Arkansas Times Recommends: Valentine's Day Edition 

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Like being without a family on Christmas, being single on Valentine's Day is a cultural double-bind: Even if you don't give a damn about any of it, saying you don't only makes it sound more like you do. What's there for us to do but shut up and read about other people's heartbreak instead?

I suggest you try the short stories of Antonya Nelson, an author who captures the stuttering relationships of everyday life with the preternatural hyperrealism of a Chuck Close portrait: You startle and squint and think, "What's going on here? Is this some kind of trick?" In my opinion, Nelson writes the best contemporary short fiction this side of Lorrie Moore, and, like Moore, she finds her characters out in the trackless middle of things — middle age, middle class, middle America.

In "The There There," a story in her most recent collection, "Funny Once," the protagonist is a divorcee in Telluride, Colo. Not quite bitter, not quite content, she's settling into the long haul of maybe-permanent singledom. "There was no man," Nelson writes. "In middle age, she had no patience for new intimacies; the groundwork was exhausting, all the accumulated details of some other person's life, the number of siblings, the catalog of troubles, and the high potential for some ludicrous deal-breaking belief in magic or miracles or money." Amen. Happy Valentine's Day.

— Benjamin Hardy

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On this Valentine's Day I recommend the music of Joan Armatrading, who was born in the Caribbean and raised in England. Some of her best songs are sprawling folk dirges — uncomfortable and jagged, like Van Morrison or Robert Wyatt — and some of them are odd, synth-pop slow dances. Here are four to start with: "Woncha Come On Home," "Willow," "Love and Affection," "The Weakness in Me." The last is especially scarring; imagine Joni Mitchell warbling over the "Twin Peaks" theme song. It's a great Valentine's Day anthem because it's about confusion. So really — and maybe this is what I actually mean to say — it's not at all a great Valentine's Day anthem.

— Will Stephenson

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— Lindsey Millar

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Even in 1621, men were trying to convince hesitant women to have sex with them. I know this because of the droll poem by Andrew Marvell, "To His Coy Mistress," which begins "Had we but world enough, and time/This coyness, Lady, were no crime."

The would-be lover tells his coy mistress that she deserves an eternity of his admiration: "An hundred years should go to praise/Thine eyes and on they forehead gaze; two hundred to adore each breast/But thirty thousand to the rest;/An age at least to every part,/And the last age should show your heart." But ... the lover hears "Time's winged chariot hurrying near" and unless coy mistress gives it up now, it may come to pass that "Thy beauty shall no more be found,/Nor in thy marble vault, shall sound/My echoing song: then worms shall try/That long preserved virginity,/And your quaint honor turn to dust,/And into ashes all my lust./The grave's a fine and private place,/But none, I think, do there embrace."

Instead, the would-be lover urges, "Now let us sport while we may,/And now, like amorous birds of prey/Rather at once our time devour." In other words, let's get it on! Marvell, who could resist you! Or any man who could argue like that. Gents, memorize the whole poem, all 46 of its seductive lines, or tuck a copy into a box of chocolates.

— Leslie Newell Peacock



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