A friend, Beth Van Rheenen, and her daughters, who my wife taught at Harding Academy in Arkansas, used to send boxes of novels to us in Africa. What a great gift for people living abroad who don’t have access to great bookstores and libraries!

On the day a box of novels arrived I would anticipate busting the box open like a kid at Christmas. Sometimes customs would take more than an hour to examine the box and its contents, perhaps ask questions about whether or not I owned a book store and wanted to sell these books. Ah, for crying out loud, I would think but not say . . . let me go read these books . . . and get first dibs before Sara Barton gets there to look through them! On our mission team, we shared books like the common cold.

Those days would turn into long sleepless nights. I would wake up early to read and watch the ibises fly in and hope they wouldn’t squawk too loudly and wake up the kids, because I’d have to put down the un-put-down-able novel I was reading. I read and rocked babies not just a few times.

It was on that front porch that I first shed tears while reading a novel. Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov.

Those were the years, thanks to Beth and her daughters sending those books, I became aware of and began to enjoy authors like W.P. Kinsella, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chaim Potok, Wallace Stegner, Michael Crichton, George Eliot, T.H. White, Mitch Albom, Barbara Kingsolver, Robert Louis Stevenson, Chinua Achebe, Flannery O’Connor, and Jeff Shaara.

In my late twenties, in those times when babies kept life fairly pedestrian other than traveling and working in villages, when nights and early mornings were mostly unscheduled, I fell in love with characters and well-told stories.