How to Romance a Book Lover Without Giving a Book

Bloom Books, an imprint of Sourcebooks.

You are cordially invited to the wedding of the decade, when Christian Grey will make Anastasia Steele his wife. But is he really husband material? His dad is unsure, his brother wants to organize one helluva bachelor party, and his fiancée won’t vow to obey… Their passion for each other burns hotter than ever, but Ana’s defiant spirit continues to stir Christian’s darkest fears and tests his need for control. As old rivalries and resentments endanger them both, one misjudgment threatens to tear them apart. Can Christian overcome his childhood nightmares, and save himself? Can Christian finally be freed?

Grand gestures are impressive, but let’s face it: they’re hard to sustain. As a book lover, you need to woo me for longer than a single but impressive chapter. Real romance is found in the small gestures, the personal touches, the little acts to show you are paying attention. You don’t need romance novels to know what I’m talking about. If you really want to romance a book lover, you don’t even need to give them a book. You just need to read one. 

Follow the Classics

Classics are called “classics” for a reason. They transcend time. They take us to places filled with love and nostalgia, without ever needing to be about romance. It’s magic. And if your would-be lover is a lover of classics, don’t try to understand. Let it inspire you. 

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll is a great place to start. It is filled with whimsical tales and fantastic characters, each with their own flamboyant expressions. It is also easy to capture the spirit of the book. There is one scene that upstages all other scenes: the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. It is iconic in literary history and one that is easy to emanate. The trick is not to try and out-do the madness of Wonderland. They are all mad and have been for so much longer than any of us. Start with small things: a simple cup of tea (the more mismatched the tea-set the better). The magic is not in the tea but in the moment itself; sit down and enjoy it together. If you really want to make it special, bring some biscuits/cookies and a deck of cards for your own private event. 

Anne of Green Gables is also a classic and definitely not a romance book; Anne Shirley would never allow it. She may dream of grand gestures and romantic suitors sweeping her off her feet but the truth is Anne-the-orphan is simply wanting someone who belongs in her life. Any Anne of Green Gables fan will know the importance of the pink candy heart. After Gilbert Blythe utters his fateful word “Carrots!”, Anne is determined to remain cold to him forever. Gilbert tries to apologise with a pink candy sweetheart, ‘You are Sweet’ but alas! It is to no avail. At least not for many years, when they eventually do become friends. Until that point, the candy sweethearts are always considered the ultimate peace-offering — a hope for forgiveness and a chance to find a place in someone’s life. 

A More Contemporary Touch

Reading is an evolving art form, and our love of books grows with time. Modern storytelling is allowed more freedom to express feelings, exploring relationships in a greater range of settings. I cannot express enough how important it is for us to see romance in all its beautiful array! Race, colour, religion, identity, sexuality — all of it! Some of us struggle with the idea of screaming it from the mountaintop, but the small consistent gestures from our favourite novels may say it loud enough. 

origami in books

My absolute favourite example from modern literature is Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan. Okay, so this is totally a romantic novel but it is also more than that. Boy Meets Boy is the book Levithan wished he had been able to read when he was a teenage boy. It centres on Paul, an openly gay teen who lives in an LGBT-friendly small town. While the story includes multiple relationships amongst the characters, there is one part where Paul spends a week slowly wooing the boy he loves. 

I cannot emphasise enough the impact a safe and supportive environment has on our emotional development. Paul has grown up in a community where he is comfortable with his sexuality, his feelings, and his love. This support gives him room to develop his emotional maturity; a journey shared with us throughout the book. It means Paul knows when to show his feelings and respects when to slow down to give them space to breathe. And while there is a slightly grand gesture of origami flowers decorating a school hallway, there is also a lot of focus on the smaller acts: Paul buys 20 rolls of film for Noah because he is interested in photography. The key here is finding the personal intimate message to share.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro cover

Not all contemporary book lovers are so easy to woo. Fans of the dystopian future genre may be less trusting of romantic gestures. That doesn’t mean we are less interested in romance; we simply need a little reminder to allow ourselves to hope for a future with romance in it.

Take inspiration from Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. While delving into the ethical questions about human cloning and organ harvesting, Ishiguro takes a moment to consider how humans can prove their value as individuals. Is it in our physical sacrifice and need for survival? Or is it in the small expressions of love and emotion for others? The story allows hope for our main characters to escape the organ harvest environment if they can prove their love for another; even with something simple like the creative expression in a painting. While a picture paints a thousand words, it can also paint a myriad of emotions. Books like Never Let Me Go dig deep into our sense of personal value. With the intimate touch of a personal painting, you might be able to woo the heart of any dystopian fan. 

Romantic gestures do not need to be as obvious as a painting. Remember: You are wooing the book lover, not the book. It is about the personal connection you have with them, and the connection they have with their books. While reading Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko, it was impossible to resist the connection between land and people. Every relationship with the characters was highlighted by their spirit as both individuals and their community. This is a dark yet funny novel, brutal and yet endearing as it shares the lives of the Goorie community — Indigenous Australians from the north coast of New South Wales. 

Oh, and it has a talking shark. Okay, seriously, it is key to the story as sharks have often been symbolic, as a sign of bravery and fearlessness, to coastal Australian Indigenous people. The same characteristics shared with the main character, Kerry Salter. When reading a book as powerful as Too Much Lip, we can’t help reaching for symbols to give us some connectivity. Some hope that we can recover from damage. If you want to woo a strong, fearless bibliophile, start with a shark. 

Romance Can Be Graphic

Not like that. We’re talking graphic novels. There are many romantic gestures to note in graphic novels. Top of the list is The Way of the Househusband by Kousuke Oono. This is a Japanese manga series about an ex-Yakuza boss who has given up the life of crime to become a househusband. It’s a pretty big gesture to leave the Yakuza for the person you love and an even bigger gesture to become a househusband in Japan. But that’s not what nails it for me. 

No, the simple gesture to make me weak at the knees is the unbelievable commitment he gives to making the most perfect bento boxes for his wife’s lunch. The Way of the Househusband is absolutely a seduction manual for any house-spouse out there.

Equally powerful in the art of romance is Saga by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples. This is not your standard comic book; prepare yourself for side-glances if you choose to read it in a public space (though, in saying that, I had a little old lady gasp with shock when she glanced at a page over my shoulder…and then, two minutes later, try to surreptitiously read more).

Saga takes the graphic in its ‘graphic novel’ description as far as it can possibly go. However, it also has some serious relationship goals between Marko and Alana. As their respective planets fight to the death, these two find a connection in the romantic prose of a book filled with coded messages to end The War. They bond while she reads to him (albeit, she is the guard to his imprisonment). Despite their surroundings and circumstances, it is the intimate sharing of a book to bring them together. You don’t need to buy a book for your lover. Grab their favourite and start reading to them. Right now. 

One More for the Road

I have one more example of a small romantic gesture. It comes from One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston, a contemporary romantic comedy with a sci-fi twist. The story is set in New York, with a large chunk of it featuring the daily subway commute. Here, August meets Jane — girl meets gorgeous girl. And suddenly the subway commute is no longer ‘every day’ ordinary. While the book is top of my TBR list, the idea of romanticising the subway is a sweet way to woo your would-be lover. Buy the train tickets to the end of your line, and give them the time to enjoy the view (or catch up on reading). It could be an adventure together or simply a moment in time to share. 

Okay, fine. Buy them the book and tuck the train tickets in as bookmarks. You don’t need to give a book to romance a book-lover. 

But it sure doesn’t hurt either. 

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