Michael Robotham

Robotham Photo Credit Philip KlaunzerThe first book I ever "earned"


Although I can’t remember exactly when I discovered the joys of reading, one particular book in my library has special pride of place, because it is the first one that I ever “earned.”

The battered copy of The Lord of the Rings is held together by sticky tape, glue, and a large rubber band. It once resided in my high school library and still has the library card in a sleeve inside the back cover.

When I was 12 years old, being bullied at a new school, I sought refuge in the school library. I discovered J. R. R. Tolkien and borrowed The Lord of the Rings so often that the librarian, Mrs. Fitzpatrick, forbade me ever taking it out again because she felt that other children should have a turn.

I overcame this obstacle by hiding the book in various obscure corners of the library, rarely visited by students (the physics and chemistry corner). Each lunchtime and recess, avoiding the bullies, I would sneak in and read another chapter. Like all good librarians, Mrs. Fitzpatrick could smell a book that is out of place and I was eventually caught and hauled into her office.

I expected to be punished, but instead she asked me why I came to the library so often.

My friends are here, I told her.

What friends?

Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Frodo Baggins…

Mrs. Fitzpatrick took the battered book and gave it to me. You’ve earned it, she said.

I didn’t understand what she meant by that, but I do now. I have treasured that book always—long after I stopped reading science fiction and moved on to Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Fitzgerald.

I love books, and not just the words—I love the smell of them. My favorite part of the writing process is that moment when a package arrives from my publishers containing a newly minted copy of my latest book. I open it up on a random page, read a few paragraphs, and then bury my nose deep inside. Man, that’s good! It’s a wonder it’s legal.

Occasionally, I hear people say that they don’t like reading. I don’t believe them. Saying you don’t like reading is like saying you don’t like sex—you’re just not doing it right. You haven’t found the right one (book or partner).

Those of us who love books should make it our mission to help others rediscover the joy of reading. We can rescue these lost souls from a bookless future. We can bring them back into the fold. There is no greater feeling than recommending a book to a friend and having them come back and say, Wow, that was brilliant. I loved it. What else have you got?

And if you get them reading, a day will come when they’ll repay you by suggesting a book to you that will change your life, or make you laugh or move you to tears.

So, my true believers—we have our mission. We are an unlikely bunch of disciples, a bit rough around the edges and sleep-deprived, but we are up to this challenge because we believe in the good book.

There is more than one. There are loads of them.

Michael Robotham is the author of the New York Times bestseller Say You’re Sorry, as well as the Edgar Award–nominated Life or Death, Bleed for Me, Shatter, and many other novels of suspense. A former investigative journalist who has worked in Britain, Australia, and the United States, Robotham is one of the world’s most acclaimed authors of thriller fiction. He lives in Sydney with his wife and three daughters. 


This “Writers on Reading” essay was originally published in “At the Scene” eNews April 2016 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.