Storybook romance

Summer love is only a bookstore and a Delta breeze away

Illustration by Rob Zammarchi

“Would you get your nose out of that book?!”

Every significant woman in my life has said that to me in varied tones of frustration and disgust. Every significant woman, that is, except one.

It was a typical Iowa summer, defined by humidity. That means “seeking air and finding water” for the uninitiated. Oh, it’s true that the Deep South is supposed to be muggier, but on Iowa summer nights, when the water in the air has kept the temperature in the triple digits and even the fireflies are too sweaty to light up the sky, it doesn’t feel like it’s better than Mississippi.

That’s what made my idea of the perfect summer spot a place with air conditioning and a stack of books. Really, who can move in that swelter?

When I was invited on a first date during the second week in July by a woman I’d had a crush on for decades, I made a point to ask what she had in mind.

“Let’s go down to Des Moines and get dinner and see a movie,” she said.

Air conditioning, plus she’s cute and she’s smart. I’m in, I thought.

But as we were driving down Interstate 35, she mentioned that a new bookstore had opened up in West Des Moines and asked if I would like to check it out before dinner.

Oh yes, I would.

And, yes, the bookstore was air-conditioned. It was also very well-stocked.

When I looked up from the spot on the floor that I’d staked out in the poetry section (natch) a couple of hours later, she was standing there looking a bit sheepish.

“I think we missed the movie,” she said.

“No problem,” I answered.

We paid for our books and headed out to get some dinner. I stood sweating outside while she opened the doors and blasted the AC on her new Honda to clear out the stuffy, water-logged hot air that had accumulated while we shopped.

When we were both seated in the air-conditioned comfort of her Accord, she looked at me and asked, “Uh, would you maybe want to skip the fancy restaurant and go to Village Inn instead? We could read our new books.”

That was a no-brainer. Air conditioning, new books, a cute woman and pie was the most perfect date I could imagine.

Nineteen years later, we’re still reading at dinner, and we’ve never met a bookstore we didn’t like. Summer evenings are cooler here in California—no matter how hot it gets, it’s relatively dry, and once the sun goes down, it gets comfortable. So we leave the window open to catch a bit of Delta breeze and listen to the downtown night sounds while we read: music from the Friday night Concerts in the Park or fireworks from Raley Field after the River Cats game is over. A couple of times, we’ve taken lawn chairs down to the river and read there, with boats providing the background noise. This year, now that the smokers next door have moved, we may try the porch, too.

Best of all, she’s never once told me to get my nose out of that book.