Sunday, June 16, 2024

Romance selections at Porter Square Books in Cambridge. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Valentine’s Day has been celebrated since its origins in 496 A.D, and even without being popularized by card companies the idea behind it is sweet: showing people how much you appreciate them. Our culture emphasizes flowers and chocolate in expressing it, but written works can be just as inspiring and perhaps even more heartfelt. Whether you’re looking for last-minute gift ideas or want to cozy up with a romantic read this week, here are word-focused recommendations from local authors, readers and booksellers at our independent shops.

The responses have been condensed and edited for publication.

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‘Don’t Know Much’ by Linda Ronstadt & Aaron Neville, 1989

Sara Farizan, writer of YA romance starting with “If You Could Be Mine” in 2013: There is romance in every word if you look for it. But lately I’ve been thinking a lot about song lyrics, and one that has always stood out for me is this song’s very cheesy but honest “I don’t know much, but I know I love you, and that may be all I need to know.”

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‘True Love’ by Robert Penn Warren, 1985

Chase Culler, bookseller: It’s about unrequited love, which is underrated as a genre. And it’s about young unrequited love, which we almost all experience.

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‘Walden’ by Henry David Thoreau, 1854

Robert Ewell, Harvard Coop reader: I haven’t read a lot of romantic, love-story kind of books. But I would say that “Walden” is potentially a very romantic book in terms of somebody’s connection with nature, and a deep understanding of that.

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‘Love is a Place’ by E.E. Cummings, 1935

Deborah Leipziger, writer of love poems: For me, the two most romantic poets are E.E. Cummings and Pablo Neruda (especially in Spanish). Right now, I pick “Love is a Place” by E.E. Cummings because it matches the moment. I think it resonates with “The Embrace” statue just launched in Boston.

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‘Heartstopper’ by Alice Oseman, 2019

Juj Binyard, bookseller: In this novella, there’s a line at the very end where Nick and Charlie, the main characters, are talking about how much they love each other and how it’s weird because they’re both still in high school. And Nick asks, “Do you think it’s weird?” And Charlie says, “I’m weird, too.” It’s more about what’s unspoken than what they actually say to each other. I think that’s where romance lies – in the subtext.

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‘Me Before You’ by Jojo Moyes, 2012

Laurel Hinton, Harvard Square Bookstore reader: A girl becomes a caretaker of a man who has a terminal illness, and he eventually elects to undergo assisted suicide. She has to decide whether she continues to love him, knowing that he’s made this choice and that he’s not going to change his mind. It’s an interesting take on a romance, because it asks you, “Would you choose to love someone knowing that you’re going to replace them, and that it was their choice to leave?” It was very sad, but romantic in a different kind of way.

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‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen, 1813

Sara St. Antoine, writer of novels for middle-graders including “Three Bird Summer” in 2014: The romance between Darcy and Elizabeth is so lively, intellectually balanced and compelling, it’s hard to believe the book was written 210 years ago. A close second? The bromance of Frog and Toad in the books by Arnold Lobel.

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‘Having a Coke With You’ by Frank O’Hara, 1960

Piera Varela, bookseller: “Having a Coke With You” captures perfectly the feeling of being a gay person in love in public – the way that the fear of being surveilled gives way to the pleasure of a shared secret. We know something beautiful, or I know something beautiful about you, “which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I’m telling you about it.” I was introduced to this poem in high school by my senior-year English teacher, who was also gay. He read it aloud to his students on the final day of class. This was in 2015, in a blue city in a red state. There had been homophobic complaints about him and there would be more, but he shared the poem anyway; when I read it now it’s still his voice in my head. Years later in New Orleans I read it to my girlfriend and changed the words to suit us. My girlfriend cried, although we were in public and we didn’t want to be stared at by anyone other than each other. I couldn’t believe how much we liked each other and how much I wanted to tell them so, so I did.

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‘Divisadero’ by Michael Ondaatje, 2007

Scherezade Khan, Porter Square Books reader: “Divisadero” is about an alcoholic single father, and it takes place in the empty desert-ness of California. One of the father’s daughters, Anna, ends up leaving home, moving to the French countryside and falling in love. Even though the book is heartbreaking and upsetting in a lot of ways, it’s also about how Anna is able to reclaim herself and find joy and beauty in landscapes that are empty and vast. It was very romantic, because it came from a love that she had for herself and wanting to go on that journey for herself.