Summer lovin’: have a blast. You don’t have to read harlequin schlock to get romantically fulfilled on the beach this year.
Why not start with an overlooked, under-read classic from American Renaissance master Nathaniel Hawthorne. The Blithedale Romance is a fictionalized account of Hawthorne’s time on Brooke Farm–here called Blithedale–an attempt at a utopian commune founded by artists and free-thinkers. Free lovin’, amorous passions, and, uh, farming. Great stuff–and romance is right in the title.
For lighter yet still substantial fare, check out Lara Vapnyar’s Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love, a delicious collection of snack-sized short stories (please, please, please forgive this awful extended metaphor). Sly, smart, and occasionally sexy, Vapnyar’s tales of dislocated immigrants continue to linger on the palate long after they’ve been digested (sorry!). The recipe section at the end is the sweetest dessert (ok, I swear I’m done now).
If you like your love stories rougher around the edges, check out Charles Bukowski’s only masterpiece, Women. This rambling novel follows alter-ego Henry Chinaski’s late-in-life successful turn with the ladies. Ugly, unforgiving, honest, and hilarious, Women is one of my favorite books. Also, unlike Henry Miller’s Tropic books, you’ll actually finish this one.
We finally read Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre last summer, and believe it or not, the book is pretty great. Truly a romantic classic, but also a fine comment on gender, class, and social mores in general. And if you like it, check out Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, which tackles the back-story of a certain crazy lady in the attic who didn’t exactly get a voice in Jane Eyre.
Finally, if you want to get very specific, don’t hesitate to search the Romantic Circles website. Plenty of resources and lots of electronic texts: your source for all things Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, and more. Good stuff.