12 Romantic Books That Won’t Make You Gag

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You know the difference between that newly in-love feeling of being on the the wings of soaring angels versus, well, the unfortunate reality of being seated next to some cringe-worthy PDA? Romantic books can run that gamut, too. And some of the loveliest books about love aren’t actually romance novels at all (not that there’s anything wrong if they are). In anticipation of the big V., here are 12 books about love that won’t make you gag (or be ashamed to hold them in full view on the subway). Added plus: You’ll love reading them whether you’re in a relationship or not.

This crucial meditation on love may not give you butterflies, exactly (or maybe it will!). Either way, it will have you considering those emotional connections we so yearn for in an entirely new and valuable way. Read it and be better at love.

Buy
All About Love by bell hooks $11, Amazon

Rowell’s young-adult novel about two misfits who find themselves unexpectedly and utterly in love has one of the most beautiful scenes about hand-holding I’ve ever read. (Spoiler: There will be tears.) If adult novels are more your speed, try Rowell’s Landline, a time-travel-love-story-by-phone.

Buy
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell $11, Amazon

In this gorgeous 2008 novel (set on the Italian coast no less), 17-year-old Elio spends the summer falling in love with visiting American scholar Oliver. It’s getting all kinds of new buzz thanks to the movie, a Sundance darling starring Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet — read it and fall in love with the book, too.

Buy
Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman $15, Amazon

Not only is this reimagining of the Kate-and-Wills story sweet and adorable, it’s also hilariously funny and surprisingly real. (Consider going to college with the future King of England, and then falling for him, too?) It could happen! Or you could just love reading about it.

Buy
The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan $9, Amazon

Is there anything more romantic than love and food and magic? That’s a rhetorical question, but the answer is no. This book will make you (literally and figuratively) hungry.

Buy
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel $9, Amazon

This is a romantic book that’s also about writing, and reading, and books, which makes it the kind of quirkily romantic book that literary people dream of (which, if you’re reading this list, probably means you).

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If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino $10, Amazon

Devastating and gorgeously wrought, as much for the love story as for Proulx’s portrayal of Wyoming. Sure, you’ve probably seen the movie about cowboys in forbidden love, but Proulx’s prose is more swoon-worthy than Jake Gyllenhaal’s shoulders.

Buy
Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx $8, Amazon

In this coming-of-age story, Brown’s protagonist, the sexually liberated lesbian Molly Bolt, is totally herself, which means that she loves women, and they love her, and what could be more romantic than going after exactly what you want and need?

Buy
Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown $12, Amazon

Smith’s first prose book examines her lifelong relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, whom she loved as a muse, a lover, a friend, a companion, a soul mate. It’s simply gorgeous.

Buy
Just Kids by Patti Smith $14, Amazon

Main character Lara Jean is a total romantic, and incredibly lovable herself, in this best-selling young-adult series by Han. It all begins when a bunch of secret love letters are mailed to their recipients (who were never intended to see them, of course). Bonus: The third book, Always and Forever, Lara Jean, will be out in May.

Buy
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han $11, Amazon

One word: Darcy. More words: You’ve surely read this classic before, but it bears annual re-reading for the completely realistic romantic ups and downs and missed communications and connections and, oh, that last couple of scenes … Let’s all say it together: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

Buy
Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen $10, Amazon

This, the contrarian’s pick for favorite Murakami novel, is dreary and sad and lonely and beautiful and nostalgic, which means it’s exactly the right sort of romance for people who love the color gray and/or that Beatles song. (I recommend both.)

Buy
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami $10, Amazon

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12 Romantic Books That Won’t Make You Gag