On this day when romance can sometimes seem a little too materialistic, Star2 reviewers write about books that touched their hearts and that they’d want to share with loved ones.
I’m usually reluctant to give books as gifts. Unless I know it’s a title they want, my hesitance is due to the fact that they may end up not enjoying the book.
So my choice of a book as a Valentine’s Day present has more to do with what it symbolises. Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones (part of the Chrestomanci series) is extremely special to me: it crystallised my love of fantasy stories, as well as being my introduction to one of my all-time favourite authors. That I came upon it completely by chance when I was 11 or 12, within a bag of secondhand books at a bazaar, only makes it even more magical – as if I were somehow meant to discover it. Between then and now, I’ve lost count as to how many times I’ve re-read it.
Charmed Life isn’t something I’d give to just anyone. It is a book I reserve for kindred spirits, for those who would appreciate not just how wonderful a story it is, but how it shaped the person I’ve become. Giving it to someone is my way of sharing a cherished piece of my life, of inviting them to step into a realm that I only travel with those who are closest to me.
Call me a hopeless romantic, but I’ve always thought that the best love stories came in the form of fairytales. So what better choice for a Valentine Day’s present then, than Stardust, Neil Gaiman’s poignant and whimsical fantasy? As the book itself says: “Every lover is, in his heart, a madman, and in his head, a minstrel.”
The story is about Tristan, a shop assistant who goes on a voyage to the land of Faerie to find a fallen star, which he intends to give to his beloved. The star, however, has taken the form of Yvaine, a beautiful woman. On his journey, Tristan encounters sky pirates, sinister witches and murderous princes, and discovers the things he once loved are no longer the things he desires.
It’s a terrific adventure, full of romance, joy and humour, and a book I would definitely give a Valentine to express the lengths I would go to win her heart (though, hopefully, I don’t get sent on any real falling star expeditions into foreign lands!). There’s also a great movie adaptation of the book, so if she enjoyed it, we can always watch it after!
Perhaps my favourite book to express the love you feel for someone is Edward Monkton’s Love Monkey. Years ago when my spouse and I were still an engaged couple living in separate countries, it was read to me over a Facetime call. I’m not ashamed to say this was probably the first time I got an incredulous, “Are you crying?” from my spouse, as being a sop I can cry at the drop of a hat (yes, at TV shows, books, a Gloria Estefan lyric). We can be watching a very moving episode of Downton Abbey and the spouse without looking away from the screen will say, “You’re crying, aren’t you?” just as Edith finally gets married.
Love Monkey is a short fable, which, along with its charming drawings, never fails to have me shed some sweet tears of happiness. It’s about a monkey that’s carved a perfect wooden heart he wants to give to a dream monkey. His arduous journey changes the hearts’ perfection, worrying him that it would no longer be an acceptable gift. The story speaks to the nature of love and how in the end things don’t matter so much as just giving of ourselves to another.
I would give my Valentine a copy of Sabriel by Garth Nix. About two-thirds of the way through the book, one character says to another: “I love you. I hope you don’t mind.” I think it’s a sentence that many authors would wish they had come up with.
I would send this book to my Valentine in mint condition, with the exception of that sentence, which I would highlight or underline. It would probably be a bad idea (as most admissions of love are) because people who are on the receiving end of a love admission usually do mind.
But even if it were a bad idea, at least my Valentine would receive an action-packed tale about a necromancer traversing through the realms of the dead and fighting forces of darkness,which is a pretty good thing to have at any time of the year!
For Valentine’s Day, I would gift any book aficionado with the biography of the Bloomsbury-era painter, Dora Carrington. Of the few books available on this often overlooked artist, Gretchen Gerzina’s Carrington: A Life can be considered the definitive biography.
A quick overview: Carrington, as she preferred to be called, was a British painter prominent in the 1920s. She hung around the likes of Leonard and Virginia Woolf, and author Lytton Strachey.
Although the titular subject is a painter, Carrington: A Life does not delve so much into different techniques or media that Carrington used in her creations. Instead, the biography centres on the life-long relationship between Carrington and Strachey.
It seemed like the perfect match on the surface: a young girl in need of guidance embarking on a relationship with an older man. Unfortunately for Carrington, Strachey was a homosexual and their relationship never progressed beyond the platonic. Worse, Carrington could never shake off the “devastating love” she had for Strachey, not even when Strachey died from stomach cancer.
Carrington: A Life may not offer all the sticky sweetness that a commercialised Valentine’s Day demands, but it does serve as a reminder that for every love there is pain. A perfect book to gift someone who enjoys the darker (and real) side of love.
Marc De Faoite
Any romance that survives the initial inebriation of infatuation changes shape. Daydreams of Prince or Princess Charming are tempered as new love’s blinding glow fades, revealing an all too fallible flesh-and-blood human being. Joan Didion’s The Year Of Magical Thinking is not for the casual Valentine, but for the significant other who is in it for the long haul, someone who acknowledges that one will outlive the other and be left to cope with the tragedy and heartbreak of definitive loss.
Death is a cataclysmic event that shakes us to our existential core. It has a way of concentrating the mind and puts into perspective all the mundane pettiness that can so easily invade, destroy, or even replace romance. Life together as a couple is not in the big stuff. Often the things that matter and are missed the most are in the unremarkable details.
Mourning may be a process, but grief is an altered state, hence the title. Sharing this book with a loved one establishes some common ground and preparation on how this difficult rite of passage might be navigated – yet despite its sober theme, The Year Of Magical Thinking is far from lugubrious, and instead is a thoroughly life-affirming and love- affirming read.
A Man Called Ove. While it’s not the most romantic title in the history of books written ever, its contents are not to be made light of. Frederik Backman’s book, though only focusing on one old grumpy old man’s life, takes its reader round the circumference of the word we say way too little yet overuse way too much: “love”.
Behind all of us are earth-changing events that shape the way we are, our thoughts, actions, the words we speak, the kindness we bestow, the sadness we impart. Behind the grumpy facade of a man called Ove, we see a person who once loved and was loved in return – and that made all the difference.
The read sweeps you off in a current of emotion, sprinkled with tenderness and garnished with a spoonful of heart. Perhaps that’s what life truly is, and what do we more often take for granted than the people who truly care?
This Valentine’s Day, I dedicate this read to everyone, as we all have in one way or another, experienced affection and compassion at some point in life. It is in hopes that the read will remind you and your loved ones about the relationship you shared and continue to cherish, be it familial ties, friendship, or romantic links. And I hope it will be a gentle reminder that humanity, amidst the recent rampage of violence and rage, truly has the greatest capability to also love.
If I were to give my wife a book on Valentine’s Day, it would be Mitch Albom’s For One More Day. While the story revolves around a mother-son relationship, Albom takes us on an emotional roller coaster ride in an attempt to have his readers sit up and take notice of the time we have together with those we most cherish.
After life throws protagonist Charley Benetto (aka Chick) a few too many hardships to bear, he decides enough is enough and plans to take his own life. A late-night drive to his hometown sees him encounter the spirit of his dead mother, with whom he is afforded one more day to say all the things he wished he could.
I’ve been married to my wife Elaine for two-and-a-half years and in that time it’s been easy to see how work and other preoccupations can lead us into the false sense of security of believing that there will always time for our loved ones … tomorrow.
Albom’s second novel is one that tugs at the heartstrings, and delivers a clear message: Love those around you so much so that, when they are gone, you’ll find there’s no need to wish for one more day.