A lot of book clubs will not touch the romance genre, but that doesn't mean you can't do some romantic reading with your friends, family, and coworkers next month. I have 15 literary romances for your next book club pick, because they won't leave you wanting for better writing or more touching moments. Though, fair warning, many of these books don't have a happy ending, and thus don't qualify as a traditional "romance." However, all of them deal with intense, passionate love, and will supply more than enough talking points for your book club.
I don't personally enjoy reading books with a heavily romantic slant, but I recognize that they are just as valid as any other reading material. A romance novel is not a "guilty pleasure," although the genre has been the victim of sexist expectations about what constitutes literature and/or good writing. As A Scot in the Dark author Sarah MacLean puts it, "bashing romance novels is just another form of slut-shaming," in this day and age. The only reason people denigrate romance novels is because they are, for the most part, written and read by women.
If your book club reads a lot of romantic fiction, you have probably already picked the books on this list, in addition to great novels like Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Project, and Alyssa Cole's An Extraordinary Union. But if you haven't taken the romantic plunge yet, pick one of the 15 literary romances on the list below to introduce your book club to the genre.
'The Namesake' by Jhumpa Lahiri
This 2003 novel from The Interpreter of Maladies author Jhumpa Lahiri follows the Ganguli family as they move from Calcutta to Cambridge, Massachusetts, struggle to acclimate themselves to life in the U.S., and give birth to a uniquely named son, Gogol.
'Like Water for Chocolate' by Laura Esquivel
Laura Esquivel's magical realist novel centers on Tita and Pedro, two star-crossed lovers whose budding romance is complicated by a family tradition that denies her the right to marry until after her mother's death.
'Sense and Sensibility' by Jane Austen
After the death of their father, the Dashwood sisters are left homeless and virtually penniless when their half-brother inherits the estate. Over the months that follow, the eldest Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne, entertain a number of eligible bachelors, but finding a husband is not so easy in Regency England.
'Possession' by A.S. Byatt
Academics Roland and Maud team up to uncover a historical, literary mystery in A.S. Byatt's Possession. After Roland discovers a possible, previously unknown romantic link between the fictional Victorian poets Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte, he seeks out Maud to help him uncover the truth. Bouncing from the poets' time to the modern day, Possession blends history, romance, and metafiction in a brilliant way that earned it the 1990 Man Booker Prize.
'The Time-Traveler's Wife' by Audrey Niffenegger
Audrey Niffenegger's debut novel follows Henry, a man born with a genetic condition that prevents him from remaining in a fixed timeline, and Anne, the woman he loves, and who — because of his spontaneous time-traveling — has known him longer than he has known her.
'Mr. Fox' by Helen Oyeyemi
St John Fox's muse has a bone to pick with him, even though she isn't real. Mary Foxe is just a figment of Mr. Fox's imagination, his ultimate infatuation, but she's upset that he kills off every female character he writes. Can he change his writing habits to suit his muse?
"Brokeback Mountain" by Annie Proulx
A short story first published in Annie Proulx's Close Range, "Brokeback Mountain" tells the story of Ennis and Jack, two Wyoming ranch hands who begin a long romance that survives wives, children, and living a country apart.
'The Age of Innocence' by Edith Wharton
This 1921 Pulitzer Prize winner centers on a love triangle in 1870s New York. Newland Archer is engaged to marry May Welland, but the appearance of an enchanting divorcée, Countess Ellen Olenska, might throw a wrench into the works.
'Tipping the Velvet' by Sarah Waters
This historical novel follows Kitty and Nan, a male impersonator and her dresser, who create a lauded stage act in Victorian London... and cook up a steamy romance behind the scenes.
'Norwegian Wood' by Haruki Murakami
In the years that follow the death of their mutual best friend, Toru and Naoko cling to one another in order to make it through university. But as Naoko renounces the rest of the world, Toru recovers from his grief, and finds himself attracted to a gregarious classmate.
'The Well of Loneliness' by Radclyffe Hall
A scandalous work of fiction when it was published in 1928, The Well of Loneliness follows its heroine, Stephen Gordon, throughout her life, as she falls in and out of love with a variety of women, including her fellow ambulance driver, Mary.
'The Light of the World' by Elizabeth Alexander
Nominated for a 2016 Pulitzer Prize, Elizabeth Alexander's memoir dives into her life in the wake of her husband's unexpected death. The Light of the World is a poignant exploration of family and love, one your book club will be talking about for months to come.
'Exit West' by Mohsin Hamid
As their country descends into war, Nadia and Saeed set off in search of greener pastures by travelling through a series of mysterious doors that open for them across the world.
'The Argonauts' by Maggie Nelson
Another memoir, Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts examines the making of a non-traditional family, through the author's relationship with gender-fluid artist Harry Dodge. As it tells the story of Nelson's journey to motherhood, The Argonauts explores issues of gender, sexuality, and family on a larger scale than the individual.
'Love in the Time of Cholera' by Gabriel García Márquez
Lovers Florentino and Fermina separate when she ultimately decides to marry another man. Florentino waits more than 50 years, and weathers hundreds of affairs, waiting for the moment that he might reunite with the love of his life.