Cultural observer James Baldwin once compared love to a battle; he also said that love is growing up. Writer Zora Neale Hurston said it “makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place,” while poet Nikki Giovanni declared it an adventure. Novelist Harriet Wilson called love an “arbitrary and inexorable tyrant.” Me? I think it is an unavoidable necessity, a beautiful one.
And even with its seemingly contradictory attributes, it is the ultimate emotion, the one that sustains us. In celebration of love in all its forms—familial, romantic, friendly, erotic—here’s a list of books that reinforce what we already know: It’s our lifeline. For as writer Jean Toomer once suggested, through experiences with love, we can discover the reality of our souls.
By Lamar Ariel
This unique collection of letters explores the mixed emotions of a self-described 20-something who “is not straight, not white, not uneducated—and contrary to popular opinion—not unusual.” It’s not the unusual attribute that makes many of the book’s insights universally felt—especially the overriding epiphany that a little introspection goes a long way in finding and embracing love.
By Angela Bassett and Courtney B. Vance with Hilary Beard
Kimani, February 2009 (paperback edition)
Marriage is hard work. Throw in fame and Hollywood, and you may have a train wreck on your hands. Yet Jada and Will aren’t the only ones making the unworkable work. Not only will you fall in love with Bassett and Vance’s romance, you’ll be encouraged that “let’s be friends” is just as important as “let’s be together.”
By L.A. Banks
St. Martin’s Griffin, February 2009
At times, the effects of love seem paranormal. So why not delve into another world, packed with demons, plagues and dark powers, to really see how powerful that four-letter word is? It’s a nontraditional romance that can tell us a lot about the battles we face to maintain order in our relationships and in this crazy world.
By Shakara Bridgers, Jeniece Isley and Joan A. Davis
Fireside, August 2008
Food holds its own erotic power. Hence that old-school saying about reaching one’s heart through his or her stomach. With recipes like “luscious candied sweets,” “oyster bisque,” and “so-serious suffocated pork chops” as well as menus for couple trips, the morning after and other relationship milestones, you’ll be traveling down the right romantic road with this cookbook as your guide.
By Dana Canedy
Random House, December 2008
By Nikki Giovanni
William Morrow, January 2009
Out of pain comes love. And that’s the setting that birthed Giovanni’s new collection of poems that celebrates the power, force and healing nature of what she considers, “the antidote.”
Edited by Marita Golden
Broadway Books, February 2009
Even if I wasn’t one of the featured contributors in this dynamic collection edited by the bestselling Golden—and I can hardly articulate how grateful that I am—I’d pressure everyone I knew and those I don’t to buy a copy. Through heartfelt poems, essays and stories written by the likes of Gwendolyn Brooks, Nikki Giovanni, Tina McElroy Ansa, E. Lynn Harris, A. Van Jordan, E. Ethelbert Miller, Doreen Baingana, Pearl Cleage and so many more, the collection proudly displays that black love, in all its complexity, lives triumphantly.
By Steve Harvey with Denene Millner
Amistad/HarperCollins, January 2009
If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, it’s surprising that opposite sexes are ever able to connect—especially since everything from interests and perspectives can vary greatly. Enter Harvey with a tough-love relationship guide that aims to clue women in on the inner workings of the minds of men.
Grand Central Publishing, February 2009 (paperback edition)
Hot sex. Workplace drama. More hot sex. And if you’re like a majority of the population and isn’t getting it on like the buckwild characters in this mouth-dropper, there’s nothing wrong with some vicarious living. Hey, you may just pick up a tip or two to impress or shock your special someone.
By Zora Neale Hurston
Harper Perennial Modern Classics, December 2008 (paperback edition)
Love is as much about forces outside of our control as it is about those we can control. With a 20th century backdrop, this is a complicated romance written only in the way that Hurston can—passionately, observantly, unapologetically and aimed at the deepest emotional centers of the human spirit.
By Walter Dean Myers, Illustrated by Javaka Steptoe
Scholastic Press, January 2009
Slick Rick once mused about the bittersweet taste of teenage love. It’s this flavor that melts in your mouth while reading this lyrical and handsomely illustrated contemporary retelling of the Swan Lake Ballet. While written for young people, we older folk will enjoy basking in the book’s reminiscent rays of hope.
Felicia Pride is founder of the literary organization BackList and the author of The Message: 100 Life Lessons from Hip-Hop’s Greatest Songs.
is a writer, speaker, author of books for adults and youth, and the book columnist for The Root. Her most recent book is \"The Message: 100 Life Lessons from Hip-Hop’s Greatest Songs.\" Visit her at feliciapride.com.