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This Week's Reading

What We’re Loving (The Love Edition)

February 14, 2014 | by

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Photo: Seyed Mostafa Zamani, via Flickr

“As usual, the love plot is the least convincing aspect of the book,” said my friend, handing me a crumbling, loved-to-death copy of Barbara Pym’s last novel, A Few Green Leaves. It is not clear to me which part my friend found unconvincing—the growing attraction between the meek, widowed rector Tom and the awkward anthropologist Emma, or the obstacles to their match. (E.g.: Tom’s dreary sister, a visit from Emma’s old flame Graham, or the Oxfordshire village full of aging gossips who have nothing better to do than monitor the hand-delivery of casseroles to local bachelors.) At any rate, I bought the whole thing, and I believed that Emma did, too. As Pym’s narrator observes, “Even the most cynical and sophisticated woman is not, at times, altogether out of sympathy with the ideas of the romantic novelist.” —Lorin Stein

The weather yesterday was awful; this incessant wintry-mix business has got to stop. It has me thinking about Russian poems set during the siege of Leningrad, and last night my brain produced one of the most incredible jump shots since 2001: A Space Odyssey—from Boris Pasternak to Guns N’ Roses. The former has a poem that begins “February. Get ink and weep! / To write and write of February / like bursting into sobs, with thundering / slush burning in black spring.” Naturally, that led to “So never mind the darkness / We still can find a way / ’Cause nothin’ lasts forever / Even cold November rain.” The latter seems somehow right today—it’s a song, after all, about the vagaries of love. In fact, the classic Guns N’ Roses catalogue is brimming with Valentine’s Day–appropriate songs: charged lyrics for lovers (“Said, woman, take it slow / And it’ll work itself out fine / All we need is just a little patience”) and the lovelorn (“To think the one you love / could hurt you now / Is a little hard to believe / But everybody darlin’ sometimes / Bites the hand that feeds”). —Nicole Rudick

Some advice: Run, do not walk, to your love’s home. Take her by the hand and recite this Restoration-era poem about premature ejaculation: “The Imperfect Enjoyment,” by John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, a legendary libertine who slept his way around the Royal Court and succumbed, at age thirty-three, to venereal disease. Here, in words as lewd and depraved as anything uttered in 2014, he recounts one of his less inspiring performances. Making love, he can’t quite contain himself, and “In liquid raptures I dissolve all o’er, / Melt into sperm, and spend at every pore.” His lady unsatisfied, he finds himself unable to get it up again, and lambasts his errant penis. “Worst part of me, and henceforth hated most, / Through all the town a common fucking-post.” If that doesn’t make her swoon, gents, nothing will. —Dan Piepenbring

When Dan asked us to recommend love-themed staff picks, I was all set to talk about one of my favorite films, the 1945 Powell-Pressburger classic I Know Where I’m Going! Then I saw it described by Vanity Fair as “a cult among poetic bluestockings” and my enthusiasm dimmed somewhat. But it deserves whatever following it has—incidentally, Pauline Kael and Martin Scorsese are in the cult, too—and I can’t think of a more romantic movie than this tale of a willful young woman stranded in the Scottish Hebrides. (When I describe it like that, I can see why the poetic bluestockings are so excited, but don’t let that put you off!) —Sadie Stein

A few years ago I hosted a Valentine’s Day party for which I insisted that everyone read a love poem aloud. I cannot say this made me popular, but it certainly made for some rapid cocktail consumption. After a few sonnets and even some haikus, the guy I had a not-so-secret crush on read André Breton’s “Free Union” (L’Union libre, 1931), which begins, “My wife with hair of burning splinters / With thoughts of summer lightning / With hour-glass waist / My wife with the waist of an otter between the tiger’s teeth.” By the time he got to “My wife with her submarine molehill breasts / My wife with breasts of the ruby’s crucible / With breasts of phantom of roses under dew,” I wasn’t the only one with a crush. —Rachel Abramowitz

Slate Vault’s tweet says it all: “Pound’s directions to Yeats’s house, drawn up for Robert Frost.” As Dartmouth College’s Rauner Special Collections Library blog comments, “When Pound was helping Frost make the connections he needed to establish himself as a poet, he set up a meeting for Frost with W.B. Yeats. This postcard is an artifact of the meeting.” While the document has nothing to do with romance, Frost’s reflections on his long-time “bromance” with Pound in our Art of Poetry interview are full of wonderful tidbits. My favorite: “[Pound]’s review had something to do with the beginning of my reputation. I’ve always felt a little romantic about all that–that queer adventure he gave me.” —Justin Alvarez

Alain de Botton’s The Romantic Movement gives off the impression of being a literary Jolly Rancher. At least, the edition I have does: bright pink cover, slanted typeface, and the subtitle “Sex, Shopping, and the Novel.” The story is simple: in London, Alice, a cripplingly reflexive dreamer/ad exec in London meets Eric, a handsome, astute banker, at exactly the moment she was beginning to lose all hope of finding her one and only. Botton takes us through their relationship using graphs, philosophical references from Plato to Kierkegaard, and relentlessly honest insights on every aspect of being single and in a relationship. This is a love story told, not shown—and much better for it. Had Botton followed that beginners’ writers’ workshop advice, we’d have something blander than a Jolly Rancher, but no less trite. —Nikkitha Bakshani

In my mother’s faith, you become a man at thirteen, and there’s a ceremony to prove it. For my bar mitzvah, we hung colorful scrims from the rafters of the multi-purpose room in my synagogue. I had to dance the slow dances, and the girls had to say yes to me—it was my party. That would embolden a certain kind of boy, but I stayed literally at arms length whenever I danced, my hands safely above the girls’ hips. Three days later, Twista, Jamie Foxx, and Kanye West released “Slow Jamz,” and while I don’t know for certain how that song would have changed my party, I know it changed my life: I requested it to be played for a girl on MTV’s TRL and my request was granted. I sat close to the television, as if it were one of those lights Alaskans use to survive winter. Every time I hear “Slow Jamz,” I think about the younger me, who believed the song would finally make a girl notice him. But how could it? I never told her I’d requested it. —Zack Newick

Is it V-day or B’Day? Single ladies, drunk-in-love ladies, and divas already know: tonight Cobble Hill’s own Brucie will host a Beyoncé-themed Valentine’s Day dinner. While entrée names like Breastiny’s Child and I Am Pasta Fierce don’t exactly whet the appetite, the menu is pretty humorous (if only because of how willfully tacky it is). —Caitlin Youngquist

 

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