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Books of Love:
Dangerous Liasons in Literature

or, If I Told You We Could Have Some Fun Between the Sheets, Would You Throw the Book at Me?

by Heather Hewett

Even if you slept through your college English classes, you needn't give up on books. In fact, gentle reader, books can stimulate not only your mind but your love life as well. How, you ask? Read on for a collection of literary lights that will illuminate your search for a soul mate... or at least a date. Let us begin at the Beginning.


Saying goodbye is difficult, but it's also means you're beginning a brand new chapter in your (temporarily) solitary life. What better way to begin a newly single phase than with a book? Books can be your best friends in times of loneliness.

Why else do people persist in asking the question, "If you were stranded on a desert island, and you could bring one book, what would it be?" (This question, by the way, will kill a first date the way Moby Dick will kill a cockroach.)

Ice cream flavors come and go, but your choice of books at this juncture is critical. And the BTD -- you saw this coming -- is here to help. Let's go to the bookshelf.

For sheer wit and toughness, the BTD suggests the following:

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding. Bridget's escapades as a "singleton" surrounded by "Smug Marrieds" provides plenty of twists to the classic Austen tale. As she struggles with her wildly fluctuating poundage and everyone else's "emotional fuckwittage," you'll cheer the thirty-something Bridget on, share her indignations, and chuckle at your own predicament as seen through the prism of Fielding's sharp satire on life.

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing. The story of one man, his ship, and his unfortunate and very cold altercation with Antarctic ice. It lends perspective to the most dire of romantic straits.

Little Black Books

If you're feeling bleak, and don't want to be cheered up, that's okay too. There are plenty of dark books that will match your mood and, in fact, make you realize how fortunate you really are. Here are some classics guaranteed to make your devastating situation seem like a minor inconvenience:

Bleak House by Charles Dickens. There is one adjective that best describes Dickens's satire on the Byzantine legal system in Victorian England: long. By the time you emerge from this one, and you'll be ready to move on in more ways than one.

Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. James' dark psychological thriller follows the fortunes of independent American heiress Isabel Archer, her suitor Caspar Goodwood, and the mysterious aesthete Gilbert Osmond. This is disturbing stuff, strong enough to make you swear off romance for at least a little while. Stay away from Jane Campion's film version starring Nicole Kidman and John Malkovich, whose innate creepiness gives you the permanent willies. [Talking beans! Yechh! -ed.]

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. This ripping read chronicles the tragic results of a loveless marriage and a passionate affair. It's grand enough to sweep you away for several weeks, at least.

Rediscovering Your Spine

So you're ready to get Out There again. Never fear: the literary world provides plenty of works that will light your fire and show you what True Love can be like. Read the following love stories from around the world and you too will believe.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. A haunting tale of unrequited love, Garcia's masterpiece follows Florentino Ariza's half-a-century passion for the haughty Fermina Diaz.

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. In the pre-war North African desert, Ondaatje recounts the memories of an English patient's doomed love affair and his undying love. Another book made into a movie, but there's a lot more romance in the book.

The Letters of Abelard and Heloise. Heat up your imagination with this fiery tale of the forbidden lust (and secret marriage!) of Parisians Abelard and Heloise. The French know how to do it right, even back in the 12th century.

(Readers, take note: you are likely to swoon under the spell of these passionate tales. Read them while standing in line at the bank, or taking the subway to work, and position yourself next to someone who looks likely to help you back to your feet when the passion overtakes you.)

Instruction Manuals

In romance, as in so many things, the intelligent novice will first go to the reference shelf for guidance. No, I'm not talking about Dating for Dummies or any of its cousins. There's plenty of fiction out there that demonstrates What To Do and What Not To Do. Some of the finer selections include:

The Art of Courtly Love by Andreas Capellanus. Yes, this is the Guide to End All Guides and it tells you precisely how to woo your Beloved, circa 1170. Move over, Emily Post. This is the original.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. Why, oh why, does the headstrong and romantic Marianne rush impulsively into relationships that may not be the best thing for her? It's because she doesn't have her older sister Elinor's proper mix of sense and sensibility. This, according to Austen, a keen observer of romantic relationships, is what it takes to find a mate. (If you're a Kate Winslet fan, check out the movie version, but only after you've done it first the old-fashioned way: by reading.)

Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand. Need a little insight into writing love poetry? The classic love story of Cyrano's wooing of Roxanne is filled with comedy and intellectual swordplay. This book is an excellent tale for anyone who thinks they have a mortal flaw or a big nose.

[While the BTD prefers to be a doer, not a donter, here are just few books NOT recommended for romance seekers: Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, Dante's Inferno, or anything by Sylvia Plath.]

Judging Books by Their Covers

The choice of a book is never neutral. It reveals something intimate and essential about you. In fact, books provide a step toward developing particular qualities that you would like to have, even if you don't have them right now. So, stock your bookshelves (and inspect others' shelves) accordingly. A few guidelines:

If you're a lawyer... Read Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air to develop your adventurous side and develop the willingness to take risks on the magnitude of scaling Mt. Everest (regardless of the potential for lawsuits).

If you're a mechanic... Read Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius to incubate your irony and develop your intellectual postmodern tendencies.

If you're an intellectual... Read any of the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling to develop your inner child.

If you're a science type... Read Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity to learn how you can bring out the artist within.

If you're a political junkie... Read Victor Hugo's Les Miserables to assure him or her that you'll choose love over politics.

If you're a bookworm... Take up skiing or pottery.



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