Love is Strange: A Reading List for an Uncommon Valentine’s Day

By Denise Jarrott, Library Information Assistant
February 11, 2021
Mulberry Street Library

Whether you’re ensconced with a partner, happily single, unhappily single, or one of the many shades in between, the arrival of February and its associated holidays conjure up images of partnership and passion. Valentine’s Day sometimes brings with it a sense of despair that loneliness is forever, or anxiety that your relationship isn’t what it’s “supposed” to look like. Inevitably, there will be countless articles hocking advice on how to find your soulmate.

These books might not bring a new love to your doorstep, but maybe they will reveal the love that might already exist in your life.

Eros the Bittersweetby Anne Carson

Carson’s thesis on a fragment of a poem by ancient poet Sappho blooms into a meditation on the nature of desire, and a close attention to how it moves and behaves. For Carson, love is active, and the space between the love and beloved is the most thrilling place of all.

If Not, Winter, Fragments of Sappho

Few complete poems remain of ancient Greek poet Sappho’s work—most are so old, worn and tattered they are barely translatable. But the fragments that exist take on a new life. A remnant containing a single word can sometimes be more moving than an epic ode.

All About Love by bell hooks

bell hooks’ All About Love discusses Black feminist theory in the context of interpersonal relationships, community, and inner work in a way that feel accessible. This is a great place to begin thinking about love as a political act. How we conduct our relationships shapes how we look at the world, and hooks contributes to the conversation in wonderful ways. 

Lie With Me by Phillipe Besson, translated by Molly Ringwald

Reminiscent of Call Me By Your Name, but quieter and set in rural France. The title character encounters a man who resembles a first love, and causes him to remember the force and anxiety of it.

Not One Dayby Anne Garréta, translated by Emma Ramadan and the author

Anne Garreta’s experiments in prose take us on a journey in which the main character attempts to not go one day without an encounter with a woman. These attempts are beautiful, tender and sometimes hilarious.

Solve For Desireby Caitlin Bailey

This series of poems based on the mysterious and tragic relationship between German poet Georg Trakl and his sister Grete are heartbreaking, lush and complex. 

Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier

Contemporary and classic at once, Pizza Girl contains moments of truth and subtlety amidst a backdrop of Los Angeles as seen from a pregnant 18-year-old pizza delivery girl and the beguiling mother whom she finds utterly compelling.

How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti

A “novel from life” much like Besson’s Lie With Me, and borrowing from multiple literary forms, How Should a Person Be? is both personal and philosophical. Its characters find themselves within their society asking themselves how to exist as artists and as people, what they desire and how they should act.

What You Are Going Throughby Sigrid Nunez

The narrator encounters a string of characters who are experiencing pivotal emotional moments in their lives and chooses to accompany them through these moments. A novel for anyone who has ever sought companionship and experienced another’s grief. Quietly powerful and deeply felt.


Bluets by Maggie Nelson

A lyric essay that explores the color blue, desire, art, grief and the ecstatic, Bluets is sacred and profane. Written in numbered fragments reminiscent of Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse, Bluets is saturated by passionate inquiry, and continues to be an affecting text.

Have trouble reading standard print? Many of these titles are available in formats for patrons with print disabilities.

Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your ideas too, so leave a comment and tell us what you’d recommend. And check out our Staff Picks browse tool for more recommendations!