This week I am pleased to bring you another author, Jennifer Chambers.
Groundwaters, as well as the married mother of two small boys. Her first novel, Learning Life Again, about two women with brain injury helping each other find meaning in their lives, will be released January 2010. To check her appearance schedule, contact her, or for more information on her books, go to http://www.jenniferchambers.com/
Because of a Book….
Like many readers-turned writers, I was a precocious child. A kid who was too smart for their own good, you might say. I grew up on a small farm in a village so small it still is without a post office. We had an elementary, middle, and high school, a rural fire station, a combination feed store/market, and the wooden-floored Grange. That’s it. I found the books in the basement of the grange before I could read them.
There’s a photo of me at about age five in a red flannel dress, twirling with my reluctant four-year-old brother around that floor at the Grange fiddle night. I don’t know if we saw the books that day, but the damp smell of the basement and the smell of the instant coffee the powdery older ladies made are with me still. I imagine us poking around the side room off the Grange kitchen, where all the folks would go for breathers between sets and eat homemade blackberry pie, to the room designated as the Grange “Library.” It was filled with items for the perennial garage sale, and paperbacks donated from around the community stacked up to the low ceiling. Most of them, I found later as I learned to read, were either Harlequin romance novels or Louis Lamour westerns. As often as she could my Mom would find me a kids’ book, generally a Dr. Seuss that someone had bought by long-ago subscription. It fueled my thirst for reading.
Later I burned through most of the books in the elementary school library. I preferred fiction, taking Nancy Drew and the Sweet Valley High girls by storm. By age twelve, I was on to melodramatic literature. After reading Gone with the Wind, I went on to one of my favorite books of all time, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. What could be more perfect for a twelve-year old, all awkwardness and pudgy knees? I was transported into tragic longing and beautiful brooding characters. I learned to feel someone else’s pain, at an age where self-centeredness is all. My skin problems were nothing compared to Jane’s tortured life and love.
Jane Eyre took on a completely different meaning at fifteen, when I was in a car accident and had a traumatic brain injury. I was in a coma for a time, and what I recall of that time are pages of the books I had read flashing thorough my mind. The books were more real to me than what was happening when I woke. For many weeks, I was in the hospital recovering, and as I became more aware of my surroundings, it was Jane Eyre that stayed with me. Brain injury erases the knowledge of your past wholly in some cases. I can remember things when prompted, but I will never know if it’s something I’ve parroted back or a real memory.
The chilling thing about Jane Eyre that got me was the part about Mrs. Rochester, shut up in the attic, raving mad. The brain injury ward was on a sort of half-floor of the hospital. Since I was fixated on the book, I felt like Mrs. Rochester, terribly alone, frantic, with no knowledge of who I was, or where I was, or who was keeping me there. Part of my mind must have recognized the difference between my own story and the Bronte book, and I think it was what helped me separate the delirium from reality.
I’m happy to say that I recovered completely, finished high school, and went on to complete college and have a family. The thirst for knowledge served me well in the end, and my precocious reading habit was a lifeline. Reading and writing are now my career as an author and editor. When I reread Jane Eyre every few years, I marvel at the power of the language that pierced to the heart of me in such an extreme state.