Have you ever fallen in (or out) of love with someone because of (or through) a book?
That's the question I've been putting to book-browsers and sellers peopling the bookstores of the Bay Area. At Books Inc. I talked to a woman who told me about the books she and her husband had read out loud together, and at a bar I heard how a book replete with sexual adventure inspired a retreat from a too-safe relationship. Another book taught another gentleman to be wary of an unhinged girlfriend claiming pregnancy. Inevitably in these conversations, the question always turns back to me.
I fell in love while reading Hemingway out loud with my partner. Later I became engaged to him because of Kafka's Letters to Felice. It's a volume of Kafka's letters to his once-upon-a-time fiancée (whom he vehemently seduced and then just as vehemently repelled, first by sending over-zealous love letters and then ardent essays detailing all the ways in which he, Franz Kafka, left much to be desired). It's a body of work more substantial than anything he's ever written, and it just boggles the mind.
I looked for a copy of the book for years when one day in Chicago at Quimby's Bookstore, I found it. The problem was that my partner, equally fanatic about Kafka, found it too. There was a stare-down in that small aisle on the second floor of Quimby's. At length we broke our silence and argued over who should buy the volume. Who liked Kafka more? Finally, at a standstill, I said, "Listen, I'll buy the book, but I want you to know that from now on I want my books to be your books." He was taken aback. Surely he was thinking of all the ways in which I had been overprotective of my collection -- refusing flatly at times to even let him borrow a book.
"Are you proposing to me?" he asked. I considered what I could possibly mean by offering him ownership of my personal library and then, in disbelief of what I was about to do, I nodded, "Yes," I said. "I suppose I am."