October 2017 -“The Impact of Books.”

Often in author interviews, or when answering questions after speaking, people ask if I read a lot or if I remember any particular books that impacted my life. Certain special books always seem to come to mind related to different stages of my life. Truly “My life would have been entirely and regrettably different if I didn’t learn to love books.” – anon

My love affair with books and the printed word started in early childhood. I was blessed to have a mother who loved books and read to me. My early books were storybooks—popular in my day—like Little People Who Became Great, about young people who grew up to make a difference. Many of the storybooks in our home included stories with good morals and virtues, others had poetry or Bible stories, and many offered a mix of literature. A favorite I still own is The Better Homes and Gardens Storybook … filled with classics like “The Little Red Hen,” “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” and my most loved story “Peter Pan” that I read in a longer book later, as well.
Peter and Wendy’s story fanned my imagination and I loved the bravery and resourcefulness of the children and the concept that by simply “believing” incredible things can happen.

Albert Einstein wrote: “The only thing you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.” Once I discovered the small library near my home as a girl, my reading list expanded greatly. My school age friends and I swapped books and we loved reading out on a big quilt under a shade tree in the yard. I loved Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books, horse books of all kinds, animal stories like Bambi, and classics like The Secret Garden, Pollyanna, Alice in Wonderland, Little Women, and especially the Anne of Green Gables books – my favorites. I identified with Anne and her love of beauty, her ambitions, her warm affection for family and friends, and her heart to write and teach.

By the time I was a young teenager, my reading interests shifted to adult novels. I remember reading Michener books like Hawaii while still enjoying Madeleine L’Engle’s Meet The Austins, Darby’s Island Girl, and romance books for girls like Janet Lambert’s Star Spangled Summer. I loved British novels, too, and read the Jane Austen books, Susan Howatch’s novels like Penmarric, John Galsworthy’s Forsythe Saga books, and all the R.F. Delderfield novels including God Is An Englishman. All of these books are still on my bookshelves, too. These reads began to develop my vocabulary and expand my learning. My own writing skills improved from all my reading and started to show in school papers and in the poetry and stories I scribbled for pleasure. I didn’t just read books then, I climbed into them and escaped to other worlds. Joyce Carol Oates wrote: “Reading is the sole means by which we slip involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.” 

In my college years, I read extensively in my academic fields, but I still always found time for novels and also enjoyed self-help and inspirational books. I read Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney, Agatha Christie, Eugenia Price and Marion Chesney novels and I loved Catherine Marshall’s book Christy – especially inspirational as I was majoring in education in undergrad school. In my masters work years I discovered Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique, Rollo May’s The Courage to Create, and others that broadened my thinking… and in the 80s, found Og Mandino’s University of Success, which proved to be a life-changing book to me, opening my eyes to new understandings about how to make the most of my abilities, insight into why people fail, and how to better reach for goals, visions, and success. I often reread this book and recommend it to students and friends.

When J.L. and I were in our early married years, we began to seek for a stronger faith and found the Lord in a deep way for the first time.  A book that helped us was Billy Graham’s Peace With God, and of course after we got saved and began to grow in faith we read the Bible and many other spiritual books – and still do.
We are still growing in the Lord. It is a journey that never ends and a glorious one. During that early season in the Lord, I worked in a bookstore [ loved that job!] and bought a “A Love Story” book cover to put on my Bible. I still have it, and it holds special meaning for me.

As the children came, reading to them became a part of J.L’s and my “reading time.”  I collected picture books and other children’s classics for them—many I still own. My personal reading interest shifted more to romances and mysteries in those years. Novels were a wonderful escape from my busy family days and work life. I read so much then, and still do, that it is hard to remember all the authors I loved the most at that time–or year to year today.. But in the 1990s I remember discovering Jan Karon’s Mitford books, starting with At Home in Mitford, and to this day these are some of my favorite books. I knew that if I ever had time to write books myself someday that I would want to write books like Jan Karon’s or L.M. Montgomery’s—sweet, heartwarming stories with a beautiful sense of place and rich memorable characters.

Now that life has moved on—children grown and gone—and I am an author myself, I write books that I love as well as still reading them. Seth Godin claimed: “The book that will most change your life is the book you write” and that has certainly been true for me. Since my first novel THE FOSTER GIRLS came our in 2009, and many more since, my life has taken on a whole new dimension. Today I still read about two books a week—romances, regencies and historicals, mysteries, biographies and autobiographies, spiritual books, devotionals, self-help books, and other titles linked to my academic teaching fields. In addition I’ve added a new type of book to my reading list—writing craft books. My favorites of these are ones written by authors whose work I enjoy, and it’s always fun to read about how they became authors, how they write and create their books, and tips they have for other writers. Two of my favorites of these are Debbie Macomber’s Knit Together and Janet Evanovich’s How I Write. Virginia Woolf said: “Read a thousand books and your words will flow like a river.” … I’ve read many more than a thousand over my life and my words are still flowing and pouring out on paper.

Books change you. If you read a lot, you know that, too. Everything I’ve read has impacted my life and shaped my life as an author. “Be careful of books and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.” [Cassandra Clare]

[Note: book photos are of my own books]