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Writers Tell Us What Books to Give Your Valentine

If books are your love language, these recommendations from poets and writers offer something for friends, lovers and everyone in between.
Tertulia •
Feb 11st, 2024

Tia Williams

We can't think of too many contemporary writers who have written a more perfect romance than Tia Williams with her bestselling Seven Days in June, and we can't wait to dig into her fresh release A Love Song for Ricki Wilde, a historical romance set in Harlem dusted with magical realism. We asked this reigning romance queen what book she'd recommend for Valentine's Day and she picked a can't-go-wrong classic.

"Lasting love requires more than dizzying romantic highs and impassioned lust, of course. But on Valentine’s Day? Bring it on. In his classic collection, LOVE POEMS, Pablo Neruda describes the sensual rush of love in the most seductive, swoon-worthy language. The perfect gift for any Valentine."

Curtis Sittenfeld

Sittenfeld has a discerning eye when it comes to observing the humor and the horrors of romantic relationships. Many longtime fans got hooked on her cult classic campus novel Prep, or on Rodham, which imagines an alternative history where Hillary never marries Bill Clinton. But she undoubtedly attracted a whole new audience with last year's release of Romantic Comedy about a single woman who writes for a late-night comedy show. Her recommendation this Valentine's Day: Love Poems for Married People by John Kenney.

"I’m a huge fan of this short and extremely funny collection. Yes, champagne, fancy clothes, and first kisses are lovely while they last, but I suspect this version of the domestic long haul is more recognizable to many of us, and Kenney captures it with hilarious specificity."

Susan Minot

Susan Minot is one of the best writers out there when it comes to capturing lust on paper, but she's also a master at showing the nuances of familial and romantic love, so we thought of her immediately for a Valentine's Day pick. If you haven't already read her work, you may be familiar with the screenplay she did for Bertolucci's Stealing Beauty. We recommend Evening, the story of a fateful weekend involving a doomed love affair and a tragic car accident. We loved learning about the backlist gem that Susan chose for her Valentine's pick.

"The first book that pops into my head is from the 1880s: a French and unromantic view of romance: Adolphe by Benjamin Constant, the story of a young man’s affair with an older woman, and of his inconstancy, ironic given the author’s surname. It might remind you and your valentine how much better your romance is. For a uplifting alternative, give your valentine the 6 page poem Wildly Constant by Anne Carson, found in her unusually formatted collection (each selection is its own separate booklet) Float."

Joseph Fasano

If you aren't already following poet Joseph Fasano on Twitter, do yourself a favor and start now. His Daily Poetry Thread is a bright spot in the sea of Internet dross. Last year, Joseph released his first novel, a love story that follows a couple escaping Italian fascism at the end of WWII, and in March, he's releasing a book of creative writing prompts that promises to bring out poetic inspiration in anyone. He told Tertulia that the perfect Valentine's gift is this handsome edition of Jack Gilbert's Collected Poems.

"Gilbert was one of our last great romantics, incorporating a profound knowledge of history and myth into his, well, into his unabashed steaminess. 'We must,' he writes, 'eat through the wildness of her sweet body already / in our bed to reach the body within the body.' Have fun."

Amy Thomas

Author Amy Thomas is a sweet freak obsessed with all things French. While filming the scenes of romantic entanglement in the show Emily in Paris, actor Lily Collins found her first book Paris, My Sweet to be a sweet treat. "I'm loving every tip and recommendation and cannot help but feel Emily would too," she posted on IG. We asked Amy what her go-to Valentine's Day read would be and we loved her answer.

"Intellectual Foreplay. The Allure of the Flesh. The Gastronomic Orgasm. Don't tell me chapters like these don't make you want to dive right in and learn to flirt, seduce and love like the most magnetic creatures on earth: the French."

Richie Hofmann

Richie Hofmann's erotic journal in poetry, A Hundred Lovers, is itself a wonderful Valentine's gift in our book. One review in the Chicago Review of Books noted that it "presents love — that whirlpool, whirlwind, and wandering emotion that makes life worth living and also ensures future anguish — in its many shades from Eros to Agape." So who better than Hofmann to help pick a gift that is sure to express your passion?

"Nothing hotter than sharing poems with your lover — or living vicariously in the lost loves of past poets. Get lost in the stark sensuality of The Complete Poems of CP Cavafy, the 20th century Greek poet who will light your heart aflame. Or take the journey of lust and heartbreak with Rapture by Carol Ann Duffy, the UK’s first woman, and first lesbian poet laureate."

Andrea Dunlop

Valentine's Day is also for celebrating friendship. Giving a great book is the ultimate expression of platonic love. Let us recommend the novels of Andrea Dunlop including the forthcoming Women Are the Fiercest Creatures, one of the first books published by Zibby Owens, that is getting nice early reader reviews. In it, three women navigating the complexities of mid-life marriage, family and career become entangled in a common, intriguing mission. Dunlop shared her pick for the most romantic book ever:

"This is, without a doubt, the most romantic book I’ve ever read. Judith Whitman finds herself, at 44, unhappy with the life she worked so hard to build. In the midst of her midlife malaise, she finds herself unable to stop thinking about her first love, Willy.... I’m not much of a romance reader, but this complex, nostalgic story hit me so hard that I still sigh whenever I see it on my bookshelf. It’s subtle but unforgettable."

Amy Bloom

Amy Bloom, who turned to writing novels after decades as an accomplished psychotherapist, wrote a memoir of falling in love with and supporting her husband through early Alzheimer’s and his decision to end his life. In Love, which pops up on many a "best of 2022" lists, is an unforgettable portrait of a marriage which shows the profound and enduring power of love. Just read it. She generously shared three different picks for Tertulia readers this Valentine's Day.

I would suggest Alain de Botton’s The Course of Love, Jane Austen’s Persuasion, and bell hooks’ All About Love — because the best of love is a meeting of the minds, and entwining of the hearts and bodies.

Kim Kelly

For those of you whose lover's love language is non-fiction, we got a recommendation from author and organizer Kim Kelly, whose recent book Fight Like Hell is an incredibly timely history of labor in America. Her pick for a Valentine's read:

"Love is stronger than death, and this fascinating narrative explores the entwined lives of the Lincolns and the Booths, two families unknowingly united by both their belief in Spiritualism, a modern American belief system built around the practice of speaking with the dead, and the murderous act at Ford's Theater that forever bound the two together."

Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka

Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Brokamet fell in love in high school. Together, they've written several novels about romance for teens and adults — taking inspiration from their own love story. For all the romance fans out there, don't miss their latest, Do I Know You? about a couple whose latest game of pretend becomes the spark needed to reignite their relationship. When asked which book they recommended, they shared "the best romance read for the cynic in love."

"Phoebe is convinced her hot neighbor is a serial killer — but Thompson’s witty, wry romance is really about learning to trust. Even if you don’t suspect your neighbor has zip ties on his shopping list, it’s the perfect rom-com for anyone who’s ever felt like love is a little risky"

Haven't found the right book? The Tertulia Gift Card is the perfect gift for your friend or lover who is in love with books.

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