Welcome back to Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week’s theme is “Valentine’s Day/Love Freebie,” and I’m sure that the majority of people are going to use today’s prompt to write about their favorite romance books or their favorite ships, while I, who has hated the romance genre since I was old enough to know what it is, am going to spend the day talking about books I loved that aren’t super-focused on love/Valentine’s Day/romance, which completely goes against the prompt, but that’s why you’re here, right?
Now, don’t get me wrong – I don’t hate Valentine’s Day. I thought it was dumb when I was younger, but I really like dressing up and going out and having fun (except, oops – we can’t this year, because pandemic). Last year we went to our favorite sushi restaurant and I wore my wedding shoes (in an attempt to break them in) and the dress that I’d eventually wear to my bachelorette party.
But let’s talk about some anti-romance books, shall we? I went through a GoodReads list to see what other people had been saying about these sorts of books, and I’ve found several that I’ve read and enjoyed in the past.
Also, shout out to Paper Fury for having this awesome Blog Post about being Anti-Romance in YA books, which I absolutely love and which condenses all of my feelings about this matter into something coherent.
1 – A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin
I’ve only read this series through once, and I only watched the first season, but dang, is there anything more brutal than watching what should be a happy couple fall in love and get married and then be murdered on their wedding day? There are no happy endings in A Game of Thrones, and if someone seems happy, even for a little while, you know that a swift and gruesome end is coming for them.
Fun fact: Steven’s best man chose Joffrey’s poisoning/death scene from The Purple Wedding as the scene he wanted for his boutonniere for our wedding. Fun!
2 – The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Ah, more murder. I’m sure we all had to read this book in school (and if you didn’t, how did you get out of it? Is it because you don’t live in the US), or we had to read it in college, but if you’ve managed to make it to adulthood without reading The Great Gatsby (or reading the SparkNotes and pretending to read it), then the short answer is, Gatsby is in love with someone else’s wife, someone else’s husband is in love with another woman, and Gatsby is killed because that other woman’s husband thinks he killed his wife by running her over with a car. (Yeah, that doesn’t make any sense, but so sue me.)
Fun fact: The Great Gatsby is officially in the public domain as of this year, and I am completely ready for some amazing retellings to come out of this.
3 – Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare
“Ha!” you cry, jabbing your finger at the screen. “Romeo & Juliet is the most popular love story of all time! Why is it on this anti-love list?” Spoiler alert: it’s absolutely not a love story, but is actually a tragedy, because everyone dies in the end. People who think this is a love story know nothing about the original play, or they only think of Leonardo DiCaprio (am I getting the right actor?) when they think of Romeo, and so they can’t see it as anything other than a love story.
Fun fact: There’s a book series out there that’s basically choose-your-own-adventure-Shakespeare, and they’ve got one called Romeo and/or Juliet, and I really want to pick it up. I’ve got the Hamlet one, but nothing else.
4 – Dracula by Bram Stoker
There’s nothing more romantic than having to chop the head off your girlfriend after she’s dead because she’s come back to life and is kidnapping and eating children! While Dracula isn’t as scary as some modern-day horror novels, it really helped to bring the vampire into popular culture. There have been hundreds if not thousands of spin-offs and riffs on the vampire legend since then, and we owe it all to Bram Stoker. Also, he popularized the whole “diary/letter entry” style of writing (which I’m sure has a proper name, but I don’t know it) that we see used in a lot of other books today.
Fun fact: My first exposure to Dracula was through a Wishbone JUMBO novel called The Halloween Joker, and Sam is reading Dracula throughout it and the events Wishbone has to go through sort of parallels what’s happening in the novel.
5 – Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
I honestly hesitated to even put this one on the list, because if you know, you know, and it’s pretty obvious that Lolita belongs on absolutely zero romantic book lists, ever.
Fun fact: I took a class on Stanley Kubrick in college, where we had to read books then watched the movies based on them, and Lolita was one of them. I absolutely hated the class, but needed it for my honors graduation credits so I sucked it up.
6 – The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
I can’t remember what class I was first introduced to this book in, but I loved the rewritten fairy tales. They’re introduced as fairy tales with a feminist twist, which put a lot of the guys in my class off of reading the stories presented (we only read two: the Bluebeard retelling and the Beauty & the Beast one), but once they had it beaten into them that feminism isn’t a “bad word,” they actually enjoyed the stories. In a lot (if not all) of them, the damsel saves herself, and I would love to see films based on these stories.
Fun fact: I’ve taken an entire class on fairy tales before, and they’re even darker in their original forms than you could even begin to imagine.
7 – The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Okay, so hear me out: it’s an anti-Valentine’s book because nobody gets the girl in the end. Death, the narrator, tells us the end of the book at the very beginning of the story (so, stop reading here if you aren’t afraid of getting super early spoiled): Everyone will die on Himmel Street, including Liesel’s best friend (and could-have-been-boyfriend) Rudy Steiner, and she is the only one to survive, kissing his dead lips before she’s taken away by the paramedics.
Fun fact: I think The Book Thief is one of the most-read books on my shelf. I received it in Creative Writing when I was in tenth grade, and I loved the writing style and read it over and over again that year. I think I re-read it at least once every other year, if not more.
And for my last three books, let’s go with books that aren’t exactly anti-romance, but have no romantic subplots in them:
8 – Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
All Artemis wants to do is kidnap a fairy, get himself some fairy gold, and then go find his father (who went missing years ago on an Arctic expedition). He manages to find himself a fairy in the form of Holly Short, and chaos breaks loose when the entire LEPrecon force has to come and rescue her – and they find out that Artemis (who is only a child at this point) is smarter than whoever is on their team.
Fun fact: I’ve only read the first five Artemis Fowl books, but I absolutely loved them as a kid. I taught myself Gnommish so I could read the secret messages scrawled across the bottom of the books. I used to be able to write in it with zero issues, but now of course I can’t.
9 – Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
I think I’ve written about this one recently (it could have been last week for the “Books Written Before You Were Born” challenge), so I’m not going to rehash everything I wrote there. Just know it’s a brilliant book about a girl left behind for almost 18 years on an island by herself, and she has to learn to survive in case the ship that took away her villagers ever comes back for her, like they promised.
Fun fact: The book that I own has an afterword where Scott O’Dell talks about himself being “inspired” by the story of Robin Crusoe, the girl who was stranded on the island by herself for several years. Which, if you’ve read the actual book, you know it’s Robinson and he’s a terrible person.
10 – Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
I don’t know if this one truly counts because the last book has our two main characters becoming a couple, but they hate each other in the first book. Leviathan is set in an alternate-reality Steampunk world of World War I, where the Axis Powers use steam engines to do everything and the Allied Powers use bioengineered animals. It’s incredible and different and really got into the Steampunk scene before it was a scene.
Fun fact: I…I actually don’t have a fun fact for this one. Sorry, y’all.
And there you have it! Ten books you can read for the month of February that are either blatantly anti-romance or just have no romance in them.
Are you a fan of romance books? Do you even like Valentine’s Day, or would you rather wait until February 15 to get the half-price chocolate? Let me know in the comments!
And as always, keep reading.