Riot Headline 10 Exciting Books to Read this Summer

8 Romantic Readings from Contemporary Literature

Jennifer Paull

Staff Writer

Jennifer Paull walks quickly.

If you’ve been on the wedding circuit this summer, you’ve likely gotten sprinkled with classic literature along with the confetti and buttercream. A Shakespeare sonnet, a dash of Donne, maybe some Jane Austen or Browning? But ever since Rebecca described the literary quotes used in her wedding, we’ve been thinking about contemporary authors who write powerfully about love—and might be ripe for wedding readings.

Below I’ve shared some romantic quotes from modern novels and memoirs, with several Rioters chiming in. How about you—what are your favorite romantic passages in current lit? Have you read any for a wedding, engagement, or other amorous occasion? Share it with us and make our flinty hearts melt…

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed (recommended by Jenn Northington)

“My mother’s last word to me clanks inside me like an iron bell that someone beats at dinnertime: love, love, love, love, love. … Be brave. Be authentic. Practice saying the word ‘love’ to the people you love so when it matters most to say it, you will.

We’re all going to die, Johnny. Hit the iron bell like it’s dinnertime.”

Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins (recommended by Jeff O’Neal)

“Love is the ultimate outlaw. It just won’t adhere to any rules. The most any of us can do is to sign on as its accomplice. Instead of vowing to honor and obey, maybe we should swear to aid and abet. That would mean that security is out of the question. The words ‘make’ and ‘stay’ become inappropriate. My love for you has no strings attached. I love you for free.”

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

“There was a time when mapmakers named the places they travelled through with the names of lovers rather than their own. Someone seen bathing in a desert caravan, holding up muslin with one arm in front of her. Some old Arab poet’s woman, whose white-dove shoulders made him describe an oasis with her name… So a man in the desert can slip into a name as if within a discovered well, and in its shadowed coolness be tempted never to leave such containment.”

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway (recommended by Jenn Northington)

“I need bruschetta (that’s ‘broo-SKET-uh,’ not ‘brushetter,’ a slender piece of ciabatta toasted and brushed with garlic and oil and covered in fresh tomato and basil– the chunks inevitably fall off the bread and the olive oil runs over your lips and down your chin. The whole thing is delicious, deeply physical and delightfully undignified, and a woman who can eat a real bruschetta is a woman you can love and who can love you. Someone who pushes the thing away because it’s messy is never going to cackle at you toothlessly across the living room of your retirement cottage or drag you back from your sixth heart attack by sheer furious affection. Never happen. You need a woman who isn’t afraid of a faceful of olive oil for that).”

Elegy for Iris by John Bayley

“We never returned to the dance floor, but sat in my room until two in the morning. We talked without stopping. I had no idea I could talk like that, and I am sure she never knew she could, either. It was endless, childish chatter, and we put our faces together as we talked…. She put her head back and laughed at me incredulously from time to time, and I think we both felt incredulous. She seemed to be giving way to some deep need of which she had been wholly unconscious: the need to throw away not only the manoeuvres and rivalries of intellect but also the emotional fears and fascinations, the power struggles and surrenders of adult loving.… ‘If we were married, we could do this all the time,’ I said, rather absurdly…. Long, long afterwards, I was having to look through her manuscripts and papers… One entry dated June 3, 1954, read: ‘St. Antony’s Dance. Fell down the steps, and seem to have fallen in love with J. We didn’t dance much.’”

A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters by Julian Barnes (the whole half-chapter, really, recommended by Edd McCracken)

“Love and truth, that’s the vital connection, love and truth. Have you ever told so much truth as when you were first in love? Have you ever seen the world so clearly? Love makes us see the truth, makes it our duty to tell the truth…. We must believe in it, or we’re lost. We may not obtain it, or we may obtain it and find it renders us unhappy; we must still believe in it. If we don’t, then we merely surrender to the history of the world and to someone else’s truth.”

Jazz by Toni Morrison 

“It’s nice when grown people whisper to each other under the covers. Their ecstasy is more leaf-sigh than bray and the body is the vehicle, not the point. They reach, grown people, for something beyond, way beyond and way, way down underneath tissue. They are remembering while they whisper the carnival dolls they won and the Baltimore boats they never sailed on. The pears they let hang on the limb because if they plucked them, they would be gone from there and who else would see that ripeness if they took it away for themselves? How could anybody passing by see them and imagine for themselves what the flavor would be like? Breathing and murmuring under covers both of them have washed and hung out on the line, in a bed they chose together and kept together nevermind one leg was propped on a 1916 dictionary, and the mattress, curved like a preacher’s palm asking for witnesses in His name’s sake, enclosed them each and every night and muffled their whispering, old-time love.”

About Alice by Calvin Trillin

“My first impression was that she looked more alive than anyone I’d ever seen. She seemed to glow. For one reason or another, I barely got to speak to her that evening. Two weeks later, though, after doing some intelligence work and juggling some obligations and dismissing as hearsay the vague impression of one mutual acquaintance that Alice was virtually engaged, I dashed back from a remote suburb to a party that I figured she’d be attending… in romantic matters, even those who need to depend mainly on dumb luck are usually up to one or two deliberate moves. At the second party, I did get to talk to her quite a lot. In fact, I must have hardly shut up. I was like a lounge comic who had been informed that a booker for The Tonight Show was in the audience. Recalling that party years later, Alice would sometimes say, ‘You have never again been as funny as you were that night.’

‘You mean I peaked in December of 1963?’ I’d say, twenty or even thirty years later.

‘I’m afraid so.’

But I never stopped trying to match that evening—not just trying to entertain her but trying to impress her. Decades later—after we had been married for more than thirty-five years, after our girls were grown—I still wanted to impress her.”



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