My Grade 7 teacher would hold trivia tournaments at the end of every week and would hand out prizes. Being trivially minded, I won more than my fair share of such prizes (I still have the thesaurus I won as a prize).
One week, bored of the books on tanks and fighter jets that usually seemed to be on offer, I selected a giant bag of Twizzlers which I then spirited home, so that for once I didn't have to share with my three brothers. I hid them in the top drawer of my blue desk, and for years afterward that drawer smelled of Twizzlers whenever I opened it.
What I don't remember as well was where I acquired two other very important items from that spring: a copy of Paul Simon's album The Rhythm of the Saints on cassette, and a hardcover copy of Anne McCaffery's Dragonsdawn. I can still recall the ragged, untrimmed edge of the pages, the first time I'd encountered these in a book. I remember thinking that perhaps whoever had given it to me had got it cheap, as some kind of printer's error copy.
Each night I would read Dragonsdawn until I couldn't keep my eyes open, and then I'd fall asleep listening to 'The Obvious Child' on my knock-of Walkman (listening with the volume almost at pain-inducing levels, so that the drums filled the universe).
But the strongest memory from that spring were my school lunch hours. See, I lived right around the corner from school so I went home each day for lunch. And for that spring when I was reading Dragonsdawn I would inhale my lunch and then, rather than watch cartoons, I would run up to my room, grab a couple of Twizzlers from my secret stash, and flop down on my bed to read Dragonsdawn in the sunshine (I'm sure it must have rained but I only recall sunshine). I would read for as long as I possibly could, often so long that I was late for afternoon classes. More than once I can recall arriving in the school yard, having run full tilt from home, to arrive just as the last student in line was entering the school.
These are wonderful memories, and I still recall how engrossed I was by the book, the smell of Twizzlers, the feeling of the warm sunshine on my bed...
Anne McCaffrey died yesterday, I've just discovered. She was a judge of the Writers of the Future contest and I regret that I was never able to meet her during my trips to the contest week. I would very much like to have told her what that book meant to eleven-year-old Stephen, longing to be a science fiction writer himself.
Thank you for that book, Anne, and for the happy memories I associate with it. I only hope that someday some book of mine can mean as much to someone as yours did to me when I was young.
Sliocht sleachta ar shliocht bhur sleachta.