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Lovestruck

My own literary concern with love began in adolescence when I read the modern classics of Europe: Gide's Counterfeiters and Mann's Death in Venice, both about the unrequited love of an older man for a boy; Pierre Louÿs's Aphrodite, about an Alexandrian courtesan; Cocteau's Enfants terribles, about a brother and sister. I memorized these books and, in a way, relived them.

My longest "affair" was with Jim Holmes. We lived together for 33 years until his death in 1999. The physical lust faded after the first 36 months. Then our rapport bloomed into shared concerns -- musical, political, educational -- which were surely broader than "mere" friendship. Indeed, we signed our occasional notes to each other: "With more than love."

Ned Rorem is a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and the author of "The Paris Diary," "The New York Diary" and "Knowing When to Stop."

Susan Isaacs

Edward Rochester is my kind of guy: intelligent, complex, sardonic and bored by rich, beautiful women. But what makes Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre my favorite love story is not only her couple's mutual passion but Jane Eyre's character. Here is a female protagonist who does not lose her moral compass, whose brain does not turn to fondant the moment she becomes enraptured.

From childhood on, Jane stands up to injustice. Once she discovers that Rochester is irrevocably married (albeit to a madwoman living in the attic), she leaves him at the altar. Rather than do wrong, she is willing to turn her back on the man she loves, on civilization, and face the wild.

Jane Eyre's life often seems like a long road comprising mostly rough patches. Yet she doesn't view herself as a victim. Instead, she does the best with what she has, and has room not just for herself, but for others. What a brave dame! Ernest Hemingway famously said courage is grace under pressure. He must have been reading Charlotte Brontë.

Susan Isaacs is the author of "Close Relations"; her most recent novel is "Any Place I Hang My Hat."

James Hynes

John Crowley's magnificent fantasy novel Little, Big is also an epic family saga, the sort with a family tree in the front, and the bright red line that runs through that tree is the happy marriage of Smoky Barnable and Daily Alice Drinkwater. Their youthful courtship in the first chapter captures better than any other account I know the giddy mixture of joy and incredulity of a young man in love, that lucky-bastard feeling of disbelief that this stunning, ethereal and even wise creature could possibly fall in love with a toad like me. And even more miraculously, this love survives through children, infidelity, aging and the end of the world as we know it. In the saddest and most beautiful ending I've ever read, one of them dies and the other (because this is a fantasy) becomes royalty among the fairies, and the survivor preserves the memory of their anniversary as a summer's day "of such brilliance, a morning so new, an afternoon so endless, that the whole world would remember it ever after."

James Hynes is the author of "The Lecturer's Tale" and "Kings of Infinite Space."

Paul Theroux

When I read recently that Arthur Miller, nearly 90, was engaged in a dalliance with an artistic woman in her mid-thirties ("I had thought he was dead!" she confided to an interviewer), my mind raced back with pleasure to one of the last short stories V.S. Pritchett ever wrote, "On the Edge of the Cliff."

Set on the Cornish cliffs, this unexpected love story about a man in his seventies and a woman of 25 is only glancingly sexual, yet it is vividly physical. The man's young lover sees him in the morning: "His glasses were off and he had finished shaving and he turned a face savaged to the point of saintliness by age, but with a heavy underlip that made him look helplessly brutal. She laughed at the soap in his ears."

Later, the old man bumps into a former mistress: She too has a young lover. Noticing the old man's reveries, his young lover asks him what he's thinking about.

"He was going to say, 'At my age one is always thinking about death,' but he said, 'You.' "

Paul Theroux is the author of "The Mosquito Coast" and "Dark Safari"; his most recent book is "The Stranger at the Palazzo d'Oro and Other Stories."

Gail Godwin

Anton Chekhov wrote "The Lady with the Little Dog" in 1899, when his tuberculosis forced him to live out his winters in "the hot Siberia" of Yalta while his future wife, the young actress Olga Knipper, stayed in Moscow to star in his plays. The point of view throughout this extraordinary and unforgettable story is that of Dmitri Gurov, a cynical, married philanderer, as he seduces a young married woman he has seen walking with her little Pomeranian by the sea at Yalta. ("And only now when his head was grey he had fallen properly, really in love -- for the first time in his life.") In the process, Gurov minutely observes his whole life, and yet to the end he remains a mystery to himself. More than any other love story I know, "Lady" illustrates how no love affair is ever generic: It is as peculiar and irreplaceable as its set of lovers.

Gail Godwin is the author of "The Finishing School" and "The Good Husband"; her next novel, "Queen of the Underworld," and her memoir, "The Making of a Writer," will be published simultaneously next year.

Nick Hornby

I know it's everybody's favorite book of all time, but reading Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude nearly killed me; it certainly did a good job of convincing me that magical realism wasn't ever going to be my thing. ("Hold on . . . people can just do what they want? Whenever they want to do it?") So I have no idea why I read Love in the Time of Cholera shortly afterward. I was in my twenties, and I dimly recall that it seemed to me at the time that I was going to be in love with the same unattainable woman for all eternity, and then I found a novel dealing explicitly and perfectly with this unhappy state. My own misery lasted just long enough to enable me to finish the novel and weep; if you find yourself in a similar place, pop a copy in the post to the relevant party today. It can't do any harm -- unless a little old man or lady knocks on your door in 50 years' time, expecting long-deferred and rapturous sexual union.

Nick Hornby is the author of "High Fidelity" and "How to Be Good."

Kay Redfield Jamison

In the months following my husband's death, I reread three of my favorite love stories: Graham Greene's The End of the Affair, Lewis Grassic Gibbon's Sunset Song and Alfred, Lord Tennyson's In Memoriam. All deal with love, death and the struggle to find that which endures. All grapple with doubt and faith. Of the three, Tennyson's beautiful and complex elegy affected me the most deeply, perhaps because his pain was so raw and his description of loss so real: the mourning, and then the dreadful missing; the "wild unrest that lives in woe"; the nights and seasons that pass unshared. Yet hope prevails -- despair cannot indefinitely "live with April days, / Or sadness in the summer moons" -- and love, however altered by time and circumstance, remains: "[The years] they went and came, / Remade the blood and changed the frame,/ And yet is love not less, but more."

Kay Redfield Jamison is a professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and author of "An Unquiet Mind"; her most recent book is "Exuberance."


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