Last December, when the time came for me to move out of the condo unit I’d called home for almost three years, the first thing I did was to pack up my books.
Without a proper bookshelf to fit into, my books had literally been all over the place: in the TV cabinet where speakers and a Blu-ray player were supposed to be, piled high on the dining table, taking up space in my makeup and underwear drawers, stacked on top of a crate beside my bed, inside a large, crumpled brown paper bag.
I’d learned my lesson from previous moving days not to stuff all my books into a single heavy box, forcing its packaging taped seams to burst from the sheer weight of thousands of pages. So I spread them out evenly among six balikbayan boxes, using them to line the bottoms before the clothes and shoes and various knickknacks went in.
Weeks later, when I settled into a cozy two-bedroom apartment with my boyfriend, the books were the last to be unpacked. Into the TV cabinet and inside drawers they went, still. But my favorite ones, the ones I felt made the most impact on who I am as a writer and as a person, managed to make it onto the lowest shelf of my boyfriend’s bright red bookcase, standing proudly on display in our living room.
Several of those books bear dedications, scrawled on the title page in stocky ballpoint letters. “To fuel your insurmountable creativity,” one says. “Our common love for literature is one of our favorite things about us,” declares another. And the cleverest of them all, written on a copy of Miranda July’s No One Belongs Here More Than You: “The title of this book sums up how I feel about having you in my life.”
I am often asked what it’s like to be in a relationship with a fellow writer and editor. But maybe the more important question is what it’s like to date a fellow reader—someone who gets excited about books as much as I do, someone I can discuss character motivation and themes and language and endings and resolutions (or lack thereof) with.
One of my fondest memories is ducking into a mall for shelter on the last day of our trip to Hawaii, then spending an entire rainy morning perusing shelves and shelves of books, grinning wildly as the heavy hardcovers piled up in our arms.
When we got back to our Airbnb, we eagerly showed off our haul to each other like little children comparing Christmas presents: his a dark mix of thrillers, mysteries, and crime novels, mine a mishmash of poetry journals, coming of age stories, and small-town family dramas.
Growing up, I didn’t know a lot of boys who liked books. They liked action figures. They liked basketball. They liked Mortal Kombat. Later on, they liked beer and cigarettes and talking about girls. But none of them ever knew what it was like to voluntarily stay at home on a Friday night nestled under the covers with a book in hand.
None of them really understood how it felt to be in love with a character: with template golden boy Todd Wilkins; or with Rob Gordon, who couldn’t seem to separate the music from the misery; or with Charlie the wallflower; or even with Holden Caulfield, the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life.
So when I finally met someone who got it—and who was intelligent, articulate, attractive, talented, fun, and crazy about me to boot—it felt a lot like redemption. A lot like, See, he exists!
And it wasn’t just that he didn’t dismiss reading as nerdy or boring, the way, sadly, a lot of fully grown men still do. It was that he understood why words mattered. He understood why it was important for me to write my first book, a YA novel called Every Girl’s Guide to Heartache, after unceremoniously getting my heart broken in my early 20s. (Plot twist: him and that guy are now good friends.)
He understood how crucial it was to impress me by name dropping Cormac McCarthy on our first date, and casually mentioning that he had a tattoo of a quote from The Road on his right ribcage. And down the line, in the year and a half I spent as editor-in-chief of Summit Books (a childhood dream come true!), he understood why I would spend hours hunched over a manuscript, trying to scrub and scour every sentence until it was perfectly polished and squeaky clean.
“Your arguments must get pretty interesting,” a guy we’d just met told us once, to which we both nodded sheepishly. But so do the conversations, tucked into bed late at night just as the final page is turned, or perched on our breakfast counter with a bowl of granola and yogurt, or in an Uber, waiting for the light to turn green, or at a beach somewhere, declaring, “You have to read this. The main character is an entertainment editor at a men’s magazine, and his wife writes quizzes for a Cosmopolitan-type publication.”
And on moments when the words run out between us, we find that the silence always feels welcome, and that there is no need to read too much into it. There are, after all, stacks of books waiting to fill it in.
Marla Miniano is the Editor-in-Chief of Cosmopolitan Philippines. She is the author of several young adult books published by Summit Books.
Illustrations: Madel Crudo
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