If you love curling up in front of the TV with someone you love and watching a romantic movie, you’re not alone. However, the only thing that beats that experience? Doing the same with a good romantic book. In fact, romance is the most popular genre in the United States, accounting for $1.08 billion in sales in 2013, according to the Romance Writers of America. According to Nielsen BookScan data, romance books accounted for 34 percent of all fiction sales in the United States, and the market grew a shocking 37 percent between 2014 and 2015 alone.
However, while many readers assume the genre is all bodice-rippers, there are countless classic romances you won’t be embarrassed to be seen reading in public. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up the 40 most romantic books of all time, from time-honored novels to modern classics you won’t want to put down. Happy reading.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
$8.00; buy now on Amazon
Emily Brontë’s only novel is certainly a standout. The 1847 classic, published under Brontë’s pen name, Ellis Bell, tells the story of lonely Heathcliff, an orphan whose true love, Catherine, is kept from him first by social status and then death. However, despite the myriad tragedies that permeate every page of this novel, the romance between Catherine and Heathcliff remains one of the most iconic love stories of all time.
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Márquez
$9.93; buy now on Amazon
This 1985 novel by Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Márquez will make converts out of even the most romance-averse readers. Following the generation-spanning love story of protagonists Fermina and Florentino as they lose and find each other at various points in life, this classic will have even the biggest cynics believing in true love.
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
$13.81; buy now on Amazon
Set against the backdrop of World War I, this Hemingway classic is every bit as romantic as it is tragic. Following the love story of American paramedic Frederic and his British-born paramour Catherine, the book’s beautiful prose and the protagonists’ dedication to one another can make any reader swoon. After all, who wouldn’t be charmed by lines like, “When I saw her I was in love with her. Everything turned over inside of me. She looked toward the door, saw there was no one, then she sat on the side of the bed and leaned over and kissed me”?
The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo
$13.38; buy now on Amazon
Jill Santopolo’s 2017 novel, The Light We Lost, begs the question: can we ever truly get over our first love? Despite the year, continents, and painful devastating events that promise to keep them apart, protagonists Lucy and Gabe’s love for one another never fades—so make sure to keep the tissues handy.
Love Story by Erich Segal
$6.98; buy now on Amazon
The 1970 novel that predated the beloved film of the same name, Love Story isn’t your typical star-crossed romance. It is, however, about as heart-wrenching as love stories come—and, of course, the origin of the classic line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simmons
$15.19; buy now on Amazon
Set in 1940s Russia, Paullina Simmons’ 2000 romance novel is all about the many ways in which love can overcome adversity. A bloody backdrop never diminishes the protagonists’ pursuit of freedom, nor their love for one another, making this a particularly poignant read during the current period of global political unrest.
Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin
$13.39; buy now on Amazon
At the intersection of romance and fantasy is Mark Helprin’s 1983 novel, Winter’s Tale. Beyond the overarching romantic plot, the book also packs mythical creatures, gang violence, ghosts, and time travel, making it a page-turner even for the most romance-averse.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
$11.51; buy now on Amazon
You don’t have to be a huge young adult fan to appreciate the literary genius that went into Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park. This tale of two outcasts who fall in love in their Nebraska hometown in the 1980s is the perfect antidote to every teen movie where the main characters have to change who they are to be deemed worthy of love.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
$10.87; buy now on Amazon
Tolstoy’s 1878 masterpiece is every bit as romantic today as it was 140 years ago. While the 800-page novel isn’t exactly a beach read, its themes of social class, fidelity, passion, and jealousy, are just as applicable to a modern audience as they were to the first readers of the Russian classic.
Just Kids by Patti Smith
$7.27; buy now on Amazon
While romance is genre mostly comprised of fiction, Just Kids is a must-read exception to that rule. The book, written by singer and artist Patti Smith, chronicles her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe during their early 20s in New York. And while the book offers an insider look into two the lives of the world’s foremost artistic talents, it’s just as much a love letter by Smith to her late companion.
Bright Star by John Keats
$15.99; buy now on Amazon
If you’ve ever wanted some inspiration on how to knock the object of your affection’s socks off, look no further than Bright Star. Even if collection of love letters from John Keats to Fanny Brawe doesn’t move you to tears, it will definitely have you rethinking those sappy cards you usually send your significant other.
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
$9.94; buy now on Amazon
The “food of love” takes on a new meaning with Laura Esquivel’s 1989 erotic novel Like Water for Chocolate. Unique in form, thanks to the recipes that precede each chapter, this tale of lovers kept apart by their families also touches on countless time-honored romantic themes, including jealousy, infidelity, and tradition, making for a book that’s equal parts heartbreaking and inspiring.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
$2.95; buy now on Amazon
Even if you didn’t find Jane Eyre fascinating when you read it in middle school, it’s well worth taking another pass at as an adult. Exploring the relationship between the titular protagonist and her love, Mr. Rochester, the book’s themes of love and longing will have even modern audiences overcome with emotion.
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
$12.80; buy now on Amazon
Fantasy fans won’t be able to put down Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches. While ostensibly about protagonist Diana Bishop’s life as a witch, the book is also a love story—and better yet for those into romantic fiction, this one’s got vampires.
The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller
$4.95; buy now on Amazon
Selling over 60 million copies, you can bet that The Bridges of Madison County is every bit as romantic as critics and fans say it is. The novella, set in 1960s Iowa, may be about a romantic affair between a married woman and a handsome stranger, but it’s just as much about the nature of romance and heartbreak.
Love and Other Train Wrecks by Leah Konen
$12.59; buy now on Amazon
If you’ve ever wondered if you can fall in love with someone having only just met them, Love and Other Train Wrecks will convince you it’s possible. In fact, this teen romance is so charming, you might just start believing you can find love in even the most hopeless places—like Amtrak.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
$11.69; buy now on Amazon
Even readers who typically shun historical fiction will fall in love with The Book Thief. While the book’s main characters maintain a platonic relationship throughout the novel—set against the backdrop of the Nazi regime in Germany—there’s a romantic undercurrent in their budding friendship even the most stone-hearted can’t deny.
The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
$7.19; buy now on Amazon
One of the most popular romantic novels of all time, The Thorn Birds has sold 33 million copies worldwide—and with good reason. Even for those who don’t openly embrace the romantic genre, the family saga that props up the plot will speak to readers from all walks of life.
Love Poems by Pablo Neruda
$10.76; buy now on Amazon
If you’ve ever wanted to sweep someone off their feet with words, but haven’t been able to get your style to progress past basic rhyming couplets, let Neruda do the work. No matter the occasion, a verse from any of the works in Love Poems is sure to wow your rapt audience.
The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks
$15.52; buy now on Amazon
Sure, everyone’s seen the movie by now. But the Nicholas Sparks novel that preceded the Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams mega-hit is still well worth the read.
Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman
$13.54; buy now on Amazon
Looking for a love story that isn’t your typical boy-meets-girl tale? In Call Me By Your Name, the romance between Elio and Oliver is so beautiful, so heartbreaking, and rings so true to anyone who’s ever been in love, that you won’t be able to put it down.
Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
$13.36; buy now on Amazon
What do you get when you combine the Russian Revolution, romance, and so many character names you can’t keep count? Dr. Zhivago, a novel so stunningly complex and masterfully written you can’t just rely on the movie version to understand its nuances.
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
$17.19; buy now on Amazon
A meditation on the different kinds of love you can fall into with different people, this Murakami novel is a nostalgic look at what love really means—and what’s left in its place when we lose it. And for more essential reading material, discover The 30 Best-Selling Novels of All Time.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
$12.00; buy now on Amazon
Fantasy lovers, rejoice. If you’ve been looking to start reading romance, The Night Circus is the ideal way to start, thanks to its rich basis in fantasy and the paranormal, with just the right amount of romance thrown in.
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
$14.40; buy now on Amazon
While, at first glance, Audrey Niffenegger’s 2003 novel seems to be about the impact of time travel on a relationship, upon further inspection, it begs the question so many romance novels seek to answer: “What’s really worth waiting for?”
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
$10.87; buy now on Amazon
Equal parts beautiful and mournful, The Remains of the Day’s protagonist wonders, like so many others do in their real life, how their life might have been changed for the better if they had been with the person they truly loved.
The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams
$16.30; buy now on Amazon
Themes of love, money, and romance blend seamlessly together in Beatriz Williams’ The Summer Wives. And while social class is at the forefront of the novel’s plot, its romance is as gripping as it is heartbreaking.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
$12.21; buy now on Amazon
A tragic romance if there ever was one, the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan is among the most heartbreaking to ever grace the page. And even if you’re not reading Gatsby—widely considered the archetypal great American novel—for the romance, read it for Fitzgerald’s stunning prose alone.
The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
$14.53; buy now on Amazon
YA novels have come a long way in the past few decades. Case in point: Nicola Yoon’s The Sun is Also a Star, a poignant, and often heartbreaking, look at how one romance can change your whole life.
One Day by David Nicholls
$10.99; buy now on Amazon
Set on the same day each year over the course of two decades, this romantic novel explores the protagonists’ love, longing, and losses. Just make sure you’re ready for some serious ugly-crying before diving in.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
$9.99; buy now on Amazon
The book series the popular TV show is based on, Outlander combines historical fiction, romance, and time travel for a truly gripping read even staunchly anti-romance readers can get behind.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
$11.99; buy now on Amazon
The love between the two main characters in Me Before You doesn’t start out that way. In fact, it’s practically animosity at first—until it blooms into something beautiful, heartbreaking, and becomes a relationship that will ring true to readers from all walks of life. And for more ways to keep your romance on the right track, check out these 40 Old-Fashioned Relationship Tips That Still Apply Today.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
$9.90; buy now on Amazon
Childhood friendship blooms into romance between orphaned Pip and beautiful Estella in this time-honored. And for anyone who’s ever had an obstacle standing in the way of their love for someone, this Dickens classic is sure to both uplift you and break your heart.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
$7.59; buy now on Amazon
Who says that a book about serious illness can’t be uplifting? The Fault in Our Stars, which follows two teens who meet in a cancer support group, is as much about illness as it is finding that love can spring from the most unlikely places.
A Stitch in Time by Amanda James
$14.31; buy now on Amazon
Want a little time travel with your romance? Then you’ll love A Stitch in Time by Amanda James, a perfect introduction to the genre for the generally romance-avoidant.
Then There Was You by Miranda Liasson
$12.99; buy now on Amazon
A small town romance with a big heart, Miranda Liasson’s Then There Was You manages to avoid saccharine sappiness while being about as charmingly romantic a novel as you’ll find anywhere.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
$8.55; buy now on Amazon
If you haven’t read this Jane Austen classic, it’s time to remedy that. After all, where else are you going to read charming, albeit antiquated lines like, “A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment”?
Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
$9.87; buy now on Amazon
A great twist on the classic boy-meets-girl paradigm, Boy Meets Boy is a teen romance for the modern age.
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
$6.99; buy now on Amazon
You may have seen the movie, but if you haven’t read The Princess Bride, you’re missing out. Full of comedy, fantasy, adventure, and one of the most romantic love stories of all time, you don’t have to be a romance lover to fall in love with this book.
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
$16.16; buy now on Amazon
One of the most classic romances in modern history, Gone With the Wind tackles social, political, and romantic themes, making it feel virtually as applicable today as it did when it was first published in 1936.
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