I have never been a good sleeper, especially at night when the expectation is highest. It’s a curse in many ways, but a blessing in one: those who don’t sleep, read. Waking up the rest of the house with television is not an option, so from a young age I turned to books to laugh and cry and learn and get me through long nights.
Because I was always hooked on a storyline come daylight, I remained largely uninterested in everything Hollywood. Through high school and college and even still, people have found my lack of celebrity knowledge amusing. I have no idea whose married or pregnant or starring in the next big thing, and the few names I know, I pronounce incorrectly. (With the exception of Tom Hanks. I can handle that.) Don’t get me wrong, I’m a total fangirl, but it’s writers and characters I drool over. There are lines forever seared in my brain, like, “I gave them all the truth and none of the honesty,” from Colum McCann’s LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN. I must have read that sentence a hundred times. It challenged me first to acknowledge areas of my life where that powerful thought holds true, then to consider whether it was a bad thing or a necessity. And just recently, Elizabeth Strout managed to zap me once again with her latest release, MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON, wherein she wrote: “It interests me how we find ways to feel superior to another person, another group of people. It happens everywhere, and all the time. Whatever we call it, I think it’s the lowest part of who we are, this need to find someone else to put down.”
I knew the moment I read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD that it would be my favorite book of all time. (Yes, I’m the kind of person who makes a declaration at the age of fifteen and then sticks with it, for the most part.) When GO SET A WATCHMAN was released I read it in one sitting. Some readers were disappointed that Atticus turned out to be flawed—a good man relative to the times, but not a great man. I reveled in the twist. I found it authentic. There’s truth in the idea that it takes generations to achieve the sort of change that isn’t footnoted with exceptions, and also truth in the notion that even our greatest mentors are still learning.
But I digress, which is what talking books does to me. The point is, I was built dissecting one character at a time, so authors earned my devotion with their hand in raising me.
The first time someone called me a bookworm, I remember thinking, Yes, that’s me exactly. A compliment of the highest order. That I now write books insomniacs might turn to is a strange role-reversal, much like the time my infant daughter first made eyes at me to get her fed and I thought, “Oh, right, right. I’m a grownup now.”
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