There is a game floating around Facebook where you are supposed to name 10 books that have influenced your life in some way. Of course, the usual offenders are on most lists, Great Expectations, The Great Gatsby, Hemingway, Faulkner, C.S. Lewis, The Bronte sisters, anything from Ancient Greece, and some of those would be on my list as well. But, every time I see these 'lists' on Facebook, one book comes to mind. It's not what you would expect.
Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi.
Okay, stick with me here. Yes, this is a true crime account of the Manson family, full of cults and blood and murder and crime. It even had pictures. It wasn't the 'eloquent prose' or the 'attention to detail' or the 'use of metaphor', using some of the wonderful reasons some have listed on their Facebook lists, that got me, though. It was much more than that.
I was ten years old, I was sick and had to stay home from school for a week by myself. I waited until my mother went to work and I dug through her romance novels and to my delight, there was a book, stuck in the bottom of her book drawer. Since it was at the bottom of the book drawer, I definitely wasn't supposed to see it. But I did. And I spent a week, after my mother went to work, reading about the horror that the Manson family rained on Southern California in the late sixties.
Great reading for a ten year old at home alone. But I was determined: my first real 'adult book' and 500 pages! I had to look a lot of the words up in a dictionary. I had nightmares for several weeks. I couldn't get the images out of my mind. Even during the day, I sometimes imagined myself at the crime scene and would become terrified. My mother had no idea why I was suddenly afraid to sleep alone some nights, and of course I couldn't tell.
So why was it so 'special'?
It was after reading that book that I realized that words on paper, books, could actually teach you things, they could transport you to different places, the scenes, mixed with a healthy imagination, could, at times, seem more real than life. It was that book that got me interested in this 'other world'---the world of books. So yes, although I have, over the years, been on Long Island with Gatsby, went fishing with Hemingway, fought battles with Hektor and witnessed the love between Heathcliff and Catherine, it was through Helter Skelter, that I learned that I could go to those other places. It wasn't that the book itself was so wonderful or profound, but it taught me that books could be.
It was the beginning of my 'new' life, my 'other' life---the life of a reader.