Why I Read

One of my publishers, HarperCollins, is currently celebrating its 200th birthday.  I’ve been part of the HC program for about thirty years.  To celebrate, they’re asking their authors to write pieces about why they read.  Since I have to write a blog post this week anyway, I’m doing another two-fer.  

I grew up in Bisbee, Arizona, in the forties and fifties.  Bisbee is in the southeastern corner of the state on the far side of the Mule Mountains, and it took a very long time for the allure of television to make it over the Mules and down into our community.  Summer evenings were often spent with our father reading poetry to us aloud out of the Treasury of the Familiar.  I loved the stories in those poems.  Horatius at the Bridge, The Wreck of the Hesperis, The Song of the Shirt, It Was Six Men of Industan, I Had But Fifty Cents.  You’ll be glad to know that threadbare volume remains one of the treasured books in my collection of books.

The first book I ever read on my own was called Smokey the Crow.  I don’t know how it came to be among my family’s books.  It was green with a black crow embossed on the cover, and it was the story of some farm kids who rescued an injured crow.  I loved that book.  Ironically, a few months after I read it, I was on my way to school when a crow dive bombed me and tried to pull the gold barrettes out of my hair.  A man named Mr. Treseiss came running out of his front yard wielding a rake and chased the crow away.  I was late to school that day.  When I told Mrs. Kelly I was late because I’d been chased by a crow, she told me I was a liar.  Oh, wait, that’s another whole story, but isn’t that what reading is all about—stories?

I read because I CAN read!  And who made that possible?  Of course, our parents who read to us had a lot to do with it, but so did my teachers at Greenway School—Mrs. Kelly, Mrs. Spangler, Mrs. Gilbert, Mrs. Dye, Miss Stammer, Mrs. Watkins, Mr. Norton, Mrs. Hennessey.  They taught reading and writing and spelling—all the things I use every day when I do my job of being a writer.

I read because I love to read.  When I was a kid, books carried me out into the world on the far side of the Mule Mountains.  I never got caught up in the Bobbsey Twins or the Tom Swift books.  But Nancy Drew? Yup, and I still love little red roadsters.  The Hardy Boys? Absolutely.  Cherry Ames? Those, too.  For a while, because of Cherry Ames, I thought I was going to be a nurse when I grew up.  The funny thing is, I don’t remember ever seeing any mention of actual blood in any of those books.

On summer vacations, books gave me a way to escape the misery of being stuck in the back seat of a moving vehicle with three younger brothers all of whom wanted a seat by a window.  I could avoid the mayhem by hiding out in the pages of a Walter Farley Black Stallion book, or Frog: The Horse Who Knew No Master; or any a whole passle of Albert Payson Terhune books which were all about people raising prize winning collies on a wonderfully exotic estate always referred to as “the Place.”  And once we finally got to the farm in South Dakota, where we went every other year to visit our relatives, I remember hiding out in my grandparents astoundingly hot upstairs bedroom reading the books of Harold Bell Wright.  Shepherd of the Hills anyone?

Eventually I graduated to Zane Grey.  His books were often set in my home state of Arizona.  They were Westerns with cowboys and horses and ranches and even the occasional bad word.  Those problematic words were always designated by a first letter followed by a number of dashes.  I was smart enough to figure out what the missing letters should be, and reading those books made me feel like a grownup.

Even now in my seventies, I still read to escape.  I enjoy reading other people’s books to dodge the responsibility of writing my own.  They take me to other places and other worlds. I’ve learned about Roman History through the works of Lindsay Davis.  Ann B. Ross has introduced me to what life is like in the rarefied world of North Carolina.  The Martian by Andy Weir didn’t make me want to live on Mars, but it scared the daylights out of me, and I came away from reading the book knowing that days on Mars aren’t days at all; they’re called sols.  And speaking of scary?  Take a look at a book called I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes.  That one’s a doozy.

I’m finishing writing a book this week.  The next Beaumont book, Proof of Life, has to be in New York on Monday.  On Tuesday morning my husband and I head off on a cruise that will take up most of a month.  I’ll be traveling with my iPad fully loaded with any number of brand new unread books.  I can hardly wait.

Going on vacation AND getting to read?  What could be better?

19 thoughts on “Why I Read

  1. My Mom read stories to my sister and me when we were small and as we grew up on an Iowa farm made sure we had library books. At that time you could borrow books from the Iowa State Traveling Library. She told them our ages and interests and we’d get a bundle of books wrapped in brown paper to keep for six weeks. Return postage was in a little clear envelope.

    We were all readers in my family. In addition to books we subscribed to four newspapers, one daily and the others weekly, and many magazines. This was in the days before TV. I loved Nancy Drew, too, and the Bobbsey Twins. We read the Laura Ingalls Wilder books before they became a popular TV show.

    I’d rather read than almost everything else. Am glad a new Beau book is almost ready.

  2. I have always loved to read. A perfect Saturday as a child was going to the library to get books and then to the stationary store. My mom always took me and we would sit in the library and read together. Many times my best friend, Cheryl, would also come with us. Cheryl and I still exchange books.
    I am looking forward to the new book, just finished Over Board.

  3. My parents started reading to me when I was a toddler, and continued reading to me even after I was able to read to myself. I am now 70 and have never stopped reading: it’s my escape, my thrill, my companion in life. And thank goodness for Kindle – otherwise I’d have to build a bigger house to hold my books. When we moved West from Boston in 2003, we couldn’t bring our many books so I gave them to friends and strangers, and donated to the local library for others to enjoy. Now my Kindle goes with me wherever I go – overseas, camping, long drives around Arizona, the back yard….and Bisbee.

    And I Am Pilgrim is indeed a doozy – couldn’t put it down.

  4. I, like you, was raised in a household of readers. My dad loved history and no day passed without the newspaper being read – cover to cover as he said (I still read it that way today). My elementary school had a sign in the library that said “the child who reads is the child who leads”. I took that to heart and read vociferously. I loved the Bobbsey Twins, and as an adult bought the complete vintage set from the last independent bookstore in Brunswick, GA. Hattie’s Books was a neighborhood fixture and gathering place. Still much missed. A store filled with books with quiet reading nooks is a rare treasure these days.

  5. What happy memories I have of my mother reading the “Mrs. Piggle Wiggle” series to my siblings and me — how we would laugh at the way Mrs. Piggle Wiggle would solve childhood problems and correct naughty behavior!
    When I was in first grade, my teacher had me read “The Boxcar Children” to my class. What fun we had playing boxcar children at recess and at home!
    We moved to Bisbee when I was in third grade. I loved reading on the balcony of the beautiful old Bisbee library. When I visited it at my last high school reunion I was disappointed to see they had closed off the balcony.

  6. I have often wondered how writers can read other authors books without being afraid they might inadvertently adopt something from them and use in one of their own books?
    Not sure how I became a reader, being the oldest of 10 kids we were never read to and books were minimal in the house. I always tag music and TV as being responsible for my sanity when I was young. I learned a ton of stuff from TV! Somewhere along the line, in addition to TV and music, reading must be responsible for my adult education. TV and music have taken a back seat to books in my old age.
    I’m so happy you two can cruise once again with your new found health.

  7. Love your story of reading. I live to read, but this wasn’t always true. At about 9, the books I was allowed to take out of the library were to boring. I was way beyond those. My dad gave me the “Code of the West” by Zane Grey. After that, there was no stopping me. I still have that book! Another go to was “Mrs Mike”. I still have that one, too. Now I am retired, and read daily. Thank you for helping to make this possible with your wonderful books. Am looking forward to your next one.

  8. I enjoyed summer reading programs at the Smiley Library in Redlands, CA. Now when I watch the tv program ‘Restored’, most episodes show the host going into the library to learn about the homes he is restoring.

    Have fun on the ctuise !

  9. As a frugal old lady my elibrary card is among my most prized possessions.
    Audio books plugged in to the vehicle sound system have sustained our 55+ year marriage over my otherwise dislike of RV travel. RV parks have amazingly good library shelves on the “honor/even exchange” basis.
    Through physical pain there’s no better diversion than a fine (yes, you J.A.) mystery read to cope.
    Binge reading by author or topic suits me. Having reading friends, sharing favorites, gives us plenty of interesting conversations, excluding grandchildren and health issues. Quite a pleasure.
    God bless authors. We owe you.

    I owe you.

  10. Have a marvelous “rest” trip. I was the youngest of 6, born in 1938. Tail end of the Depression, then WWII, so money was tight. I remember older siblings reading stories to me from books about the house. My father took me to the library a lot, living in a big city, we had several. My friend and I took a trip to the UK in the mid 80s. Every where we went we thought of authors whose works we enjoyed. James Herriott, Agatha Christie, Robert Louis Stevenson, etc etc. The next year we felt the same in Eastern Canada and Prince Edward Island, visiting the home of Lucy Maud Montgomery. My travel bug bit while reading. Thrilled in adulthood to visit places I knew through books. Looking forward to Beau. Loved the blog, bless your memories.

  11. My entire family are readers. There were thousands of books in our house as there is in my house now. 5 of us kids read to this day as did our parents and grandparents. I don’t even remember at what age I did start remember but I must have been very young. We had to go to the children’s library and were only allowed 7 books at a time. I would use my brother’s card so I could get 14 and had them read in the 2 weeks allowed. Eventually they let me go to the adult library as there was nothing left that interested me in the kid’s library. Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Zane Grey, all of them. For a while in Sioux Falls, South Dakota I had the joy of working on the bookmobile. What a fun job. Going around to all the grade schools and having those darling little kids learn to love books also. 75 years young and still reading. I’ve never been out of America but feel like I have as the books have all taken me there.

  12. Every Saturday my mother took the four of us to the library where we each checked out the limit. You are all bringing back favorites – the Bobbsy Twins, Cherry Ames (I did become a nurse), Five Little Peppers and the Boxcar Children – over and over. I read Mrs. Mike many times – my first real “adult” novel at probably the age of 11 or 12. We did not have television and books were my world. They are where I learned my vocabulary which was always beyond my years. Today we all still read voraciously, although audio books have become a constant companion as I drive long distances.

  13. I remember learning to read. There was a drawing of a rabbit on the left page, and the word r a b b i t on the right page. I spelled it out, said it, looked at it, looked at the picture and Ohhhh. I got it.
    I proceeded to read every book in my house, every book in my grandparent’s houses, every book in the school, and every book in the children’s section at the library within walking distance. The library sent me to the main library, where I read every book in their children’s section.
    A librarian tried to stop me from taking out adult books, but my mother took them out for me, and spoke to the director about it, so at the age of nine, I was allowed to take out any book I wanted. And I did. An armload a week.
    I love my kindle, although I still prefer paperbacks. I’m currently re-reading all the Joanna Brady books in order. I already went through the Beaumont and Ali Reynolds series. New J.A. Jance books are always greeted with glad cries. Thank you for writing them.

  14. I spent a lot of time in the children’s library room reading my days away. I have never not read. I’m 68 . I EXCAPE into the book. My best friends are characters in the book and I revisit them often. So lookingfoward to a new Beau
    book it’s been to long. HAVE A GRAND CRUSE YOU DESERVE THE REST….JAN

  15. I too was a voracious reader as a child and still am. During the late 60’s my wife’s grandfather was caretaker of the Natural Bridge and Lodge north of Payson for about a year. We would go there on weekends and help out to give him a chance to go to town. In the bookshelves were not only guest registers from the early days of the lodge and very early National Geographics, but many books from the May Company lending library. I wondered if they were purchased when they were no longer in circulation or were borrowed and just never returned.

  16. I hope you don’t forget to pack that red neck tie for Bill. I expect to see at least one photo of him wearing it on the cruise. Bon voyage!

  17. I have (and am still a reader) of all your books that i can.
    My wife and i spent several days enjoying seeing the many places mentioned in your books. such as the copper mine, copper queen hotel, and stayed at the old school house (now a B&B) and other things.
    I was wondering about if the Tohono O’odham nation was imaginary or what. Blessed to find it is real.I enjoy reading the folklore portions. Have you considered writing a novella which involves their folklore in some way?

  18. J.A., just finished reading “the night the lights went out” by Karen White…. Highly recommend, was in a complete different world while reading it, believe you would enjoy!

  19. I’m picky about the books I read. I’ve finished your entire Beaumont series. It took me years. I’m not an avid reader but I did it and I’m very proud of myself for sticking to it. Thanks for giving me the wonderful world of words on paper. I will continue on reading your books. You do a wonderful job writing. Thank you.

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