Read Forever

Categories: read forever

Mary Higgins Clark has brought unparalleled joy to generations of thriller fans. As part of our ongoing Read Forever guest author series, she’s sharing an experience from her childhood that drove home the importance of reading. In her engaging essay, Mary reminisces about a memorable early television program she watched 50 years ago that encapsulated the power that literature has to broaden horizons and transform lives. At the time, who could have imagined that someday she would be broadening the horizons of millions of readers worldwide?



Clark_Mary Higgins.jpg“Mary, is the light out?" by Mary Higgins Clark

It was a question my mother regularly called up the stairs to me after I had gone to bed. "Yes," I answered truthfully. The light was out but by holding the book up to the street lamp I could make out the words on the pages.


I have always had a book in my hand, not always to my credit. Sometimes it was tucked inside the geometry text book to the chagrin of the math teacher.  I loved to baby sit for one family on our block. The father was a school teacher and in a right hand corner of the living room were floor-to-ceiling book shelves with his comfortable leather chair and hassock between them. As soon as the parents left and I was sure the toddlers were asleep, I dove for that chair and opened one of the books.  In those days I was paid twenty-five cents a night for babysitting, but I would willingly have minded the children for free to have access to that treasure trove of reading.


Fifty years ago in the days of early television I watched a program that I have never forgotten. The plot was about an incessant talker at a men's club in England who constantly interrupted the other members when they were deep in their newspapers. That young man got so on the nerves of a wealthy older member that he challenged the chatterer with a bet. He would give him a million pounds if he could live totally isolated for one year with no one to talk to. The young man seized at the opportunity. The arrangements were made. He would move into an isolated cottage. Food would be delivered at the gate at a specific time every few days, but he must never speak to the person who made the delivery. If he ever required anything special,  he was to leave a note for the messenger.


His first request was made after two weeks. He who had never let anyone read in peace wanted newspapers. Two weeks later he requested magazines. After a month he requested books. Any books. Books on every subject.


A year later to the day he left the cottage and returned to the club prepared to have his wealthy patron waiting with a check for one million pounds. Instead a trembling shadow of the man who had made the bet was awaiting him. "In these past months, I made a foolish investment," he said. "I am ruined. I thought I could salvage something to pay you, but I cannot give you one pence of the money I owe you."


The young man smiled. "You owe me nothing," he said. "It is I who owe you everything. Because of you I have dwelt in Greece and sat at the feet of Sophocles. I traveled in that desperate journey with Hannibal over the Alps. I marched with the Crusaders and sat at the Round Table with Arthur and his knights. I was a Revolutionary War soldier, numb with the cold, but believing in the cause of the colonies. I was with Robert E. Lee when he paced the floor of the Curtis-Lee mansion deciding whether he should lead the Federal or Confederate army. Hamlet and Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, became my familiars. I have shared their passions. I have lived in ancient Egypt and plunged the depths of the sea."


The young man, his voice filled with emotion, paused and put his hands on the shoulders of his now bankrupt and humbled friend. "Sir," he repeated "you owe me nothing. I owe you everything."


That long ago hour-and-thirty-minute television drama says it all about how I believe that reading is the key to discovering and understanding the past and present of this magnificent, troubled world in which we live.


The joy of reading has always been a constant for me. The joy of writing is an immeasurable gift from the gods.


Mary Higgins Clark has written thirty suspense novels. Her books have been published around the world and have sold over one hundred million copies in the U.S. In her latest novel, I’ll Walk Alone, a young woman, who is the victim of identity theft, finds herself accused of kidnapping and possibly murdering her own child. It is a classic Mary Higgins Clark story that will keep readers guessing until the last page.

by ICUinICU on ‎06-20-2011 10:45 AM

I love this!  I became an avid reader because I had health problems as a child and was what they used to call "sickly" -- I had asthma before the time of inhalers and good treatments.  Rather than dwelling on not being able to play outside in cold weather, I wandered the hills of Mars with Edgar Rice Burrough's John Carter, I coasted across the stars with the crew of the Solar Queen in Andre Norton's universe, I was peeking up the chimney with the inspector in Edgar Allen Poe's "Murder in the Rue Morgue."  I may never have been a physical athlete, but my brain was no wimp. 

by crafterjtf on ‎06-20-2011 02:44 PM

When I was eight years old and in the third grade old my parents  discovered that I needed glasses, actually I thought everyone saw the way I did!!  I did not do well in school but once I got my glasses that was a different world!! I found out I loved to read.  My mother and I would take the bus downtown to the library (this was in the 1950's) and we would always take two big shopping bags.  At that time there was a limit as to how many books children were allowed to check out and no limit for adults.  Mom would check out two books for herself and I would check out ten books!!!!  I would also take my father's big old metal flashlight to bed and would read under the covers!!!  I love to read everything and anything especially mysteries and of course romance novels.  Thank goodness for the Nook I don't know where else to store my paperback and hardcopy books!!  Guess what my daughter also loves to read.  I wonder where she gets that from ???



by JeremyCesarec on ‎06-20-2011 05:03 PM

Thanks so much for sharing these wonderful stories!

by singinlow on ‎06-20-2011 07:41 PM

I, too used to read under the covers with a flashlight. I always had books.  When I had kids I read to them every night until they were old enough to get jobs and got home at different times.

I have books stacked everywhere! I give alot of books to the library, but keep the ones I like most. I still have 2 bookshelves filled and piles on the floor. My kids got me the 3G/Wi-Fi Nook for Christmas and it is already loaded with books.

I love to read!

by Dipoo on ‎06-21-2011 12:06 AM
My Mom got me started on Ms. Clark's books. We would sit and read together at night after my brother and Dad had gone to sleep. These were some of the most treasured times of my life with my Mom. She would read one book and then give it to me to read always saying "wait, it gets better" or you won't believe what happens next. Even though she passed away when she was only 58 no one can take away those very special mother daughter times that Ms. Clark helped make possible. Thank so very much. Diane
by RLH756 ‎06-22-2011 10:41 AM - edited ‎06-22-2011 10:45 AM

If anyone is interested in the source of the story Ms. Clark references as a television program, it is from Anton Chekov's short story "The Bet."   The story line beautifully emphasizes the unfettered joy of reading no matter where we find ourselves in life (even, ironically, in prison!).  I will not spoil this original and wonderful tale's twist on the plot that the television program did not include, but go to your library or bookstore to find "The Bet" and read it for yourself.  For many years, I have used this Russian story as a springboard for discussion in my high school classroom on the horror of illiteracy in any individual.