"You know you've read a good book when you turn the last page
and feel a little as if you have lost a friend." --Paul Sweeney
Do you remember the first book ever that changed your life? Those early years when you graduated from picture books to chapter books, and the whole world opened up? I don't remember the title of that first book for me, but I do remember it was a mystery, and the cover--showing a drawing of the main character peering into a dark woods and beckoning me to follow--promised intrigue and adventure. I was in the third grade, and my teacher had rewarded me for finishing an assignment by telling me to choose any book I wanted from the bookshelf at the back of the room.
I can still feel a sense of importance--me? Read a big kid's book? How exciting!
When did you first feel the call of books?
I'm reading Anna Quindlen's book, How Reading Changed My Life (Ballentine Books, 1998). It's a small book, with only four chapters and an appendix in the back that lists Ms. Quindlen's favorites (e.g. "10 Books That Will Help a Teenager Feel More Human," "The 10 Books I would Save in a Fire," and "10 Modern Novels That Made Me Proud to Be a Writer"), but don't let the size fool you. There's a great bit of wisdom between the pages. For example:
"...there was alway in me, even when I was very small, the sense that I ought to be somewhere else. And wander I did, although, in my everyday life, I had nowhere to go and no imaginable reason on earth why I would want to leave. The buses took to the interstate without me; the trains sped by. So I wandered the world through books. I went to Victorian England in the pages of Middlemarch and A Little Princess, and to Saint Petersburg before the fall of the tsar with Anna Karenina. I went to Tara, and Manderley, and Thornfield Hall, all those great houses, with their high ceilings and high drama, as I read Gone with the Wind, Rebecca, and Jane Eyre.
"...I have clear memories of that sort of life, of lifting the rocks in the creek that trickled through Naylor's Run to search for crayfish, of laying pennies on the tracks of the trolley and running to fetch them, flattened, when the trolley had passed. But at base it was never any good. The best part of me was always at home, within some book that had been laid flat on the table to mark my place, its imaginary people waiting for me to return and bring them to life."
"...In books I have traveled, not only to other worlds, but into my own. I learned who I was and who I wanted to be, what I might aspire to, and what I might dare to dream about my world and myself."
"...I did not read from a sense of superiority, or advancement, or even learning. I read because I loved it more than any other activity on earth."
The first cardinal rule of being a writer is WRITE. The second is READ. But if we remember the thrill of reading as a child, we will read not because we "have" to--but because we want to. Yes, we'll read in order to wander through the world, bring life to imaginary characters, and learn about the craft of writing while we learn about ourselves. But more than that, we will read because we truly love to.
Only then, I think, will we have fun with writing. Life, energy and a great sense of story will flow across the pages we fill because, first of all, we love to read. It all works together, don't you think?
What book early on lit the fire for you? And how has reading changed your life?