One of my earliest memories is of reading, or at least beginning to. My father had wired a small light under the dashboard of his old pickup, and I sat in the floor between he and my mother reading comic books. I was just a little boy, but I remember how proud I was the first time I read to my dad, and how proud he was of me.
As a teenager, I went through the same coming of age issues as everyone else, and my relationship with my father was difficult at times. Even though it seemed we had nothing in common, we sometimes found a glimmer of our old closeness discussing a book one or the other had read.
Reading was always a favored pastime for me, but in the months following a serious accident in which I suffered a broken neck, it became my saving grace. Lying in bed wracked with pain from the spinal fusion surgeries I'd undergone, worrying about moving the wrong way and causing the paralysis I'd secretly feared all my life, and too proud to admit it to anyone, I found my escape in books.
As I read I could become part of the story. I could forget my pain for just a moment and ride with Lee at Gettysburg, or fight desperately to get off the beach at Iwo Jima under heavy fire. Books gave me the opportunity to do what my broken body could not do. I could immerse myself in the magic of the written word to the point of making the temporary harshness of my reality disappear.
Through reading, I revived my spirit and refreshed my soul. I have never been a quitter, I've been a fighter for as long as I've lived, but even fighters tire. Even the strongest of men have moments when they need lifted up by a friend. During my long days of struggle and pain, the great writers spoke to me, and raised me up. Through their words, I could enjoy the beauty of the world outside my walls, far beyond the confines of the bed I lay in, and I knew that as long as I didn't give up it would be waiting for me at the end of this trial.
(This article was written as a contribution to the online book fair.)