Four Stories About Love and Literature, from The Books They Gave Me

"I dumped the illiterate cad not long after."

by Jen Adams

Jen Adams' Tumblr, The Books They Gave Me, collects reader-submitted stories of gifted, loaned, and otherwise distributed literature. It's also being turned into a book. Here are four stories from the newly-published tome.

Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle

We dated in high school when a friend set us up. Both of us were children who didn’t know what we wanted; our relationship lasted only a few months. A year later, around Christmastime, when we went our separate ways to separate colleges, we tried it again. This time the relationship lasted years. We became best friends, in love, inseparable. We would try new restaurants. We would have bonfires on the lake. I would visit him every other weekend, and his roommates thought of me as a constant.

But looking back, we were still children who didn’t know what we wanted. We tried to want the same things, to force our just-starting lives to go in the same direction. To keep our same friend group in place always. Change was to be feared, avoided, because it was hastening our inevitable breakup.

He wouldn’t say that. He would say that the breakup came out of nowhere. A shocking, earth-shattering surprise. That thought still makes me feel a little sad, a little guilty, even all these years later.

I was always attracted by how much he read. Constantly. Everything. He never wanted to voice an opinion of a book or a writer without reading their entire life’s work, and he hated not being able to voice an opinion. So, he read. I would read the same books, hoping it would be a conversation starter. The first book he gave me was Cat’s Cradle. In it — because we were children, because serious things made us both uncomfortable, because we were both still learning how to be in relationships (never mind in a relationship with each other!) — he wrote a funny note in the front about how he promised he bought me this copy new, that he didn’t just re-gift the copy he had bought for himself. He didn’t wrap it; he just put a goofy Christmas bow on it.

I miss our friendship every day. We’ve both moved on; sometimes we see each other for coffee or at a Christmas party in town, but rarely. We usually try small talk for a while, and then sit back and wonder how we are both so different than we used to be, and then we start talking about books again. Cat’s Cradle and the note in the front seem like a moment frozen in history when there was so much potential between us.

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