The greatest of all Hallmark holidays, the day of St. Valentine is constructed to make couples feel obligated to go out on expensive and over-anticipated dates, while unnecessarily reminding single people of their status. Candy hearts and roses are meant to celebrate monogamy and “normal” love; but the origins of the holiday go back to Roman culture and involved whips, wolf skins and fertility orgies. Sound more your speed? Then these decidedly non-romantic books may be the right tonic for this holiday:
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: Mary Shelley’s still shocking novel is an affront to many things: religion, ego, scientific progress, but also love. The titular doctor creates a creature that he abandons out of disgust, only to have his creation haunt his every step and destroy all the people he loves. Talk about a bad ex. The book is a tragic exploration of freakishness and abandonment, an anthem to the lonely who will be spending the 14th with a large pizza for one.
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter: I’ve written about Angela Carter’s story collection several times, because it’s brilliant and needs to be read by everyone. Also, it’s subversive, lush, and totally sexy in the weirdest way possible. Who needs rom-coms when you can have bestiality and vampire lust? On top of that, it’s liberating and empowering—needed emotions in these times.
The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker: Were this a list of films, Hellraiser would be at the top. Clive Barker’s groundbreaking story of sadomasochistic deities features everything you need to flip traditional love the bird: murderous couples from beyond the grave, leather, chains, and a whole lot of blood. The novella also features more Cenobites than the film could afford, which makes for a few gleeful surprises.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde: What’s more fun than watching a pure young soul get totally destroyed by vice and desire? Oscar Wilde’s venture into gothic horror is a bleak, satirical, and beautiful look at the weight of sin on one’s soul, and its infectious nature as well. But best of all are Lord Henry’s scathing remarks on marriage (though the touch of sassy misogyny lessens the humor). "Never marry at all, Dorian. Men marry because they are tired; women, because they are curious: both are disappointed."
The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen: One of the first cosmic horror stories, Arthur Machen’s tale of fearsome aberrance shows what occurs when a mad scientist opens a mystical portal in a woman’s head, giving the god Pan an entryway. The unfortunate woman then gives birth to a half-human seductress who spends her time ruining men. Puritanical sex politics aside, this one is trippy, unsettling, and features a badass villain.
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson: The ultimate horror novel about being alone. And not only alone, but hunted by every other living thing on Earth. Matheson’s game-changing, apocalyptic epic is bleak, brisk, and brutal; and unlike the recent film version, the “sort of” love story it contains is utterly heartbreaking. Feel good about going to bed alone this Valentine’s Day knowing that there aren’t a hundred monsters howling for your blood outside your door.