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Why I Read…by Chloe

No first sale today.   Instead we have two essays.   Later by an author on why she writes but right now, a very very special Why I Read.

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I learned to read when I was 4, just as my 4-year-old best friend Danny became sick (he was dying of leukemia) and I was starting to be sexually abused by a next-door neighbor. I quickly discovered that when you open a book you could jump into a new world and escape the world that you are forced to live in.

Danny was the one who first made me realize the power of books. No matter how crappy he felt if you read him Put Me in the Zoo he would giggle and glow with enjoyment. I read him that book hundreds of times before he died when we were 6 and it never failed to make him feel better.

By the time I was 6 and raped for the first time by that neighbor, I was reading at a 6th grade level and the books I devoured were the likes of Nancy Drew, the Hardy Brothers, Trixie Belden, the Box Car Kids, Little Women and The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

How did I read? In my mind, every book was read out loud in my head — the narrator starting out with the voice of Cary Grant, Charleton Heston, Jimmy Stewart or Julie Andrews — until I had enough of a description of a character to assign him/her the voice of some other actor/actress. I’d create the book’s world in my head and have the characters act out the story; tweaking the scenery and my images of the characters as the story developed. Reading helped me to escape the hell of my life and when the rapes were occurring I frequently distanced myself from what was happening to my body by having my mind replay books in my head.

By the 3rd grade I had literally read every book in our school’s library (including encyclopedias) and all the "children’s" books in our public library. One day, the reference librarian recommended the book Mrs. Mike to me. That turned out to really be a gift as it offered me a heroine that was based on a real-life woman who was able to rise above loss and tragedy (house burns down, her 2 children die, etc.) through her strength of spirit. While not truly a romance, it started me on my love of the HEA and strong kick-ass heroine in the books I choose to read.

I easily read 30 books a week for many years as the trauma from the sexual abuse left me unable to sleep more than 2 hours a night and I needed a way to keep my mind off of abuse flashbacks. Romances, suspense, sci-fi, mysteries – didn’t matter what type of book as long as I could jump into the world the author created and there was a some type of a happy ending.

I am alive today because of books. Over 5 years ago, my abuse flashbacks were coming to a head and I was getting maybe 30 minutes of sleep each night after I’d wake up screaming from what I call the "five rape marathon flashback". Nora Roberts/JD Robb’s "In Death" series saved my life. I had started counseling the same year Naked in Death was published and tried to read the book when it came out based on the recommendation of a friend. But as soon as I realized that Eve had been abused as a child, I put the book down and didn’t pick it up again until 3 years later (now, If I knew that the great Nora had written the book at the time I might have given it a shot, but at the time the fact that Nora was JD Robb was not known.) Once I was able to read the "In Death" books, it became a lifeline for me as Nora has really nailed what it is like for a survivor of childhood sexual abuse in the character of Eve – if Eve could find a way to grow and move on with her life so could I. Rereading my "In Death" books saved me from ending my life as I clung to the hope Nora offered through Eve. One night, I finally was at the point where it was either end my life or end the nightmare – and I chose to live as I mentally killed my sexual abuser during one of the rape flashbacks (chose one of the methods Roarke used in Revenge in Death by the way.)

February marked the 2-year anniversary of the last time I had a flashback of my sexual abuse. While my life is so much better I can’t really believe it, it has had an impact on how I read and how many books I read each week. When I killed my abuser, it somehow impacted the ability I had to act out the books in my head – a famous person no longer narrates the books anymore. My counselor said that it was because I no longer needed to have someone else’s voice in my head to escape my life. Whatever the reason, I find that it takes me much longer to read a book because I’m still waiting for Sean Connery (Roarke and many other characters) to take me away into the wonderful world of whatever book I’m reading. So I now only read about 5 books a week.

The impact of books on a person’s life should never be taken for granted. Nora Roberts definitely did save my life with the "In Death" books. Recently, Jill Shalvis, a guest reviewer at Dear Author, recommended Deadline by Chris Crutcher and it helped me to come to terms with my father’s impending death and the way he has chosen to deal with it better than any non-fiction book or counselor. I’m also a great fan of children’s books to lift your spirits when you’re down – I defy anyone to read Help Me, Mr. Mutt by Janet Stevens without laughing out loud and feeling a thousand times better than before you started the book.

Any authors out there should pat themselves on the back because they never know how their stories will impact someone’s life – providing a needed escape or a great belly laugh or the strength to chose life when you’re wallowing in a pit of shame/hurt/pain.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

30 Comments

  1. Jill Sorenson
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 05:31:49

    What a wonderful, inspiring essay! I love hearing that romance helped to save your life. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

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  2. Debra Saturday
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 06:10:47

    Thank you for this essay….I believe reading saves all of us…..and your essay is such an inspiration and a healing tool.

    I know a person who just opened up to me about just such a thing (abuse)…I sent the link for this post. It is possible more healing can come to her by reading your words.

    Thank you again. Be Well.

    Debra Saturday

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  3. Susanna Kearsley
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 06:46:27

    Chloe, thank you. Just…thank you.

    I’m going back into my writing-room now.

    ReplyReply

  4. carolyn crane
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 07:09:58

    Wow, thanks for this courageous, beautiful piece. It has really impacted me.

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  5. Mariah Stewart
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 08:44:26

    Chloe, your brave post made me ache for the child you were and applaud the woman you’ve become. I’m so glad you chose life.
    I’ve had readers tell me that something I’d written had changed their life, but I’ve never read an account as touching as the one you shared here today. This is such a moving tribute to why we read romance…and why we write it. Thank you so much for reminding us of the positive influence books can have – stories like yours are the ultimate payback for writers.

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  6. Courtney Milan
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 09:43:11

    Chloe,

    I know you’re crediting Nora Roberts, and I’m sure she made a huge difference to you. But the one thing I could definitely tell from your post was that you saved your own life. You’re strong, powerful, brave, and deserving of the happiest of happy endings.

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  7. Laurie Ryan
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 09:44:23

    Wow. Chloe, thank you so much for sharing your story. And for inspiring us, with your own strength, to keep writing.

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  8. JulieLeto
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 09:56:30

    What Courtney said! Nora may have given you the impetus to heal yourself, but you did it. You are amazing. I hope my writing will be more inspired today because of your essay…I don’t doubt it will be.

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  9. Cathy Maxwell
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 10:06:59

    Wow, Chloe! That’s a powerful testimony to the importance of stories. I’m thankful you had the courage to survive. Certainly, books have been a lifeline in my life. I am blessed to be a reader.

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  10. Jill Shalvis
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 10:13:15

    Thanks for your beautiful, courageous story. I was so moved, and then when I saw my recommendation of Deadline had reached you, felt even more so. Honored to have helped in any slight way.

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  11. Carolyn Jewel
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 10:41:24

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    I’m so glad you’re here and doing better.

    ReplyReply

  12. LauraB
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 10:41:38

    Thank you. I am moved to tears.

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  13. Shiloh Walker
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 11:00:17

    Chloe, your strength is amazing. I’m glad you found escape in books, but I hope you don’t discount the strength it took for you to keep going.

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  14. Nick Ruffilo
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 11:07:36

    Chloe,

    Thank you very much for sharing. You are very brave for doing so and I am very happy to hear that you have overcome such horrors. I am glad that reading has helped you so much, it really validates the hard work and effort that writers put into making each book.

    Thank you.
    -Nick

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  15. Katie Reus
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 11:16:50

    Thank you so much for sharing your courageous story. I cried while reading it. You are an amazing woman and I’m so happy you chose life.

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  16. Roxanne St. Claire
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 11:33:23

    Chloe, count me in as one moved to tears. Perhaps you should become a writer, now that you have conquered your demons and chosen life. You certainly know how to evoke an emotion, and after all that reading, you have no doubt absorbed everything you need to know about writing. I’d be first in line to buy your book.

    Thank you so much for sharing your perspective and pain. You are truly heroic and an inspiration.

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  17. Chrissy
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 11:37:30

    Don’t mind me. It’s just morning dew.

    *dab*

    ReplyReply

  18. HelenKay Dimon
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 11:55:34

    Chloe, you inspired a lot of people today. Thank you.

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  19. pjpuppymom
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 12:14:44

    Chloe, thank you so much for sharing your story with us today. No child should have to endure such pain. I’m very grateful that books were available to you to help you escape your darkest hours and that books helped you break free of the torment. They obviously have played a huge role in you reclaiming your life but please don’t discount your own inner strength. As Courtney pointed out, and I hope you take to heart, you saved yourself, you chose to live and it took immense courage to make the difficult choice rather than take the easy way out. I’m so very grateful that you chose to live and that you chose to write about it. Who knows how many struggling people your story will help to make that choice to live for themselves?

    Bless you.

    ~PJ

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  20. Janine
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 12:41:58

    I read this essay late last night in WordPress before it posted. I couldn’t leave a comment at the time because it hadn’t posted yet, but my reaction was “Wow. What a brave, courageous woman.” You’re a very strong person to have endured all that, Chloe, and I’m so glad you found books that have helped you along the way.

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  21. SonomaLass
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 14:07:21

    I am amazed at the strength of those who survive traumatic childhood experiences, and full of admiration for their courage. It’s inspiring to add another name to that list. Thanks, Chloe.

    Also thanks for answering a question I’ve never been able to ask, about whether the “In Death” books speak to someone who has experienced such trauma. To me, they seemed to capture a part of that experience really well, but I’m fortunate enough not to be able to make a first-hand comparison.

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  22. Leslie Dicken
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 15:04:56

    Wow. I have no words. But I do have tears.

    Thank you for that wonderful story. Hugs to you and anyone who has suffered through something like that.

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  23. Misty-Eyed
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 15:05:29

    You are telling my story. Books saved me too. Someone stole my innocence and I just couldn’t talk about it. I let books do it for me. I let them take me away when the shame was just too paralyzing. The only difference is that I didn’t find my strength, I couldn’t find my voice again until I told my own stories. But I wouldn’t have found the courage unless I had those books to get me through. Books are more than words strung together.

    Thank you for telling your story today. It’s humbling.

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  24. Lori
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 15:16:42

    Yes. Oh yes.

    Books and imagination were the two places to provide escape. And when I discovered my own little talent for writing, I found my salvation and strength.

    Chloe, you are brave and your words made me cry, in recognition and in appreciation of your survivor spirit. Perhaps this might also help you find that your voice as a writer has impact also.

    Thank you for sharing.

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  25. Deb
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 16:42:20

    Hats off to you Chloe! A real heroine if I have ever read one.

    I'm glad the authors reading this, hear the impact their writing has. Jenny Crusie gave me my Mom back, post hip replacement surgery. She was carrying a depression for 3+ months. She called me out of the blue telling me about this really funny book she had listened to (audio format) from the library. She had to have listened to it multiple times, as she was quoting it. It had been 3+ months since I had last heard/seen Mom as Mom. It's been a couple of years now; Mom had her second hip replaced this past January and sailed through it with her books. Bet Me has a very special place in my heart, as does Jenny.

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  26. Sherry Thomas
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 17:14:55

    I absolutely agree with Courtney that you saved yourself, Chloe.

    Books might have been your raft, but YOU ferried that raft to the other shore.

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  27. MaryK
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 17:44:15

    Your story is very inspirational. I’ll never understand people who denigrate books with happy endings.

    Thanks for recommending Help Me, Mr. Mutt by Janet Stevens. I’ve been looking for a funny book to give to my sister who’s going through a tough time right now. She’s going to love this one.

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  28. Collette
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 22:13:34

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. I have to agree with what others have said. Perhaps Nora’s books were the lifeline but if you hadn’t grabbed hold and pulled, you never would have made it through.

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  29. EC Sheedy
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 00:24:42

    You are brave, strong, and generous, Chloe, and I have to chime in and say thank you for sharing your pain and past with us. You did indeed–as someone said above–save your own life, fighting unimaginable *monsters* to do it.

    I am awed by you.

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  30. Karen Scott
    Oct 24, 2009 @ 01:41:51

    That made me cry.

    Very brave woman.

    ReplyReply

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