I was browsing this week through some old newspaper columns I had written and came across one that focused on Winnie the Pooh, By A. A. Milne. In the column, I had mentioned that, had he still been with us, Milne would have turned 125 that year. But as I perused the article, I began to think more and more about how long-lasting books and their effects on us can be. I still remember so many things that I read in books as a child. And I am constantly amazed when I look at the authors that I have loved best over the years and realize that, since those books were written (some even hundreds of years ago), every single generation has discovered them anew and chosen them as favorites.
I was especially blessed to learn that one of my little nephews, Josiah, at the age of two, had come to love one of my favorite poets almost as much as I do. There’s no question that Robert Frost has been one of the most quoted, most loved, and most written about poets to grace American literature. And several succeeding generations have read his works with great pleasure. But I did not suspect that a 2-year-old boy would find him so appealing, until I realized that amid the scores and scores of books Josiah has in his ownership, his very favorite is a book devoted entirely to the poem “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening.” Now, this book is not a children’s version, paraphrased for young minds. Not at all. It is the entire poem in the author’s original text, along with a few photos that are applicable. His love for this poem caused me to realize anew just how powerful and almost eternal great writing can be. In an age when all kinds of multi-dimensional media are vying for kids’ attention, this quiet, unpretentious poem — this great piece of literature — is a 2-year-olds’ favorite “story.” How blessed Robert Frost would feel to know that. Hopefully he does.
Naturally, all of this thinking led to my going over in my mind the list of my personal favorites. Now, I won’t try to write out that list in this article, because it would make this piece way too long — and inevitably I’d forget one and feel compelled to come back and edit. Then the next day, I’d have to edit again to add another, and so on. But I’m sure most of you who love to read know exactly what I mean. And it gives me a warm, comforting feeling to know that, no matter how “modern” or “technologically advanced” we get, people keep looking for and finding something valuable, lasting, and often life-changing in books that have been around a long time.
As an author myself, I hope I too can write books that will touch people at the core places of their hearts and lives so that what I write will be considered valuable enough to be chosen by generation after generation. I will never forget the thrill of realizing for the first time that something I had written really did have the power to capture people’s attention to the point of making them forget everything else and to move them to great depths of emotion. A couple years ago, a woman who was reading one of my inspirational novels, Quenton’s Honor, said to me one day, “Boy, I’m not happy with you! I started reading that book last night, and I couldn’t put it down. It was 2:00 in the morning before I was able to make myself put it down and get some sleep.”
She has absolutely no idea how thrilled I was at her words. But it got better. A couple days later, I walked into the office where she worked. She was in tears — almost sobbing. I hurried over to her and said, “Barbara, what’s wrong?” She mopped her face and blew her nose, trying to stem the tears enough to answer. In the meantime, I saw that she had the book in front of her on the desk. She then looked up at me with tears still streaming down her face and slobbered out the words, “I’m just now reading where …” (and proceeded to tell me the scene she was reading from the book) ” … and I just can’t stop crying!”
I remember thinking, “Yes! That’s exactly where I wanted you to cry!” I decided maybe she’d feel better if she knew that, so I said, “Wow, Barbara, that’s great! That’s exactly what I want the reader to feel from that scene. Thank you! You couldn’t put it down to go to sleep, and you cried in all the right places! That’s terrific!”
Of course, I’d like to have the same powerful effect on readers all the time, the way a couple of other current authors do. For example, I’m a Vince Flynn fan. In my opinion, he literally “wrote the book” on high-concept political intrigue. Every sentence is packed, and for that reason, I find it almost impossible to put his books down once I start reading. And since he has kept me up past 3:00 a. m. on a number of occasions, one of my goals in life is to write a novel that will keep Vince Flynn up until 3:00 a. m. as well. Wish me success.