An illustration of two stacks of books, with the Cornell clocktower in the center, and pink, red, and white hearts in the air

Who Wrote the Book of Love? Cornell Alums and Profs!

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For Valentine’s Day, check out these amorous titles—from literary fiction to the definitive textbook on ‘the science of affectional ties’

The cover of A Natural History of Love

A Natural History of Love

Diane Ackerman, MFA ’73, PhD ’79

After her success with A Natural History of the Senses, the journalist and poet turned her attention to love with this 1995 nonfiction work.

As Publishers Weekly observes: “Her perspective is both long—beginning with the first writings about love from ancient Egypt and Greece—and wide, encompassing love of pets, religious fervor, and altruism, along with her principal focus on romantic love.”

Ackerman also penned the memoir One Hundred Names for Love, about the aftermath of the stroke that left her writer husband almost entirely unable to speak.

A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, it chronicles how their connection and mutual love of words helped him heal.


Destination Wedding

Diksha Basu ’05

Named a best book of the year by Marie Claire and the New York Post, this chick lit novel follows a woman who travels from NYC to India attend her cousin’s posh nuptials—and get a break from her personal and professional woes. But naturally, drama and romantic complications ensue.

There’s the awkwardness of her divorced parents each looking for love with other people; coping with the fallout from her best friend’s iffy choice in men; and (above all) the possibility or running into a British guy she previously dated.

The cover of Destination Wedding

Publishers Weekly calls it a “charming, soul-searching tale,” adding that “Basu is a capable plotter and creates vibrant set pieces, such as the elaborate wedding. From Brooklyn to New Delhi, Basu never ceases to entertain.”


The cover of Letters to Véra

Letters to Véra

Vladimir Nabokov

“A compelling record, it confirms Nabokov as possibly the most happily married writer of the 20th century,” the Guardian says of this collection of missives spanning from 1923–77. “Every one of his books was dedicated to Véra; she was the sure center of his world. Though Véra destroyed her side of the correspondence, she remains a strong presence, and we can surmise what her letters said.”

The volume was first published in 2014, decades after the death of the famed novelist and legendary Cornell faculty member.

Their long marriage was a notable partnership, both personally and professionally

As Nabokov wrote to Véra early in their relationship: “You came into my life—not as one comes to visit (you know, 'not taking one’s hat off') but as one comes to a kingdom where all the rivers have been waiting for your reflection, all the roads, for your steps.”


The War Between the Tates

Alison Lurie

Lurie, a professor emerita of English who passed away in 2020, set a number of her books at (or at least connected them to) a thinly disguised Cornell called “Corinth University.” In this 1974 novel—later made into a TV movie starring Elizabeth Ashley and Richard Crenna—it’s the backdrop for upheaval in the marriage of a couple in their 40s, after the wife learns that her professor husband has been having an affair with a graduate student.

While touching on timeless themes, the book is very much a tale of its era.

The cover of "The War Between the Tates"

Hippies, women’s liberation, and the antiwar movement figure into the plot, along with such topics as encroaching real estate development and teenage angst.

Said the New York Times upon its publication: “The War Between the Tates is a thing to marvel at, very nearly all that the novel was meant to be.”


The cover of The Sun Is Also a Star

The Sun Is Also a Star

Nicola Yoon ’94

Both this and Yoon’s previous young-adult novel—Everything, Everything, about a teen confined to her home due to an immune condition—were New York Times bestsellers and had film adaptations.

A finalist for the National Book Award, The Sun Is Also a Star has dual high school-age narrators who meet and fall in love on the streets of New York in a single day.

One is a Jamaican-born girl about to be deported, the other a Korean American boy on his way to a college admissions interview.

School Library Journal calls it “part coming-of-age, part romance, and all extraordinary.”


The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing

Melissa Bank, MFA ’88

Bank made a smash in 1999 with this New York Times bestselling collection of seven interlinked short stories, which Entertainment Weekly dubbed a “swinging, funny, and tender study of contemporary relationships.”

The title tale—inspired by now-infamous dating advice books of the era like The Rules—follows a woman who hits it off with a fellow guest at a wedding. But their relationship goes off the rails when she tries to stick to the “play hard to get” formula laid out in How to Meet & Marry Mr. Right.

The cover of "The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing"

Two of the book’s other stories were adapted into the 2007 romcom Suburban Girl, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar and Alec Baldwin.


The cover of The Brothers System for Liberated Love and Marriage

The Brothers System for Liberated Love & Marriage

Joyce Bauer Brothers ’47

Published in 1972, this vintage self-help guide is one of many that the psychologist and pop culture icon penned during her long career. (Soberingly, they also included Widowhood, written after the death of her beloved husband, Milton Brothers ’47, BA ’48.) It’s long out of print, but used copies can be found online.

With alternating offerings for husbands and wives, it includes such sections as “How Did HE Get to Be the Boss?,” “Try a Little Role Reversal,” and “Money Is Power.”

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“Believing that the feminist movement of the 1960s and ’70s ignored the needs and desires of housewives who sought ‘freedom, responsibility, and equality’ within their marriages, she created ‘The Brothers System’ for achieving a ‘liberated marriage’ that embodied personal fulfillment and romance,” the website Psychologist Feminist Voices notes in a profile.

It adds: “She encouraged relationship dynamics that were egalitarian rather than authoritarian, where the wife was unafraid to ask her husband for what she needed in order to achieve personal satisfaction in the marriage.”


Love, Kurt

Kurt Vonnegut ’44

This compilation of love letters from the celebrated novelist to his first wife, Jane Marie Cox, was edited by their daughter—who found them while cleaning out her mother’s attic—and published in 2020.

“Their correspondence reveals a fitful courting,” observes the New Yorker, “with a persistent Vonnegut peppering Cox with declarations of love, even as both attend casual dates with other people.”

The cover of Love, Kurt

Dating from 1941–45, the missives cover Vonnegut’s time on the Hill, which ended when he dropped out to enlist in the Army in 1943.

“Naturally your recent letter ripped my heart from my wounded breast (poetic license),” he wrote to the woman he nicknamed “Woofy,” going on to say: “Apropos, are you ever going to get married? I am willing to fill out any required forms in duplicate, triplicate, and quintuplicate for your hand and all accessories thereof: not now, but sometime. You don’t object to my playing with the idea, do you? Write me a letter, sweet mamma.”


The cover of The Audrey Hepburn Estate

The Audrey Hepburn Estate

Brenda Janowitz ’95

“A nostalgic and intriguing story that blends a modern-day love triangle with details from Audrey Hepburn’s life,” says Kirkus of this 2023 chick lit novel.

Its heroine grew up as the child of servants on an estate reminiscent of the one in the classic Hepburn film Sabrina.

Now, she’s torn between two men she’s known since childhood: the grandson of the estate’s owner and the son of the former chauffer, now a developer who wants to tear the property down.

Janowitz’s other novels on similar themes include The Liz Taylor Ring and The Grace Kelly Dress.


Is Sex Necessary?

E. B. White 1921

In 1929, the future author of wholesome classics Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little teamed up with his New Yorker colleague James Thurber for this cheeky (but occasionally heartfelt) examination of love and relationships.

It's illustrated with breezy line drawings by Thurber that, for the era, weren’t all necessarily “safe for work.”

“By and large, love is easier to experience before it has been explained—easier and cleaner,” they write.

The cover of Is Sex Necessary?

“The same holds true of passion. Understanding the principles of passion is like knowing how to drive a car; once mastered, all is smoothed out; no more does one experience the feeling of perilous adventure, the misgivings, the diverting little hesitancies, the wrong turns, the false starts, the glorious insecurity. All is smoothed out, and all, so to speak, is lost.”


The cover of 30 Lessons for Loving

30 Lessons for Loving

Karl Pillemer

A gerontologist and the Hazel E. Reed Professor in the psychology department, Pillemer has conducted numerous surveys of older Americans—here, tapping them for relationship advice.

Pillemer and his research team gathered responses from more than 700 people over age 65 who have been in long marriages (lasting three decades or more).

The result, subtitled Advice from the Wisest Americans on Love, Relationships, and Marriage, rounds up no-nonsense suggestions that promote lasting unions,

They include taking an interest in what your partner likes to do, maintaining a standard of politeness, and fairly delegating household chores.

 “The advice is astute, fresh, and well selected by Pillemer,” says Publishers Weekly. “This book would serve as an excellent gift for newlyweds.”


Kissing in Technicolor

Jane Mendle

Before Mendle joined the Human Ecology faculty, she published this 2004 novel—in which, per a Publishers Weekly review, she “humorously and sympathetically captures the outsize ambitions and insecurities of young actors and directors.”

Her heroine is a grad student in film at Columbia who’s looking for love and artistic fulfillment. Teaching yoga on the side, she meets a hunky student who’s a soap opera star, and they start dating. But when she mixes her personal and cinematic lives—casting her new beau in a film—things start to go off the rails.

The cover of Kissing in Technicolor

“Mendle’s characters are more interesting and multidimensional than most chick-lit offerings,” says Booklist. “Her plot isn’t predictable, and her snappy dialogue is romantic-comedy ready, which may prompt readers to turn off their TVs, pop some popcorn, and curl up with this book instead.”


The cover of Human Bonding

Human Bonding

Cindy Hazan

Interested in a more academic take on the subject?

Hazan, a psychologist, is the Andrew H. & James S. Tisch Distinguished University Professor—and she co-edited the definitive textbook on the science of affectional ties.

“This tightly edited volume provides an integrative overview of human bonding from infancy through adulthood. Through an attachment lens, the book synthesizes classic and cutting-edge research on close relationships and their profound impact in everyday life,” notes the publisher.

“Topics include infant-caregiver attachment, human social nature, child and adolescent social development, mate selection, love and sexual desire, hooking up and online dating, keys to relationship success, predictors and consequences of relationship dissolution, and the role of social connectedness in psychological adjustment and physical health.”

Top: Illustration by Caitlin Cook / Cornell University.

Published February 8, 2024


Comments

  1. ROBERT MORRIS FRIEDMAN, Class of 1954

    You left out Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie which to me is one of the best love stories of all time.

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