My Most Prized Possession--and My Favorite Teen Summer Memory by Jamie Manning
I would bet all I have that every writer started out as a voracious reader. I was no exception. Books were (and have always been) an escape for me, a way to disappear into a world where I could be the hero, the villain, the survivor, or even the victim. From R.L. Stine to Stephen King and everything in between, I've loved books almost as far back as I can remember.
But one book in particular stands above the rest. Not because it has the prettiest cover. And not because I enjoyed it the most. Not even because it's the most well-written. No. The reason it sits on a shelf all alone (actually it's shrink-wrapped and protected in a secret location. Yes, I'm that weird.) is because of the sentimental value attached to it. Now, I'm sure you're thinking, "Ooh, the author of said book must've written something really special and heartwarming and personal in there" for it to mean so much to him. Alas, no. The author never signed my copy of this book. In fact, I've never met him. Probably never even been in the same city at the same time as this writer. But there is an inscription inside. And yes, it's really special and heartwarming and personal. Even just thinking about it now for the purpose of this blog post is stirring emotions inside that are both painful and comforting.
The book is Sidney Sheldon's WINDMILLS OF THE GODS. Ever heard of it? It was a big deal back in the day, when Mr. Sheldon was at the height of his career. It was even a TV movie in the late 80s, just after its release. And I loved reading it. I loved reading all of Sidney Sheldon's novels, actually. When it comes to international intrigue and romance, none come close to his caliber. But this book is special to me because it was the first book ever given to me. Sure, I'd bought plenty of books myself (or rather, my mom bought books for me; I was just a kid, mind you.), and I cherished each and every one--still do. But being given a book is its own kind of special, you know? Especially when it comes from someone who knows how much you love to read. Getting a book from a loved one who took the time to actually pick it out for you holds so much meaning. It's that person's way of saying, "Hey, I see you." I can't explain how important it is for a child--or anyone, really--to know that someone out there sees them.
This book was given to me by my grandmother, who died almost twenty years ago, when I was still a teenager. To this day, the most precious memories I have are of the summers I spent with her. We would waste away our days going to yard sales and flea markets and little hole-in-the-wall curio shops (she loved that sort of thing, finding hidden gems in the oddest of places) and our nights watching TV or talking about what our tomorrow would hold. I can remember so vividly how excited I would get knowing that school was almost out for the year, and I was only days away from getting to spend infinite one-on-one time with the best grandmother ever. When she bought me that book (yep, you guessed it: from a yard sale), I was shocked and thrilled and spent the next few hours holed up under the gazebo in her back yard overlooking a lake, reading like there was no tomorrow. The pages of that book were filled with characters and places I'd never seen or heard of before (it was my first "adult" novel), and I was in pure heaven. But the page that I remember, word for word, was penned not by the author, but by a woman who showed me how much she loved me, who showed me that she saw me, that I mattered. It was the blank page at the very front, just after you open the cover. A page completely overlooked by everyone, myself included. But not this one. Not in this book. This page means the world to me. And as far as teen summer memories go, this one is by far my most cherished--and the one I'm so very lucky to have.
I'm not sharing the inscription here today, because those words are for me only. I will say this, however: If ever you are given the opportunity to change the life of someone you love simply by taking a moment to see them, do it. We all know that books have power. But we sometimes forget that we have power, too. The power to change lives, just as books do. The power to let someone else know that they matter in this world, that they are just as important as everyone else.