On Finding Love In The Fiction Section

When people ask me how I met my fiance, I always have a moment when I consider lying.

It's not that it's so mortifying, or sordid — it's just dull. We met at a bar. I was having a sandwich with a friend, he approached us, the end. I love good stories — especially good "how we met" stories — and it's galling to have to consistently disappoint. When I consider lying, I weigh my options: missed connection, revival house, independent bookstore. The latter has always seemed to me the most romantic of all possible scenarios, and according to Emma Straub's charming essay on Slate, it's a real one: as she writes of her time at just such a bookstore,

I watch it happen regularly: the shy approach, the careful hand-selection of a novel or a volume of poetry, the hand-off, the sweet ringing of the cash register, the slip of paper with the telephone number, the awkward good-bye...Of course, it's not just staff members who find bookstores and their bookish patrons appealing. There are many reasons why bookstores are naturally romantic environments: the smell of paper, the soft lighting, the baseline understanding that those inside like to read, and are therefore probably not morons. Browsing customers often circle each other like timid sharks, the piles of books in their hands their only weapons. Heidegger implies late-night conversations over coffee and cigarettes; Rumi, a bathtub surrounded by candles. Ayn Rand indicates a need for a wide berth; Sarah Vowell means mornings spent listening to NPR while baking gluten-free cupcakes.

Seriously, if you could pick a way to meet, could you find a better one? Everyone comes off looking smart; romantic rather than creepy' not remotely sordid. When I was single I spent a lot of time hanging around places and hoping people might fall in love with me. Possibly because of my general surliness (look, I was conflicted) this was in no danger of happening. The one time someone did approach me, it was a dude clutching a copy of the Kama Sutra. Did I say there was no creepiness in bookstores? I was mistaken.

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Of course, the way people meet is incidental, ultimately — delightful as a good story is — incidental to anything; of course it is. But it can provide a pleasing sense of drama to the stories of our own lives. Not to mention, delight people around you — or in the case of petty jerks like some of us, make them mortally jealous.

Love in Bookstores [Slate]