Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Crazy Little Thing Called Valentine's Day
Whatever its origin, and the story seems to be in dispute, Valentine’s Day will be viewed, sentimentally or cynically, by American consumers as a celebration of love, mostly romantic love. The Greeting Card Association predicted in 2008 that 190 million Valentine’s Day cards would be sent, not including those exchanged in countless classrooms. Add to the cost of all those cards, the 189 million roses, 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate, and eight billion conversation hearts that will be sold (plus gifts such as lingerie, jewelry, romantic restaurant dinners, etc.), and it’s clear we are looking at huge sums being spent in the name of love. The National Retail Federation predicts $17.02 billion will be spent this year.
But cards and candy and flowers are just part of the picture. What’s a celebration of love without music? “My Funny Valentine” is the best known Valentine song. It’s been sung for more than a century, so whatever your preferred musical genre, it’s likely you can find a recording. I prefer Ella’s version myself, but everybody from Barbra Streisand to Rufus Wainwright has sung it. Or perhaps you just want a song with love in the title. You have an even wider choice then. Looking just at songs that reached #1, you can choose from 114 different songs, ranging from Benny Goodman’s “Taking a Chance on Love” (1943) to Usher’s “Love in This Club” (2008)—and that’s a wide range, baby. Choose your decade: 1940s--Nat King Cole, “I Love You For Sentimental Reasons”; 1950s--Teddy Bears, “To Know Him Is To Love Him”; 1960s—the Beatles “All You Need Is Love” (Did you know the Supremes had five hits in the 60s with “Love” in the title?); 1970s-- Roberta Flack , “Feel Like Makin Love”; 1980s—Foreigner, “I Want to Know What Love Is”; 1990s--Whitney Houston, “I Will Always Love You”: 2000s—Beyonce, “Crazy In Love.” Are you humming your pick now?
Then there’s the obvious choice for this community—books. Books in Print lists 916 current or forthcoming books with “Valentine” in the title, but a lot of them feature characters like Charlie Brown and Curious George, not exactly what we’re looking for. Our options increase dramatically if we look at books with “Love” in the title. Now we have 41,280 choices, and they range from Love in the Time of Cholera by Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez to a 14-volume manga series called Love Hina to Sandra Hill’s February release, Viking in Love. Of course, you may choose to go with a title that delivers a specific message. There are book titles that proclaim love an addiction, a verdict, a secret, a memory, and a lie; others declare love is just in time, timeless, or out of time. I think the best book choices for Valentine’s Day are those with the best love scenes.
Whatever you give the loves of your life on February 14, I highly recommend you give yourself the gift of reading or rereading one or more of the following just to delight in some of the best love scenes in the annals of romance fiction. The scenes are different from one another in a variety of ways, but they have in common a view of love that is revealing and romantic.
1. Cora & Francis, The Famous Heroine, Mary Balogh
Mary Balogh must like outdoor love scenes. She writes a lot of them, but this one is my favorite. It’s the final scene, and Cora and Francis are “lying side by side, hand in hand on the grass, gazing up at the sky” after making love. They engage in the teasing banter that people who love each other and are comfortable with each other often do, and then they burst into laughter, not polite social laughter but side-splitting, unable-to-talk roars of laughter. Their intimacy is not limited to the sexual. Their hearty desire for one another’s bodies is matched by their genuine liking for each other and a shared appreciation of life’s absurdities. I am persuaded that this couple will live happily ever after; I believe in their love.
2. Jessica & Dain, Lord of Scoundrels, Loretta Chase
Fairly early in Lord of Scoundrels, there is a wonderful kissing scene. Dain follows Jessica into the street after she has berated him and his choice of companions. They kiss in the pouring rain, and Dain, who thinks he has made himself invulnerable, speaks his desire in his native Italian. The kiss lights the flame that will burn more hotly as the relationship develops. Just in case the characters or the readers are in doubt as to the significance of this kiss, it is ended by a bolt of lightning. When Jessica returns to her grandmother, she tells her all about her exchange with Dain, including the kiss. She tells her that they were kissing in the streets of Paris, oblivious to the rain and to anyone who might see them. They could have been killed by the lightning bolt, or Jessica could have been ruined. “I wish I had been,” she adds. Jessica Trent may be a virginal heroine, but she’s no naïve, ignorant miss. She understands her desire for Dain. From this moment the reader understands that these two strong, intelligent, stubborn characters are the perfect match emotionally and physically.
3. Regan & Rafe, The Return of Rafe MacKade, Nora Roberts
Rafe MacKade is a bad boy grown up. He was driven by his own demons to leave his home, but he returns “with money in his pockets and plans for the future.” Regan Bishop is the smooth to Rafe’s rough. The owner of Past Times, an antique and decorating shop, she is, as one of Rafe’s younger brothers observes, a combination of “spine, common sense, and compassion.” The two recognize their mutual attraction, but neither is looking to fall in love. Rafe bets Regan that she will grow so crazy about him that she’ll show up at Duff’s Tavern braless, in a red mini-skirt and stilettos, ready for beer and a game of pool. Regan bets him that he’ll be so crazy about her that he’ll bring her lilacs and quote Shelley for her. Of course, they both lose—and win. Regan wears the outfit so foreign to her image of herself to the tavern. Rafe is such a guy, so lovably awkward as he delivers the silk lilacs and kneels to recite the four lines of Shelley that it took him a week to memorize. Sigh! Such a terrific scene!
4. Catherine & Michael, Shattered Rainbows, Mary Jo Putney
She’s noble and beloved by many, but Catherine believes herself incapable of sexual pleasure. MJP devotes a full chapter to Michael’s proving her wrong. It is a scene filled with sweetness, tenderness, and passion that culminates in a union of bodies, minds, and spirits. The scene is as much about trust and vulnerability as it is about desire. Catherine concludes that comparing simple “physical release” to what she and Michael share is like comparing “a candle to the sun.”
5. Krissa & Quinn, Till the Stars Fall, Kathleen Gilles Seidel
Krissa and Quinn are reunited lovers. As college students, they were lovers, but they have been apart for sixteen years, years in which Krissa, the cinnamon-haired girl who inspired her lover to write songs about her, has become a divorced mother of four sons and Quinn, one half of the celebrated rock group Dodd Hall, has become a doctor and a writer. He visits her in Minnesota, and the first visit is awkward and unsatisfying. But the second visit, the scene I love, is wonderful! They kiss, and the world is transformed: “The sights, smells, and sensations of a physical universe sprang to life, honoring the flesh.” (That sentence is wonderful!) Nevertheless, the real world is still very much with them. They go to Krissa’s home where four demanding kids await. Instead of having sex, they watch hockey together. But none of this changes the wonder of falling in love again.
Will you be adding your $$ to the billions the greeting card companies, candy makers, and florists make this February? Will you celebrate the holiday that celebrates love by reading a romance novel? What’s your favorite love song? What’s your favorite love scene?