Valentine’s Day is approaching, and if you’re like us, you’re feeling a little bogged down by all the red hearts and pink balloons — not to mention the swooning romantic novels popping up everywhere. If you’re feeling like a love story on this most ruddy of holidays, but looking for something a little different, we’ve got you covered. Click through for our list of our favorite unconventional love stories — told through diagrams, musical notation or some other interesting format — and let us know if we’ve left off your favorite in the comments.
Schematics: a Love Story , Julian Hibbard
A love story told in geometric diagrams paired with simple, searching lines of prose and all printed on black cardboard, this book probes at how elemental and enormous love can feel, as well as how minute and specific. As David LaRocca writes in the afterword, “Schematics operates simultaneously on two distinctive registers: the deeply personal (a love story between the narrator and the objects of his affection, desire, and confusion) and the profoundly anonymous (a love story within matter — subject to gravity, magnetism, genetics, mechanics, electricity, and the space-time continuum.”
This book, one of our all-time favorite love stories of any kind, is an auction catalog that sorts and identifies the detritus from a failed love affair. The relationship unfolds and crumbles in tchotchkes, mix tapes, snapshots, and sets of dishes, and best of all, Shapton never breaks down and gives us any sort of exposition — we’re given the great joy of sifting through it all for ourselves.
The Lover’s Dictionary , David Levithan
Just like it sounds, this is a sweet love story told in dictionary form, jumping around temporally, each entry anything from a phrase to a short story in and of itself, defining words in the only context that matters — the narrator’s relationship with his lover. One of our favorite definitions: “autonomy, n. ‘I want my books to have their own shelves,’ you said, and that’s how I knew it would be okay to live together.”
Sound: a Novel , T.M. Wolf
This strange, upcoming debut novel is based on the anatomy of records and musical notation, written by a hip-hop obsessive who moves song lyrics and thoughts up and down the page on a literal musical staff, the thoughts breaking a few beats after the dialogue so the whole thing turns into a song in your head. In this way, his protagonist wanders away from graduate school and onto the boardwalk, where he pursues a mysterious woman and dodges some even more mysterious pursuers.
Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence , Nick Bantock
This is an epistolary novel in the best way — a romance between two artists who have never met, rendered in a series of removable, fondable, foldable letters and postcards. Plus, as you might expect, the book is full of beautiful illustrations, and you can never go wrong with that.
Only Revolutions , Mark Z. Danielewski
In Danielewski’s follow up to cult favorite House of Leaves, he tells the story of two teenage lovers on an existential road trip, as weird and mind-bending as you might expect. Each protagonist starts from opposite ends of the story, writing on either side of the same page, limited to 180 words per page each, until page 180 (half of 360, a complete rotation), when they each get half a page.
Love is a Mixtape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time , Rob Sheffield
In Sheffield’s heartbreaking tale, he uses the universal medium — mixtapes — to tell the story of the love of his life, their years together, and her death. And really, how better to explain?
The Original of Laura , Vladimir Nabokov
The unconventional format of Nabokov’s posthumous work (which he instructed his heirs to destroy) is more a testament to the author than the story, but it still merits a place here. Nabokov always did his storyboarding with a set of index cards, rifling through them as he wrote, and the unfinished The Original of Laura was constructed after his death from a “manuscript” consisting of 138 of these cards. In the edition designed by Chip Kidd, you can pop out recreations of the cards and reorganize them as you see fit — though whether you’d get a better story or not, we can’t really say.
The Tragedy of Arthur , Arthur Phillips
This Pale Fire-influenced narrative centers around a “lost” Shakespeare play about King Arthur, filled with helpful footnotes from an editor desperate to prove it as a hoax perpetrated by his con man father. The play’s “introduction” is the narrative, a story about a fictionalized Arthur Phillips who yes, falls in love with his sister’s girlfriend, but more importantly tries to navigate his relationship with his father and his own childhood through the reading of this suspicious text.
A Visit From the Goon Squad , Jennifer Egan
Though this multi-narrator, multi-plot novel isn’t always about romantic love, we thought it enough of a love story — to family, to friends, to music — to include it here. Temporally and spatially non-linear, and even containing one chapter told entirely in graph form, there’s something for everyone in this novel.