Summer Reading

by Ayelet Waldman

While rereading Ta-Nehisi's lovely post on the gay marriage brouhaha that I accidentally started a couple of days ago, I'm reminded of why this brilliant, thoughtful and engaging man is such a good blogger. I'm lucky to be here taking up space while he works on what I know will be an incredible book.

I've been reading a lot about marriage lately. I just finished a couple of weeks immersed in Jane Austen. I tend to do that most summers, without even realizing that it's a habit. Something about July makes me want to read Pride and Prejudice, and then once I've read that I start longing for Persuasion. Those are my two favorites. I never reread Mansfield Park. I know how good it is, I've read it at least a few times, but I loathe that twit Fanny, with her mewling, self-sacrificing goodness. I also find Sense and Sensibility less compelling, mostly because Elinor and Colonel Brandon are so clearly meant for each other. Marianne doesn't deserve the Colonel, and Edward is useless, a limp rag of a man, not remotely strong enough for Elinor. The Austen books are all, obviously, structured around the quest for marriage--a desperate scramble for women of that class and time, where failure to achieve a decent marriage often spelled economic ruin.

After I finished the Austens, I reread another book, A Happy Marriage, by Rafael Yglesias. (father, incidentally, of Matthew). This book, published last year, is a devastating and beautiful novel about a long marriage, one that goes through periods of great passion, and periods when it seems love is gone. The novel is structured around the dying and death of the wife, Margaret, from cancer, and is told from the point of view of the husband. We see these two when they are impossibly young, in their very early 20s, and decades later, when he cares for her as she dies. I have been very lucky in my marriage, and in my husband, but this book taught me about loyalty and love, about what can happen to a marriage, and what it means to commit through the ebbing and recurring of passion. In fact, I think I'll start recommending this book to friends who confide in me an urge to end their marriages. It's a beautiful example of how love can bloom again, even if you're absolutely convinced that your marriage has become a desiccated husk. Like I said, I've been very lucky, but I can imagine that there might come a time when I need such inspiration, and I'm grateful to Yglesias for providing it.