What is love? We have yet to agree on a global definition. Love is a chemical reaction, a pop song, a way to sell flowers. Love is selflessness, or selfishness, or both. Love is unknowable and uncontrollable. Love just is.
Whatever your understanding of love, global or otherwise, Valentine’s Day is a good day to celebrate it. All of the following books celebrate love by their unique definition. Within their pages, love is given the space to breathe, to flex, and to transform itself.
To show love to these titles and to others, we’re having a Valentine’s Day sale now until February 14th, 2021, at 11:59 p.m. EST. Excepting forthcoming releases, you can save 25% on all Book*hug books by using the code VALENTINES21 at checkout.
I Can’t Get You Out of My Mind by Marianne Apostolides
Ariadne is a single, fortysomething writer and mother embroiled in an affair with a married man. At the core of her current manuscript, a book about the declaration of love, is the need to understand why: why her lover has returned to his wife, why their relationship still lingers in her mind, why she’s unable to conquer her longing. To make ends meet while writing, she joins a research study in which she’s paid to live with an AI device called Dirk. But the study quickly enters uncharted territory. Capable of mapping Ariadne’s brain—and, to some extent, reading her mind—Dirk calls into question issues of both privacy and consciousness: how we communicate our thoughts to others, what it means to embody our desires, and whether we ought to act on them.
“What I Can’t Get You Out of My Mind does masterfully is examine love through the lens of Ariadne, poetically weaving in the philosophy and literary writings that inform her understanding of the world,” writes Room. Canadian Literature writes that the book “interlaces an intellectually-engaging discourse on attachment and desire with an intimate picture of the primary character, Ariadne.”
Apostolides continues the work of her main character in “I Love You,” a radio documentary she produced for CBC Radio One’s Ideas that examines the meaning and effect of this phrase. CBC Radio One writes:
“I love you: those three magic words are the most powerful and misunderstood words in the English language, according to writer and contributor Marianne Apostolides, author of I Can’t Get You Out of My Mind. She draws from Shakespeare, Freud, Aretha Franklin, Dolly Parton and other greats to parse how ‘I love you’ can be enriching, manipulative and even empty.”
One Hundred Days of Rain by Carellin Brooks
Carellin Brooks’ One Hundred Days of Rain enumerates an unnamed narrator’s encounters with that most quotidian of subjects: rain.
Mourning her recent disastrous breakup, the narrator must rebuild a life from the bottom up, and is caught between the two poles of weather and mood. The narrator is not alone: whether riding the bus with her small child, searching for an apartment to rent, or merely calculating out the cost of meager lunches, the world forever intrudes, as both a comfort and a torment. One Hundred Days of Rain is an acknowledgement of the ongoing weight of sadness, the texture of it, and its composition—the weight of all the stupid little things a person deals with when they’re rebuilding.
“Is there a worse city in which to suffer a vindictive, litigated break up than unrelentingly sodden Vancouver? In these one hundred intimate chapters, Carellin Brooks has convinced me no,” writes Caroline Adderson, author of Ellen in Pieces. “Her forbearing heroine bikes through torrents, dodges puddles, keeps moving through bitterness and weather. Nobody, not even the rain, has such nerve.”
One Hundred Days of Rain won both the Publishing Triangle’s 2016 Edmund White Debut Fiction Award and the 2016 ReLit Award for Fiction.
Smells Like Stars by D. Nandi Odhiambo
Journalist Kerstin Ostheim and freelance photographer P.J. Banner have been together six months after meeting on a dating website. As their wedding fast approaches, they question their compatibility while investigating mysterious horse killings taking place in Ogweyo’s Cove, the Pacific tourist haven where they live. In the meantime, Schuld Ostheim, Kerstin’s transgender daughter from her first marriage, is preparing for an art exhibit after being hospitalized for a physical assault while her boyfriend, Woloff, an Olympic medalist in the 1500m, comes to terms with a career-ending knee injury.
As Kerstin and P.J. get closer to the truth about the dead horses, they also begin to more clearly see each other. At the same time, Schuld’s and Woloff’s pasts come back to haunt them, jeopardizing their sense of a possible future. D. Nandi Odhiambo’s Smells Like Stars draws attention to what is hidden in plain sight, what cruelties life presents, and what struggles we face in our search for meaning. The novel won the 2018 Elliot Cades Award for Literature for an Established Writer, and was praised by author Billie Livingston, who called it “[a]n unforgettable portrait of what we lose through our craving to win… Smells Like Stars is filled with heart and passion.”
You Are Eating an Orange. You Are Naked. by Sheung-King
A young translator living in Toronto frequently travels abroad—to Hong Kong, Macau, Prague, Tokyo—often with his unnamed lover. The couple begin telling folk tales to each other in restaurants and hotel rooms, perhaps as a way to fill the undefined space between them. Theirs is a comic and enigmatic relationship in which emotions are often muted and sometimes masked by verbal play and philosophical questions.
You Are Eating an Orange. You Are Naked. is an intimate novel of memory and longing that challenges Western tropes and Orientalism. “A tale of two rich and rootless people that oozes the horror and confusion of love, while staying somehow still desperately romantic, and so gloriously sad,” writes Thea Lim, author of the Scotiabank Giller Prize-nominated novel An Ocean of Minutes. Lim adds that the book “gives the cold shoulder to the dominant gaze and its demands to control the Asian body, carving out a thrilling space beyond whiteness.” You Are Eating an Orange. You Are Naked. was longlisted for CBC’s Canada Reads 2021, and was named a Globe and Mail Best Book Debut of 2020.
Just Pervs by Jess Taylor
Two sex addicts meet and fall in love. A woman catches her husband cheating on her with their dog and escapes to her sister’s horse farm. Four friends—fellow pervs—grow up and drift apart, pining for each other in silence until one of them is murdered. In Jess Taylor’s sophomore story collection, contemporary views of female sexuality are subverted, and women are given agency over their desires and bodies. Sex is revealed to be many things at once: gross, shameful, exhilarating, hidden or open—and always complicated. Just Pervs explores the strange oppression and illumination created by desire, the bewilderment of adolescence, and the barriers to intimacy both discovered within and imposed upon ourselves.
“Jess Taylor takes a resolute and unromantic approach to sex and desire in Just Pervs,” writes author and reviewer Sylvia Santiago for Herizons. Author Fawn Parker writes that “Jess Taylor’s stories are a lot of fun, but more importantly they push up against misconceptions about what it means to be a sexual woman.”
The Rose Concordance by Angela Carr
In The Rose Concordance, Angela Carr sets up the rules for a game and then breaks them. The poems trace a constellation of fountains, whose waters lap from an erotic medieval poem. Luxury rushes headlong into Felony, Love hears Irony in Ecstasy. Like fountains, these poems resist any one enduring shape or reading. For in Carr’s voice, water is dappled, and wind catches the fountain and moves it sideways at night when no one is looking. In the mist of words, complicity is vilified and the precious is tenderly chided. The Rose Concordance is a fountain garden that invites the reader to tarry, and drink.
“Carr achieves an exquisite balance of sensual fleshiness, confession and conceptual abstraction,” writes poet Sonnet L’Abbé for The Globe and Mail. “A rare pleasure.”
To Love the Coming End by Leanne Dunic
In To Love the Coming End, a disillusioned author obsessed with natural disasters and “the curse of 11” reflects on their own personal earthquake: the loss of a loved one. Moving between Singapore, Canada, and Japan, Leanne Dunic’s debut poetry collection is a lyric travelogue, one that captures what it’s like to be both united in and separated from the global experiences of trauma, history, and loss that colour our everyday lives.
“Elegant and spare, Dunic’s elegiac writing touches on grief that is both personal and societal. She reminds us that no love is wasted,” writes Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang, author of Sweet Devilry. Sarah de Leeuw, award-winning author of Geographies of a Lover and Skeena, writes that Dunic “has created a collection of tightly mapped poetic fault lines, topographies of loss and absence spanning immense yet intimate geologies, ecologies, astrologies, and geographies.”
Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart by Beatriz Hausner
Juxtaposing the diction of surrealism with Ovid, Callimachus, and popular music—punk and new wave—the poems in Beatriz Hausner’s Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart concern themselves with various aspects of Eros. They invoke such historical figures as the Byzantine Empress Theodora and her husband, Emperor Justinian, not to mention the Countess of Dia—Beatriz—a major poet of the troubadour tradition. Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart reaches back through the millennia to create an unexpected, unconventional, and contemporary exploration of one of humanity’s oldest pleasures.
“The erotics at its core are epic, musical, sensual, all the while never losing the intimacy of a couple straddling their tandem pains and pleasures,” writes Aaron Tucker, author of Irresponsible Mediums and the forthcoming Catalogue d’oiseaux. Author Tamara Faith Berger writes that Hausner “works at the height of her clairaudient powers, depicting the beloved ‘shackled to strange furniture’ to satisfy a relentless, engulfing, transhistorical love.”
Air Carnation by Guadalupe Muro
Air Carnation features an absorbing narrative that bridges non-fiction and fiction, poetry and song, as Guadalupe Muro explores themes of independence in love and the writerly life. With sojourns in Argentina, Buenos Aires, New York, Washington, and a cross-Canada train passage from Edmonton to Toronto, the book is a fascinating work of meta-fiction that sings of hippiedom in Patagonia.
“Air Carnation is the patient portrait of a storyteller recollected and re-imagined, full of heartbreak and lightness,” writes Robyn Read. Beth Follett writes that the book “plays at high r/min from one end to another, and leaves one joyous.”
Honestly by Steven Zultanski
Steven Zultanski’s Honestly is an intimate, quiet, and unresolved little book about talking and listening.
It begins with research into a forgotten relative, who was kicked out of Zultanski’s family after he was jailed for conscientious objection to WWII, and who then moved to New York to become a composer. From there, the poem swerves into a series of minor-key personal anecdotes, interlaced with conversations with friends about work and relationships. Throughout the book, communication is framed by the economics and psychology of the home. Dialogue takes place in close quarters—constrained by money, space, ego, and empathy. Honestly is the third book in a trilogy that explores the limits of individual expression.
“Zultanski has written a deft, side-winding love poem (a true love poem) to urban life, with its apartment banalities and moving days, worried friends and fresh cuddlefests, troubled family history and film lore,” writes Andrew Durbin, author of MacArthur Park and Mature Themes. “He loves, we learn, in fits and starts, through compulsions and diversions, with a wry eye on the plain, everyday things—those ‘details in stories traversed with other details’—that shine when they are remembered and held close.”