“Once you have read a book you care about, some part of it is always with you.” – Louis L’Amour
Even though he has never been my favorite author, Louis L’Amour’s books left an indelible mark on me. I guess I could even credit Mr. L’Amour with making me a reader – in an odd sort of way.
Most people may not know that L’Amour wrote a little bit of everything because he is most remembered for his Western novels. Those rough and tumble cowboy tales were the reason that L’Amour was my Papa Farr’s favorite writer. And L’Amour’s influence on my reading started at the feet of my maternal grandfather as he watched over my sister and me daily.
While my father worked and finished college and my mother managed our home and took care of her bedridden mother, Papa Farr ran a grist mill and worked as a blacksmith in his shop next door. My sister Lisa and I played in the outdoor space between our home and his shop.
His proximity and availability made my grandfather our unofficial babysitter. I would imagine it was a chore that he really did not relish, but it was the best way to help his daughter as she cared for our grandmother.
It was probably a very stressful, anxious season of life for the adults in our family, but for my sister and me, it was a time of adventure and fun. We thoroughly loved using the tiered corn bins of Papa’s grist mill as our personal indoor playground. Plus, his customers, mostly older local farmers, often brought us trinkets and treats.
So, when I think of those days, I remember the complete love and security of our parents and grandparents. I also vividly remember that Papa Farr always had a L’Amour paperback rolled up inside a pocket of his overalls. He was apt to pull that book out at any time and delve into one of those action-packed Western novels.
But my sister Lisa and I learned early on that Papa Farr’s attention to a book did not indicate his lack of attention to our escapades. He evidently had eyes in the back of his head because he always managed to catch us in our mischief. Without looking up from his reading, Papa Farr would growl something like, “No, ma’am, not today.”
Lisa was much calmer and more compliant than me. Early on, she gave up on our misadventures and settled beside my grandfather to play with her dolls and tea sets. I held out longer, but even I could not escape his vigilant watchfulness. So, I eventually abandoned my attempts at mischief-making and resorted to finding my own books to read. I figured there had to be something impressive inside the pages of those books.
I was right!
As my love for reading grew, I sometimes climbed the old sweet gum tree in our front yard, nestled my gangly body into the crook of its lowest limb, and opened a book. Somehow, the very act of climbing up and out of my little world allowed my imagination to soar. Shaded by the branches and leaves of that tree, I opened the pages of my latest book and simultaneously opened the door to whole new worlds.
In doing so, I also opened the door to my future as a voracious reader, a teacher of literature and creative writing, a journalist, and a children’s novelist. I hate to think what my life would have been like without that tree – or without Papa Farr, who modeled the joy of reading right before my eyes.
Even though my grandfather may not have looked like the typical bibliophile, he loved his books. Ironically though, he was a man of few words. A small-town man with little education, Papa Farr wasn’t widely traveled outside of his books. Nor was he overly affectionate with anyone but my sweet grandmother. So, I don’t imagine he ever realized it, but this great big, gruff man gave me one of the greatest gifts of my life – the love of reading.
Even now, after I finish a really good book, I sometimes think about Papa Farr and my earliest days of reading. As his beloved L’Amour once stated, the storyline and the characters of my favorite books have stayed with me. They taught me lessons I might never have learned otherwise, not to mention that each book broadened my vocabulary.
Most of those memorable characters came from historical fiction books, my favorite genre. If a book is well-researched and accurate, it can be the most pleasant and effortless way to learn about the people and the cultures that came before us.
One of my favorite new historical fiction writers is Rachel Fordham. She has such a gift for weaving lyrical tales of times gone by, while using the truth of God’s Word to instruct readers. Truly, her characters are so real, so relevant that they are now a part of me and my way of looking at life’s situations.
According to her social media pages, Fordham was also an early reader. In fact, her husband finally told her that since she had read so many books, she would probably be great at writing. Thankfully, she took his advice and started writing – in her very limited spare time as the homeschooling mom of a large and loving family.
Amazingly, she sold her second manuscript, and that book, The Hope of Azure Springs, was published in 2018. I immediately fell in love with her storytelling style, her beloved characters, and her eye for historic details. Since that first, award-winning novel, I eagerly waited for each of her next four novels. Her latest, Where the Road Bends, just came out on June 7, and it was one of those books that kept me up until the last page.
So, if you are looking for a good summer read, do yourself a favor and order one of Fordham’s books. You’ll be glad that you did! But please beware: Fordham’s books are so riveting and all-consuming that they could be hazardous to your health – especially if you try and read them in the crook of your favorite sweet gum tree.