fairstein linda

My favorite childhood memories all involve books.

The earliest images I recall are of me, leaning against the pillow in my narrow bed, while my mother sat beside me and read to me. It was the singsong rhythm of poetry that she used to try to lull me to sleep—Robert Louis Stevenson and A.A. Milne being my favorites. I can still recite most of the poems in A Child’s Garden of Verses, which is also the first book I bought for my granddaughter when she was born two years ago.

When I began to read by myself, my mother and I would make trips every other Saturday to the public library in our town. In those days, we were allowed to take out three books at a time. I always made a beeline to my favorite librarian in the children’s section, and when I told her how much I liked Pippi Longstockings or The Secret Garden, I could count on her to put another story to engage me in my hands.

stevenson achildsgardenofversesMy first addictions to series fiction were crime driven—first the Hardy Boys, because I had an older brother who introduced me to them—and then, Nancy Drew. How I loved that teenage sleuth and everything about her—her friends, the roadster, the sage advice about crime-solving, and her crime-riddled town of River Heights.

I can only think of one flaw in my mother’s makeup. She didn’t like to read detective fiction. It was in my teenage years that my father’s taste in literature took over, as he had clearly deposited that gene in my DNA. It was he who put Edgar Allan Poe in my hands, and then, he sat me down with the greatest storyteller—to me—of all times: Arthur Conan Doyle.

I was hooked. There was no turning back. I was a very athletic kid—ballet class and swim competition and bike riding were daily activities. But I had a book in my hand wherever I went, in case there were moments to sit on the sidelines and amuse myself. Then I would somehow maneuver a way to keep a light on late into the night, even when my parents had gone to sleep, to read the mysteries that fueled my imagination.

I still have some of the books I owned as a kid—gifts from my parents on birthdays and holidays—and the pages of each one capture, and hold to this day, a precious memory.

Linda Fairstein was chief of the Sex Crimes Unit of the district attorney's office in Manhattan for more than two decades and is America's foremost legal expert on sexual assault and domestic violence. Her Alexandra Cooper novels are international bestsellers and have been translated into more than a dozen languages. She lives in Manhattan and on Martha's Vineyard.

This “Writers on Reading” essay was originally published in At the Scene enews August 2017 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.