New York: The Age of Innocence , Edith Wharton
Much like your image of the one that got away, this novel — which won the Pulitzer in 1921 — just doesn’t age. In this beautiful love triangle, set in the socially constrained upper crust of 1870s New York City, the exotic Madame Olenska (whom Gore Vidal once deemed the most fascinating woman in literature) tempts the dashing Newland Archer, already promised to the demure May Welland. Intrigue! Passion! Withholding! After that, we’ll just direct you to Roxane Gay’s discussion of the brilliance of the book.
Ohio: Beloved, Toni Morrison
We think this is one of the best books written in the last century, so its inclusion is a no-brainer. At heart a story about survival and motherly love (and ghosts), this probably isn’t the book to give to a new boyfriend — but we bet your mom would appreciate it. It’s even the right color.
Texas: Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry
Ah, McMurtry’s classic 19th-century rambler bromance. The two owners of the Hat Creek Cattle Company couldn’t be more different — one is a charmer, the other a gruff workaholic — but they learn to count on one another, for better or for worse. There are some aching old love affairs in there too, to keep them warm at night.
Wisconsin: Blankets, Craig Thompson
Thompson’s autobiographical graphic novel is one of the best of the genre, and it functions both as a coming of age tale and a piercing love story — after all, as Cat Stevens knows, nothing cuts deeper than that first love.
Georgia: Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
We’ve always had mixed feelings about Miss Scarlett O’Hara, but there’s no denying that this is one of the great love stories of American literature — at least if you count greatness by number of swooning acolytes. Anyway, how can you blame them, with Rhett Butler as the “dark, mysterious, and slightly malevolent hero loose in the world,” and Scarlett as the pampered but rebellious Southern belle? Swoon-worthy, indeed.
California: Furious Love, Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger
How fitting, California. We can’t help it — we’re endlessly, obsessively, passionately fascinated by Elizabeth Taylor and everything she does. So yes, we love to gawk at “the marriage of the century” in all its bejeweled brilliance and private struggle. Brangelina doesn’t hold a candle.
Louisiana: A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams
We know, we know, another Southern belle causing trouble. What can we say? We’re charmed. This play, which won the Pulitzer in 1948, is one of the most influential in the modern canon, inspiring films, television adaptations, ballets, and even an opera. That’s what happens when you put someone as volatile as Stanley Kowalski in the room. Stella!
New Mexico: What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Raymond Carver
A veritable classic. In the title story of this epic collection, Mel, Terri, Laura, and Nick sit around a bucket of gin and talk — about love, of course, and the various ways it pains, destroys, warms, and nourishes them. This is another work that has inspired countless imitations, references and homages — a sure sign that it’s one of the American classic love stories, as completely un-standard a love story as it may be.
New Jersey: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao , Junot Diaz
This novel, one of the most contemporary on our list, is so many love stories in one: a thwarted first love, a bromance, a journey towards a love of self. It may not portray romantic love in the most cheery of lights, but hey, it’s a good deal more optimistic than This Is How You Lose Her .
Wyoming: Close Range: Wyoming Stories, Annie Proulx
Another classic of American short fiction, this collection is itself a love letter to the state of Wyoming, with all the angst and passion that implies. It also includes “Brokeback Mountain,” the raw power of which we probably don’t have to explain to you.