As you all know, it's February! We're now in the month of love.
I'm not a huge Valentine's Day person. I think it's fraught with expectation and commercialism and all the other things we're supposed to say as married, sensible people. But....with all of the hearts and chocolate and roses picking up speed on social media and front-and-center at the grocery store, I took a moment to reflect on the whole notion of love anyway.
As an English major in college, of all the books I read, one book really shaped and defined the idea of true love for me: Their Eyes Were Watching God. I loved every single word, each page, every chapter and how, in the end, it all came sweeping together.
Most of all, this book set the standard for me regarding love.
I won't go deeply into the plot of the novel, but I'll simply say the protagonist, Janie Crawford, has the opportunity for love several times throughout her life, with several men. In the end, the way she finds love and the type of love she finds is far different than what she expected. She found a kind of love I think American society has a love/hate relationship with because it tests the idea that we need a ton of space from each other and that we have to be independent from another person, spending most of our day apart from that person.
After reading Their Eyes Were Watching God, I was on the lookout for a Tea Cake. :)
What's interesting is that this version of love is less romantic than many of the other books I've read, but what made it real for me was just that....it seemed real. It seemed like something a real person in a real life would experience, even if it wasn't glamorous and even if it ended tragically.
I still measure love by the standard set in this book. Sometimes I wonder if that's a good thing, but even at 42, it resonates.
On a funny side note, while discussing this book in class, I didn't know how to refer to the language. I was totes flustered, as my favorite professor was teaching the class. He was all cool intelligence, in white, wrinkled linen shirts and a beard.
I said, "It's interesting this book was written in.......post-Antebellum vernacular."
What the what?
He kind of smirked and said, "Broken English."
To be so young.
Moving on....here are 7 of my Favorite Romance Stories of all Time and 1 Must-Read:
Outlander, which I read on a whim, not knowing a single thing about it. After 100 pages I was glued to this book, lying to my husband about having to go to the bathroom so I could read another chapter in peace (those were the toddler years). If you read one book this year (assuming you haven't read it already), let Outlander be that book. You're welcome.
Wuthering Heights, which I read in some literature class and was so hooked the other students may have mocked me. "He is more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same."
Anna Karenina, which I read in China after it was left in the school library and I had literally nothing better to do during a long, bleak winter. So fitting.
Memoir of a Geisha, which I read in one night. I remember setting it down and seeing the sun coming up and thinking: will I read something that good again? I should note, I had not yet read Outlander.
Cold Sassy Tree, which I've read 6 times and am currently begging my daughter to read because all she reads is teen trash and it's breaking my heart. If you haven't read this, I can't imagine anyone not loving it. It's one of those books that renews your faith in humanity a bit.
Our Souls at Night, which I read as a follow-up after being dumbstruck by the beauty of Plainsong. I loved this book, which is slow and sweet and shocking at times. It's nice to read a love story that isn't about people in their twenties, and it's a reminder that life (and love) go far beyond those early years of heady romance.
The English Patient, which I read while working at a law office and which provided me much-needed beauty and poetry in such a heartless moment in life. The prose is difficult to call prose, in fact. You know, immediately, that Ondaatje is a poet.
Finally, I looked at some best-romance-love story lists and now want to read these 10 Bestselling Love Stories:
The French Lieutenant's Woman (Fowles)
The Affairs of Others (Lloyd)
Norwegian Wood (Murakami)
Love in a Cold Climate (Mitford)
A Little Life (Yanagihara)
The End of the Affair (Greene)
The Folded World (Gaige)
Astonish Me (Shipstead)
Eleanor & Park (Rowell)
If On a Winter's Night a Traveler (Calvino)
Has anyone read any of these books? I'm going to try to find one at the library for a February read. Fingers crossed.
Is there a story that defined your idea of love or that stays with you after many years?
I hope everyone has had a lovely start to the month of love.
I'm off to read, drink coffee and clean the kitchen. Sigh. It was all good until the kitchen bit. :)