A long, cold winter night is the perfect time for an evening of white hot passion in front of a blazing fire. Of course, the lonely months between the bright glow of the holidays and the first buds of spring are also a time for runny noses, wet hair that freezes on your way to work, midterms, grey skies, and a car that just won't warm up in the morning, no matter how long you wait shivering in the front seat, struggling to secure as much warmth as your travel mug has to offer.
What with all the dreary, gloomy, dark, cold, and stormy cares consuming winter days and nights, it can be tough to turn on the passion just in time for February 14, regardless of the love in your heart or the lingerie in your closet. Of course, it has been my experience that there are very few problems in life a good book can't fix, so if you're looking to bring a little heat to your Valentine's Day doings, why not get yourself in the mood with these 10 steamy, dreamy, utterly atmospheric novels? After all, laughter may be the best medicine, but literature is the ultimate aphrodisiac.
Dangerous Liaisons by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
If seduction games are what get you hot under the collar, forget Gossip Girl and turn instead to the undisputed master of decadent depravity, Choderlos de Laclos. Set in the waning days of the French aristocracy and brimming with seduction, deception, and competition, Dangerous Liaisons is deliciously devious and just naughty enough to put you in the mood for a little something devilish this February 14.
Withering Heights by Emily Brontë
Tracing star-crossed love through generations of moody mistakes on the English moors, Wuthering Heights mixes torment and treachery with passion and penitence. If nothing turns you on more than howling wind and a brooding stare, Wuthering Heights might be just what you need to settle into the right state of mind for a truly steamy Valentine's Day.
The Lost Estate by Alain-Fournier
If the daring and devilish Alain-Fournier were writing today, the The Lost Estate might just have been titled "Missed Connections." The Nicholas Sparks of an earlier, grander age, Alain-Fournier's evocative and epic tale traces the destiny of soulmates who meet one fateful night only to find themselves struggling towards a happy ending for pages to come. Without giving anything away, let me just say that if grand love affairs playing out over the ages get you into the mood for love, you'll feel right at home and ready for anything with The Lost Estate.
Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence
The hippies of yesteryear had nothing on D.H. Lawrence, so if you're looking to embrace a little free love for the upcoming holiday, turn to this candid, inspired, and utterly impassioned tale of two sisters and the mistakes they make in love and life. Lawrence was a true believer in love and a free spirit to boot, so if you find nothing sexier than honesty and integrity, settle in with Women in Love, and you won't be disappointed.
The Passion by Jeanette Winterson
When the sun is setting and you're looking for something dark and strange to bring just the right sort of energy to your romantic rendezvous, turn to Jeanette Winterson's The Passion and I will personally guarantee your satisfaction. From a tempestuous lesbian love affair begun with a glance across a card table to the chance encounter between deserting French soldiers and a mysterious Venetian prostitute with webbed feet, The Passion is exciting as it is exotic — the perfect anecdote to a relationship that has become just a bit too ordinary.
The Story of O by Pauline Réage
If you find yourself excited by the idea of whips and handcuffs, I beg of you — forgo Fifty Shades of Grey in favor of the superlative story of S&M penned more than a half century ago by Pauline Réage. Although The Story of O is most certainly not for the faint of heart (and I really cannot stress that enough), Réage's daring story of dominance and submission at an elite club catering to a secret society wealthy, erotic adventurers is about as steamy as it gets — although, not exactly a bastion of feminist sentiment, I must say.
Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx
Whether or not you've already enjoyed the iconic film adaptation, you're sure to fall hard for Annie Proulx's short story tracing the love of two sheep herders from a slow smolder to a passionate affair over the course of one summer in Wyoming and throughout the decades to come. Both rich and restrained, Proulx's narrative is nothing more than pure and utter pleasure, the perfect material for making your way into the mood for love.
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Ann Patchett's unusal story of a world-renowned opera singer taken hostage among a band of ardent admirers at a private party. As lives are threatened, love blossoms almost unbidden among the unique cast of characters trapped together through the vagaries of circumstance. If you like your love stories on the quieter side, slip in some time with Bel Canto before the 14th and you're sure to find yourself alive to the possibility of romance.
The Folding Star by Alan Hollinghurst
Alan Hollinghurst's poignant, passionate novels are at the top of nearly every literature-lover's list of steamiest love stories. With The Folding Star, Hollinghurst follows the life of a disaffected English tutor who finds true love only in beauty but seeks passion wherever he can find it. For some of the most poignangtly penned scenes of lust and love in contemporary fiction, you simply can't do better than Hollinghurst.
Couples by John Updike
For a literary aphrodisiac that hits a little closer to home, why not try John Updike's Couples, the lyrical story of 10 New England (you guessed it) couples trying to make sense of their newfound sexual freedom after the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Updike clearly revels in the descriptive scenes of romantic ecstasy; so, if direct and somewhat contemporary adventures in romance have the ring of atmosphere to them, than Couples is sure to set the right tone for your February 14.
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