Valentine's Day Again? Already?

Clive Barker's brilliant book, The Thief of Always, starts off with the words "The great gray beast February had eaten Harvey Swick alive" and goes on about how Harvey is afraid he'll never escape into the Easter holidays; he'll get so bored he'll forget to breathe. I first read those words thirteen years ago and every time February rolls around I remember them because, contrary to what T.S. Eliot would have you believe, February is the cruelest month. All of the really fun winter holidays are over and spring seems to be a million years away. Oh sure, some people are excited about Valentine's Day but others, both single and in a relationship, are less than thrilled. For those of you who embrace the season of hearts and flowers there are umpteen articles about how to put glitter on your eyelids for that special night. For those who prefer to give it a polite handshake I offer you these entertainment options. (And for those who would like to give it the cut direct, I recommend last year's column, Seeing Red.)

I've got the perfect book for those whose families are pressuring them to get engaged. A good read about someone else's prematrimonial woes will cheer you right up. I'm sure most of you are familiar with P. G. Wodehouse's character Jeeves, the perfect gentleman's gentleman, but not so many know Bertie Wooster, his clueless but goodhearted employer. Bertie has a dreadful habit of accidentally getting engaged to practically every girl he meets. Sometimes he really does mean it when he proposes but it never takes him long to realize he's made a mistake. Either she wants to mold him into the kind of man he's not, (she wants him to stop going to his club or wants him to read Nietzsche or she thinks he shouldn't be stealing police helmets or throwing eggs at the waiters), or he realizes he's not suited for the married life. Either way he spends the rest of the book finding an honorable way out of the engagement.

Sometimes Bertie gets engaged even when he doesn't propose. In the novel Right Ho, Jeeves, Bertie tries to tell a girl called Madeline Bassett that his friend Gussie Fink-Nottle is in love with her. Madeline, who's even dafter than Bertie, thinks that Bertie is proposing to her, leaving him in the hottish water. As he puts it, "I mean to say, I couldn't back out. If a girl thinks a man is proposing to her, and on that understanding books him up, he can't explain to her that she has got hold of entirely the wrong end of the stick and that he hadn't the smallest intention of suggesting anything of the kind. He must simply let it ride. And the thought of being engaged to a girl who talked openly about fairies being born because stars blew their noses, or whatever it was, frankly appalled me." Now Bertie, and of course Jeeves, has got to figure out a graceful way out of the engagement. You can download the plain text version of this book here.

Have you ever felt a little left out because you've never fallen in love at first sight? The short story Luciferase by Bruce Sterling is a somewhat different take on the whole falling in love notion. Instead of hearts and flowers and shooting stars it's got biochemicals and pheromones and bizarre mating rituals. It starts off with the sentence "His flesh lit up with erotic need" and is told from the perspective of a firefly. What could be more romantic?

I've got one last suggestion for anyone who wishes they were in love. The film My Best Friend's Wedding proves that being in love, or wanting to be in love, isn't quite enough. Starring Julia Roberts as a woman who realizes a little too late that she loves her best friend, this comedy is guaranteed to make you feel better about just about any relationship you may or not have. After all you're not running around scheming, telling lies and making a fool of yourself in order to get your best friend to marry you instead of Cameron Diaz, are you?