Books for the Broken-Hearted on Valentine’s Day

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There are all kinds of people who don’t like Valentine’s Day. There are the conscientious objectors who reject “Hallmark holidays” on the grounds that love should not be commercialized. There are the misanthropes who just hate love. And there are the brokenhearted — that unfortunately large swath of humankind who’s sustained enough loss to find culturally mandated celebrations of romantic love unbearable.

This reading list is carefully curated for them, but offers treasures for anyone who appreciates a tender heart.

  • The cover of the book The Married Man

    The Married Man

    A Novel

    The prolific White is deservedly celebrated for his odes to mid-twentieth century queer love, sex, and community, and The Married Man is arguably his most richly melancholy book. (“The Farewell Symphony” is also a contender.) A thinly disguised account of the loss of his partner, a French architect, to AIDS, it is also an expertly constructed examination of mourning what mainstream culture has not yet accepted.

  • The cover of the book Traveling Mercies

    Traveling Mercies

    Some Thoughts on Faith

    As a writing instructor, essayist, and novelist who effortlessly bridges secular and spiritual worlds, Lamott is unparalleled. This collection of essays walks us through the loss of her best friend Pammie and the gorgeous communion they experienced through their tears.

  • The cover of the book The Time Traveler's Wife

    The Time Traveler's Wife

    Really, there are so many reasons that a story about a couple whose love is both engendered and doomed by one member’s “chrono-impairment”  could be ridiculous. But in Niffenegger’s able hands, this novel is an extraordinary meditation on how fate and free will intersect when it comes to matters of the heart. A sequel to the 2003 novel may come out this year; one can only hope the rumors are true.

  • The cover of the book Never Let Me Go

    Never Let Me Go

    This dystopian novel may be slender but it sure packs a punch to the heart. About a trio of English boarding school students who have been bred as organ donors, it emphasizes their dehumanization through the vehicle of their tragically doomed love.

  • The cover of the book Jazz


    In these loosely connected vignettes set in 1920 Harlem (its structure resembles a jazz composition), Morrison has crafted a characteristically wily and wise testament to love crimes and passions of the heart — to the reality that romance is never neutral, and relationships are bound to be impacted by greater social inequities. 

  • The cover of the book Bluets


    Is it a poetry collection? A prose picture? Honestly, it’s hard to tell. But however you describe this slim volume, it exquisitely encapsulates the pain of love gone awry.

  • The cover of the book Anna Karenina

    Anna Karenina

    Yeah, yeah. Most people think they know the story already: Married lady of nobility falls for a cad, throws herself beneath a train.  But no matter how many times you’ve read this Russian classic (or claim to have), there always remains more to learn about the terrible price we pay for loving someone who does not deserve our love.

  • The cover of the book Instead of a Letter

    Instead of a Letter

    Now one hundred years old, Athill has been a lady of letters for more than seven decades. But before she became a beacon in publishing, she was a young woman of nobility whose pilot fiance broke off their engagement while fighting in World War II, and who died before she could forgive him for loving another. Everything Athill writes is a feat in precisely phrased passion; this may be her finest.

  • The cover of the book Rapture


    About two estranged lovers attempting to reignite their affair in a NYC apartment, this details the longing and lust that can blind you not only to someone else’s failings but, even more heartbreakingly, to your own. Minot is always a master of “God is in the details,” and she especially scorches us with them here.

  • The cover of the book HEARTBURN


    Based not-so-loosely on the author’s legendary breakup with Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein, this is part recipe collection, part autobiographical fiction, and really, the first (and only) book that can best be described as “culinary revenge romance.” Wicked and wickedly funny, it’s just desserts for anyone still peeved about being jilted.