My sister taught me to read. An avid reader herself, Nita turned empty milk crates into desks, our living room into a private schoolhouse, and my younger sister and me into her wide-eyed students. It was during those not-so-lazy summer mornings and blizzardy winter afternoons that she'd assign us articles from a dog-eared set of encyclopedias to read and report on. Oddly enough, Rosemary, I loved her game of "school at home." Not just because I could sneak peeks at naked statues, but because thanks to my older sister's penchant for making learning fun, I entered kindergarten at a fifth grade reading level.
We had no library in our tiny town. The closest one was miles away and I didn't discover it until our second grade teacher took us on a field trip there. I remember crawling around on the floor like a monkey in a banana store, pulling stacks of books off the shelf and devouring them on the spot. I fell instantly in love with Dr. Seuss and all his crazy thing-a-ma-words. Eventually I graduated to The Bobbsey Twins, Laura Ingalls Wilder's books and Nancy Drew mysteries, all recommended by the smiling librarian. Oh how I loved the crunch of that stamp as she punched a date next to my name on the yellow card from the book's pouch!
Flash forward fifty years to when I received the very first netgalley* review for my debut novel, THIS I KNOW. Now, I try not to look outside of myself for validation but I'd be lying if I said reviews don't matter. Of course they do. The experts tell us authors never to read reviews of our own books. But for me, that's like putting a do-not-look note over David's junk on Michelangelo's encyclopedia page. So of course I took a deep breath and clicked on your review.
"Once in a while you read a book that just takes your breath away with its beauty and truth. This I Know is such a book. In the mid twentieth century Midwest, 11-year-old Grace Carter tries to hide her gift from her father. The Evangelical preacher would believe that Grace’s gift for finding things, knowing things about a person’s past or future were akin to witchcraft. She certainly doesn’t want him to know that she’s able to speak to her twin, Issac, who died at birth. Luckily, Grace has her aunt Pearl who understands that Grace’s ability is a gift and who offers the only comfort the girl knows. As Grace’s own family becomes more distant, she finds friends in the community, other “throw away” people, who become her true family. This is one of the most beautiful coming of age stories I’ve ever read, and it will stay with me for a long, long time." -Rosemary, librarian
And suddenly I felt the glitter of happiness sprinkling down upon my head. Not because someone liked my book. Because you liked it, Rosemary. Someone who reads and recommends books for a living. Someone who holds the power of "yes" and with the ability, as Barbara Kingsolver said, "to save souls." I'll likely never know who you are, but I will never forget you because you were my first, my virgin 5-star review, my, dare I say...hero. I understand that not everyone will agree with your review but it won't matter. Because this? This is something no critic can ever take from me.
So thank you Rosemary for reading my book and sharing your thoughts. Thank you Nita for teaching me to read and Mrs. Swanson for taking a bunch of wild eight-year-olds to the public library. Thank you to the library patrons who read and request books. And a huge thank you to all the librarians who pull a book from the shelf and whisper, "This one will take your breath away..."
With love and gratitude,
What about you? Did you visit the library as a child? Do you still utilize your local library? Do you have a favorite go-to librarian you look to for book recommendations? What books/people set you on the path to a lifetime of reading?
*Netgalley is a website where industry professionals like booksellers, trade reviewers and librarians can read new books before they release.