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Picturing a World

What makes this book so happy (5): Love

The categories of friendship and love inevitably blend into each other: we love our friends and hope our lovers will be our soul mates. But they can also be considered separately; and so although women’s friendships were very much a conscious motif for me while I was writing Where the Light Falls, so was the nature of love. Late in the novel, Cousin Effie says, “We are made to love and be loved, lots of different ways.” Love, Greek agape and eros, Latin amor and caritas—they all contribute to shades of meaning and ways of thinking about a range of feelings from the sexual to the warm and fuzzy to the transcendent. But the one that means the most to me is the idea that love is a recognition of another person’s full humanity and worth; and the more we love someone, the more we honor that full humanity and see it in its complexity.

Such thinking fits wonderfully with a novel about characters who are looking at things carefully. I couldn’t think of a picture that fully captures the gaze of two adults in love, but Elizabeth Nourse’s painting of a mother and child is more than good enough to illustrate devotion.

On Prevention’s list of 55 Happy Books Proven to Boost Your Mood, it’s easy to point to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love as a book with love as a central topic. Ditto Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The title poem of Billy Collins’ Aimless Love engages the attraction to the concrete world that constitutes a wider-than-human love. And in The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker uses two non-human figures to tease out much being human and what love means. So much to read. So much to love.

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