In his bestseller Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein wrote, “Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.”
Understanding love is the most important lesson that the main character, a Martian, learns about human life on Earth. It speaks to the core of what sustains humanity, and what we all have in common. This month, we recommend picking up a book that rejoices in the love we feel toward partners, parents, children, and friends.
You Can Only Yell at Me for One Thing at a Time: Rules for Couples by Patricia Marx, illustrated by Roz Chast
Finally! If you’re exhausted by tired, clichéd advice on how to have a long and happy marriage, here’s the real-world counseling you’ve been waiting for. So long, “Never go to bed angry.” Come on in, “If you must breathe, don’t breathe so loudly.” Marx and Chast’s new rules for couples are refreshingly funny and so on point, don’t be surprised if you end up quoting them to your true love.
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy
Mackesy’s beautiful fable introduces readers of all ages to the unique friendship between a boy, a mole, a fox, and a horse. Through simple illustrations and little dialogue, the friends depend on each other to overcome obstacles both large and small. True love – respectful, honest, and given freely – is what saves them all. As the mole says to the boy who feels lost, “Love brings you home.”
The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
In North Korea, Pak Jun Do’s mother lives in the capital city Pyongyang against her will. His father is the head of an orphan work camp. Following his father’s example of loyalty to the state, Pak takes a job that forces him into morally questionable territory. It’s a bleak existence that he endures (if only to save his own life) until he falls I love with a beautiful actress, Sun Moon. Only when her life is at risk, does Pak find the courage to challenge it all – his family, his country, and even the dear leader himself, Kim Jong Il.
Normal People by Sally Rooney
Connell and Marianne form a close, yet unlikely relationship within the confines of their small town. The independence that comes with moving to college is a thrill, but it’s also an ache, as their bond turns into something else they both struggle to define. As much as they want to live life to the fullest, Marianne and Connell simply can’t quit each other. When Marianne needs it the most, it’s only Connell’s love – a love without labels or strings – that can save her.
My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley
Every aspect of David’s life is at a crossroads – his job, his boyfriend, and his house are all disintegrating before his eyes. So when his ex-wife, Julie, calls him out of the blue, he expects more drama. Instead, she needs his help. In a moment of pure “Why not?” David moves in with Julie. Almost immediately, they’re both touched to find that a loving friendship is still there, even if they have to dig through some of the pains of the past to find it.
A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende
Roser is widowed, pregnant, and running for her life toward the French border, away from the violence of the Civil War in 1930s Spain. With her is Victor, an army doctor, but also her brother-in-law. Along the way, they marry, but only because it increases their chances of survival. Their marriage of convenience survives a move to Chile and years of difficult exile, but as they age, they realize that they’ve been searching for a home that existed all along: with each other.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
President Lincoln’s grief over the loss of his young child, Willie, is the basis for this beautiful story about the eternal love between father and son. As the Civil War rages, Lincoln visits Willie’s crypt, often alone. In the cemetery, Willie realizes he’s in a bardo – a purgatory where he’s not alive, but not gone – and attempts to communicate with his father during his midnight visits. Buoyed by everyone else stuck in the bardo, Willie’s love and Lincoln’s love connect in an otherworldly way.
A Natural History of Love by Diane Ackerman
If you’ve ever loved anyone or anything, and you want to understand why (and how) it happens, we recommend Ackerman’s gorgeous tribute to love. Heinlein’s Martian realizes that love is central to our humanity, and Ackerman offers all the reasons why. Drawing on history and science, she covers everything from parenthood to adultery, sexual attraction and faith, and even our esoteric love of people and things we’ve never known. Here, the romance of love is really the romance of life itself.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Willem, JB, Malcom, and Jude are college friends striving for greatness in New York City. Over decades, the men fall in and out of love, celebrate each other’s successes, brush off the failures, and fight personal demons. As middle age arrives, their biggest challenge comes from the least expected friend – Jude, who has always been their rock. Their deep friendship has survived a lot, but Jude’s crisis challenges them all. It’s a haunting, epic story that leaves you thankful for your best friends, the ones who’ll do anything to save you.