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.
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.