"Andreas and I had been together for less than a year when the questions started," begins Offbeat Bride by Seattle author Ariel Meadow Stallings, who bought this review in last month's Strangercrombie auction.

The questions, naturally, revolved around marriage—specifically, when hers would be. Stallings's response for six years was this: "We're really committed to each other and we might have a ceremony someday to acknowledge that, but I'm not sure we need or want the legal institution of marriage to make it official."

Six years ago, Stallings and her partner were happily committed nonconformists who believed that the institution of marriage stepped beyond love, religion, and the ease of joint taxes to become a politically charged and socially tense ordeal. They felt it would be weird to get married when their lesbian mothers and aunts were denied the same right. Plus, there were the regressive undercurrents of wedding traditions that chafe many progressive might-be brides like Stallings.

Not to mention the oft-quoted wet-blanket statistic that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce.

So why get married at all, Stallings and her partner asked themselves—a commitment ceremony someday, sure, but why marriage?

After six years, they decided health insurance was a pretty good reason—and because they were in love; because they wanted to celebrate that love with supportive family and community; because it was an excuse to throw a great party; because, for practical types, it makes economic sense; and because while standing in solidarity with disenfranchised gays and lesbians sounds like the progressive thing to do, there are better ways to effect change than boycotting when it comes to the institution of marriage (and because weddings can double as political soapboxes).

Offbeat Bride is the perfect book for engaged couples who are grappling with how to buck tradition, bypass the formidable Wedding Industry, and design their own weddings. For such couples, Offbeat Bride is more than a go-to guide; it is a godsend. (Or goddess-send. Or mystical-universal-life-force-connected-to-the-great-mother-earth-send.) Stallings walks her readers through every step of the wedding process, from "I am Woman, Hear Me Order Monogrammed Napkins: Is 'Feminist Wedding Planner' an Oxymoron?" through "Ceremony Without Sanctimony: Building Tradition from the Ground Up." She uses her own offbeat wedding to demonstrate step-by-step how to create a funky dream wedding without losing sight of personal values, sanity, happiness, or budget.

Don't want to support the diamond industry with your nuptial rings? The section "One Ring to Rule Them All" suggests recycling family heirlooms, or designing your own rings sans gem, or skipping tradition entirely in lieu of an object with personal significance—like an engagement lighter, as one couple did.

Can't stomach the image of yourself in white next to 007 at the altar? The chapter "On Pouf Dresses & Barefootedness" gives tips on how to find or design a dress that suits your taste (bonus points if it's locally designed, high-five if a friend or relative helps with the honor) while "Thinking Outside the Tux Box" helps the groom resemble a tastefully gussied-up version of himself rather than a generic wedding-cake topper.

"Can I Borrow Your Yarmulke?" explores the delicate balance of blending family expectations with personal and borrowed beliefs (never mind that you're not a Jew—take that yichud on your special day!), while " Behold the 'Wedsite' & Online Nuptials Planning" succinctly explains where and how and why you might want to build your own "wedsite" for friends and family.

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Between the recounting of her own outdoor forest-hippie-raver-themed wedding and the inventive weddings of others (underwater, anyone?), Stallings inserts tips such as how to deal with overenthusiastic family members, how to pick good wedding music (or a DJ who can choose good wedding music), and how to form offbeat wedding co-ops, among other topics.

Offbeat Bride does more than give advice; it lays out options—bouquets of 'em. Stallings is a relentless researcher and clever type A who has explored every avenue ending in wedding bells, interviewed every other offbeat bride she could shake a charming stick at, and has the good heart to pass on her smarts so that other brides aching to break from tradition may profit from her knowledge. Stallings doesn't just pave new bridal paths, she gives couples the tools to forge their own.