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9 Great Books About Love and Relationships

Nine Books About Love

As Shakespeare once wrote, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” But perhaps we should be grateful for this, because how else would we have such wonderful books about the many paths that love can take? Here are nine titles worth reading…

The Course of Love by Alain de Botton
This novel was recommended many, many times before I actually sat down and read it. I had been told it was a “super realistic” portrayal of a relationship, and that sounded depressing. Why would I want to read a dose of reality when I can get a dose of reality just by existing? How wrong I was. (In fact, I’ve read it multiple times since.) The story of one couple’s long-term relationship is indeed realistic, but captures the kind of hopes, fears, insecurities and longing that each of us thinks is ours alone. A gorgeous novel.

Heartburn by Nora Ephron
Have you ever been wronged? Cookbook writer Rachel Samstat knows the feeling — she’s seven months pregnant and just discovered that her husband (a man who is “capable of having sex with a venetian blind”) is having an affair. Thus begins this novel, based on real events from Ephron’s life, which manages to turn a terrible situation comedic, as only she could. Bonus: The chapters have recipes interspersed throughout.

What I Know for Sure by Oprah Winfrey
Sometimes, you need a hug. Sometimes, you need tough love. Sometimes, it helps to hear that someone else has been through whatever you’re going through. This book has all of that, plus some. A collection of Oprah’s beloved “What I Know For Sure” columns from O Magazine, these short essays on tumultuous relationships, self-esteem, friendship, career, connection, resilience, and finding your way span the full range of human emotions and feel like a deep talk with a good friend. I’ve turned to them over and over again through different stages, and expect I will do so for years to come.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
This young adult book about two teens who meet on a bus is the perfect account of young love — that idyllic, all-encompassing feeling unlike any other. For any parents of teens, it’s a great reminder of that time of life. For everyone else, don’t let the YA label deter you. Though it’s about teens, the feelings of love are so universal, this book is really for everyone.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Hailed as one of the most beloved love stories of all time, Austen’s classic reminds us that romance has been complicated and annoying for centuries. Set in rural England, the book follows the five (very different) Bennet sisters, whom matriarch Mrs. Bennet cannot wait to marry off. Though I am incapable of reading without imaging nearly every character being played by Colin Firth, her novels never cease to amaze me — such sharp wit, brilliant observations, timeless emotions. This one really holds up.

The Art of Communicating by Thich Nhat Hanh
If communication is the foundation of all human relationships, then this book is perfect for all humans, no matter where you are or what chapter you are currently in. The celebrated monk and author discusses how to listen mindfully and express your most authentic self. I especially loved his concept of conversation as a source of nourishment — with goodness or toxicity you absorb, like food. With specific examples for individuals, couples and families, this book can lead us all to more loving communication.

How to Be a Person in the World by Heather Havrilesky
Struggling with a date who won’t commit? Not sure why you keep making the wrong choices? Heather Havrilesky’s got you covered. A collection of advice from the beloved Ask Polly columnist, my friends and I are so acquainted with a handful of these essays that we refer to them in conversation — “He sounds like the guy who wouldn’t move his art off the chair so his date could sit down.” This book is the best kind of advice: wise, honest, told from the perspective of someone who knows it’s all going to be okay.

All About Love by bell hooks
No list about books on love would be complete without this book by scholar, cultural critic and feminist bell hooks. A treatise devoted to answering the question “What is love?”, it includes lines like “the word ‘love’ is most often defined as a noun, yet… we would all love better if we used it as a verb,” after which my life was never the same again. While the text skews frustratingly hetero-normative, this provocative and profound book is a must-read.

Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Dr. Sue Johnson
Full disclosure: I haven’t read this book, but three of my friends were “prescribed” it by their various therapists, and all said it greatly helped them. The book’s approach is based on attachment theory, and promises to help couples break free of ‘demon dialogue’ to communicate more effectively. The reviews (and there are a lot of them!) are glowing. Have you read it?

That concludes my list, but I’d love to hear: Do you have any titles you’d add? Which books have you read and loved?

P.S. Five all-time favorite books and what children’s books do you like?

  1. Can’t forget The Five Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman. The way you love may not be the way others receive love…

  2. Kaylie says...

    CoJ! Just wanted to bring your attention to the new website Bookshop, bookshop.org, which is an online web store created by the American Bookseller Association in which you can link to books, and they have an affiliate program! That I think has better rates than Amazon, and also profits independent bookstores! The best of both worlds. NYTimes is using it. :) Would love to see it featured on CoJ in the future! Love, your friendly feminist bookseller!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you so much!

  3. Meghan says...

    I’m a therapist and I “prescribe” Hold Me Tight allllllll the time. It’s easy to read and makes sense (lightbulb moments throughout)… it really gets at what intimacy is. Not just sexual, but more of the eye contact, vulnerable, heart communicating kind of intimacy that we all NEED in our marriages. Added bonus, the audio book is good as well (unless you are a highlighter, note scribbler like me)!

    • Alyssa says...

      Meghan, same here! I have had so many couples I work with in therapy listen to the audiobook together and say “This is us and this is bringing us closer!” It is such a tender book talking about the fears, and longings underneath our exchanges.

    • Meghan, I just looke for it on Amazon but they list two different ones with the same title by Dr. Sue Johnson, which one is it?!
      Hold me tight: Your guide to the most successful approach to building loving relationships or Hold me tight: Seven Conversations for a lifetime of love.

      I’d love to read it, thanks!

    • Alyssa says...

      Martina, I think it’s the seven conversations one! I’d go with whatever has the most recent publication date. I think it’s essentially the same material but may have been repackaged later. Good luck!

  4. Anna says...

    Just flipped back to this post to find a title and went to place a hold on “Hold Me Tight” at my library…there are 28 holds in the queue! Amazing — I am guessing this must be Cup of Jo’s influence since the book came out in 2008. So crazy and cool!

  5. LEE says...

    I recommend How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It by Patricia Love. No difficult conversations, which often leave people feeling worse, just simple things each person can do to make the other partner feel loved and secure.

  6. Christine says...

    The Tattooist of Auschwitz is based on a true story and is the most wonderful and beautiful, yet painful love story I have ever read. I cried for 20 minutes after I finished it because the feelings of sadness AND happiness were so overwhelming.

  7. Reina says...

    Please, recommend non-fiction books you love! :)

  8. I’m so glad bell hooks’ All About Love is included in this list! I have given countless copies to friends and meditation students. The part where she talks about how feminist, incredible men are honestly just far and few between was comforting to me when I felt like I wasn’t meeting anyone I wanted to partner with… and I think that understanding and knowing that I did not need to settle helped me not get too impatient and be ready to meet and fall in love with the man I did partner with (now, we’re happily married with a kiddo).

    • anony says...

      And did you find a “feminist, incredible man” or is it a work in progress? I’d love to know how to reconcile my own expectations or if I even have to to connect.

  9. Thank you for this list! I have finished The Art of communicating and it’s really a great one! Looking for the next book to lose myself in. lol
    I love Jane Austen too!

  10. Jessica says...

    I think Normal People by Sally Rooney is an amazing book about relationships. It captures the almost-saids and not-quite-understoods that make up the painful reality that really, truly knowing anyone or expecting them to know you, is impossible. For me this ideas was freeing and relieved so much relationship pain.

  11. Emily says...

    One of my favorite novels of all time, which I read every five years or so just to be reminded of what a perfect novel can feel like, is Plainsong by Kent Haruf. It explores many themes of love–the one that most compels me is the love we can find when we look outside of our parental family for parental love.

    It also captures love between brothers in such a tender and beautiful way.

    I cannot recommend it enough.

    For relationship books, when my husband and I were working w/ our non-denominational minister before our wedding, he had us read an older book called Getting the Love You Want. This is a profound and illuminating book and I highly recommend it.

    • Yes! Plainsong is just soaringly beautiful in an even and simple fashion. Splendid, beautiful book.

  12. Scout says...

    I read Little Women for the first time over the winter holiday. Such a simple, yet beautiful book about love of all types. I have one brother, and it made me yearn for a sister. That love seems unlike any other.

  13. Sarah Aubert says...

    The book I always reach for this time of year is “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller. Gorgeous prose and a unique spin on a well-known tale.

  14. Jen H. says...

    Along with Pride and Prejudice, I cannot recommend highly enough Persuasion by Jane Austen. While P&P deals with falling in first/young love, Persuasion is about love lost and found, at a time a little later in life.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes yes, i love persuasion so much, too!

    • Ashley says...

      I PREFER Persuasion! I think it’s her best novel, and shows a real understanding of the staying power of love. So glad someone else said it :)

    • Le says...

      I second all these comments! My daughter is Anne, and it’s because of “Persuasion”! That novel gave me hope when I was single in my late 20s/early 30s.

    • sania says...

      yes! sorry but Lizzie is a gold-digger (sorry not sorry lol) I think I became an English major in college just so I could read and discuss more Austen! Persuasion is definitely her greatest love story, I also love sense and sensibility for the love between sisters. My secret favorite is Mansfield park though, even though it’s a weird one, I love Fanny Price and her constancy!

  15. Rusty says...

    Thank. You. CoJ!
    I needed these recommendations, on this topic, right now.
    Serendipitous or universal knowing…..
    Thank you. :)

  16. Pride and Prejudice is such a classic! It’s one of my favorites. I’m a big Jane Austen fan! I haven’t read Eleanor & Park, but it’s next on my list!

  17. Alice says...

    Another PHENOMENAL book about love is Dolly Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love. It’s such a treatise on being in your twenties, love, friendship, everything. It’s brilliant and everyone should read it (even if you’re out of your twenties!)

    • Scout says...

      I read Little Women for the first time over the winter holiday. Such a simple, yet beautiful book about love of all types. I have one brother, and it made me yearn for a sister. That love seems unlike any other.

  18. morgan says...

    The Course of Love is incredible.

    • jane says...

      I subscribe to de Botton’s newsletter but hadn’t read it yet – I just got it after reading this post and it’s already very enjoyable. It’s deep without being over-bearing or heavy-handed.

      Plus, as an American English lit major, it’s always a joy for me to read English written by a British writer. I’d love any rec’s on other good writing by British writers.

  19. Fra says...

    Fore sure, I would suggest “The Art of Loving” by Erich Fromm. It completely changes the way you think about love, and I found it enlightening.

    “Most people see the problem of love primarily as that of being loved, rather than that of loving, of one’s capacity to love. Hence the problem to them is how to be loved, how to be lovable”

    • jane says...

      I think this is why “The Five Languages of Love” is so popular. It gives specific actions of exactly how, why and what to do in real life to be as loving as you can. It’s great for beginners and even those who’ve gotten very psychologically/intellectually involved because it teaches simple empathy which is very effective.

  20. Deb says...

    I wonder if “The Course of Love” has been re-titled “On Love” in the UK… this book is so wonderful I completely agree with your assessment. I’ve only read it once because I’m scared I won’t love it as much the second time! I also just read Pride & Prejudice for the first time and it knocked my socks off and I’m minorly frustrated with myself for not having read it sooner. Love having a book rec list, thank you :-)

    • Rachel says...

      Hi Deb! de Botton wrote two books about 20 years apart. “On Love” was the first, and it’s also worthy read, but “The Course of Love” is a true gem and worth getting your hands on.

  21. Maria says...

    Thanks for this much needed list! I am going to start from de Botton’s book.

    There is one thing I’d like to point out, but I’m afraid you’ll get me wrong or censor my comment and I don’t know how to phrase this.

    I find it excessive and needless that a straight author (Caroline, who I adore) writes: “While the text skews frustratingly hetero-normative”
    Frustratingly for whom? Most of the human population is heterosexual… So was (I assume) the author of the book. Why is that a problem? Maybe the kind readers of Cup of Jo will help me understand, because I see it as much, much overdilligent (and thus insincere) correctness.

    • AN says...

      Question: why do you assume that Caroline is straight? Moreover, can she, or anyone else, be frustrated by a one-dimensional / one-sided perspective and yearn for more complex and inclusive representation, in order to more deeply understand the full human condition?

    • jane says...

      @Maria It struck me as well. And I am also a hetero woman. Putting down the mainstream in an effort to be inclusive doesn’t help.

      My thought is she was trying to acknowledge that it was written from a hetero-normative perspective so alternatives wouldn’t be triggered and that is likely a challenge when every alternative to the mainstream wants public mention so as to feel seen. Of course we should make an effort to phrase inclusively. Phraseology (is that a word? lol) along the lines of: “while this is from a hetero-normative perspective, take what you can and apply it to suit your own perspective”, is what comes to me off the top of my head but there are probably a million ways to convey that idea for the easily triggered.

      For example, I’m vegan for over a decade yet still read certain meat-centric cookbooks and blogs for inspiration because I can easily convert ingredients as necessary. The key is to take inspiration from whatever sources are available and riff off of it to suit your own life. Alternative people must master flexibility in order to live more deeply. You can not just go around being triggered by lack of accommodation by those who have no idea about your lifestyle. An obvious solution is for alternatives of every dimension to put our own books/media out there and in that way be “seen”.

      I’d love to write a vegan cookbook for example. But there are already tons out there so I think the job has been done!

    • KC says...

      I haven’t read the book (and am heterosexual), but I’ve run across writing/communication that was not just *targeted* at a specific population, but assumed that no other population exists. It’s one thing if a statement (or book) just doesn’t include me, but I’m not fine with a statement like “Just putting it out there, because we all know it’s the truth, no matter what feminist stuff we keep saying, we women just want someone with a good job to take care of the money and let us stay at home and cook.” (bell hooks would, presumably, not say this! But I could imagine a statement about what “women” want, sexually, which would be accurate enough for heterosexual women but really alienating for anyone not in that bucket.)

      So, I guess, there are grades of “normative”:
      1. not mentioning anything other than the normative option (like using “he” for all examples of the generic doctor/technician/whatever).
      2. saying things about universality… that aren’t universal (which is probably where this book landed afoul, I’m guessing?)
      3. actively asserting that the minority group simply doesn’t exist and are just lying about who they are or just playing at it (like when people say things that amount to “well, all the *real* engineers are male; I mean, it’s cute that the girls try to do this stuff, but it’s not like they make contributions to the field”)

      So! Maybe the review note was being slightly oversensitive to a lack of inclusion of non-heterosexual options/alternatives… or maybe the book was more actively “all”-ish in places, in a frustrating way.

    • As someone who is not hetero, I appreciate when people/writers leave space for me in their words. I find it thoughtful and kind that they take the time to acknowledge that non-hetero people exist and have their own valid experiences of love, relationships etc.

      I also really appreciate how Maria framed her comment here – asking a genuine question in an effort to understand something more fully.

      Thank you Caroline and Cup of Jo for facilitating these kinds of conversations.

    • Maria says...

      Thank you, fellow readers, for not getting annoyed with me and genuinely explaining all the possible approaches to this! :)

  22. Brooke says...

    I have to put a shout out for one of the books that deeply shifted my relationship with myself – which I believe to be an increasingly wonderful love story too. :)

    Sara Eckel wrote one of the most read ever Modern Love columns that then became a book called “It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single”. The title does not even begin to capture how deep and compassionate her wisdom is for cultivating a more tender loving and free relationship with yourself. One of the wonderful thing she does is go through all the criticisms women receive for not being in a relationship *and* for looking for a relationship. Ahh the binds we are put in!

    I laughed out loud, shed healing tears, and ended up buying Pema Chodron meditations that she mentions throughout the book. After years of reading other self-love books, this one really shifted something in me. I feel a deeper well of love and kindness than I’ve ever known.

    And as Sara says – that isn’t a prerequisite for romantic life, just truly a wonderful voice to have, single or partnered.

    • Tenley says...

      Yes! I just finished reading Sara’s book, and it was so reassuring and kind. I’m planning on buying copies as Valentines gifts for some amazing single friends this year!

    • Brooke says...

      Tenley, this makes me so happy! Yes–reassuring and kind–that is totally how reading Sara felt. I love thinking of it as a gift to other dear women in your life, so lovely.

  23. Brooke says...

    YAY!!! So glad to see Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson on this list… It truly is the closest thing to therapy! It gets below the content of conflict and disrupted connection to how our attachment gets threatened and puts our nervous systems into high alert.. .So validating and soothing and useful.

    Also Heather Havrilesky FOREVER. I always read her when I feel alone in the world and instantly don’t feel isolated at all. She is the absolute most real funny gritty human voice we all need.

  24. Gi says...

    My parents run a “Hold me tight” based workshop in Massachusetts. Beyond the weirdness of having therapist parents, it is a really interesting way to look at all types of relationships, not only romantic relationships, I did it with a friend! It has really helped me in the long run be able to reflect on my own emotions and needs, and most importantly, be able to express them better.

  25. Andrea says...

    At the library earlier this winter I picked up Star-Crossed by Minnie Darke on a whim and devoured this romantic comedy in a novel: twenty-something writer starts re-writing the horoscopes of the paper she works for when she is reunited with her childhood best friend and learns he makes all life decisions based on his horoscope. Plus, peeks into the lives of so many others who also use the horoscopes for guidance in life.
    If you’re looking for a lighthearted guilty pleasure, I couldn’t recommend more. I laughed throughout and was sobbing at the ending! 💫

  26. alex says...

    “Attached” opened up my eyes to attachment theory and explained some of the patterns I was getting myself into. Changed my life.

  27. Elizabeth R says...

    Also, Maybe In Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo also by TJR.

  28. Elizabeth R says...

    A great book about LGBTQ love is Red, White, and Royal Blue

    • Yes!! Such a sweet, fun read. I have a Galentine’s Day/impromptu book club party coming up to discuss it and I’m really excited!

  29. Gretchen says...

    I am thrilled to see a YA shoutout. Something that I deeply appreciate about YA as a genre is that it tends to reflect & create inclusive and progressive ideas, values, and spaces. The average YA book seems ahead of a lot of books written specifically for adults. I think the stories & ideas are so much stronger than a lot of non YA-texts.

    One of my favorite YA novels that has helped me reflect deeply on ideas of love–as well as loneliness & loss–is We Are Okay by Nina LaCour. It is such a beautiful read.

  30. Emily L says...

    Every time COJ does a book post, I pin lots of books to my Pinterest list. Usually my local (rural) library doesn’t have many of them (I still haven’t read “Pachinko” because I don’t buy books and prefer the library and they plain old have not ordered it), but they have a lot of the recommendations today! I always like the posts and I find great recommendations in the comments. Thank you all!

  31. MeghanC says...

    You post a blog a while back about couples fights and I think it was ultimately about wanting to be heard or listened to. The post resonated with me so much, but I can’t find it now! I know it’s not exactly related to this post but if you know what I’m talking about, please send me the link!

  32. Therese says...

    Cutting for Stone and Patty Jane’s House of Curl. Both about the bonds of siblings; both had me crying harder than one should about fictional characters.

  33. Amy says...

    I can’t agree more- It’s oh, so beautifully written… often a simple phrase would make me pause to think and reflect. If you haven’t read it, go and find yourself a copy!

  34. Patricia says...

    I thought the author of Exit West did such an amazing job of detailing the breakup of the two main characters. It was such a sweet love story, and the eventual demise was so exquisitely described.

    • Lauren says...

      I just read this and completely agree! I wanted their love story to end so differently but the author did an amazing job nonetheless.

  35. Meg says...

    I love Heather Havrilesky! I discovered her on twitter and love reading her column, but haven’t read her book yet (it’s on my list!) She’s one of those writers where certain phrases or sentences that she writes lodge themselves in my brain and I return to them again, again , again. One of my favorite columns is this one: https://www.thecut.com/2019/10/ask-polly-how-do-you-learn-to-be-happy-alone.html

    • Brooke says...

      Meg, Thanks for highlighting this post! I’ve read so many of hers but not this. It was juicy. I think you’d really love both of her books.

  36. Jennifer says...

    I second The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Knocked my socks off. I would add The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm. Also one to make you sit down and have a hard think about what one must contribute in order for love to grow.

  37. Shauna Orton says...

    Not a love story really, but about improving any relationship that you value, “Anatomy of Peace,” uses a story to insert philosophy of behavior so that you can identify yourself in it. I read it ONCE a year, along with pride and prejudice and also Little Women.

  38. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell is one of my all time favourite books and I recommend it to everyone! I’m so glad that you mentioned it in this post

  39. Christina says...

    Julia Child’s “My Life in France” is one of my favorite books to give engaged couples. Julia Child had space in her happy marriage to follow her dream and it’s incredibly romantic.

    Also, Persuasion has become my favorite Jane Austen. I love that Anne Elliott stayed true to herself and found her happiness.

    • Good call! I love Julia & Paul’s relationship :)

  40. Kate says...

    Highly recommend Ade: A Love Story. I would say I’m a crier. It doesn’t take much to bring me to tears (beautiful music, old people holding hands, anything that involves a dog) but the biggest, most cathartic, most satisfying cry I have ever had reading a book (that didn’t involve a dog) is when I read that book. *Sigh* It was a short read, but even 5-6 years later, I still think about it sometime.

  41. Ceridwen says...

    This is a fantastic list. I also love…
    Gratitude by Oliver Sacks (anything by Oliver Sacks is full of humanity),
    A Very Easy Death by Simone de Beauvoir – this is a beautiful book that shows depth of a relationship between mother, daughter and sisters too. It follows the time her mother became ill with cancer and was dying. My friend gave it to my when my mother was very sick. I thought it was the most empathetic, and brave, gift. I’m not a re-reader but re-read this short book from times when I need to.
    My (or a year?) Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. – follows her year rolling her husband and daughter passing away. It’s a beautiful book.

  42. Abesha1 says...

    For non-romantic life relationships filled with love, based on listening and caring about the other:

    Tuesdays with Morrie.

    84 Charing Cross Road.

    • Jen H. says...

      84 Charing Cross Road – yes! And if you can get your hands on the movie adaptation starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins, it is well worth the watch.

  43. Sarah says...

    Frantically going to SF Public Library website to place holds on audiobooks before all the other CoJ readers in the area beat me to them.

  44. MariaE. says...

    I know it’s not a novel about love and relationships per se, but I think The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand has one of the most intense love stories I’ ve ever read: Howard Roark and Dominique Francon!! It still gives me goosebumps when I think of their story plot.

  45. S says...

    This is a great list. Thank you! I have been overwhelmed by real life lately and escaping into a good book feels like a necessity.

  46. Mika says...

    I read Oprah’s What I Know For Sure when I was about to break up with a long term boyfriend and didn’t feel like I really had a “reason” to break up with him…other than that we grew apart and I didn’t see myself with him long term. I felt like I didn’t know anything for sure and this book was a really good lesson in helping me figure that out! And moving forward with my decision :)

  47. MJ says...

    I was so happy to discover I’ve read most of these. I painted my apartment listening to What I Know for Sure.

  48. Nanaka says...

    I am a really big fan of any Jane Austen novel. But when thinking about great stories about love, another one does come to my mind as well: “Twice Born” by Margaret Mazzantini. Man, how I cried reading it – and I usually NEVER cry reading books. This is such a beautiful, powerful story about love & family. It tells the story of a mother bringing her teenage son to Sarayevo after the war to “teach” him about the city he was born in. And also to tell him more about his deceased father… Quite an intense read. Years later I still think about it and have recommended it many times. (Not sure about the English translation, did not read that one!!!)

  49. Nigerian Girl says...

    Here are a few wonderful books about love that haven’t been mentioned here:

    1) Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
    2) The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander
    3) Our Souls At Night by Kent Haruf
    4) Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
    5) Taduno’s Song by Odafe Atogun

    • A says...

      Giovanni’s Room. Yes. The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson.
      Both books by LGBTQ+ writers, both about queer relationships. I am so grateful for both of them.

  50. SAR says...

    The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

    • Susan says...

      Such an amazing book!

  51. Val says...

    Laurie Colwin’s “Happy All the Time”. Never fails.

    • Leah says...

      Oh man, YES a thousand times to all of Laurie Colwin’s books but especially Happy All the Time. I re-read it whenever I am sad and it never fails to cheer me. So hopeful, so loving, so funny.

    • Loren says...

      I love that book so much! I’ve read it a million times. I’ve read all of her books a million times. People have said that Misty Berkowitz is her alter ego. And Holly was the embodiment of a Rules girl.

      I think my favorite The Laurie Colwin novel is Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object. I love the moment the heroine realizes that in order to know true rapture, you have to have experienced its opposite.

  52. Lauren E. says...

    No romance novels?! Here are a few of my favorites within the genre:

    You’d Be Mine by Erin Hahn (this is YA but no less endearing than an adult romance novel)
    The Kingmaker by Kennedy Ryan
    The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai
    The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev

  53. Grace says...

    I haven’t read it yet but on my TBR list is Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic by Esther Perel. I have heard her on podcasts and she is amazing!

  54. Ali says...

    I’m so excited to hear someone else loved The Course of Love as much as I did. I recommend it to everyone I know and don’t think anyone had yet to pick it up because they, too, assume it sounds depressing. I actually found it to be reassuring; a great study of a universal experience. Relatable without being specific.

  55. Cate says...

    Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner is a moving novel about long time relationships between each of two couples and also the long term friendship of the two couples. A wonderful read that places relationships in real life! I highly recommend it.

    • Danielle says...

      One of my favorites.

    • Emily says...

      I read this book last year and it affected me so deeply. Highly recommended!

    • I read this years ago and still think of it. What a marvellous writer he was.

  56. Erin says...

    I’d add The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. I read this when I was younger and thought it was good, but now I’m re-reading it as an older, wiser, married woman and I’m finding myself bowled over by how well Didion’s style evokes the real experience of loving someone. It’s a heartbreaking read, but I adore how she communicates that love tends to reside in the minutiae of shared everyday experiences (rather than grand gestures or overwhelming emotions).

    • Ceridwen says...

      Yes, I loved this too. You’ve captured it so well.

  57. P says...

    I’ve only ever experienced one love and it was that “idyllic, all-encompassing feeling unlike any other” that you described. I’ve always wondered if it’s realistic to expect to always have that feeling in every relationship or is it only meant for youth and doesn’t exist in “more mature” relationships? Would love any insight :)

    • Anna says...

      I’m 42, divorced, and met the love of my life this year, and we have been idyllically, teenagerishly, madly in love with each other for eight months so far, and still going strong building a blended family together. Our relationship is mature, kind, and stable, while also being all-encompassingly passionate. I’m so glad to discover I can feel this way in middle age, and to know there’s no reason to settle for a relationship that doesn’t meet my needs. What joy!

    • Laura says...

      I don’t think it’s just for youth. I never really felt it truly until I met my current partner, when I was 30. It made me realize how much I had been missing!

    • Sarah says...

      That was my first love, too – all encompassing and years of yearning. When I met my now husband there was a similar feeling of urgency and desire, but that fever-pitch of emotion is not sustainable – it would be impossible to get anything else done. So it evolves and grows and shifts and stutters. For me love becomes a choice I make everyday – I carry it with me rather than being swept along by it.

    • Sophia says...

      To add to this discussion, I’d recommend Susan Piver’s The 4 Noble Truths of Love. She writes about love from a Buddhist perspective, and she makes the argument that relationships never stabilize. We go from desire to disgust and everything in between and sometimes we match with where our partners are at emotionally and often we don’t. This is all part of the dance of real love. We can lessen our suffering when we can tolerate that love is sometimes very difficult, and sometimes easy, and certainly always changing. (She makes a point to say that this does not apply to relationships where harm from substance or other abuse is happening.)

  58. Julia says...

    I enthusiastically recommend two very different Georgette Heyer novels: ‘Cotillion’, because it’s incredibly funny and sweet and turns all kinds of tropes upside down (while featuring a couple who are low-key great together) and ‘A Civil Contract’, because it’s unlike any romance novel I’ve ever read. It’s a little melancholy, but it does an amazing job of depicting a major relationship minefield: how to blend your families.

    • Julie says...

      I love ‘A Civil Contract’! It’s lovely to see their relationship evolve into something much more solid and real as the novel progresses. One of my very favorite Heyer novels, probably because it isn’t all hearts and stars and pretty words.

  59. Nina says...

    Three completely different love stories: ‘North & South’ by Elizabeth Gaskell; ‘Fair Play’ by Tove Jansson; ‘The Tale of the Unknown Island’ by Jose Saramago.

    • Tovah says...

      I had no idea Tove Jansson wrote for adults as well! We are reading the Moomin books out loud to the kids and they are SO inventive and beautiful.

  60. Fay says...

    Love this list. Speaking of Nora, one of my favorite Valentine’s Day memories, was a few years ago, it fell on a weekend, and I spent the morning reading the When Harry Met Sally Script (it is in The Most of Nora Ephron book), with coffee and a muffin in bed. It was such a treat! Makes me want to check the book out again from the library for this year :)

    • anna maria says...

      I LOVE this movie, and didn’t think I needed to read the script, but also stumbled upon it in this book and absolutely loved reading it.

  61. Laura says...

    Just purchased Heather Havrilesky’s book after reading this — I love Dear Polly and after reading tiny beautiful things again and again am ready for another book in the same genre. Thank you for this list!

    However, going forward can you link to independent booksellers instead of Amazon? There’s a long & growing list of reasons why I choose to NOT support Amazon but even more than that I think its crucial to keep local bookstores afloat!

    Indiebound is a great alternative to Amazon: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781101911587

    • Abesha1 says...

      And readers, your local bookstores will often order you anything! Even better, try your local library— place a hold request, and then enjoy for free!

  62. Emily says...

    Normal People by Sally Rooney.
    It took my breath away.

  63. Erin says...

    Recent favorite — “Normal People,” by Sally Rooney. Couldn’t put it down!

    Longtime favorite — anything by Alice Munro. I recently re-read her novel-ish collection of short stories called “Who Do You Think You Are?” (that’s the original Canadian title; I think it was published in the U.S. as “The Lives of Girls and Women”) and it’s soooooo good. Highly recommended.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, loved normal people, too!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s so cool, lydia!

  64. Anna says...

    In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado.

    • Erin says...

      Seconding this! I used to feel like love was some perfect ideal to strive toward. But reading this book freed me from that very limiting concept–Strayed communicates that love and life can be messy and disappointing and even sometimes tragic, yet utterly beautiful and worthwhile at the exact same time.

    • Brooke says...

      Oooh yes! Love how Cheryl captures so much gritty aliveness in life that doesn’t feel like it diminishes or overexalts romantic love.

  65. Can’t recommend Alain de Botton’s interview on On Being enough! The True Hard Work of Love and Relationships: https://onbeing.org/programs/alain-de-botton-the-true-hard-work-of-love-and-relationships-aug2018/

    The first bit completely changed how I think about my own relationship and I keep coming back to it. “We must fiercely resist the idea that true love must mean conflict-free love, that the course of true love is smooth. It’s not,” Alain says. “The course of true love is rocky and bumpy at the best of times. That’s the best we can manage as the creatures we are. It’s no fault of mine or no fault of yours; it’s to do with being human. And the more generous we can be towards that flawed humanity, the better chance we’ll have of doing the true hard work of love.”

    • Em says...

      Thanks, Sally, this really resonates with me. Something I need to learn to open up to more. I’m going to go listen to this now! Xx

    • RACHEL says...

      Sally!
      I’m so delighted to find a fellow lover of this episode of On Being! I have listened to it at least half a dozen times since it first aired, and sent it to countless friends in that time. It has truly altered the way I look at relationships, both romantic and otherwise, and find it such a wonderful resource to come back to. I should have known I would find another soul in this lovely community of women who loves it dearly as well!

    • Rachel says...

      Gah I didn’t mean to post my whole name but google had my form auto filled haha

  66. I was so excited with this heading. I was just looking for next books. Ironically I was craving the books about love. Cup of Jo, you know what readers are musing. Thanks!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      <3 <3 <3

    • A says...

      I think they do! Yesterday, I was eating some crappy salsa and wondering to myself what type I should buy next and then BAM, salsa taste test!

  67. A Vindication of Love – Reclaiming Romance for the Twenty-first Century
    by, Christina Nehring!

  68. melissa says...

    Jane Eyre will always be my top romance in the history of (fictional) romances. I think it’s probably considered ‘problematic’ in our more enlightened era, but Jane found me at a young age, when I was an unhappy foster/adopted kid, and she kept me company and made me feel like I wasn’t alone.

    • HH says...

      Agree. Jane Eyre taught me how to respect myself, to be a person of integrity (which has a lot to do with not always doing what your heart wants), and that forgiveness triumphs. Those lessons last and, while, during my 20s, I held Charlotte Bronte accountable for my unattainable ideals when it comes to love (still single at 39!), I thank her for showing me how to live unselfishly and with integrity. As a devout Christian, perhaps I shouldn’t admit that I learned those things from a novel. But I did.

      Villette is also wonderful. More realistic, so powerful a character study, and a truly wonderful book that it takes two reads to really begin to appreciate. In the end, it is probably my favorite of the two, and maybe of all love stories.

  69. Laura says...

    I have cried in public while finishing two love stories – Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera and André Aciman’s Call Me by Your Name. They will both live with me forever.

  70. celeste says...

    This will be the year I see what a big deal Little Women and Pride & Prejudice are. Both on Audible.

  71. Clare says...

    I’m disappointed there isn’t a single queer author in the mix.

    • ND says...

      One the best queer romances, and so little known is “Desert of the Heart” by Jane Rule. The movie, not so good.

    • jule says...

      Which would you recommend??

    • Anything by Jeanette Winterson, but “Written on the Body” in particular. I had every urge to tear through that book because it really gripped me – but forced myself to go slowly and really savor the text. I absolutely loved it.

    • Christina says...

      I loved “Less” by Andrew Sean Greer and “Red, White & Royal Blue” by Casey McQuiston.

    • Clare says...

      ND – Thanks for the suggestion!

      Julie – These are both young adult books but good enough for adults to enjoy too! The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake & They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins is also a popular & great read.

      Also, Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner comes out May 26 (I got an advance reader copy) & it’s really fantastic!

    • Elizabeth says...

      Loved Last True Poets of the Sea, too! Couldn’t put it down!

  72. Katie says...

    Eleanor and Park is one of my all time favorites. I’ve gone back to it time and time again. Rainbow Rowell’s writing is just perfect.

    • Sarah says...

      I adore Rainbow Rowell. Her first novel, Attachments is my favourite. And whoever I’ve recommended it to has also loved it!

  73. Rikki says...

    Eleanor & Park is my all time favorite YA novel! 💛 It is so good. I recommend all of Rainbow Rowell’s books. YA is my jam and I’m 32! No shame.

    • Christina says...

      I’m 40 and SAME! Landline is one of my favorite marriage books.

    • Elizabeth R says...

      Rikki, check out Emergency Contact.

    • Madeline says...

      Can I second the History of Love?!? I gave this book as a bridesmaid’s gift and they all loved it too. I wish she would write more!

    • Katie M. says...

      Seconding The Lover’s Dictionary! So simple, beautiful and poignant.

    • S says...

      Another YES to The Lover’s Dictionary!

    • alycia says...

      I’m jumping in as a big fan of The Lover’s dictionary too! <3

  74. Emily says...

    What I know for sure – listening to this as an audio book now, which is read by Oprah herself! *double hug*

    • elinor says...

      STRONG agree!!

  75. Michelle Jacques says...

    I would recommend To The Bright Edge of the World
    by Eowyn Ivey. It is a beautiful magical book.

  76. Monika says...

    “One True Loves”. Beautifully written novel that I blew through in one afternoon. It made me question things, because there is never a black and white choice for all of the crossroads we come to in life. This is why we can never truly judge people for the choices they make without understanding the reasons behind their decisions.

  77. Olivia says...

    A Little Life (Hanya Yanagihara) is one of the most moving, devastating depictions of love and friendship I’ve read. Can not recommend this book enough!

    • Lisa says...

      I read it a few years ago and deemed it my all time favorite, heartbreakingly beautiful. I have never felt more connected to the characters in a book before or since. I feel like there should be some sort of club that is comprised solely of people who were moved deeply by this book as if it is a way to measure if people are kindred spirits.

    • Meredith says...

      That book just wrecked me. I’m hesitant to recommend it because it’s such a heavy read, but I did love it.

    • Natalie says...

      Olivia- completely agree! I borrowed a friend’s copy over the holidays and cried many times while reading. When I returned it to her, she thought I had dropped it in the hot tub.

      It’s gut-wrenching at times, but really sticks with you.

    • Ceridwen says...

      Oh, yes! Wow, that book is incredible. I’ve neber in my life sobbed so much and I still think about the characters. My friend told me that books needs a support group! Ha! So true. Loved it.

    • Emily says...

      This book changed me. I think about the characters all of the time.

  78. agnes says...

    Absolutely, Call me by your name, by Andre Aciran. The movie is wonderful but the book is deep and I have read it several times. There are passages on memory and the passing of time that are just so important to give you hope when all seems lost…
    I love Alain de Botton he’s just hilarious. How Proust can change your life will really make you laugh.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      doesn’t armie hammer read the audiobook of Call Me By Your Name? i’d love to listen to it.

    • Christina says...

      Yes, Armie Hammer does read the audiobook and it is great! The sequel was worth listening to, also, Michael Stuhlbarg (who plays Elio’s father in the movie) reads it.

  79. Sara says...

    This post is timely! I literally Googled “How to nurture a relationship in its second year” this morning and was met with vague, wordy articles that said all of the same things and no new insights. So how perfect that my favorite blog would bring up this same subject today.

    I haven’t read any of these books but will add all of them to my list. I’m very much in love with my current partner and I want to be intentional about how I approach our relationship but don’t really have a clue how to do that. I’d be very grateful for any recommendations (books, articles, podcasts) on how I can do my part to keep the spark glowing and growing.

    • Lisa says...

      Well I’m no expert but every morning when I wake up I think what is something I can do today to make my husbands day better? Just one thing. If you haven’t read the five love languages, I recommend it. Learning your love language and his is so helpful in how best to show your partner love in the way that resonates with them.

    • jane says...

      “The Five Languages of Love” is excellent for nurturing, if you haven’t already read it.

  80. Elle says...

    Laurie Colwin’s “Happy All the Time.” I reread it often and have prescribed it to friends when they think they’ve finally met “the One.” It’s the story of two couples who come together and eventually marry in 1970’s Manhattan, and their neuroses, hopes, fears, desires, insecurities, and crazy cousins. It’s also about how to be happy, and the way to do that is to connect (and, since it’s by Laurie Colwin, share food) with all the good, strange, and/or interesting people who come into your life. No one is happy all the time, of course, but the ending feels happy and true.

  81. These all sound great. Adding to my long to-read list. Thanks!

  82. Julie says...

    If you’re a Pride and Prejudice fan, and enjoyed the most recent film adaptation, I would recommend The Clergyman’s Wife: A Pride and Prejudice Novel by Molly Greeley. It’s quick and fun. It’s the imagined life of Charlotte Lucas after marrying Mr. Collins. And would be a fun love read too.

    Also…if you’re looking for a book about relationships over time I’d recommend The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall.

  83. zozo says...

    ‘love in the days of cholera’ is one of the greatest love stories I have read.

  84. M says...

    To my surprise, I’ve read some of these.
    All of the ones, I’ve not read seem very interesting.
    Thanks for adding to my TBR pile.

  85. Sonia says...

    I LOVE Eleanor and Park. I regularly reread the last 5 pages when I need to feel better. And my husband and I were also prescribed Hold Me Tight during our pre-marriage counseling sessions- it’s very good.

    • Elizabeth R says...

      Some good books on this list for sure. I love ‘The History of Love’, ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’, ‘Emergency Contact’, ‘Modern Lovers’, ‘Flatshare’, ‘The Divorce Party’, and more.

  86. Jaclyn says...

    the book I come back to time and again is The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. I feel like the novel unfolds with a central theme of longing that stays with you long after you finish the book: the ultimate slow burn. Ugh, just thinking about it make me want to read it all over again.

  87. Taylor says...

    One of my favorite novels that I plan on revisiting soon because I’m having my first kiddo is Kitchens of the Great Midwest–if you love food and cooking or just respect the art of people who make food it’s a wonderful novel that intersects food with the many twists and turns of life and how certain memories have a certain food attached to them. Without spoiling the plot, the first chapter features a chef single dad introducing his daughter to all of the foods the same way a music lover might make playlists for their newborn.

    • Elizabeth R says...

      Oh, yes, I second this. His second book is amazing too.