The Scoop: Sometimes the most romantic stories can come from some unlikely places. Some books cross genres to bring out all the feels, and that’s when you know you’ve found a keeper. The Lipstick Librarian, Linda Ueki Absher, blew our minds by recommending off-the-beaten path books that have an original romantic story to tell. Singles and couples can peruse these titles to add a little fun to their days and drum up some interesting conversation topics for their dates.
I like to keep my bio on dating sites short and sweet, so I use just three words to sum up by winning personality: Nerdy. Sarcastic. Bibliophile. I mean, really, that says it all.
Some guys message me asking what the heck I mean by “bibliophile,” but others show their nerd cred by asking what my favorite book is (“Peter Pan” by J.M. Barrie) or what I’m reading right now (“Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott). This instantly gets me in a chatting frenzy. My favorite way to get to know someone is by studying the titles on their must-read shelves.
You can tell a lot about a person by their taste in books, and it’s fun comparing opinions about a book or author and maybe telling someone about a little-known work that blew you away. Even if the romance side of the conversation doesn’t pan out, I can walk away with a few more titles on my to-read list, and that’s not nothing.
For all you ardent readers out there, we’ve created a list of books to help you pass the time while waiting for that real-life storybook romance. We tapped the sassy blogger and librarian Linda Ueki Absher, also known as the Lipstick Librarian, to help us come up with original titles (the anti-“Fifty Shades of Grey,” if you will) that can knock your socks off and give you something worth gushing about on your next bookish date.
“Let’s face it, people should consider reading ANY book,” Linda said. “As a librarian, I am required by law to guilt you to pick up something that isn’t a laptop or a cell phone.”
1. “Persuasion” by Jane Austen
I used to read a lot of Nicholas Sparks growing up (and, no, I’m not ashamed) until I realized that the plot always fell into a familiar good-girl-falls-for-bad-boy pattern. I found myself anticipating every heart-quivering scene and predicting the picture-perfect ending many chapters before it happened.
“Romantic books of the Harlequin ilk are the ‘Law & Order’ of literature,” Linda told us. “They follow a standard protocol, they have satisfying endings, and you can read them over and over again.”
Though Linda admitted these books can be “oddly gratifying,” she suggested readers expand their minds outside the genre of contemporary romance and find books that add some thoughtful commentary to all those lovey-dovey feelings.
Jane Austen’s body of work falls into this category. Her stories delve into the social issues facing women of her time — class difference, prejudicial thinking, premarital sex — but have been branded a love story because the main character tends to end up with her beau.
Published in 1818, “Persuasion” details the influence family, friends, and circumstance can have on a young woman’s feelings for an old flame. Yes, it is romantic, but that’s very much beside the point. It’s primarily a story about a woman coming into her own and realizing she doesn’t need a man to be by her side all the time for her life to have value.
“Most of Jane Austen’s and the Brontes’ books aren’t really about romance,” Linda explained. “It’s the plot device that allowed them to express what it was like being female during their time — and having to marry someone to be able to eat.”
2. “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier
Romantic is in the eye of the beholder. It’s up to the reader to decide what plot line speaks to them — is it a perfect, chiseled hero rescuing a damsel? Or is it a willful woman finding her independence? Or perhaps it’s something else entirely? Linda told us she’s drawn to novels where the romance is served on the side.
“I like romance novels that really aren’t romance novels,” she said. “They’ve just been tagged that for decades (or even centuries) because the people (*cough* *cough* men) who determined such things dismissed romance and women.”
Linda pointed toward authors Daphne du Maurier and Barbara Pym as examples of women often overlooked by literary history. Barbara Pym wrote long odes about dowagers and jumble sales, while Daphne du Maurier wrote “Rebecca,” a gothic novel where love grows suspicious and even vengeful.
Diving into this dark story may not leave you with a lot of warm, fuzzy feelings, but it may make you better appreciate the non-dysfunctional, drama-free relationships in your life.
As Linda said, “Reading is fun! Just don’t think what happens in a book is going to happen in real life. Or, if you do, don’t hit me up for bail money.”
3. “Starship Troopers” by Robert Heinlein
Linda named Robert Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” as a great romantic novel. This science-fiction story may seem focused on authoritarianism, military might, and alien bugs, but Linda told us to look for the deep human feelings beneath all that action and gore.
“It’s got all the requisites of romance novels: exotic locations, uniforms, a long travail resulting in an awakening of feelings,” Linda explained. “But, in this case, the feeling that’s woken is the desire to kill aliens.”
“Starship Troopers” is a classic science-fiction novel originally published in 1959.”Starship Troopers” provides plenty of action to keep the reader flying through chapters like a Corvette Transport full of infantrymen. It’s easy to get hooked on this militaristic adventure. If you enjoyed the movie, you’ll get the same heart-thumping hoorah feeling by reading the book.
As a cult classic, “Starship Troopers” has won the hearts of many bookworms, including the Lipstick Librarian.
“My criteria for book selection is: British, female and dead,” Linda told us. “Heinlein didn’t fit the criteria, but I was young and foolish. Besides, who can resist such passion? And amour?”
This last one probably comes as a surprise, but stick with us. Encyclopedias can give you a world of insights and information, allowing you to travel from Antarctica to zoology without leaving your comfiest chair.
“They’re super-romantic,” Linda said. “Think about it: Every question you’ve ever had is answered right there. Is Australia a country or a continent? Who won the Academy Award in 1952? What is this honey-badger thing people keep going on about on Facebook? It just keeps giving.”
Your handy-dandy encyclopedia is always there for you when you need answers or want a distraction. It’s like a reliable friend you can count on to cheer you up at the end of a long day. You can toss yourself down this rabbit hole of facts and figures to expand your horizons and become the most interesting and knowledgeable person in any room you enter.
Ever run out of things to say on a date? Maybe pulling out some fun facts from the encyclopedia can help you out next time conversation topics run dry.
At the end of the day, the act of reading itself is more important than what you read. Linda told us she doesn’t particularly care if you decide to read John Grisham, Dr. Seuss, or the DMV manual, as long as you’re reading something. It doesn’t have to be the award-winning thought-provoking novel of the year — as long as you enjoy it and take something valuable from it, then that’s all that matters.
A Romantic Reading List for Bold Book Lovers
There you have it. These books may not be what most people think of when they think of romantic novels, but who says love has to stay in the shy-princess-meets-prince-charming box? All that sappy rose-colored romance isn’t for everyone, and an exciting alien-filled love story can be just as entertaining and meaningful as anything Nora Roberts has penned.
The books on this list can attract attention and give you a lot to think about and talk about, especially with someone who shares an interest in unconventional titles.
“I’ve discovered that books are an excellent prop to signal that you’re approachable,” Linda said. “Better than even puppies or accidentally standing next to a sign that reads ‘free donuts.'”
Linda said just carrying a book around with her can make her a magnet for literary discussions. You don’t have to be a nerdy bibliophile or a Lipstick Librarian to join the fun. A good book can offer daters a valuable conversation piece, a comforting message, and a first-class ticket to romance.
“Books are an aphrodisiac that sometimes results in a paper mold reactions,” Linda joked. “Aren’t all books romantic? Think about it: cozying up next to a fire, book in hand, an uber-snuggly blanket draped across your legs, your 18 cats lolling over every inch of you and what’s available of the sofa. Oh, wait — that’s me.”