Enjoy Mark’s piece below, follow his blog to hear more of his stories, and happy Saturday.
I don’t know if this book changed my view of the world. But I do think it changed my view of what a story could do to a person.
I grew up in a family of readers. It’s what we did. My parents limited our watching of the ol’ idiot box and, back in the day, before cell phones and video games and all of these other technological “innovations,” there weren’t many options. Play outside. Play cards. Read a book.
We did all three. A lot. And there was always a stack of library books on each side of my parents’ bed.
I was the youngest of four with two sisters between me and my brother. As such, I would say that I was somewhat feminized in my upbringing. My brother had no time for me – the age gap of five years too much for him to want me tagging along. As a result, I grew up more influenced by my sisters and my mother.
Those sisters read a lot too. They had a shelf of Nancy Drew mysteries which I never shied from, and we all regularly read and re-read the Little House on the Prairie books. And who knows what else. Those books were great – they introduced me to the joy of a story well told. They took me to places I hadn’t been, like the frontiers of the West in the 1800s.
I remember, too, checking books out of the library and reading all sorts of other things. The one book I remember the most from that time was Man O’ War – the true story of a thoroughbred that dominated horse racing for a year or so back in the early part of the 20th century. I have no idea why, but the story fascinated me. I checked it out and read it a number of times and decades later, just a couple of years ago, I remembered the book and ordered a copy via Amazon and read it again. It didn’t disappoint. I marvel now at the idea that as a young lad I read that book back then. It’s not necessarily a mid-teen reader.
This isn’t about any of those books though. It’s about the first book that I think had an impact on me. In the sense that a book could make me feel. It could make me cry. Or laugh. Or fear.
At some point – I think it’s when I was about fourteen or fifteen years old – I read my first Stephen King book. I started reading it. Got a little way through it. And then one glorious day, I went through hundreds of pages of the thing and read it to its glorious end.
It was a Saturday. My brother and sisters were not at home. My parents had gone to play Pinochle with Lynn and Yogi, friends from my dad’s time in the Air Force. I was home by myself. Reading the master of horror (who sadly has withered over the years).
I can remember, now more than thirty-five years later, these moments. Reading the book in my bedroom and needing to go to the kitchen for something. The kitchen on the other side of the house. Down the hall and around the corner and down another hall. I remember turning on every light in the house. Of looking around the door frames and the corners and making sure there was nothing there before I meandered to the next corner, door frame, or other place in which danger could lurk.
Reading in the family room and realizing there was something in my room I needed to get and doing it all over again. Lights on. Walk slowly. Tiptoe. Look around the corner. Flick the light switch for more. And continue on. Over and over again that night.
Heaven forbid what I did when I needed to go to the bathroom!
There have been few instances since then when a book has impacted me. For the most part, novels are just stories that allow me to escape during the course of the reading. It is a rare thing that a novel does more to me. But I have craved that deeper impact for just as many years. To read a book that makes you fear what the characters fear, to cry over the pain the characters experience. To feel just in the words of the author, in a story well told.
There was this one other moment when it happened. In spades. A few years ago, I read a series of three books that left me in tears at the end. Everything Matters by Ron Currie. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Each of these novels, read essentially one after another, left me in tears at the end. For different reasons.
But, you know, 99% of what I read (and I still read voraciously) leaves me interested, but unfulfilled. I want that story that leaves me frightened like The Shining, leaves me in tears like those three books, leaves me feeling like my soul has been altered by the reading of the story. It is both the most frustrating thing about reading – that those stories are few and far between – and the most exhilarating, exciting thing about reading – you never know when you’ll find that diamond in the rough. The story will hit you where it counts. It’s why I still read and will always read. To feel.