Six Unromantic Books for Valentine’s Day

Gift the literary weirdo in your life

Valentine’s Day is upon us, and books are a great last-minute gift idea that’s every bit as thoughtful as something homemade. I ran into Barnes and Noble yesterday for this specific purpose, and immediately found a quote from Neil Gaiman calligraphed onto a blank journal: “Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside of them.” But what about a loved one whose worlds are a little bit weird?

Choosing a book that fits your Valentine’s interests shows just how well you listen and how truly you care. And there’s no shortage of lists out there to guide your shopping: Oprah, Reese Witherspoon, and Emma Watson all have their own book clubs with curated monthly picks. Or the Book of the Month club delivers a new release to your doorstep every month — a constant reminder of your thoughtfulness.

Share a romantic comedy that reminds your partner of when you first met or shows your amorous intentions, or maybe you’ll gift a new mystery and let your loved one lose themselves in an afternoon of fiction and suspense. Whatever route you choose, know there’s no wrong answer; you can’t go wrong with a good book. Unless, of course, you’re shopping from our list, which is full of unromantic suggestions for the off-the-wall Valentines in your life.

For the true crime lover, the angry speculative fiction snob, or anyone curious about bestiality, here are recommendations for six dark reads to give your special someone the world this Valentine’s Day:

For the Heartbroken: Bluets by Maggie Nelson (2009)

Maggie Nelson

Every young reader worth their salt on Instagram has read Bluets, Maggie Nelson’s experimental mediation on the color blue. In 240 numbered passages, Bluets wades into art, grief, disability, loss and, most relevant to the holiday, her experience of loving someone who was emotionally unavailable and the ensuing heartbreak. Gift it to the budding literary critic in your life who’s feeling a little blue.

For the Sexually Adventurous: The Pisces by Melissa Broder (2018)

When readers meet Lucy, Melissa Broder’s protagonist in The Pisces, she’s just broken up with her longtime boyfriend. Instead of wallowing, she sets off for California to try and work through her nine-year-long thesis — that is, until love washes up on shore in the form of a mer-man. It’s the perfect Valentine’s fit for a pal who could use a little romantic inspiration.

For the Gothic: Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood (1996)

For fans of the Handmaid’s Tale or lovers of historical fiction, look no further than Margaret Atwood’s 1996 novel Alias Grace. Telling the story of a Bonnie and Clyde-style murderous duo from Canada, Atwood delivers a modern spin on a Gothic novel, that’s now  a Netflix series.

For the Experimental: Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado (2017)

Carmen Maria Machado’s debut collection of short stories, Her Body and Other Parties, dissolves the border between Carmen Maria Machado genres in highly experimental storytelling. Earmark her stories “The Husband Stitch” and “Especially Heinous”–some of the least romantic fiction I’ve ever read–for that special someone you’re giving it to.

For the Thrill-Seeking: The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith (1955)

For the one who’s read every Top 40 Reese Witherspoon Book Club suggestion already, or for someone who loves Matt Damon — who plays the lead in this novel’s adaptation for the screen — there’s Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. A master of pacing and suspense, Highsmith delivers one hell of a mystery that your loved one will never forget.

For the Murderous: The Third Rainbow Girl by Emma Copley Eisenberg (2020)

If your loved one has read everything, try the recently released debut from Emma Copely Eisenberg, The Third Rainbow Girl. The writer combines nonfiction, true crime and memoir to tell the story of a 1980s murder in Appalachia in simply exquisite, tender detail that’s sure to impress your literary lover.

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Katie Smith

Katie Smith is a Philadelphia-based writer. Find her on Instagram @saddy_yankee for cat pics.

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