My husband the reader

Some of the novels I put in John’s hands.

My husband was a lot of things. Most of all, he was the nicest, sweetest, most accommodating partner anyone could hope to have. We didn’t agree on everything, but we always agreed on the big, consequential things–those things that are at the very root of who one is and what one stands for.

And, it turns out, we also pretty much agreed on fiction. For the first 17 or so years that we were together he was primarily a reader of nonfiction. His choices for reading were usually something to do with gardens or gardening or gardeners…or World War II.

Early in the pandemic, however, he looked over one night and said “I want you to choose a novel for me to read–something cozy.” He didn’t have to ask twice. I ran into the library and found a stack of titles that would fit the bill. I don’t remember what the first selection was, but it got him hooked on my abilities as a book recommender. Over the course of about two years, he allowed me to choose every book he read. Don’t get me wrong, he still read nonfiction here and there, but for the most part he was happy to be given a novel that fit the mood he was in at the moment he was ready for a new one.

Since I only keep books that I think I want to read again, I was choosing from a stack of books that I quite enjoyed. But I was still surprised how much he enjoyed whatever I threw his direction. The fact that he wasn’t necessarily pre-disposed to the kind of fiction I tend to like made the process all the more gratifying. And since I rarely remember the plot or characters in any book, even if I loved it, I would ask him each night what was happening in his book. Those were truly precious moments to me. Sometimes I would lean over as we lay in bed reading and rest my head on his shoulder and read what was on the pages in front of him. Sometimes falling asleep that way while he stayed up to read a few more pages.

He discovered he liked D.E. Stevenson and Nevil Shute almost as much as I do. When I put the last book in his hands he would ever read, I was contemplating whether or not he was ready for Barbara Pym. But that wasn’t to be. The night he died, suddenly and unexpectedly, after I walked with his body out to the van that took him away, I went back to our bedroom and saw his glasses sitting on top of the book he would never finish reading. So glad that his open heart and mind let us share something that was so important to me, and so, so, very sad that we would never share anything again.

A book unfinished and a life with so much more to go.

Goodbye my sweet boy. I will miss you always.

44 thoughts on “My husband the reader

  1. Dianne King June 5, 2022 / 6:35 pm

    I am so sorry to hear this sad news. I have followed your travels and adventures for several years and my heart breaks for you. Sending condolences and every good thought. Thank you for sharing this last tender remembrance. I won’t forget you or your husband.


  2. Pamela Balabuszko-Reay June 5, 2022 / 6:46 pm

    He sure trusted you in ways both deep and delightful. Thank you for sharing this Thomas. xo


  3. Diane June 5, 2022 / 7:02 pm

    Thomas, I’ve read your blog for what seems like a decade and, I my perpetual TBR list has gown as a result. I wasn’t expecting this very sad news, I am very sorry for your loss — such a beautiful tribute; may happy memories stay with you.


  4. Claire (The Captive Reader) June 5, 2022 / 7:10 pm

    I’m so sorry, Thomas. This is a beautiful tribute to your husband. I’m so happy you were able to share your favourite books together and hope those memories make them even sweeter to reread in the years to come.


  5. Gina Thomas June 5, 2022 / 7:12 pm

    The words seem rather trite, but I truly am sorry for your loss. I didn’t know of your husband’s death right away. In fact I had gone to your social media to commiserate about the loss of Jenny Colvin when I saw your terrible news. Then I simply didn’t have words, I was just so saddened for you. I am very sorry this has happened but also gratified to know you shared such beautiful poignant memories. Oh the irony that the pandemic forced you both to slow down and enjoy more time together. What a gift that turned out to be. I know it will take time, but I wish you happy times in your future. It’s so hard when life throws these curves our way. I wish you healing. I wish you peace.

    Gina Thomas 💕

    Sent from my iPhone



    • Thomas June 6, 2022 / 9:01 am

      Gina, I didn’t know about Jenny. That is so sad. So young and with a small child.


  6. Cal Gough June 5, 2022 / 7:21 pm

    Thank you for sharing with your readers one of the ways your life with John overlapped with your enthusiasm (general and specific) for reading. Those of us who know you only via your blog are definitely thinking of you in this time of great (and so unexpected) sorrow. This reader hopes you will write again, about John, about anything, whenever you’re up to it.


  7. Lindsey June 5, 2022 / 8:20 pm

    What a lovely reading experience to have shared with him. I’m so sorry he is gone. I have been thinking of you lately and wishing you well.


  8. Tom Perkins June 5, 2022 / 9:05 pm

    Thomas, I am so sad to read this post. I have followed you for many years both in your blog and the readers podcast. My heart goes out to you at this time of loss.


  9. Kim June 5, 2022 / 9:06 pm

    Thomas – I am so so sorry for your loss. May these and other fond memories bring you comfort at this sad time.


  10. karenbrown7019 June 5, 2022 / 9:55 pm

    What a loving tribute to John. Sharing what we love with those we love is priceless. Thank you for sharing your book recommendations and John’s reading selections. You, John, and Lucy are often in my thoughts and I know that I will think of you both when I next pick up a novel by D.E. Stevenson or any of the books mentioned in your post. <3


  11. Mary arth June 5, 2022 / 10:20 pm

    I love hearing about John


  12. quinn June 6, 2022 / 1:16 am

    Indeed, I love hearing about John. And my heart broke when I heard of your sudden loss. You were my first blog addiction and u brought Shute, Pym, Stevenson into my life and changed me from NF to Fiction and I am grateful. I have no choice but to keep you and John and Lucy in my thoughts and heart always. Much luv, Quinn


  13. juliana June 6, 2022 / 2:17 am

    Beautiful post, thank you for sharing it with us. I’m sorry for your loss.


  14. Malvina Y June 6, 2022 / 3:25 am

    Such lovely words about your husband. I’m sorry for your loss. I hope books can continue to give you solace.


  15. Mary Grace McGeehan June 6, 2022 / 5:03 am

    Oh, Thomas, I’m so sorry. We’ve never met, but I feel like I’ve gotten to know you over the years through your blog and your podcast. What a beautiful tribute.


  16. Bettina Grissen June 6, 2022 / 7:54 am

    Dear Thomas, I only know you from your blog, but I wanted to let you know how sorry I am for your loss. Your John sounds like a wonderful man, and I wish you strength in what must be a very sad time for you.

    Warm regards,


  17. Elle June 6, 2022 / 9:13 am

    What a beautiful tribute to a man who was so clearly openminded, curious and loving. I’m so sorry for your loss.


  18. Rohan Maitzen June 6, 2022 / 9:26 am

    Oh, Thomas, it’s so so hard, and I’m so sorry for your loss. What a wonderful relationship, and how lovely that you could share so much love of reading.


  19. Denise Costello June 6, 2022 / 11:26 am

    So sad to read this post, Thomas. My sincere condolences to you and yours. Big hugs.


  20. Bill Matthews June 6, 2022 / 12:29 pm

    John’s passing was so sudden, so unexpected. He touched many and will be missed. Our garden wind chime reminds me of him each time the winds blow. Thank you for sharing such a touching tribute.


  21. Jim K June 6, 2022 / 12:48 pm

    My best moment with John was in the office. I was late for a meeting and, afterwards, John asked where I was coming from. I had come from the doctor’s, learning the results of my five-year scan from bladder cancer. Fortunately, I was still in remission. John, a cancer survivor himself, knew the importance of five years — recurrence odds drop significantly after that point — and he gave me a big hug. Really big. Others looked perplexed at the scene. But John didn’t care. He found joy in good things happening to others. John touched so many lives…


  22. Steerforth June 6, 2022 / 1:26 pm

    A beautiful tribute. It’s difficult to know what to say to someone in the face of such a terrible loss, particularly one that came completely out of the blue. Words feel inadequate. However, you have found the words and have encapsulated the essence of a happy marriage.


  23. heavenali June 6, 2022 / 2:04 pm

    Such a wonderful tribute to your husband. I am so very sorry for your terrible loss, but so happy the two of you were able to share your love of books.


  24. Terry Cagle June 6, 2022 / 2:17 pm

    Dear Thomas, Just a note to send you my condolences. What a lovely tribute you have written. Wishing you the best.


  25. Anna van Gelderen June 7, 2022 / 2:38 am

    Oh, Thomas, this is devastating news. I had no idea John had died and reading about it here came as a great shock. I met you in person when you came to visit in Groningen, where we had all sorts of bookish conversations and where you talked with so much warmth about John. I wish you lots of strength and thank you for this beautiful tribute.


  26. Michelle Ann June 7, 2022 / 8:31 am

    I am so sorry to hear this sad news. I am glad you had a happy life together, and my deepest sympathy on your loss.


  27. K. A. Uranker June 7, 2022 / 8:32 am

    My heart and head are with you, what a lovely tribute. I felt I got to “know” you and your spouse through your excellent writing on the blog. True condolences.


  28. harvee June 7, 2022 / 9:10 am

    I’m so sorry. And happy you got to share your passion for fiction with him.


  29. Liz Dexter June 7, 2022 / 10:56 am

    I’m so very sorry to read this devastating news; I hadn’t seen your post on Twitter so I can only now send you my deepest condolences. What an absolutely beautiful tribute to a lovely life together. I wish you much strength for the times ahead, and solace in your beloved books when it’s time for them.


  30. Ti June 7, 2022 / 12:39 pm

    This is such a special tribute to him. A reading husband! Mine has only read ONE book, ever. Says that reading is boring. You definitely shared something special and I am so sorry that he never got to that Pym.


  31. Julie F June 8, 2022 / 2:25 pm

    How lovely that he trusted you to choose just the right book, again and again. I’m so very sorry for your loss.


  32. Geoff W June 9, 2022 / 12:35 pm

    Oh Thomas, I’m so sorry to hear about John, but what an incredibly beautiful tribute and wonderful relationship you had to be trusted to pick books out for him.


  33. ASD June 13, 2022 / 12:30 pm

    Dear Thomas,

    Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful tribute to John. I have been thinking of you during this difficult time. I am sending you my heartfelt condolences. It is wonderful to read about the books that you selected for John during the pandemic. I would have never guessed that you managed to convert John to become a Dessie (as the fans of the author, D.E. Stevenson are usually called themselves).

    I remember reading a story that you shared many years ago about John’s love of Schueler’s paintings. I realised then that he was a man of sensitivity and exquisite taste.

    I have been moved by not only your words in this post but also the photograph showing the spectacles on the top of the book of D. E. Stevenson’s Sarah’s Cottage. Yes, things do outlive us but more importantly, every time you see his spectacles, you will always have a chance to re-vision John’s view of the world and his outlook on life. No one can take this ability to access this close proximity you shared with him from you. I’m sending you all my thoughts and prayers.


  34. Ruthiella June 26, 2022 / 4:40 pm

    Oh Thomas. You have my heartfelt condolences. Thank you for letting us know and in such a beautiful way.


  35. Annie D July 7, 2022 / 6:42 pm

    I am so very sorry to learn this terrible news. About ten years ago my husband developed a cough and just a few months later he died of lung cancer. Completely unexpected as he was a non-smoker. He was the life of my life.

    There’s nothing I can say to you to take away the pain and it may take years to fully comprehend what has happened to him and you. Life is just awful sometimes. Full of pain and grief.

    However, this post was beautiful. I found talking about Bill, remembering him with love and laughter was the best thing I could do. Bottling up the anger and grief wouldn’t help. Crying and talking did. But most of all remembering him with a smile. Loving someone comes with the awful risk of losing them. But they are never really gone.

    I never expected to become a widow at 49. It’s not the way these things are supposed to happen. I’m sure you feel something similar. The awful people go through life and live to be 90. The good ones are gone much too soon.

    Peace and hope to you and to all who knew and loved him.


  36. Chris Wolak July 17, 2022 / 2:26 pm

    Such a beautiful post, Thomas. Vivid and full of love. The photo of John’s glasses makes my heart ache.


  37. Sarah Faragher August 4, 2022 / 12:18 pm

    Thinking of you after seeing this terrible news, late. I’m so very sorry, Thomas and Lucy. My heart goes out to you. Love from here.


  38. conmartin13 August 22, 2022 / 10:28 pm

    I am so sorry for your loss. Sharing those favorites with him is a lovely memory. I’m sorry he didn’t get to finish that D.E. Stevenson but I will reread it as a tribute.


  39. Susan in TX February 15, 2023 / 12:40 am

    I’ve not caught up on blog reading for some time and realized on Instagram today (another place I’ve been absent more than present) that I had clearly missed something. I am so, so sorry to hear of your loss. I lost my Daddy in October – a very different loss, but one felt keenly. Praying for you as you take each day as it comes, for comfort, and for the good memories to keep you company. ❤️


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