When I was in the first grade, my grandmother Mama Mary gave me a copy of Judy Blume's "Superfudge." After I read it, I was done with picture books. The librarian at my elementary school may not have agreed with my decision wholeheartedly, but she supported me.
The librarian had been a student of my grandmother's, who taught children's literature at what was then West Georgia College, and knew that a love for reading ran in the family. From first grade on, I bypassed the cozy section of the library that contained picture books and headed straight for the tall shelves of juvenile fiction.
Of course, school library books weren't the only ones I read. I checked out books from the county library and occasionally even bought my own. But then, like now, I always wanted more.
Whenever we would visit Mama Mary, I headed straight for her bookshelves, which contained an intriguing mix of children's story collections and the books my aunts had read growing up. I'd start reading a new book almost every time I visited and was usually allowed to take it home with me.
From that first gift of "Superfudge," my grandmother supported my reading habit more than anyone, except perhaps my parents. She was also proud of my writing.
Though I love fiction of all kinds and am even developing an appreciation for short stories, I have never done much creative writing. I never thought about one day writing a novel of my own, until a few years ago when my mom told me about a conversation she'd had during a visit to my grandmother's house.
My mom had gone over there to see my late grandfather's youngest sister, who hadn't been back to Georgia in years. As my mom talked about my newspaper career, my great-aunt asked if I planned to write a novel. Though I wasn't there, I have never forgotten that my grandmother told my aunt that she thought I definitely had a novel in me.
I'm still not actually sure about that myself, but it pleases me to know that Mama Mary believed I could do it.
Sadly, when my first book hits the shelves, my grandmother won't be there for my book release party. She died on Friday.
But if the afterlife is anything like I imagine it, there will be plenty of books in heaven. In fact, I think it might be a lot like those bookshelves at my grandmother's house.
If there's a book you think I really ought to read or you have information about upcoming author appearances in the Atlanta area, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.