The Field Of Play
A few years back, a blood relative (I suspect it was my dad) decided that we should all spend a family evening together watching a slideshow of images taken when my brothers and I were kids. A week later, there we were, crammed together on sofas, as the slide carousel beamed memory after memory in eight–second intervals.
Suddenly, one of those pictures popped up on the screen—the kind a person can never live down. At least, not in my family. And wouldn’t you know? The picture was of me.
What shocking act will make it into the history books of my family? What exactly was I doing in that infamous photo?
There I was, age twelve, sitting on a bench, reading. But that’s not the part that brought on the torrent of
You see, the picture was taken during a family trip to the West. We covered over two thousand miles in two weeks, and visited the Tetons, Jenny Lake Lodge, the Irma Hotel, the Black Hills, Devil’s Tower, Mammoth Springs, and many more of the wondrous places in the American West. But, for me, all of it blended into the background, forgotten, unnoticed, the minute a book found its way into my eager hands.
In truth, aside from my lingering emotional scars from an early morning trail ride on a freakishly large horse named Tiny, it was a spectacular trip, but one that did not change a basic fact: I love to read.
I vividly remember standing in the book section of Lowen’s Toy Store, staring up at a hardcover, high above me, out of my reach. I was six. I couldn’t yet read well enough to warrant the purchase of a thick book, no matter how lovely the cover.
There were hundreds of books crowded onto the shelves, but I saw only that one. I wanted that book. I needed that book. I ached for it with all the passion in my young heart.
This is the part of the story where I say ‘thank you’—no, I say ‘God bless you’—to my mom.
When she found me standing there in the book section (again), and found out what I wanted, she could have turned me down on the very reasonable grounds that the book would still be there, someday in the future, when I had grown old enough to read it on my own. She could have dismissed my deep pleas as nothing more than a passing fancy.
She gave me the opportunity to make my case, to convince her, to bargain with my tiny allowance. She opened a door for me that day. I walked through it and I’ve never looked back.
Whatever fate holds in store for me, books will be a part of the equation. I’ve always understood that about myself.
Still, there was no way I could have known, not back on that fateful day, how important a role that particular book would play in the literary journey of my adolescence. I didn’t even know the title. I couldn’t even read the title. I knew only that the book spoke to me, called out my name, was worth the sacrifice of every coin I had—and every coin I would have until practically the third grade.
I have lost many possessions in this life, in one manner or another, but that book—my first real book—is not one of them.
Some of my sweetest memories from childhood are scattered like fairy dust across those thick pages. Memories of being tucked up on the sofa—piled up, if my brothers were there. Of moving my eyes back and forth between the words on the page and the face of my beloved parent—sometimes Mom, sometimes Dad—as I listened to the book coming to life. Reading this story was something I could not yet do for myself, which made their willingness to sit and read to me all the more precious.
To this day, that book, Louisa May Alcott’s story, Little Women, still captivates me, still brings tears to my eyes, just as it did when I was six. Just as it is doing now.
Several decades have passed since then, and I have continued on my reading path, never straying, never slowing.
When I realized where this blog post was going (and I don’t always know before the words appear on the page), I decided to try and calculate how many books I’ve read in my life.
Giving my best guess, I would say I have read about one hundred and fifty to two hundred books per year since my mid-teens—more than four thousand in total.
I’m a very fast reader; I guess that much is obvious. Turns out, I read even faster with a Kindle, most likely because it goes where I go. Those “found” minutes of reading time, standing in line or waiting in the car, do add up.
Prior to June 2011, I had never read a self-published e-book. Since then, I’ve read about one hundred, which is less than three percent of my lifetime total, but it is a very revealing three percent.
With self-published and indie-published novels, I find myself involved with e-books on a level I have reached with very few traditionally published authors.
In the modern bookstore, located here in cyberspace, I regularly communicate with many of the self-published authors whose novels are lined up on my trusty Kindle, and I find it enhances my experience when reading those novels.
I see hints of them in the plot, the dialogue, the subtext. They are people, flesh and blood people, who don't exist to me only as words on a page, whether it is a page of the website I am visiting or the page of the book I am reading.
How different this is from the days when I would roam the aisles of my local bookstores, picking up books, studying covers and blurbs and summaries, to try and decide if I wanted to spend a few hours lost in the pages.
It's hard to remember how much time I spent doing things that way. These days, I browse blogs, guest posts, Twitter feeds, Facebook, and other social media to decide whether or not I want to purchase a novel.
It thrills me to see traditionally published authors pulling up chairs and taking seats in the Twitterverse. Not too long ago, I came across Twitter feeds for two of my favorites, Carla Neggers and Linda Francis Lee. I was pretty darn excited when I realized they were involved in social media and were (personally) posting on Twitter.
Now, if only Pat Conroy, Nora Roberts, Marisa de los Santos, and several hundred other traditionally published authors would come to Twitter and personally visit with fans every now and again, I’d be doing a dance on the streets of Washington, D.C.
Perhaps, what we understand, we e-book revolutionaries, is that a gift—and make no mistake about it, storytelling is a gift—never feels complete without a ‘thank you’ both given and received.
Perhaps, a greater number of traditionally published authors will consider creating a Twitter ‘Fan Celebration Day’ during which they tweet with the people whose lives they have influenced—sometimes for the length of a book, sometimes for much longer—to let us thank them and come to know them just a little bit better.
‘Favorite things’ is always a good place to start a conversation. The smallest details, the littlest rituals, shape a personality, and these are the details which hold my interest.
To all the self-published, indie published, and (increasingly) traditionally published authors who are standing on the social media field of play, I say thank you for the respect, the courtesy, and the compliment of interacting with us, your fans.
Thank you for not glossing over the hardships, the wrong choices, and the moments of self-doubt you’ve encountered while traveling down this long road.
Thank you for sharing the joyful surprises, the myriad achievements, and the personal, powerful moments of success you’ve experienced as authors.
Most of all, thank you for trusting us—the readers, the fans—with the truth of your journey.
More blog posts about self-publishing:
Dear Barnes & Noble (Part One)
Spanx Me, NaNoWriMo!
Fifteen and Life