Feel-Good Books That Celebrate Non-Romantic Love

Noemi J. Mullins

I’ve been single for 97% of the 46 Valentine’s Days I’ve been on earth, which is probably why I have a love/hate attitude about the holiday. On the one hand, I’m prone to railing against its manufactured nature and the fact that it is designed to test relationships and make people who aren’t in them feel alone. But I’m also a hopeless romantic who can get behind a holiday that, despite its disturbing origins, is one day out of the year we can devote to celebrating the grand, sweeping, glorious force that is love. If there ever was something worthy of celebration, it’s that.

The problem is limiting the Valentine’s Day focus solely to romantic love and the traditional (and tired) cis boy and girl, chocolate and roses, meet-cute and happily-ever-after cliches that typically define the holiday. There’s nothing wrong with giving your partner some truffles or queueing up a romantic comedy on February 14, but we could also think more expansively. There are, after all, so many different types of love worth acknowledging and celebrating this Valentine’s Day.

Here are my recommendations for books that showcase a range of passions–like food, friendship, and even clothes. Whether you’re partnered up or not, I hope at least one of these picks speaks to your heart and reminds you that love takes many splendid forms.

The Colossus of New York, by Colson Whitehead

Can you be in love with a city? I believe New York City is one of those places that has inspired many literary love letters. My love affair with NYC started when I moved here in 2000, a few years before National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winner Colson Whitehead’s beautiful book about the city was published. In 13 essays, Whitehead takes readers on a tour of iconic landmarks and undiscovered corners while paying tribute to the metropolis’s intangible, indelible charge and charm. Of course, he’s not the only legendary author to fawn over New York City; others like E.B. White and Joan Didion offered similar ardor. Nor is New York the only place to inspire such writerly passions–Paris, Istanbul, and Italy, for example, have been the subjects of lush love affairs on the page. These stories remind us that we can engage a place as we do a lover–embracing its maddening idiosyncrasies, basking in its particular allure, and learning all its history and hidden secrets. These are books to feed and satisfy your (wander)lust.

On True In Superfan, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist George Dorhmann examines this phenomenon and its psychological and social dimensions. This is a well-researched, entertaining rabbit hole that attempts to explain our seemingly irrational feelings for our sports idols. The Superbowl falls just a few days before Valentine’s Day this year. For many, this will be a more significant holiday with more passion and heartbreak than V-Day.

Dressed In Dreams: A Black Girls’ Love Letter to Fashion, By Tanisha For Ford

When I was six, I was fascinated with a blue dress with white polka dots. My mom put it in a pile of clothes headed for Goodwill when I could no longer fit into it. It was like an actual breakup. Clothing (or other inanimate objects like decor) can appeal to us not just because they are objects but also because they make us (confident and sexy) feel. Clothes are potent symbols of our past and can conjure a time and place as quickly and vividly as pictures. Tanisha Ford explores the meaning of different clothing items in her memoir. She uses them to express her identity and dreams. This is a testament to the fact that we do love people. But we also love objects.

The Things We Love: How our passions connect us and make us who we are, Aaron Ahuvia

This book explores the reasons people love these things. It explores the fascinating question: How do we compare our love for people with our passion for things? Why do we like certain things but not others? The difference between wanting something and loving it is that the former can be fleeting and the last dark and consuming. Aaron Ahuvia’s book is an excellent choice for those who enjoy books explaining the science behind how the world and the mind work.

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