Bound by Books: Writing as an Act of Love

When I was a boy, I tended to be timid, observing the world, which I didn’t trust, from a safe spot on the periphery. I imagine my mistrust came from the experience of being taken from my home and left with my aunt and uncle when I was barely a year old. Many of you know this was a temporary situation made necessary by my father’s farming accident that resulted in his hospitalization and his recovery from the amputation of both of his hands. In an instant, my life separated into before and after. I spent much of my childhood on guard against the swift harm the world could do.

I had to learn to trust people. I remember many times when I watched other children play. I desperately wanted to join them, but my shyness held me back. Gradually, as I aged, I became better at letting people get close to me. I began to enjoy my friendships. Little by little, I opened myself to the world.

For me, writing is an act of love. I write because I love people even with their missteps and flaws. I write to explore and to preserve what I’ve come to know about the way our lives intermingle. In the process, if I’m doing it right, I increase my capacity for empathy. I can’t do that without being a part of the intricacies of human relationships. I can’t do it without risking my own injury.

Such a wound came to me last week. One of the joys of my writing life is all the people I’ve met. My childhood self would be amazed at how much I treasure the interactions I’ve had with readers, students, and colleagues over the years. I’ve particularly enjoyed my visits to book clubs across the country. I’ve loved them all, but I confess I have a special place in my heart for a group in my native southeastern Illinois. This collection of smart, warm, funny, and generous women won me over from the first time they invited me to visit through each time I was fortunate to be in their company thereafter. One of their members passed away unexpectedly last week. I know the club mourns her absence, as do I. She was kind and gracious and witty, and I remember the lengths she went to when planning a menu to accommodate my vegan diet when she was responsible for one of my visits. She was also so welcoming, as were all the members, of my wife, Cathy. We’ve cherished each evening we’ve spent in the company of this club.

Of course, I could do on and speak of the sadness of a life lost suddenly, but I’d rather remember the fellowship of the time spent together. I know the ladies of this club have a deep-rooted history, and I’ve been fortunate to know them. I hope they know how much they’ve meant to this man who was the little boy who had to learn to trust and to love, no matter the pain to come. The name of the club is Bound by Books. What better title? Writing is never just about the process itself. It’s also about our forays into the world and our connections with its people. It’s about the ties that bind.



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