The alternative title for this post is ‘great romantic reads that weren’t written by Jane Austen.’
I had to physically restrain myself from picking all of her novels.
I can’t help it, it’s a compulsion. Call me biased, but no one can write a romance like Jane. To make it easier on myself, I decided to pick some alternative romances that don’t necessarily follow the lines of your typical love story.
Anyway, Valentine’s day is here and if you’re looking for something to distract you from the box of heart-shaped chocolates sitting in the cupboard, or you’re a bibliophile looking to celebrate Valentine’s day the right way, then here are my top romantic reads (that Jane Austen didn’t write):
1. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
John Green is the king of off-beat teenage romance. I wish my experience of school was as exciting as his YA novels. Actually, I don’t because most of my time would have been spent crossing the country in a minivan looking for someone who decided it would be cooler to send me on a cryptic treasure hunt instead of just texting me their location.
An Abundance of Katherines follows high school graduate Colin Singleton (oh, the irony) and his quest for love. He’s only ever dated Katherines, and all his past relationships have, well, ended. To find love and keep it he begins work on The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability- a mathematical equation which will predict the trajectory of any future relationships. Colin is an intense, flawed character but his attempts to calculate love are refreshing. And, as it turns out there is no algorithm for love.
2. Conversations with the Fat Girl by Liza Palmer
I read this novel as a teenager after finding it shoved into a bookshelf at home. I wasn’t expecting much from it but honestly, it taught me a lot about self-worth. Maggie is a twenty-six year old woman stuck in a rut. She hates her job, she hates her body and everyone else seems to have it together. When the best friend she had in school, Olivia, invites Maggie to her wedding she slowly begins to realize the appearances aren’t everything.
I think Maggie’s journey through the book is so relatable. She doesn’t decide to change her life out of jealousy towards her friend, but because her friends’ unhappiness brings attention to her own. There is romance in this novel, but ultimately it’s about loving yourself.
3. Atonement by Ian McEwan
I always think of Atonement as the literary equivalent of Titanic, except the iceberg in Atonement is a thirteen year old girl called Briony. She witnesses the growing attraction between her elder sister Cecilia and their gardener, Robbie but mistakes it for something far more sinister, putting into play a series of events that will rock the family.
The initial sections, where Celia and Robbie find their long-established friendship shifting into something deeper were particular highlights for me. The anticipation of a summer love-affair and the possibilities it might lead to are palpable. It’s a love story that spans across the social divide but is overshadowed by exterior complications.
4. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
My love affair with Rainbow Rowell started with her debut novel Attachments. Its 1999, the new millennium is approaching and two friends, Beth and Jennifer, abuse their office e-mail so they can talk instead of work. Except there’s a man in a small room downstairs monitoring their internet exchanges. Instead of reporting them, Lincoln continues to read their conversations and finds himself falling in love with Beth.
Although the novel follows Lincoln’s struggle to insert himself into Beth’s life after reading personal e-mails he shouldn’t have read, the real love is in the friendship of Beth and Jennifer. Their affection for each other spills out between the lines. They share every detail of their lives with each other, commiserating on the disappointments, offering encouragement when things don’t go the right way, and they aren’t afraid to call each other out.
5. The First Bad Man by Miranda July
Miranda July is one of those people you admire, but secretly resent because they can do everything. The artist, filmmaker and author’s debut novel The First Bad Man was one of my reading highlights in 2015. Cheryl works at a company that produce self-defense videos for women and is infatuated with one of her co-workers Phillip. Mistaking her fantasies for love, Cheryl engages in increasingly bizarre behaviors that fuel her delusions, until her bosses’ daughter, Clee, moves into her house and infiltrates her reality.
The First Bad Man explores the delusions we engage in that make life bearable and the dangers that come with them. We’ve all had a conversation with a crush and been convinced that every twitch of their eye, or flick of their hair is a sign that they like us, but Cheryl takes her infatuation to a whole new level.