If you are a bibliophile and marriage is your thing, choose a partner who buys you books. Who buys you books cleverly. Sneakily, even. Who hides them in your home to find. Books so beautiful you worry about touching them. Your hands could be tainted with lotion, sweat, dirt, and chocolate. Say yes to someone who understands you will never tire of books, that they are an extension of you, and you carry the narratives in your heart. In June, I married my person. To celebrate, I compiled a chronological list of my favorite titles he has gifted me over the years, including tender quotes because love.
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
“This girl waited because she wasn’t like the women in the mythology book, the women who kept me turning the pages: the trickster nymphs, the ruthless goddesses, the world-uprooting mothers. Io, who made a god’s heart hot with love; Artemis, who turned a man into a deer and had her dogs tear him cartilage to bone; Demeter, who made time stop when her daughter was stolen.”
At AWP 2012 in Chicago, I womanned a university booth with my MFA wife. Across from us, a seven-foot-ish cardboard display of Ward’s 2011 novel loomed. I stared at it for hours and never forgot that monumental presence.
This, if I’m remembering correctly, is the first literary present. During our time in Pittsburgh, he traveled to Traverse City often. A vacationless contractor, I could never accompany him. One night, he texted, asking what book I wanted. He explained, I think someone down the bar is reading it. (Someone was not.) Actually, he, familiar with my undying love for independent bookstores, wanted to bring me a souvenir from Brilliant Books. Such a sweet little lie.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
“Before that she hadn’t realized how fragile happiness was, how if you were careless, you could knock it over and shatter it.”
A library enthusiast, I borrow books faithfully and try not to let late fees ruffle me, knowing the money benefits an idyllic place. So many people placed holds on Ng’s debut that I added it to my Christmas list because I, fluttering with excitement, refused to wait that long.
“She thought she would die of joy.”
He surprised me with my most treasured first edition on Valentine’s Day. This book changed my reading life, and I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve submerged myself in the love triangle of Florentino Ariza, Fermina Daza, and Dr. Juvenal Urbino. The book—with its pleasant beige cover, and red and yellow-serifed letters—overlooks my office from the top of my bookshelf.
What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons
“A ghost is not a fact in itself; rather, it is a symbol for a need. The most important aspect of the ghost is the need that creates it.”
After leafing through Clemmons’s debut at White Whale Books, this was all I wanted for my birthday. I had, sadly, just missed her event. I stood in the middle of the store, where I imagined rows of chairs, and closed my eyes, letting energy seep into me.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
“She smiled then: a thin line, no teeth, and I leaned forward and put my head in her lap again, and she ran her hands up and down my spine, over my shoulder blades, pressed in on the base of my neck. All the while shushing like a stream, like she’d taken all the water pouring on the outside world into her, and she was sending it out in a trickle to soothe me.”
You know a book is good and love for an author is real when two people try to buy you their latest title. As the holiday season approached, my writing partner asked if I had the winner of the National Book Award for Fiction (Ward’s second medal in this category). I said no, but—eyeing a suspicious rectangular present under the tree—told her that I might own it soon. (Bonus: For those of you who haven’t read it yet, here’s an excerpt from the Oxford American titled “Flayed.”)
Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
“I was on Fire Island when I first made that sauerkraut, and it was raining, and we drank a lot of bourbon and ate the sauerkraut and went to bed at ten, and I listened to the rain and the Atlantic and felt safe.”
Shortly after moving to Oahu, I delved into Didion, who I had never read before. My obsession and understanding that she loved the island I was living on (escaped there to finish and rewrite scripts, visited “in lieu of filing for divorce”) propelled me through four of her titles. Downtown, I would spot the pink of The Royal Hawaiian peeking out along Waikiki Beach and point, “The Joan Didion hotel!” When the rates decreased in the slow months for kama’aina, we spent one of the best weekends of my life there, the place we decided to marry each another.
The Leavers by Lisa Ko
“Opposite-world Leon, he woke with the moon.”
Since reading “Pat + Sam” in Best American Short Stories 2016, I looked forward to Ko’s debut. This Easter, my then-fiancé hid my basket behind the gray drapes of our shower curtain. Passionate about books with multiple points of view, I whooped at the bright cover, ready to read the much-needed novel inspired by a New York Times article about family, immigration, deportation, and adoption.
NOTE: If you are contemplating sharing energy with someone/some people for as long as we spin around the sun in this life, I hope—books aside—the relationship reciprocates love and respect, because humans deserve that.