I grew up in a house full of poetry and the classics. Slim, gloomy volumes filled the bookshelves and piled up on the tables. My father, Robert Bly, recited anti-war poetry at the supper table; my mother, Carol Bly, preferred lugubrious Russian novelists and would counter with ethical advice gleaned from Turgenev.
My own taste in reading was — to my parents' minds — philistine. I wanted books with love, and devoured Austen's novels and Harlequin Romances with equal joy. My only requirement was passion, and lots of it. One summer, while languishing at camp, I begged my mother for books. She sent Anna Karenina and a history of the Romanov court. I read Anna Karenina three times but never made it to the demise of the Russian royal family.
Decades later, I have never outgrown my preference for romance, no matter the genre in which a love affair might appear. The five books I'm recommending here — three novels and two memoirs — are books I would have welcomed that long-ago summer, had they existed and had my mother been more inclined to indulge my habit. Though only a couple of them fall squarely under the label "romance," all five involve passionate matters of the heart.