Our Reading Lives

Help! I Need the Perfect Literary Wedding Reading

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Alex Laffer

Staff Writer

Alex Laffer is a writer, editor and researcher. He’s just finished his PhD, which involved listening to hours and hours of people talking about books; all things considered, not a bad way to pass the time. Born in Britain of Australian and Vietnamese descent, he’s interested in the negotiation of identity and empathy in literature. His reading habits jump from science fiction to natural history and most things in between, but he’s particularly fond of Japanese literature, the work of Salman Rushdie and books that do fun things with form. Alongside the day job, he’s currently trying to organise a poetry night in South London and write fairy tales for his nieces and nephew. He doesn’t like camping. Twitter: @exlaffer

Okay, so a bit of a disclaimer. I’m getting married next month, so love poetry and the like has been on my mind quite a bit. As a huge book nerd, I’ve been racking my brain (read: searching Google) looking for a literary wedding reading for the ceremony and some suitable quotes to pepper my speech. To honest, I’m struggling. You’d think there would be more out there, but the internet tends to recycle itself. I’m coming across the same few pieces again and again, and it’s proving difficult to navigate between the romantic and the saccharine, between the clichéd and overly obscure. I’d really appreciate thoughts and ideas to help me find that perfect literary-inspired piece. At the moment, everything seems to be falling into these categories:

The Crowd-pleasers

You’ve found the perfect words. They speak to the exact nature of your feelings for each other and would provide a unique embellishment for your special day… except everyone else has had the same idea. Unfortunately, there are some pieces that just seem to get used time and again. However, this isn’t necessarily a problem. If you feel strongly enough about your favourite book or poem, then it shouldn’t matter, and perhaps these passages are capture something universal about the nature of love that we can all share. Take the following extract from de Bernières’s Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, oft-recited but still lovely:

‘Those that truly love have roots that grow towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms have fallen from their branches, they find that they are one tree and not two.’

The Slightly Creepy

Ask, and the internet provides… well it does if you’re after love poetry written a few hundred years ago. On the surface, these might seem like a good bet, giving you a bit of literary kudos and upping your bookish credentials. I mean, who isn’t impressed by someone who can recite obscure 17th century poetry? However, on second reading, a lot of these poems are actually rather creepy, with outdated gender politics or bizarre turns of phrase. Take for example the opening lines of John Donne’s The Good Morrow:

I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved? were we not weaned till then?
But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?

There’s something unsettling about comparing romantic love to breastfeeding a baby…

The Literary

Why is it so difficult to find something from literary fiction that unabashedly revels in the joys and positivity of love? Going through some of my favourite books to check on half-remembered passages, I’ve found that the descriptions tend to be tinged with uncertainty, melancholy, even hostility. I guess literary fiction is meant to present the full complexity of human emotion and experience.  Unfortunately, the resultant ambiguity means quotes and passages are usually unsuitable. Imagine trying to use this in front of assembled family and friends:

‘But so fluid a thing was love. It wasn’t firm, he was learning, it wasn’t a scripture; it was a wobbliness that lent itself to betrayal, taking the mould of whatever he poured he poured it into. And in fact, it was difficult to keep from pouring it into numerous vessels. It could be used for all kinds of purposes…’ Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss

The Sonnet

Shakespeare's SonnetsWhat list on this topic would be complete without a bit of Shakespeare. His repeated ruminations on love rendered the sonnet a cliché 400 years ago for any discussion of affairs of the heart. The poetry remains beautiful, and I like the air of mystery surrounding the sonnets; who was Shakespeare’s intended recipient? It’s always tempting to go with Shakespeare, but even more so than  crowd-pleasers, they can just feel really overused. Take Sonnet 116, for example, a stalwart of many a marriage ceremony:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,

The Left-field

This piece may be written in a slightly facetious tone, but I’m actually taking the search very seriously. I want to be able to use my love of books, this essential part of myself, to communicate my feelings to the most important person in my life on the most important day of our lives. So, I’ll keep looking until I find the perfect words. I’ve got something in mind, but it’s a bit left-field, and I think I’ll keep it under my hat for now. In the mean time, you can help by sharing any suggestions you have for that perfect book-inspired reading.