An Inside Look at Beautiful Country Author Qian Julie Wang’s Bookish Wedding
Here at the Reading Group Center, we are self-proclaimed book nerds, so you can only imagine our glee when we found out that debut author Qian Julie Wang had a book-themed wedding! As we learned in her memoir, Beautiful Country, books were her solace and soulmates growing up, so it was only natural that they played a part when she married her best friend. When we asked for an inside look at the big event, we didn’t expect that we would also get an inside look at part of her writing process. We hope you enjoy learning about the bookish details of a gorgeous day.
Oh, and if you haven’t already, we highly recommend following Qian Julie Wang on Instagram, which is where we first discovered her book-obsessed wedding.
Early 2019 found me a sleep-deprived monster. I was running several multimillion- and billion-dollar cases at my then–law firm, planning a wedding for that September (which coincidentally aligned with a huge deadline for one of my major cases), and trying to write my childhood memoir. I woke up at 6 a.m. every day and rarely left the office before midnight. One evening, my fiancé, Marc, came to my office just so we could have dinner together for the first time in weeks. He ended up napping in the office lactation room as I continued working into the wee hours of the night.
One night at 1 a.m., I broke down, looked out the window of my Park Avenue office, and accepted that something had to go. So I decided to stop working on my book—possibly forever, or possibly just until I reconnected with my sanity.
The result of that decision was a book-obsessed wedding. It was my way of having fun with the planning, but it was also an expression of the daily guilt and remorse I felt for stopping work on my book. I had known from the beginning that I wanted our wedding to take place in a bookstore or library—we visited just about all such venues in New York City. (The semiaffordable ones, anyway.)
We ended up falling in love with the Brooklyn Historical Society, which had an archival library on the second floor that worked perfectly for the ceremony and for dancing, and a Great Hall downstairs that was ideal for the dinner. I had been of two minds about having a wedding at all, because City Hall nuptials struck me as more romantic and way, way more efficient. But Marc has a fun, large, and boisterous family, and he was always the life of every party. As I liked to say during the planning process, I didn’t want to deprive him of “his day.” Now, though, I’m grateful for my own benefit that we had decided to forge forward, and all the more grateful that we both jumped on the nerding out over a complete book-themed wedding.
It began with our talented friend’s generous offer to build us a chuppah using green books as pillars, along with the carved Chinese character of 囍, double happiness, commonly displayed at weddings. Fully customizing our wedding down to the minutiae snowballed from there: a greeting sign in the form of a book cover; escort cards in the form of library catalogue cards; books as giveaways and centerpieces; the menu as a table of contents; a photo booth that produced strips for bookmark sleeves, the perfect party favor; and the anthology of New Yorker cartoons as a guestbook, where guests were free to add their own annotations to the drawings.
There were also the bits of genius that others came up with—for instance, the rebellious act of playing loud music, hanging a disco ball, and dancing in a historic library. And there were the unforgettable speeches from our two officiants, Marc’s childhood rabbi and the judge for whom I clerked after law school. They remarked on the improbability of a Jewish man born in Manhattan and a first-generation immigrant born in north China finding each other in this large, chaotic world, only to discover that we had so much in common—especially our passion for books from the earliest age. (As my judge noted, “if you know them, you know that they are always shopping for a new bookcase.”). Most of all, there was my father’s speech, which brought the entire room into laughter and then tears (and solicited more than one suggestion that he should run for president). It was during that speech that my father publicly acknowledged for the first time how very difficult our early years in America had been, and how much love had been necessary to carry us through. Indeed, his words brought the night together in true celebration of everything we’d built our shared life around: books, family in all its beautiful forms, and love.
Looking back, the wedding’s embrace of all the values that had inspired me to write my book in the first place is exactly what drove me to return to the project anew. On our departure flight for our honeymoon in late September 2019, I pulled out my phone and resumed writing my book. At that point, I had maybe one third to half of the first draft written. I gave myself until December 31, 2019, to finish the entire draft. On December 30, I was done.
—Qian Julie Wang
Credit for all photos: Saskia Kahn