Monday, January 24, 2011

A Look At Love Stories: From The Male Perspective

Wait, Gone With The Wind is a love story? I didn't sign up for this! I thought it was a Civil War novel.

Of course, I'm joking — my copy of the book actually says "the greatest love story of our time" on the cover. But reading Margaret Mitchell's tale of Scarlett and Rhett's romance has also gotten me scrambling to look back into my past conquests (books, I mean) and thinking about other love story novels I've read. Is there a pattern that explains why I've enjoyed the few love story novels I have?

Let's be honest, books that could even remotely be categorized as "love story" are practically anathema to many male readers. I know it's narrow-minded, ladies, but we don't judge you for not reading Fantasy Football Weekly and ESPN The Magazine. So cut us a little slack. Anyway, my perception of Gone With The Wind as a love story is the sole reason I've resisted reading it until recently (I'm about halfway through). But I'm glad I have, because it's really entertaining. (It's also amusing: Rhett uses words like "quixoticism" in conversations with the proud-to-be-a-dolt Scarlett. I keep wanting her to answer: "Like, totally...wait, what?")

Of course, Gone With the Wind is actually a Civil War novel, too — and I'm really enjoying the historical detail. And so, as un-earth-shattering as this may be, there's the key for getting dudes to read love stories: There has to be something else to attract our attention as well. As another example: Leon Uris's Trinity is one of my favorite novels of all time. Similar to Gone With the Wind, it's a historical novel (about the founding of modern Ireland) with a love story at its core.

By way of further example, Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife is, by all rights, the wheelhouse-definition of a love story. But when you consider what an awesome character Henry DeTamble is (Claire, too), the creativity and intricacy of the plot device, and the fact that Chicago screams off the page, you have a love story suitable for dudes. In fact, this novel is the one novel I can talk about with other dude friends at, say, a bar while drinking beer, and not get mercilessly made fun of. Many other fellas have read and enjoyed this novel, as well.

One last example is Joshua Henkin's slim, underrated novel titled Matrimony. Less a novel and more an engineering schematic of a marriage, the novel is so realistic, it gives readers that sense of voyeurism into others' lives that, when we're the most honest with ourselves, is one of the reasons we love reading fiction. So that realism was what kept me interested. And perhaps the fact that this "love story" was written by a male contributed to the fact that it felt like almost more of an academic study of marriage than a love story.

So, fellas, what are your favorite "male-friendly" love story novels? Ladies, can you suggest other love story novels we knuckle-dragging dudes might enjoy?


  1. Don't fear the love story,Greg! While not all of us ladies adore the genre(believe it or not),there are some great examples out there suitable for men and women alike.

    One that I would recommend to you is Persuasion by Jane Austen-the leading man in that story is a naval captain and there's a bit of a look at the lives of men in the navy during that time period(Jane Austen had a couple of brothers who went to sea for their country,so she was speaking from personal knowledge there).

    Another is Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. Yes,it's a love story but it's also filled with plenty of lore regarding traveling circus life during the Great Depression and narrated from a man's p.o.v.,so you might enjoy that as well.

  2. i read this web site very nice too.

    Time Traveller's Wife is the best example i can think of, too.

    the other thing that springs to mind is the opposite of what you're talking about -- something i read that DOES get me laughed at when i bring it up with guys in a pub. Alexander McCall Smith is usually thought of as ladyreading, and the Sunday Philosophy Club series is the closest to a basic love story. it's also awesome.

  3. Not all ladies love the love story, either. It's a shock to many dudes, but even some of us with vaginas prefer stories about war, aliens, bull fighting, etc etc to that sappy romance crap. which is not to say that i didn't really, really enjoy reading "time traveler's wife"...still, if you don't assume i know about love stories because i'm a woman, i won't assume you're a knuckle dragger because you're not.

  4. I haven't read either of those (love stories don't do much for this lady), but I do have a copy of Matrimony I hope to get to soon. One I read recently I would call a love story (but it's fabulous) is One Day by David Nicholls.

  5. that said - okay, okay, there can be brief moments of the sappy - you could always do 'love in the time of cholera' or 'corelli's mandolin' (best if you haven't since the nicholas cage movie, or if you're good at blocking out bad memories). and nabokov's 'ada' for sure.

  6. I can't wait to get my hands on Gone with the Wind so I can see what all the fuss is about. I love the Civil War AND love stories (I'm a softy).

    As for other love stories, A History of Love comes to mind as one similar to The Time Traveller's Wife in terms of developing wonderful characters and an intricate story (and lots about NYC, too). I'll second Carrie's suggestion of One Day - excellent read, not too sappy, but definitely a love story at heart. Shadow of the Wind is essentially a love story, with Barcelona leaping off the page and a dose of mystery to hook readers in, too. Or how about Love in the Time of Cholera?

    And as for Ellen's comment, I don't think you're a knuckle dragger for thinking women enjoy love stories. And maybe it's not so much that all women actually enjoy love stories, so much as women can get away with reading love stories without chance of mockery, and therefore more do. After all, you've listed several love stories that you have read and enjoyed, but you'd be hard pressed to find many a male reader who will own up to reading - and enjoying! - a true love story. Neither men nor women live in a vacuum; on some level, some part of a love story must be interesting to us, even if that is not a blanket statement about all love stories.

  7. lady T - Good call on Water for Elephants - I did read and greatly enjoy that one, too. I'm not sure how I feel about Robert Pattinson playing Jacob in the film version about to be released, though. Was Zac Efron busy?

    @Ben - We're in the safe zone here - no shame in admitting that. I've often wondered about those books, but haven't tried 'em. Your endorsement has brought me one step closer.

    Ellen - Whoops - struck a nerve. Ah, the dangers of over-generalization. ;) I certainly didn't mean to imply that all women love love stories exclusively - more accurately: most men don't enjoy them even periodically, me included. (And I laughed out loud about your Nic Cage comment - not having seen the Nic Cage movie is usually best in just about any scenario!) Good suggestions on Cholera and Corelli's Mandolin.

    @nomareader - I keep hearing great things about One Day. With it's clever conceit, it's got Time Traveler's Wife potential - and you say it's good, eh? May have to give it a try!

    @Kerry - I loved The History of Love, but even with its title, didn't even really think of that as a love story, per se. And thanks for seconding One Day and Cholera - they're both quickly moving up my priority list. Of course, blanket statements like all women like love stories, all men don't are clearly wrong. But more women like love stories than men - is that fair? ;)

  8. I concur with the recommendation of One Day and Love in the Time of Cholera, both are great books and fall into the genres of contemporary fiction and literary fiction rather than strict romance.

    I would also recommend Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. It is a blend of historical fiction in the tradition of James Michener with lots of action and adventure as well as a love story with strong characters and some explicit love scenes.

  9. First, kudos for taking on Gone with the Wind.

    Second, I don't think that men don't like love stories as much as we (well...I) don't like smut. Yes, I'm generalizing but if a book has Fabio on the cover I'm not buying it no matter how much Fabio and I look alike.

    Third, even though most men won't admit it, we think that reading love stories is a waste of time. I like to learn something from books I read fiction and non-fiction alike.

  10. I'm with you on Trinity, Greg. That's one that I've been meaning to re-read for a while. And I agree with your "we need something more" premise. Two books that do give me that something more: Anna Karenina and Dr. Zhivago. Love them both.

  11. That will teach me to slack off...all the good suggestions are taken! I am a chick that is a bit cynical when it comes to love stories. I do alot of eye-rolling. But some did capture my black yeart. I loved One Day. I loved Outlander et al (historical, and near-porn love scenes). And Fingersmith! I doubt anyone would shun you on that one because it is "literary", plus don't guys think lesbians are hot?

  12. @Carly - Ah, I was hoping someone would bring up Outlander. My standard question when I stumble upon a review of those books is "Would a dude who's not really a huge fan of romance and/or love stories like these books?" The answers have been pretty split. Some say that the really are romances novels. Others, like you, look at them a little more holistically. I actually have the first one on my shelf and your James Michener reference is very intriguing!

    @Man - Ha - I know. Even though Brad Pitt and I are spitting images, when his likeness with flowing hair is on a cover, it's an automatic 'pass.' I'd say reading romance books is almost always a waste of time, but you're right - reading literary fiction in which the main thrust (sorry) happens to be a love story, is almost always learnable from. (Awkward sentence, and made-up word...Sorry.)

    @Patrick - Nice! Another Trinity fan! That book, is in fact, one of only two books I've ever re-read. Thanks for the recommendations too - I plan on taking down Anna Karenina soon.

  13. @Sandy - Yes, yes they do. Fingersmith, eh? I'm off to Barnes and Noble the crap out of that one! Oh wait, there was more to your comment. ;) So thanks for another vote for One Day. The positive response on that one is pretty overwhelming.

  14. I'd say most intelligent readers need "something more." If a book is nothing but a love story, it's probably nothing but a romance novel in reality- or smut, as Man of La Book calls them. I'd say the percentage of women who only read those types of books is about the same as the percentage of men who only read ESPN magazine on the toilet.

  15. Hey Greg - great discussion you've started over here!

    "The Time Traveler's Wife" is one of my all-time favorites. I completely agree with you - there needs to be something "more" than just the love part of the story. I'm not a huge fan of straight-up love stories either.

  16. I read Gone With the Wind at a very impressionable age, and totally loved it. It was one of the first "grown up" books I remember reading as a teenager; one of those books that sealed the deal for me so to speak in terms of a life long love of books. I don't actually think it was the love story that captivated me nearly as much as the wonderful characters (Come to think of it I suspect I was named after Melanie Hamilton if the truth be known, she was far from my favourite in the story)and as you say the whole civil war panorama is magically brought to life. Unforgettable.

    I totally take my hat off to you for overcoming the whole love story issue, risking scorn and getting stuck in.

    Fascinating post. Thanks.

  17. @Amanda - But the real question is what percentage of women only read ESPN on the can and what percentage of men only read romance novels?! Okay, in somewhat seriousness, I'd suspect the percentage of males who only read ESPN (or nothing) is much higher than that of women who only read romances. But there is some gray area between romance and "literary love story" in which the "something more" gradually increases in prominence. And as you traverse north on that curve, I'd suspect you pick up more male readers at each step of the way.

    @Kate - Yeah, and not just something more (which, as Amanda points out, is too obvious), but something more that's at least as equally prominent as the love story - at least for me.

    @Mel - Great anecdote - thanks! My GF is actually the one who talked me into reading it, and she had a similar experience as you did - read it young, loved it, left a big impression. I actually am really liking it - almost 500 pages in, and really, the love story is only a small part of the novel! ;)

  18. This has got me thinking! I think it depends on how you define love story, too. Does it have to end well? Does it have to be sweepingly romantic? Does it even have to be requited love?

    I loved Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy, not typically a woman's choice, but I thought it contained quite the love story.

    Then there's The Frog King by Adam Davies. And have you read The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson? Nick Hornby has a couple, and there's Ondaatje's English Patient...hmmm, I could go on! Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter. Sandra Beck by John Lavery. Eucalyptus by Murray Bail. The End of the Alphabet by C.S. Richardson. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson (so far the only woman I've mentioned!). None of these are totally your "typical" love story, but they're definitely love stories nonetheless.

  19. I am definitely not a "romance" reader, but I do like a good love story if it is done well. Sappy sentimentality I can do without.

    High Fidelity comes to mind as a guy-centered love story. I didn't like One Day, but it sounds like I am way in the minority. I found myself not liking either of the main characters-kind of ruins a person's enjoyment of the story. I've read Fingersmith, but the Sarah Waters' books I like best are Tipping the Velvet (again with the lesbians), and The Night Watch-both historical fiction with a love story thrown in. One of the best love stories I've ever read was James Michener's Sayonara, about a solder in Japan in World War Two falling in love with a Japanese woman.

    Do you think it makes a difference to you if the main character/author is male or female? I've noticed that I tend to read books with female protagonists and/or authors more often, and I've actually made it a goal this year to try to read more fiction by/about men.

  20. I don't know about the book, but have you seen the movie, The Notebook? It's great for males too. Doesn't really answer your question, but I might as well recommend it anyway.

    As for an actual love story book, I do recommend One Day by David Nicholls and High Fidelity by Nick Hornby.

  21. Hey Greg! Just wanted to let you know I linked this in my Friday Five this week!

    Have a great weekend!

  22. Great post and comments. You all got me thinking here, in my lazy Saturday way. Off the top of my head, lazily, all I can come up with -- not including the ones mentioned -- are a few relatively obscure ones: Restless by William Boyd; The End of the Affair by Graham Greene; and the book I'm currently reading, Old Flames by John Lawton. And in all of those the love story can't end great. So, yeah, if there's a love story in there that doesn't take over things, fine, but I guess I don't go looking either. But you do kinda make me want to be a better man/reader and finally read Gone With The Wind, and Trinity too. ; )