This is a story about the moment I fell in love, but it begins many years ago…
Like many book-loving, introverted girls whose childhoods coincided with the years of the Disney Renaissance, I always saw myself in Belle from Beauty and the Beast, only the version of myself that I thought I could only dream of being. She’s her own person, independent; she doesn’t care that the people in her village think she’s weird; she dreams of adventure out in the world; and most of all, she loves books.
There weren’t many things I knew for certain about myself when I was four, but I knew unequivocally that I loved books.
I don’t remember learning to read–according to my mother, I picked it up around the age of three or four as naturally and organically as a baby speaking her first words or taking her first steps (no doubt thanks to the example she herself set for me; there were always lots of books in the house, and I saw my mother reading all the time)–but I do remember learning how to use the library, and learning just what kind of books I liked to read. Fairy tales, adventure stories, tales of the magical and fantastical, stories featuring plucky young heroines who go on quests and break curses and find the strength to be themselves. (They might have love interests, or they might not; it didn’t matter. Romance was wonderful, but not essential.)
So when I watched Beauty and the Beast for the first time at the age of four, I was Belle, and Belle was me. And when the Beast showed Belle the castle library for the first time and told her it was hers, and she fell just a tiny bit in love with him, I fell in love a little bit, too. I didn’t fully understand, and wouldn’t have been able to articulate it at the time, but from then on I had a deep sense that my own love story would be intrinsically tied to books and reading.
Belle was my icon and role model throughout my formative years. There were many times I found myself assessing circumstances and wondering what Belle would do in my shoes. Even when I got older, and would never have admitted to my middle school classmates that I was modeling my behavior and personality after a Disney Princess.
At 15, I found another kindred spirit, and discovered my favorite author, when I read Pride and Prejudice. I’m sure every Jane Austen fan has a story about reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time, and mine is probably pretty unremarkable, but to me it was transformative. Just as I had seen myself, or the self I wanted to be, in Belle, Elizabeth Bennet was everything I aspired to: intelligent and witty, fiercely independent, a fellow reader and book lover, and she gets no fewer than three marriage proposals over the course of the book. (There’s something innately fascinating to a 15-year-old about a woman who receives three marriage proposals, even if two are from the same man.)
What I’ve always loved most about the love story in Pride and Prejudice is that Darcy sees and embraces all of Lizzy’s qualities, even those seen as a little odd, and he loves her all the more for them. He loves that she’s a reader, and subtly defends her against Caroline’s veiled digs at her reading habits. If I got nothing else out of Pride and Prejudice at 15, I learned that someday, far in the future, I wanted to find a man who would embrace my quirks, and see my obsession with books as an endearing quality.
It was one of those gorgeous days in early October, when the sky seems to be blissfully unaware of the dark clouds and rain that will arrive within the month, when the mornings are chilly but the afternoons are like that sweet spot of summer. And one of those days that is made even more beautiful by new love.
We had been dating for about six weeks when we decided to take a day trip to Portland. He had lived there for a few years, so he knew all the best places to eat. And of course, I wanted to go to Powell’s. If you’re a book lover in the Pacific Northwest, you have to visit Powell’s at least once every couple years or so, and it had been awhile for me.
But first we spent three hours driving down, listening to ’90s pop and drinking pumpkin spice lattes. Our first stop in Portland was Blue Star Donuts (only tourists go to Voodoo; well… I guess we were technically tourists but not that kind of tourists) before a visit to the Pittock Mansion, a 1914 house-turned-history-museum, where I learned that my highest aspiration is to have a writing room in my house someday.
After lunch, it was finally time for Powell’s. As we were walking in, he turned to me to talk about the game plan: “Okay, so we’re getting all the books you want, plus whatever you think I should read.”
“Okay, so we’re getting all the books you want, plus whatever you think I should read.”
This was it. The Beast giving Belle his library. Mr. Darcy saying he likes women who read. This was that moment.
And that’s when I knew.