Welcome to #ReadWithMC—Marie Claire's virtual book club. It's nice to have you! In May, we're reading Emily Henry's Book Lovers, a rom-com about a cut-throat literary agent who plans a trip away from it all with her sister, only to run into a big-name author she knows from the city. Read an excerpt from the novel below, then find out how to participate in our virtual book club. (You really don't have to leave your couch!)
If we got blindfolded and air-dropped into the city, we’d probably still end up here: gazing wistfully at Freeman Books, the West Village shop we used to live over. The tiny apartment where Mom spun us through the kitchen, all three of us singing The Supremes’ “Baby Love” into kitchen utensils. The place where we spent countless nights curled up on a pink-and-cream floral couch watching Katharine Hepburn movies with a smorgasbord of junk food spread across the coffee table she’d found on the street, its busted leg replaced by a stack of books.
In books and movies, characters like me always lived in cement-floored lofts, with bleak modern art and a four-foot vases filled with, like, scraggly black twigs, for some inexplicable reason.
But in real life, I chose my current apartment because it looked so much like this one: old wooden floors and soft wallpaper, a hissing radiator in one corner and built-in bookshelves stuffed to the brim with secondhand paperbacks. Its crown moulding had been painted over so many times it had lost its crisp edges, and time had warped its high, narrow windows.
This little bookstore and its upstairs apartment are my favorite places on earth.
Even if it’s also where our lives were torn in half, I love this place.
“Oh my gosh!” Libby grips my forearm, waving at the display in the window. A pyramid of Dusty Fielding’s runaway hit, Once in a Lifetime, with its new movie tie-in cover.
She pulls out her phone. “We have to take a picture!”
There is no one who loves Dusty’s book as much as my sister. And that’s saying something, since, in six months, it’s sold five-hundred-thousand copies already. People are calling it the book of the year. A Man Called Ove meets A Little Life.
Take that, Charlie Lastra, I think, as I do every so often when I remember that fateful lunch. Or whenever I pass his shut-tight office door (all the sweeter since he moved to work at the publishing house that put out Once where he’s now surrounded by constant reminders of my success).
Fine, I think Take that, Charlie Lastra a lot. One never really forgets the first time a colleague drove her to extreme unprofessionalism.
“I’m going to see this movie five-hundred times,” Libby tells me. “Consecutively.”
“Wear a diaper,” I advise.
“Not necessary,” she says. “I’ll be crying too much. There won’t be any pee in my body.”
“I had no idea you had such a… comprehensive understanding of science,” I say.
“The last time I read it, I cried so hard I pulled a muscle in my back.”
“You should consider exercising more.”
“Rude.” She waves at her pregnant belly then starts us toward the juice bar again. “Anyway, back to your love life. You just need to get back out there.”
“Libby,” I say. “I understand that you met the love of your life when you were 20 years old, and thus have never truly dated. But imagine for a moment, if you will, a world in which thirty-percent of your dates end with the revelation that the man across the table from you has a foot, elbow, or kneecap fetish.”
It was the shock of my life when my whimsical, romantic sister fell in love with a nine-years-older-than-her accountant who is very into reading about trains, but Brendan’s also the most solid man I’ve ever met in my life, and I’ve long since accepted that somehow, against all odds, he and my sister are soul mates.
“Thirty percent?!” she cries. “What the hell kind of dating app are you on, Nora?”
“The normal ones!” I say.
In the interest of full discretion, yes, I outright inquire about fetishes up front. It’s not that thirty-percent of men announce their kinks twenty minutes after meeting, but that’s my point. The last time my boss Amy went home with an un-vetted woman, she turned out to have a room that was entirely dolls. Floor-to-ceiling, ceramic dolls.
How inconvenient would it be to fall in love with a person only to find out they had a doll room? The answer is very.
“Can we sit for a second?” she asks, a little out of breath and we sidestep a group of German tourists to perch on the edge of a coffee shop’s windowsill.
“Are you okay?” I ask. “Can I get you something? Water?”
She shakes her head, brushes her hair behind her ears. “I’m just tired. I need a break.”
“Maybe we should have a spa day,” I suggest. “I have a gift certificate—”
“First of all,” she says. “You’re lying, and I can tell. And second of all…” Her teeth worry over her pink-glossed lip. “I had something else in mind.”
“Two spa days?” I guess.
She cracks a tentative smile. “You know how you’re always complaining about how publishing pretty much shuts down in August and you have nothing to do?”
“I have plenty to do,” I argue.
“—Nothing that requires you to be in the city,” she amends. “So what if we went somewhere? Got away for a few weeks, and just relaxed. I can go a day without getting anyone else’s bodily fluids on me, and you can forget about what happened with Aaron, and we can just… take a break from being the Tired Super Mom and Fancy Career Lady we have to be the other eleven months out of the year. Maybe you can even take a page out of your exes’ books and have a whirlwind romance with a local… lobster hunter?”
I stare at her, trying to parse out how serious she is.
“Fisher? Lobster fisher?” she says. “Fisherman?”
“But we never go anywhere,” I point out.
“Exactly,” she says, a ragged edge creeping into her a voice. She grabs for my hand, and I note the way her nails are bitten down. I try to swallow, but it’s like my esophagus is inside a vise. Because, right then, I’m nearly sure there’s more going on than run-of-the-mill money problems, lack of sleep, or irritation with my work schedule.
Six months ago, I’d have known exactly what was going on. I wouldn’t have even had to ask. She would’ve stopped by my apartment, unannounced, and flopped onto my couch dramatically and said, “You know what’s bothering me lately, Sissy?” and I would pull her head into my lap and tease my fingers through her hair while she poured out her worries over a glass of crisp white wine.
“This is our chance, Nora,” she says quietly, urgently. “Let’s take a trip. Just the two of us. The last time we did that was California.”
My stomach plummets then rebounds. That trip—like my relationship with Jakob—is part of the time in my life I do my best not to revisit.
Pretty much everything I do, actually, is to ensure Libby and I never find ourselves back in that dark place we were in after Mom died. But the undeniable truth is, I haven’t seen her look like this, like she’s at her breaking point, since then.
I swallow hard. “Can you get away right now?”
“Brendan’s parents will help with the girls.” She squeezes my hands, her wide blue eyes practically burning with hope. “When this baby gets here, I’m going to be an empty shell of a person for a while, and before that happens, I really, really want to spend time with you, like it used to be. And also I’m like three sleepless nights away from snapping and pulling a Where’d You Go, Bernadette, if not the full Gone Girl. I need this.”
My chest squeezes. An image of a heart in a too-small metal cage flashes over my mind. I’ve always been incapable of saying no to her. Not when she was five and wanted the last bite of Juniors cheesecake, or when she was fifteen and wanted to borrow my favorite jeans (the seat of which never recovered from her superior curves), or when she was sixteen, and she said through tears, I just want to not be here, and I swept her off to Los Angeles.
She never actually asked for any of those things, but she’s asking now, her palms pressed together and lower lip jutted, and it makes me feel panicky and out of breath, even more out of control than the thought of leaving the city. “Please.”
Her fatigue has made her looked insubstantial, faded, like if I tried to brush her hair away from her brow, my fingers might pass through her. I didn’t know it was possible to miss a person this much while she was sitting right next to you, so badly everything in you aches.
She’s right here, I tell myself, and she’s okay. Whatever it is, you’ll fix it.
I swallow every excuse, complaint, and argument bubbling up in me. “Let’s take a trip.”
Libby’s lips split into a grin. She shifts on the windowsill to wriggle something out of her back pocket. “Okay, good. Because I already bought these and I’m not sure they’re refundable.” She slaps the printed plane tickets in my lap, and it’s like the moment never happened. Like in the matter of point five seconds, I got my carefree baby sister back, and I’d trade any number of organs to cement us both into this moment, to live here always where she’s shining bright. My chest loosens. My next breath comes easy.
“Aren’t you even going to look where we’re going?” Libby asks, eyes dancing.
I tear my gaze from her and read the ticket. “Asheville, North Carolina?”
She shakes her head. “It’s the airport closest to Sunshine Falls. This is going to be a… once in a lifetime trip.”
I groan and she throws her arms around me, laughing. “We’re going to have so much fun, Sissy! And you’re going to fall in love with a lumberjack.”
“If there’s one thing that makes me horny,” I say, “it’s deforestation.”
“An ethical, sustainable, organic, gluten-free lumberjack,” Libby amends.
Excerpted from Book Lovers by Emily Henry, published by Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2022
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