As you may have surmised from the title, today - August 9 - is National Book Lovers Day. HuffPo has a list of 10 Ways to Celebrate, but I'll be sticking around the house and quietly digging deeper into the latest Hampton Sides book, In The Kingdom of Ice.
I'm not usually one for the so-called Hallmark Holidays, but anything that gets people reading is OK in my book (so to speak), and maybe I'm a bit biased as a big old book nerd. I've seen a few articles and videos of authors speaking about their favorite novels today, and it's been fun to hear about what inspired their love for the written word.
I don't recall off-hand the very first book I ever read, but I can say with absolute certainty that there are actually two books that made a truly tremendous impact on me during my formative years, as both a reader and, much later, as an author. The first was Stephen King's IT. I've only read it a single time, way back in my early high school years in the 90s, and have been meaning to reread it again. I even bought a second copy for my Kindle, so that when I finally do get around to enjoying it again, I don't have to lug around such a hefty tome.
The only other book I've ever purchased multiple copies of, simply out of sheer love of the material, was Frank Miller's seminal graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns. I guess if we really want to get picky about what got me hooked on reading, or at least began a life-long infatuation with graphic novels and comic books, and thus books in general, it'd be Miller's Batman, hands-down. I bought and read and re-read DKR until it was dog-eared and well-worn, with spine broken and cover tattered and bent from so much use.
When the tenth anniversary slipcover edition was released by DC Comics in 1996, I had to buy that one, too. My original trade paperback was on the verge of falling apart, and I wanted a new, pristine hardcover copy to enjoy. Bonus points for this being my first foray into a serious, limited edition collectors version! It included some artwork, scripts, and press materials. And it looked pretty goddamn cool!
It's been a number of years now since I last reread The Dark Knight Returns in full, and my skittish collector's side has only gotten more wary of touching this 1996 edition. Which means I had to buy the digital issues via Comixology as one of my first purchases through them late last year after hopping on the digital bandwagon.
Back on the pure-word book front, my infatuation began during a summer in Traverse City, sitting beachfront with IT in my lap. It was probably about 80 degrees, the sun was shining, a nice breeze coming in off the water, and I was scared and nervous for Richie Tozier as he was being chased through Derry by the eponymous terror in werewolf form. Thankfully the summer days were long, and if the hairs on the back of my neck were standing that tall in the daylight, I was quite literally afraid to read IT at night. I made some great friends during that trip, in the form of The Losers Club, and they showed me just how rich and vibrant words on a page could really be. I didn't have any concept of the term "book hangover" back then, but in the wake of tearing through that 1100+ page hardcover in only a handful of days, I surely felt its toll. I'd gone on a full-tilt bender, drowning myself in the rising tide of the Derry River and the awful machinations of a psychopathic clown with razor-blade teeth. I still have a terrific fondness for Stuttering Bill, and I hope that he and Bev are still riding wild on that ten-speed.
IT was where it all started for me, and it opened up a ton of other worlds. I absorbed that book, and then found out about The Stand. From there, it was full-fledged membership into the Stephen King Book Club (twice, and I still have the skeleton key chains around here somewhere to prove it!). The Shining, Salem's Lot, Carrie, Cujo, Desperation, and on and on and on.
Stephen King led to Dean Koontz, and then I began finding fellow book lovers. My barber at the time, Gloria, was an avid reader, and we traded recommendations. I got into Dennis Lehane, so she got me into John Sandford. During another summer vacation in Traverse City, wandering through Horizon Books on Front Street, I saw the cover for Michael Connelly's Blood Work. I'd had open heart surgery when I was five, so I was instantly captivated by this story of a retired policeman fresh off a heart transplant getting wrapped up in a murder mystery. I devoured that one in two or three days, then went back to the bookstore to buy up as many Harry Bosch titles as I could.
Michael Connelly led to John Connolly and Robert Crais and Elmore Leonard and James Ellroy. Another high school favorite, and still to this day, was Tom Clancy. So that led to Larry Bond, Vince Flynn, Brad Thor, and a score of others. I found so many new books, so many new authors and genres, from non-fictional accounts of life as a paramedic or in the ER or Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, to far-flung sci-fi murder mysteries, like Alastair Reynolds' Chasm City, which of course then led me to his Revelation Space series.
Frankly, I could go on and on, but I think we all know the story here, right? When it came to becoming an obsessive reader and book lover I was a bit of a late bloomer, but I think it's pretty safe to say it all started with King and Miller. We've all got that one book, or that one author, who really kickstarted things for us.
So, what's your story?