Romance novels, like most other things widely enjoyed by women, have gotten a bad rap. People assume that all romance novels are lightweight bodice rippers about sexy, time traveling vikings. But in reality, a "romance novel" is just a novel that centers on a romance and has a happily ever after. (And what's not to like about sexy time traveling vikings, anyway?). So if you think that the entire genre of romance is just not for you, then you should check out these love stories for people who aren't into romance novels.
After all, even the snootiest of literary snobs has experienced some version of love and/or heartbreak. I'm not saying that everyone who claims to hate romance is still mad at their ex... I'm just saying that there's a love story out there for almost everyone. If you've ever had a crush, or a date, or a nasty break up, then the romance genre has something to offer you. Don't let yourself miss out on some of the greatest literature ever written just because there's kissing involved.
So even if you'd rather not read about vampires and shirtless highlanders getting it on in the rain, here are some romantic books that even the biggest romance hater will love:
1. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Americanah is a novel about a lot of things: coming of age, immigration, America, identity, race, the politics of hair, and, of course, love. It's the long and rocky relationship between Ifemelu and Obinze that drives the story forward. In a novel that takes on just about every subject under the sun, love is the through line that ties it all together. But there's no sweeping fairy tale romance, and definitely no ripped bodices. Instead, there's messy, politically charged, confusing, all-too-realistic love.
2. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Remains of the Day takes all those feelings of unrealized love, of almost-but-not-quite, and spins them into a gorgeous, funny, subtle, and ultimately beautiful novel. Stevens, an English butler near the end of his career, takes off on a nostalgic trip through England's West Country. His travels bring him back through two world wars and one almost romance (for readers who prefer less kissing and more pining).
3. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
The Blind Assassin is really three interconnected stories in one. There's the memoir of Iris Chase, as she looks back on the events leading up to her sister's suicide. There's her sister's steamy romance novel. And there's the even stranger romance of the blind assassin. Atwood has crafted a dark, all-consuming puzzle box of a book. You'll spend so much time trying to get to the bottom of things that you won't even realize you're reading romance.
4. The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey
For sci-fi fans who turn their noses up at romance, The Ship Who Sang will change your mind. It's a romance sans bodies, for one thing: Helva is a "brain ship," a human being who's been sealed in a pod and installed as the central "computer" of a spaceship. Being a brain in a jar doesn't stop her from falling in love, though, and her adventures take her through space and several strange traveling companions.
5. This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
Junot Diaz has a divine gift for writing scumbags. This Is How You Lose Her is not so much a straightforward novel as a series of stories about the irresistibly handsome, wholly irresponsible Yunior, and how he decimates every relationship he's in. Forget the candlelight and roses, this book dives into the ugly fights and infidelities, the absurdity of love, and, occasionally, a few hints of redemption. It's not exactly a happily ever after, but it's real and hard and heartbreaking.
6. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
Does love transcend dimensions? 1Q84 is a love story, yes, but there's also a generous helping of dystopia, fantasy, mystery, and weird cults. Both Aomame and Tengo find their lives unraveling and converging in strange new ways: he's becoming wrapped up in his bizarre ghostwriting job, and she's entered a parallel universe. It's surreal love at its finest.
7. Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry by Leanne Shapton
Leanne Shapton has written a love story in the form of an auction catalog. Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris are auctioning off the relics of their life together, and each item reveals just a little more about their failed relationship, from start to bitter end. It's a wildly inventive book, but Shapton's true genius is finding the emotional significance and romance in everyday objects.
8. Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins
This is a romance between an outlaw and an environmentalist princess, and it all takes place inside a pack of Camel cigarettes (sort of). It's equal parts comedy and love story, with plenty of fairy tale elements, pyramids, and some biting social satire. It's definitely odd. But if you're looking for eccentric romance with a touch of politics, Tom Robbins is the way to go.
9. The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Look, before you throw your computer aside in disgust, give The Princess Bride a chance. Yes, it's a frothy, fairy tale romance. But it's also a witty, wry, self-aware novel that parodies the romance genre mercilessly while still serving up a swoon-worthy love story. Even if the phrase "true love" makes you roll your eyes, this book might just make you believe, ever so slightly, that such a thing exists.
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