Rachael Herron is a long-time knitter and a first-time author, whose gripping romance, HOW TO KNIT A LOVE SONG, hit stores last spring. Below, she remembers the heartbreakingly bookless Christmas that launched her career as a writer.
Books were the currency in my childhood home. They were our reward, our allowance and, if taken away, our punishment. My parents were rarely able to afford to buy books for us, but we were allowed to check out 10 books at a time from the library each week. It was never, ever enough. We three girls were voracious, as were our parents. We read at the breakfast table, after breakfast in our rooms, at the lunch table, and outside in the afternoon. We weren't allowed to read at the dinner table, which broke our hearts --- the exception to this rule was if Dad was traveling for work. Then --- and only then --- could we read at dinnertime, which was absolute heaven. Looking back, I think that we must have been a quiet family, but I don't remember it that way. Our books were our constant companions, full of noise and joy; and even better, books were the world my family shared.
Because of their short supply, books were in high demand. We read and reread our favorites until they were dog-eared and ragged, the covers limp with exhaustion. But every Christmas we each got at least one book. It was the gift I wanted most, the one I looked most forward to. One year, I got the bike I wanted with the yellow banana seat, and I was delirious with happiness. But I still saved the book-shaped package for last, because in my heart, a book was always the best gift of all.
Usually, we could expect one book from abroad, since my mother was a Kiwi and had librarian friends back at home. We'd also normally get one book from the local bookshop. I remember a few years during which none of us could get enough of James Herriot. We went through the entire collection of his tales about being a vet in Yorkshire, and we ended up knowing things about cows that were more interesting than useful. (I still remember his exact description of how to rotate a calf in utero, a skill that still hasn't come in handy for me.) And when I think of World War II, my mind immediately flashes to Herriot training for the Royal Air Force, his new wife, Helen, as pregnant as any expectant animal he'd ever treated. Those books took us away; we were transported. We knew Yorkshire; we knew those people.
One Christmas during my early 20s, Dad played Santa, distributing the gifts from under the tree. Then we all went around the circle, unwrapping them one by one. I watched my family open their presents, ogling their new books, but I kept my book-shaped package for last, as always.
It turned out to be a video cassette of Anne of Green Gables. Now, I loved the PBS drama almost as much as I'd loved the books, which I'd always been crazy about. But it was decidedly not a book. I hid my disappointment, as first my sisters and then my parents drifted away to read their new gifts. The house grew quiet, and I sat in front of the fireplace, feeling bereft.
And I remember this moment quite vividly --- I’d always said I wanted to be a writer, yes. But that was when I first understood how important writers were in my life. They created the space in which I lived. And I wanted to be one, a real writer --- I didn’t want to just scribble in my journal for the rest of my life.
I went to the bookshelf in my childhood room. Instead of pulling down a well-loved L.M. Montgomery or another one of James Herriot's books, I took down a blank book I'd received years before as a gift.
I started really writing.
Later that year, I switched my major in school. Then I went on to get an MFA in Creative Writing. And just last Christmas, I received the gift that came as a direct result of that bookless holiday: A galley of my first novel, HOW TO KNIT A LOVE SONG, was finally in my hands. I'm sure my face was brighter than the well-lit Christmas tree.
That book came out in March, and I'll have three more books coming out next year. Many years after that fateful Christmas, I can say that I really am a writer, and I hope with all my heart that, this year, someone will pull my book out from under a tree and unwrap it. Then, I hope that they find their own quiet place in which to curl up and read, living for a brief time in the world that I love. That, to me, would be a fine, fine Christmas.
Join the Bookreporter.com Holiday Author Blogs again this afternoon, as Sally Gunning remembers a gift that gave her a sense of belonging.