Last Valentine’s Day, we threw around words like “anti-teleological” and “late-capitalistic” at hapless sods celebrating with champagne and chocolate and blithering tea lights, and gave ourselves a list of great love stories with decidedly non-happy endings to read. We hinted at a girls-only anti-Valentine’s Day party at night, glinting with knives and neuroses.
This year, though, our own cynicism and snark – not to mention our careers of educated angsting on Twitter – has got to us. Enuff! We’ve declared. This year we have embraced a wholesome post-activism of sorts, based on a type of artsy-craftsy-quality-time-with-the-world model, tinged with an un-ironical one-with-the-masses vibe, and instead of making fun of Valentine’s Day celebrations while simultaneously feeling left out of everything schmaltzy and desirable, we have, inspired by our politicians, effected a full U-turn.
Dear bookish lot, for February 14, 2017, we have selected a few Valentine’s Day ideas for couples (not only lovers but any two people who wish to suspend disbelief long enough) from books we’ve read and loved over the years.
Bookish Inspiration: Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esqivel
Published in Mexico in 1989, Mexican novelist Laura Esquivel’s debut novel about love and longing – and food – in a ranch near the Mexico-US border became a global bestseller, translated into twenty odd languages, and eventually made into a very successful film. Bringing magic realism into the kitchen with great élan, Like Water for Chocolate, with every section bookended by exotic recipes, will induce in all lovers a fanatic urge to cook their way into the other’s depths, even as the terrible ordeals of the star-crossed lovers Tita and Pedro brings tears to their eyes. It is, in fact, a perfect way to spend Valentine’s Day.
Do Note: You might want to borrow recipes for the cookathon from elsewhere. Maybe from your best friend or father-in-law’s handwritten cookbooks. While the recipe for the magical libido-awakening “quail in rose petals” seems utterly delicious, I have it on authority (Julie Powell of Julie and Julia, no less) that it is also fictional, and any attempt to recreate it closely will have disastrous results.
Radical alt option: If star-crossed straight lovers is too mainstream for your choice, we’d recommend the following alternative: The Alice B Toklas Cookbook. A sublime compendium of reminiscences, both culinary and otherwise, from the famed lover of Gertrude Stein, this bestselling cookbook, written in lieu of memoirs, includes recipes that were tried out on avant-garde artists and writers and intellectuals who often visited the remarkable salon that Stein and Toklas ran from their flat in rue de Fleures in Paris.
#2: Epistolary afternoons
Bookish Inspiration: Poor Folk, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The very first novel written by Dostoyevsky, between 1844 and 1845, ostensibly to raise money for himself in terribly straitened circumstances, Poor Folk quickly became a classic, and is arguably one of the greatest epistolary novels of all times. Set in a tenement in St Petersburg, which houses both the working classes and the genteel poor, Poor Folk is in the form of correspondence between distant cousins, Makar Devushkin and Varvara Dobroselova, and records their finely rendered obsessions with each other – and the cruel if arresting world around them – through stolen glances and moving totems, from across the courtyard. Too poor to court each other, Makar and Varvara settle for the next best thing – they write to one another, detailing their lives with the sort of generosity they cannot afford.
Do Note: In our digital age, when excessive communication is the order of the day – when you can live feed your walk to the kitchen to your lover, who is waiting in the kitchen for you, the retro joys of writing proper letters might seem very very obscure to you at first. Be warned, once you get into it, the specific high that good old letter-writing provides can become so addictive that people around you – car mechanic, boss, maid, parent, plumber, bff or bete noire, all of who will provide grist for your mill – may get annoyed by you and your lover’s new hobby. Expensive stationery is the least dangerous of resulting predilections; the worst will be the agony of real-life conversations about your car mechanic, boss, maid, parent, plumber, bff or bete noire, in person. After all, how can the spoken word ever match up to its ink and paper twins?
Radical mainstream options: If classics are not your thing at all, and you have no wish to compromise on your happily ever after on Valentine’s Day, then we would recommend the deliciously throwbackish Dear Mr Knightley by Katherine Reay instead. An updated version of the epistolary children’s classic Daddy Long-Legs, Dear Mr Knightley comprises letters written by the 23-year-old rebellious orphan Sam (Samantha) Moore to her wealthy benefactor, the inscrutable Mr Knightley, who has agreed to pay for her masters degree in journalism at Northwestern, and ultimately it leads to all kinds of heartwarming things. Perfect for our purposes.
#3: Arts and Crafts for Beginners
Bookish Inspiration: Something New – Tales from a Makeshift Bride, Lucy Knisley
My recent obsession with graphic memoirs led me to the so-charming-that-I-want-to-tumble-right-in world of Lucy Knisley, artist-cook-reader-writer, and creator of books that are terribly quaint and quirky – without an iota of the preciousness that a lot of quaint and quirky books end up with.
In 2010, Lucy and the-guy-she-thought-was-The-One, John, broke up. Three long, lonely years later, when she went about her business feeling a little loserly as the-girl-still-annoyingly-in-love-with-her-Ex, John returned to New York, walked into Lucy’s apartment, and proposed. This book, however, is not about this story. It is, in fact, the story of what came next: the adorable DIY wedding to end all DIY weddings. (Remember Lucy’s DIY streak from Relish?)
This graphic memoir recreates the entire madcap adventure in wedding planning, when Lucy manages to build an entire barn, drive her mother, friends and John slightly batty, and invent a whole new kind of photo booth to turn an outdoor wedding on a disastrously rainy day into an affair to remember.
Do Note: This book makes arts and crafts look so fun, and so delightful, that you might end up doing the following:
- Scare your lover who does not believe in proposals.
- Scare your mother who sees absolutely no charm in your idea of a DIY affair. What about all those uncles, aunts and second cousins who are waiting to return the favour to your parents for the efforts they invested in their children’s weddings?
- Scare your feminist friends with this sudden drama over weddings when for the longest time you’ve believed they are frivolous frippery invented to turn feminists into consumerists.
- Scare yourself when you remember Lucy was – and is – a professional artist, with competence in many of the things she attempts. Not all, of course.
Radical Easypeasy Option: And finally, while Something New makes for great reading, if you and your lover – like me and mine – are absolute donuts at handiwork (trying to cut a paper crane from crepe paper leads to shouting matches, lost scissors and that incident with glue) then forget about building a barn, for just the notion of it might send one or the other of you spinning to bed. In that case, we would recommend Arts and Crafts for Lovers 101.
In other words, colouring books for adults. We would like you to go with the sex-themed ones (from Kamasutra positions to S&M, there are many naughty options for lovers) but if that is not your thing, you could spend the evening gently filling in flowers, cupcakes and scenes from Paris to gentle banter about childhood failures in art class. Trust me, it’s therapeutic.
Happy Valentine’s Day!