14 Book Pairs For Every Kind Of Relationship

Call it a ménage à livre.

Sunny days and bike rides. Rainy days and Netflix binges. Being drunk and eating tacos. Being sober and eating tacos. Some things are just better together.

Guess what, this rule lends itself to books as well. When you’ve hit on a certain feeling that a good read can give you—especially a loveydovey feeling—you want to prolong it as long as possible. So prepare ahead of time and bring two books to bed tonight. Think of the following list as a personal ad for people in love with reading: a pair of books for every romantic feeling. All the novels are relationshipish, ranging from platonic to bow-chicka-bow-wow.

Two Across by Jeff Bartsch + Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Grand Central Publishing, Dutton

If you like to pal around with quirky, clever novels that have well-crafted hooks, introduce yourself to these guys. In Two Across, Stanley and Vera meet when they tie for first prize in the National Spelling Bee. They decide to embark on a marriage of convenience so that they can live off the wedding-gift money while pursuing crossword-puzzle writing. Their plan goes awry. The book even offers romantic crossword puzzle clues. It is the nerdiest fun.

Then move from crosswords to “cc:” with Rowell’s Attachments. In this novel composed mostly of e-mails, Beth and her work-wife Jennifer trade e-mails about Beth’s lackluster boyfriend on company time, even though they know the IT department scans all of their correspondence. Enter Lincoln, the IT dude reading the messages. Can you fall in love with someone through letters, even when they’re not addressed to you?

“We Didn’t” by Stuart Dybek + Paper Lantern: Love Stories by Stuart Dybek


Lovin’ in a hurry. First, polish off Dybek’s short story “We Didn’t,” which is the quickest way (save actual quickies) to get that dreamy, lovey, regret-y feeling. Plus, you’ll be like, “Why didn’t anyone ever fucking tell me about Stuart Dybek?!?!” Then pick up Paper Lantern, Dybek’s book of nine sensual love stories that are going to “seal the deal” on your digging this writer.

Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach + At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O’Neill

Vintage, Simon & Schuster

Being in a secret relationship is thrilling, but so time-consuming with the alibis and the finding sexy trench coats to disguise yourself. Better to take these two to bed instead. Tulip Fever is about an affair between the young wife of a wealthy older man and the painter commissioned to paint their portrait. Set in Amsterdam in the 1630s, when a lust for tulips had taken over the city, you’ll feel all atwitter as the tension builds and the plots twist.

Then travel to Ireland in 1916 for At Swim, Two Boys, the love story of Jim and Doyler, two teen boys who find their friendship blossoming into a romance in the years just before the Easter Uprising. Read Tulip first for the rush of titillating emotions, but finish with At Swim, where the feels come in big waves and threaten to overcome both characters and the reader.

Love in Lowercase by Francesc Miralles + Desperate Characters by Paula Fox

Penguin, W. W. Norton

It’s fun to see how two books can work with the same setup. So why not experiment? Sometimes, you want pillow talk; sometimes, you want the down-and-dirty talk. The aforementioned books have absolutely nothing in common, except this premise: a stray cat wanders in and upends a life or two. In Love in Lowercase, a lost feline wanders into the apartment of a linguistics professor, Samuel, and becomes the stimulus for his breaking out of an introverted shell and leading him back to his childhood crush, Gabriela.

In Desperate Characters, Sophie, who lives with her husband, Otto, in 1960s Brooklyn, is bitten by a stray cat she tries to feed. Her fear of rabies spirals into underlying anxiety about her marriage and society, and the couple’s posh high-society world begins to unravel. Both are pretty delicious reads for remarkably different reasons. Love for its absurdity and fun pop-culture references. Desperate for Fox’s precise prose and finely woven plot.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff + The Happy Marriage by Tahar Ben Jelloun

Riverhead, Melville House

To be read ALONE in a room after a fight with your partner. By the time you’re finished, you won’t be angry anymore, because you’ll have been schooled in the lesson of “two sides to every story.” Books about marriages serve as a good frame for character development, and these two novels of husbands and wives don’t disappoint. In Fates and Furies, a husband and wife who began their relationship with a passionate romance find disorder lurking. Groff tells the story of the messy underbelly of this marriage from each spouse’s perspective.

The Happy Marriage begins with a secret novel written by an unhappy husband who blames his marriage for his ailing health and career. Until his wife finds the book and begins journaling her own perspective. As in real relationships, none of these narrators are perfectly reliable, but they are reliably engrossing.

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson + The Intimates by Ralph Sassone

Graywolf, FSG

Maybe you’re looking to spend some time contemplating all the ways we fall in love today, beyond the traditional standards of man meets woman and procreates. There are so many things that a loving relationship can be, and these books exemplify just two of them, but very well. In The Intimates, Robbie and Maize meet in high school and, despite being drawn to each other, realize their relationship will not be sexual, so they decide to bond by becoming each other’s “human diaries.” The book is smart, sexy, and honest.

Which is precisely what The Argonauts is — in Nelson’s sort-of memoir (it’s actually “autotheory,” a combination of autobiography and social criticism), she describes her romance with her fluidly gendered partner, Harry Dodge, and their journey to building a family while weaving their way around conventional ideas of sexuality and maternity.

How Stella Got Her Groove Back by Terry McMillan + The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer

Berkley, Riverhead

For when you’re in bed and you’d rather be reading. Begin with the anthem for, well, getting your groove back, with McMillan’s modern classic about Stella, a fortysomething divorcée who is successful in every area of her life, except love. Happily, a vacay in Jamaica and a younger man are about to help her out. This endearing and funny read remains popular for a reason.

The Uncoupling (not a Gwyneth Paltrow memoir) tells the story about the women in one small town who one by one lose their desire for sex right after the high school drama department starts rehearsing Lysistrata for the school play (in the play, the women withhold sex so that the men will end a war).

The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien + Ghost World by Daniel Clowes

Faber and Faber, Fantagraphics

Sometimes, friendships can be way more dramatic than romantic relationships, especially when teen girls are involved. In The Country Girls, follow Kate and Baba from rural Ireland to Dublin while they come of age and are alternately terrible and tender toward one another. When I read Country for the first time, I thought, “This is like Enid and Becky from Ghost World if they had lived in Ireland in the ’60s!” Both pairs of girlfriends are growing up and scared of growing apart. Both books are sincere depictions of adolescence and how a young girl’s first love can often be her first close girlfriend.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Leviathan + Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Ember, Solaris

I want to feel like I’m inside a pop song. Wrapped up in a Smokey Robinson note. That would be awesome. These books can bring me close to that feeling. In Nick and Norah, two strangers have the same taste in music but know nothing else about each other. That doesn’t stop them from embarking on finding a secret live show performed by a band they love. Super fun read.

And it’s short so you can finish it and jump right into Signal, Moreno-Garcia’s novel about three friends in Mexico City in the 1980s who discover that their love of music can actually change lives. One of the friends, Meche, can cast spells using music. Fantastical, vivid, angsty, and full of heart.

Sex Criminals, Volume 1: One Weird Trick by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarksy + Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

Image Comics, Riverhead

Get crazy and play around with some literary tropes. The graphic novel Sex Criminals is a traditional superhero comic, right? Except that the superpower our heroes Suzie and John possess: They can stop time when they orgasm. Obviously, they decide to use this power to rob banks. So far, three volumes of this series have been published, and they are a lot of uncouth fun.

Mr. Fox, on the other hand, a novel that cleverly plays with the fairy-tale form, depicts a writer, Mr. Fox, whose muse comes to life and puts him inside his own stories. Upset that her husband is out traipsing through fairy tales with his muse, Mrs. Fox throws herself into the stories as well, and the writer must choose between his dream woman or the woman of his dreams. With these two books, you will definitely be learning some new moves, at least as a reader.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer + The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

Houghton Mifflin, W. W. Norton

Okay, they broke up. But for a sweet moment, the two great minds Foer and Krauss were married and each writing books, and the similarities between the novels they released provide a keen insight into the symbiosis of two literary minds in love. I like to picture them sitting back-to-back, typing furiously, with little warm vibes steaming off of their beautiful brains and melding together. Both novels take place in New York and feature cerebral children and links to a sad past in Eastern Europe. Both are awfully charming and sentimental.

Endless Love by Scott Spencer + Was She Pretty? by Leanne Shapton

Ecco, Drawn and Quarterly

Obsessive desire feels awful in reality, but reading about it is totally thrilling. The above novels are a match made in insecure heaven. In Endless Love, which manages to be both sexy and eerie as shit, David and Jade are in the thrall of a passionate affair, but when Jade’s family forces their separation, David decides to start a “safe” fire to their house and rescue them as a way to win back Jade’s affection. I think we can all agree ahead of time that David is going to be an unreliable narrator. In Shapton’s illustrated rumination, Was She Pretty?, we look into a list of people’s ex-lovers through the eyes of their current partners.

Assisted Loving: True Tales of Double Dating with My Dad by Bob Morris + Julie and Romeo by Jeanne Ray

Harper Perennial, Broadway Books

Everybody talks about the fantasy of growing old together, but it’s not often we can find books about finding love when you’re already old. Turns out when you can find them, they’re pretty entertaining. Begin with Assisted Loving, Morris’s convivial memoir about helping his father, recently widowed and in his eighties, find a companion while looking for love himself. Then for a little dessert read Julie and Romeo, a romance about two senior florists whose families are longtime enemies (hence, kitschy title).

Persuasion by Jane Austen + The Fling by Rebekah Weatherspoon

Penguin, Bold Strokes

I just want to see these two books sitting on top of each other on a nightstand. How can a romance novel change in nearly two hundred years? A LOT. But the thing is, both Austen’s subtle wait-the-entire-novel-for-a-modestdeclaration-of-love and Weatherspoon’s raunchy girl-on-girl affair (while male fiancé is away) give you the tingles. Persuasion is Austen’s last and my favorite of her books — a heroine who waits SEVEN YEARS after breaking her engagement with a man she truly loved to come back into his arms.

In contrast, the heroine in Fling waits about one hot minute after her boyfriend gets on a plane to sleep with her female personal trainer. But a fling turns into an affair (and an affair turns into love). Surprisingly, both novels explore similar themes of society’s opinion of and power over our romantic decisions as well as main characters trying to decide if they should take the risk and fall in love. ●

All text from Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence. Copyright © 2017 by the author and reprinted by permission of Flatiron Books.

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