Tuesday, December 17, 2013

One Book Instead of Ten

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.


Susan E. Kennedy said...

Great post, Kelly! Thanks for being so honest. Sometimes the books that have the most personal meaning aren't the "great" tomes but something the rest of the world would consider far less "impressive." Kudos for having the courage to honest, and for doing so without apology.

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Thanks, Susan. I'm nothing if not honest. :)

rebelsowell said...

I read it, too, when I was in eighth grade and grounded most of that year. I had nightmares after reading it. It's a book I'll never forget.

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Every time I see something on TV about it now, forty years later, it still bothers me. That must have been one helluva book.

jenifer said...

Great blog as always, buddy! I read "Helter Skelter" a long time ago, I think when I was in my 20s! I could never imagine reading that book when I was a kid. It was scary enough worrying about David Berkowitz coming to kill me when I was a kid--I didn't need to know about Manson too! I'm so happy that I wasn't born yet when Manson was still roaming the streets. I was influenced by a "coming of age" book when I was 11 years old titled, "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret," by Judy Blume. Not lierary greatness by far, but it was the first book that made me feel like an adult. I didn't like the questions that came with it from my mother like, "Did you understand so and so.." Ugh! It was sooo embarrassing to talk about stuff like that with my mother when I was 11. But, after my first Judy Blume book, I became a big fan and read her whole collection. As I got older, some of my favorite books were actually Arthur Miller plays--but more of that another time. xo

jenifer said...

*literary greatness

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

If I were to actually make the list of 10, I'm sure "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret," would have to be on it. :)