Heterosexual romantic love stories are so overdone. These tales, which feature love of all stripes (familial, friendly, national, objective, etc.), will keep you entertained, emotional, and positively on your toes. Indulge this V-day by pairing stories that showcase love that’s less often celebrated on Feb. 14 with a variety of chocolate that suits the mood.
“I’m Very Into You: Correspondence 1995-1996” by Kathy Acker and McKenzie Wark (2015)
Feminist icon and post-punk novelist Kathy Acker met writer McKenzie Wark in the summer of 1995 on a trip to Australia, where they had a brief fling. Afterward, they emailed each other frenziedly and constantly, often several times a day. “I’m Very Into You” compiles their correspondence, which is equal parts flirtatious, gossipy, scholarly, and philosophical. Though the book is some 150 pages, Acker and Wark only emailed for about two weeks in total and never had a serious relationship (Wark would only meet her again twice before her death in 1997). But, the affair’s relative inconsequentiality is precisely what makes this such a delightful read: these emails are imbued with exuberance, sex, and the sort of audacity that can only be achieved from behind the computer screen.
Chocolate: At one point, Acker describes her previous affairs with her female students as “like eating candy when you want a full meal. But…candy’s not so bad.” Indeed not. Go with something short-lasting and thoroughly addictive, like Peanut Butter M&Ms. If “I’m Very Into You” teaches anything, it’s that pleasure isn’t meant to be savored.
“Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s masterpiece about country, race, family, and love is both heartbreaking and breathtaking, and sometimes both at the same time. “Americanah” follows main character Ifemelu from her teenage days in Lagos, Nigeria, to her journey to the United States to study, to her career as a successful blogger (her blog is called “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks [Those Formerly Known as Negroes] by a Non-American Black”). Although the plot does in some ways center on a more traditional love story between Ifemelu and her adolescent love, Obinze (not to give anything away, obviously, but if you’ve finished the book, you’ll know exactly what I mean), Ifemelu grapples with many great loves that span the familial, the national, and the romantic. Ifemelu’s relationship with Nigeria is just as striking as her relationship with human characters, earning this book a spot on our “alternative love stories” list.
Chocolate: The first scene in the book has Ifemelu eating a granola bar in a hair salon, a significant moment that marks Ifemelu as having become “Americanized” (at that point, she’s been in the U.S. for 15 years). Make yourself a nutritious and delicious granola bar, preferably something with pumpkin seeds, agave nectar, and, of course, chunks of dark chocolate, in honor of this iconic scene.
“The Pedestrians” by Rachel Zucker (2014)
In this heavily autobiographical collection of poems, Rachel Zucker explores marriage and motherhood with acute honesty and humor. Zucker writes openly about feelings like failure, frustration, and alienation that pervade daily life as a wife and caretaker. Yet Zucker’s dissatisfaction (“Mayor Bloomberg should be scalded with hot / cocoa,” she writes when a snowstorm causes her children’s school day to be cancelled) doesn’t undermine the sense of familial love within the poems; if anything, it enhances it by destigmatizing the uxorial discontent that women have been encouraged to hide throughout history. In “pedestrian,” she writes: “I don’t want to have sex w/ / anyone just want my dear husband to / read me ‘A Game of Thrones’ by George RR Martin / while I lie in bed w/ a buckwheat eye pillow / are you scandalized by my admission of love / for genre fiction?” Zucker dares readers not to be scandalized by her radical candor, and to instead sympathize with her navigation of complex (and sometimes straight-up bad) feelings.
Chocolate: One poem mentions “a chocolate bar with almonds and sea salt,” which is kind of the perfect complement to the alternately sweet and salty emotions expressed in this book. Have one with a glass of red wine.
“A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara (2015)
It feels weird to call “A Little Life” a love story, given that it’s arguably the most upsetting book I’ve ever read. Described as a dark fairytale, the novel follows a group of four male friends—J.B., Malcolm, Willem, and Jude—throughout several decades of their lives, primarily focusing on Jude, a brilliant and enigmatic lawyer haunted by an unspeakably painful childhood. As the characters’ lives progress, Jude’s history gradually unravels, presenting readers with some of the most harrowing scenes in recent literary memory. As much as “A Little Life” is a tale of trauma, though, it’s one of love—brotherly, paternal, and eventually, romantic. This is not to say you should expect a happy ending. One of the most revolutionary aspects of “A Little Life” is Yanagihara’s implication that some wounds are too deep to heal.
Chocolate: As Jude is an avid baker and chef, the book is surprisingly chock-full of food porn, including elaborate dinner party scenes and vivid descriptions of homemade sourdough, grilled vegetables, and roasted figs over vanilla ice cream. In one notable scene, Jude prepares shortbread cookies for a party. Try dipping a few in melted chocolate—the darker, the more appropriate.
“How to Murder Your Life” by Cat Marnell (2017)
This brand-new memoir recounts former Condé Nast beauty editor Cat Marnell’s decades-long (and ongoing) drug addiction, starting from the moment her psychiatrist father (Dr. Dad, Marnell not-so-lovingly calls him) prescribed her Ritalin as a young teenager. “How to Murder Your Life” follows Cat through a troubled adolescence at a fancy boarding school, amphetamine-fueled stints at various fashion magazines, celebrity-studded nights at New York City’s elite clubs, a love affair with angel dust, several trips to rehab and psychiatric hospitals, countless relapses, and subsequently, some serious trouble. “How to Murder Your Life” is unlike other addiction memoirs I have read in that it’s not a recovery story (“I may be back on speed, but I take way less than I used to,” Marnell writes at the end of the book). For better or worse, it’s a love story, full of passion, heartbreak, glamor, and disaster.
Chocolate: At one of Cat’s lowest points, she’s committed to Bellevue, where, not having eaten for days, she gorges on regulation chocolate pudding. Grab a cup. May it be the closest your circumstances come to resembling Cat Marnell’s.
“The Anatomy of Harpo Marx” by Wayne Koestenbaum (2012)
In this strange and obsessive book, Wayne Koestenbaum annotates nearly every movement Harpo Marx makes in each Marx Brothers movie, providing a ridiculously thorough and decidedly queer reading of Harpo Marx (though he notes, “I’m not saying that Arthur Marx—the real Harpo—was queer…nor am I saying anything about what Harpo, the character wants…Harpo’s actions I choose to take queerly. Don’t accuse me of outing anybody!”). Although it includes details about Harpo and Koestenbaum’s lives, “The Anatomy of Harpo Marx” is neither a biography nor a memoir. Rather, it is a portrait of fandom, which in its relentlessness and one-sidedness, may be the purest form of love there is.
Chocolate: “I consider Harpo my lollipop, and I am forever licking him,” Koestenbaum writes. Tootsie Pops, invented the same year as the release of “Monkey Business,” are the perfect Harpo companion.
“Almost a Woman” by Esmeralda Santiago (1998)
The sequel of Esmeralda Santiago’s 1994 “When I Was Puerto Rican” picks up where that book leaves off, with Santiago’s coming of age in Brooklyn in the 1960s. As Santiago navigates a performing arts high school, familial upheaval, and eventually a budding acting career, she also develops many love interests that grow in intensity as she ages. The hilariousness and tenderness of these affairs are what occupy much of the second half of the book, but “Almost a Woman” is a memoir about growing up, and perhaps appropriately, Santiago’s relationship with her mother emerges as a love that cannot be shaken. The choice that Santiago makes at the end of the memoir will stay with you for a very long time.
Chocolate: Bake yourself a chocolate cake for this one—you’re going to need it as you accompany Santiago from apartment to apartment, school to school, audition to audition, train stop to train stop. The book moves—both through the years and through various New York locations—and the sweet icing and moist cake will help to keep you grounded and comforted despite the emotional highs and lows.
“Hey Dollface” by Deborah Hautzig (1978)
One of the first young adult novels to feature a romance that verges on sapphic, “Hey Dollface” is the timeless story of a close female friendship that’s a little bit too close for comfort, not to mention a nod to the stunning backdrop of New York in the 1970s. As Val grapples with her feelings for her new best friend, Chloe, at a fancy prep school, readers enter the mind of a teen girl whose angst over the ambiguity of her friendship recalls their own adolescent questions about how close is too close. What’s refreshing about “Hey Dollface” is that it imitates the way things work in real life, which is that sometimes, nothing ever actually happens, at least when you’re a teenager. The anti-climax of “Hey Dollface” is, in fact, its climax, and for a novel this spare and polished, it really, really works.
Chocolate: Val and Chloe never *actually* kiss in “Hey Dollface,” so if you need your fill of smooches, grab some Hershey’s Kisses and get to work. The innocence of a chocolate kiss also imitates the innocence of Val and Chloe’s nascent romance.
“Here’s to You, Rachel Robinson” by Judy Blume (1993)
There are few better depictions of the roller coaster ride that is a 13-year-old friend trio than Judy Blume’s “Here’s to You, Rachel Robinson.” Neurotic Rachel, easygoing Stephanie, and imaginative Alison’s friendship is put to the test in this tale of teeth-grinding, clarinet-playing, and Jeremy-Dragon-stalking: shit gets pretty real for the three pals. But there’s perhaps nothing more fraught, but also nothing more tender, than friendships among 13-year-olds, and the triumph of this spectacular novel lies, in part at least, in its delicate and moving portrayal of such a friendship. The fact that Rachel, Steph, and Alison live in a sleepy Connecticut town doesn’t hurt, either.
Chocolate: When Rachel Robinson goes to the dentist to address her teeth grinding, her dentist recommends that she loosen up. Milk Duds, with their slightly risky (dentally, at least) caramel centers will allow you to live on the edge while still feeling like a carefree tween in 1993.