You cannot be a writer without being a reader. It's a simple observation, but no wiser words have ever seen ink on paper. For writers are always drawn to and mesmerized by words. We drink up pretty syllables like drunks depend on cheap wine.
There is a Southern writer by the name of Rick Bragg who writes as pretty as a sunset on the Carolina coast. He has long made no secret of his love for the works of Faulkner and other writers of note that saturated his soul with lovely description. It has, no doubt, influenced the beauty of the writings that he produces. Pat Conroy, too, has a list of beautifully written books that has influenced the gorgeousness of the prose that he produces prodigiously.
I dare you to visit the home of a serious writer and not find a library overflowing with books. In my house, there are two rooms with large, built-in bookcases as well as two others in my office across the way. They are all loaded with books. It is a funny thing, but I do not believe my home had its true personality -- my personality -- until the custom-made bookshelves were installed and my books, those which speak to who I am and what I like, were lovingly stored there.
This morning I am thinking of this for I was in my office writing when I spotted a book on the top shelf of the book case and I climbed up on a two-step stool and took down the paperback. It is called "The Lost Boy", a novella by Thomas Wolfe. Yes, that would be the same Asheville, N.C., writer who died young at 38 but not before giving literature the great work, "Look Homeward, Angel" and the world the memorable quotation of "You can't go home again." (For what little it matters, I disagree. Southerners can always go home again. As Truman Capote once said, "Southerners always go home. Even if it's in a pine box.")
Back to the book on my shelf: I knew before I flipped open the cover where I had gotten the book. But still I opened it and again, as I always do when I open the first page of that book, I smiled. Written in an old-fashioned penmanship in black ink, it reads, "For Ronda, from the library of Kathryn Tucker Windham. June, 2009."
It means the world to me. And since writers always have a story about a special book, I'll share this with you.
Lovely Mrs. Windham, now well into her 90s, is, I believe, the best oral Southern storyteller who has ever breathed the air of Dixie. She lives on an unassuming little street in Selma, Ala. I once wrote about her in this column and someone mailed her a copy. She found my phone number and called me up to leave a message on my machine to thank me. The only other time I have been that excited was when once the esteemed broadcaster Paul Harvey said my name on his program and mentioned how much he had enjoyed a book of mine.
I could not believe that the Queen of Southern Storytellers had called me. That phone call led to an afternoon's visit in the little simple house in which she lives. As Southerners are apt to do, we exchanged gifts. I gave her signed copies of my books, she gave me signed copies of hers -- including a children's book called "Ernest's Gift." The little house spilled over with books from every corner, bookcase and table. From her personal collection, she pulled three books and gave them to me.
I have a treasure trove of cherished books. But especially dear to my heart is a Thomas Wolfe book from Miss Kathryn's library.
A Southern writer cannot be more blessed.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of "What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)." Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her weekly newsletter.