In a recent interview in The New York Times Book Review, Dan Brown, the author of The Da Vinci Code and the new bestseller, Inferno, talked about the earliest experience he had as a reader that influenced him in a major way:
“We did not have a television while I was growing up, and so I read voraciously. My earliest memory of being utterly transfixed by a book was Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Halfway through the book, I remember my mom telling me it was time for bed and not being able to sleep because I was so deeply concerned for the safety of the characters. The next day, when I finished the book, I remember crying with relief that everything had worked out. The emotion startled me — in particular the depth of connection I felt toward these imaginary characters. It was in that moment that I became aware of the magic of storytelling and the power of the printed word.”
I love this comment for what it reveals, not about Dan as a writer, but about him as a reader. As writers, I think all of us are inspired in some deeply fundamental way by stories that we read — or that were read to us — at some early moment in our lives. When I think back about the books that influenced me early on, there are several that come to mind. One is A Tale of Two Cities. Like Dan, I remember being moved to tears Dan by my feelings for one of the characters and marveling at how Charles Dickens had called up such feeling in me.
Sometimes I think that the feelings we experience for imaginary characters are purer and less encumbered than those we have for the real people in our lives. Because these created characters exist only in our imagination, we can connect with them emotionally in some very direct and primal way. What early reading experience really pulled your heartstrings? Thinking about why it had that power over you and how its influence was exercised can be very revealing and instructive. Write on!