In the small town where I grew up, there was a unique rite of passage for preteens. Once you reached your twelfth birthday, and had a letter from a parent, you were allowed entrance into the hallowed halls of the town’s public library.
Prior to that momentous occasion children were limited to choosing and checking out books from the children’s library, housed in the lower level of the town’s municipal building.
The public library occupied the upper floor of the municipal building, which loomed on the horizon like an ancient sanctuary. Four massive white columns stood as stately sentinels to the entrance of the red brick multistory edifice. One had to walk up a spacious set of white stairs to get to the front portal. Not that I, however, had ever traversed those steps because the door to the children’s library had its own set of descending steps.
I remember looking up at the windows of the town library, probably feeling elated that I would finally be allowed upstairs with the ‘real books’. No longer would I be relegated to Lad, A Dog or Nancy Drew, Girl Detective. This day would be my big chance to see what the grown-ups read.
Inside, the adult library was large compared to the cozy space I had been accustomed to downstairs with its child-friendly bookcases and furniture. Trying to look like I belonged, I held my head up high and marched right over to the check-out desk, holding my mother’s letter as proof that I could now enter the ranks of adult bibliophiles.
A short while later with my newly inked library card in hand, I sauntered around the stacks and glanced at the books. To my surprise there was not one author I recognized. Undaunted, I slipped over to the fiction section and perused the titles there. Again, no success.
So I tried a new tactic. I moseyed over near the circulation desk where a pushcart filled with newly returned books was poised, waiting for a librarian to re-shelve the contents. I spied a title that looked intriguing, called The Turquoise.
To this day I am not exactly sure what made me pick it up, but it must have been karma.
I thumbed through the first few pages and saw that the story took place in Santa Fe, New Mexico during the 1800’s, a place and time that promised to be exotic reading compared to my non-eventful suburban childhood. The author was Anya Seton, but I had never heard of her. Regardless, I took the book to the check-out counter and handed it along with my library card to the librarian.
She flipped through the novel and then with penetrating librarian-eyes asked, “Does your mother know this is the book you’re checking out?”
This threw me into in a quandary. It was my first experience ‘upstairs’ and I wanted that book, even more so now because of the librarian’s admonishment. So I lied. I told her my mother had agreed I could check out any book I wanted. With pursed lips, she stamped the date card, and told me I had two weeks before it was due back.
Bursting out into the brilliant late afternoon sunshine I held that book as if it was a treasure. Little did I know it would change my life.
With The Turquoise, author Anya Seton introduced me to the genre of Historical Fiction, and my reading habits would never be the same again.
I did not simply read the book, I devoured it. Yes, it was adult in nature, the love story of a strong young woman who married for security, but always loved another man. Love story aside, it was also the tale of beguiling New Mexico and fashionable New York City in the century before I was born. I drank in the geographic details as if they were an elixir.
In time I would go on to read every book Anya Seton (Ann Seton Chase) wrote; as her research combined with travel brought an authenticity to her settings. Through the language and lives of her characters I learned about Anglo-Saxon England, Tudor England, Medieval England, Colonial America, the Jacobite Rebellion in Scotland, and the strong women around whom she penned each story.
While some girls read magazines in their spare time, I found myself reading historical novels. As a college freshman I eagerly became a history major and years later started to travel, always to places where some historic event had occurred. Several destinations were the settings I had read about in Anya Seton’s novels.
Born in New York City in 1904, Anya Seton (Ann Seton Chase) was the child of two authors; her father was a nature writer and her mother composed travel articles. Anya’s first successfully published book came out through Houghton Mifflin when she was 37; later she went on to write a dozen novels. Although The Turquoise did not win any awards or bring her acclaim, it still remains my favorite.
Who knew that a book read by a skinny little girl would one day propel her to become a writer of historical fiction herself? I was that little girl and my debut series, “Threads of Courage”, centers on strong young women from the past who overcome monumental obstacles in order to carve out a life where integrity triumphs over injustice.
The first book in the series, Cut From Strong Cloth, is available from Freedom Forge Press and Amazon.
Thank you, Anya Seton; books really do change lives.
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~ Linda ~