Never Mind the Chocolates

By Bill Henderson
Roger Rosenblatt Chip Cooper

“The Book of Love”
Roger Rosenblatt
Ecco Press, $22.99

Attention, lovers, hop out of bed! 
Valentine’s Day is upon you. Time to dig up a gift for your beloved, who will surely not be your beloved if you forget.

You have only a matter of hours to fix this. But in your haste why not skip the usual chocolates or flowers or Hallmark card (yawn) and spin over to Canio’s or BookHampton and pick up a copy (or more) of Roger Rosenblatt’s just published in the nick of time “The Book of Love.”

And by the way forget about ordering from Amazon on your bedroom computer. It’s important that you get out of bed for this one. Besides if you and your computer and your beloved are all in bed together, your beloved will know what to expect on V-Day and what’s the fun of that? Forget about an e-book too. You can’t inscribe that with pretty words.

But what about this book, Mr. Rosenblatt’s latest? Is it any good? He writes essays for Time and “PBS NewsHour” and has won a Polk and a Peabody and an Emmy and written six Off Broadway plays and 16 books including national best sellers like “Making Toast” and “Lapham Rising” and he was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and is professor of English and writing at Stony Brook University and . . . you get the idea. They all say he’s pretty good. But what about this book? Well, here’s what they all say.

O, The Oprah Magazine — “This year’s ultimate Valentine’s Day treat.”

Vanity Fair — “A symphony of amore.”

Kirkus Reviews — “. . . like Coltrane at the Village Vanguard.”

Booklist — “Rosenblatt — wittily, urbanely, wholeheartedly — is in love.”

But what do I think? Well, where to start? In the middle of the book maybe, or maybe at the end, or maybe it makes no difference. Mr. Rosenblatt is all over the place on love.

We used to call this sort of literature “stream of consciousness” — think of James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” Or how about a smorgasbord? Or maybe the Coltrane remark is on the mark? Or how about a handful of lit firecrackers? In fact, one can’t really precisely review Mr. Rosenblatt’s book or his mind. Both book and mind are moving at light speed in short paragraphs and long, in quotes and quips and puns and poems. It’s about love — all kinds of love — of family, friends, home, country, work, writing, solitude, art, nature, self — indeed of Life. And sexually induced love in all its variations — romantic love, courtship, heartbreak, fury, confusion, melancholy, hysteria, delirium, ecstasy — you name a nuance and Mr. Rosenblatt has it covered.

Here are a few of my favorites —

On married love: “People sometimes get married for the same reasons poets sometimes write sonnets. Form rescues content.”

On statistics: “Of the six marriages announced on page eighty-three of the Sunday paper, 2.2 will fail, 2.3 will last, 1.5 will fail and last.”

On friendship: “Love is hysteria. But friendship is a peaceful little thing.”

On God’s love: “Before you tell me God is love, let me tell you, Mike, too, is love. So are a dozen other friends whom I can think of, off the top of my head. I can count on the love of my friends. But the love of God? . . . too flighty for my taste.”

On his father’s love: “He showed no affection for his parents, who showed no affection for him. . . . I was never sure if he loved me or some of the things I did.”

On J.F.K. and Bill Clinton: “This is the way of the unloved child. You can make up for practically any other deficiency, but that particular omission runs through you like a spear. . . . They could never get enough, because early on, they got too little.”

The list of Mr. Rosenblatt’s ponderings and pirouettes is simply amazing. There is no valid way to review a collection as wacky and wonderful as this. Hurry off to your independent bookstore. Your beloved will think more highly of you and your sex life might improve too. Statistics prove it.

Bill Henderson’s latest book is “Cathedral.” He is publisher of Pushcart Press in Springs.

Roger Rosenblatt lives in Quogue.