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January 7, 2011

Sarah Ockler: Rekindling a Love of Books

Posted by jordana
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Sarah Ockler, author of FIXING DELILAH, tells Teenreads about how her love of books and reading was rekindled in the unlikeliest of places, after her grandmother's death. Check our our review of the book here.

The summer before I started high school, my grandmother passed away. She'd lived in a huge house filled with three generations of collectibles -- everything from priceless antiques and furniture to plastic flower arrangements and hideous porcelain animal statues. If you've read FIXING DELILAH, some of this may sound familiar! Like the Hannaford women in the book, my family held a series of estate sales at the big house. Ten thousand dollars or a nickel, everything we didn't want was priced to move.

Digging through Grandma's old treasures was lots of fun for my cousins and me. The downside was that we got roped into estate sale duty for an entire summer, lugging boxes of stuff up from the basement, tagging and sorting, dealing with crazy garage sale people who come from all over the state for these types of sales and know how to find a bargain.

I wasn't big on manual labor or price hagglers (and I didn't have Delilah's Patrick and Emily to keep me company) so most days, I'd find a quiet place to hide, waiting out the busiest hours of the sale unnoticed. It wasn't difficult -- the old house had lots of nooks and crannies that I liked to pretend would lead me to Narnia or some other secret place.

One day, I wandered into my grandmother's bedroom. I'd never actually been in there before. I never had a reason to -- when I'd visit, we didn't spend time chit-chatting at her dresser. Unlike Delilah Hannaford, I was close with my grandmother. But standing alone in her room that day, I suddenly felt like I didn't know her at all. Like she was this larger-than-life unsolved mystery who took all of her secrets with her to the grave. For the first time, it really hit me that she was gone, that she had all these stories and memories locked inside that I'd never get the chance to know.

I sat at her vanity table, looking through her makeup and costume jewelry, trying on bracelets and powder and pins, hoping she'd sense my presence and give me a sign. Outside, the garage sale hagglers chattered away like birds, but nothing happened to me -- no noise or movement or anything that indicated my grandmother knew I was there. I almost gave up, but then I noticed a low, wide bookcase on the other side of her bed, crammed with novels. Stephen King, V.C. Andrews, Dean Koontz, Mary Higgins Clark... hundreds of thrillers and mysteries stacked every which way on the shelves.

My dear old grandma was a total book junkie, and I had no idea!

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I sat on the floor next to her bed and pulled books off the shelves, reading random passages out loud to see if any of them would alert her to my presence. The books didn't induce a message from the spirit world, but they did work some other magic: they introduced me to books I'd never heard of and totally rekindled my love of reading. I must've sat on that floor for hours, lost in a spooky novel. Looking back, I guess that's the day I stuck my nose in a book for good -- I still haven't come out. And I don't want to!

The day I rediscovered books as a teen was so important -- it had such a profound impacton me that I borrowed it for a scene in FIXING DELILAH. My grandmother didn't struggle with life exactly like Delilah's grandmother, but she did inspire certain aspects of the story. In fact, through her endearing eccentricities, my grandmother unknowingly left some great material for me to use in FIXING DELILAH, including such family gems as the giant mayonnaise jar of St. Bernard ashes, the sweater made of dog hair, the $4,000 cow creamer, and the jeweled "box of tears." And though I never saw her ghost or spoke to her across the great beyond, I like to think that by leaving all those books behind, she was sending me a message after all, connecting us through a shared love of reading that would ultimately inspire my entire life.

--- Sarah Ockler