Russia! Africa! Suburban New Jersey in the 1950s! The novelist's favorite books take you places you never knew you wanted to go.
I bear physical evidence of my lifelong passion for reading: a wide, crescent-moon scar on my left knee that dates from when I was 9 years old. But let's set the stage. In the mid-sixties, before it was considered criminal neglect to let kids laze around the house, I spent many a blissful summer afternoon lolling on the sunporch, submerged in books. Adrift in the suburban Philadelphia heat, as flies droned against the screens, I found out that reading allowed me to travel in time and space. When I'd exhausted the family bookshelves, I'd bike up to the local public library, an English-style cottage crammed with well-worn classics that ranged from Edith Nesbit's wonderful Five Children and It to my favorite work: The Complete Sherlock Holmes , a monster 1,000-page volume that I brought home many times.

I was a skinny girl, with the heft of a mosquito, and once when I took a sharp corner, the huge tome lurched in the bicycle basket and brought me crashing down against the curb. The resulting gash probably needed a stitch, but I was so eager to start reading that I doused it with Mercurochrome, hid it under jeans, and said nothing to my mother. Hence my scar, courtesy of the prolific pen of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I've been living in Italy now for many years, and reading and writing books has become my daily work, but I have only to look at my knee to recall those hometown summers when the thrills of literature were worth shedding blood over. Many books have marked me in less visible ways over the years. A few of them are on the following page.

Andrea Lee is the author of Interesting Women and Lost Hearts in Italy .

What's on Andrea Lee's Bookshelf? Read more!


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