Connecting to the Past

I grew up with a hand-me-down life — most of the clothes I wore were hand-me-downs from a much older, much shorter, and much thinner cousin, which, as you can imagine, gave me a bad body image way before such things were fashionable. (It’s funny to think that people don’t do that anymore — hand down clothes — except perhaps for baby clothes. Instead, we donate garments that no longer please us to the various world-wide thrift stores, and end up destroying the cloth and clothing industries in the very areas that need such industry.) I probably sound ungrateful, but truly, back then I was glad for such “new” clothes, even if they had to be altered to fit me.

I also got my cousin’s outgrown books, which did a lot to counter whatever harmful connotations her clothes might have had. Then, as now, I read in the same way I breathe — inhaling without thinking. It’s just what I do, what I have done from the moment I learned how to read. (I know there must have been a time when I didn’t know how to read, but I don’t remember such a time, nor do I remember learning to read. It’s as if I truly have always read.)

Those books from my cousin were the staple of my early life. I went to the library often during the winter and every day during the summer, but during the times I couldn’t get library books, such as when I was sick, I reread my hand-me-down books. I also read my parents’ books they kept on the bookhselves in the room we called the library. This library was a separate room from the living room, and had shelves for books, my mother’s desk, and the chiming clock that formed part of the soundtrack of my early life. (I even read some of my mother’s old nursing textbooks, and will never forget the garish photos of various organs and diseases. I still have nightmares about the smallpox picture.)

I had most of the Judy Bolton series back then. I don’t remember getting rid of them, but I must have cleared them out during a move at some point. Still, I remember those books with the mottled pink cover (the Nancy Drew covers were the same, only they were blue) as if I’d seen them just the other day.

The point of all this nostalgia is that I found a few of the books on the Gutenberg Project website. I certainly hope the site is as they claim, that these books are in the public domain, because I downloaded the few Judy Bolton’s that I could. And now I am reading them.

I’ve always known that books connect us to the others who have read them, a much deeper connection than from writer to reader. I’ve known that certain books connect us to the ages — to the people long dead who also read those very stories.

What I didn’t realize until rereading these Judy Bolton books is how books can connect us to our past selves.

Although I don’t remember the stories so much, I remember the characters, the feel of the stories, and the feel of the books themselves. And I remember reading them.

I’m holding a Nook in my hand instead of the hard back book, but the words are the same. And I feel . . . timeless. The person I am today is reading the same book I last read fifty years ago. It seems miraculous. The older person who lived so much during the intervening years — loving, sharing, grieving — is, through these familiar words, connected to that girl child who could only dream and hope of a life that was to come.

I imagine there will come a time, perhaps fifteen to twenty years from now when I am elderly and frail and rereading these books, that I will look back to me on this day and think the same of this me as I think of that little girl me — that I was young and still full of hopes and dreams.

I imagine I will think back to all that has connected me to myself through the years, and I will be grateful for all breaths I took and all the books I have inhaled.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Authors Connecting With Readers

I read an article the other day telling writers they should be connecting with readers online instead of other writers. He gave a few suggestions like going on Goodreads, following people who read the same sort of book you wrote, leaving comments on their reviews or joining the same groups and responding to the same discussions they do.

Is this what online promotion has come to? Authors stalking readers like prey? Many readers do like to interact with authors, and perhaps they would be flattered if it were an author they knew, but an unknown author trying to connect with an unknown Readingreader seems tacky at best. I know I would hate it if I found myself in some author’s sights, and I can’t imagine I’m the only one who would.

I am not a reader who likes to connect with authors. (Though I love when readers connect with me!) To me, a book exists separate from its creator, a thing in and of itself. In fact, once I started coming in contact with writers, especially writers whose book I have read, I lost all interest in reading. It made me more cognizant of the person behind the story, and made the book much less personal.

I do have a group for connecting with readers on Facebook, the Genre Book Club, but most of the people who participate are authors in search of readers. The main problem is that I don’t seem to be able to get people to discuss the books they read. Everyone has different tastes, and few of the participants read the same books.

It is a conundrum, this online promotion. I do realize that connecting with other writers is not the way to sell a ton of books, but writers send me a lot more invitations to connect than readers do, and after all, many of us writers started out as readers.

The article also suggested attracting readers by blogging about the subject matter of your books. I do this, of course, when it comes to grief, but I said all I want to say about conspiracy theories, government intervention in our lives, and the scary possibility of an unstoppable epidemic in my novels. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life talking about such matters. The books were a way of my putting an end to those topics of research, and to keep them in the forefront of my mind and this blog would be appallingly boring. (For me, anyway.)

Still, this blog is a way of connecting with people, not as stalker and prey, but simply as two individuals who happen to be in the same place at the same time and like what each other has to say. And that’s more important than running after readers in the hopes they will buy my books.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.