life. Sometimes devastating, often surprising, always beautiful.
Emma Firth is a London-based essayist and writer exploring love, intimacy and joy for British Vogue, The Cut, ELLE UK, ES magazine, Rolling Stone, mixed feelings newsletter and more, as well as serving as an advice columnist for Christopher Kane’s More Joy collection and creative platform