20 Not-Technically-a-Love-Story Love Stories

  • February 14, 2024

There’s more to read on Valentine’s Day than Romeo and Juliet!

20 Not-Technically-a-Love-Story Love Stories

Your V-Day literary leanings might run to straight-up romances, but we know Cupid can be found across the bookstore. Here are several titles that, while not explicitly about love, nonetheless have an undeniably compassionate or affectionate vibe.

Barney’s Version: A Novel by Mordechai Richler. “I’ve always thought this was something of a romance, even though it’s actually a literary murder mystery. The main character, Barney Panofsky, adores his third wife, Miriam. Never mind that his insecurities and self-loathing drive her away. Barney never marries again after Miriam leaves him, and he spends the rest of his life thinking about her and hoping to get back together. Other things happen, too, but Barney’s devotion to the woman he loves has always been the best part of the story.” ~Dorothy Reno

The Great Fire: A Novel by Shirley Hazzard. “The fire in the title might refer to Hiroshima (the novel begins in 1947 Japan), but the central fire in this restrained and poetic National Book Award winner is between Aldred Leith and Helen Driscoll. ‘Many had died. But not she, not he; not yet,’ and the yet of this love story moves me to tears.” ~Amanda Holmes Duffy

The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store: A Novel by James McBride. “I couldn’t pass a pop quiz on the specifics of this story; I can only recall the supreme joy I felt on being transported into McBride’s world of hope and humanity.” ~Kitty Kelley

Bookshops & Bonedust by Travis Baldree. “This is an adventure novel complete with swords, a necromancer, and a knife-throwing gnome; the entire story boasts one or two kisses total. Yet love — romantic, communal, platonic — radiates out of every pore of this book.” ~Mariko Hewer

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. “In the end, Sam Spade will not play the sap for Brigid O’Shaughnessy, but he wishes he could. While he investigates who might be guilty of his partner’s murder, he is also searching for her innocence. The tragedy is that he does not find it.” ~John P. Loonam

The Sweet Spot by Amy Poeppel. “The lives of three women intersect in unexpected ways when ceramicist Lauren and her family move into a Greenwich Village brownstone. There is a large cast of characters, many of whom are in conflict or just trying to figure out how to navigate life, but at the center of all the chaos is a big, gooey ball of love — for family and friends, for an old house and a neighborhood bar, for creativity and career pursuits, and even for the very real, messy kind of romantic love that comes along when you least expect it.” ~Kristina Wright

Love Story: A Novel by Erich Segal. “Love doesn’t dissipate if it — sincerely — starts out that way.” ~David Bruce Smith

Portrait of Jennie by Robert Nathan. “Forty years ago, when I was the first toddler to enter Exeter Junior High in Pennsylvania, the guidance department had a list of 100 books that all students should read before they graduated high school. Like a good little future English major, I tried to read many of those books over the next six years, especially the short ones like Portrait of Jennie. The novel seems to have fallen out of favor, but it remains a haunting love story that my 1967 paperback version describes as ‘Perfection’ by a New York Herald Tribune reviewer who was likely job hunting since his paper had folded by the time that edition was published.” ~Drew Gallagher

The Art of Racing in the Rain: A Novel by Garth Stein. “This is a different kind of love story. Narrated by the family dog, it shows the love and concern a pet has for not only his original owner, but the family created after the owner marries and has a child. It’s a sweet love story wrapped around a family tragedy.” ~Laura Hazan

The Radiant Lives of Animals by Linda Hogan. “Hogan sums up how we can heal our hearts and better love our planet this way: ‘The cure for susto, soul sickness, is not found in books. It is written in the bark of a tree, in the moonlit silence of night, along the bank of a river, and in the voices of water’s motion. The cure is outside of our human selves, but it becomes the thread that connects the outer world with our own.’” ~Christopher Lancette

All the Beauty in the World: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Me by Patrick Bringley. “Bringley’s story begins with the premature death of a much-loved older brother — a tragedy which precipitated his switch from a promising career at the New Yorker to a job as a museum security guard — and culminates as he is forming a cherished new family of his own. Along the way, his capacity for love is evident in his depictions of the Met, his coworkers, the visitors he assists, and humanity generally. When Bringley (riding the subway home) writes, ‘Tonight, I’m fortunate. I can look with love at the tired, preoccupied faces of strangers…Now I begin to feel greater love thinking of the person I’m headed home to,’ who wouldn’t want to be part of his world?” ~Elizabeth J. Moore

The Sisterhood: The Secret History of Women at the CIA by Liza Mundy. “This book is about how the tough, smart women of the CIA broke through the institutionalized sexism of that storied organization. How is it about love? From the late 1940s to the early 1960s, my mother worked at the predecessor of the CIA and was forced to resign when pregnant with her first child, me. I feel like, in reading it, I’m channeling from the heavens her determination, drive, and love.” ~Caroline Bock

Missing May by Cynthia Rylant. “Sneak into the children’s room at the library and borrow this 1993 Newbery Award winner before the grownups ban it. Orphaned 12-year-old narrator Summer (Frances McDormand in the terrific audiobook), rescued by her elderly cousins May and Ob from caretakers who ‘treated her like a homework assignment,’ has thrived on garden produce, Oreos, and abundant love in their trailer in West Virginia. Now May has died, and Ob seems to be dying of grief, but in this sweet-bitter, funny-sad story, love outlasts death.”  ~Ellen Prentiss Campbell

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. “This classic has love in all varieties: passionate, familial, adulterous. It’s a sweeping story of social mores, betrayal, loss, and death played out against a backdrop of 19th-century Russian society. The setting may be the grand ballrooms and country estates of the aristocracy, but the emotions are universal.” ~C.B. Santore

What We Talk about When We Talk about Love: Stories by Raymond Carver. “The ‘story within a story’ in this collection stands out. It’s not a traditional love story, with your boy-meets-girl arc. Instead, it’s a treatise on the passions of old love and the fear of loss — made more powerful by the cynical main short story that surrounds it.” ~Chris Rutledge

Two Roads Home: Hitler, Stalin and the Miraculous Survival of My Family by Daniel Finkelstein. “Finkelstein’s account of his parents’ harrowing experiences during World War II is a testament to his love for them, as well as to their love for each other.” ~Paula Tarnapol Whitacre

The Rest of Life: Three Novellas by Mary Gordon. “Each novella in this collection is the story of a woman and the lover who most altered her life: a priest, a war correspondent, and a teenage poet. Gordon’s prose poses questions about how to live; at times, it’s like a more sensual and transportive version of Rachel Cusk’s work. Gordon is also an excellent writer of bodies and desire — a great pick for V-Day.” ~Samantha Neugebauer

Still Life: A Novel by Sarah Winman. “This is an epic ode to love disguised as historical fiction. Love — young, old, gay, straight, brand new, long lost, interracial, interspecies! Anchored by crux events in Italy and England during the Second World War, this enchanting novel moves back and forth in time over the 20th century, chronicling a multigenerational cast of British expats and lifelong Florentines as they mix it up with torch songs, stolen masterpieces, a flood, E.M. Forster, and a remarkable parrot. And, of course, there’s plenty of sex.” ~Liz Robelen

The Golem and the Jinni: A Novel by Helene Wecker. “A complex, interwoven tale across centuries that muses over the concept of free will. Two supernatural creatures — each created by a single, malevolent being and both bound to it in different ways — find each other in late-19th-century New York. They are kindred spirits in a very literal sense. Not a romance but a love story nonetheless.” ~Jennifer Bort Yacovissi

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. “Despite the anguish this book stirred up in 9-year-old me — I still haven’t gotten over Ginger’s death — it also fueled my lifelong love of horses and other animals and my belief in the notion that, in the end, compassion will triumph over cruelty.” ~Holly Smith

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