An Autobibliographic Reflection On Marital Compatibility For My Husband Of Thirty-Six Years: If You Didn’t Love Books, Perhaps I Wouldn’t Love You, Although I Can’t Imagine Not Loving You, Books Or Not, So I Suppose It Doesn’t Matter. Except It Does.

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend.  Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read. • Groucho Marx

My husband is my best friend. We celebrated our thirty-sixth anniversary at the end of March and as we sit here in bed reading this morning, I realize that our mutual bookishness helps sustain my love during those tough times when I’d just as soon stomp on his toes and push sharp objects under his fingernails as look at him. Of course, we also share a love of guacamole and movies and home-popped corn and artichokes and the garlic-that-can-never-be-too-much. Trips to the beach, camping in the redwoods, walks to the farmer’s market for tamales and just-fried donuts, and driving for hours to find a drive-in movie theatre are other things we both enjoy. But although these shared joys are certainly meaningful, as I count the things that really count, it is the books. Once the initial fires of attraction become the glow and occasional growl of ongoing companionship, a relationship needs something to sustain it. Books help.

If You Didn’t Love Books, Perhaps I Wouldn’t Love You

A Reflection On Marital Compatibility

You have packed and carried and moved and shelved hundreds—no thousands—of books in our years together, yet you never suggest that I let go of any of them.

You don’t really like thrift shopping, but you go with me. I can find you in the book section, leaning against a shelf, book in hand.

Waiting. And waiting. And waiting. I pay you back with the Hawaiian shirts I find.

You never complain as you carry my bags of books on the walk home from the store.

You stop at any bookstore I want to visit and you enjoy them too.

You don’t complain if I spend hours browsing the shelves.

I’ll find you somewhere, book in hand, patiently reading.

And waiting.

You step over books that are piled in almost every room in our house and never gripe.

You know that books are decorative, that they add to the soul of our home.

You love them too.

You don’t mind when I turn the staircases into extra bookshelves.

When we traveled across the country and back and our narrow sleeping space in the van was increasingly encroached upon by the boxes of books that were too heavy to ship home, you laughed with me as we rolled onto our sides to sleep. From behind, the van had a serious list to one side.

You enjoy many of the same books I do. Under our bed are boxes full of books ready for reading.

There are stacks of books on your side of the bed too.

We fill sacks with finished books to give away, but you understand that many books are keepers.

Much of our shared reading is cotton-candy and ephemeral, but although you are not an academic, you read serious stuff.

You love history and geography and can find rivers and mountains and strange lands whose names have changed and changed again.

I rely on you for daily briefings on current events and for your knowledge of the history of the countries involved.

You step over stacks of books and never say a word.

You understand that a home can never have too many bookshelves.

You help me make room for another.

You are a learner. I love that in a man. I love that in a person. I love that in myself. It is an ongoing joy that doesn’t cost anything, unless, of course, you buy a lot of books.

You never question the money I spend on books.

You like to go to the library with me.

You go to the library without me.

You carry my library books home.

You can fall asleep with the light on if you are ready to go to sleep and I am still reading.

You can sleep if I awaken in the night and turn the light on and need to read or write.

You were as excited as I was to find volume one of Mark Twain’s Autobiography discounted at a big box store.

And, of course, you like to read yourself into the day as much as I do.

You are reading right now, while I write this.

What sustains your relationships?

Books are the bees which carry the quickening pollen from one to another mind.  • James Russell Lowell

No entertainment is so cheap as reading, nor any pleasure so lasting. • Mary Wortley Montagu



Filed under autobibliography, autoethnography, book collecting, books, reading, thrift shopping

13 responses to “An Autobibliographic Reflection On Marital Compatibility For My Husband Of Thirty-Six Years: If You Didn’t Love Books, Perhaps I Wouldn’t Love You, Although I Can’t Imagine Not Loving You, Books Or Not, So I Suppose It Doesn’t Matter. Except It Does.

  1. Cara Hall

    Loving and Hating Books All At Once
    When I was a child, my parents always read to me. I enjoyed being read to, as it was relaxing for me, mainly because I was once again being held and snuggled with. As I started in school, I didn’t mind reading, until I reached high school. I was forced to read books for English class that was nothing I would have chosen to read. The book choices always seemed to be nothing I enjoyed and very old books that I could never relate too. On top of having class reading books, I also had to do outside reading that required 400 pages each quarter. I always thought that I had much better things to do and would always wait until the last minute to finish my required reading pages.
    In my junior year in high school, my mom found a book titled “The Firm” by John Grisham and I fell in love with the book. However; it still didn’t change my desire to read. I still felt that I had better things to do. I continued to read John Grisham’s books until I finished high school. I loved each one of his books and I read them all. But I would still procrastinate until the last minute to read these books for the required reading I needed to do for the English class.
    When I was in college, I have still been forced to read required books for my classes. Once again, books that I would never chose to read. This has made it so that I still won’t just pick up a book, sit down, and just read for enjoyment or relaxation. Although throughout my years of college, I have read a few books for enjoyment. However; I always feel that I should be doing reading for one of my classes.
    I believe that when I am finished with college, I don’t have lots of chapters to read from required books, that I may start to read a lot more and I will actually enjoy it. These books will probably be books on subjects that I am interested in now pertaining to my everyday life and events that have happened during my lifetime.

    • This is a central dilemma of teaching no matter what level you’re teaching at, Cara. Books hold requisite knowledge that a class can share, yet such books are seldom joy•full. It is a conundrum I struggle with, yet even when I ask students to find a book that interests them I still find that many choices are made to please a teacher, not the reader. Alas. W-OZ

  2. Jay Cox

    What is better than a good book? Nothing I say! I have always loved to read books. I still have fond memories of the Encyclopedia Brown series and my all-time favorite, The Great Brain series by John Dennis Fitzgerald. There were seven of these books and I always would check one out with whatever other books I was checking out from library. I can’t even count how many times I must have read these books. I also have to throw in honorable mention to Beverly Cleary and my love for Henry and Ribsy. These books were like childhood friends. I am so looking forward to reading these with my daughter.

    Books have always been my source of escape from reality. It is almost like a drug. Being absorbed completely in a book and having hours pass unnoticed is a joy. My wife and myself have been facing some stressful life situations lately and reading has definitely been a comfort. This comfort also extends to bookstores. I know my wife can browse in a bookstore for hours and it is the place we have gone to a couple of times after disappointing doctor’s appointments.

    Personally, I am a library guy. The bookstore is good, but since I am cheap I love the library. So many books, so little time. Every time I step into a library and see all of the books I would like to just take and go read I think of the Twilight Zone episode where the guy was the sole survivor on the planet and could finally read all the books he wants without distractions, but breaks his glasses and can’t read without them.

    In closing and keeping in theme of the original blog post:
    To my wife, Leslie, with whom I have shared many stories with.

    We both read very different books, but will listen while the other tells about a current, interesting read they are having.

    You don’t know it, but I sit outside the door and listen to you read books to Maddy when you are putting her to bed.

    I still laugh when you say that you just can’t read a book from the library because you always envision the last person the checked it out to be some gross person who only read it while sitting on the toilet.

    I always know where you left both your glasses and book and will always go get them for you.

    You have filled many chapters in my book and I need you in the next one.


  3. I have always said that if heaven is not a library with a good Mexican restaurant and lots of dark chocolate, I wouldn’t want to go there, and the Twilight Zone you mention is one that’s haunted my dreams. AND you have now provided me with one of the best toilet-related stories I’ve ever heard. Blessings to you both. You are in my thoughts. W-OZ

  4. Carolena Campbell

    I haven’t done much pleasure reading in my adult years, in fact, I can’t remember the last time I read something other than a magazine becuase I wanted to. I’ve never been a quick reader so it was a burden to finish the hundreds of required pages thrown my way between all of my classes. You want me to read how many pages by the day after tomorrow?! I, like so many others, began losing interest in picking up books after I was forced to read things that didn’t interest me in the slightest, yet I was required to pass a test will mindless information surrounding its ideas. Despite this, one of my favorite books to this day was read in my high school freshman english class- To Kill A Mockingbird. That book captured my interest like nothing I’d ever been required to read. With each page I turned, I plunged deeper and deeper into the story of Scout and Jem, facinated with their life, and of course their neighbor, the reclusive “Boo” Radley.
    Lately I have craved a good book. Once I finish with this program, I am NOT going to pick up a text book until I have had the chance to dive into a book that will bring me a relaxed and enjoyable comfort first. I look forward to finding the joy of reading, especially since so many teachers I know find it to be one of the best “coping” mechanisms for a hectic career.

    • I’m really enjoying the Hunger Games series right now. I finished the second one a couple of days ago and can’t wait for the final book in the trilogy. I can imagine using these in health class (although there’s lots of death and I would probably get permission). It’s such a challenge to be a teacher and figure out how to deal with required reading without completely destroying joy in the written word! W-OZ

  5. Annie Tyner

    Until now, I have never reflected on the fact that one particular break-up in my life was rooted in my passion for reading. My boyfriend and I had been a couple for only six months, but we decided to move in together on a whim of financial necessity and lover naivety.
    He and I had been good friends for three years, and we were sure that our compatibility could shine through any dark clouds that would roll in. However, in no time at all, it was apparent that our lifestyles did not mesh as well as we had initially hoped for. In addition to the typical contrasts of any dysfunctional relationship, he was not a fan of reading, and I was.
    The night that I finally called it off, we were lying in bed, and I reached for my book of the week, Pillars of the Earth, written by Ken Follet. As I began to open my book, he ripped it out of my hand and threw it against the wall in front of us. He looked me in the eyes and said, “Forget your books, they don’t love you as much as I do.”
    I got up and walked out the door. That was the end of our relationship and friendship. Truth is, books love me more than anyone I have ever known.

  6. I seldom mention that I have been married before, but as I read your post, I realized that books were at the heart of my break-up. He hated my reading in bed, morning or evening. He hated going to the library. He thought reading was an utter and complete waste of time unless it was a magazine about hunting or fishing. When he watched TV, he wanted me sitting next to him, glued to the tube no matter what was on. I cannot watch television without something else to do and then, before I’d found my artistic and poetic voices, it was often reading that could stave off boredom. One of our biggest fights was over reading happened while we were fishing (an avocation I fail to understand since it involves hours of boredom followed by the disgusting delights of gutting and scaling and frying). I was scaring the fish away, he told me, because of the noise of pages turning. Thanks for the memories, Annie, it was actually fun to think about how lucky I am to have found another book-lover, even if he’s not as obsessed as I am!

  7. Amy Woods

    I walked into the room and saw you, with a book in hand. Your intriguing green eyes peered through brown-rimmed glasses and studied the words on the page. You were reading Machiavelli’s Prince. I was reading you.
    I now know your book shelves are categorized by title and publisher, or at least they would be were your books not currently in boxes. My books, arranged by genre and height, sit on shelves shrouded in dust.
    In the beginning, I strategically placed books on my nightstand, in hopes to impress you, to make you think I was well read. But now, five months and a few books later, I no longer pretend to be someone I’m not. Now that we’re comfortable, you know that I read books that I can relate to, books in which I can easily imagine myself as the protagonist, books that are in my comfort zone. You know that I prefer to write.
    After all, it’s not books that sustain us; it’s our mutual love of words.
    On most Friday nights, we sit on my couch, with pens and paper in hand. We draw words out of a bucket and spend five to ten minutes writing stories that include the three words we so carefully, yet randomly chose. We take turns reading our stories to each other. We laugh at the absurdities, at characters and conflict created out of people and things we know.
    Some days we compose poetry using the magnetic words on my refrigerator. Other days we compose poetry using words from our hearts.
    If it were up to us, we’d write for a living. We’d live off love and words.

  8. I’m hoping you can see why I prefer this mode of response to asking for a literacy history which may or may not be meaningful and will probably say less than is possible for its author. This is a powerful love poem and I loved reading it. W-OZ

  9. Sarah Smith

    As I read through your poem of sorts describing how your husband supports all of your eccentricities without a gripe, it really reminded me of Matthew, the love of my life. He is the same way and puts up with so much weirdness from me. He always will go thrift store shopping with me. When he isn’t rifling through the women’s section mumbling under his breath how there is such a better selection of women’s clothes than mens clothes (all the while he is plucking up cute fancy brand name clothes that he thinks that I will like), I can find him somberly pacing the men’s section, hoping he will stumble upon anything made by Patagonia.
    However, in your case Zinn, I am your husband and Matthew is you. Matthew is obsessed with textbooks, he will read Geology books front to cover and then in the same night pick up an old economy book written in the 1950’s. I have explored many used bookstores with him in search of obscure old world philosophers and driven to Medford many times with his desires in mind. When we go to the library, I head straight for the CDS and he heads for the books, that is just how it works. I am obsessed with collecting music, and he, books. And I realized that is what makes us work. A lot of loving someone is comprised mostly of accepting them for who they are, no matter how silly or at times annoying they can be. Any lessons I have learned from him can be translated to my profession as being a teacher. Respecting your student’s interests in important, as well as supporting them, whether it is physically ( by carrying all their library books :)) or metaphysically, by helping stimulate their curiosity . I look forward to getting to know what my student’s passions and guilty pleasures are, and possibly adding some of those to my own crazy life.

  10. Sometimes I think that all of the wisdom I’ve gained in my life could be summed up by the phrases “appreciating the weirdness” and “supporting the idiosyncrasies.” It’s pretty much what each of us wants–to be loved for who we are, to be truly seen, to be valued because of the gifts we bring to the world, not because of our potential to be what someone else wants us to be. Thanks so much for your related thoughts. W-OZ

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