The Best Love Stories of All Time

Books in which man meets woman, man woos woman (or, woman woos man) and man and woman live happily ever after are a dime a dozen. Enjoyable, for sure, but not what you’d call memorable. So, the editors at Reader’s Digest Select Editions have come up with a list of 10 favorite, and timeless, love stories, each of which goes above and beyond basic romance.

1. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough (1977)
Set in 1915 Australia, this remarkable saga chronicles the forbidden love between a beautiful, headstrong young girl and a priest. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll stay up way too late reading this fabulous story.

2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë/Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (both 1847)
Really, how can you pick one Brontë over the other? Who is more romantic, Heathcliff or Mr. Rochester? Whose moors are mistier, whose foggy English countryside is more moody, whose manor house is more creepy? It’s a tie — both timeless romances are not to be missed.

3. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje (1992)
Haunting and beautiful, Ondaatje’s award-winning novel tells the story of four war-damaged souls living in an Italian monastery at the end of WWII, and the love story between two of them, the exhausted nurse Hana, and the severely burned unnamed English patient. Unforgettably unique.

4. True Believers by Nicholas Sparks (2005)
The latest 4-hanky love story by the master of sweet, heartwarming romantic tales. This one features a hotshot New York journalist and a plain-speaking Southern librarian, both of whom have been hurt by love before. Their differences are forgotten when love blossoms in this wonderfully escapist romantic read.

5. The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles (1969)
A Victorian gentleman is engaged to a wealthy and suitable woman, but when he encounters a beautiful, mysterious woman rumored to be the forsaken lover of a French lieutenant, he becomes utterly smitten. Truly magnificent entertainment.

6. Chesapeake Blue by Nora Roberts (2002)
Passion abounds in this romance set on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where the rough-hewn Seth Quinn wins over Drusilla, the town’s icy beauty. Great characters, great dialogue, fun and steamy scenes. True, Roberts has written a gazillion love stories, but this one is a real standout.

7. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)
An aging butler named Stevens, who has performed his job to perfection for more than three decades, reflects on his life. But underneath his controlled exterior lurks a passionate and romantic soul that has been quashed during his years of unblemished service. In the twilight of his life, Stevens learns what love is all about. A fine literary novel.

8. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877)
Trapped in a loveless marriage, Anna Karenina succumbs to temptation and embarks on a dangerous affair with the handsome Vronsky. Tragedy unfolds amid the canvas of 19th-century Russia, in the most famous of doomed love stories. A memorable and enduring classic.

9. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (1991)
A powerhouse time-travel romance, this is the first in Gabaldon’s hugely successful series. Strong, beautiful Claire Randall leads a double life, married to a man in one century, with a lover in another century. Filled with humor, passion, wit and wonderful Scottish scenery, this is one fast read for a 600-plus page book. Enjoy the wallow!

10. Follow the Stars Home by Luanne Rice (2000)
If you choose the wrong love, can you save your life from ruin? Years ago, thirtysomething Dianne married the wrong man — the sexy lobster fisherman — and not his kindly pediatrician brother. Years later, after tragedy strikes, can she reverse her bad fortune? Grab your tissues and find out in this touching weeper.
Whether it’s glimpsing 19th-century Russia in Anna Karenina, or witnessing endless family drama on the Australian outback in The Thorn Birds, or imagining time travel in Outlander, each of these fabulous books has something special. “These are much more than love stories; they are life stories,” says Select Editions editor-in-chief Laura Kelly. “If you like a good love story, books are so much more satisfying than movies,” she continues. “Books take you into the minds of all the characters, where their hopes and dreams will really fire up your own imagination.”

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