What is love? We look for it, long for it, lose it and anxiously chase after it again. We ought to know its definition, but just when we think we've pinned it down, it changes.

I read my "artistic" definition of love to my straightforward friend Elaine: "Being in love is like being in a hot tub out in the snow. While you're in it, the world is wonderful it's magic! But outside of it, the world is cold and cruel, and all you can think of is how to get back into that warmth and wonder." "That's nice," Elaine said. (Meaning "nonsense.") "But I'd say, ÔLove is like the flu: It strikes suddenly, knocks you off your feet, and before you know it lands you in bed.'" Same difference.

Whether or not February 14th finds you basking in love's warmth or out in the cold, we've found a collection of new books sure to sweeten your romantic outlook. A good place to start is with something familiar. Truly Mars &and Venus: The Illustrated Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, by John Gray, Ph.

D., (HarperCollins, $19.95, 160 pages, ISBN 0060085657) celebrates the 10th anniversary of the best-selling book that coined a concept which is now part of our collective mindset that men and women are so different it's as if they originated from different planets. One difference, for example, is the way they handle stress. Martians (men) deal with it by going alone into their "caves" to sort things out, whereas Venusians (women) de-stress by openly talking about their problems. Unless you're from another solar system, the gentle humor and pointed truths in this illustrated gift book are sure to lead toward better communication and more fun on Valentine's Day.

Of course, to understand members of the opposite sex you need to have one around. If you're caught in the revolving door of half-baked romances and long to find a solid, loving relationship, Ronda Britten's Fearless Loving: 8 Simple Truths That Will Change the Way You Date, Mate, and Relate (Dutton, $23.95, ISBN 0525947078) is a must-have resource. The author of Fearless Living and the founder of the Fearless Living Institute, Britten says that to conquer fear, you must be willing to make changes in yourself. "The pain you suffer in relationships is a direct result of staying faithful to your fears and to a past that no longer serves you . . . you must be willing to see things differently and make new choices and take new actions." Along with her simple truths, (among them: "Love is up to you" and "Chemistry is between your ears") Britten offers plenty of fear-busting exercises to move you forward on the path toward a more loving and loveable you.

Nothing says "love" ("aside from diamonds," Elaine says) better than poetry, and two charming new volumes would make great gifts: The 100 Best Love Poems of All Time, edited by Leslie Pockell, and Kiss Off: Poems to Set You Free, edited by Mary D. Esselman and Elizabeth Ash Velez (Warner, $14.95, ISBN 0446690287). The 100 Best Love Poems features everything from timeless classics like Shakespeare's "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day?" to modern pieces like Donald Hall's zany "Valentine." If you or someone you know is recovering from love gone wrong, Kiss Off might be a more appropriate choice. Designed to help the wounded move beyond heartbreak and regain strength and confidence, the poems are divided into sections such as Hurting: When Things Fall Apart, Hiding: When You Shut Down, and Believing: When You Stay Strong.

Then again, maybe your love life just needs a little TLC. If you're hoping to catch the "love bug," Chicken Soup for the Romantic Soul: Inspirational Stories about Love and Romance (HCI Books, $12.95, ISBN 0757300421) could be just the comfort food you and your Valentine need. This collection of heart-warming real-life stories reminds us that love, in all its many forms and by any other name, is part of all our stories, from the time we are young until "death do us part." Whether written by celebrities, professional humorists, or Chicken Soup readers, this compilation creates an uplifting and inspiring collage, sure to evoke some tears along with the smiles. There is enough romantic wit and wisdom tucked inside these books to impassion the dullest Romeo or warm up the coolest Juliet. Make up your own definition of love, and inscribe it, lovingly, in the dust jacket of your personalized Valentine gift!

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