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TODAY contributor
updated 2/13/2012 2:18:33 PM ET 2012-02-13T19:18:33

Love stinks. Or at least it does in these tales of woe. Star-crossed lovers, destructive marriages, criminally brief affairs, even death—these are just a few of the themes that mark the biggest—and darkest—love stories in history. Buy yourself some flowers, pour yourself a drink, light a candle, and crack open one of these books. You’ll soon be thankful for the healthy relationships in your life. Being single ain’t so bad.

‘Romeo and Juliet’
By William Shakespeare
(Simon & Brown)
The granddaddy of all tragic love stories, there will be nary a dry eye to be seen when you revisit the story of these star-crossed lovers from Verona. Forsaking all others for as long as both shall live doesn’t prove to be long, as a longstanding feud sets in motion a series of tragic events and misunderstandings, dooming the young couple to the briefest moments of connubial bliss. “For never was a story of more woe / Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” Verily.

‘The English Patient’
By Michael Ondaatje
(Vintage Books)
Ondaatje’s haunting novel starts out in an abandoned Italian villa at the end of World War II, where a young nurse named Hana is tending to a burn victim dubbed “The English Patient.” Added to the mix are a Sikh sapper named Kip and a thumbless thief/spy named Caravaggio. As the English patient drifts in and out of his morphine-induced haze, he recounts the story of a Hungarian desert explorer who falls in love with Katherine, a married British woman. As evidenced by his wounds, this scorching affair ends badly, but this sweeping novel just might have you reading Herodotus as fiery foreplay.

‘The Bridges of Madison County’
By Robert James Waller
(Grand Central Publishing)
Say what you will about the, um, florid quality of Waller’s writing, but this 1992 bestseller jerked a lot of tears for a reason. When a National Geographic photographer ambles into Madison County, Iowa to snap all the local covered bridges, he focuses his really long lens on a lonely married woman. Their four-day affair is pretty much perfect…because it only lasts four days. Before she can get annoyed with his peripatetic lifestyle or he tires of her cooking, he’s off again, leaving in an ache in their—and readers’—hearts.

‘Revolutionary Road’
By Richard Yates
(Vintage Books)
For a more abrasive take on the devastating effects of love, look no further than Yates’ novel of 1950s’ Connecticut couple Frank and April Wheeler. Married with children and living in a nice suburb, the Wheelers seem to be living the American dream. But they have bitter fights, both realizing that they want more out of life, even though they don’t know what that is. Disillusionment turns to anticipation when they hatch a plan to move to Paris. The plan falls apart, however, and with it goes the Wheelers’ brief hope of escape and reinvention.

10 books to help heal a broken heart

‘Tender is the Night’
By F. Scott Fitzgerald
(Charles Scribner’s Sons)
Truly a case of a couple not bringing out the best in each other, Fitzgerald’s last novel centers on Nicole and Dick Diver, glamorous ex-pats living in the South of France. A psychiatrist, Dick met Nicole while treating her for a breakdown, perhaps caused by an incestuous relationship with her father. Dick marries the heiress and their heady lifestyle becomes marred by Dick’s drinking and run-ins with the police. As Nicole becomes stronger, Dick spirals downward. In Fitzgerald’s luxe world, money can’t buy you class…or a happy marriage.

‘Wuthering Heights’
By Emily Brönte
(Signet Classics)
You’ll forget all about your own inappropriate dating choices as you’re swept away to the English moors and Wuthering Heights. The story unfolds and you soon learn about the doomed love between uncouth Heathcliff and impetuous Catherine. While they aren’t meant to be, at least not in this life, the tale continues as Heathcliff tries to strong-arm Cathy’s daughter into marrying his son. Yeah, that doesn’t go as planned, either. Brönte’s atmospheric novel takes the cake when it comes to unrequited, unfulfilled passion.

‘The Age of Innocence’
By Edith Wharton
(Empire Books)
The 1870s world that Wharton describes is lovely, certainly, but it’s also full of societal conventions and constraints. It’s here that we meet Newland Archer, soon to be wed to May Welland but who finds himself drawn instead to her cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska. Estranged from her husband but unwilling to ruin May’s engagement, Ellen retreats and the not-so-happy couple marries. Social circles bring them back into each other’s orbit and their love continues to be thwarted by circumstance and obligation. A bittersweet take on love, "The Age of Innocence" will make your heart ache with longing.

‘A Single Man’
By Christopher Isherwood
(University of Minnesota Press)
Losing the love of your life is heartbreaking. Try enduring this as a gay man in the early `60s and you might find life almost unbearable. In Isherwood’s favorite novel, we accompany George, a British professor at an L.A. college, as he goes through the motions of living after the unexpected death of his partner. Taking place over 24 hours, each minute feels excruciatingly long and yet precious as George’s composure wars with his grief and loneliness, made more acute by the era’s repression. Isherwood’s work is a gentle reminder to savor every moment of life and love.

Jennifer Worick is a New York Times bestselling author of more than 25 books and a publishing consultant; she can be found at The Business of Books.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Photos: Most memorable kisses of all time

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  1. Most famous kisses

    Happy Valentine’s Day! A day filled with love, flowers, hugs and kisses. Kisses are the declarations of love that make us laugh, cry and swoon. Check out some of the most famous ones from the movies, TV, fine art and the news.

    'From Here to Eternity'

    Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr share one of cinema's most legendary embraces in the 1953 movie. The iconic beach scene was shot at Halona Cove, Oahu, Hawaii. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. 'Gone with the Wind'

    "You need kissing badly," Clark Gable, as Rhett Butler, told Vivien Leigh's Scarlett O'Hara in this 1939 epic. "You should be kissed, and often. And by someone who knows how." While proposing to the twice-widowed Scarlett, he proves he's the man for the job. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. 'The Fraternal Kiss'

    This painting by Dmitri Vrubel is one of the best-known of the Berlin Wall graffiti paintings. Created in 1990, it depicts Soviet and East German heads of state Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker in a fraternal embrace, reproducing a photograph that captured the moment in 1979 during the 30th anniversary celebration of the foundation of the German Democratic Republic. The painting was destroyed in March 2009. (Steve Eason / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. 'Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville'

    In 1950, French photographer Robert Doisneau created his most iconic work: "Le baiser de l'Hôtel de Ville (Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville)," a photo of a couple kissing in the busy streets of Paris. It became an internationally recognized symbol of young love in Paris. (©Robert Doisneau/ Courtesy of Bruce Silverstein Gallery) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. 'Brokeback Mountain'

    This 2005 romantic drama film starring Heath Ledger (right) and Jake Gyllenhaal, depicts the complex romantic and sexual relationship between two men in the American West. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Al and Tipper Gore

    Al Gore and wife Tipper kiss after his speech on opening night of the Democratic National Convention, July 26, 2004 in Boston. The energetic smooch drew widespread media attention. In 2010, the Gores announced they were separating after 40 years of marriage. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. 'Ghost'

    In the 1990 supernatural romance "Ghost," the love between Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze transcends death itself. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. 'It's a Wonderful Life'

    In the 1946 classic, James Stewart plays a small-town man whose life seems so desperate he contemplates suicide. He marries his childhood sweetheart Donna Reed and is stopped from jumping off a from a bridge by his guardian angel, who shows him what life would have become had he had never lived. () Back to slideshow navigation
  9. KISS

    Gene Simmons, Tommy Thayer and Paul Stanley of KISS. You can't do a slideshow of most famous kisses without including this American rock band well known for its members' crazy costumes and face paint. (WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. 'Lady and the Tramp'

    Pampered cocker spaniel Lady falls in love with the Tramp, a mutt who lives on the streets. Their kiss happens as they share the same spaghetti noodle: a beautiful and touching moment. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Britney Spears and Madonna

    The two singers shared an infamous smooch during the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards. Spears (left) said the kiss was Madonna's idea and that she had butterflies about it. (Frank Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'

    Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) jumps from her taxi to smooch her love (George Peppard) in the rain at the climax of this classic 1961 film. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. 'The Princess Bride'

    Cary Elwes and Robin Wright's unrequited love finally fulfilled in the winsome 1987 film. The narration put it nicely: "Since the invention of the kiss there have been five kisses that were rated the most passionate, the most pure. This one left them all behind." (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. 'Planet of the Apes'

    Filmdom's first interspecies smooch may have been in this 1968 sci-fi classic. Chimpanzee psychologist Dr. Zira (Kim Stanley) meets injured astronaut George Taylor (Charlton Heston) and helps nurse him back to health. Before Taylor departs, they share a goodbye kiss. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. 'An Officer and a Gentleman'

    Richard Gere appears suddenly in a Navy dress uniform at Debra Winger's lunchbag factory at the finale of the 1982 hit. He kisses her, sweeps her up in his arms, and walks out to the applause and cheers of her coworkers. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. 'The Empire Strikes Back'

    Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) find the Force of mutual attraction in the second Star Wars film. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. 'The Notebook'

    Allie (Rachel McAdams) and Noah (Ryan Gosling) kiss passionately in the rain after seven years apart. A disapproving family and a devoted fiance can't keep them away from one another in this romantic fave film from 2004. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Rodin's 'The Kiss'

    "The Kiss" is an iconic 1889 marble sculpture by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin. It was inspired by the tale of Paolo and Francesca, lovers entwined for eternity in Dante's Inferno. http://www.vibrationdata.com/Rodin.html (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Roseanne Barr and Mariel Hemingway on 'Roseanne'

    One of the first TV series to openly advocate for gay rights, "Roseanne" aired a 1994 episode entitled "Dont Ask, Don't Tell" in which Roseanne and Mariel Hemingway shared a kiss in a gay bar, one of the first lesbian kisses on TV. (ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Will and Kate

    Britain's Prince William kisses his wife Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, after their wedding service on April 29, 2011. An unimpressed flower girl became an Internet meme. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Kirk and Uhura on 'Star Trek'

    In her role as Lieutenant Uhura, Nichols famously kissed white actor William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk in the November 22, 1968, Star Trek episode "Plato's Stepchildren". The episode is popularly cited as the first example of an interracial kiss on U.S. television. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. 'Sixteen Candles'

    In this 1984 classic, everyone forgets Samantha's (Molly Ringwald) 16th birthday. Fortunately, at the end of the film, she shares a romantic kiss with the guy of her dreams (Michael Schoeffling) over a cake lit with 16 candles. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. 'When Harry Met Sally'

    The New Years' Eve kiss shared by Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) is the highlight of this 1993 romantic comedy classic. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. 'Spider-Man'

    Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire), is heels over head in love with Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) in this 2002 super-hero saga, which has one of the most recognizable movie kisses ever. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. V-J Day in Times Square

    Probably one of the most recognized kisses of all time is this one between a sailor and a young nurse in Times Square, shortly after the surrender of Japan in 1945. Photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt caught the joyful moment. (Alfred Eisenstaedt / Time & Life Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Will Ferrell and Sacha Baron Cohen

    One of the most talked-about moments of the 2007 MTV movie awards was when actors Will Ferrell (left) and Sacha Baron Cohen liplocked after accepting their award for "Best Kiss." (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. 'Titanic'

    Rose (Kate Winslet) and Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) share a kiss aboard the doomed ship in the1997 hit "Titanic." Winner of eleven Oscars, it was the first film to earn more than $1 billion worldwide. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. 'Sleeping Beauty'

    Princess Aurora is doomed to die on her 16th birthday in this animated Disney classic from 1959. Thankfully, a good fairy uses her spell to have the princess fall asleep until she is awakened with a kiss. In the end, Prince Phillip removes the curse with the Kiss of Awakening, and yes, they live happily ever after. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Chilean miner rescue

    Miner Osman Araya kisses his wife Angelica after being brought to the surface on Oct. 13, 2010 at the San Jose mine in Santiago, Chile. Araya was the the sixth miner of 33 to be rescued after a record 69 days deep underground. (Martin Bernetti / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. 'Twilight'

    Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson exchange a steamy smooch in the 2006 hit "Twilight." There is crazy chemistry between their characters: Vampire Edward longs to kiss Bella tenderly, but must overcome his unfortunate impulse to, well, drink her blood. (Summit Entertainment) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. James Bond and Pussy Galore

    In this 1964 scene from the third film in the James Bond franchise, "Goldfinger," James Bond, played by Sean Connery, has a passionate embrace with the villainous Goldfinger's personal pilot Pussy Galore, played by Honor Blackman. Is there any James Bond movie where 007 doesn't kiss the Bond girl? (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. 'The Godfather Part II'

    "I know it was you, Fredo -- you broke my heart." So says Michael Corleone (Al Pacino, right) to his traitorous brother (played by John Cazale) before kissing him fiercely in a key moment from the Godfather saga. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. 'Casablanca'

    "You must remember this: A kiss is just a kiss" goes "As Time Goes By," played throughout the 1942 drama that many consider one of Hollywood's greatest romances. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman portray lovers torn apart by the tides of World War II (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Klimt's "The Kiss"

    "The Kiss" is probably the most famous work painted by Gustav Klimt (1862-1918). It depicts a couple, in various shades of gold and studded with symbols, sharing a kiss against a bronze background. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. ‘Vancouver kissing couple’

    Riot police patrol the street as a couple kiss amid the chaos on June 15, 2011 in Vancouver, Canada. The city broke out in riots after their hockey team the Vancouver Canucks lost in Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals. (Rich Lam / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. "Nerd Kissing Supermodel"

    Israeli supermodel Bar Rafaeli and actor Jesse Heiman locked lips in this GoDaddy.com commercial during the Super Bowl for a long, drawn out kiss that had viewers alternately cringing and laughing. The blonde beauty kissing the nerd was supposed to represent GoDaddy's combination of sexy and smart. (TODAY) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. The president and the first lady

    Barack Obama shares a tender kiss with wife Michelle on the night of his historic election as the nation's first African-American president in 2008. (Jae C. Hong / AP file) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Willie Geist and Al Roker

    TODAY's Willie and Al Roker got a little closer than unusual while testing out a new lip gloss. (Peter Kramer / NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
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