Ahh, Valentine’s Day—a day of love that people either love or hate.
Over the years, it’s become more and more apparent to me how a large percentage of the population really can’t stand the February 14th holiday. Yes, commercialism, consumerism, and marketing all send the wrong message surrounding the lead-up to the middle of February. As if love requires diamonds, red roses, and chocolate, and on the flip side, diamonds, red roses, and chocolate equate to love. Yeah, I’m not down with either of those messages. But, let’s approach the holiday from a simpler perspective. Chocolate is tasty, flowers smell good, and the colors pink and red are solid—no need to get into the manipulated price of diamonds here.
Sure, Valentine’s Day as an adult can be overwhelming, but Valentine’s Day as a kid was pretty awesome. The elementary school Valentine’s Day parties with heart-shaped cookies, pink punch, and your decorated Kleenex box or construction paper mailbox waiting to receive the folded valentines that sometimes had mini stickers, tattoos, or candy attached. The anticipation of wondering who gave who which card was usually pretty exciting, just like wondering what message your conversation heart will bear.
But as I get older, I’ve realized that more importantly than anticipation and wonder is the consistency of love. Constant and unconditional love is where it’s at. Don’t misunderstand; there’s nothing wrong with adventure and spontaneity when it comes to love and romance. But my jam is the constant comfort that we can gather from our favorite stories and characters—in my opinion, book love is a solid kind of love.
So, I’m shifting gears this February 14th and highlighting the books that bring me loving solace and warm toasty feelings as I read them again and again, year after year.
Book Love #1 — The Hobbit
J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a plethora of stories, but The Hobbit happens to be one of my favorites of his. I didn’t experience this story until after reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and by that order, I found the precursor tale to be a much easier read. Easier to grasp and not so drawn-out and flowery (A bit laughable, I know, coming from a writer who loves drawn-out and flowery sentences.). Even amidst the characters’ plights, there’s a warmth to The Hobbit that has always drawn me in, and I’m not referring to the fire-breathing drake. Obviously, Bilbo’s Bag End presents an atmosphere of comfort and ease that many of us pine for, but I also thoroughly enjoy the chapters set in Mirkwood, even though the overall vibe was dark and slightly foreboding. Every time I pick up this book, I feel that Tolkien’s words are nurturing me. His storytelling takes me to another place, away from any vexing situations I may find myself in at any given moment, as I join the characters on their own vexing journey.
Book Love #2 — A Wrinkle in Time
I fell in love with Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time the first time I read it. I was in fourth grade when I ordered the four-book set from an elementary school book order, and to be honest, the three subsequent books didn’t grasp my attention (some of the plot points were a little far-fetched for a nine-year-old), but the first book captivated me and still does to this day. Perhaps I related to Meg Murray, the eldest child of the Murray family who didn’t seem all that special or interesting. Or maybe I really enjoyed how they discussed liverwurst sandwiches. But, I think it was the heavy, gray aura that made me hunker down deeper into my reading chair and blankets, immersing myself in the worlds and dimensions explored by Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace. L’Engle’s simple yet straightforward descriptions of scene and setting transport readers from the Murrays’ cozy kitchen on a stormy night to the stark and eerie planet of Camazotz, and as a reader, I’m always ready for that ride.
Book Love #3 — The Enchanted Forest Chronicles
I feel like my generation and the one before me slept on Patricia C. Wrede’s series The Enchanted Forest Chronicles. The four books were published between 1985 (before my time) and 1993 (during my time), and in a strange order—the fourth book was actually published first, with the following three books coming out in order a handful of years later. The hallmarks of Wrede’s magical young adult series are its humor, witty banter, and consistent debunking and breaking of the traditional and expected fairytale mold. The lead of three of four books is Cimorene, a non-traditional princess who runs away from marrying a prince to live within the dragon community. The fourth (but first) book follows the adventure of her son Daystar, but I’m not going to divulge anymore in hopes that you might humor me and your young adult side and take a read through these fun, quick stories that I first discovered at our little Indian River library some 20+ years ago. After so much time together, the characters feel like old friends, and returning to the books always feels like a reunion or homecoming.
Book Love #4 — Dracula
Ahh, Bram Stoker’s magnum opus that has inspired so many authors, storytellers, filmmakers, and creative minds since 1897. I first stumbled upon this epistolary novel whilst attending high school, and I’ve read the book numerous times in my relatively short life. At one time, I was reading it every fall, much akin to Christopher Lee reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy every year (Fun fact: Lee played the titular vampire in several Hammer Horror films throughout his illustrious career. The films are quite enjoyable if you like vibrant orange-red blood, wigs, and the fabulous Peter Cushing.). A slow-burning, gothic read, Dracula isn’t to everyone’s taste. But if you revel in classic macabre, I’d recommend turning Stoker’s pages and becoming acquainted with the devilish man of the shadows who has found endless fame over the years. Prepare yourself for spine chills and a heightened sense of awareness while you read. Dracula has always spoken to my darker sensibilities…
Book Love #5 — Sense and Sensibility
I must admit that I have not read Pride and Prejudice (it’s on my TBR list); however, I have read Sense and Sensibility, and Jane Austen did not disappoint with her tale of the Dashwood sisters, Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret. A story of love, betrayal, heartbreak, loss, companionship, and naturally, both sense and sensibility, Austen’s 1811 novel was a smashing success and is highly relatable in the current age in which we find ourselves. In my opinion, love and loss are two of the most universal themes/focal points (perhaps the most), and with all of the drama between the Dashwood ladies, their relatives, and love interests, there is plenty to relate to as a reader living in the real world. I always admired Marianne’s free spirit (and Kate Winslet’s portrayal of the character).
Still, if I’m being honest, I’m totally an Elinor—Emma Thompson all the way—striving to be responsible, take care of others, and keep my emotions to myself as best I can. Maybe it’s because I’m the eldest child in my family that her character resonates so deeply, but I will say if given the choice, I’d pick Alan Rickman’s Colonel Brandon over Hugh Grant’s Edward Ferrars any day—no offense.
Book Love #6 — Sherlock Holmes
I have read the mysteries of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famed sleuth so many times that I know how they all end, but I keep returning to 221 Baker Street time and time again for the cozy comfort of a warm hearth, tea, and crumpets. Some of my favorite tales include “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” “A Scandal in Bohemia,” “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” and “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches,” to name a few. And like Bram Stoker’s immortal character, the fame of Doyle’s detective has survived the decades (even to his creator’s dislike) to be translated into anime, television shows, miniseries, major motion pictures, and my personal favorite, Disney’s The Great Mouse Detective (more on that work of art next month…). For as irritating and self-aggrandizing as Mr. Sherlock Holmes can be, Dr. John Watson brings the mellow for the everyday-man, balancing the genius with relatability, which I think helps make Holmes an enjoyable character, even if someone repeatedly telling me something is “elementary,” would rub me the wrong way at times.
(It’s worth noting that Sherlock is never quoted as saying, “It’s elementary, my dear Watson.” The spectacular Basil Rathbone popularized this one-liner during his numerous portrayals of the timeless character.)
These six books/series hold special places in my heart and will carry on beyond the stunted life of cut flowers. Their words comfort and soothe. I relate to the characters’ plights and victories, even though I’ve never solved a mystery, set out on a cross-country journey, or gone toe-to-toe with vampires, wizards, or conniving masterminds. These stories remain constant, unchanging, and therefore comforting in an unstable world that’s constantly pulling the rug out from under my feet. Of course, what changes with time is me, but regardless, I can always return to one of my book crushes and find my feet once again in the familiarity of fiction and fantasy.
So, as I said at the beginning, Valentine’s Day is something people tend to either love or hate. If you find yourself in the latter group, you could focus on a constant in your life that brings you feelings of cozy comfort in the depths of winter—your pet, favorite snack, a movie you could watch over and over again (for me, that would be Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), or a good book accompanied by a steaming cup of tea and a scone. Or, maybe you prefer the day’s traditional tokens of a heart-shaped box of chocolates, flowers, and a card, and that, my friends, is absolutely acceptable. However you mark the day, I hope you partake in something you love.
Happy Valentine’s Day from me and my book loves!
Coming up next:
Bats, Rats & Basil of Baker Street