A Life-Long Love Affair With Books

Today’s post by New York Times bestselling author, Karen White

Karen’s latest novel, After the Rain, is now in stores. But we’ve got a copy for one lucky reader today. Leave a comment on this post to be entered.

Karen White

Update: the winner of this giveaway is Vanessa. She has been notified by email. Thanks to everyone who entered! Check back soon for more giveaways!

I had the misfortune of growing up with three brothers—two older brothers who loved to torture me, and a younger brother who had the misfortune of having an older sister.   I wanted a sister so badly that when he was born and named Steven, I dressed him up in my doll’s clothes and blond wig and called him Stephanie until he was old enough to fight back.

When I was nine years old, my father’s job with Exxon moved us to Venezuela where the insects are huge and the reptiles even bigger.   If you’re a brother with a younger sister, the opportunities to torture her are endless.   For reasons that have yet to be explained to me, my father bought the two older brothers BB guns for Christmas one year so they could shoot the iguanas out of the mango trees.   What do you think they did with those iguanas once they fell from the branches?   Hence my nickname “Blarin’ Karen. ”

I suppose it’s no surprise that it was while living there that I discovered books for the first time.   My best friend brought me with her to pick out a book at our small American library and while there the librarian, Mrs. Shero, asked me what I liked to read.   Imagine her shock when I told her, “I don’t. ”   She promptly rifled through a few shelves until she found the perfect book and placed it in my hands:   The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene.   My first Nancy Drew book.   And thus my life-long love affair with books began.   I now had something to keep me company while I hid from my brothers as they attempted to put enormous reptiles down my shirt.

In the seventh grade we moved to London, England, into a building that stood directly across the street from the location of the house where Charles Dickens lived while he wrote David Copperfield.   Imagine my delight when I discovered that my walk to the Tube (subway) stop each day to get to school and back had me passing in front of a book store.   I devoured every book my babysitting money would allow me to buy.

And then one day a friend recommended a book she had just finished reading:   Gone With the Wind.   They had several copies in the school library and I checked one out.   I began reading on the Tube on the way home and missed my stop because I was too engrossed in the book.   I went home and continued to read, skipping dinner and homework, and then sleep.   In the morning I knew I couldn’t go to school without my homework (and without sleep) so instead I got dressed, pretended to leave for school, then went up to the roof of our building and continued to read.   And read.   It was the only time in my life when I’d skipped school—and all because of a book!

It was a life-altering experience.   I knew then that I wanted to either become Scarlet O’Hara or become a writer.   Specifically a writer of the sequel to GWTW since I’d already worked out what was supposed to happen next.

But then college happened, and a degree in business, and then a career in the business world.   Those years were followed in quick succession by marriage and two children.   I simply didn’t have time to read.   I missed books, but couldn’t find a way to squeeze them into my busy life.

Until my sister-in-law recommended a book, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.   I remembered thinking at the time how corny the book sounded—a WWII nurse being sucked back in time to the Jacobite rebellion of the 18th century.   By touching standing stones.   Right.   But she insisted and so I bought a copy and brought it and my two small children to the park and set them on swings.   Something like six hours later they were begging to get off the swings and go home because it had started to rain at some point and it was getting dark.

We returned home and I continued to read even past my husband’s return from work to a dark house with nothing on the stove.   (Luckily, this experience prepared him for the many dinnerless nights he would experience as the husband of a writer).

I quickly devoured the entire series (only three or four had been written at the time).   The author had transported me to another place and time, and into the lives of her characters—so much so that I could not pick up another book to read when I was done.   So I did what my teachers since elementary school had been telling me I should do:   I started writing my own book.   That book, In the Shadow of the Moon, was my first published novel.

In that first book, along with every book I’ve written since, I try to replicate for my readers the feelings those favorite books evoked in me.   I want to share emotions, and transport my readers to a difference existence.   In my new book, After the Rain, I return to the small town of Walton, Georgia where six children and their father are grieving for their mother, and where a stranger is about to turn their world upside down.   It’s the kind of book I like to read—part mystery, part love story, part woman’s journey, but mostly a book about people I can care about and root for.   Just like the books that inspired my own writing journey.

There have been other books I’ve read before and since that have shaped my own writing, but The Secret in the Old Clock, Gone With the Wind, and Outlander will always have a special place in my heart as my literary first loves—remembered much more clearly and fondly than any romantic first loves from my distant past.   At least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.


About Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen is the co-founder of She Reads, mother of six, and life-long reader. She is also the author of two novels with a third out in July: The Mailbox, She Makes It Look Easy, and The Guest Book.

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57 Responses to A Life-Long Love Affair With Books

  1. Belle January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I love Ms. White’s story of becoming a reader and writer. I’m not leaving this to chance, I am going to buy the book right now. Thanks for sharing such a great story.

  2. marge michulsky January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    after a long december holiday season with no time for reading…I am looking forward to getting some books together for a couple of upcoming trips. Have also put The Secret of the Old Clock on my list. one of MY first books read. Thanks for all the information you share with us,and excitement and joy of reading.

  3. josey bozzo January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    This sounds so much like me. The first books I remember reading were Nancy Drew. I didn’t read Gone With the Wind until I was an adult, however it was and is my all time favorite movie. I too have read and neglected my family on more than one occasion.

  4. shannon brown January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    As always sounds wonderful!!!

  5. Kim January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Can’t wait to read this one. Adding it to my ever growing to be read list!

  6. Gwyn January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    She sounds like a great writer… Love her story… I will be looking forward to reading this one.

  7. Laura Kay January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I’ve read two of Karen’s books and she is one of my favorite authors! She is amazingly gifted and I will also say I love her even more after this! I also had a younger brother named Stephen…and he too found himself dressed as a girl, with a wig, being called Stephanie! Rofl! totally serious! I’m going to have to share this with him, so he will know he wasn’t the only brother subjected to such things! lol.

  8. Karen January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I would love to read this book. I can identify with her story of being an only girl in a family full of boys.

  9. Karen White January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Laura Kay—LOL!! Who knew?? Maybe we were separated at birth! 🙂 I’m definitely sharing this with my brother. He’ll be so relieved to know that he wasn’t the only one!

  10. Barbara January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I too spent my childhood reading but I was an only child of a single mother who worked outside the home since I was 5. I still live to read and have always enjoyed Karen’s books.

  11. Blair January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I have read almost all of Karen White’s books and just love them. I found them by chance in a bookstore several years again and I have been reading them since. Now I have my mom and friends hooked on them. Loved hearing the story of how White fell in love with books.

  12. Sheree Nielsen January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I learned of Karen White’s books through my visit to a favorite town in the U.S. – Folly Beach, South Carolina. This quaint cohesive community captured my heart and soul. Much to my surprise, when I entered a book store back home in Missouri, the display featured Ms White’s new publication “On Folly Beach.” I gobbled it up like, brownie batter and hershey kisses. Her path to writing mirrors mine in a way — I never used to read. Gradually I read non-fiction. The first fiction book I picked up, of course, was Ms. White’s. I was hooked.

  13. Katherine Jones January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Ooh. I hope I’m that one lucky reader. I’ve loved Karen White’s books, most especially The Memory of Water. That book changed the way I write. If you haven’t read it, you should! Also enjoyed this story about how she became a reader. I swallowed Outlander whole too.

  14. Linda Stott January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Oh, this is so much fun…my little brother will be so happy to know that he is not the only one that was dressed in baby doll clothes. His name is Michael, but I called him Michelle! I love him dearly. This sounds like an exciting read. Please keep writing and we will continue reading!

  15. Sherry January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I went to the beach last summer with my daughter. The condo we were staying in had a supply of paperbacks all by authors with the last name White. I love to read but like to enjoy a story…and with a busy beach week knew I wouldn’t be able to finish one before leaving. I happened to go into a 2nd hand store that my sister told me about one afternoon and saw a book laying all by itself by Karen White…another White author….(those interested me because that is my maiden last name…and especially this one, I have an aunt named Caren White!) So, I had to by it.. The Beach Trees was my first Karen White book. I loved it, couldn’t put it down, and now have read several of her books!!! I am looking forward to many more…and so is my sister and my daughter 🙂

  16. kate January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Thanks, MaryBeth, I am an avid follower of Karen White, living in Charleston, I became acquainted with Karen’s original series “House on Tradd Steet” and I was hooked….would love to win her New Book, Thanks so much, Kate

  17. Diane January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I love Karen White’s books. The first book I remember being so immersed in that I didn’t want to put it down was The Yearling! I started reading it one summer while at a girls’ camp in Maine. I wasn’t able to finish it before going home, so begged my mom to take me to the library to get the book upon my return!

  18. Tracy D January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Love Karen White’s books! I was an only child and always wanted an older brother to “protect” me. I never thought of the downside of having an older brother! But, I have to say my son is a very sweet older brother to my daughter. Maybe, I was foreseeing the future . . .

  19. lynn brashears January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Noons tells such a wonderful romantic historic story like Karen my all time favorote writer I have read all of your books and waiting for more…keep up the weaving of tales about the south takes me to their world with every word… Thanks to you for a wonderful world

  20. Janie Dempsey Watts January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Wonderful to hear about Karen’s storytelling roots, her brothers, and those iguanas. Thanks for sharing!

  21. Elaine Miles January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Karen White did not miss her calling!

  22. Shelle Sumners January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Karen, The Secret of the Old Clock, Gone with the Wind and Outlander are three of my all-time favorites, too.

    I am off to look for your books right now. 🙂

  23. rhonda January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Love lateness story would love to read this book.

  24. LRF January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Thanks for the fun story of your growing up years! I would love to win a copy of your latest book~

  25. Pam January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I didn’t have to hide to read growing up but now that I am a grown up, homeschooling my two kids and keeping everything running in the house, I hide out in my bedroom to read. I love the books by Karen that I have read and would love to hide away and read this one.

  26. Deb January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I also read as a child to escape my brother’s teasing. I’d love to win this book. Thanks!

  27. Paula Dolin January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Great story and the book sounds good too! Thanks again for the chance to win and the great book recommendations.

  28. Kathy January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I enjoyed reading how Karen White became a writer due to her insatiable desire to read more and realizing how she could extend the pleasure to others by writing novels. This book sounds like one I would enjoy, mystery, romance and relationships all interwined in a beautiful story. Thank you for the chance to read it for myself.

  29. Cheryl Cooley January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I didn’t discover reading for pleasure until adulthood and now I devour books! Karen has become one of my all time favorite authors because of her fascinating characters and interesting story lines. I also LOVE the South, so that adds to my fondness for her books. Thank you, Karen and please keep writing!

  30. Becky S January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I too have read many a book well into the wee hours of the morning. I love to hear how writers got their start.

  31. Karen White January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Aw–thanks everyone for your kind words! Softens my growing up memories…and makes my long wait at the APPLE store (where I am now) to resurrect my laptop a lot more bearable!!

  32. Vanessa January 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    What a nice interview. I always enjoy books set in the south. I have never read Karen White’s books, but they sound like wonderful reads. Thank you for the chance to win a copy.

  33. Mary January 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    YAY! I am going on a trip soon and I need a new book to bring along !!!!

  34. Heather January 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    Loved getting to know more about this author!

  35. Gay Idle January 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    Loved reading the journey of your love story with books and writing. I too started on my reading/writing journey with Nancy Drew books. I then read I think every book that Emilie Loring and Grace Livingston Hill wrote…then moved onto gothic romance and fell in love with the romance and mystery of writer’s like Mary Stewart, Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt.
    I am from Georgia(born and raised there), and would love to read your latest book, set in Georgia. Thanks so much for sharing a bit of your life with us!

  36. Jane January 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    Have been waiting for Karens next book and keeping up with her on Facebook – definitely one of my favorite authors. As a South Carolinian, how can I ever pass up a book about Southern families?? Would love to win a copy to pass around to friends in our Lunch Book Bunch!

  37. Gwen January 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    Just the kind of books I like to read! Loved hearing her about her life and how she started to write books.

  38. Susan G. January 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    I couldn’t stop reading the excerpt…I will have to read this book! Karen’s story of her ‘head in the book’ until she’s finished, reminds me of myself and my daughter… I do pity those who do not enjoy reading…one of thee biggest joys in life!
    Susan G.

  39. Paige January 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    Thank you, Karen, for sharing this story with us! I love when a book sweeps you away to another time and place like the Outlander books do…and as your books do as well! I just love how you write relationships so beautifully and also so realistically.

  40. Karen White January 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    Gay Idle—yes!! After Nancy Drew, I turned to the gothics. Victoria Holt is my favorite. I still own each and every one of her books and they’ve all been read multiple times. 🙂

  41. Tamara January 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    Karen White- I knew I liked you when I met you at Lemuria in Jackson! I LOVED Nancy Drew (still love actually)

    So kind of you to giveaway a copy of After the Rain!

  42. Debbie January 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    I haven’t any of Karen’s books but I’ve added her to my list of “new” authors to try in 2013. Would love to own a copy of her new book!

  43. brooke January 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    Sounds like a magical childhood filled with memories just waiting to be published! Would love to have a copy of the book…. THANKS for sharing your story! 😉

  44. Kathy Last January 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    I have loved all of Karen’s books so much that I have recommended them to my family and friends and NO ONE has been disappointed!

  45. Joni G January 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    I’ve not had the pleasure of reading Karen’s books, but would love to have the opportunity.

    Through my childhood I tended to “inhale” books and scoured library shelves for for books that caught my imagination. Karen’s description of her favorite reads and books she has written are just my style!

  46. Sheri January 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    What an interesting bio!! I too love to read and have read Karen’s books. Since I am from Georgia, I love that the setting is based here. I would love to win a copy of Karen’s newest book!! Thanks for the chance!

  47. Susan Coster January 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    Oh, Southern Fiction, my very favorite genre! Hope to snag a copy!

  48. karenk January 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    i love karen white’s novels…thanks for the chance to read this one!

  49. Grace January 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    I would love to read After the Rain! I enjoyed Falling Home so much, especially considering my fondness for Georgia : )

  50. Karen White January 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    Kathy Last—the check is in the mail!! Thank you for sharing me with your friends! 🙂

  51. Angela January 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    Karen writes like she knows each of us personally and like she is just sharing something with the reader while we both rock on a swing on a wrap around porch.

  52. Sue January 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    Loved hearing how a librarian “turned you onto books and reading” Libraries has been part of my life since I was 4 or 5, and now having retired from my career as a school librarian, I can spend my time visiting our small town library and encouraging my grandkids to go there.

  53. Eliska January 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    So interesting to get a glimpse into one of my favorite author’s life. I have been hooked since Tradd Street! Keep them coming Karen – especially about the South!

  54. Kim January 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    I love hearing how Karen came to love books. I will be adding her to my list of authors to read for this year!

  55. Emily January 16, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I too had three brothers but was lucky enough to be born first – when my mom announced she was pregnant with #5 – I told her in no uncertain terms that it had better be a girl – no more boys.- I was 1000% serious another boy would not have corssed the threshhold of our house…..I can picture myself doing just what you did to Steven had I had yet another brother. Looking forward to reading your books!

  56. Nicole January 17, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    Count me in — I’d love to win a copy!

  57. Chris January 22, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I’m now a fan of Karen White after learning about her here on SheReads. I love her style of writing – a blend of mystery, history, love, and life. As a reader of mostly inspirational fiction, I am so happy to find a fiction author who keeps things “clean”.

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