As early as first grade, my teachers began complaining that I was an underachiever. There was no denying this, but what they didn’t know was that I was an overachiever in one area: reading — just not the reading assigned in school. Our family went to the library every Saturday morning, and I took out many more books than the skeptical librarians believed such a young child could read in a week. But I did, returning the following Saturday for another batch. My mother says this is what kept her from despairing for my academic future.
I loved being read to, and I loved reading books by myself. My best friend Linda and I used to spend afternoons stretched out on the two twin beds in her room, reading side-by-side. And I’m not just talking rainy afternoons. While the other kids in the neighborhood romped around outside, Linda and I read in compatible silence. They thought we were boring, we thought we were in heaven.
But I didn’t know anything about heaven until I picked up Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. I can still see the book: thick and substantial, rough-edged pages, silvery-blue with a wide binding, two columns running down each page. I must have been about ten at the time, and I read it through in three days. As soon as I finished, I turned back to page one and did it all over again.
I’d never been so captivated, so grabbed and thrust into a world I knew little about, missing, as any ten-year-old would, some of the story’s less endearing qualities. I believed I was there, that all the characters were real, some my friends and others no so much, that their disasters and triumphs were mine. And I was completely taken with the idea that Mitchell had just sat down and conjured it all up. What an amazing and wonderful thing to be able to do. I decided then that when I grew up I would be a novelist — and Scarlett O’Hara.