It’s hard enough to find someone worthy of a second date, let alone worthy of your heart. This Valentine’s Day, pick up one of these books for more insight into that most intangible and mysterious thing: true love.
In his truly fascinating history of online dating, Love in the Time of Algorithms, Dan Slater traces the concept as far back as the 1960s, when a geeky Harvard undergrad gave up on mixers and devised a $3 matchmaking questionnaire that was then transferred to a punch card and fed through an IBM computer the size of a bookcase. In fact, Slater’s own parents met through one such service, which spat out a printed list of matched college students and mailing addresses—a far cry from today’s sophisticated services, like Match.com and OkCupid, which use complicated algorithms to match up potential suitors. But doesn’t some valuable information get lost when we go online to find love? What about scent, a hair toss, a flirtatious look? Turns out, that doesn’t matter as much as we once thought. “People will use whatever communication tools they have at their disposal to connect,” Slater concludes. “A mood becomes an emoticon. A fast email response communicates warmth. . . . Of course, you can’t smell the person you’re looking at—until later—but meanwhile, the computer is crunching more information than you could ever gather in a glance across the bar.”
Betsy Prioleau may be an academic, but she writes like a dream. A study of the history and science of seducers, Swoon is sharp, sexy and completely engrossing. Prioleau examines both why some men are great seducers and how they do it. And Paul Newman-like looks don’t factor into the equation as much as one might think. Take Luke, a 31-year-old Brit living in Baltimore: “Luke is a too tall six feet seven inches, with chipmunk cheeks, a receding hairline, and rectangular geek glasses,” writes Prioleau, who heard about Luke from no fewer than four women. “Yet he’s an erotic mage with a flair for the pleasures of the flesh.” (See the book for more on that—probably not suitable for inclusion in this family publication.) Whether Prioleau is writing about Casanova, Bill Clinton or the great French actor Gérard Depardieu (“I turn around, and it’s as though I’ve touched a live socket”), she brings to life those elusive qualities of the world’s great seducers.
LIFE AFTER ‘I DO’
In these times of disposable marriages, the story of Barbara “Cutie” Cooper and husband Harry inspires: They met in 1937 and spent the next 73 years together. “He thought I was special, and I agreed with him,” Cooper writes. “So as long as he thought I was the kingpin, what was there to discuss?” Their granddaughters Kim and Chinta started a blog in 2008 called The OGs (Original Grandparents), where they shared videos chronicling their grandparents’ love story. The blog translates nicely to their book Fall in Love for Life, a delightfully sweet mix of memoir and self-help. Cutie offers smart and surprisingly modern advice on love: “Make time in your busy life for romantic getaways,” she advises. “Turn off the cell phones and leave the computer at home. You’d be amazed what just a night or two away from it all can do for your love life.” Now in her 90s, and a widow since 2010, Cutie has clearly kept her perspective and her humor. “Harry was always five years my senior, which means that he had five years to sow his wildest oats before I came along,” she writes. “Maybe this means that the next five years are all for me to enjoy, so that we come out equal in the end.”