When you pick up a book about “love,” you shouldn’t expect anything. Love is one of those things that’s hard to describe and even harder to understand. We can’t really know what love is until we’re in it, and the love between two people is unique, so even if you’ve been in love, you’ll never understand another couple’s relationship. When I read Us: Americans Talk About Love, edited by social anthropologist John Bowe (published Jan. 5), I mistakenly thought that I’d be reading true love story after true love story, 300+ pages of happy endings. But Us isn’t about love stories; it is personalized experiences with love: all the highs and lows, messiness and simplicity. And talking about love probably turned out better stories. Seriously, I read through this in, like, two days over the Christmas vacation.None of the 44 different first-person narratives in Us are at all similar, which the editor says in the introduction was intentional. The diversity of something so universal is astounding: there’s the husband who stood by his wife through years of a libido-killing illness, the Christian pastor who sought to separate lust from love, the polyamorous couple who struggles with jealousy issues, a married aerobics instructor who fell for a woman, a brokenhearted man who has dated more than 300 women since his wife’s death, the man who lost his wife during Hurricane Katrina, and so on. Us doesn’t sugarcoat romantic relationships; you would not want to be loved by some of these people. Instead, it’s refreshingly honest in a way only first-person narratives can be—think of it as an Ira Glass radio show in book form.
There may not always be happy endings, but in Us, each and every tale is compelling, proving that love is anything but uniform. [$10.88, Amazon.com]
WIN THIS! We’re giving away a copy of Us: Americans Talk About Love, but you have to work if you want it! Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Love Book” telling us how you knew you were in love for the first time and how old you were by 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 21. We’ll pick our favorite response and announce the winner on Friday, Jan. 22. You must live in the U.S. or Canada to win.