JEAN SASSON: My Love of Books

Author Jean SassonThe love of books rules my life. Reading. Writing. Collecting. Books are at the center of my life every day. In fact, at the end of my work day (or night) I go home with a book in my hand and I generally read that book before I go to sleep.

I've surrounded myself by books and my greatest pleasures arise from finding an old tome to add to my growing book collection.

Looking back, it seems unbelievable that I never personally owned a book until I was a teenager. But the memory of purchasing my first book is as fresh as yesterday's memories.

I always wanted a collection of books, but I was too poor to even think about having a personal library. Instead, I was an avid library and library book mobile user. During the summer months when school was out, once a week I would eagerly wait on the front porch for the library book mobile to come around the curve. I distinctly recall that kindly driver tooting his automobile horn to alert me to his arrival. Some of the happiest moments of my childhood occurred when climbing into that vehicle to explore the books available for check-out. There's nothing quite like anticipation!

As a child, I never owned any books of my own, but by age 14, I had carefully saved my meager allowance until I had money enough to purchase my first book.

Mary Price, a kind neighbor and my piano teacher, generously offered to drive me to Columbus, Georgia for a shopping outing. I eagerly accepted, knowing that I was going to purchase my first book. I felt great certainty that the book purchased on that day would be the first of an exclusive collection.

While in Davidson's Department Store (now known as Macy's) I browsed the bookshelves and fretted endlessly over my first book purchase. Deciding that it would be wise to purchase the book with the most pages, I walked out of that store with World War II war correspondent William Shirer's bestselling The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, an enormous tome consisting of 1,245 pages. Closing my eyes and going back in time, it's easy to remember my mounting excitement while clutching that weighty book.

I still have that treasured book and on occasion show it to a guest in my home, or display it at speaking events to my audience. That true story has entertained many people.

Now I know that the book was truly a sensible purchase, for it was an introduction to a world that a small-town Alabama girl could never imagine. Coming from a town of only eight-hundred citizens, a place where people were mainly gentle and kind, I truly did not know that there were wicked people in the world...people so evil that they could kill innocent babies because they were of a different religion or nationality. That is until I read William Shirer's book.

Since that day so long ago, I have been fortunate to experience many more pursuits for the perfect book, from little bookstalls in the Middle East, to sophisticated book shops in London, to a special book bid on eBay. Even today, nothing excites me more than holding an unread book.

Since the time I was a teenager, I've been reading marvelous tomes by Herman Wouk, Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Richard Burton, Dr. Thomas Dooley, and Freya Stark, just to name a few of my favorite writers. I felt in my bones that one day I, too, would write stories that others would yearn to read. I was never in a hurry to begin my writing career because I wanted to travel the world, to reach for the stars. Such feelings propelled me to seek adventure far away from the small Southern community I called home.

I traveled to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1978, to work in the royal hospital in Riyadh. I enjoyed a great adventure from the first moment my feet touched Saudi soil. The natural hospitality of the Arabs pulled me into their world. Some friendships became life-long relationships. My initial plan to live in the Kingdom for only two years extended into twelve exciting years.

Since my final exit from Saudi Arabia in April 1991, my fond attachment for the people and the region led me to continue to explore other Arab countries in the region. I've been able to fly around the world three times and to visit sixty-two countries. I have a number of delightful and devoted friends in Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and other Arab countries.

After returning to the United States, I began my writing career. Looking back, it seems impossible to believe that I wrote my first book, The Rape of Kuwait, over eighteen years ago! That first book has been followed by nine other books. And so long as there are human beings whose lives are so compelling that I am willing to sit in front of the computer for months on end to tell their stories, I will continue to do so.

Most important, there are many people in the world who care intently about people they do not personally know. These are the people who read my books.

I'm fortunate that there are so many inquisitive and caring people who still love books. I have much in common with my readers. And, I'm happy to say that my love of reading is not my only pleasure. My love of reading has borne a twin, and that twin is writing. Together, they give my life a one-two punch.

Goodbye for now. I hear a book calling.


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