Love's labors

With all these books, it's a wonder there are any lonely people left.

How to Write a Love Letter

by Barrie Dolnick and Donald Baack (Harmony Books, $15)

How do I love thee? Let me quote one of the ickier ways: "Love is something I never thought would ever happen to me. But now that I've met you, it seems I've reached that sacred place and I won't leave." Coauthors Dolnick and Baack, a mystic and a professor of management, respectively, reintroduce the love letter into modern relationships by basing their combined know-how on a woefully optimistic premise: "Words are sexy." Each chapter heading, from "The Art of Written Flirtation" to "Steamy Missives," reduces sentiments to hackneyed exchanges that would better suit scripts for The Young and the Restless. "Making love simplifies my purpose in life to its glorious best: trying to satisfy you and to make you feel the ecstasy that encompasses me," they cite as a heartfelt example of expression. How many of you would want to get naked with this person again? From suggestive e-mail initiation rituals and nods to the great romantic poets, the authors succeed at one thing: decimating what should be a spontaneous expression of affection. And hey, who has time anyway?

Universal Dating Regulations and Bylaws

by the American Dating Association (a.k.a. Jeff Wise) (Fireside Books, $9.95 paperback)

Calling itself "The Official Governing Body of Courtship in the United States," the Regulations and Bylaws at first seems officious, with academic origins (Harvard psychologist Dr. Rutger Fury's statistical research in the 1970s). But this small lime-green paperback soon gives itself away by its supercharged outline format, which will have readers of any dating status laughing at the preposterous conditions under which a first date could be deemed a failure ("Neither party shall speak French, under any pretext whatsoever." "Neither party shall attempt to sell insurance to the other." "Neither party shall relate more than three anecdotes involving his or her beloved dog, cat, or other household pet."). Combining the details of what constitutes a POP (pursuit-of- options period) or a MAD (mutually agreed state of dating) relationship and helpful hints for what sort of date will more likely result in intercourse (that would be a dinner date), this is one dandy reference for the lover and the lovelorn alike. Blind dates, places to plant that first kiss, and a plethora of eerily similar maps of the United States showing concentrations of felonious daters and the average length of foreplay by state will only add to your knowledge-gathering and amusement. And like every good relationship expert, the author provides pop quizzes, rules of thumb, statistics, charts, ADA case studies, and, in case you were really worried this was too serious, a lively and topical selection of dating haikus.

Romancing the Tarot

by Phyllis Vega (Fireside Books, $12 paperback)

My best friend from college used to read my cards, but I never really got it. The queen of swords, the king of cups, the page of wands—they were the bizarro version of playing cards, and as with the more hands-on Ouiji board, the message that turned up could have been applied to anyone in my dorm. Then again, my college pal wasn't a psychic or an astrologer like Vega, so she might not have had the power to make the cards speak to me. Romancing the Tarot, which claims it can teach tarot virgins to do their own relationship readings, is tough going. Truth be told, I skipped all the way to the card formations themselves, which, when arranged in specific patterns, answer love's more pressing questions: Do my partner and I have similar values? Am I lucky in love? When will I meet that special someone? Is my lover compatible with me? Where is my relationship headed? Since I don't actually own tarot cards and my college friend lives far away, the uninitiated might do just as well to stick to horoscopes or, better yet, speed dating.

Hot Chocolate for the Mystical Lover

by Arielle Ford (Plume, $13 paperback)

It doesn't get much more earnest: Deepak Chopra writes in the introduction to this testimonial package, subtitled "101 True Stories of Soul Mates Brought Together by Divine Intervention," that "the true purpose of all relationships is to move beyond the ordinary waking state of consciousness into cosmic consciousness, God consciousness, and Unity consciousness and become one with the Divine." That's a tall order. But somehow author Ford found 101 questers who were willing, with a variety of skills and open-wound vulnerabilities, to recount their journey toward meeting their soul mates. Titles such as "Coloring the Love Mandala" and "A Soul Revealed" don't help to elevate this smarmfest, but the entertainment value is high—so high that even if you recently weathered the worst breakup on record, you're already pretty far ahead of this bunch. Or conversely, you can join 'em, casting your Wiccan circle or inscribing your dream journal while sandalwood incense wafts around your goddess altar. And good luck to you.

How to Have Magnificent Sex

by Lana L. Holstein, MD (Harmony Books, $21)

"Magnificent sex"? That's one reason to start reading this book with the red jacket and bold, confident title. The other is, well, admit it, you're either not getting any or not too happy with what you're getting. Dr. Holstein to the rescue! In a patient, encouraging narration that supplies lots of anecdotes from couples seeking her clinical expertise, Holstein runs readers through the mental paces of what it means to let go with someone else and what, if any, obstacles prevent you from fully experiencing all of the seven dimensions of fulfilling sex (biologic, sensual, desire, heart, intimacy, aesthetic, transpersonal). When you've forked over that stingy heart and compared your mate to a god or goddess while in the throes, you just might be ready for what the good doctor has in store: tips for how to approach ecstatic and tantric sex! Hang on, kids, and definitely try this at home!

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