Whether you’re the dreamiest of romantic optimists or a determined skeptic of fairy-tale endings, you can’t deny that love makes for a compelling story line—or that it can have an impact that reaches far beyond “happily ever after.” Throughout the course of his career, James Baldwin wrote not only about the ways that love could transform American race relations, but also about the relationships that hold black families together. Jane Austen’s classic marriage plots have profoundly influenced pop culture, creating a legacy that the author herself might have questioned.
Today the novelist Jasmine Guillory is pushing back on some of the problematic conventions of the romance genre, in part by affirming her female characters’ agency and consent. Meanwhile, Alex Woolfson and Winona Nelson use sci-fi tropes to celebrate the gay protagonists often missing from mainstream story lines. And the sociolinguist Deborah Tannen’s analysis of women’s friendships shows how platonic relationships can be as rewarding and tricky to navigate as romantic ones.
Each week in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas, and ask you for recommendations of what our list left out.
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What We’re Reading
Making peace with Jane Austen’s marriage plots
“No one did more to challenge the conventions and strictures of marriage for women in the 19th century, while simultaneously enshrining it as the ultimate happy ending for her worthy, intelligent, and independent characters.”
📚 NORTHANGER ABBEY, by Jane Austen
📚 PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, by Jane Austen
📚 SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, by Jane Austen
📚 MANSFIELD PARK, by Jane Austen
📚 EMMA, by Jane Austen
📚 PERSUASION, by Jane Austen
The sci-fi comic book that portrays gay romance as completely conventional
“Artifice tells a story about an android assassin (Deacon) who falls in love with a young man (Jeff) his corporate owners want him to kill.”
📚 ARTIFICE, by Alex Woolfson, illustrated by Winona Nelson
How to write consent in romance novels
“[Jasmine] Guillory is particularly skilled at writing the men who woo her novels’ female protagonists with compassion and empathy … Guillory’s male leads aren’t perfect, but they’re unwavering in their respect for the women at the center of these stories.”
📚 THE PROPOSAL, by Jasmine Guillory
📚 THE WEDDING DATE, by Jasmine Guillory
Friendships can be as fulfilling and fraught as their romantic counterparts
“The love in the platonic relationships [Deborah] Tannen describes … can be passionate, and comforting, and life-defining, and occasionally heart-breaking.”
📚 YOU’RE THE ONLY ONE I CAN TELL: INSIDE THE LANGUAGE OF WOMEN’S FRIENDSHIPS, by Deborah Tannen
How James Baldwin’s writings about love evolved
“If Beale Street Could Talk, which was published in 1974 and follows a young black couple whose lives are torn apart by a false criminal accusation, … marked a crucial turn in how the author sought to characterize the most abiding theme and moral principle of his work: love.”
📚 IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, by James Baldwin
📚 THE FIRE NEXT TIME, by James Baldwin
Last week, we asked you to share your most challenging and rewarding reads. Candace Polson, of Eagle Mountain, Utah, stuck with Paradise Lost and discovered that “if the reader looks and listens to every line, every image, a stronger, slightly more self-possessed view of Eve emerges.” Richard Gess, of Atlanta, Georgia, recommends Miniatures, a novel by Norah Labiner that expands from “riffing on the Sylvia Plath/Ted Hughes mytho-history” to include “everything from radical slowing of narrative time to continuing allusions to 1970s–1980s childhood pop culture … a vast swath of the world.”
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