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The Literature of Love

Dating, romance, relationships, foreplay, hormones and sex: They're all covered in these new guidebooks to love

Love Literature

Top Row: Courtesy of Dey Street Books; Courtesy of New World Library; Courtesy of Cleis Press; Bottom Row: Courtesy of Ecco Press; Courtesy of Touchstone; Courtesy of Da Capo Press

Pepper Schwartz reviews six great guidebooks to love, sex and more.

I can't seem to stop writing about love. Neither, it seems, can a herd of my fellow romantics, who've been busily scribbling away about how you can maximize your erotic potential.

If you have the opposite problem — you can't seem to stop reading about love — you may enjoy these new "field guides to love."

1. The Book of Love: Improvisations on a Crazy Little Thing by Roger Rosenblatt

I have to tell you that I fell in love with this book. It's the best thing I've read from a man's point of view about the daily exercise of love — cherished memories, wild thoughts of leaving and a profound lifetime attachment to one woman.

You'll come across so many precious passages that you'd be justified in faulting me for singling out just one. But I adored this notion: "Love gives you the strength to endure the whims of fate and suffering and cruelty. It teaches you that you can give yourself to someone and retain yourself as well. Love is a world you both have entered and discovered. And though others have experienced it before you, it is entirely your own, and original to you. Your piece of writing. Your work of supreme imagination."

I gave these "improvisations on a crazy little thing" to my fiancé for Valentine's Day.

2. Love Cycles: The Five Essential Stages of Lasting Loveby Linda Carroll

People in a long-term relationship will value this book for its clear-eyed explanations of why you might fall out of love with your partner — and what can help you fall back in.

Every relationship cycles through certain stages, writes veteran couples therapist Carroll, so you have to expect — and possibly even plan for — emotional crises along the way. Yes, there will be doubt and denial (stage 2) as well as disillusionment (stage 3), but these are understandable and predictable. Work through them using the tips offered here, Carroll suggests, and you really can end up with everlasting wholehearted love (stage 5).

A highly recommended resource.

3. Getting Back Out There: Secrets to Successful Dating and Finding Real Love After the Big Breakup by Susan Elliott

The author's legal training explains the practical approach she takes here to dating reentry. But what gives this book its unusual authority and legitimacy is Elliott's own suffering and her determination to triumph over both physical and mental adversity.

Having survived some major health problems and accidents, and having endured the loss of a beloved husband, Elliott is persuasive when she tells us we can do it, too. Her book is spare, straightforward and full of good advice on how to tell a good person from a bad one, how to figure out what you want and how not to compromise your core principles. Elliott's true-life case histories are told with compassion, helping the reader gain courage and insight. This is a truly encouraging work for people who have lived a while but could use a gentle nudge to "get back out there."

4. I Suck at Relationships So You Don't Have To: 10 Rules for Not Screwing Up Your Happily Ever After by Bethenny Frankel

Wow, do I hate this title — so much, in fact, I almost never opened the book. Finally, however, suspense overwhelmed distaste: Would Bethenny Frankel's book be all about her or all about us, the readers?

Turns out self-absorption has a silver lining: Frankel (who gained fame onThe Real Housewives of New York City) has made so many relationship mistakes that she really does know what doesn't work! Although I might advise her to start fishing from a different "mate pool," she is so right about certain things that you're bound to come out ahead. (I'm thinking specifically of her section titled "Men Like Easy," which got me musing that there are in fact guys who like "complicated" — you simply have to search high and low to find one.)

Wise in some places, snarky in others and funny throughout, I Suck at Relationships offers up some priceless observations. You won't like everything Frankel has to say, but watch for her killer clues and insights.

5. Sex Rx: Hormones, Health and Your Best Sex Ever by Lauren Streicher, M.D.

This is a great book for women (and their partners) from a trusted source. This is no glib compendium of sex tips; instead it's a considered and valuable approach to understanding what's not working for you — and how science, medicine and your own motivation can bring you a more fulfilling sex life.

Streicher, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, has certainly done her homework. Her Sex Rx could be just what the doctor ordered when it comes to fixing common but daunting impediments to a great sex life, be they genital dryness, pain during intercourse, vaginal odors, pelvic-floor issues, hormonal imbalance, or difficulties with arousal or orgasm.

6. The Ultimate Guide to Sex After 50: How to Maintain — or Regain — a Spicy, Satisfying Sex Life by Joan Price

Joan Price — line-dance instructor, former high-school English teacher and "ageless sexuality" advocate — has a frank, spunky voice that makes her wonderful to read and downright inspirational at age 70-plus. After exploding a number of myths about sex after 50 — that desire necessarily subsides, for example, or that sex somehow becomes less passionate — she gives practical advice about what to do if you or your partner have erectile dysfunction (ED), stiff joints or other physical issues.

Yet this is hardly a problem-driven book. Price wants you to enhance your sexual pleasure, whether you are single or married, in a hot new relationship or a warm, settled one. Nor does she commit the crime of "vanilla text." Just read her chapter on sex toys or "stretching boundaries," and you'll discover that sex after 50 could be the biggest adventure of your life!

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