When people ask me how I met my husband, I usually just shrug my shoulders, say “mutual friends”, and leave it at that. I never really thought there was much of a story there… until my online book group told me otherwise. That group of avid readers convinced me that, for a booklover, this is a good love story indeed.
So… About 20 years ago, I moved to San Francisco, newly divorced and full-time single mother. I settled in, got a job, made some friends, and occasionally indulged myself by hiring a babysitter and going out folkdancing. (Woo hoo, wild times, right?)
I met a group of people through dancing that I could share rides with, got to know some of them, and enjoyed their company. One of this group was my husband-to-be (HTB). HTB was quite a bit older than I was, also recently divorced, father of two, nice looking, and a pretty funny guy. That was my entire impression of him. I didn’t know him as well as some of the others in the group, but my overall thought was that he liked to joke around, was always laughing, had a nice smile, and seemed like a decent person.
Then, one fateful night, we both got a ride from a friend and ended up sitting together in the backseat for the 45-minute drive home. We made small talk for a while, and somehow the conversation wound around to books. HTB did not grow up in the US. He learned English as an adult and speaks it very well, but it’s certainly not his native language. I had already learned from him that he grew up in a poor, religious household and did not get very far with his formal education, being expected to pursue a trade by his mid-teens. During our car ride, HTB started telling me about finding refuge in books during his teen years and into early adulthood, journeying to other worlds and cultures through his reading, and finding fulfillment intellectually in a way that he’d been denied by lack of schooling.
Wow. To think that this nice, light-hearted guy was a booklover like me! True, our paths to reading were very, very different, but there we were, chatting in a car about the books that had had an impact on our lives. He mentioned several books by Gabriel Garcia Marquez that he had loved, and then he began telling me about one book in particular that had had a huge impact on him. It was, he said, a series of letters from a young man to his mother. The young man had left his home country to seek a life elsewhere, and through his letters, we see his experiences adjusting to his new life and culture. HTB said he’d found the book incredibly moving and interesting — but unfortunately, he wasn’t sure about the title. He’d read the book in his native language, not in English, but even then, it was a translation from the original. The title was something like… Letters to China? Letters to Taiwan? Something with letters. That’s all he remembered.
That car ride changed my life. My eyes were opened to a whole different side of HTB, and from that day onward, we began to talk more, hang out, spend time together, and ultimately… well, this is a love story, after all! We started dating seriously within a month or so, and never looked back. This year marks 19 years of our relationship, 14 years since we tied the knot and made it official. We’ve bought a home, combined our families, and added another child of our own.
But you know, I never really forgot about that car ride and the conversation. I’d tried to look up the book he’d mentioned soon afterward, but didn’t have enough information to go on and never ended up figuring out which book it was.
And then — last year — I attended my favorite bookish event, the Big Book Sale sponsored by the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library. The Big Book Sale is an annual sale of used books that raises money for the library, and is just heaven on earth for book folks. (See my recap of this year’s event here). While browsing the fiction tables and filling up my cart with all sorts of goodies, a certain book cover caught my eye. It was this:
I knew as soon as I saw that this was the long-lost book that HTB had told me about almost twenty years earlier! Letters From Thailand, written by an author named Botan, translated into English from the original Thai by Susan Kepner. Needless to say, I bought it (after jumping up and down a few times).
When I got home that night, I practically bounced all the way down the hall to find my husband and proudly held up the book, shouting something unintelligible along the lines of “LOOK! IT’S THE BOOK!” Once he got over thinking that I was a lunatic, dear HTB did in fact confirm that I’d found the book that he’d loved so many years ago.
So there we are. In a certain way, this is the book that brought my husband and me together and helped us fall in love. The book itself? I read it and enjoyed it, although it wasn’t as life-changing for me at this stage in my life as it was for HTB so many years ago, as an under-educated young man trying to find his way and looking for more.
Romantic? Well, as a booklover, I’d say our is definitely a tale of epic romance!
And, in fact, although I am by far the book fanatic in our household, we do share a love of reading to this day, and our lives continue to be enriched by the books we share, discuss, and even argue about.