Tell me a love story...or two...or forty-two

Modern Love: True Stories of Love, Loss, and Redemption

I am a sucker for a good love story; or even a so-so one.

Heartbreak. Happiness. Half-way in between. I am here for all of it. Love stories are my favorite stories, especially when they are true, so it felt natural to start this newsletter off with a curated selection of them. You are likely already familiar with the Modern Love column in the New York Times that for fifteen years has been sharing personal essays written by readers across the pages of the Styles section. But have you read beyond the greatest hits?

Modern Love: True Stories of Love, Loss, and Redemption. Edited by Daniel Jones. Broadway Books. 2019. Paperback.

How did I get the book?

I visited Strand Books to pick up a birthday gift for a friend this past November (a signed copy of Zadie Smith’s Grand Union) and got distracted by a table of new essay collections, as one does. I was already familiar with the column but knew I had missed a lot. Also, I was sort of a sucker for the cover doodles by Brian Rea. Who doesn’t love a good doodle?

You can purchase the book for yourself here and support independent bookstores!

What did I think?

Modern Love has been called out in the past for its exhaustive representation of white, middle- to upper-class heterosexual relationships, which is a valid and necessary observation of the column. It can also be tone-deaf. No example is clearer of this than the very first essay the column ever published about a straight white man refusing to accept a break-up, emailing a woman desperately trying to get back in touch when from the onset, her position is made painfully clear: she’s no longer interested. I have a feeling a similar narrative would not make it past the slush test of the column’s email inbox today.

This revised collection appears to want to move toward a more complex and nuanced future for the column, shining a fresh spotlight on recently published essays that deal with diverse relationships and a full, encompassing definition of love. The column’s editor, Daniel Jones, has said that this has always been at the forefront of his mind when selecting pieces, but this collection makes it feel easier to believe.

“The Five Stages of Ghosting Grief” by Rachel Fields brilliantly tackles that special anxiety of a new, digital-age relationship, trying to figure out who likes you and if you even like them back or if they just photographed well. Cris Beam’s “Just Holding on Through the Curves” explores what it means to be a foster mom to a teenager when she is hardly an adult herself, whereas Aaron Long writes of the strange, happy consequences of sperm donation in “First I Met My Children, Then My Girlfriend. They’re Related.” And the crown jewel, of course, is Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s piece published ten days before her death from ovarian cancer, written in the hopes that her husband will again find love.

Forty-two essays unfold in different scales of success, but one thing vibrates clearly throughout them all: the power love has to change us. That is precisely why I love them so much.

Final verdict?

🌟 3.5/5 — Good Plus

I enjoyed the majority of the essays curated here, most especially those that have had less of an afterlife (see more in Beyond the Book below). However, the Modern Love restrictions often leave the pieces feeling a little clipped. If the author manages to get me invested, I want more. Unfortunately, you don't always get it. But want you do have it pretty great, so perhaps I shouldn’t be too greedy.

Overall, this collection offers readers unfamiliar with the column a representative taste of what it has to offer. It will also manage to excite more well-versed readers with essays they might have missed over the years. For everyone, I believe there will be at least once piece that will stay with them long after the book finds a place back on the shelf. It might even inspire you to get yourself a Times Sunday subscription.

I also curated this short, fun playlist of songs all entitled “Modern Love,” in case you need something to set the mood when digging in.

Beyond the book.

Modern Love is far more than a column or a book now. First, it took the shape of a podcast produced by WBUR for 3.5 years where actors and actresses read their favorite columns (plus get an update from the writers). The New York Times will be taking it over in-house with new episodes coming soon. And of course, there’s also the Amazon Prime series, which includes many of the essays from this updated collection.

But before it was all of that, long ago in 2015, I had the opportunity to interview Daniel Jones about the column and its special college essay contest (which they shared on their Facebook page and made me feel infinitely cool). You can listen to it here.

See you again soon!

Rachel x