A Wonderfully Nerdy Marriage Proposal at the National Book Festival

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Like most 20-somethings using social media, my Facebook newsfeed often features "Jane Doe is now engaged to John Smith" posts, with requisite thumbs-up, squeals of glee from friends, and photos of the engagement rings. Last weekend brought a round of several new proposals, but one in particular caught my eye—it was so unique and so wonderfully nerdy that I had to share it with you all.

On Sunday, September 23, Mike Muller proposed to my friend Rebecca Berkowitz at the Library of Congress's National Book Festival on the National Mall. With a ring hidden in a book. A book that was then autographed—and illustrated!—by the author.

The accompanying caption on Facebook: "Oh you know just hanging out in the media tent at the national book festival on the mall waiting to be interviewed about my engagement!!!!"

But let's start at the beginning...

Becca and Mike dated for years. Last year, though, they broke up; at the time, they were living several states apart and still figuring out their post-college lives. While they were broken up, Becca discovered Craig Thompson's autobiographical graphic novel Blankets (2003), which depicts Thompson's coming-of-age and first love. (The book won 3 Harvey Awards in 2004, 2 Eisner Awards in 2004, 2 Ignatz Awards in 2004, and the Prix de la critique, a French award for best comic album/book, in 2005.) She encouraged Mike to read Blankets as well, her message to Mike being for them "to have faith and to let each other grow and see if we come back together."

They rekindled their relationship during a New Year's trip to Costa Rica, where Mike purchased a wooden lady bug box—lady bugs have a special meaning to them—and they agreed that if he was ever to propose, the ring would go inside that very lady bug box.

So when Mike headed to the DC area last weekend to visit Becca, he brought the lady bug box, an engagement ring he designed himself, and one of their two copies of Blankets, in which he had carved a ringbox-sized hole. The initial proposal plan involved the Capybara exhibit at the Smithsonian, which would have been equally nerdy. That fell through, though, so Mike moved on to Plan B: the National Book Festival.

Once at the Festival, Mike and Becca listened to Thompson speak and then got in line to meet the man himself. When festival workers handed out Post-It notes so the fans could write down what they wanted Thompson to sign in their books, Becca asked Mike what he wanted, taking the book out of her backpack and opening it. As soon as she saw the box, she knew—and Mike dropped to one knee and asked her to marry him.

"We had a few wonderful moments to ourselves," Mike says, before the rest of the fans realized what had happened. The happy couple was soon being cheered and photographed by the Thompson fans around them, and word of the proposal quickly spread. The Festival workers "thought the idea was wonderful" and photographed the two to tweet the news. "It took a full 20 minutes for us to realize they had broken to news to our friends and family before we could," Mike told me; they then rushed out "the typical Facebook update" to alert their nearest and dearest.

The tweet that broke the story from the Junior League of Washington

And then their happy day got even better. Mike and Becca were rushed to the front of Thompson's signing line, where "Thompson seeemed as excited as [they] were." Mike reports that Thompson "was as friendly as could be" and was "flattered" that his book meant so much to them and was such an integral part of their story. Thompson not only signed and dedicated their proposal copy of Blankets, he also drew a personal picture in it.


Left: Showing Thompson their special book. Right: The author and the newly engaged couple posing together


Thompson signing Becca and Mike's book

Becca and Mike were asked by Festival workers if they would tape an interview for the web site, to which they agreed, and they were whisked off to the media tent. (In the photo at left, Becca and Mike prepare for their interview with event staff.) They had a few moments to call their families and have their "own little private celebration," enjoying the free coffee and food provided.

As the party guests—all the prominent authors of the Festival—filed in, they asked Mike and Becca who they were. Upon hearing Mike and Becca's story, the authors wanted to get photos with the happy couple. How many other newly engaged couples celebrate with the likes of Peter Reynolds (illustrator of the Judy Moody children's series), Ed Young (Caldecott Medal-winning author and illustrator), Christopher Paolini (author of Eragon), and Patricia Polacco (children's book author and illustrator)? For Becca and Mike, "it was beyond amazing" to share their day with such literary and artistic minds.

Becca with, from left, Ed Young, Patricia Polacco, and Christopher Paolini


Posing with Peter Reynolds. Says Becca: "He was inspired by us! Amazing."

Becca, an elementary teacher, considers it "a teacher's dream to be 'engaged' in a book." Mike, an aspiring author, found the whole thing "surreal," to have a story "leave the pages and come to life in such a real and profound way." As he wrote to me, "We were able to touch the story that inspired us [Craig Thompson's amazing work] and build it into our own, reinventing the narrative of our lives with every step of the way. All-in-all, not a bad Plan B."

I have to agree with his assessment—not a bad Plan B at all!


The proposal copy of the book, complete with the hole for the ring box and Craig Thompson's dedication and illustration


The custom ring Mike designed for Becca

Congratulations, Mike and Becca!

All photographs courtesy of Rebecca Berkowitz and Mike Muller.

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